tomato

Cider-Braised Chicken

I love cooking with cider. It's a little sweeter than wine and gives refreshing apple tones. Last summer I met John, the cider maker from Tideview Cider, who let me sample the apple and pear brews. The Heritage Dry is my favorite. So here's a recipe for a cider braised chicken. I'm fortunate to live near Pandora Farm, a small family farm which raises chickens in a very decent manner. And for the tomato sauce, I used some that we jarred this summer. Boy, is it going fast!

Enjoy this chicken with a glass of the same cider used to cook it.

Ingredients

• 1 whole chicken, cut in 8 pieces • 2 cups hard cider • 1/2 cup tomatoes, diced • 1 medium leek, sliced • 4 tablespoons sunflower or grapeseed oil • 4 tablespoons heavy cream • 1/4 cup flour • 1 bay leaf • salt + ground black pepper

Dust the chicken in the flour. Heat the oil in a large skillet and sear the chicken pieces for a few minutes on each side until they are golden brown. Transfer the chicken to a medium-sized pot and deglaze the skillet with half of the cider (1 cup). Let it simmer for a minute then add it to the chicken with the rest of the cider, leek, tomatoes and bay leaf. Slow simmer on low heat, half-covered for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add the cream. If you want the sauce to be thicker, low-boil until the sauce reduces. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Finish with some fresh chopped chives, tarragon, or parsley.

Brown Rice Risotto with Roasted Tomato Sauce

In cooking school, we were shown how to make risotto the "right way". The Italian cuisine teacher came to our class and explained exactly how it was done. Oh man, the guy was so passionate about it. If for one second you stopped stirring the rice, the next second he was right up in your face, yelling. I think at one point, he even shed a tear. Italians take their risotto very seriously, like an art form. But don't worry, it's actually quite simple to make.

A traditional risotto is made with arborio rice. It's cooked by adding stock little by little and stiring constantly. Finally, butter and parmesan are added. They give it that amazing creamy texture. Risotto is usually served as a starter, but it can easily replace normal rice as a side dish. In this recipe I used brown rice instead of arborio. Why? Because it's healthier. The brown rice will need to be pre-cooked. This can be done a day in advance along with the tomato sauce. The longer you cook tomato sauce the better it is.

Serves 4

Roasted Tomato Sauce

• 3 tomatoes • 2 chopped garlic cloves • 3 sprigs thyme • 2 tablespoons olive oil • salt + black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Cut the tomatoes in quarters and lay them on a pan. Throw on the garlic, thyme, olive oil, a pinch of salt and black pepper. Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Once done, put the tomatoes in a deep bowl, discarding the thyme, and blend with a hand mixer.

Brown Rice Risotto

• 1 1/2 cup brown rice • 3 cups water • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock • 1/2 cup white wine (optional) • 1 onion, finely chopped • 1 cup packed grated quality parmesan • 1/2 cup roasted tomato sauce • 1 tablespoon butter • juice of 1/2 a lemon • salt + black pepper • chopped walnuts (also optional - but good!)

First off, pre-cook your brown rice in 3 cups of water with a pinch of salt until all the water is absorbed, it'll take about 30 minutes. Set aside.

Heat up your stock in a saucepan. In a sauteing pan, on medium heat, cook the onions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for 10 minutes, until tender. Then add the pre-cooked rice and stir. If using the white wine pour it in and let it bubble away.

Now you want to add stock a laddle at a time. Once what you put in has been absorbed, add some more, stirring constantly. It should take about 20 minutes to have all the liquid in. If you see that your rice doesn't take any more liquid, don't put more. It'll take between two and three cups of stock. You still want the rice to have a little crunch.

Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of tomato sauce, the butter, lemon juice and parmesan. Season with salt and black pepper.

Top with chopped walnuts.

Pizza On My Mind

I started making pizza from scratch after growing tired of the over-loaded, greasy kind - you know the one you get in restaurants, usually made with the same frozen dough and ready-made sauce. Even high-end pizza joints use it. That's why they lack personality and they all taste the same. Dough and sauce are the two most important factors of a great pie - with, of course, the cheese. So making your own is so much tastier and healthier (that's always good).

Dough

Making homemade dough is very easy; it takes about 5 minutes.

In a big bowl mix: • 1 1/2 cups warm water • 2 teaspoons salt • 2 teaspoons instant yeast • Then add 3 1/4 cups of white all-purpose flour. Work the dough with your hands for a couple of minutes. Cover, then let rise on the counter for a couple of hours, or overnight. This should yield enough for 3 medium or 2 large.

Sauce

In olive oil, gently cook thinly sliced garlic cloves, a lot if you like garlic. Once it smells good, add whole peeled tomatoes either fresh or canned. Stir in a tablespoon of tomato paste, a bit of salt and pepper. Blend with a hand mixer. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. I also like to add a couple of cumin seeds while simmering.

Cheese

Use the best cheese you can find.  For mozzarella use fresh, or even buffalo mozzarella if you can find some. For cheddar use old, strong cheddar. If you're thinking Parmesan, don't buy the grated one - buy a block and grate it yourself. You'll never go back. If you like feta, go imported. You get the point, get the good stuff. Of course it costs a bit more than cheap factory made cheeses, but so far the cost of your pizza is still cheaper than a frozen one.

Toppings

Now that you have the basics, it's up to you to put whatever you like on it. Don't overdo it, a couple more ingredients should do.  Even with homemade dough and sauce and quality cheese it should beat most pizzas. Cook your ingredients before hand, then chill them before putting them on. Here are some ideas:

Classic - tomatoes, basil, mozzarella Mushrooms - mixed mushrooms, parmesan Roasted Vegetables - red onions, zucchini, bell peppers, feta Chicken - hot peppers, barbecue sauce, cheddar Prosciutto or Bacon - caramelized onions, thyme, smoked gouda Smoked salmon - sour cream, capers, onions, dill

You can substitute the sauce for homemade pesto. Always drizzle a bit of olive oil on top of it all. Easy.

Cooking

I usually go at 425-450°F for 15 minutes, and give it a minute of broil to make it look better. Slice and enjoy!