Weekly Winner: Autumn on a Plate

I love the change of seasons — especially the entrance of fall. As the leaves change, oddly I find myself craving food that matches the colors of the falling foliage — orange squashes, sweet potatoes and peppers, red apples, red peppers and beets, and and the rustic brown of roasted meats, potatoes and of course, bacon! (but that’s another post).

So when I found this recipe for Spicy Chicken Breasts with Sweet Potato, Black Bean and Cranberry Salsa I knew I’d be making it and that it would be delicious, which is was. What I didn’t expect was that it would be so gosh, dang perdy! I mean seriously, if this dish doesn’t just scream “Fall”!! then I don’t know what does.

The recipe came from Fine Cooking and while it certainly is “fine” it is also incredibly easy. But there’s something to be said for just the right combination of colors, textures and tastes to bring absolute joy to the dinner plate. And this recipe does that beautifully.

Spicy Chicken with Black Bean, Cranberry, and Sweet Potato Salsa

4 Tbs. canola oil; more for the broiler pan
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup finely diced red or Vidalia onion
Kosher salt
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 large clove garlic, mashed to a paste
1 tsp. finely grated lime zest
2-1/2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
1 15-oz. can black beans, rinsed
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/8 cup chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

Position a rack about 6 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler to high.

Heat 2 Tbs. of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the sweet potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the onion, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 cup water. Cover and cook for 1 minute. Uncover and cook, stirring, until the onion and sweet potatoes are tender and the water has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, combine 1 tsp. salt with the chili powder, cumin, and cayenne in a small bowl.

Butterfly each chicken breast by slicing it horizontally almost but not entirely in half so you can open it like a book. Rub the spices all over.

Lightly oil a broiler pan, put the chicken on it, and broil, flipping once, until just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes total.

In a medium bowl, combine the garlic, lime zest, juice, and 2 Tbs. of the canola oil. Add the potatoes and onions, black beans, cranberries, and cilantro and toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with the chicken.

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Weekly Winner: Taking Pot Roast Up a Notch

We have had a beautiful summer here in Chicago, but as always, I’m ready for fall. No matter what, the first breeze of slightly cooler air and I’m craving heartier food — big vats of stewed, braised, lovingly tended hunks of meat with tasty, savory sides. So for this Sunday’s supper — it was time to elevate the pot roast.

IMG_0568.JPGI got this recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine, and while the recipe (as they usually are) was flawless, there was one thing that troubled me.  What to do with the pancetta once you rendered the fat from it to sear the beef in?  I even had my husband read through the recipe.  “They don’t mean for me to NOT use the pancetta, do they?”  “That’s crazy”!  I solved the problem by adding it to the roasted Brussels Sprouts we had with it.  Et Voila, crisis averted.

Pancetta conundrum aside, this recipe solves the problem of the typically “one note” pot roast recipe.  I find that more times than not, most pot roast tastes like, well…. meat.  And only meat.  Not that that’s all bad, but it can get a tad boring.  This roast has great depth from the dried porcini and red wine, and a nice zippy zing from the balsamic — a LOT of balsamic.  Here’s the recipe and as good as it was on Sunday night — Monday’s version was even better — pot roast tacos! (No seriously, they were incredible!)

Balsamic Braised Beef

Serves 6

Ingredients

4 oz pancetta, diced

1 bone-in beef chuck roast (5 lbs) trimmed and seasoned with salt and pepper

2 cups chopped onions

1 cup chopped celery

5 garlic cloves, smashed

1 Tbsp. mustard seeds

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1/2 cup dry red wine

1-1/2 cups balsamic vinegar

2 dried bay leaves

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, divided

2 Tbsp honey

1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms

1 tsp unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp all-purpose flour

Procedure:

Cook pancetta in a large saute pan over medium-low heat until crisp, 20 minutes; transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and reserve drippings.

Sear roast in drippings in sam pan over medium-high heat until browned on all sides, 15 minutes; transfer to a 7 to 8-quart slow cooker.

Saute onions, carrots, celery, garlic and mustard seeds in same pan until liquid starts to release, 1-2 minutes.  Stir in tomato paste and cook until it begins to caramelize, 2-3 minutes.

Deglaze pan with wine, scraping up any brown bits.  Cook mixture until wine nearly evaporates, 2 minutes, transfer to slow cooker.

Add vinegar, bay leaves, 2 sprigs rosemary, honey, and mushrooms to slow cooker.  Cover slow cooker and cook roast until fork-tender on high setting, about 5 hours.

Transfer roast to a cutting board and break into pieces using two forks; discard any excess fat.  Strain braising liquid through a fine-mesh sieve; discard solids.  skim any fat from surface of liquid and discard. Transfer liquid to a saucepan with remaining rosemary sprig over medium heat.  Bring liquid to a simmer and reduce to 1-1/4 cups; discard rosemary.

Combine butter and flour, then whisk into reduced liquid.  Simmer sauce until thickened, 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper.