Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Shrimp and Bacon on Polenta

By Paul Briand

This recipe grew from a desire to use up some leftover polenta and the serendipity of finding a shrimp, bacon and polenta recipe while trolling through an Associated Press feed on my BlackBerry.

We had about a half pound of leftover polenta in the refrigerator, and I hated just seeing it sit there and I hated the idea of tossing it. The AP recipe calls for you to make a batch of instant polenta, jazzing it up a bit with milk instead of water and shallots and Parmesan cheese.

What I had in the fridge was about a half a pound of the rolled, prepared polenta that you can slice to fry or grill. I crumbled it up and cooked it in a wok in the bacon fat, which flavored up the otherwise bland polenta.

Also, because it's easy, I use frozen cooked shrimp, the biggest I can find at the store, a 16 count in a 1 pound bag. Thaw the shrimp by placing them in a large bowl of water.

1/2 pound of prepared polenta
1 pound of shrimp
1/2 pound bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cloves minced
1 shallot, chopped
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 ounces Parmesan cheese

1. In a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until it's crispy;
2. Add the pepper, shallot and garlic;
3. After about three minutes add the shrimp and cook until pieces are heated through and pepper is tender;
4. Using slotted spoon remove mixture from wok and set aside; drain about half of bacon fat and return wok to heat;
5. Crumble polenta into wok and work it around to heat through and absorb bacon drippings;
6. Return shrimp and bacon mixture to wok;
7. Top with Parmesan cheese;
8. Heat through and serve.
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Unbelievable Lasagna

By Paul Briand

I love that recipes pass from generation to generation, family to family. My mother has given her recipes to me and her other children. I'm passing them along to my children.

With this recipe, I have the good fortune of having a recipe passed on to me from my wife Jane, who got this recipe for Unbelievable Lasagna from her Aunt Mazie.

This is a meal for a crowd, a theme I hit on last week with the Chicken Marsala recipe. The lasagna is a staple when Jane's family comes to visit. It'll feed a lot of people the first night, then stand up well to reheating for another meal.

Jane's recipe differs from her Aunt Mazie's both in the filling and the fact that Jane adds two kinds of meat to her version. The original recipe calls for a pound of Ricotta cheese; Jane's filling includes Ricotta, Parmesan, eggs and some spice. Also, Mazie didn't cook the lasagna beforehand; Jane does.

1 pound of hamburger meat
1 pound of ground sweet Italian sausage
4 to 5 cups of your favorite jarred spaghetti sauce (Mazie liked Prego, so does Jane);
1/2 package (8 ounces) of lasagna
Large bag of shredded mozzarella cheese
2 pounds Ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
Pepper, salt, oregano and parsley to taste

1. In separate frying pans, cook the hamburger and sausage, drain fat and set aside;
2. In a large bowl, mix together the filling ingredients -- Ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, pepper, salt, oregano and parsley;
3. In a large baking pan, spread a thin layer of sauce then arrange a layer of uncooked lasagna;
4. Add a layer of the hamburger and sausage;
5. Layer on some red sauce;
6. Add some of the cheese filling;
7. Sprinkle on a generous helping of mozzarella;
8. Repeat with two more layers;
9. Complete with a final layer of lasagna, sauce, a couple of dollops of cheese filling and a heaping topping coat of mozzarella;
10. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes until lightly browned and bubbling;
11. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chicken Marsala (for a crowd)

By Paul Briand

I had the task over the weekend to cook dinner for my stepdaughter's birthday. Not a big deal, normally, except that I was cooking for upwards of 12 people or more, depending on who exactly was coming.

What I needed was something that tasted great and could feed a crowd, and that could be cooked ahead of time, refrigerated over night and transported to the dinner party for re-heating and serving the next evening.

I'd done small batches of Chicken Marsala for four that I normally serve with a side of rice. But I needed this particular dish to be all inclusive, almost like a casserole, so I decided to marry sliced potatoes with the chicken and Marsala wine mushroom sauce together in two batches for two large baking dishes.

8 pound bag of potatoes
6 pounds of chicken (boneless thighs and breasts)
4 cups sliced mushrooms
Bottle of Marsala wine
Flour for dredging
Olive oil
Garlic powder, oregano, basil

1. Clean potatoes and, leaving skin on, cut in 1/4-inch piece, enough to line two 3-4 quart baking dishes;
2. Season potatoes with pepper and drizzle with olive oil;
3. Place potatoes into oven pre-heated at 400 degrees and cook until about 3/4 of the way done;
4. As potatoes are cooking, cut the chicken thighs and breasts into bite size pieces;
(Note: With so much chicken you'll probably have to do the next steps two times for each batch of chicken and mushrooms).)
5. Create a flour dredge (I use a produce bag from the market or a large freezer-sized Ziploc bag) added with garlic powder and oregano;
6. Make sure each piece is covered with flour and add into large frying pan at medium high with about a quarter inch of olive oil;
7. Brown the chicken on all sides, but don't cook all the way through. Leave a little pink and remove from pan and set aside;
8. Add mushrooms then enough Marsala (about half the bottle for each batch) to deglaze the pan and create a thickening mushroom sauce;
9. Add chicken to the top of the potato layer, spreading pieces evenly in the baking dish
10. Spring enough basil over mixture to evenly cover;
11. Add the mushroom sauce over the chicken spreading as evenly in the baking dish as possible;
12. Return to oven and cook until potatoes are soft and chicken is cooked through and serve.

All in all, it worked very well. I underestimated, however, how much time it would take to re-heat the two large pans of Chicken Marsala once we got to the party. I figured about 50 minutes at 400 degrees. It easily could have taken 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to the right serving temperature.
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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chicken Cacciatore

By Paul Briand

I like the fact that my local supermarket -- a Shaw's -- has a display of easy recipes right as I walk into the store.

Sometimes, I just don't have my head in the right place beforehand to have figured out the week's menu. These recipes offer instant inspiration, and all-in-all they're very good and each recipe comes with a nutrition summary.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1. Rinse and pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper;
2. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat and cook chicken until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to plate;
3. Add onion, pepper and mushrooms to skillet and cook until lightly brown;
4. Stir in garlic and cook about 30 seconds;
5. Add tomatoes, wine and browned chicken (along with any accumulated juices from the plate) and bring to boil;
6. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes;
7. Transfer chicken to serving platter and tent with foil;
8. Simmer sauce, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes;
9. Remove skillet from heat, stir in basil and season with salt and pepper;
10. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

The recipe takes pains to note that browning the chicken is key, on two counts: It puts a crust on the chicken and it creates the fond in the pan that provides the flavor base for the wine and tomato sauce. The recipe recommends this can be served with rice, pasta or polenta.
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