Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rally 'round the table

I've said it before- and I'm happy to say it again- family meals make all the difference.

I've been stagnant on updates for the past few days for good reasons. Mark and I have moved out of our apartment in Concord to a new house in Bow that we've been renovating with my family for the past few months. We consolidated our belongings over the course of several weeks and heaved all of our stuff into a pile in the new house. It isn't quite finished yet, so we're crashing at my folks house while the final touches are done. I haven't lived with my parents in years, but I'm happy to be there for a little while. I'm blessed to have a great relationship with both of my parents, as does my husband.

Saturday night was our first stay over- we had just finished moving out of our apartment and were exhausted that evening as snow fell all around us. We had no idea how much was to fall- a record 18" (we think more) on October 28th ... such a strange way for Autumn to come to a complete end! The following morning my siblings poured into the house, partners and roommates in tow, to huddle around the fireplace and take hot showers. Much of the state is still being plagued with power outages as I write this. To my friends living off of generators or camping out with friends and neighbors, I wish you good luck and God speed.

That night my mother made the swarm of us a delicious meal- comfort food at its healthy best. It's something she's done thousands of times before and never bats an eye at the task. Feeding ten hungry adults is no small feat, yet it is something my mother does with great joy and pride. This time it was a chicken dish:

Theresa's Welcome-Home Chicken:


Assorted chicken thighs and legs, skin on, bone in (figure two per person)
Flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder to coat chicken
Olive oil ... a few table spoons
Chicken broth to cover
A few heads of broccoli, the amount is your call
Sliced Crimini mushrooms, the amount is your call
Spices to taste- garlic (diced cloves), salt, pepper, etc.

What I love about my mother's cooking is that there's no map. She has a craving for something and makes exactly the flavors she desires out of whatever is in her fridge. This recipe follows that methodology. I'm also guessing at her ingredient list. From what I saw and could decipher while I ate, this is how the magic happened.

Start by heating the olive oil a large skillet, then coating the chicken in your flour mixture and browning it on all sides. When browned, place in dutch oven or roasting pan to rest. All those brown bits at the bottom of the pan? You want those. Add a bit more olive oil, bring it to temperature and add your mushrooms and broccoli for a quick toss or two- then add a bit of the chicken stock and scrape up the brown bits. Dump all of that delicious right on top of your chicken and add a bit more stock (til everything is just shy of covered) so the whole mess can braise in the oven. I would throw it in at 400 degrees for an hour or two, until the meat falls off the bone when provoked.

[Note, if you want a thicker end result, try adding a bit of roux or a bit of corn starch slurry to coagulate the lot.]

Ladle your end result over garlic mashed potatoes and pair with a fresh green salad and some whole grain bread or rolls. Everyone will want seconds. We certainly did.

As a grand finale to the meal, my sisters and I devised home-made cannolis. We weren't ambitious enough to make the shells- we bought those- but we certainly made some amazing filling!

Three Sisters Cannolis (Two ways)

1 cup Ricotta cheese
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
3 Tbs. confectioners sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract (if you have real vanilla beans, use that!)

Mix the cheeses first, then add sugar to taste- you might not need that much. Then add your vanilla. Let this stuff chill for a few hours before piping it into shells.

Follow the above recipe, but at the end add 2 heaping tablespoons of ground chocolate (we used Ghirardelli ground semi-sweet chocolate). Cocoa powder won't have the added sweet you're looking for for this recipe. Let chill for the same amount of time before piping.

We piped mini shells a little while after dinner, coating the ends of the regular ones with mini semi-sweet chips.A few cups of decaf coffee, mini cannolis and some Dawn of the Dead (the 2004 version) finished our night. As I looked around the living room at all of us huddled under blankets, sharing jabs at the film characters making horrible decisions, I was happily content. Families that share meals remain strong, well after the children have become adults and started families of their own. We didn't need an historic blizzard to prove that, but it was a wonderful affirmation.

Wishing all of you a warm, cozy and comforting winter season. xo

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