Modern Chicken Cacciatore

                                 “Chicken with Style”           

While growing up, I used to wonder why my Mom, a super cook, never made Chicken Cacciatore. Our cooking books had beautiful pictures of the dish, and while she’s a wiz with Italian cuisine, cacciatore never showed up on the plate. I mentioned it occasionally and she would always reply, “Oh, Uncle Barney used to make that all the time…,” and say little else. I figured she didn’t like it and stopped bringing up the subject. 

Fast forward 40 years. I say to Mom, “I’m going to make Chicken Cacciatore,” and finally the truth comes out. She reveals the story. It seems that Uncle Barney considered himself a cacciatore expert, frying huge amounts of chicken with skin and bones before dumping them into plain mariana sauce to simmer all afternoon. The skin became rubbery and the sauce greasy – a  real culinary turn-off, and a bad memory from Mom’s childhood.

I decided to prepare the recipe to my standards with lots of fresh vegetables and spices and it has become a hit. We have it every few weeks and it is a favorite with guests.

Although I use only white meat of chicken (dark is fine, too, if you prefer), I like serving it with Chianti or Cabernet. It’s rich and delicious, as well as skinless and boneless.  While this might be a cliche – it’s good, and good for you!

Modern Chicken Cacciatore

2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, coarsely diced
1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 medium white or yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 cups sliced Mushrooms, (Portobello, Crimini, White Button – you pick)
3 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 28-oz can diced canned tomatoes, Italian-style preferred
2 teaspoons dried basil or 1/4 cup fresh leaves
1 teaspoon freshly ground black peppercorns
2 tbls. tomato paste
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tbls. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup pre-pre-prepared veggie or mushroom pasta sauce, i.e., Classico, Barilla,  Newman’s Own…whatever you like – (Semi-Homemade!!!) – adds “body” to dish
1/4 cup+ of finely chopped fresh parsley
Pasta al dente (Spaghetti, Linguine or Fettucine top the list. DON’T OVERCOOK!)
1/4 cup freshly chopped Italian parsley
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

Heat olive oil in large, heavy pot. Add chicken and saute until it begins to lightly brown. Add onions, peppers and mushrooms and continue cooking until veggies are done and begin caramelizing. Saute garlic into mix –  careful not to burn!

Blend in remaining ingredients and let simmer, covered,  for 3+ hrs. Stirring from time to time.  The longer it cooks, the better it gets!

Right before serving add fresh parsley.

Cook pasta of your choice. Drain throughly, but don’t rinse. (I love Linguine, but no matter what type pasta you choose, you can’t go wrong with this delicious dish.) Cover with Cacciatore sauce. Toss. Don’t forget to top generously with Parmegiano Reggiano, and maybe an extra drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Serve crusty Italian bread on the side,  along with the perfect Caesar Salad, and a glass of Chianti. Gelato for dessert is suggested…with cappuccino or Espresso, of course.  Amaretto optional! 


Fresh Corn Casserole w/ Chilies

This is one of the all-time best. So simple. With a little Mexican hint. Keep it in mind for the upcoming holidays. This recipe can be served hot – as a side dish, or cold – as a lovely lunch course  accompanied with shrimp or chicken breast, some sliced heirloom tomatoes, and a glass of white wine or Champagne!

Fresh Corn Casserole

2 cups fresh corn kernels (approx 5 ears) Silver Queen preferred
1 stick sweet unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 cup diced Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 4-0z can diced green chilies, drained
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
(If you like your “corn puddings” a bit on the sweet side, add sugar accordingly. Usually 2 – 3 teaspoons.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 2-quart rectangular casserole. Puree 1 cup of corn with butter and eggs in food processor.

Mix remaining ingredients in medium bowl. Add pureed mixture and blend well.  Pour into prepared pan. A few pats of butter may be placed atop pudding for added richness. Bake, uncovered for 50 – 60 minutes. Or until bubbly and light golden brown. 

This may be prepared a day in advance and reheated. It freezes beautifully. Defrost completely before reheating for best results.





Pumpkin Double-Ginger Cookies

Ran across this recipe in the Northern Virginia Daily. Sounds perfect for this time of year.

Pumpkin Double-Ginger Cookies

3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 plain non-fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Position rack in the center of the oven and heat it to 350 degrees. Coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray or line with parchment.
In a large bowl combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, yogurt, oil and vanilla.
Whisk until smooth. Stir in the crystallized ginger. (Make sure it is super-finely chopped!)
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon, ground ginger, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, mixing until just blended.
Drop tablespoons of the batter onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake, in 2 batches if necessary, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool.
Nutrition information per cookie (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 54 calories; 7 from fat; 1g fat; 0 trans fat; 0 cholesterol; 11g carbohydrate; 1g protein; 1g fiber

While I have not tried these, I’m going out on a limb and recommending them anyway!  Always feel free to double-up on the spices a bit if you like some added zing. Let me know what you think.

Mrs. Melton’s Black Walnut Cake

Thanks, Mary Lou and Mrs. Melton

This recipe is another contribution from Mary Lou Hitt, Genlue Park, Browntown, Virginia. Her handwritten recipe is torn, and missing a little of her instructions, but sounds marvelous, nonetheless! 

Mrs. Melton’s Black Walnut Cake

1 1/2 (3 sticks) unsalted butter (never substitute w/the margarine!)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup milk
5 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Add 6 eggs, beating in one at a time

1 package seedless raisins
1 quart (approx 1 pound) black walnuts (not English)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Now here is what Mary Lou wrote, in her words (part of text is missing):

“….recipe said – bake at 275 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. It actually took 2 hours and 45 minutes in a well-regulated gas oven for this cake to test done.
I could not find “seedless” raisins, so used “Sun Maid” and those packages are now only 15 ounces, so add another ounce.
All flour is now sifted so don’t bother with that nuisance.
This was baked in a tube pan, but any cake pan should do as well and I would suggest cutting the recipe in half as this thing is too heavy to lift without adequate staff.”

While the instructions are limited, I remember everything Mary Lou baked as being superb. She had an aversion to salted butter and loved exotic recipes. She was the first person I ever knew to have cooked Mexican fare, having lived in San Antonio, Texas in her youth.

I think this cake is rather simple – cream butter and sugar, add milk, eggs, then slowly add in dry ingredients. Bake. Allow to cool on rack.

And I double-checked. She really did say that it took 2 hours and 45 minutes for this cake to be done. ( No typo.) I’d still check it from time to time with a broomstraw or toothpick – better safe than sorry.

I’m looking forward to trying this, too. Her handwritten “receipt” was just discovered this week , folded in my grandmother’s cookbook from the 1950’s.

In the South, black walnut cake is such a Christmas tradition. Great dessert to make for the holidays! I’d top it with homemade whipped cream, Rum Raisin ice cream, or hard sauce. Anyway you slice it (or top it) – delicious! 

…”too heavy to lift without adequate staff.”  🙂 !!

Real Maryland Crab Cakes

With holiday time fast approaching, it’s a good excuse to splurge on some  Maryland Blue Crab. Lump – Jumbo Lump (the bigger the better!) – and celebrate with Crab Cakes. Nothing is as good. My final meal request.

This recipe is loosely based upon the famous Crab Cakes from Faidley’s, a landmark seafood restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland, that sets the standard among those “in the know”.  While the marvelous atmosphere of the wharf cannot be replicated, the Crab Cakes are getting there!

Maryland Crab Cakes ala Faidley’s

1/2 cup mayonnaise                                            1/2 teas. Old Bay Seasoning
1 large egg, lightly beaten                                    1 Pound Lump Maryland Crab
 tbls. Dijon mustard                                             1 cup saltines – (20-ish) – crushed
1 tbls.Worcestershire sauce                                  1 quart vegetable oil, for frying
1/2 teas. Tabasco, or hot sauce                           Tartar Sauce (recipe below)

Stir together first 6 ingredients; fold in crabmeat, adjust spices to suit your taste. Add crushed saltines. Let stand 3 – 5 minutes.

Shape mixture into 8 cakes. Place waxed paper on baking sheet. Lightly spray with cooking oil. Place cakes on sheet and chill at least 1 hour.

Heat oil in deep pan until hot (usually about 375 degrees). Drop cakes in 2-3 at a time and let fry until golden brown. Usually about 3 minutes. Remove and immediately place on paper towels to drain. Turn. Lightly salt.

For a perfect accompaniment prepare a delicious tartar sauce. A must!

                                                      Tartar Sauce

  1/2 cup mayonnaise                                                  1/2 juice 1 lemon 
   2 large Kosher dills, finely diced                            1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
                                   Mix ingredients together. Set aside.

Allow Cakes to cool a bit before serving to bring out the flavor of this dish. Along with the Tartar Sauce, a little extra Worcestershire adds a lot. Crispy baked potatoes or French fries, along with a dollop of cole slaw, make this the perfect meal!

***FYI – Be very careful when buying crabmeat. Often it looks like Maryland Blue crab, or Blue crab from the East Coast, but it is 9 times out of 10 it is imported from another country and tastes nothing like the domestic.
Read the container in the store super carefully. They will try to fool you, and you will be out of a lot of money and have an inedible meal. While the real deal is expensive, it is a lot cheaper than buying  an imposter and having to throw it away.





Banana Cake

A Classic Cookbook

In the 1960’s and 1970’s Sara Lee made a frozen all-butter banana cake with banana cream icing that was light as a feather and tasted like heaven. My Mom and I would sneak downstairs late at night and have big slices with a pot of tea – usually ending up finishing off the entire cake before it was all over. Like all good things, it came to an end. Sara Lee changed “her” recipe and midnight snacks were never the same.
My beloved friend, Jim Bullard, from Palm Springs, gave me a copy of the Silver Palate Cookbook, and this recipe evoked memories.

Banana Cake

1/2 pound sweet butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Cream-Cheese Frosting
1 1/2 to 2 medium, firm ripe bananas, sliced
1 1/2 cups shelled chopped walnuts (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 9 inch layer cake pans.
2. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add mashed bananas, mixing throughly.
3. Sift dry ingredients and add to butter and egg mixture. Stir until flour has been incorporated completely. Add buttermilk and vanilla. Mix 1 minute.
4. Pour batter into the prepared pans. Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted int the center comes out clean.
5. Cool in pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Unmold and cool on rack for 2 hrs.
6. When cooled, place one layer on a serving plate and frost with Cream-Cheese frosting. Arrange slices of banana over frosting. Cover with second layer and frost tip and sides of cake.
7. Cover sides of cake with chopped nuts, holding nuts in palm and pressing firmly to sides of cake. Dust top of cake with confectioners’ sugar.
10 to 12 portions

                                                Cream-Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
6 tablespoons sweet butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
juice of 1/2 lemon (optional)

  1. Cream together cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl.
  2. Slowly sift in confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fully incorporated. Mixture should be smooth and lump-free.
  3. Stir in vanilla, and lemon juice if desired. 

                     Thanks Jim and Silver Palate…xoxo’s!


Faux Crab Casserole

 “Sea” the Possibilities in Your Garden!

Next time you’re making classic yellow squash casserole, and you’re craving a little variety, or a taste of the ocean…try this. Although it sounds bizarre,  squash, when cooked properly,  can masquerade as a seafood dish…an old Southern secret!

First prepare squash for baking (this is a standard recipe):
Approx. 7 or 8 small yellow squash (Crookneck), thinly sliced
1 finely diced onion
1 stalk finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced large green pepper
1/2 cup finely diced large red pepper
1/2 beaten egg
1/2 cup Half & Half or evaporated milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour (or more to thicken)
Seasoned breadcrumbs for topping (Panko preferred)

To these ingredients add the following for that “crabby” taste:
1/4 cup best quality mayonnaise
1+ heaping teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (Lea & Perrins)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or Kosher salt)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
Paprika as desired
Cayenne to taste (Very important!)
Generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Step 1: Melt 1+  tablespoons butter in non-stick frying pan. (Large)

Step 2: When butter starts to sizzle add vegetables, cover, lower heat,  and let cook.  Vegetables will produce a lot of liquid. Allow liquid to “cook off”, and saute until translucent.

Step 3: Add remaining butter to veggies, then slowly stir in flour allowing to lightly brown to eliminate “floury” taste. Add Half & Half or evaporated milk  slowly to browned flour to make roux. Whisking constantly.

Once roux achieves a caramel-like consistency, lower heat and very slowly add mayonnaise, and beaten egg  –  stir until thick and smooth. Add salt, pepper and spices liberally – to your taste – not forgetting lemon.

Pour mixture into buttered baking dish, top with breadcrumbs, Paprika and dot with butter. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees until browned and bubbly. (Approx 45 minutes). Remove and place on cooling rack.

Serve warm (not hot) with extra mayo and Worcestershire. A Caesar side salad with tomato, crunchy roll, and glass of Chardonnay is a great accompaniment.  You might not even notice that the crabmeat is missing! (Yes, you will.)

Don’t sweat the small stuff, anyway you look at it, this recipe rocks. xoxo’s!

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