Yes, Margo, Meals in our House are Special and Always Family-Oriented

I received an email from Margo Ervin, who had been given my cookbook as a gift. She conveyed the following: “Your cookbook gives me the feeling that meals in your household are special and very family-oriented — something I would like to create in my own home.” Her comment made me reflective as this is the first time I’ve received this observation about my book. So, I did some reminiscing this week.

When I was a kid, my father refused to eat out. So, my mother prepared three meals each and every day. We did go to a restaurant once a year, and the destination—Williams Wayside Inn in Berthoud where food was served family style. My father claimed restaurant food made him sick because of his sensitive stomach. But looking back, he married late in life and for many years ate most of his meals out. I’ve come to question his ‘it-might-upset-my-stomach’ excuse and am now convinced he’d just had his fill of restaurants.

My mother prepared our meals with tender loving care. Her repertoire, though, was a bit limited—the menu never varied week to week. Sundays she fixed roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy. Mondays we always had fried chicken, and so on. Get the picture? My mother believed “practice makes perfect”, and she mastered every dish she cooked. She instilled in me the joy of perfecting recipes. Although our food was routine, conversation was always lively and high-spirited. We shared the highlights of our day, and my father talked business and politics, which always resulted in controversial debates. Such were the meals of my youth.

I met my husband in college. He preferred dining out and took me to restaurants I never knew existed. He introduced me to such exotic treats as bagels. My first reaction to this unfamiliar circular food:  “Is this a rye bread donut?” Can you imagine being that culinary backward? My husband launched my pallet on a gastronomic adventure, introducing me to French, Italian, German, Mediterranean, Japanese, and Chinese food. That ended meatloaf for me.

Russ and I got married and began our own meal time traditions, which remained a bit vague for me until Margo’s email. But, she clarified it perfectly. The meals I make are prepared with love and focused around family. I honor my father’s fondness for home-cooking and my mother’s mastery of recipes. My meals cater to my husband’s love for both international and restaurant fare. But, food aside, dinner time at our house arouses lively, high-spirited conversation. Relishing the ties that bind over a meal prepared with care is how we end our day, and I thank Margo for sensing this in my cookbook.

My son, Brian, lives in Chicago and came home recently for a visit. To welcome him home, I prepared my version of Carraba’s Chicken Bryan. Both the meal and the banter warmed our kitchen with love. It is my pleasure to share the recipes for his homecoming meal with you. I hope they bring a warmhearted spirit to your table.

Carol Ann’s Welcome Home Chicken Brian
Serves 6

For the chicken:

6 chicken breasts, butter-flied
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Brush chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill chicken breasts over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until cooked through.

For the sauce:

1 ½ cups white wine
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced shallot
3 lemons, peeled and quartered (don’t worry about the seeds)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up, at room temperature
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons water
1 ½ cups sun-dried tomatoes, finely sliced
¼ cup fresh basil, slivered

Heat a large, non-reactive saucepan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add wine, garlic, shallot and lemons. Cook for 3 minutes using a wire whisk to break up and mash lemons. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and continue cooking until the mixture is somewhat syrupy, another 3 minutes.

Add chicken broth and cream and cook for 1 additional minute. Reduce the heat to low and add butter 1 tablespoon at a time. When all butter has melted, remove the skillet from the heat and continue whisking until butter is incorporated into the sauce.

Strain the sauce through a sieve, pressing all the liquid into a bowl. Return the sauce to the saucepan, discarding what is left in the sieve.

In a small bowl, combine corn starch and water and stir until well combined. Add the corn starch mixture to the sauce and whisk occasionally, continuing to simmer sauce, until it thickens. When sauce reaches desired consistency, add sun-dried tomatoes and basil and simmer another 2 minutes.

To serve:

12 ounces Haystack Mountain®, or your favorite, goat cheese, cut into 1 ounce slices

Top nearly done chicken breasts with goat cheese slices until cheese warms and softens. Place chicken breasts on a plate and drizzle with sauce. Place any additional sauce in a gravy boat and serve on the side.

Sautéed Baby Spinach
Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 cloves of garlic, sliced paper-thin
18 ounces fresh baby spinach
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large skillet, place olive oil over medium-high heat. When olive oil shimmers, add garlic and sauté until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add spinach and continue sautéing until spinach is wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Warmed Goat Cheese Spread with a Medley of Peppers
Serves 6 to 8

For the pepper topping:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup green bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
¼ cup red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
¼ cup orange bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon jalapeño pepper, cored, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
¼ cup green onions, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt to taste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon barrel-aged balsamic vinegar
5 ounces fresh Haystack Mountain goat cheese, cut into ¼-inch slices
Extra virgin olive oil for oiling

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté green, red, and orange bell peppers, jalapeño pepper and garlic until tender and aromatic, about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and add green onions, fennel seeds, pepper, and thyme and season to taste with salt. Add olive oil and balsamic vinegar and stir gently to combine.

Arrange goat cheese slices in a lightly oiled ovenproof baking dish, just large enough to hold cheese slices in an even layer. Using a spoon, press down on cheese gently so that cheese forms an even layer.

Spoon the pepper topping over cheese.  (This can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated for up to 4 hours.) Bake until warm, about 10 minutes.

Serve warm cheese spread with toasted baguette slices.

To make toasted baguette slices:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cut baguette on the diagonal into 1/3-inch slices. Brush 1 side of each slice with olive oil, set slices on a baking sheet, and bake in the center of the oven until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes. Set aside on a wire rack to cool.

Carol Ann’s Caesar Salad
Serves 4 to 6

For the Dressing:

          2 coddled egg yolks
½ tube anchovy paste
1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire® sauce
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground (or large grind) black pepper
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Coddle eggs by immersing them in boiling water for 10 seconds. Separate eggs, reserving yolks, and discarding whites. In a small bowl, combine egg yolks, anchovy paste, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, Worcestershire® sauce, salt pepper, and vinegar. Whisk ingredients until smooth. While continuing to whisk, slowly add olive oil. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the Salad:

2 heads romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste (I use ½ to 1 cup depending upon my mood.)
Croutons

To prepare romaine lettuce, rinse thoroughly, pat dry with towels. (A salad spinner reduces time spent in prepping lettuce. If you don’t have one, it’s a great investment.) Place romaine lettuce in a large salad bowl. Add Parmesan cheese and croutons and toss gently. Whisk dressing again and pour over romaine lettuce, adding just enough to moisten. Toss again. Serve immediately. This salad wilts quickly once mixed with dressing.

Shopping for romaine lettuce: Romaine lettuce should be free of blemishes. Its leaves should be an even green in color with little browning on the outside edged. Romaine with rust, oversized butts, or large, strong milky ribs is not good quality. Select romaine that is cut close to the leaf stems and is free of browning. Good romaine lettuce will have deep green leaves all the way down to its center.

Carol Ann Kates is the author of award-winning cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market. For more information visit: www.carolannkates.com.

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