Recipe: Simple Chardonnay Dinner

I’ve been sharing this recipe with people for ages, but I thought I’d better get it down in type before I get too much grief.  Seems I have a few people who like to use this blog as a simple cookbook, so I want to keep everyone on the same “page” as it were.  I’ll try and get a photo of this dinner soon, but until then, you’ll need to use your imagination.

There are days when I just don’t want to have to think about how I’m going to throw dinner together when I get home.  I love to cook and be creative, but it’s nice to have a simple “go to” available if I’m not in the mood to experiment.  That’s where this recipe comes into play.

I always have frozen shrimp and frozen chicken (of some sort) on hand.  I also like to have those wonderful orange bags of Uncle Ben’s 90-second brown rice in my cupboard… and I will, as long as my local grocer keeps them in stock.  (Note to self: give grocery store manager the address of this blog so he knows how important that item is to keep in his available inventory.)  That being said, I can get a fairly simple dinner done as long as these main ingredients are available to me.

I start with either frozen shrimp or frozen chicken.  I thaw whatever I’m planning to use, and for simplicity’s sake, let’s pretend that I’m using shrimp for dinner.  Once I remove the shells from the thawed shrimp, I spray my saute pan with cooking spray and cook the shrimp to a hard sear on both sides, until they’re pink and just cooked.  I then remove the shrimp to a plate and cover lightly with foil to keep warm.  (Note:  if I’m using chicken, I use skinless, boneless chicken and cut it into thin enough pieces to cook about as quickly as the shrimp does in this recipe.)

Next, add 1T margarine and 1T flour to make a roux.  Allow the roux to bubble and cook the flour a bit – this mixture should turn slightly brown and toasty.  Add Chardonnay, along with a bit of chicken stock to make a sauce. I tend to add the wine first, then add some stock and taste the sauce before continuing. (NOTE: I like to use an oak-aged chardonnay but any tasty stainless Chardonnay is also stellar in this recipe.   Use something you enjoy drinking – if the wine is too salty or not flavorful enough, you won’t enjoy the sauce you create.  Add enough wine to make a sauce that is to your liking.)  Take time to allow the flour to thicken the sauce as it cooks and don’t be so impatient that you add too much liquid… adding flour at this point is when you’ll get little flour lumps as it’s difficult to incorporate  thoroughly.

Once you have the sauce completed, replace the shrimp in the sauce and add a little touch of parsley or a fresh herb of your choosing.  While your shrimp are soaking up the flavors of your sauce, pop a bag of 90-second rice into the microwave and use to plate your dinner.

You can add a crisp green salad, bread, and a vegetable to this dinner if you so desire, but I find that the simple dinners are best served simply.  Let the food shine and enjoy the accolades that accompany such a delicious dinner.  If someone feels compelled to thank you by doing the dishes, so much the better, right?



Recipe: Chicken Cassoulet

Here’s an easy recipe for Cassoulet that I’ve adapted from Weight Watchers… and included wine.  This was our dinner last night and it got rave reviews from my favorite taste testers (my family).  Since I use The Force when I cook (do I sound like a broken record, warning everyone about this?), the amounts are approximate and will vary depending on the foods you prefer and what you have on hand. 

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees.  You’ll start this recipe on the stove top and then allow it to cook for about 30 minutes or so in the oven, so go ahead and get this ready.  If you’re doing the first part early in the day and planning to cook it in the oven just before eating, the only thing I would change would be to add an extra 15 minutes to the baking time before you serve it.  Mine baked a little too long, so it’s pretty dry, but that’s the way my guys like it.

In a Dutch oven (or large skillet with a lid), brown 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  The original recipe calls for bone-in thighs, but my family prefers to not deal with bones whenever possible.  I do this in two stages and remove them to a plate as they brown.

Add diced Canadian bacon and saute until browned and crispy.   Add sliced baby carrots (I used about 2 cups), sliced celery stalks (I had some celery sticks that needed to be used, so I went a little overboard on this one, but I don’t believe it hurt the dish at all), and a diced onion (the recipe actually calls for leeks, but I forgot to get this at the store and I always have onion on hand), and cook until the veggies are soft and a little toasty, stirring frequently to distribute the small amount of fat left from the bacon.  Add 2 cans of cannellini (white kidney) beans (drained slightly), a half bottle of James River Cellars Pinot Gris  (I had this on hand… next time I’ll use James River Cellars Reserve Chardonnay), a packet of chicken broth seasoning, water (I used a coffee cup’s worth), 3 bay leaves, and some lemon thyme (from my friend’s garden).  I then allowed all the flavors to combine and brought the dish to a slow simmer.  Return the chicken thighs (and collected juices) to the pan and nestle the meat among the vegetables.

Baking your dish: Here’s where you can take a break, if needed.  I actually put the lid on the Dutch oven and let it rest on the stove top for about an hour at this point.  M wasn’t due home for a bit and I knew dinner wasn’t going to need to be ready for a few hours.  If you’re making this immediately, pop the Dutch oven (with lid on) into your hot oven and allow to cook for an hour.  Since you’re not using bone-in chicken, you can decrease the baking time a little.  Do realize that if you’re making this using bone-in chicken, you should bake it for 1 hour and 30 minutes.  If you’ve taken a break and are bringing it back from “cool”, I would bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, but this part isn’t exact.  Check your dinner and decide for yourself when the meal is cooked… the meat will be falling apart and the sauce will be thickened to your liking.

Remove the pan from the oven and discard the bay leaves.  If you so desire, take a coffee cup’s worth of sauce (without meat) and process it in a blender until smooth, then return to the dish and stir.  I totally skipped this part because my guys were “starving”, but this is a nice touch.  You can also use a stick blender and just pulse it a few times near the bottom of the pan, staying away from any of the chicken.

Remember to always use a wine that you would drink… there are tons out there that don’t cost a small fortune and are worthy of cooking.  I always have James River Cellars wines on hand, so I tend to lean toward using those.    This is one of my favorite cold-weather dishes and I hope it will become one of yours as well.


Recipe: Chicken Noodle Soup… with wine

I don’t know of any other food that has such an amazing ability to evoke memories of  “home” to me than Chicken Noodle Soup.   I adore the combination of the broth, vegetables, and chicken that can conjure up visions of snowy stay-at-home days or lazy fall lay-around days.  It’s getting to be about that time of the year when my crock pot and my soup pot both get a workout… when dinners are made the night before and the house seems steeped in the fragrant mirepoix of celery, carrots, and onion.

Today was one of those days when I just needed to make Chicken Noodle Soup.  M is home sick and wants to eat soup… so, of course, I wanted to make it from scratch.  He will agree when I say that he makes a lousy patient.  He doesn’t like to be sick and hates not having enough energy to do much of anything, so my thought is to make something that tastes good and has wonderful healing properties ( to make M feel better as soon as possible.

As with most of my recipes, this is definitely a “Use The Force” recipe.  I start with my big soup pot.  This thing can easily hold an entire cooked chicken (picked up cold from the local grocery store) and enough water to cover it… so that’s where I start.  I cook the chicken in the water until the chicken is almost ready to fall apart.  Remove the chicken to a strainer and allow to cool before picking all the meat off the bones.  You now have a very light stock to start your soup.

I finely dice carrots and celery and add to the soup.  Today, I used a few hands full of baby carrots and the inside pieces of a stalk of celery as my mirepoix… M’s not a big fan of onion, so I didn’t include it today.  I then diced some of the chicken breast into fairly small pieces.  I saved most of the chicken for other uses but a total of one breast, sliced and diced, was enough for this entire pot of soup.  I allowed the vegetables to cook for awhile and then adjusted the seasonings… adding salt/pepper, a little parsley and lemon thyme, and then included four packets of G. Washington Golden Bouillon (my favorite from childhood).  Since M wanted “noodle soup”, I broke up about an inch-width of linguine into four pieces to simulate the name brand’s noodles… now it just needed to cook the noodles.

Once everything was incorporated and the noodles had plumped up, I added about a half cup of Reserve Chardonnay from James River Cellars Winery.  I could have used any white wine, but I really like the way Chardonnay cooks and it adds a really lovely back note to the broth.   This made my chicken noodle soup taste amazing.

I hope you’ll try your hand at making your own version of Chicken Noodle Soup, especially if someone you love isn’t feeling up to par.  It might be just what the Doctor ordered!


Recipe: Stroganoff by The Force

I love making casseroles early in the day so that dinner can be a low stress affair.  I do my best to keep the kitchen cleaned up before M comes home (since he’s the one who does the dishes after dinner) so this is the simplest way I know to have time to make that goal a reality.  Casseroles rock… one baking dish to wash after dinner?  Definitely a plus in my book.  Additionally, with the schedules that are kept by all who currently live in our house, I’d have to make four separate servings of a meal to get everyone fed.  With a casserole, I can make it once and everyone can eat when they’re able, though we do endeavor to sit down together to eat as often as possible.

Dinner tonight is one of those “I can’t be there, so dinner is in the fridge” nights.   I’ve got a consult and then a meeting during the time we usually try and have dinner, so  I’ve made a version of Stroganoff that I’m hoping my guys will like.   I used a Reserve Chardonnay and a Pinotage that I had in the fridge to the recipe so the pasta would cook thoroughly and I wouldn’t have to worry about crunchy noodles in my casserole.  It’s done entirely using The Force… and I think it tastes pretty amazing.  Here’s how I made dinner:

Brown 1 sliced (or diced) onion and 1lb of ground turkey in a tiny bit of olive oil in a large saute pan on the stovetop.  Once these are browned nicely, I added a large glug of good Olive Oil and enough flour to make things start to get sticky.  I would start with 2T of flour and see if you need more.  I then added a half box of jumbo elbow macaroni pasta, some garlic paste, salt/pepper, paprika, the rest of a bottle of Reserve Chardonnay (about 3/4 cup?), some glugs of a Pinotage called “Grinder” I have in the fridge (maybe 1/4 cup?) as well as 1 cup of beef stock.  All the liquid is needed to soak into the pasta and get it to cook up nicely without having to pre-cook it.  Here’s what dinner looked like at this point:

It’s still steamy and the noodles haven’t totally cooked, so they still look pretty yellow.  At this point, I put the lid on and let it cook on its own for a bit.  I was editing pictures, so I’m really not sure how long it cooked.  Once I decided the noodles had cooked enough and turned off the heat.

Here’s where the “stroganoff” part came in.  In my head, a stroganoff has to have some sort of creamy sauce and paprika to make it into what I think of as traditional.  I added some Philadelphia creamy garlic sauce (only because I didn’t have any greek yogurt or sour cream on hand) and that seemed to do the trick.  Taste test was a success and I was ready to put dinner in the casserole dish… but it just didn’t look “finished”.  I needed buttered bread crumbs to top it all off.

When growing up, my mom’s Buttered Bread Crumbs were the standard by which I judged all other casserole toppings, which means that I didn’t like anything that other people called “bread crumbs”.  I now make Buttered Bread Crumbs in the same saute pan I used for the casserole, so I’m including tiny bits of dinner into the delicious topping that will grace this casserole.  Today, I used three burger rolls (because that’s what I had on hand, that’s why) and cut them into small bite-sized pieces.  I heated some of the really good Olive Oil (seen to the right, a fabulous Olive Oil that I got from my cousin Tami and her hubby Harry) with a few tablespoons of margarine and a little garlic paste.  I then tossed in the bread pieces and sauteed this mixture until the bread started to crisp up a bit.  Buttery, garlicky, and toasty… that’s the way these Buttered Bread Crumbs should taste!
Once the topping was finished, I added them onto the casserole and dinner was ready.  M will pop it into the oven tonight and my three guys will have a fabulous home-cooked meal, even though I won’t be there.  It’s one of the joys of working odd hours and being happy to use The Force to create something I am sure they’ll enjoy.  Wine or no, cooking should be about sharing your joy and passion.  I’m just so grateful that my guys appreciate that about me.

Since you won’t be here to see the finished product come out of the oven tonight, here’s a final shot of how dinner looked when I was done playing today.  I may not be the best housekeeper, but I can whip together a great meal and include wine in the process…