Roast chicken with braised cannellini beans, carmelized parsnips, kale pesto, and pickled beets and red onions. Plus stuffed pickled peppers.

roast chicken with slow cooked cannellini beans, parsnips, kale pesto, and pickled beets and red onionsThis was the main course last night, at my first semi-solo (I had an awesome date, someone I’ve been seeing for a while and who came early and helped. A lot.) dinner party. Which was unbelievably great. So much fun. This shot doesn’t show much detail, but it captures the vibe pretty damn well. Beauty. Love. lightDeliciousness. Goodness, all around. Hooray for dinner parties! And I think this might be the best food I’ve ever made. Luckily, several of my friends are very talented photographers, so there is at least visual documentation. Proof. Because now, home alone with everything all cleaned and put away and fridge back to its normal state (it was packed with food for the past couple of days), it almost feels like a dream. A really, really good dream. But the photos show that it was real. Plus I have the menu! Here’s what we had:pickled peppers stuffed with goat cheese (2)

snacks: Kalamata olives and pickled peppers stuffed with goat cheese

salad: Vegetable “ceviche” salad

main: Roast chicken with slow cooked cannellini beans, carmelized parsnips, kale pesto, and pickled beets and red onions

cheese plate: stinky blue, aged goat, and a creamy cow/sheep milk something, all served with fig & almond cake, sliced apples, and grapes

dessert: peach crisp with vanilla ice cream, courtesy of one of my lovely and talented friends.

The main is actually several different recipes. So it’s pretty involved. But omg — it was so unbelievably good. And while you definitely have to plan ahead, nothing is difficult. Plus, this is one of the few times where I think canned beans would be fine. So I encourage you to make this, or some version of this. Then report back and tell me if it is the best thing you’ve ever had. Here are recipes.

First, the peppers. This isn’t so much a recipe as directions for one of the easiest appetizers ever. You buy the pickled peppers from somewhere that has them (I got these from the olive bar at Whole Foods). Stuff the peppers with goat cheese. Done.

Second, the chicken, which again is not really a recipe. I used chicken thighs plus one boneless, skinless breast. Wash the chicken then pat it dry. Toss in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Arrange on racks set on jelly roll pans. (I had five pieces of chicken on each pan. So you may only need the one pan.) Preheat the oven to 450. Let the chicken sit out while the oven is preheating, so it will season with the salt and come closer to room temperature. Sprinkle some fresh chopped rosemary over the top then slide it in the oven. Cook for about 45 minutes, rotating top to bottom and back to front about halfway through, until the skin is crisp.

Third, the parsnips. Again, not a recipe. Peel parsnips (I used five) and dice into pieces a little larger than 1/2 inch. Melt some butter in a cast iron skillet. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, then saute over medium high heat for ten or fifteen minutes, tossing occasionally. Set aside. After you turn the chicken, put the parsnips into the jelly roll pan and let them crisp up and absorb some juices. Unless there is a lot of rendered fat in the bottom of your pan, in which case maybe skip this step. It’s just a bonus.

Fourth, the pickled beets and onions. This recipe is from Saltie: A cookbook. I love this cookbook so much that I literally read it from cover to cover. Because it’s compulsively readable. You really feel like you get to know the authors and that if you lived in Brooklyn, you would want them to be your friends. Especially after making a couple of their recipes. So good! I deviated a little bit from the original, but only by cutting down the sugar and combining beets and red onions.

1 bunch of beets, scrubbed and trimmed
2 red onions, sliced into thick wedges
2 c. red wine vinegar
2 c. water
3/4 c. sugar
1-1/2 t coarse sea salt
1 T whole black peppercorns
1 T coriander seeds
1 T mustard seeds
2 whole star anise, broken up
8 whole allspice berries

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put the beets in a roasting pan. Add just enough water to the pan to evenly cover the bottom. Cover with aluminum foil and roast until tender when pierced with a knife, about an hour, depending on the size. Let cool until you can handle them, then peel the beets, slipping the skins off with your fingers or a kitchen towel and using a paring knife where they stick. Slice into ½” wedges, then put in a large, heatproof bowl. In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and spices and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. When the sugar and salt have dissolved, remove the pot from the heat and add the onions, Stir to combine. Then add the beets and let everything cool to room temperature. Once cool, transfer to (preferably glass) container, cover, and refrigerate. The pickled beets will be ready to eat the next day and will keep for up to 2 months.

And finally. The beans. The idea for these started with a recipe for slow-roasted pork shoulder with garlic-rosemary beans from Cooking Slow, by Andrew Schloss. I made it a couple of weeks ago as a test for the dinner party. The pork was delicious. But it was the beans that blew my mind. The original recipe calls for canned beans, but of course I cooked mine from scratch. Because I didn’t see how they could possibly hold their shape, I decided to brine. But I digress. The point is the finished project. They were incredible. Firm and meaty and infused with all the flavors of tomatoes, pork, garlic, and rosemary. Seriously delicious. But heavy and not what I wanted to serve. So I continued thinking. Reading. And came across a recipe from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef for beans braised in olive oil. Which sounded good. But a little over the top for what I was looking for. So I decided to experiment. Here’s what I did.

1 pound dried cannellini beans (if you want to use canned, you’ll probably need two 15-oz. cans)
1″ piece of kombu (if you’re cooking dried beans. This is for digestion.)
1 medium yellow or sweet onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c. fresh rosemary
1/4 c. olive oil
1 14-1/2 oz. can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes
2 c. chicken broth or water

1. Brine the beans over night by adding about a tablespoon of salt to the water, stirring until the salt is dissolved, and then adding the beans. Rinse, cover with water, and add the kombu. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer for about an hour or until the beans are tender. It’s okay if they split. But you don’t want them mushy. When the beans are cooked, add a teaspoon or so of sea salt and let them cool in the cooking liquid.

2. Once the beans have cooled, transfer to a dutch oven or slow cooker. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion for a couple of minutes, then add the garlic and rosemary. Cook for another minute or two then add the onion mixture to the beans. Finally, add the beans and chicken broth or water. Make sure the liquid covers the beans by an inch or so; if it doesn’t, add more. Cover and cook. If you’re using the slow cooker, set for 12 hours on low. If you’re using the dutch oven, use the oven. To be honest, I did both. I started in the slow cooker, not just all day but all night. But there was still liquid on top and beans hadn’t turned dark and meaty. So I wound up transferring to a dutch oven and cooking for another hour or two at 400. They were perfect. Next time I’ll probably start with the oven. But we’ll see. Playing is fun. As is cooking for and eating with people you love.

gettting ready for dinner partyTo serve, scoop about a cup of beans and arrange them around the plate, randomly, leaving spaces. Sprinkle a smaller spoonful of parsnips over the beans. Fill some of the empty space with kale pesto, pickled beets and red onions, and chicken. Eat. Enjoy.clean plate

 

 

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Vegetable “ceviche” salad with fresh cranberry beans

ceviche saladI made this last night, both as dinner for a dear friend who is visiting for the weekend and as a test for the dinner party I’m hosting next weekend. Which I’m both excited and terribly nervous about. Because, as I realized yesterday, this will be my first solo dinner party since I was in my twenties. Which means there’s no one to help clean or entertain people while I’m cooking. For all his flaws, my ex-husband was a perfect dinner party co-host. And while I seemed to have no problem hosting large, elaborate dinner parties on my own before I hooked up with him, I’ve changed since then. I’m now keenly aware of stress and anxiety, working to feel my way through whatever comes up instead of hiding in drugs and alcohol, distracting myself from what’s actually happening in my body. Which is a lot. But I also have yoga now. I try to meditate. I have tools to deal with anxiety. So even though part of me is scared about this first dinner party on my own as this person I’ve become, I know everything is going to be okay. Maybe not perfect, but fun. And when I woke up this morning I felt a million times better knowing that after weeks of uncertainty about what I want to make I’ve started to finalize the menu. Which will most definitely include this salad. Because it’s SO GOOD!!! Also beautiful and summery and easy and can be made in the morning for eating at night. Plus it features one of my favorite parts of summer: fresh cranberry beans.

Admittedly, the original recipe (from Food & Wine) doesn’t call for cranberry beans. Instead it’s more of a riff on succotash, with fresh lima beans. But the cranberry beans were delicious. So, if you find yourself drawn to huge piles of these beauties at your local market, I definitely fresh cranberry beansrecommend this salad is a great way to use them up. (In case you wind up with more beans than the few needed for this salad, here are some other ideas for fresh cranberry beans.) That said, I think any shelling bean will work equally well. And the same is true for other ingredients. For example, I used plums instead of nectarines, because the plums were ripe and the nectarines weren’t. And instead of a jalapeno pepper, I used a pepper from my garden. Because I had a pepper in my garden. Finally, in my riskiest departure, I used Romanesco cauliflower instead of avocado. That one was because when I was at the Farmer’s Market on Thursday, the tiny head of green cauliflower was so gorgeous that I had to get it. Then, because it was so pretty, I had to add it to the salad. Which, happily, turned out to be a very good idea.

Here’s the recipe, which reputedly serves eight. I would say that depends on what else you’re serving. If this is a true side or starter, it’s probably enough for ten. But you could also add some greens (as my visiting friend suggested, it would be good over chopped kale) and make it the main course, in which case I think four people would be very happy with their servings. Now. Recipe. For real.

1 c. fresh cranberry beans (from about 1-1/2 pounds in their pods)
1 t finely grated lime zest
1/3 c. fresh lime juice
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 hot pepper, jalapeno or other
Sea salt
1-1/2 c. fresh corn kernels (from two ears)
1 plums or nectarines or other stone fruit, not too ripe, halved and thinly sliced into wedges
1 small head of Romanesco cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved (a mix of types and colors is nice)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped cilantro

Combine the lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, shallot, and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk to combine then season with salt. Bring two or three cups of water to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt and the beans. Cook for 17 minutes, then add the cauliflower. Cook for another three minutes then drain and rinse with cold water. Add to the dressing. Fold in all of the remaining ingredients except the cilantro. Cover and chill for at least two and up to eight hours. Just before serving, toss in the cilantro. Taste and add more salt if necessary. I used quite a bit.

Greek lima beans

greek lima beansThis recipe is adapted from one I found in The Great American Slow Cooker Book, by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. (http://bit.ly/1ee8Aji) The original recipe is named “gigantes beans with tomatoes and dill.” Although my version is pretty close to theirs, I changed the name, because that’s what these beans are to me, a favorite side at some (although not all) Greek restaurants. Tangy, velvety smooth, and deeply satisfying, I’ve loved them since my first taste, probably 15 years ago. But they aren’t a sure thing. And I’ve had trouble finding a recipe that works.

Here’s what I wrote when I first made these beans: While this version is okay, even good, it isn’t perfect. The beans are a bit too sweet.

At the time I thought that was an accurate assessment. But last night, when I tried these beans again (I froze a few servings from the original batch), I realized that in fact they are absolutely wonderful. Sweet, yes. But in the best way, completely delicious. I had them for dinner with bread, nothing else, and at the end of the meal the bowl was literally unmarked. Because I scooped up every last drop of sauce.

That said, this version is not what I hold in my memory as the perfect Greek Lima Bean. And maybe there never will be a perfect. Because over the years I’ve tried several recipes.There was one that came close, which I made pretty regularly for years. I’ve meant to post about it. But I haven’t made it since I started blogging. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I associate that version with a version of myself I’m glad no longer exists, the perfectionist version who made trial runs of everything before dinner parties and wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t exactly right. That version of me had great dinner parties, it’s true. My food was always perfect. But back then, in my marriage, I was always too anxious to relax without at least two glasses of wine. And I didn’t really have much fun. I pretended, I think fairly well, but honestly I preferred for everyone to leave me alone while I worked. I was far too stressed out to enjoy a conversation, even with people I loved. Which is sad.

The good news is that lately I’ve started to think about dinner parties again. Real dinner parties. With more than two guests. Where I will have fun. For these dinner parties held by this now version of myself, I plan to be okay with cooking food that might not be perfect. Because what matters is that I’ll be relaxed. Have fun. Maybe even make food ahead of time so that I can devote full attention to guests. Which is what I’m doing now, with these beans. Sort’ve.

I say sort’ve because, while I’m starting to think about real dinner parties, it’s not happening just yet. But I am having a good friend over tomorrow. She offered to give me Reiki and I offered to give her dinner. Cooking for the people I love gives me about as much joy as anything. And I’d be fine cooking with her here. No anxiety in cooking for one or two people. Still, I’m cooking ahead of time because tomorrow another friend somehow convinced me to take a Bikram class, followed by brunch. Which is both exciting and terrifying. I dread Bikram, am convinced I’ll either vomit, faint, or both. However, I promised. So I’m doing it. And therefore I’m cooking today. Ahead of time. Being okay with imperfection.

Of course, while I’m happy to have lost the perfectionism, I hope my food is still good. Because, well, who wants to eat–or serve–bad food? Not me. So. Here’s hoping everything turns out. This is the recipe for the beans:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, chopped (or diced)
1 lb. dried gigantes (or giant lima) beans
1-3/4 cup white wine or vermouth (I used white wine because I don’t have vermouth)
1/4 cup honey
3 T tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1″ piece of kombu
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
2 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat a large cast iron (or other) skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then add the onion and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, fragrant, and golden.

2. While the onion is cooking, pick over and rinse the beans, drain, and add to the slow cooker insert. Stir in the wine, honey, tomato paste, water, bay leaf, and kombu. In case you don’t already know, kombu is a sea vegetable that “lends a delicious, meaty flavor to the beans (not at all fishy) and is mineral-rich, with additional B vitamins and trace elements, as well as a digestion-soothing gel that literally melts into the bean sauce.” (http://bit.ly/1fgkJ6Z) Cook on low for 5-7 hours.

3. Stir in the dill, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Cover and continue cooking for another 3-5 hours, until the beans are tender. Add more water if necessary to ensure the beans are fully submerged. But don’t add too much–you want a thick, rich sauce.

In case you’re interested in the rest of the menu, most of which I’m making today, we’re having these beans with a kale salad (http://bit.ly/1cKY6aE) and potato-celery root latkes (http://bit.ly/1dD8dC2). I’ll try to remember to comment to let you know how it all goes together. Bon appetit!