Recipe: Chicken Chardonel Cassoulet

I truly love having an afternoon when I have time to make a hearty, warming, delicious dinner.  I love to start with a few ingredients and turn them into something that just screams “Fall” to me and my family.  This was just such a meal. I make a lot of cassoulets, but this one turned out really well… so well that I wish I had doubled the recipe so I could have it for another few meals.

Tradition dictates that a “Cassoulet” is a French dish made with meat and beans.  It’s actually named after the slanted-side earthenware bowl (called a Cassolein which it is to be cooked.  I don’t own such a cooking vessel, so I use a large heavy stockpot that will stand up to some good old-fashioned cooking.  I don’t subscribe to the notion that you have to purchase a ton of different individual utensils to make a good meal.  It’s not necessarily about the final presentation… it’s about the care and love that goes into anything you make.  I realize that this can sound pretty hokey, but it’s honestly how I approach cooking in general.

This recipe was fairly simple and came together extremely well.  I used the following ingredients:  olive oil, one package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, one thin slice of ham steak (thinly diced),  2 cans of cannellini beans (I used one can of pinto beans and one can of cannellini beans, because that’s what I had on hand), well-chopped Mirepoix (a mixture of carrots, celery, and onion…. don’t let the “big word” bother you), 2 bay leaves, salt/pepper, a can of chicken broth, a can of James River Cellars’ Chardonel, 2 Tablespoons of pumpkin puree, and 1/4 cup of non-fat plain Greek yogurt.

NOTE:  As you may know (if you read this blog at all), I cook using “The Force”.  I look at my fridge and pantry when cooking and adjust my ingredients based on what I have available or what might look good to me at any given moment.  This was one of those recipes.  If you’re starting with a recipe (especially one of *my* recipes), feel free to add or subtract ingredients to tailor the meal to your family’s taste preference or pantry contents.ChickenChardonelCassoulet

I started with a heavy, rounded stockpot.  I added some olive oil and sauteed the diced ham until it was fairly crispy and the fat had rendered out of the ham.  Using a slotted spoon, I removed the ham and added the mirepoix to saute and soften for a few minutes before popping in the chicken thighs and allowing them to brown a bit.  The meat is going to cook for an hour or two, so don’t worry about whether it’s browned long enough… you simply want the color on the meat before adding in the rest of the ingredients.  Once the chicken and veggies were sauteed (see top left hand photo), I replaced the ham into this mixture and started layering everything into the pot.

The middle photo on the left shows the cassoulet after I added the can of pinto beans (WITH liquid), can of cannellini beans (WITH liquid), can of white wine (James River Cellars’ Chardonel), can of broth, and seasonings.  I put the lid on the pot and allowed everything to cook together for an hour before starting to adjust seasonings.

The bottom photos show the cassoulet after I added a bit of pumpkin puree.  I realize that this is a strange ingredient to add to a cassoulet, but (as I keep saying) it was in my fridge and I knew that this small amount would thicken the sauce a bit without changing the flavor significantly.  I could have made a roux (butter and flour) and slowly added it to thicken the sauce, but I really felt that would have thickened the cassoulet too much.  It’s really up to you as to how you thicken (or not thicken) your meal… that’s the glory that *is* cooking… make it your own!  My final addition was a huge spoonful (about 1/4 cup) of non-fat plain Greek yogurt.  I could easily have used sour cream, but I try to always have Greek yogurt on hand for just such an occasion.   I absolutely could have left the yogurt out at this point, but adding that light touch really finished the cassoulet and made it special.

That’s a cassoulet, in a nutshell.  Not too hard, right?  This recipe is something that can provide you and your family with a filling, one-pot meal that only needs some crusty bread on the side to complete your dinner.  I hope you’ll try your hand at making this recipe… and making it your own… you may even find a new family favorite!

 

Recipe: Easy Chicken Divan

I was recently tasked with using our new Cabernet Franc Blanc wine (James River Cellars’ 2012 Montpelier) in a recipe and this fabulously easy recipe was the result.  It uses both Montpelier wine AND Monterey  Jack cheese in a sauce that has it’s beginnings in my childhood, so for me, this was a win-win recipe.  I hope you find it that way as well!

EasyChickenDivan

I started with a leftover chicken carcass that I pulled from the freezer.  Typically, I’ll purchase a roasted chicken from our local grocery store and cut out the breast meat to use in a meal early in the week.  Once the white meat is gone, I like to bag up the chicken remains and pop it in the freezer for just such an occasion.  While the original recipe called for a can of cream of mushroom soup, I wanted to make my version a little healthier, so I put the frozen chicken into a large stock pot with about 2 inches of water and set it to a low simmer until the chicken was soft and easy to pick off the bone.  Most of what was left on the bone was dark meat, which suited me just fine.  I transferred all the meat into a large casserole dish and tossed the bones in the trash.   I quickly cooked a bag of broccoli florets in the microwave and layered them on top of the chicken in the dish.  Now to make the sauce that would pull everything together.

The remaining liquid in the pot had a deep chicken broth smell and taste, so that was the beginning of my sauce.  I added one pat of butter and a few spoons full of flour and whisked everything together until the flour had been thoroughly cooked and all lumps were gone.   I slowly introduced the Montpelier wine (you could certainly use a white wine, but a lightly dry rose’ would handle the flavors a bit better, in my opinion) and added a handful of Monterey Jack cheese, whisking again until the cheese melted nicely and the wine was thoroughly incorporated.  I also added a few spoons of Miracle Whip Lite and a generous amount of curry powder.  NOTE: I like to sweet/tangy addition of Miracle Whip in this recipe, so if you really want to use traditional mayonnaise, I would suggest adding a touch of sugar.  Once your sauce is smooth, creamy, and tasty (you HAVE to taste-test the sauce to make sure your flavors are combined well), pour the sauce over the chicken/broccoli in your casserole dish.

Using the same stock pot that you used to warm your chicken (and then make your sauce) add some butter, olive oil, salt, crushed garlic, and pepper.  Allow the seasonings to blend over medium heat and then toss in a few hands full of bread crumbs.  Toast the bread crumbs until they have soaked up the seasoned butter/oil mixture and become a bit crispy.  Layer them on top of your casserole dish and plan to bake your final dish at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

You can absolutely plan to serve this with a simple green salad and some bread, but we love it just by itself.  The flavors combined nicely and everything tasted clean and fresh.  While it reminded me of my Aunt Treva’s Chicken Divan, it seemed a little healthier to me… maybe part of that is mental, but I do know that I was using fresh ingredients so I did feel better about how I made this version.

Try it with your own favorite childhood recipe… maybe you’ll come up with an updated recipe of your own!

Recipe: Stephanie’s French Toast Bites with Blueberry Wine Sauce

I have to start this recipe by saying that I love breakfast foods.  Eggs Benedict… pancakes… french toast… hash browns… sausage… waffles… bacon… you get the picture.  I could have breakfast-for-dinner at least once a week (although my husband much prefers to limit breakfast foods to “breakfast/brunch time”).  Because of this love affair I have with breakfast, I enjoy creating different sorts of recipes that showcase some of my favorite options, especially when I can incorporate wine into the mix.  The best of both worlds, right?

This recipe was created for my dear friend, Stephanie, who’s having a difficult time eating full-size servings of food these days.  To tempt her into eating breakfast one day, I came up with the idea of having small crouton-size bites of french toast that she could eat with her fingers or dip into a fruity sauce.  It was a big success, so I thought I would share this special recipe with everyone here.  I’ve named this recipe in her honor because without her, I wouldn’t have thought to make this delicious breakfast dish in such a unique manner.

I started by cutting up a few slices of whole wheat bread into bite-sized cubes.  Using my memory, I blended an egg (you can absolutely use egg substitute if you prefer), some milk (I like using almond milk if that’s on hand), some white wine (I used Vidal Blanc last time but use whatever you may have in your fridge… just decrease the amount of sugar if you’re using a sweeter wine), a sprinkling of sugar (as desired), a touch of vanilla, and a dash of cinnamon (to taste).  Using a wire whisk, beat the egg mixture until it’s just becoming frothy.  I wanted something that would taste light, so I opted to whip the mixture until it was light and airy.  I then tossed the bread cubes in the egg mixture until all the cubes were soaked with the egg-y-yumminess.  When you’re ready to cook the toast bites, melt a pat of butter (and a touch of olive oil if you’d like) and transferred the toast bites to a very warm saute pan to cook.  Note: don’t crowd the pan, so feel free to do this in two sections if necessary.  

Stephanie'sFrenchToastBites

In the meantime, using a small saute pan (or sauce pan), melt a pat of butter and add a handful of blueberries,  Feel free to use whatever berries you have on hand or prefer.  We had quarts of blueberries in the fridge, so they were the natural choice when I was creating the sauce to go along with these toast bites.  As the berries begin to warm and pop open, add some red wine (I went around the pan twice with a lovely Pinot Noir… again, because that’s what was in the fridge.  If I’d had a different red wine available, I might have changed to that one instead.  Use what you have and what you enjoy!) sprinkle some sugar to sweeten the sauce, and I decided to add a dash of cinnamon, to mirror the taste from the french toast bites themselves.  Allow the sauce to cook until it reduces and thickens.  If it gets too thick, add a little more wine… if it’s not thick enough, feel free to add a little more sugar.  This is a Use The Force sort of recipe… make it your own!

You’ll notice that there are also some bites of sausage on the serving plate in the photo – we had turkey sausage that needed to be used (and it was a good source of protein), so I browned the sausage until it was crispy and delicious.  It’s not a prerequisite… just another flavor to temp my dear friend into eating more than she had planned.

Sometimes, you’ll find that you need to expand your horizons when it comes to feeding your loved ones.  If someone isn’t feeling particularly well, feel free to play with your recipe to tempt them into eating something tasty and good for them.  It’s not about who’s doing the cooking or even about how they’re cooking… it’s about the love that is conveyed by the simple act of feeding people.

As you cook, may you enjoy the challenge and turn it into an expression of love.  That’s what it’s all about…

Recipe: Chardonnay Broccoli Buds

Hey, James River Cellars’ Wine Club Members!  Are you looking for an interesting recipe that uses the Stainless-Steel Chardonnay that you got at tonight’s release party?  You’re in luck… I’ve got just the thing… Chardonnay Broccoli Buds.  It’s a recipe that can be either an appetizer or side dish (cold OR roasted).  YUM!

ChardonnayBroccoliBuds

I first had this recipe as a child, during Sunday picnics at summer camp with relatives and friends.  I had never had broccoli as a cold appetizer before and it was delicious… crisp, tangy, and flavorful.  I have made this recipe many times throughout my adulthood but it always seemed a bit too oily, so I decided to remake it.

Since I used an actual recipe to start, it’s only fair that I give you the new recipe as one with specific ingredients (but please realize that I’ll always alter things slightly when I remake a recipe, so even these are guidelines).

Start by mixing 1/2 cup cider vinegar, 1/2 cup oil (I used canola oil), 1/2 cup James River Cellars’ Chardonnay, 1/2 Tablespoon sugar, 1/2 Tablespoon dried dill, 1/3 Tablespoon accent, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt together in a large resealable bowl or resealable plastic bag.  Add 1 1/2 to 2 bags fresh broccoli florets and toss well.  Allow broccoli to marinate for 24-48 hours, re-tossing in the dressing occasionally.  Once the vinaigrette has thoroughly flavored the broccoli, they can be served cold (drained of any access vinaigrette) as seen in the left photo OR drained and roasted in a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes as seen in the right photo.

I hope you and your family enjoy this side dish/appetizer as much as I always do… it reminds me of the magical summers I spent in PA as a child and it makes me happy.  I hope it becomes a recipe that makes you happy as well!

Enjoy… from my childhood and family to yours!

Recipe: Wine’d Up Kale Pesto

I have a college friend who has a Paleo-focused blog that I just love.  If this sounds like something interesting to you, I would encourage you to check out her blog (MomUncorked) as she has lots of recipes, helpful hints, and thoughts on how and why to follow this lifestyle.  While this plan is not for me, I really enjoy looking through her recipes and playing with them until they become something that would better fit my family’s eating habits.

Kale Pesto

This recipe is a mash-up of a pesto recipe that my niece posted on her blog (Peanut Butter Fingers) and one that my Paleo-friend has created on her blog.  It’s a Kale Pesto that incorporates wine… James River Cellars’ Hanover White Wine to be exact.  If you don’t have access to this lovely sweet white wine, I would suggest trying a Vidal Blanc or even a Sauvignon Blanc that has a bit of residual sugar.  You don’t want to use something as sweet or bubbly as a Moscato, but a little sugar isn’t a bad thing against the bitter taste of the raw kale in this recipe.

Enough of the lead in…. let me tell you how I made this fun recipe, using actual measurements, no less!.  Using my small food processor, I popped a large handful of chopped kale into the bowl, along with a few crushed garlic cloves1/4 cup sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup walnuts, and 1/8 cup pine nuts and began processing everything to a fine crush.  When it began whirling around, there didn’t look to be enough kale, so I added another small handful and continued to process the pesto.   I alternated between using the pulse setting and the continual setting until all the kale and the nuts seemed uniformly crushed.

Once the pesto started looking like… well… pesto, I turned the machine to the “on” position and slowly drizzled equal amounts of olive oil and Hanover White wine until the pesto was smooth and sauce-like.  I started with the olive oil, added wine, then went back to olive oil and finished with some wine.  It was definitely a “Using the Force” sort of situation and I stopped to taste-test before deciding it was finished.  I also added some freshly ground salt and pepper, seasoning the pesto to my preferred taste.

This recipe is definitely one that I will continue to keep in my fridge. It’s just sooo versatile!  I’ve used it as a sandwich condiment (fabulous on a BLT or even a simple tomato sandwich), I’ve added it to pasta (with a little warm cooking liquid, it softens and adds so much to a side dish), and even added some cream instead of cooking liquid for a creamier pesto dish with chicken or shrimp that is really yummy.   While kale is not my first choice for a green vegetable, it has some amazingly great dietary stats that make it something worth adding to your diet if you are willing.

Want an added bit of knowledge?  If you massage your kale leaves before using them, you can remove some of the bitterness of this hearty green.  Don’t believe me?  Read this great article from the Huffington Post that explains the why, what, how, and “really??” of this cool trick.

I hope you’ll consider trying this pesto recipe… with all the benefits out there about kale, it’s worth a whirl!

“Whirl”… get it?

Have a great and healthy day!

Recipe: Fridge Soup

It sounds like a hokey name for a recipe, but honestly it’s the easiest way to describe this soup. This recipe started when I wasn’t feeling so peppy this morning and wanted to make something that would be healthy, yet comforting… kind of like chicken-soup-on-steriods?

Here’s how it looked just before the arborio rice got nice and plump, thickening the soup…FridgeSoup yum!

I started with half a cooked chicken, some water, bouillon, and James River Rad Red Wine. I had pulled the chicken out of the freezer, so I let the beginnings of the broth cook and warm up the carcass/meat of the chicken. Once the chicken started to fall off the bone, I plucked it out of the broth and shredded it while I pulled the rest of the soup ingredients out of the fridge (hence the name of this soup). I added carrots, celery, spinach, and garlic, chopping everything into similar sizes so they cooked evenly. I also added a little salt and pepper to taste and then re-added chicken to the soup.

At this point, I had to decide if I wanted use pasta or rice… and I chose 1/4cup arborio rice. It was a simple choice but I could have easily chosen orzo pasta instead.

This was a great “feel better” kind of soup. Piping hot, it reminded me of chicken noodle soup, but gave me some different flavors from the red wine and the spinach that were pretty darn tasty. Maybe you can try it the next time you need a pick-me-up kind of soup?

For me, snow and soup go hand-in-hand… and apparently, that’s what we’re getting, weather-wise, to start Spring this year. Hope you’ll try something like this too!

Recipe: Pantry Spaghetti Sauce

I needed to make a quick and healthy dinner tonight and decided to simply search through my pantry and see what I could find.

First, I opened the freezer and found some meatballs that I’d totally forgotten. What goes best with meatballs in our house is spaghetti… but I didn’t have enough sauce to cover everything. I put the meatballs into a 375 degree oven and let them roast until they were browned and toasty. Mmmm…. now for the rest of the story…er… dinner?PantrySpaghettiSauce

To make the sauce, I started with some leftover onion (I had about 1/4 of a Vidalia onion left in the fridge),olive oil, and a touch of butter. I sauteed the onion and then added 2 chopped garlic cloves and about 2 cups of thinly chopped spinach.

Once the sauteed vegetables were soft, I added in a large can of crushed tomatoes and some red wine (like James River Cellars Rad Red wine), then let the sauce simmer for a bit. Salt and pepper, along with some Italian seasonings, had the sauce tasting really wonderful, but it was still missing something.

That something turned out to be a packet of pitted black olives. Once chopped, they added a fabulously salty bit of yumminess that took the entire dinner to a new height. I popped the baked meatballs into the sauce and cooked the pasta (I used about 1/3 of a package of vermicelli) so everything would come together quickly when we were ready for dinner. Hint: Stir in a few ice cubes in with the pasta in the pot when it’s cooked to your liking, to stop the cooking process. I’ve found that it also keeps the pasta from sticking together. Weird, huh?

I hope you’ll consider trying something like this for your next “quick” dinner… it’s amazing when things come together to make something so tasty AND healthy. Enjoy!

 

 

Comfort Foods

Just a quick note to say that, in my humble opinion, there’s nothing more comforting than soup and a sandwich for dinner when you’re sick.

My darling hubby has a cold. He’s not sick often, but when he gets a cold, it knocks him for a loop. Because of that, I pulled out my favorite recipe for Chicken Noodle Soup (see previous post on this blog) to get him on the road back to “healthy”. This recipe is a classic… Simple, clean, and full of chicken soup goodness.

Try it the next time someone in your household is feeling under-the-weather. Add in an easy grilled cheese sandwich and you’ve got a great meal full of love. Doesn’t it just look like it’ll make you feel better??

Wishing you health as we head into the middle of March!

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Recipe: Vegetarian Lasagna

Don’t let the title of this recipe fool you into not trying it…. my older son just found out that his favorite lasagna recipe was actually good for him and he was not pleased.  He’s a true meat-and-potatoes kind of guy who only eats vegetables if they are expected of him… I don’t think he’s ever intentionally chosen to eat vegetables… but he loved this lasagna, which speaks volumes to it’s ability to turn heads and make believers out of meat-eaters.

Here’s how I made this delicious lasagna:VegetarianLasagna

“Meat” layer:

  • 1 package Boca crumbles
  • 1 cup Cabernet Franc
  • 2 ½ c marinara (plus ¼ cup + ½ cup marinara reserved – total needed 3 ¼ cups)

Cheese layer:

  • 1 package part-skim ricotta
  • 1 ½ c mozzarella
  • 1 egg, whipped slightly
  • Nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste
  • Lasagna noodles (not cooked)
  • Parmesan (to sprinkle on top)

I started by making the “meat layer”.  In a medium bowl, mix the Boca Crumbles (see photo for package), marinara (in this case I used much of a Meritage Marinara that I had made earlier in the week), and James River Cellars Cabernet Franc red wine.  You want to make this part of the recipe fairly “wet” since you’re not cooking the noodles.

In a separate bowl, mix your “cheese layer” ingredients together.   Fresh nutmeg is key in this and you don’t need much… just a few sprinkles will do the trick – it adds a back note that is really lovely.

Now you’re going to layer your lasagna in a 9×9 pan. Start with your ¼ c reserved marinara,then add noodles, 1/3 meat, 1/3 cheese, noodles, 1/3 meat, 1/3 cheese, noodles, 1/3 meat, 1/3 cheese, noodles, ½ cup reserved marinara, and finally top with Parmesan.  I find it extremely helpful to turn the direction of the noodles at each layer so the lasagna cuts nicely.  Lay the first layer vertically in the pan, the second layer would then be placed horizontally the third layer would again be vertical so the final layer lays horizontal in the pan. Note: Your noodles will be longer than your pan – just break the noodles and use any pieces that aren’t the same length in the center and keep the longer pieces along the edges.

The last step is to bake your lasagna for 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees, until bubbly and cooked through.  Let set for 5 minutes before serving so the lasagna has time to let everything “pull back together” and cut beautifully.   I find that turning the noodles’ direction is key in being able to serve a nicely “square” piece of lasagna.

I hope you find this lasagna to be something that your entire family will enjoy… I also find that if I add a piece of garlic bread or Texas Toast, my guys are even happier.   

Buon Divertimento… Have Fun!

Recipe: Meritage Marinara Sauce

It’s always good to have a basic recipe in your cooking repertoire that can be used for lots of different dishes.  A basic marinara sauce is just such a recipe.  I used James River Cellars Meritage for this recipe, but you can just as easily use a Merlot, a Cabernet Franc, a Petit Verdot, or any other dry red wine that you prefer.  I based this recipe on one I found in the latest Cooking Light magazine (Slow-cooker Marinara) but I really didn’t want to take the time to use my crock-pot, so I altered the recipe and came up with something that make more sense for my current timetable and needs.  I hope you like it!

Ingredients:Meritage Marinara

  • Olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 bag of mini carrots, finely chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, finely chopped (I like the taste of celery, so I tend to go heavy on this veggie)
  • garlic, to taste (again, I like garlic, so I tend to use more than most – use as much as you like)
  • fresh oregano, finely chopped (I used a few stems from the plant I have – about 2-3 Tablespoons)
  • tomato paste (about 1/4 of a can)
  • red wine (I used James River Cellars Meritage, since that’s what I had on hand)
  • 2 large cans of crushed tomatoes

Directions:

  • In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil before adding the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic.  Saute’ all until the vegetables are softened.  *See #1 on the photo
  • Add oregano and tomato paste and cook until fragrant.  *See #2 on the photo
  • Add wine to the sauce and simmer until most of the liquid evaporates.  I used The Force with regards to the amount I used, but it was equal to two turns around the pan.  *See #3 on the photo
  • Once the wine is incorporated, add the tomatoes and stir to combine.  *See #4 on the photo.  At this point, I covered the pan with foil and popped it into a 200 degree oven for about 2 hours.
  • After baking the sauce, I removed it from the oven and used an immersion blender to smooth out the sauce.  *See the final photo marked “YUM!”.  I adjusted the seasonings by adding some salt/pepper and a little sugar to sweeten the sauce a touch, since our family likes a sweeter marinara.  It’s now ready to use for a myriad of different dishes.

Ideas for Marinara Sauce use:

  • Meatball sandwiches:  For each sandwich, fill hoagie roll with meatballs (homemade or store-bought), top with marinara and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.  Broil sandwiches to melt cheese and serve.
  • Portabella Mushroom sandwiches:  For each sandwich, fill hoagie roll with sauteed portabella mushroom/spinach mixture, top with marinara and ricotta cheese, then broil to warm before serving.
  • Veggie Mexican Pizza:  On pizza crust, smear marinara sauce as you would tomato sauce, top with black bean and corn salsa and sprinkle cheddar cheese on top.  Bake as desired and serve.
  • Simple Italian dinner:  Top pasta (macaroni) with Meritage marinara sauce and Parmesan cheese.  Serve with garlic bread.
  • Eggplant, chicken, or veal Parmesan:  substitute Meritage marinara sauce for standard tomato sauce under your eggplant/chicken cutlet/veal cutlet and top with mozzarella cheese

This sauce is incredibly versatile and really tasty.  Try it in any dish where you’d typically use a canned or jarred tomato sauce.  It’s a great way to sneak vegetables into your family’s favorite meals and you can feel good that you’d made something healthy AND tasty.  It’s one of my favorite things… making healthy foods that my family will love.  Enjoy!