When the holidays neared in 2008, the last thing on my mind was presents. I am not a gifts person, giving or receiving. Though sometimes a little surprise here and there is great! I have this one, special, friend that always gets me a gift for big holidays. So I had to keep my eyes and ears open for creative items. And instead I found myself buying a framed picture by Michelle Gatmaitan, a photographer friend of mine, for Liz. A gift for Liz? And I wasn't even looking for a gift for her. (sorry!) When I saw it, it reminded me of her because the picture is vibrant of colors and fits her personality perfectly. After buying it I told her I bought her a gift- I am not good with keeping surprises. But I beg to keep surprises for me a secret! So she told me she was planning to give me something too- she's not good either! When did this turn into a gift exchanging friendship? Not that I am complaining, now. Actually she got me a fantastic present, 1 year’s subscription to Food and Wine (F&W) magazine. I have been subscribing to Cooking Light for almost 2 years and I am glad to have something else to browse on food.
In addition to getting my own she said she was also getting F&W. After the first installment, I organized a dinner at our place around the first issue. The idea of the dinner was to cook couple dishes each. This would allow us to try new dishes and see if we like F&W’s recipes. After that dinner I can happily say, we do! We loved everything we made.
From February edition I cooked Chicken Sofrito for the main dish and Crisp Escarole Salad with Garlicky Anchovy Dressing while Liz made the Basic, and really tasty, Risotto and Stewed Okra and tomatoes.
Escarole Salad with Garlicky Anchovy Dressing from February 2009 F&W
Two 3/4-inch-thick slices of sourdough bread, cut into 3/4-inch dice (3 cups)
1 large head of escarole, light green and white leaves only, cut crosswise into 1-inch strips
6 radishes, thinly sliced
4 celery ribs with leaves, thinly sliced
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained and coarsely chopped
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°. On a baking sheet, toast the bread for 15 minutes, tossing once, until lightly golden; let cool. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the escarole strips with the radishes, celery, tomatoes and cucumber. In a small saucepan, combine the olive oil, chopped anchovies and minced garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is lightly golden, about 7 minutes. Add the lemon juice and season generously with pepper. Add the croutons to the salad and toss. Pour the dressing over the salad, season lightly with salt and toss again. Serve at once.
The only change I would make is to use lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Celery, radishes and cucumber certainly make this a fancy salad but it doesn’t make it exceptional. As a matter of fact, any salad vegetables can be used to prepare this salad. It’s the garlicky, anchovy dressing that makes this an exceptional first or side course.
Chicken Sofrito, adapted from February 2009 of F&W
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 whole chicken legs, separated into drumsticks and thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, plus more for dusting*
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 large thyme sprigs
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds**
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth, homemade is perfect
1 cup short-grain white rice***
Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the vegetable oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust lightly with chili powder. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook over moderate heat until well browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
*I am not sure what F&W cooks were intending for us to use so I used the Indian chili powder. Chili powder from India is dried chilies in the ground form and much stronger in taste and spice than the ones found at the local supermarket. I highly recommend it for this sofrito because of its kick.
Add the onion, garlic, jalapeño and thyme sprigs to the skillet and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Add the bell pepper, fennel seeds, cayenne and the 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chopped tomatoes, raise the heat to high and cook until bubbling. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a simmer. Arrange the chicken pieces on the rice, skin side up. Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 25 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked through and the rice is tender and has absorbed the stock. Discard the thyme sprigs. Spoon the rice onto plates, add the chicken and serve.
**In my house, fennel is used more often than Anise so I used it to replace anise. Anise is one of those spices that rarely gets attention in anyone’s kitchen and therefore no one buys it. Or at least I don’t.
***I was out of the short grain rice and added long grain basmati rice instead. I believe it worked fine as a replacement.
My last change to the dish was to omit the lemon juice and almonds from the original recipe. And even with that this was fine. The fennel flavor stood out more than we wanted but the overall taste was great; I would definitely make it again, maybe without fennel.
And although I didn’t believe in gift giving and receiving, after a year’s worth of food magazine browsing of sorts, I might be a convert by the next holiday. Plus if I can’t find a gift for the special friend, there’s always a year’s subscription of F&W. Thanks again for this present.
(both pictures are courtesy of Liz)