June is here, and the weather is warm, flowers are in bloom and we are all ready to do what we do best in this area: get outside and enjoy the summer. This month we are focusing on easy, summer foods – dishes that you can make in a snap, make in one pot, or make over the weekend and enjoy any time straight out of the fridge. Summer means no one wants to be in the kitchen for too long. You want to be on the patio, at a picnic, or doing one of the many outdoor activities this area offers. So we are keeping things simple here in the LAF kitchen – salads, wraps, and one-pot meals. Because these summer days are precious, we want you to get out and enjoy every second of it.
Even though it is summer, you still have a family to feed. And although some of us could sustain life on a hearty salad, many of the men in your life will look at you like you are crazy if you tell them they get nothing but salad all season long. But fear not, there are plenty of hearty meals that you can make with little fuss to keep even the most ardent of hearty meat eaters happy. This recipe for chicken cacciatore is not only easy, it is also economical as you use tasty chicken thighs. I use my enamel cast iron skillet for this dish (Dutch oven is another good choice), as I can perfectly brown my chicken, make the sauce, and then throw the whole thing into the oven.
4 chicken thighs
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 large carrots, scrubbed and rough chopped
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, rough chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced (approx. 1 1/2 tsp.)
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 small can of crushed tomato (tomato sauce will work, but will make a thinner sauce)
1 package of sliced mushrooms (optional)
Handful fresh basil, torn into pieces
2 tbs. oregano
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Remove chicken thighs from the package and season well with salt and pepper. In heavy bottomed, oven-proof skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. Add chicken thighs, skin down, and sear until golden and crisp. Flip and repeat. Once well browned, remove from skillet and place in a bowl and set aside.
Drain all but two tablespoons of fat from the skillet. Place skillet back over medium heat and add carrots, onion, and celery and cook, stirring frequently until soft, about five minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add green pepper and mushrooms and stir well. Add the diced tomatoes, juice and all, and the crushed tomatoes. Stir until incorporated. Add basil and oregano and stir. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook until sauce thickens slightly, about five minutes. Once sauce thickens, nestle browned chicken thighs into the sauce and cover. Place skillet into heated oven and cook covered for 25 minutes.
Remove skillet from oven and let rest for five minutes. Remove cover and taste, adjusting seasoning to your liking.
This dish can be served as a stand-alone dish, or for the heartier eater, can be served with rice or noodles.
This is a great “make ahead” dish and stores well in the refrigerator for up to three days. As with most sauces, they are always better the next day. This is a great dish to double in size. Serves four and doubles to serve eight.
Asparagus and Edamame Pasta salad
After one of your first trips to the farmers’ market this season, you will see that asparagus is the early riser of the season. We can eat asparagus straight from the garden and never tire of this heavenly stalk. Here is a simple summer pasta salad, where the earthy asparagus balances nicely with the sweetness of early peas and red and yellow peppers. This dish makes an excellent side dish, a light meal, or the base for grilled chicken or fish. You can even add a little feta or mozzarella pearls to take it up a notch. The possibilities are endless with this salad.
1 lb. farfalle pasta, cooked
1 lb. fresh asparagus (thin spears are better)
2 packs of frozen edamame already shelled
1/2 red pepper, cut into strips
1/2 yellow or orange pepper, cut into strips
3-4 green onions, sliced thin
3/4 cup of edamame (soy beans)
Bunch of fresh cilantro leaves
2 tbs. rice vinegar
2 tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. of honey
1 tbs. grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Grab a large pot, put in about one inch of water and bring to a boil, throw in the asparagus to blanche for two minutes maximum. Remove and place in an ice bath immediately.
Cook edamame according to the instructions on the package. When done cooking, rinse well and place in an ice bath.
While the edamame and asparagus are chilling, make the dressing as follows:
Put all ingredients into a bowl and vigorously stir – dressing done, viola!
Cut asparagus stalks into three pieces and place in a bowl with the pasta.
Put all ingredients except cilantro into the bowl and stir, making sure that all ingredients are covered with the dressing. Place cilantro on top for garnish.
Can be made one day in advance, just do not dress the salad until and one hour prior to serving. Chill and serve. Serves six as a side dish.
Since this month the staff has been focusing on grains, we added a twist on a traditional Middle Eastern salad. Barley makes the salad a bit hardier and a good source of protein while being an extremely tasty salad.
1/2 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup bulgar wheat
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup minced red onion
1 medium cucumber, seeded and diced
1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved (cherry toms can be substituted)
2 cups minced flat leaf or Italian parsley
2 lemons – juice and zest of
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil the Barley in plenty of salted water until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain well and chill. Soak the Bulgur wheat in two cups of boiling water for approximately 15 minutes until softened. Drain and chill.
Combine grains, carrot, onion, cucumber, tomatoes and parsley. Toss well. Combine lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Mix and then add to salad and toss well to combine all ingredients. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled before serving. Add sprig of parsley on top for garnish.
Asian Lettuce Wraps
As we move into summer, these Asian Lettuce Wraps are a great way to feed the family on the fly. They are good cold or warm, easy to prepare, light, and pack an immense amount of flavor that is downright addictive. You can add sriracha, pistachios, scrap the beef and replace with chicken, shrimp, or just veggies. You can serve it like a “build-your-own” bar at a garden party, picnic, or family style.
16 butter lettuce or Boston bib lettuce leaves
1 lb. of ground beef
1 tbs. of cooking oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1 tbs. soy sauce
1 tbs. rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. minced pickled ginger
1 dash Asian chile pepper sauce to taste
1 (8 oz.) can of water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
1 bunch of green onions, chopped
2 tsp. Asian (dark) sesame oil
Rinse whole lettuce leaves and pat dry, be careful not tear them. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir beef in the hot skillet until browned and crumbly, about five to seven minutes. Drain and discard grease; transfer the beef to a bowl. Cook and stir onion in the same skillet until slightly tender, five to ten minutes. Stir in hoisin sauce, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, and chile pepper sauce into the onions. Add water chestnuts, green onions, sesame oil, and cooked beef; cook and stir until the onions just begin to wilt, about two minutes.
Arrange lettuce leaves around the outer edge of a large serving platter and pile meat mixture in the center.
Risotto Al Pomodoro
We at Life’s a Feast are huge fans of risotto, any kind, any time. Risotto is also a commitment, once you start to make the risotto you are tied to the risotto till the end. Nothing can come in its way, otherwise, Risotto will not be nice to you. While we were in Cabo, we met a wonderful gentleman who spoke of a dish we thought could not be possible: a cold risotto?! What did you say? Cold risotto. Do tell. Well, he told and we made. Below is an incredibly flavorful, fun dish that will knock your socks off. Here is the kicker: it does not contain butter and it is very light and fresh and can be served as a salad or the main course.
1 1/2 lbs. of fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled
7 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
3 or 4 garlic cloves, thickly sliced
A handful of fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
5 cups vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups of Italian rice preferably Carnaroli or Arborio
Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the peeled tomatoes in half. Squeeze out and discard some of the seeds. Chop the tomatoes coarsely and put them in a heavy bottomed saucepan large enough to hold the rice later. Remember that the rice will be nearly three times its original volume by the end of the cooking process.
Add four tablespoons of the oil to the pan, then add the garlic and half the basil. Cook briskly one to two minutes, stirring constantly.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, bring the broth to a simmer (keep it simmering very gently all through the making of the risotto).
Add the rice to the pan with the tomatoes, garlic, and basil and cook about two minutes, stirring constantly.
Pour over a ladleful of simmering broth and continue cooking. Adding more broth little by little until the rice is al dente. A little trick is to not add more broth until the rice has absorbed all the broth that was just added.
When serving it cold, remove the risotto from the heat when the rice is lightly underdone, it will finish cooking as it cools.
Add salt and pepper to taste and mix in the rest of the oil. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the remaining basil leaves on the top. If you serve the risotto cold, fluff it up with a fork before bringing it to the table. Serves three or four as a main course.