Side Dishes


Rainbow Chard

Some foods that are good for you taste simply divine.  Swiss chard is most certainly one of them.  However it’s cooked, bring it on.  I’ll eat it.

We made this gratin with a combination of chard and spinach, though it could be easily made with all chard, kale (!), or any leafy green.  For no reason other than laziness, I pitched the chard stems and didn’t take the time to cook them and add them to the dish; however, they’d be a nice addition, and I bet I use them next time.  The Mornay sauce, while not exactly healthy and not exactly true to its name without parmesan, added a creamy texture and savory filling to the greens, and the panko added a perfectly crunchy topping.  The leftovers the next day were just as delicious as the night before.

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch chard (Swiss, red, or rainbow) leaves, chopped
  • 9 oz. baby spinach, any tough stems removed
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup nonfat milk
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese, divided
  • 2-3 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, add the oil and sauté the chard, spinach, and garlic in 2 or 3 batches.
  3. Place cooked leaves in a medium-sized gratin dish covered in cooking spray.
  4. For the Mornay sauce, in a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat.
  5. When the butter is slightly bubbly, whisk in the flour until well combined.  Add the milk and whisk constantly until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
  6. Whisk in 1/4 cup cheese.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Pour the Mornay over the leaves as evenly as possible.
  8. Sprinkle the remaining cheese and the panko over the Mornay.  Spray top with cooking spray or olive oil so it browns nicely.
  9. Bake about 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly.

Yields about 4 servings

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Chicken Osso Buco

Chicken Osso Buco

Recently, we found some organic chicken thighs on sale (which never happens), and in searching for a fun way to serve them, I came across CL’s Osso Buco-Style Chicken Thighs.  Only one word can describe the outcome: YUM.  We modified it a little, and the complex flavors of the fresh gremolata (an absolute must in this dish) with the super creamy polenta and the spicy stew-like veggies worked so very well with basic chicken.  Everything came together much faster than expected, though there is some wait time with the tomato mixture–simply to let the flavors meld together.  We had a bit of leftover sauce, so I pureed it.  It reminds me of a cross between a bolognese base minus the meat and a vodka sauce minus the booze.  Since we froze it, I’m not sure if we’ll serve the sauce as is or transform it into something different.  Regardless, we loved the osso buco and the leftover pasta sauce.

While composing this dish, we started talking about our favorite composers and the piano and how it’s a perfect instrument, thus leading to watching piano concerts on YouTube.  Little did we know that we were about to come across one of the most talented pianists we’ve ever seen.  Valentina Lisitsa, who crazily plans to record all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas (something that typically takes a lifetime and, according to Valentina, something that more individuals have gone into space than actually done, of course), is stunning, was born with speedier fingers than anyone on Earth, and has so much strength in her hands she could quickly crush yours when shaking it.  Should you ever encounter this blonde, be careful.  Additionally, Valentina, a Ukrainian-born genius, in her spare time, maintains an organic garden in her North Carolina countryside home and loves cooking Italian food–something I learned after making osso buco, fittingly.  I know who I’ll be listening to when I next cook.

Ingredients

Chicken:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 6 chicken thighs (about 2 pounds), skinned
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large or 2 small red onions, chopped
  • 3-4 medium carrots, chopped (cubed, for a more accurate version of osso buco)
  • 2-3 medium celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2-28 oz. cans whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

Polenta:

  • 2 cups non-fat milk
  • 1-1 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup uncooked polenta
  • 1/2 cup Gruyère cheese, freshly grated
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Gremolata:

  • 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced

Preparation

  1. To prepare chicken, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.
  3. Add chicken to pan and cook about 4 minutes on each side or until nicely browned. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
  4. Add a little more oil to the pan, over medium-high heat.
  5. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic.  Sauté about 7 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
  6. Stir in wine, scraping pan to loosen browned tasty bits.
  7. Add the tomatoes, basil, rosemary, and even a dash of salt; bring to a boil.
  8. Begin to break down the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon.
  9. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 20 minutes.
  10. Return chicken to pan. Cover and simmer 35 minutes or until chicken is done.
  11. Uncover and cook 5 minutes or until tomato mixture thickens.
  12. To prepare polenta, combine milk and broth in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil.
  13. Lower the heat; gradually add polenta, stirring constantly with a whisk.
  14. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until thick and well combined, about 15 minutes (use the package’s advice).
  15. Remove from heat; stir in cheeses and salt.
  16. To prepare gremolata, combine parsley, rind, and garlic.
  17. Serve chicken mixture over polenta; sprinkle with gremolata.

Yields about 4-6 servings

French fries are, well, French fries.  I’ve made them in the oven dozens of times–sometimes with sauteed garlic and butter, with parsley, dipped in chipotle ketchup, with cheese, with anything, really.  Sometimes I parboil them for a few minutes, I’ve actually even fried them in a vat of oil, but they’re still delicious baked at a high heat for a long time with much less mess, fewer pans, and a whole lot less fat.  They’re decent with or without ketchup or butter or cheese, but garlic is a must in my book.

Parmesan French Fries

Parmesan French Fries

Ingredients

  • Baking potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1/4 inch thick strips (about one medium-sized potato per person is usually enough)
  • Cooking spray
  • Extra virgin olive oil (just barely enough to ever so lightly coat each potato strip–about 1-2 teaspoons per 2 potatoes)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced, per potato (even more for garlic fans)
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Parmesan, freshly shredded (the block is much better than then pre-shredded stuff, but both will work just fine)

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Cover a large cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  3. Gently toss potatoes, some oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until well coated.  Add only enough oil to lightly cover the potatoes.
  4. Spread out on a cookie sheet.
  5. Bake for about 50 minutes, turning once or twice, until nicely browned (or even black–they’re delicious burnt, too).
  6. Top with cheese.  Let the fries cool a little while the cheese melts, and then serve.

Yields about 1 serving per potato

Pork au Poivre & Garlic Green Beans with Baby Bellas

Pork au Poivre with Garlic Green Beans and Baby Bellas

Cooking anything au poivre is almost as fun as saying it.  With a really thick accent.

Pork au Poivre

Ingredients

  • 1 pork tenderloin, silverskin and fat removed
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 tablespoons of whole black peppercorns (sometimes we like 3)
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon thickener: tomato paste, pizza/red sauce, flour…I’ve used them all
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

Add broth and remaining ingredients to pan; stir well with a whisk. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (for about 3 minutes).

  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Butterfly the tenderloin by slicing it lengthwise, but only partway through to other side so the meat is a big, flatter tenderloin.
  3. Crush the peppercorns. (The easiest way I know is by pounding them in a baggie with a mallet/skillet.)
  4. Spread the meat with Dijon.
  5. Press the peppercorns into the meat until they stick.
  6. Add a dash salt.
  7. In large, ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook tenderloin for about 2-3 minutes on each side, or until nicely browned and peppercorns are softened.
  8. Transfer the skillet and pork to the oven and bake for about 12 minutes, or until slightly pink.
  9. Transfer meat to a plate to rest, and tent with foil to keep it warm.
  10. Add broth, wine, and a thickener (and even a tiny bit of Dijon to taste) to the skillet.
  11. Cook over medium-high heat, deglazing by scraping.
  12. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to simmer until reduced by about half.
  13. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
  14. Pour sauce over pork and serve.

Garlic Green Beans & Baby Bellas

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup (or however many) criminis, thickly sliced
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 pound (or so) green beans, trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons thyme, chopped (or really just removed from the woody stems)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Sea salt

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Coat a jelly roll pan with cooking spray.
  3. Combine all other ingredients the pan coated, tossing well to coat.
  4. Bake for about 30 minutes or until beans are lightly browned.
  5. Add more salt/pepper to taste; toss to combine and serve with pork.

Yields 2-4 servings (depending on the size of pork tenderloin)

Smashed and Ready for the Oven

Smashed and Ready for the Oven

While this side dish takes time, it’s mostly waiting for water to boil and potatoes to cool.  With less than 15 minutes of active work, basic baby potatoes are transformed into a crispy, home fry-like, must-be-bad-for-me treat.

Ingredients

  • Baby red or yellow potatoes (the tiny ones are much better than the bigger, bagged variety)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Cooking spray or extra virgin olive oil

Preparation

  1. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water.
  2. Add a dash or two of kosher salt to the water.
  3. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook the potatoes until they’re tender–about 30-35 minutes (pierce them with a fork to test).
  4. Drain the potatoes well.
  5. Cool the potatoes by either putting them in the fridge overnight (or for a few hours) or by placing them on a clean dish towel and letting them drain/cool for a few minutes.
  6. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  7. Spread potatoes on the cookie sheet(s).
  8. Gently press down on each potato with the palm of your hand to flatten it.  The flatter the potatoes, the crispier they can get.  Use a dish towel to flatten them if the they’re still hot.  Repeat with all the potatoes. (Don’t worry if they break apart a bit as they’re still tasty and usable.)
  9. If the potatoes weren’t already refrigerated, they can be at this point.
  10. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  11. Sprinkle the potatoes with kosher salt and pepper and cover with cooking spray/olive oil.
  12. Roast the potatoes until they’re crispy and deep brown around the edges, about 30 to 40 minutes, turning over once gently with a spatula or tongs halfway through cooking.

Yields about 4 side dish servings

I love red skin potatoes.  While I’ve never been much of a fan of mashed potatoes and gravy (two to three times a week for dinner as a kid is enough for me), I’ve always been fond of red skins.  Paired with some fancy bacon and onions and flavored with chicken broth, these tubers are tasty.  Garlic fans: feel free to add as many cloves as you’d like.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds redskin potatoes, quartered (Golden Yukon work well, too)
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 quart chicken broth, low sodium and fat free
  • 5 slices pancetta, diced
  • 1 cup leeks, rinsed well and finely chopped
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

Preparation

  1. In a stockpot, cook potatoes and garlic, covered with chicken broth (or a broth-water mixture) for about 15 minutes until potatoes are fork tender. Drain all broth but about ½ cup.
  2. Meanwhile, fry pancetta in a medium skillet over medium low heat.
  3. When pancetta is nearly crisp, add leeks and sauté for about a minute or until soft, but not brown. Remove from heat.
  4. Mash potatoes, garlic, and ½ cup broth, adding milk, sour cream, salt, and peppers.
  5. With a wooden spoon, stir in bacon and leeks. Reheat, if necessary.
  6. Taste, and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Yields 4 servings