Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Animal Farm, chef Randy Evans and an Outstanding in the Field dinner

One long table winding through the trees on Gita and Cas van Woerden’s Animal Farm was the setting for last Saturday’s Outstanding in the Field dinner. Founded by Jim Denevan, OITF’s mission is “to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.” With that in mind, and anticipating another sizzling afternoon in Texas, we donned our casual shoes, linens and hats and headed west to Cat Spring, Texas.
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With the help of a creative chef like Randy Evans (the executive chef of Brennan’s before Ike) and several other remarkable artisans who are mentioned below, close to 200 eager participants feasted on delicious local, organic and seasonal produce from Animal Farm and the surrounding area. A flight of tasty wines from Flat Creek Estate near Marble Falls accompanied every course. With a glass of their 2008 Pinot Grigio in hand and being surrounded by calming woods, it was easy to forget the bustling city only sixty miles away.
This friendly fellow walked in on the party. He came to check on his old barn nearby.09 birthday 9.26.09 023 v1-crop v2
Here are chef Randy and sous chef Kevin finishing the wild boar terrine and free-range deviled eggs, and answering our many questions at the same time. They were charming and highly personable throughout the evening, even when the power went out and the water pump took a while to replenish the supply. When you’re trying to feed 200 people, that’s stressful! Look for the opening of Randy’s restaurant Haven, which will feature its own raised-bed and sustainable vegetable garden behind the restaurant, green building solutions and a specially designed water filtration system. There has never been a restaurant opening so highly anticipated in Houston in many years.09 birthday 9.26.09 024-crop v1
Gita van Woerden has a soft spot in my heart. Aside from being a very gracious hostess, she also lived and studied art in South Africa, where I spent 16 years of my youth. She explained permaculture and it’s importance to our land, resources and general well-being of all that occupy it. Read about the history of the farm and her family’s quest to live in harmony with nature. It’s fascinating. As it turns out, you will have the opportunity to experience the farm during an Open House (click for more info) this coming Saturday, October 3. 09 birthday 9.26.09 033
Gita is a pioneer in many ways. The farm is “off the grid” and gets all of its electric energy from solar power. Designing their home without air-conditioning and central heating was the main challenge for their architect. I wonder if the parameters were met considering our temperatures during August? Transportation on the 78-acre farm takes the form of golf carts which are battery operated. The batteries are re-charged every evening. Independent of outside water supplies, the farm relies on an 180’ deep well which supplies the intricate water system.
Of several varieties of eggplant harvested on the farm, Gita’s favorite is the Cambodian Green Giant. It is green when ripe. With a sandy soil rich in minerals (composting puts nutrients back into the soil), it’s not surprising that the gardens produce superior tasting and nutritionally balanced vegetables. The vegetables are sold to several restaurants in Houston and Austin and at many markets, including the Bayou City Farmer’s Market.09 birthday 9.26.09 039-crop v1
The Yoga Retreat below is elegant and functional. Open on one end (remember, no air-conditioning) and with large windows and pleasing stained-glass and furniture, who wouldn’t be ready to don yoga pants and begin the ‘Salute to the Sun’?09 birthday 9.26.09 049
Here’s the outstanding top half of the menu. All delicious; thank goodness I didn’t have to pick a favorite! Purple hull peas were transformed into a hummus and then spread on flatbread that was baked in Gita’s wood-burning oven. The wild boar terrine was hearty with an additional flavor punch from the mustard and relish. And the free-range devilled eggs from Gita’s roaming chickens – heavenly! Cy-Fair Homecoming Parade 9.09 003 v1-crop v1
At the table, we were served squash vichyssoise with a roasted corn salsa on the bottom:outstanding in the field 041-crop v1
Here’s Lisa Seger, a goat cheese making wonder. You know she must turn heads everywhere she goes with her fiery mane, especially in rural Waller, Texas! She and husband Christian, tend to many amusing Nubian goats on their Blue Heron Farm. Chosen for their high protein, high fat and mild flavored milk, Nubian goats’ cheese is not gamey or dry. Don’t walk… run to the Bayou City Farmer’s Market to try her chèvre. 09 birthday 9.26.09 055 v1 v2
We enjoyed Lisa’s mild and creamy goat feta on the spicy arugula photographed below. She also provided a phenomenal cajeta we drizzled on the pound cake biscotti. Yes, I brought some cajeta home and have been snacking on it since……what diet? Swede Farm (also in Waller) provided the goat buttermilk for the lovely pecan pie I slathered with cajeta…09 birthday 9.26.09 058 v1
Shaded by the trees, we enjoyed the company of new friends during the family-style dinner. Find my Honey – he’s looking at me and has a silver mane.outstanding in the field 017 v1
The bottom half of the menu featured tender grilled shrimp with Animal Farm’s grilled baby vegetables. Head-on Gulf shrimp were provided by Texas Wild, owned by Jennifer and Dimitri Georgantas (Greek accent included!) This charming couple moved from table to table, explaining their ‘shrimping’ techniques and journeys deep into the Gulf.Cy-Fair Homecoming Parade 9.09 007 v1
Now ‘heads-off’ Gulf shrimp…09 birthday 9.26.09 065 v1
Animal Farm’s squash and eggplant:09 birthday 9.26.09 064-crop v2
Unfortunately darkness set in and the rest of my pictures are not acceptable. Chef Randy’s fried chicken balantine (purse) included a delicious crust that surrounded the rolled chicken. It was paired with a respectable Flat Creek Estate 2008 Super Texan. The 2007 Muscato Blanco was perfect with the various dessert elements in that it was not overly sweet. And did I mention the cajeta…?
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And you never know who you will bump into! From a city with over 4 million people, I reconnected with a friend I had met in the early 80’s, when I first moved to Houston. This is Diane in her cool I.M.Pei glasses. outstanding in the field 052-crop v1
Reluctantly, we walked to the car down the sandy path following the softly lit paper lanterns; the cool light of the half moon peeking through the trees. My friend, Barbara and I, joked about what we would do if we got lost. We decided that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to just bed down on the thick, lush pad of leaves and enjoy Mother Nature’s generosity! The pioneers did it, so why shouldn’t we?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pluott, Ploo-ot – no, Pluot cake!

plum cake 008 v1Friendship is a wonderful thing, especially if one of your friends is the finest food photographer in the world.  Ok, so I’m a little biased, but you have to check Ralph Smith Photography sometime.   He rocks the industry and has photographed several beautiful cookbooks including this award-winning beauty for the Junior League of Houston.   Seriously, the cookbook has won so many awards for design and content, I’ve lost count…it’s brilliant!

Occasionally we are gifted with delicious and unusual food products that come through the studio to be shot (by the camera, people!) for cookbooks, vendors or events.  I will never forget when Ralph showed up at our doorstep with a cooler full of exotic mushrooms --  amazing varieties and some I had never seen before:  ‘hen of the woods’, chanterelles, oyster, enoki and more.  See -- I told you it’s a wonderful thing to have a food photographer as a friend!

But the best prize of all that was brought to my kitchen from Ralph’s studio was an enormous, solid, 11 pound (5kg!!!) slab of dark Callebaut baker’s chocolate.  Holy Moly!  I could have died and gone to chocolate heaven right then and there!  I did share some of it…

Last week, I attended a culinary affaire at Ralph’s studio and came home with a bag full of juicy and perfectly ripened pluots.  Pluots are new enough on the stone-fruit scene that my spellchecker doesn’t even recognize the word yet!  Same with the plumcot, a similar variety.

Intensely sweet, pluots are a cross between a plum and an apricot – but much more plummy than apricoty.  Rich in vitamins C and A and fiber, they range in color from light green to shades of yellow and through the color wheel to deep purple.  They are best eaten fresh (as with most fruits), but also lend themselves well to the sweet and moist Pluot Cake here.

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Pluot Cake  adapted from The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook, by Marian Burros and Lois Levine.

Staying true to the title of the book, this recipe is VERY EASY to make. 

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon sugar for the top (optional)2 eggs1 cup all-purpose flour1 teaspoon baking powderpinch of salt4 pluots or plums, pitted and quarteredwalnut halves, optional1 teaspoon cinnamonArrange a rack in the middle of the oven.  Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare a 8” or 9” springform pan by greasing it with butter and dusting with flour.  As you can see from the top picture, I used a 5-inch and a 7-inch pan for one recipe.

Cream the butter and 3/4 cup of sugar in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer or use a stand mixer.  Add eggs, one at a time, until mixture is light and fluffy.  Add flour, baking powder and salt and blend on slow speed until just combined.  Spoon the batter into the prepared pan/s.  Place the pluots or plums, skin side down, around the edge of the pan, with the plums pointing inward.  Mix the cinnamon with 1 tablespoon of sugar (optional) and sprinkle over the top.  Place a few walnut halves between the pluots, if desired.Bake for 30-40 minutes (or less if you are using smaller pans) until the top is golden and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool.Using a small sieve, dust the top of the cake with 1 teaspoon of confectioner’s sugar, if desired.  Serve plain, with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.  Serves 8.703-crop v3


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Indian food rocks! Dosas with curried garbanzo filling, coconut curry sauce and mango salsa

back yard 09, dosas 105 v1 My first memories of Indian cuisine are of our summer vacations in Durban, South Africa, where there is a large Indian population.   We would leave as early as 3 o’clock in the morning (the three of us kids still in our pyjamas) and drive over six hours to the closest beach on the Indian ocean.   There we enjoyed the fine white sands of Durban beach and we body surfed the waves which could reach 10’ high - quite an imposing sight for a youngster.   Those were wonderful and carefree times for a skinny kid growing up in South Africa.  But we also got our obligatory annual sunburns (smear on more baby oil, Mom – ouch!  Who knew any better?).  Then there was the occasional jellyfish (if only I had let that one swim away and didn’t try to push it away from me – ouch!) and the beached Bluebottle or Man O’ War (you said it was dead so I didn’t think stepping on the tail would hurt – ouch!)  Wonderful and carefree times, as I said.

But even as a child, I enjoyed the food.  A spicy stew called ‘Lamb curry and rice’ was a very popular dish served in hotels.  It consisted of ground lamb sweetened with sultanas (golden raisins) and spices, and topped with coconut and fresh banana slices.  It is a vivid memory, even today!  The Victoria Street Indian market was a feast for the eyes and offered amongst many souvenirs a variety of colorful Indian spices, curries and masalas (a mixture of herbs and spices).  I looked forward to our visit every year.

Fortunately for me, Houston has an abundance of very good restaurants specializing in dishes from every region of India.  I don’t cook Indian food often but I love it so much that I think it must be my favorite ethnic cuisine.  So I was very excited about this challenge and couldn’t wait to permeate the house with the heartwarming and pungent aromas of garlic, cumin, turmeric, chilies, coconut milk and curry powder. 

Curry powder – music to my nostrils!  Shunned by most Indian chefs, it is a key ingredient in the Coconut curry sauce below.  It is an English blend of spices readily available in grocery stores and contains a substantial amount of turmeric.  It became a convenient way for the British to replicate the savory dishes they enjoyed during the British occupation of India.  I recently worked for an outstanding youth soccer club – Albion Hurricanes FCThe general manager is a smart Englishman who would occasionally bring ‘Fish pie’ to the office for lunch.  With the marked aroma of curry in the air, salivating, on my part began immediately, and I think I would have attacked if he didn’t offer me any!  Thanks for sharing, Mark!  BTW I’m still waiting for your mother’s recipe. 

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Dosas are part of this month’s Daring Cooks’ challenge.  A VEGAN dish which came together surprisingly quickly is oh sooo delicious even when the three parts are eaten separately.  The recipes are totally animal-product free (no meat, no milk, no eggs), and are very low in fat.  Delicate dosas (crepes) stuffed with a spicy garbanzo filling and topped with a wonderfully fragrant coconut sauce and my addition of a simple mango salsa -  I could eat like this every day.  Who needs meat and dairy? 

Wait…I draw the line at dairy!  I couldn’t possibly live without my cheese and yoghurt!  Yoghurt could be a cool contrast to the spicy filling and sauce and I might include it next time (no veganism for me quite yet, thank you!)

Here’s the Daring cooks party line:  Debyi, our Daring Cooks host, from chose something that could be easily adapted to be animal and gluten-free as well as tasty.  She and her husband had the pleasure of visiting one of the Fresh Restaurants ( in Toronto, Canada during a business trip.  She chose Indian Dosas from reFresh: Contemporary Vegan Recipes From the Award Winning Fresh Restaurants cookbook by Ruth Tal with Jennifer Houston.

Indian dosas
Typically, dosas (crepes) are made from lentils and rice left to ferment overnight, then ground to form a batter the next day.  They can be coarse and ‘stiff’.  These dosas are made with spelt flour and produce a decidedly different texture:  soft, lacey and very delicate.  My friend, Jessica, and I cooked together and found ourselves using pieces of the soft dosas to scoop up the sauce (Ethopian style) and stuff it into our mouths…sweet! 

Jessica with lunchback yard 09, dosas 100-crop v1

This dish comes in 3 parts: the dosas, the filling and the sauce.  Being me, I added a 4th part – a simple and cooling mango salsa as a topping.  The filling and sauce can be made ahead and frozen, if necessary.  You can also serve them as a main course with rice and veggies.    My changes in the recipes are in blue.

Dosas  from reFresh  (makes 8-10 crepes to serve 4)

1 cup (120gm/8oz) spelt flour (or all-purpose flour)
½ tsp (2½ gm) salt
½ tsp (2½ gm) baking powder
½ tsp (2½ gm) curry powder
½ cup (125ml/4oz) almond milk (or soy, or rice, etc.)  I accidentally bought vanilla flavored almond milk and fortunately the aroma was only evident during the cooking phase, but not at the tasting.  Whew!
¾ cup (175ml/6oz) water
cooking spray, if needed   I used olive oil

1.  Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, slowly adding the almond milk and water, whisking until smooth.   I added more almond milk because I wanted thinner dosas, I’d say up to 1/4 cup more.
2.  Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray your pan with a thin layer of cooking spray, if needed.
3.  Ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the center of your pan and turn the pan in a circular motion until the batter spreads into a thin, round crepe. When bubbles appear on the surface and it no longer looks wet, flip it over and cook for a few seconds. Remove from heat and repeat with remaining batter.

Fill each of the dosas immediately with 2-3 tablespoons of the Curried garbanzo filling as they have a tendency to stick to each other if stacked when hot.  You can roll them or fold them twice to form a triangle, as I did.  Pour about 3 tablespoons of the Coconut curry sauce on top of each dosa and top with Mango salsa and slivered almonds, grated coconut, or chopped cucumber, if desired.

Very lacey, light and tender dosas alex europe 314 v1

Curried Garbanzo Filling
This filling works great as a rice bowl topping or as a wrap, so don't be afraid to make a full batch.

Olive oil

5 cloves garlic
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced  Love my veggies, so I added an extra carrot.
1 green pepper, finely diced (red, yellow or orange are fine too)
2 medium hot banana chilies, minced Couldn’t find banana chilies so I roasted 2 poblano chilies for a nice kick!
2 TBSP (16gm) cumin, ground
1 TBSP (8gm) oregano
1 TBSP (8gm) sea salt (coarse)
1 TBSP (8gm) turmeric
4 cups (850gm/30oz) cooked or canned chick peas (about 2 cans)
½ cup (125gm/4oz) tomato paste I used an 8 ounce can of tomato sauce instead.

1.  Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium to low heat.  Add the garlic, veggies, and spices, cooking until soft, stirring occasionally.
2.  Mash the chickpeas by hand, or in a food processor. Add the chickpeas and tomato paste to the saucepan, stirring until heated through.

Coconut Curry Sauce
This makes a delicious sauce as a separate meal with basmati rice;  and it freezes well!

1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic
½ (2½ gm) tsp cumin, ground
¾ (3¾ gm) tsp sea salt (coarse)
3 TBSP (30gm) curry powder
3 TBSP (30gm) spelt flour (or all-purpose gluten-free flour)
3 cups (750ml/24oz) vegetable broth
2 cups (500ml/24oz) coconut milk
3 large tomatoes, diced

1.  Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add the onion and garlic, cooking for 5 minutes, or until soft.
2.  Add the spices, cooking for 1 minutes more. Add the flour and cook for 1 additional minute.
3.  Gradually stir in the vegetable broth to prevent lumps. Once the flour has been incorporated, add the coconut milk and tomatoes, stirring occasionally.
4.  Let it simmer for half an hour.

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Mango salsa

1 mango, peeled and cubed

1 jalapeno, finely chopped

1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

3 green onions, finely chopped

salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients and top the dosas with a spoonful.

 Dosa Toppings, optional 

¼ cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
¼ cup (125gm) grated coconut  omitted it
¼ cucumber, sliced  omitted it as well


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Colorado hiking, wildflowers and a Blueberry-Lemon Cornmeal Cake

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To me, hiking and Colorado are synonymous.   It’s my favorite activity during summer trips.  Easy as it seems, for us Texans it’s not something we can dive into upon arrival.  We sea-levelers fight altitude sickness and a serious lack of oxygen that has us panting and gasping for air every few feet we rise further from the sea.  

My all-time favorite Colorado hike was a few years ago when we started off at the Smiths’ cabin at Pearl Lakes, near Creede.  Led by resident Eagle Scout, Ralph Smith, we hiked for four hours until we reached the rocky summit of Finger Mesa - a rise of over 2,000 feet!  At the time, favorite Son was working on his Camping merit badge (on his way to Eagle) and one of the requirements was a hike such as that.  Challenging at every vertical step, we traversed beautiful valleys and rocky wind-swept fields, and soon realized that objects were always a lot further than they appeared!  Just when we thought we were at the summit, another valley or steep slope presented itself as a challenge. 

The payoff was worth every altitude-induced headache:  the vista was an unobstructed 360 degrees of mountain ranges and peaks for miles and miles in the distance.

Alex and Teague appraising the scenerydragpic1-crop v1

This year, we came across this tiny stream (pictured at the top).  It is so much prettier in reality.  My friend, Stacey, thinks that the picture would make a great jigsaw puzzle because when we’re not hiking, fishing or playing darts, we’re putting together 1,000 (tiny) piece puzzles.   Would you like to try matching the leaves, flowers and grasses of that one, Barbara?

Stacey, Barbara and Emilia working on puzzle #3Colorado July 2009 285-crop v1

Back to hiking…..During our hikes, we stumble upon so many lovely wildflowers and of course, I have to photograph just about every one of them (brace yourselves for a slew of pictures taken by this amateur!).  Great variations in altitude (3,500’ to almost 15,000’ above sea level), climate, and terrain allow for a plethora of flora.  Early in July, we went for days without seeing the state flower and finally found these two Colorado Columbines behind Castle Rock:Colorado July 2009 082-crop v1

King’s Crown bloomsColorado July 2009 007-crop v1

 Elkslip Marshmarigold growing in a tiny creek over 10,000 feet above sea levelColorado July 2009 025-crop v2

  Wild IrisColorado July 2009 031-crop v3

 Rachel and Emilia taking a break from the climb near Castle RockColorado July 2009 081-crop v1

We walked through an aspen stand (it felt like we were being watched!)Colorado July 2009 089 v1

Early morning dewColorado July 2009 639 v1

If you get up early enough, you might see a shaggy-coated mule deer behind the cabinColorado July 2009 543-crop v1

Baby pine cones Colorado July 2009 675-crop v1

Alpine WallflowerColorado July 2009 071 v2

Silky PhaceliaColorado July 2009 107-crop v1

Geum triflorum, purple avens, or simply ‘old man’s whiskers’Colorado July 2009 121-crop v2

And then there are the controversial four-wheelers, only for when a hike would be too long…right!   I’m not a big fan of the noisemakers and even the slightest tilt makes me feel like I’m falling off (a daredevil I am not).  But they did afford me a trip up the ridge to a most beautiful lake:

Black LakeColorado July 2009 133 v1

Colorado July 2009 147 v1-crop v1 Karley led me to Black Lake.  She’s the cutest teenager and when I asked her to slow down on the way back because I am not a speed demon and I wanted to take a few pictures, she casually put her left hand on her waist and we cruised back.

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I made a Blueberry-Lemon Cornmeal Cake before I left Houston and it travelled well over two days in the car.  I believe the time spent sealed in a tin allowed the cake to become very moist, and the tartness of the lemon and sweetness of the blueberries to blend beautifully.  Next time I’ll try it with fresh cranberries for an über tart cake!

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Blueberry-Lemon Cornmeal Cake   adapted from Fine Cooking, September 2006

1⅓ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal (I used Goya’s Harina de Maiz)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon, or about 2 tablespoons
1/2 cup buttermilk
1½ cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Preheat oven to 350° F.   Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 2-inch round springform cake pan.  Line the bottom with a parchment round cut to fit the pan.  Lightly flour the sides, and tap out the excess.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until blended.  In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well until the batter is smooth and fluffy, about 3 min.  Add the lemon zest and lemon juice (the batter may appear curdled; don’t worry).
On slow speed, fold in half of the dry ingredients, then the buttermilk, and then the remaining dry ingredients until just combined.  Do not overbeat the batter.
Scoop about half of the batter into the prepared pan.  Spread with a spatula until even.  Spoon blueberries in a single layer on the batter in the pan.  Scrape the rest of the batter on top of the blueberries and spread evenly. 
Bake in the preheated oven.  After 35 minutes, test the cake for doneness with a cake tester or toothpick.  If it comes out clean, it’s done. 
Let the cake cool on a rack for 15 min.  Remove side ring of the springform and cool completely.  Carefully invert the cake and peel the parchment off the bottom.  Flip it over onto a serving plate.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar or ice with my Cream Cheese Icing, if desired.  Serves 8-10.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Chicken Marbella - in honor of Sheila Lukins

Last Sunday, a pioneer in the American culinary world died.  Sheila Lukins, the creative master behind The Silver Palate cookbooks and The Silver Palate gourmet store in New York City, introduced me to pine nuts, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and pasta primavera when I first became interested in cooking. 

Sheila graduated from the Cordon Bleu School in London.  Back in New York, she began a catering business aimed primarily at bachelors.  She was their ‘little woman in the kitchen’ and her motto was “So discreet, so delicious and I deliver!”  She later met Julee Russo, an accomplished cook herself, who was ready to leave the corporate life and start her own business.  The two opened a tiny shop called The Silver Palate that produced simply prepared but delicious food ready for entertaining or an impromptu picnic.  Using only high quality ingredients, their food was an artful balance of color, texture and flavor, and also a feast for the eyes!    

silver palate 002-crop v1 Through her unique cookbooks, Lukins (with Russo) helped me understand gourmet cooking.  The Silver Palate Cookbook and The New Basics Cookbook include easy-to-follow recipes based on authentic European cuisine.  Every page is peppered with a menu suggestion, a quote, historical fact or a valuable tip on how to entertain like a pro.  Sheila’s whimsical illustrations complement the clear-cut recipes.   Some of my favorites include Roast Lamb with Peppercorn Crust (my friend Chantal still talks about the time I served her that one!), Chicken Liver Pate with Green Peppercorns, Wild Mushroom Soup, Carrot Cake and a fabulous Bread Pudding accompanied by a very ‘adult’ sauce (think whiskey!).

Sheila’s All Around the World Cookbook includes recipes from her travels to 33 countries.  I continued to learn from her for 23 years through her Simply Delicious column in Parade magazine (the one that comes in the Sunday paper) where she succeeded Julia Child as food editor in 1986. 

Chicken Marbella is a recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook that became the signature dish at the Manhattan store.  I imagine it’s being made in many kitchens this week.  I recently left a batch marinating for Favorite Son and his roommate, Sam.  The evening they roasted it, he texted me that “The chicken was delicious.  I was just ripping it apart then eating it from the bone!” 

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From The Silver Palate Cookbook: 

This was the first main-course dish to be offered at The Silver Palate, and the distinctive colors and flavors of the prunes, olives and capers have kept it a favorite for years.  It’s good hot or at room temperature.  When prepared with small drumsticks and wings, it makes a delicious hors d’oeuvre. 

The overnight marination is essential to the moistness of the finished product:  the chicken keeps and even improves over several days of refrigeration;  it travels well and makes excellent picnic fare.

Since Chicken Marbella is such a spectacular party dish, we give quantities to serve 10 to 12, but the recipe can successfully be divided to make a smaller amount if you wish.

Chicken Marbella

Yields 16 pieces, 10 or more portions

4 chickens, 2 ½ pounds each, quartered

1 head of garlic, peeled and finely puréed

¼ cup dried oregano

coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

½ cup red wine vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1 cup pitted prunes (I also like to add dates, dried cherries and dried figs)

½ cup pitted Spanish green olives (I add a few Kalamatas as well)

½ cup capers with a bit of juice

6 bay leaves

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white wine

¼ cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), finely chopped

In a large bowl combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, pepper, coarse salt, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.

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Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices. Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice.

With a slotted spoon transfer chicken, prunes, olives and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Pass remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.

To serve Chicken Marbella cold, cool to room temperature in cooking juices before transferring to a serving platter. If chicken has been covered and refrigerated, allow it to return to room temperature before serving. Spoon some of the reserved juice over chicken.

Following the advice from Sheila’s Silver Palate Notebook: 

Successful flavoring depends on many things.  To appreciate this fully you must experiment…..Next time combine meat with fresh fruit.  You may feel the need to experiment with small batches at first; as your confidence and your palate develop, you will learn to create boldly, trusting in the results.  You will be a cook. 

To my Chicken Marbella I added some dried cherries, kalamata olives, fresh oregano from the garden, and peeled and cubed potatoes 20 minutes before the end of the roasting period. 

Thanks, Sheila, for teaching me how to entertain, for expanding my horizons, and for giving me confidence in the kitchen.  I cherish your recipes and thank you for sharing them with us.  You will be missed!

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