Chillin’ In The Summer With Gazpacho

Balsam Farm StandOut here on the East End of Long Island in July, the farm stands are in full swing with beautiful produce every day of the week. Just now the tomatoes are starting to come in and I began to crave a soup that not only beats the July heat, but tastes as fresh as all the vegetables in season. That means gazpacho to me!IMG_2662

It seems that everyone has a little different take on their gazpacho recipe so I decided to take a less traditional route in developing mine, but not sacrificing any of the wonderful garden flavors. I’ve done a lot of research on gazpacho recipes and a common theme is the use of tomato juice from a can or V8 juice. It seemed such a shame to me to do that to all of the farm stand vegetables that have been so lovingly grown so I had to find another solution….and I did!

IMG_0670Instead of using tomato juice I took the sweet red and yellow cherry tomatoes available at my favorite farm stand, Balsam Farms, and added olive oil, lime juice, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, two diced garlic cloves and 1/2 large jalapeño diced with seeds included and salt.IMG_2671 The blender created this beautiful sort of pink sauce that was a perfect substitute for the tomato juice conundrum.

Jane's Herb GardenThis summer our landscape architect, Jane Lapin, designed and installed for me a beautiful herb garden that is just loaded with so many amazing herbs to choose from. I have a lot of fun experimenting with countless combinations of herbs in my cooking. The variety of oregano is particularly nice and I have loads of parsley and chives so that is what I used in my gazpacho to give it a herbaceous note. IMG_2678

I think that a good gazpacho is a bit chunky while still having the consistency of a soup. So I diced all of my vegetable and added the pureed cherry tomatoes and put about half of the gazpacho in the blender and pulsed a few time to a traditional consistency and then added it back to the rest of the soup.

The last secret is the final touches. I love 20 year old Balsamic vinegar and use it to give tomatoes a deep and sweet flavor. It does cost quite a bit, but you will be amazed at the difference it makes. Once I have made my gazpacho I am tempted to dive right in and eat a bowl, but this soup needs time to chill and let the flavors fully develop. Amagansett GazpachoYou can chill it 4 hours before you want to serve it, but overnight is best to bring out all of the subtle flavors of gazpacho.

When you are ready to serve your gazpacho, you can garnish it with some diced onions, cucumber, red bell pepper and celery tossed with a little olive oil and either regular balsamic or a touch of the good stuff or red wine vinegar and put a spoon full on top of the soup. I also like to serve a crostini with some softened goat cheese to round out the meal.

Amagansett Gazpacho with Goat Cheese CroutonEnjoy!

Amagansett Gazpacho

4 large fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
3/4 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced
1/2 large red bell pepper finely diced
1/2 medium size red onion finely diced
1 1/2 large stalks celery finely diced
1 large jalapeno – 1/2 with seeds removed and diced. The second 1/2 diced with seeds and reserve this 1/2.
2 cloves garlic, minced
Zest of one lime
2 tbsp good red wine vinegar
1 tsp finely minced fresh oregano
3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely minced
2 tbsp chives, finely minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, more or less to your taste
1 pint cherry tomatoes – an assortment of red and yellow is best
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of one lime
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
4 – 6 dashes of Tabasco
1 tbsp 20 year old balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste

Combine diced tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onions, celery, 1/2 jalapeno with the seeds removed, oregano, parsley, chives, cumin, cayenne, lime zest, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar and 1 tsp salt in large bowl and set aside.

Place cherry tomatoes, olive oil, lime juice, garlic, remaining minced jalapeno with seeds, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 tbsp regular balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce in blender, cover and process until smooth. Taste and add salt as needed. Pour pureed mixture into the bowl of the tomato and diced vegetables; stir to combine.

Place about 1/2 of the combined tomato mixture, making sure to include the diced vegetable as well. Cover and puree until smooth. Return pureed mixture to the remaining tomato/vegetable mixture and combine well. Add 1 tbsp 20 year old balsamic vinegar and a few dashes of Tabasco and stir again. Taste again for salt, adding a little at a time until taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or over night.

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Follow Me Down The Butter Rabbit Hole

I will freely admit that butter is one of my guilty pleasures. Up until a few years ago I was sort of indifferent to butter because the ones that I used lacked something that I couldn’t put my finger on. One evening we were invited to a friends house for dinner and I couldn’t believe how wonderful the butter was that they served. Kerrygold Irish ButterOur host told me that it was Kerrygold butter from Ireland, which I learned was generally available in most supermarkets. Then I decided to learn more about where different butters come from and why they seem to be richer and more flavorful than the domestic butter available here in the United States. So I jumped down the butter rabbit hole and after a lot of trial and error I found the diamond of butters – Les Pres Sales with Camargue Sea Salt.

Les Pres SalesLes Pres Sales is produced in Belgium using fresh cream from cows on the plateau of the Belgian Ardennes. The butter is churned and then big salt crystals from Camargue, a region in the French Rhone delta reknown for its high quality sea salt is added to the churred butter. Long prized by gourmets, Camargue sea salt is hand raked and harvested in France. The salt crystals remain intact in the butter, allowing for delicious savory bites as they dissolve on the tongue. Many say the reason it is so good is related to the quality of the cream, or what the cows eat. It’s also due to the fact that the butter is made from slightly-soured or cultured cream, which gives it a nutty, mellow tang. Les Pres Sales can be more difficult to find, but it is usually in specialty markets like Bristol Farms or Gelson’s or can be found on-line as well.

If you are going to invest in a good butter like Les Pre Sales, one needs to have a butter dish worthy to hold your tasty treasure. There are many out there, but I prefer the Convivio White Butter Dish by Match Pewter.Match Round Butter Dish Match Pewter is handmade by artisans in the North of Italy. Each piece is crafted of an alloy that is food safe and lead free. It is a little pricy, but it holds a modest portion and is a beautiful addition to your table.

The next trip down the butter rabbit hole for me was exploring the world of compound butter. Compound butters are so versatile and are the perfect little extra “something” to kick up a weeknight meal or impress your guests while entertaining! Compound butters are only limited to your imagination and sense of adventure. I’ve made many compound butters and am always on the look out for some new inspiration even venturing into compound butters for many ethnic cuisines.

There are a couple of words of advice. First, I usually use Kerrygold salted butter in the tub because it has already been whipped and it combines with your other ingredients very easily. Second, make butters that will accentuate what is fresh and in season. Third, you can store your compound butter back in the Kerrygold tub if you like or you can roll into a log in plastic wrap and tightly tie the ends with kitchen twine and store in freezer bags in the freezer until you are ready to use them. Lastly, while it takes just a little time to make a compound butter, I would suggest making several and freezing them so that when you are inspired to give your dish that little something extra it is already there waiting for you. Compound Butter Gifts Also, wrapped up, labeled and pretty… they make a wonderful hostess gift, too!

Here are a few compound butter recipes to get you started… but let your imagination soar… the combinations of ingredients are endless!

Chipotle-Cilantro Butter

1 tub Kerrygold butter at room temperature or 2 sticks butter at room temperature
2 to 4 chipotle chiles in adobo, pureed, 2 tbsp total
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro
Salt, if using unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
Honey, to taste

Combine the butter chipotle, garlic, cilantro, salt (if using unsalted butter), pepper and honey in a food processor until smooth. Can use a smaller 3 cup mini-prep food processor as well. Taste and adjust salt, pepper & honey to your liking. Great on corn on the cob and grilled steaks.

Lemon-Red Fresno Chile Butter

1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp honey
1 tub Kerrygold butter at room temperature or 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3 red Fresno chiles, grilled, seeded and finely diced
Salt, if using unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper

Put the lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until reduced to 1/4 cup. Stir in honey and let cool.

Add the butter and zest to the reduced lemon juice and mix in the food processor until smooth. Put in the chiles and pulse a few times just to combine and season with salt (if using unsalted butter) and pepper. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking. Great on grilled lobster, shrimp or on steamed vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or green beans.

Garlic Butter – and yes, that is Howie, my husband, talking on the phone in the background :)

1 large head of garlic or two small heads
1 tub Kerrygold butter at room temperature or 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup chopped italian parsley
Salt, if using unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the top off of the head of garlic to expose the garlic cloves. Take a piece of foil and place the garlic head on the foil, drizzle it with 1 tbsp olive oil and a little salt. Close up the foil into a little package and roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 20 – 25 minutes, remove and let cool. Once cooled, squeeze out the roasted garlic cloves into a small bowl and set aside.

Add the butter, roasted garlic and chopped italian parsley in the food processor until smooth. Add salt if using unsalted butter and freshly ground pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Great for slathering on warm french or sourdough bread and anything else that you love with garlic.

Add the butter, roast

Harissa Butter

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons harissa paste
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

Process all ingredients in food processor or mini-prep food processor until smooth.

Harissa PasteHarissa paste is a spicy North African red chile paste and is available at Middle Eastern markets and some specialty foods stores, and online at The Spice House. Delicious as replacement to butter for a roast chicken for a taste of Morocco.

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Fire Up Your Chowder With Buffalo Chicken!

Buffalo Wings

Buffalo Wings

There is some dispute about who came up with the original hot wing appetizer, but most credit the Anchor Bar in where else but Buffalo, New York, USA. The historic creation date for Buffalo Wings was October 30, 1964, when owner Teressa Bellissimo was faced with feeding her son and his friends a late snack. Having an excess of chicken wings on hand, she fried up the wings, dipped them in a buttered spicy chile sauce, and served them with celery and blue cheese dressing as a dipping sauce to cut the heat. The wings were an instant hit.

I guess Buffalo wings were my destiny. When I was in high school, my English teacher, Summer Peasley, invited me to her home town of Buffalo for a visit and took me to the Anchor Bar where I had my first encounter with Buffalo wings – it was love at first bite!

I am crazy about Buffalo wings. It seems like whenever I visit a new restaurant, if there are Buffalo wings on the menu I will try them – sometimes they are perfect and others, well…not so great. My brother-in-law makes great wings and I always request them when we visit them in Tennessee. I’ve watched him make them and it is quite a production with the deep fryer that you would use to fry a turkey. Turkey Fryer It takes him a while to fry batch upon batch to get them just right – crispy and cooked all the way through. That’s just too big of a commitment for me to make at home so I had to find another way to get the spicy deliciousness of buffalo wings with a fraction of the work.

If you are a reader of my previous blogs, you know I am a soup lover. I like soup because you can make it in advance when you have some extra time and it just gets better the longer you let it sit. So I got to thinking, why can’t you make a soup or chowder that has that satisfying buffalo wings taste? So I decided to give it a try.

The most critical component to Buffalo wings is the sauce. My brother-in-law uses a combination of Frank’s Original Hot Sauce and Hooters Wing Sauce and it is a mighty delicious combination. Some people say that Frank’s Original Hot Sauce is the closest thing in a bottle to the real deal Buffalo wings sauce at the Anchor Bar and I tend to agree. Frank's Original Hot Sauce.

Buffalo Chicken Chowder with Pablano PeppersWith a little imagination and a lot of inspiration, my experiment paid off on the first try. My Buffalo Chicken Chowder with Poblano Chilies is something everyone in your family will love. If you are in a hurry, it works just as well with shredded rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Just skip sautéing the chicken and toss it with the 3 tbsp of hot sauce mixture and finish the recipe as written. You can even make a vegetarian version by just leaving out the bacon and chicken and substituting your favorite vegetarian protein product. If you want the chowder a little thicker, use King Arthur Flour Signature Secrets Thickener – this is the best stuff ever. It dissolves instantly and doesn’t clump or make lumps. I use it all the time when I make soup or gravy. Use as little or as much as you like depending on how your prefer the thickness of your chowder. Make sure to have all the traditional Buffalo wings accompaniments like celery and carrots with blue cheese dressing or ranch dressing. It’s spoon lickin’ good!

Buffalo Chicken Chowder with Poblano Peppers

3/4 cup Frank’s Original Hot Sauce
2 tbsp. butter
4 slices bacon, cut into into lardons
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 fresh jalapeño, seeded and diced
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, optional if you don’t like it too hot
2 cups either frozen or canned corn
1 large red potato, peeled and cut in small dice
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup low fat milk
2 poblano peppers, blistered, peeled and seeded and cut into 1 inch strips
Smoked salt, freshly ground black pepper, to taste
King Arthur Flour Signature Secrets Thickener
Chopped fresh cilantro, green onions and blue cheese crumbles, for serving

Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a microwave safe bowl. Add the hot sauce and stir to combine and set aside.

Heat a dutch oven pot over medium heat and add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside on a paper towel to drain the fat. Drain all but 2 tbsp of the bacon fat and add the chicken to the pot and brown on all sides, about 3 – 5 minutes. Remove the chicken to a bowl and add about 3 tbsp of the hot sauce mixture and stir to combine and set aside. If needed, add a little more oil or bacon fat to the pan and add the onions, garlic and jalapeño and sauté about 5 minutes. Add the chopped potatoes and sauté another 4 – 5 minutes. Next add the paprika, crushed red peppers and a pinch of smoked salt and pepper. Saute another minute or so and then add the corn to the pot and toss to combine and sauté another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth, remaining hot sauce mixture and milk to the pot and let simmer at least 20 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, pulse until half the soup is creamy but still has chunky pieces of potatoes and corn. Taste for smoked salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the pot and the roasted poblano peppers and cook another 5 minutes. If you would like the chowder a little thicker, you can add a little slurry of cornstarch and water of use the King Arthur Flour Signature Secrets Thickener (preferred) and cook another 5 minutes.

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with reserved bacon lardons, blue cheese crumbles, cilantro and chopped green onions. Now dig in!!

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Easy As Pie? Not!

Apple Pie with Lattice CrustI am a cook, not a baker. I have tried many times to do some serious baking and have always found it way too frustrating with mediocre results. Maybe it is because baking requires accuracy and I tend to “create” as I go along. All summer long, I would go to the farm stands here in the Hamptons and look longingly at the beautiful freshly made pies for sale. I thought, this is silly, I am going to figure out how to bake a great pie!

Now first of all, most pies I have eaten have doughy mushy crusts on the bottom of the pie and I end up just eating the filling and throwing the crust away. I will also freely admit, that out of pure laziness for years when I wanted to make a pie I would end up buying the Pillsbury pre-made pie crust in the grocery store. One day last month I noticed an article in the East Hampton Star, our local newspaper, that Leslie Dumont of Proud To Be Flaky, was offering a pie making class in her home for just four people. I jumped on the computer to book a spot and was lucky enough to be one of the four pie students!

Leslie was a great teacher. Her view of pie is that it is all about the crust and the technique for making the crust that is the secret to a pie regardless of the filling. What I learned was invaluable. To make a great flaky pie crust requires time, a few special tools and practice.

First of all, the easiest way to make the dough is in the food processor to get the dough to the right consistency. Next, the butter needs to be cut into small cubes and returned to the refrigerator for about an hour before making the dough. Also, the number of pulses when you add the butter to the flour mixture is critical to not over process the dough. Adding the water by digging a little well on the side of the food processor bowl is important so that it will incorporate better and not just gum up around the blade of the food processor.Processed Dough

When the dough is ready to form a ball, the secret to a flaky crust is the “shove”. The recipe makes two crusts so after you divide the dough on your work surface, which at this point the dough is crumbly, you pull the dough together with your hands and form a ball. Once you have formed the ball you take the heal of you hand and give the dough a firm shove. Pull back together as a ball and repeat the shove. Just twice, that’s it. Then form a ball again and take a large piece of plastic wrap and put the ball in the center and loosely fold the sides so you have a little package and take the package and form the ball into a uniform disc.

Here is where the time comes in. The dough discs need to go back into the refrigerator for at least an hour before you can roll out the crust. After an hour, take two large pieces of parchment paper (it needs to be extra wide which can be found at Williams-Sonoma) and dust some flour on the bottom piece and place the disc on the parchment paper and dust the top of the disc with flour and place the second piece of parchment paper on top. Now you can start rolling the pie crust out. You will need to stop and pull away the parchment and add more flour as you roll so the dough doesn’t stick to the parchment paper. I usually flip the whole thing over when re-dusting the bottom of the crust. After the crust is rolled, the parchment paper with the rolled dough inside needs to go back into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes but up to an hour.

Here are a couple of tools that are important. First is a pizza stone. The pizza stone needs to be sitting on the bottom of the oven floor and the stove needs to preheat for an hour to ensure that the stone is very hot which helps to “cook” the bottom of the crust. Make sure you take the racks out of the oven before you preheat it as you can access the pie in the hot oven more easily. Second, while there are many fancy pie pans, the one that will give you the best result is just a plain old Pyrex pie pan you can buy in the grocery store for $3.00. Believe it or not, it really makes a difference. The last tool that is helpful is a pie crust protector. Williams-Sonoma has a nice silicone one that fits the Pyrex pie pan just right.

This pie crust will work for any type of pie you want to make. When you are ready to put the pie in the oven, place the pie on a rimmed cookie sheet because if the pie bubbles over it will not ruin the pizza stone Rolled Pie Crustand will stay in the cookie sheet. Actually, the first time I made a pie on my own after taking the class, it did bubble over, but the pie turned out fine. So if yours does don’t worry about it.

Charleston Apple Pie, Weezer StyleI’ve made a pie every week since taking the class. The first time I was a little apprehensive that mine may not turn out as well as Leslie’s, but it was just fine. After doing several different pies I now look forward to making them and trying new fillings, doing a lattice crust, crumb crusts, you name it. I also love to see the satisfaction of eating a good homemade pie on the faces of my family and friends. The pie crust is crisp and has a nutty flavor that is hard to describe. So just get in the kitchen and make your own pie and fill your kitchen with an amazing aroma that will have everyone asking when will it be done.

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Here are a couple of recipes that you can try for Thanksgiving this year for your family. I also made, just this week as a dry run, the pumpkin pie using the recipe on the back of the Libby Pure Pumpkin can and it was delicious. Wouldn’t change a thing.Pumpkin Pie

Leslie converted me to a Pie devotee. I hope you will be converted too!

PIE CRUST – makes two pie crusts, enough for two single crust pies or one double crust pie.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached, flour
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ice water

Cut chilled butter into cubes by cutting in half lengthwise and cut the two halves lengthwise again and then cut into small cubes and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Combine dry ingredients in food processor with a few pulses.

Add butter cubes and pulse until pieces of butter are small (the size of peas). This will take about 20 – 40 pulses depending on how cold the butter is.

Make a small well in the dough away from the blades of the food processer and add half the water and pulse four times. Make another well and add balance of the water and pulse until dough just begins to hold together – it will still be crumbly at this stage.

Spill dough out onto the counter and form into two equal size mounds. Gather mounts into your hands and gently form them into a ball. Once you have formed the ball you take the heal of you hand and give the dough a firm shove pull back together as a ball and repeat the shove. Then form a ball again and take a large piece of plastic wrap and put the ball in the center and loosely fold the sides so you have a little package and take the package and form the ball into a uniform disc. Refrigerate the discs for at least one hour before rolling.

After an hour, take two large pieces of parchment paper (it needs to be extra wide which can be found at Williams-Sonoma) and dust some flour on the bottom piece and place the disc on the parchment paper and dust the top of the disc with flour and place the second piece of parchment paper on top. Now you can start rolling the pie crust out. Stop and pull away the parchment and add more flour as you roll so the dough doesn’t stick to the parchment paper. I usually flip the whole thing over when re-dusting the bottom of the crust. After the crust is rolled, the parchment paper with the rolled dough inside needs to go back into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes but up to an hour.

Note: Dough discs can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Charleston Apple Pie, Weezer Style

7 Honey Crisp apples or 6-7 cups, peeled and sliced
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
zest of one lemon
2 tbsp lemon juice

Topping:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 lb. cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees for one hour with pizza stone on oven floor. Remove oven racks.

Place 1 pie crust in ungreased 9 inch glass pie pan. Press gently but firmly against side and bottom

In large bowl, gently mix filling ingredients; spoon into crust lined pie pan.

To make topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. You can use a pastry cutter instead of electric mixer to obtain the same result.

Scatter the topping over the apples and press firmly to ensure that topping forms a top crust. Place the pie on a rimmed cookie sheet, place the cookie sheet with pie on pizza stone and bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour. Check after 30 minutes to make sure topping is just browned and cover with foil to prevent excessive browning. If the top does not need to be covered with foil, but the crimp/crust edges are very brown put on the pie crust protector. Cool on rack at least 2 hours before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream!

Berry Pie

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees for one hour with pizza stone on oven floor. Remove oven racks.

Place 1 pie crust in ungreased 9 inch glass pie pan. Press gently but firmly against side and bottom

5 1/2 cups of berries (blueberry, blackberry or raspberry – or any combination that you like)
3 tbsp cornstarch
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp melted butter
Egg white wash
Whipped cream

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Gently rinse berries and add to bowl. Toss to coat and then add lemon and melted butter.

Pour into prepared pie pan with dough. Cover top with either another round of dough or a lattice top. Brush with egg white wash. Place the pie on a rimmed cookie sheet, place the cookie sheet with pie on pizza stone and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes (or until the crust begins to brown). Reduce heat to 375 and bake another 45 minutes (until fruit juices are bubbling and begun to thicken). Check after 15 minutes to make sure the crimp/crust edges are very brown, if so put on the pie crust protector. If the crimp/crust edges isn’t brown enough yet, check again in 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least a half hour. Serve with whipped cream.

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Mori Sushi – A Gem Polishing Its Michelin Star

(Play the music to enjoy your Mori Sushi journey while reading!)

LA is no doubt a sushi paradise. There is a wide variety of places ranging from those offering a more “Americanized” menu to those that are more traditional that specialize in sushi as an art form. What I find intriguing is how sushi is viewed in Japan. When thinking about great sushi, my friend Lorin Shamos, a fellow sushi devotee, evoked the image of Mount Fuji – the great mountain that stands as nature’s mascot for Japan. Tall, big and seemingly always snowcapped, it is a reminder of the perfection and attention to detail that hums under Japanese culture and especially their food. In Japan, a sushi chef is considered an artist that designs a culinary experience for his guests that demonstrates his mastery of the art and his skill – the personification of Mount Fuji. Mori Sushi Recently, I discovered Mori Sushi. I began my first steps up the great Mount Fuji of Japanese cuisine that certainly took my experience to a new artistic level.

Mori Sushi, awarded a Michelin Star, is a jewel tucked away in an unassuming place in West Los Angeles. Mori Sushi Dining RoomEverything about Mori is a delight to the senses – from the Zen vibe as you walk in to the attention to the smallest detail throughout your experience. First of all, the rice is of the highest quality. It is grown in Sacramento by a farmer originally from Japan and then shipped unhulled to Mori’s to ensure its freshness. Finally it is polished daily on site for maximum taste. Secondly, the soy sauce is also handcrafted on site as well, which greatly enhances and complements the sushi and sashimi served during my visits by the excellent sushi chefs, Taketoshi Azumi and Yoshiyuki Inoue . The house prepared soy sauce is delicate and truly enhances your sushi and sashimi experience at Mori.

Lunch is my favorite time to dine out for a couple of reasons. First, it is a little less crazy than dinner. People tend to eat lunch depending on their work schedule and the groups are usually just 2 or 3 people, which makes it less noisy. I also think it is easier for the wait staff to be more attentive than in the evening when there are people standing around waiting for a table. Second, there are “lunch” specials which can help make sushi at Mori’s a little more on the affordable side, but the quality of every ingredient is just as high as if you chose Omakase.

My favorite lunch special at Mori is Chirashi, which is an assortment of sashimi – tuna, salmon, octopus, shrimp, albacore, and red snapper on top of a bowl of Mori’s amazing sushi rice. The sushi rice is unique and wonderfully favorful with a surprisingly tasty addition of ginger. ChirashiThe little touches that rounds out the balance of the dish were the small sampling of Kohnomono or japanese pickles, delicately flavored with a great crunch, and the light tamagoyaki. To add to the delightful small touches, the Chirashi as well as all lunch specials begin with a small green salad with a house prepared carrot ginger dressing that is wonderful. Next comes the miso soup that is prepared from scratch and is like no other I have ever tasted.

My sushi partner-in-crime, Lorin and I have dined several times at Mori. Each time we go we venture to try items that you don’t normally find on most sushi menus. Yuko, our server, recommended the Japanese Cherry Blossom Trout sushi. It was a beautiful pale pink and had a mild sweet flavor and a silky texture. Japanese Cherry Blossom Trout On another occasion we tried an appetizer of pieces of baby Japanese eggplant grilled and topped with a miso and sake glaze garnished with grilled Shishito peppers – amazing! However, our favorite cut roll is the tuna with jalapeno slices – Mori’s version of spicy tuna. The roll is perfect. Usually spicy tuna rolls are mushy with hot oil and mayonnaise. This roll is beautiful in its simplicity with just the sliced tuna and the fresh, crunchy jalapeno slices with the right amount of heat. Spicy Tuna Jalapeno Roll

Mori Sushi Staff 1The service at Mori’s is outstanding and adds an element of serenity to the dining experience. There is no detail overlooked here. Even the ceramic serving pieces and other service items are handcrafted.Soy Sauce Pottery

Mori Sushi is a unique experience of all of your senses. I think Lorin summed it up very well. “From those first steps up the sushi Mount Fuji, passing memorable sights and tastes along the way, I finally found that place where it all comes together and makes sense, a place where a meal finds Zen carefully constructed by a master who knows his way to the summit. It is a path I will surely take again.”

From the moment you enter to the staff’s welcome of “Irasshaimase” to the end of your sushi culinary journey, my enthusiastic response is “Gochiso-sama” (it was a feast!)

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Farm Fresh From Amagansett – Smokey Collard Greens

Summer is here! Summer is our sweet reward for those long cold winter days we endure knowing the the fields will soon be planted in the Spring to bring a Summer filled with fresh produce to delight us. When we arrived in Amagansett this summer the first thing I did was hop in my car and go to my favorite farm stand, Balsam Farms. I hope you enjoy this little tour with me and a little Foggy Mountain Breakdown tune.

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The day I visited Balsam Farms they had the most beautiful looking collard greens. Collard greens are a staple on the Southern table. Some people may turn their nose up at the very thought of eating collard greens, but believe it or not they have amazing health benefits. Recent studies have demonstrated new respect for collard greens as a nutrition powerhouse — they’re loaded with disease-fighting beta-carotene and offer respectable amounts of vitamin C, calcium, and fiber. All these attributes make cooking collard greens a wise choice for your diet.

Collard GreensFirst, collard greens contribute an important non-dairy source of calcium that’s absorbed almost as well as the calcium found in dairy products. That’s good news for those facing the threat of osteoporosis, as calcium is one of many factors crucial to bone health.

Second, collard greens are an excellent source of vitamin A, mostly in the form of beta-carotene, which has been shown to help protect against cancer, heart disease, cataracts, and other diseases of aging through its antioxidant properties. Vitamin A also helps keep the immune system strong. Other carotenoids found in greens may be just as potent cancer conquerors as well, but research is continuing. They are also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C.

Now, most southern recipes call for cooking collard greens in copious amounts of pork fat which would undo all the good things collard greens can do for your health so I had to come up with a way to make them that was tasty without all the fat. I know – smoked salt!!

Williams-Sonoma Oak-Smoked Chardonnay Finishing Sea SaltIn its pure state, salt is a simple chemical compound, sodium chloride. But things really get “fired up” when salt is smoked. The best ones are slowly smoked over a natural fire, often made of used oak barrels recycled from making wine. The smoke permeates the salt crystals, infusing them with a rich, distinct smoked taste, and transforms their color from a light toasty brown to a deep amber. Williams-Sonoma has a very good Oak Smoked Chardonnay Sea Salt which will do just fine for my collard greens recipe.

Collard greens are easy to make, but I think they are best when the leaves are sliced very thinly in chiffonade. Chiffonade is a classic French technique that means thinly slicing an herb, such as basil, or a leafy vegetable, into strands or ribbons. Chiffonade Collar GreensTo make chiffonade, stack the leaves one on top of the other, and roll them tight into a cylinder. Using a chef’s knife, slice the cylinder crosswise into thin strips. This will give the collard greens a light and uniform consistency.

If you want to eat collard greens in the true Southern style, you can add a few dashes of hot pepper vinegar just before serving. Hot pepper vinegar is a little hard to find. Trappy’s is a very popular brand and is quite tasty. Trappy's Hot Pepper Vinegar If you are really ambitious you can make your own, which is really not hard at all.

You simply won’t believe your mouth when you taste these greens. They smell like bacon, and taste a lot like bacon, but there is no bacon! Just the magic of the smoked salt. So pull up a chair and get ready to dig into some mouth watering smokey collard greens. Smokey Collard Greens

Smokey Collard Greens

2 tbsp canola oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 1/2 lbs. collard greens, clean with center tough stems removed and discarded and leaves very thinly sliced in chiffonade
4 cups water
1 tbsp smoked salt
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the greens, water, smoked salt and apple cider vinegar. Season the mixture with pepper. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low, cover and cook until the greens are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with smoked salt and pepper. Serve with hot pepper vinegar on the side.

Hot Pepper Vinegar

6 – 8 hot fresh chilies (such as jalapeño or cayenne)
4 cups apple cider vinegar

Wearing rubber gloves, wash the chiles under cold running water. Using a paring knife, make 2 to 3 small slits in each. Pack the peppers tightly into a sterilized jar. Heat the vinegar in a saucepan over high heat until simmering. Pour the hot vinegar over the peppers. Secure tightly with the lid and refrigerate for 3 weeks before opening. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 year.

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Doin’ The ‘Cue The Slow Way

You can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take her love of barbecue away. Barbecue fever runs in my family. My Uncle Bo told me the story of my grandfather and pulled pork. My grandfather was an engineer on the railroad in Memphis, Tennessee WAY back in the day. He didn’t have a car, but when he got paid every Friday he would take the bus to pay his bills in person and then would go to Leonard’s Barbecue and treat himself to a pulled pork sandwich and a beer.Leonard's Pit Barbecue Seems like a big so what, but with a large family to feed, cloth and educate it was a real luxury for him. The best gift to us all is that he passed his love of pulled pork down to his family

When people talk about barbecue they usually talk about barbecued ribs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like ribs just as much as the next guy, but they really aren’t that hard to cook. Pulled pork, on the other hand, is a whole different thing. Real pit masters spend years perfecting their rubs, sauce and technique to master cooking a pork butt to become a beautiful pile of mouth watering pulled pork. And to really do it the authentic way, you need a smoker that burns wood where the pork butt can be cooked low and slow to get that delicious, deep smokey flavor.Pulled Pork Sandwich

I will admit, I have been a little intimidated to cook a pork butt. First of all, I’m no pit master and secondly, I don’t have a smoker. So I considered myself at a real disadvantage. But, being a Type A personality, I was going to find a way to make pulled pork my way. One day I was looking around in Williams Sonoma and I saw a jar of Pulled Pork Starter to use in the slow cooker! Pulled Pork Starter What a great idea – it was worth a try.

Off to the store to buy a 5 lb. pork butt with the bone in. Every barbecue show I have watched always stresses that the bone in pork butt delivers better flavor in the final product. Next was to develop my own version of a rub – a blend of toasted spices, garlic powder, chili powder, dry mustard and brown sugar. After I applied the dry rub to the pork butt, I then browned it on all sides and put it in the slow cooker, poured the Pull Pork Starter around it and set the slow cooker to low for 9 hours. Here is a little “how to” video shot by my friend and videographer, Lorin Shamos.

All Clad Slow CookerI know it is a cardinal sin to open a slow cooker during the cooking process, but it is necessary because you need to turn the pork butt over since the Pulled Pork Starter doesn’t cover the meat entirely. I know 9 hours seems like a long time, but your patience will be rewarded. What I like to do is pull the pork apart into nice size chunks and shred it a little or you can chop it (that is what is usually done for Memphis style pulled pork sandwiches). I always save some of the cooking liquid to moisten the meat before serving. You can either serve it piled high on bun, topped with your favorite barbecue sauce and some tasty Green Onion Slaw or just by itself with barbecue sauce and your favorite sides. Pulled Pork Dinner with Green Onion Slaw Now that’s some good eats!

Pulled Pork The Slow Way

2 tsp whole coriander seeds
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns
3 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp dry mustard powder
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp chile powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp paprika
4 tbs dark brown sugar
2 tbsp canola oil
4 1/2 to 5 lb. pork butt (shoulder), bone in
1 jar Williams-Sonoma Pulled Pork Starter
Hamburger buns
Your favorite barbecue sauce (I like Jack Daniels or Stubbs)

For the spice rub, in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat, toast the coriander, cumin and peppercorns until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from skillet immediately and using a spice grinder or a food processor, grind the toasted spices into a fine powder. Transfer to a bowl and mix with salt, dry mustard, garlic powder, chile powder, cayenne pepper, paprika and brown sugar. You will have enough left over for your next pork butt.

Wash a dry the pork butt well and rub meat with a generous amount of the spice rub making sure all sides are covered. If you have time, let the meat rest for an hour or two at room temperature, or refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Heat a large skillet (or the insert in your slow cooker if it is removable and can be used on the stove top) with about 2 tbsp of canola oil and heat to medium-high. Place the meat in the hot skillet and brown well on all sides, about 2 – 3 minutes per side until completely browned. Remove from the skillet and place in slow cooker. If you are using the slow cooker insert to cook the meat, remove the meat to a plate, and pour out all of the cooking oil and wipe out the insert so there are no burned spices left in the slow cooker then place in the slow cooker. Once the meat is in the slow cooker, pour the Pulled Pork Starter around the meat (it will not cover the meat) and then place the cover on the slow cooker and turn on to low setting for 9 hours. After about 6 hours turn the meat over to let the other side cook in the Pulled Pork Starter liquid. When the cooking time has been completed, remove the meat and shred or chop, which ever you like. Reserve some of the cooking juice to moisten the meat before serving. Pile the moistened pulled pork on a hamburger bun, top with barbecue sauce and Green Onion Slaw and get ready to go to barbecue heaven!

Green Onion Slaw

 

1 cup coarsely chopped green onions, white and green parts
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
2 Serrano chilies
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup canola oil
Salt and pepper
1 small head purple cabbage, finely shredded
1 small head Napa cabbage, finely shredded
1/2 green and red bell pepper thinly sliced
1/2 cup julianed carrots
1/2 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (depending on you liking)

 

To make the dressing for the slaw, combine the green onions, vinegar, honey, chilies, mayonnaise, oil and salt and pepper to taste in food processor and blend until emulsified.

 

Combine the cabbages, bell peppers, carrots, red onions and poppy seeds in a large bowl, add the dressing (you may have more dressing than is needed so just add enough to coat and add more if needed) and stir until combined.  Fold in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

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It’s Greek To Me

I suppose this would tell you something about my personality, but sometimes I eat the same thing every day for weeks on end. A few months ago it was steamed mussels whenever I could find them. Before that it was a sushi kick. Recently we discovered a little coffee shop in East Hampton owned by a Greek family and I rediscovered the Greek Salad which became my new obsession. Horiatiki Greek SaladThe Greek salad is a pretty simple, fresh dish that represents Mediterranean cuisine at its best. Healthy, refreshing and balanced, every bite of what the Greeks call “horiatiki salata” invites a sensation — be it the saltiness of the olives and feta cheese, the sweetness and acid of the tomatoes, the bite of the onions, the richness of olive oil or the herbaceousness of Greek oregano. Add to that the vibrancy of the ingredients’ colors, the contrasting textures and the fact that the salad requires so little to put together, and the sum total is addictive.

Lakonia Greek ProductsNaturally, my quest for the perfect ingredients ensued. The most critical to a truly great Greek Salad is high quality olive oil, red wine vinegar, feta cheese, kalamata olives and Greek oregano. One item most everyone agrees does not belong in an authentic Greek salad is lettuce. However, I think that it is perfectly fine to have lettuce in a Greek salad.

After a little investigation, I found an olive oil made by Lakonia, an extra-virgin olive oil made from kalamata olives grown in the Lakonia region of Greece, and is considered some of the highest quality extra virgin olive oil in the world. The taste is velvety with a peppery finish. Lakonia is family owned and their products are very difficult to find, so I ordered it online at www.lakoniagreekproducts.com. Lakonia products include delicious Greek Infusions, Greek Olives, and Greek Oregano. After tasting all of their products I can truly say you won’t find anything better.

I am a red wine vinegar snob. The Cheese Store in Beverly Hills makes their own red wine vinegar aged in a wood cask and it has a deep and rich flavor and is a beautiful garnet color. The secret to great red wine vinegar is the quality of the wine that is used. Better quality wine vinegars are matured in wood for up to two years, and exhibit a complex, mellow flavor. Wine vinegar tends to have a lower acidity than white or cider vinegars. There are very good red wine vinegars that you can buy online. One that I would recommend is made by Delouis Fils. The house of Delouis was founded in 1885, with the purchase of a vinegar factory in Limoges, France, and they have produced high quality vinegar products ever since. Based on a tradition of “Natural Quality”, that is no additives, preservative or artificial flavors aggregated, Delouis produces some of the finest vinegars out in the market today. Delouis Fils red wine vinegar is distilled from the finest red wines available, and bottled after being aged in casks to produce a high-quality, fresh, and perfumed condiment. It might cost a little more than the grocery store brands, but it is well worth it.Delouis Fils Red Wine Vinegar

If you are a Greek Salad purest, feta is the crowning glory of a Greek salad, its quality makes all the difference. If you have a good cheese store near you, it is always a good to try a couple of different feta to see what appeals to you. There are a few good brands in your local grocery that would work just fine. Fage makes a feta that has a bright, lemony flavor without too much salt with a moist and creamy texture, yet firm and crumbly. Athenos feta comes in a chunk and has a sophisticated, aged flavor and is slightly drier. I look at it this way, sometimes you have to try on a lot of shoes to find the perfect pair, the same applies to feta and your personal taste.Feta

There are a lot of good kalamata olives available today. There are two types, kalamatas in a brine and kalamatas in olive oil. Either are fine.

Lastly, Greek oregano. Oregano was quite obscure in this country until after World War II. Returning GIs wanted their wives to make pizza, which they had grown so fond of overseas. Oregano was a key flavor note. This one dish actually caused the sales of oregano in this country to increase 5000%!Greek Oregano Greek oregano has a bright, sweet flavor with clean, lemony overtones. Lakonia has a wonderful Wild Greek Oregano that is robust and distinctive. Its leaves contain more oil glands than ordinary oregano giving it the potent and pungent flavor of the Mediterranean. The Spice House has a very good Greek Oregano as well.

There are many different recipes for the classic Horiatiki salad, but I’ve put my own twist on my version. Have a loaf of hot crusty bread to sop up the tasty dressing. Apoláf̱ste (enjoy)!

Not So Classic Horiatiki – Serves 6

2 pints cherry tomatoes cut in half
1 English (seedless) cucumber cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 green bell pepper cut into 1 inch pieces
5 radishes, trimmed and cut into quarters
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded if you like, cut into thin slices
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. dried Greek oregano
1/2 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 8 oz. block feta cheese cut into 2 inch chunks

Combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, bell pepper radishes, jalapeno, olives, salt, vinegar, 1/2 tsp. oregano and 1/4 cup olive oil in a large bowl and toss to coat evenly.

Divide evenly among 6 plates. Top each portion with feta cheese chunks and sprinkle the cheese with the remaining oregano and drizzle with remaining olive oil.

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The Bread of the Irish

Happy St. Patrick's DayCan you believe it? I have never made a traditional St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage meal! Unbelievable. This year I decided to get in the spirit and cook some Irish soul food. Many years ago I had a neighbor, Peg McGuire, that was from Donegal, Ireland. I loved having St. Patrick’s Day dinner at her house. She was a quick wit and made some mean corned beef and cabbage, but my favorite was her Irish Soda Bread. Corned Beef and CabbageI never asked her for the recipe and I was kicking myself last weekend when I wanted to make the real deal Irish Soda Bread. It was a hearty bread with lots of plump raisins and plenty of caraway seeds.

For days I searched the internet for various Irish Soda Bread recipes – some seemed to simple and didn’t sound like what Peg made and some to “Americanized”. So, that left me to take the elements of several recipes that were fairly consistent to make my own recipe. I have to say that on my first try my Irish Soda Bread was truly delicious and was close to my memories of Peg’s bread – thus her name as my recipe. Peg's Irish Soda BreadThis is a great bread for breakfast with some Kerrygold Irish butter or for any winter meal, like a hearty stew.

Peg’s Irish Soda Bread

Ingredients

4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 to 2 1/2 cups raisins
2 tbsp caraway seeds
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups low fat buttermilk
1 cup low fat sour cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 8 inch round baking or cake pan.
Combine 4 cups of flour (reserve 1 tbsp), the sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, raisins and caraway seeds into a large mixing bowl.
In a smaller bowl, blend eggs, buttermilk and sour cream. Stir the liquid mixture just until flour is moistened. Combine the ingredients with a large rubber spatula and combine only until the dough comes together – it will be very sticky. Place the dough in the prepared pan and pat down. Cut a 4 x 3/4 deep slit in the top of the bread – it will be more like dragging the knife through as the dough is so sticky. Dust the top with the reserve flour.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 65 to 75 minutes – the top should be a beautiful golden brown. Let cool and turn bread out onto a wire rack. Enjoy with plenty of irish butter!

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A Perfect Saturday

Louise and Selena at the Getty.Today I went to the Getty Museum with my friend, Selena. It was a cold and brilliantly clear Saturday morning here in Southern California. We had a great time seeing the visiting Vermeer, “Woman In Blue Reading A Letter” and viewing the extensive collection of the Getty. After having lunch and visiting a while with Selena it was time to get home and get dinner started. On a cold day like today, I wanted to cook something that would make the house smell cozy as it cooked and would be a “one pot meal” as well…roast chicken it is!

So that brings me to my quest for the perfect roast chicken. We have all roasted chickens, but they can turn out somewhat dry and tasteless. After doing a lot of research, it seems that the size of the chicken and the temperature of the oven are the most important factors. I first set out to buy at least a 5 lb. chicken, which believe it or not, is not easy to find. When looking for a larger chicken, you will most likely find one that is organic. It may cost a little bit more, but the end result is more flavorful and juicy.

Another secret is giving the chicken a good “bed” to sit on while it roasts.IMG_0957 A combination of onions, fennel, carrots, thyme and lemons are wonderful flavors and is a delicious side dish to the roast chicken. Also, a simple mixture of lemon, thyme and a whole head of garlic stuffed inside the cavity of the chicken is a subtile seasoning throughout the bird.Ready for the oven

My inspiration from Ina Garten for her Perfect Roast Chicken. The final secret is roasting in a 425 degree oven for about 2 hours.Roasted Chicken The high heat gives the chicken a golden skin and ensures that the chicken is completely cooked through. So, set the table, open a bottle of wine and enjoy a perfect roast chicken on a cold winter evening.A Plate of Perfectly Roasted Chicken

The Perfect Roast Chicken

(5 to 6 pound) roasting chicken
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
2 lemons cut into quarters
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
6 – 8 cipollini onions, peeled
4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into wedges
8-10 fingerling potatoes
Olive oil
2 cups chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle liberally again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, lemon wedges, fennel, cipollini onions and a hand full of thyme sprigs in the bottom a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper and a little olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.

Total roasting time is 2 hours. First roast the chicken for 1 hour and then add the chicken broth and the fingerling potatoes and baste the chicken. Roast 1 more hour, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables. If you like, make a gravy from the pan drippings with a roux and serve along side the roast chicken.

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