Syrian Roasted Chicken

I threw together this simple marinade the other morning, let it sit with some lovely pastured chicken legs all day, and then roasted them up for dinner night.  The legs came out incredibly juicy and delicious. So good, in fact, that I wondered just what I had done to deserve such great flavor out of such a simple recipe. But I knew what I had done right – I had followed the basic rules for creating a marinade and had allowed adequate time for the meat to marinate.

So what are my rules for creating a great marinade? You only need to remember three things: oil, acid, and flavor. Ratios are important in a marinade, but only very generally.  You’ll need slightly more acid then oil (about 1/3 oil to 2/3 acid – more on that later), but flavorings are limited only by your imagination.

Some common ingredient choices for marinades:

Oil: Any oil that is liquid at room temperature will work well. As you probably know, I avoid “vegetable oils” due to their excessively high omega-6 content. Some of my favorite non-vegetable oils for marinades are olive, sesame, walnut, and avocado oils.
Acid: Fresh squeezed lemon, lime, or orange juice, vinegar of any kind (sherry vinegar and apple cider vinegar are my favorites), wine, yogurt, tomato, etc.
Flavorings: Garlic, red onion, shallots, ginger, chiles, citrus zest, rosemary, oregano, cilantro, or any fresh herb that you like, any number of spices (garam masala, turmeric, cumin, coriander, and smoked or sweet paprika are some of my favorites), SALT, and on and on.

When making your marinade, begin with your oil and acid, remembering the 1/3 oil, 2/3 acid ratio. If you’re using something less acidic as your primary acidic ingredient (oranges, wine, or yogurt for example), I recommend including a little bit of a more strongly acidic component to ensure the most tender and flavorful result (for example avocado oil + orange (less acidic) + lime (more acidic) + smoked paprika + salt). After all, the acid in a marinade is what works to break down and tenderize the meat, paving the way for the flavorings you choose to really get in there.

Now you can add your flavorings and the last very important component, plenty of salt.  When salting your marinade, think about how much salt you would use to season the amount of meat that you have, and then double it. This is a good idea because what’s left of your marinade will be thrown away (along with a lot of the salt) before cooking.

So without further ado, here is my recipe Syrian Roasted Chicken, made with a marinade of olive oil, lemon, oregano, and Aleppo pepper.

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Shrimp and Red Chile Soup

While visiting the butchershop of my favorite Latino Grocery last week, I noticed bags of large, dried shrimp sitting on the meat counter. They shrimp had been left in their shells when they were dried, so they looked particularly beautiful.  I knew that the dried shrimp would last for months or longer, so I picked up a bag and started turning over ideas in my head.

When I got home, I broke in to one of the shrimp and gave it a taste.  It was surprisingly sweet, different from the more pungent, small dried shrimp I’ve used in the past for Vietnamese and Thai dishes. With such a mild, friendly flavor, I knew I should make a dish that would allow the dried shrimp to really shine through.

I decided on a traditional, Mexican-style red chile soup with guajillo chiles, onion, and fire-roasted tomatoes, and I added the dried shrimp to the broth while it simmered to give it an extra-rich flavor. I then pureed everything together, strained the broth to ensure the silkiest texture, and used it as a base for this delicious Shrimp and Red Chile Soup.

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Mussels Poutine with Tomato-Bacon Gravy

The idea for this over-the-top recipe came to me in a flash last summer. I was thinking about an amazing dish I once ate at a taverna in Greece of broiled mussels with feta cheese and somehow at the same moment I was thinking about poutine, the classic Montreal dish of french fries with gravy and cheese curds (the mind works in mysterious ways). This recipe is the love child of these two incredible recipes, my Mussels Poutine with Tomato-Bacon Gravy.

For this dish, crispy, fried Russet potato slices are topped with a tomato and bacon gravy made with sweet caramelized onions and garlic. The acidity of the tomato gravy helps to cut down on the richness of the other ingredients and makes a great base for steaming the mussels. The dish is assembled, topped with cheese curds, and then placed under the broiler to get amazingly melty. I think this dish would be equally wonderful with feta cheese, but I used traditional cheddar curds in honor of my husband’s Wisconsin roots.

Between three of us, we couldn’t quite finish this poutine, so don’t get any wild ideas about doubling the recipe unless you’re serving this for a party. Enjoy the poutine with the rest of the bottle of dry white wine you used for the mussels. You’re going to need it!

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Roasted Green Tomato Relish

It’s that time of year when summer gardens are starting to wilt and blacken in the cold night, but here in the Willamette Valley some varieties of tomatoes have managed to hold on thanks to a handful of warm, sunny November days. My uncle’s backyard garden has several enormous, Sungold cherry tomato plants, and what started in the beginning of November as sweatshirt pocket-fulls of sweet tomatoes gathered for snacks has turned suddenly into a mad dash to save all of the beautiful, unripe tomatoes as the weather has suddenly taken a turn for the colder.

Green Tomatoes

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Beef Bourguignon

Sometimes after days of cooking and cooking and more cooking, all I really want to eat is the simplest thing. This summer it was a tomato and fresh mozzarella salad with olive oil and salt –  I must’ve eaten that salad for lunch twenty times. With winter around the corner and a head cold hanging on for days now, I’ve been really craving meat. I needed a recipe that didn’t require much of me but that would offer a big reward in terms of flavor and comfort.

Beef Bourguignon, the long-simmered beef stew made famous by Julia Child, is the perfect choice for a cool-weather Sunday dinner.  I simplified Julia’s already no-nonsense recipe even further, using only beef, bacon, onion, garlic, and tomato paste as the base.  I then simmered the beef for several hours in approximately equal parts Red Burgundy wine and beef broth. The result was incredibly tender and unbelievable rich. We enjoyed the stew with simple mashed potatoes made with butter and sour cream, as well as some roasted Brussel sprouts from the farmer’s market.

Some may find a stew that takes several hours to cook overwhelming or tedious, but I couldn’t disagree more.  I find it so rewarding to spend 30 minutes getting a dish off on the right foot and then allowing it to do its thing all afternoon while I spend the rest of the day doing whatever I’d like to.  This dish is proof that with minimal effort you can end up with a meal that tastes incredibly rich and complex and feels wonderfully comforting.

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Crab Cakes with Mustard and Herbs

Crab Cakes have a reputation as a super decadent dish, but they are really quite simple to make. In this recipe, one pound of crab meat is tossed gently with fresh herbs, mustard, sour cream, and almond flour, briefly chilled, and then quickly pan fried in a little olive oil or butter.

Dungeness Crab season is approaching in Oregon and I am fantasizing about sitting on a Newport dock, sipping on a robust stout while my crab pot sits on the bottom of the bay, luring my dinner in through its one-way door. It’s a terribly sunny day with no wind on the Oregon Coast in this fantasy, by the way.

Whether or not you make it out crabbing this winter, fresh Dungeness will be readily available from December through April, and when it’s not in season, canned claw meat is not at all difficult to find.

So on a harried weeknight this winter, when you’re sick and tired of roasting every darned thing, remember this recipe, and know that a dinner of tender crab cakes is less than an hour away.

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