Pork Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

’Tis the season for Armagnac – in your food as well as your glass:

Pork Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

In this window of time between Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas excess, take a break from fancy feasts and indulge in a robust and rustic one-pot meal. This wine and brandy-laced stew is guaranteed to warm you in the cold weather. After all, while libations are certainly for sipping, don’t overlook their power to enhance flavor in food, such this pork and prune stew fortified with Armagnac. If this recipe doesn’t warm you, I’m not sure what will.

Armagnac is a brandy produced in the southwestern region of France. Like cognac, Armagnac is derived from grapes – but the difference veers from there. While cognac is twice distilled, yielding a smoother pour, Armagnac is distilled only once, which lends more nuance and character to its flavor. And while this certainly makes for intriguing and wonderful sipping, it also adds delightful complexity to soups, stews, sauces – even desserts.

In this recipe, Armagnac teams up with luscious prunes and pork to create a rich and homey stew perfumed with juniper and rosemary. Just remember to pour yourself a splash to enjoy while you are preparing the meal.

Pork Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 to 3 1/2 hours, plus steeping time
Serves 6

20 prunes, pitted
1/2 cup Armagnac brandy
3 pounds pork shoulder, excess fat trimmed, meat cut into 1 ½ -inch chunks
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
3 medium shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bottle full-bodied red wine
1 cup high quality beef stock
1 bouquet garni: 4 juniper berries, 3 rosemary sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs, and 2 bay leaves wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with a kitchen string

1. Combine the prunes and Armagnac in a bowl and let stand at least 1 hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
3. Season the pork on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or oven-proof pot with a lid. Add the pork in batches, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining pork.
4. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon pork fat from the pan. Add the bacon and sauté until its fat renders. Add the carrots and onion and sauté until the onions soften and the carrots are crisp tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
5. Return the pork and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add the prunes and Armagnac, the wine, bouquet garni, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan, transfer to the oven, and cook until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring once every hour or so.
6. Remove the stew from the oven, discard the bouquet garni, and taste for seasoning. Serve with mashed potatoes, polenta, or crusty bread.
(The stew may be prepared up to two days in advance. Warm over low heat or in a 300°F oven before serving.)

Chicken Tortilla Soup with Corn and Black Beans

Rely on your leftovers for this warming Chicken Tortilla Soup

Hearty Chicken and Black Bean Tortilla Soup

My inspiration for making soup is often a convergence of too many vegetables in the refrigerator combined with leftovers from a roast chicken dinner. This recipe is not an authentic tortilla soup, as I managed to empty most of the contents of my veggie drawer into it. It’s chock-a-block full of corn, beans, zucchini and peppers, simmered with a few must-have aromatics (onion and garlic) and pantry staples (canned Italian plum tomatoes and black beans). I spiced up the stock with warming southwestern spices in defiance of the dreary drizzle outside, and finished the soup with a shower of shattered tortilla chips, which happened to be leftover remnants in the bottom of their bag – too small for swiping through a bowl of salsa. Leftovers never tasted so good.

If you don’t have leftover chicken on hand, a store bought rotisserie chicken and packaged stock will do the trick. Season and spice the soup to your taste. Ideally it should have a little heat, but since our family is divided on what constitutes “spicy,” I pass a bottle of hot sauce around the table so everyone can fire up the soup to their taste. This soup is meant to be thick. More chicken stock may be added for a soupier consistency

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 sweet red pepper, stemmed and seeded, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
4 cups chicken stock
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juice
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/8 teaspoon cloves
3/4 pound shredded cooked chicken
1 cup fresh corn kernels (or defrosted frozen)
1 cup cooked black beans
1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar (optional)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
Tortilla chips, broken in pieces, for garnish

1. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the peppers and sauté until crisp tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and zucchini and sauté briefly, about 1 minute.
2. Add the chicken stock, plum tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cayenne, and cloves. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes.
3. Stir in the chicken, corn, and beans. Simmer, partially covered, until thoroughly heated through. Taste for seasoning. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar if desired.
4. Stir in the cilantro leaves and serve warm, garnished with the tortilla chips.

30 minute Baked Pasta with Chorizo, Kale, and Roasted Tomatoes

Easy one pot pasta dinner in 30 minutes

Who doesn’t like a steaming creamy mac ‘n cheese, coated in bechamel, rippling with cheese and crowned with crispy breadcrumbs? I would never throw shade at this comforting classic – and goodness knows we can all do with a little comfort these days – but I will say that you can have your baked pasta and cheese, and riff a little, too. What you get out of the deal is variety, an excuse to use up any lingering vegetables in your fridge, and an opportunity to add some extra goodies, like sausage if you’re so inclined. Simply mound them into a baking dish along with the al dente pasta and gads of cheese, bake until melty and golden,  and no one, I dare say, will dream of objecting.

I make dishes like this when I am looking for a quick solution for an easy dinner. It can be on the table in about 30 minutes, and it’s likely to be devoured in half that time. It’s lighter than mac ‘n cheese, and loaded with veggies. To moisten the pasta (there’s no bechamel sauce, after all) I toss the pasta with some of the pasta cooking water and add fresh mozzarella for creaminess.

Baked Pasta with Sausage, Kale, and Roasted Tomatoes

Serves 4

12 ounces pasta, such as gemelli or farfalle
Salt
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces chorizo or hot Italian sausage, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 bunch lacinato kale leaves, tough ribs discarded, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1 (8-ounce) fresh mozzarella, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or part Parmesan)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until 1 to 2 minutes short of al dente. Scoop out 1/2 cup water, then drain the pasta. Transfer the pasta to a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon oil to prevent sticking.
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown the slices on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate lined with a paper towel and pour off all but 1 tablespoon oil from the skillet.
3. Add the tomatoes to the skillet and sauté until they release their juices and soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the kale and sauté until the leaves soften, about 3 minutes.
Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved water and stir to combine. If the pasta seems too dry, add the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the pasta is moist but not wet. Stir in the mozzarella and 1 cup Pecorino.
4. Sprinkle the remaining Pecorino over the top of the pasta and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the top begins to color and the cheese melts, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.

A Grill and a Skillet: Yogurt Marinated Chicken Breasts with Tomatoes and Chickpeas

Chicken grill When the weather gets all hot and in your face, it helps to shout back. Fire up the grill, douse your food with loads of spice and fight fire with fire. What I love about this method is that not only is the food intoxicatingly flavored with aromatics, spicy heat and char, all of the cooking remains outside on the grill. In this recipe, chicken is swathed in a creamy-smoky-spicy bath that permeates and tenderizes the meat as it marinates. While the meat grills to crispy perfection, a basket of cherry tomatoes cooks down to a sweet sludge dotted with nubby chickpeas, which becomes the bed for the finished chicken. It’s served with couscous to absorb the rich pan juices and topped with a dollop of fragrant yogurt sauce. Bright, spicy and very shouty, indeed.

Yogurt and Spice Marinated Chicken Breasts with Tomatoes and Chickpeas

Serves 4 to 6.

Marinade:
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup Greek whole milk yogurt
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne

4 large chicken breasts with skin, de-boned, about 8 ounces each

1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt

Sauce:
1/2 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Prepare:
1.  Whisk the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Transfer 1 tablespoon of the marinade to another bowl and set aside for the sauce.
2.  Place chicken in a rimmed baking dish. Rub all over and between skin and meat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
3.  Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium heat.
4.  Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over indirect medium heat. Add the tomatoes and cook until they just begin to break down and release their juices, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, chickpeas, cilantro, cumin, red pepper flakes and salt. Cook until the tomatoes collapse and the sauce thickens, about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. While the tomatoes cook, remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade. Grill the chicken, skin side down, over direct medium heat, until cooked through, turning once. Remove from heat.
6. Whisk the reserved marinade with 1/2 cup yogurt and fresh cilantro.
7. Cut the chicken breasts in half crosswise. Nestle into the skillet with the tomatoes and chickpeas. Serve with the yogurt sauce.

This dish and its many iterations I’ve enjoyed making is originally inspired by a recipe from Bon Appetit. 

Pork Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

Here is an in-your-face stew, which says to the cold winter season: Bring it on. Nothing is bashful about this stew. Fortified with wine and spirits, perfumed with rosemary and juniper, this is a hearty slow-cooked wonder and a perfect vehicle for pork. The key ingredient, of course, is the Armagnac, a French brandy derived from grapes, in which inky prunes macerate, before the whole lot is dumped into the stock. Just be sure to pour yourself a little to enjoy before and after this rich and warming meal.

Pork Stew with Prunes and Armagnac

Serves 6

20 prunes, pitted
3/4 cup Armagnac brandy
3 pounds pork shoulder, excess fat trimmed, meat cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces bacon, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bottle full-bodied red wine
2 bay leaves
1 bouquet garni: 4 juniper berries, 3 rosemary sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs, and a handful of parsley leaves wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with a kitchen string

1. Combine the prunes and Armagnac in a bowl and let stand at least 1 hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
3. Season the pork on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or oven-proof pot with a lid. Add the pork in batches, without overcrowding, and brown on all sides. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remaining pork.
4. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon pork fat from the pan. Add the bacon and sauté until its fat renders. Add the carrots and onion and sauté until the onions soften and the carrots are crisp tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Return the pork and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add the prunes and Armagnac, the wine, bay leaves, bouquet garni, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
5. Remove the stew from the oven, discard the bay leaves and bouquet garni, and taste for seasoning. Serve warm with mashed potatoes or polenta.
(The stew may be prepared up to two days in advance. Warm over low heat or in a 300 F. oven before serving.) 

Shellfish Stew with Red Wine and Fennel

cioppino fish stew tastefood

~ Shellfish Stew with Red Wine and Fennel ~

Enough with the meat already. It’s time to lighten things up. January is the month of bowl-food in our home. Fancy holiday meals, featuring ribs and roasts, sauces and reductions, have taken a New Year’s time out, replaced by vessels brimming with steaming soups and stews, risottos and and noodle concoctions. And while meat is welcome, right now I am craving the lightness of fresh seafood. Served in a bowl, of course.

Shellfish Stew with Red Wine and Fennel

Serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large fennel bulb, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, with juices
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups medium-bodied red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated sugar, or to taste
18 littleneck clams (or mussels)
18 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
6 to 8 large sea scallops
2 cooked crabs, legs cracked, flesh removed from bodies

Fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Heat oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and fennel. Cook, stirring until vegetables begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, thyme and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 minute. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, wine, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning. If necessary add a spoonful of sugar. Add clams. Cover pot and cook until clam shells open, about 5 minutes. Add shrimp and sea scallops. Cook, partially covered until just cooked through. Add the crab legs and meat. Continue to cook until thoroughly heated. Discard any unopened clams. Serve in warm bowls garnished with parsley. Accompany with crusty baguette or garlic bread.

Roasted Chicken and Potatoes with Yogurt, Lemon and Garlic

If you are wishing for an easy and rewarding rustic dinner then look no further than this roast chicken. A whole roasted chicken is  a weeknight wonder, yielding a bounty of food with little effort. It will fill your home with comforting and tantalizing aromas as it cooks, amply feed a family of 4 with leftovers for lunch, and bestow you with the goods for a rich and restorative stock.

I roast a chicken nearly weekly in our home. For variety, it’s easy to change it up with a rub or marinade depending on the mood or season. Feeling spicy? Then try a marinade with Sriracha and serve over a bed of couscous. Prefer something cozy and traditional for a grey and rainy day? Then keep it simple with olive oil, rosemary, thyme and a pan gravy. If you are in the mood for exotic spice and aroma, like I was the other day, then try this recipe which infuses the bird with yogurt, lemon, garlic and ginger.

Roasted Chicken and Potatoes with Yogurt, Lemon and Garlic 

Serve with baby potatoes roasted in the pan juices. Serves 4 to 6.

For the chicken:
1 whole free-range or organic chicken, 4 to 5 pounds
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup whole milk Greek-style yogurt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

For the potatoes:
2 pounds baby potatoes, halved if large
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt

Thirty minutes before roasting, remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Preheat oven to 425 F. Rinse the chicken all over and inside the cavity with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to blend. Rub the paste all over the outside of the chicken, between the skin and breast, and inside the cavity.  Place, breast-side up, in the center of a baking pan or oven proof skillet.

Prepare the potatoes: Toss the potatoes, olive oil, paprika and salt in a bowl. Scatter around the chicken. Place the pan in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Using tongs, carefully turn the chicken over, breast-side down. Stir the potatoes. Return to oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove and once again turn the chicken over, breast-side up. Return to oven and cook until chicken is thoroughly cooked and thigh juices run clear when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Transfer chicken to a cutting board. Tent with foil and let rest 10 to 15 minutes before carving. While the chicken is resting, return potatoes to oven to keep warm. Carve the chicken and return to skillet, nestling the meat between the potatoes in the pan juices.