Saturday, January 28, 2012

Easy Roast Chicken

Few things in life are as delicious as a roast chicken. I like it best in it's simplest form...just chicken, olive oil, salt and pepper. That such an incredibly rich flavor and such juicy meat can be created from such simple ingredients gives me great pleasure. It gives my family great pleasure as well...everyone loves this simple dish.

A short while ago, I posted a 1966 recipe by Ann Seranne for prime rib ( That recipe has proven to be one of the most popular postings of all-time. I believe the reason for that is the recipe's simplicity. Crank the oven to 500º and put in the roast. Turn off the oven and let the roast sit. That's it. Done.

That very same methodology applies to this roast chicken recipe. Heat a skillet in the oven to 450 degrees. Drop the chicken on the skillet and close the oven. After 35 minutes, turn the oven off and let the chicken sit for another 35 minutes. That's it.

The reason for using a skillet is that the thighs are in direct contact with the heat of the metal. The thighs take the longest to cook and this method makes certain they are cooked all the way through. You must use a skillet...a roasting rack will not work for this recipe. While any skillet will do, I would recommend cast iron for its heat retaining properties. And using a skillet makes it easy to create a pan sauce, if you so desire (see bottom of page for recipe).

This recipe is from Cook's Illustrated and serves four. If you would like to subscribe to Cook's Illustrated, go here:

1 whole chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper


  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position, place 12-inch ovensafe skillet on rack and heat oven to 450 degrees. 
  2. Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Rub entire surface with oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over chicken.
  3. Transfer chicken, breast side up, to preheated skillet in oven. Roast chicken for 35 minutes. Turn off oven and leave chicken in oven for 35 minutes more.
  4. Transfer chicken to carving board and let rest, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Carve chicken and serve.

Wine pairing: If you prefer white wine, I would recommend an oaky Chardonnay. Red wine lovers should pair this with a Pinot Noir.

Simple Pan Sauce
Remove chicken from skillet. Put skillet on burner with heat turned to medium high. Add one cup of chicken stock. Scrape the pan with a spoon to dissolve all fond. Reduce stock by half. When the reduction becomes syrupy, remove from heat. Add one tablespoon of butter and salt and pepper to taste. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stuffed Bell Peppers

This is one of the family's favorite meals, so I've got it on the menu for tomorrow night. Stuffed bell peppers are a popular meal in many different cultures. Just try a google search and you will find hundreds of variations. The recipe I'm sharing here is a traditional American one....something your mom might have served you up back in the 50's. (Note that I said your mom would have served this only if it came frozen on a TV dinner tray).

This recipe is from my very favorite source,  Cook's Illustrated (you can subscribe here: They suggest it as a light main meal or side dish. I've beefed up the ingredient list because I want to serve this dish as a hearty meal. So in addition to a beef-upped ingredient list, I buy really big-ass bell peppers. I look at the green, yellow, orange and red ones and buy the biggest ones in the produce bin.

This recipe is fairly simple and requires three basic steps. The first is to blanch the peppers for three minutes. Second, you are going to mix the "stuffing" ingredients. Third, you are going to bake your stuffed peppers for thirty minutes. Then you'll serve up a great meal where the participants get to eat the delicious innards and the container as well! This recipe serves four.

4 big bell peppers, 1/2 inch trimmed off tops (see photo), core and seeds discarded
1 cup long grain white rice*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 pound ground beef
4 cloves garlic, minced
One 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups Monterrey Jack cheese
3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1/2 cup ketchup
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper

  1.  Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large stockpot or Dutch oven over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and bell peppers. Cook until peppers just begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, remove peppers from pot, drain off excess water, and place peppers cut-sides up on paper towels. 
  2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Heat 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until hot, about 1 1/2 minutes; add oil and swirl to coat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add ground beef and cook, breaking beef into small pieces with spoon, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to bowl with rice; stir in tomatoes, 1 cup cheese, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Place peppers cut-side up in 9-inch square baking dish. Using soup spoon, divide filling evenly among peppers. Spoon 2 tablespoons ketchup over each filled pepper and sprinkle each with 1/4 cup of remaining cheese. Bake until cheese is browned and filling is heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Wine pairing: Merlot

Blogger's Note: If you'd like to make an Italian version of this, substitute hot Italian sausage for the hamburger, use mozzarella instead of Monterrey Jack and spaghetti sauce instead of ketchup. To make a Mexican version, add taco seasoning to the hamburger, use cheddar cheese in lieu of Monterrey Jack and salsa in lieu of ketchup. Toss in a minced jalapeño if you like it hot.

*To save time and make the recipe easier, I buy pre-cooked rice instead of making my own:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Nana Benza's Lemon Chicken

This incredible entree is from my dear friend and former business partner, Ron Benza. This Benza family recipe is almost 200 years old and comes from Corleone, Sicily. It's delicious...incredibly easy to make...and I typically pair it with roasted asparagus and shallot rice (

Ron first shared the recipe in 1991 when our ad agency put together a cook book as a Christmas gift to our clients and employees. I started out following the recipe in the early years, but later made two modifications which I have included in this recipe. Nana Benza used to use whole chickens, chopped up into parts. I switched to using skinless, boneless chicken breasts many years ago. It makes the recipe both easier and healthier. I also threw in a dusting of grated parmesan for a little added depth of flavor.

While there are a lot of recipes for lemon chicken out there, this one is really special because of the sauce. Yet the sauce is the epitome of simplicity...10 cloves of crushed garlic, oregano, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. The sauce is added to the dish at the very end, after the chicken has cooked. It takes on the heat from the dish and commingles with the fond to take your taste buds to all-new heights. This recipe serves four.

4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (tenderloins removed)
4 heaping tablespoons of toasted breadcrumbs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
10 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice*
1 tablespoon of whole-leaf Turkish oregano or 1 teaspoon ground oregano
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Make the sauce. Put 1/3 cup olive oil in a small bowl. Add 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice, oregano, crushed garlic cloves and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper. Stir and set aside.
  3. Put 4 chicken breasts in a gratin or casserole dish just large enough to hold them all flat. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on each. Sprinkle each breast with 1/2 teaspoon of salt,  1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1 heaping tablespoon of breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup of grated parmesan.
  4. Cover dish with foil and place in oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
  5. Remove dish from oven. Stir sauce and add to dish. Let sit for 1 minute, then place chicken breasts on individual serving plates. Scrape fond (browned bits) from bottom of dish, spoon sauce over chicken breasts and serve.

Wine pairing: Riesling or domestic Sauvignon Blanc

Ron Benza

Monday, January 9, 2012

Homemade Salad Dressings

Calcium disodium EDTA. Xanthum gum. High fructose corn syrup. Soybean lecithin. Sulfites. Yum! Now there's a list of fantastic ingredients that really gets my mouth watering. You, too?

This is just a partial list of some of the ingredients that go into store-bought salad dressings. Here you are, going to all of the trouble of eating healthy by making a salad, and you top it with a salad dressing that has an ingredient list right from the laboratories of Dow Chemical. Really? While you're at it, have a little bite of salad and wash it down with a chilled glass of windshield washer fluid.

Making fresh salad dressing at home is one of the easiest things on earth. Plus, you get to control the ingredient list so that only good stuff goes in your dressing. Extra virgin olive oil. Vinegar made from fine, white wine grapes. Fresh ground mustard. Now we're talking.

The simple dressings below are meant to be made fresh and consumed immediately. Extra virgin olive oil coagulates in the refrigerator, so don't bother storing any of these. Let your imagination run wild and add your favorite ingredients to these basic recipes.

  • OIL and VINEGAR: Whisk 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil with 2 tablespoons of red or white wine vinegar. Add 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
  • LEMON and OIL: Whisk 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil with 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. Add 1 clove of finely minced garlic and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
  • LIME VINAIGRETTE: Whisk 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil with 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Add 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
  • RED HOT PEPPER VINAIGRETTE: Whisk 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil with 2 tablespoons of red or white wine vinegar. Add 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
  • MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE: Whisk 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil with 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Add 2 tablespoons fresh ground or dijon mustard, 1 clove of finely minced garlic and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. 
  • TARRAGON MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE: Whisk 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil with 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Add 2 tablespoons fresh ground or dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons dried tarragon, 1 clove of finely minced garlic and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. 
  • BLUE CHEESE: Whisk 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil with 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Add 1/2 cup sour cream, 2 tablespoons milk, 2 cloves of finely minced garlic, 4 ounces of crumbled blue cheese and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. 
  • ASIAN VINAIGRETTE: Combine 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Mix well.
  • BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE: Whisk 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil with 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Add 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Baked Rigatoni

After I made Spaetzel with Kielbasa and Caramelized Onions (see my December 31 post), which was smothered in Emmentaler cheese, I started craving more cheese dishes. So I reached back deep into my library and pulled out this recipe from Williams Sonoma, which I modified by replacing their ground beef ingredient with the much more delicious, hot Italian sausage.

If you're not into the labor of making lasagna, this recipe gives you a lot of the same flavors with a lot less work. The only lasagna ingredient really missing is ricotta cheese, which, in fact, is not really a cheese. Ricotta is actually coagulated milk proteins, a by-product of cheese production. I'm not a huge fan because it's taste and texture remind me of cottage cheese, which I abhor. (In my youth, my mother would put a scoop of cottage cheese on an iceberg lettuce leaf and call it salad. I called it just slightly more desirable than an enema.)

Make sure you buy big, thick really makes the dish. It's also important to undercook it when it's in the boiling water, as it will continue to cook and take on moisture when it is in the oven. If you overcook it in the boiling water, it will fall apart in the casserole. This recipe serves six.

1 pound rigatoni
1/4 cup of salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons more 
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds hot Italian sausage
2 tablespoons dried Turkish oregano
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 pound shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Non-stick cooking oil

  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Fill a large pot two-thirds full of water and add 1/4 cup of salt. Bring to a boil. Add the rigatoni, stir well and cook until al dente (tender but firm to the bite, about 1-2 minutes less than the cooking time on the package). Drain the rigatoni, place in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.
  3. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the Italian sausage and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until no pink remains, about 10 minutes. Drain off any fat. Add the oregano and tomatoes and stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Stir in the cream, raise the heat and return to a boil. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper. Add the sauce to the bowl with the rigatoni and toss to coat well.
  4. Spray a little non-stick cooking oil on the bottom of a shallow 3-quart baking dish. Spoon half of the pasta mixture in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella. Top with the remaining pasta, the remaining mozzarella and the Parmesan. Bake until the sauce is bubbly and the top is crusty and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, let stand for about 5 minutes and serve.

Wine pairing: Syrah or Zinfandel

Monday, January 2, 2012

Tabasco Buffalo Wing Sauce

I love Tabasco and I love chicken wings. But those two never went together because Tabasco sauce is far too thin for wings. Now, 144 years after launching the original sauce, Tabasco is rolling out a new sauce for chicken wings. It's five times thicker than the original and it packs less heat as the sauce is made with cayenne peppers rather than those scorching Tabasco chiles. Git yerself some!