Each year as May approaches, I look forward to the excitement and pageantry of the Kentucky Derby, the festive and high-spirited Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and Memorial Day picnics that mark the beginning of summer and the grilling season. These fun festivities help distract me from the agonizing loss that each Mother’s Day brings.
While social media floods us with images and stories of all the fun others are having with their families, and the media saturates the airwaves with saccharine ads for flowers, candy and jewelry, The Artist and I quietly go about our day, pretending it is just like any other Sunday.
Mother’s Day is a bittersweet day in our home. Both The Artist and I have lost our moms, each to the monster we call cancer. With aching hearts, we studiously ignore the pending holiday, focusing instead on other diversions. The Artist customarily retreats to his studio to create another hauntingly beautiful piece of work, often giving a discarded piece of wood or other used materials new life. And I head to the kitchen.
I instinctively gravitate toward the comfort foods of my youth, perhaps attempting to recreate the nurturing reassurance that a mother brings to her child. For me that is usually meat and potatoes or casseroles, for The Artist it is homemade Italian classics. Each year I attempt to merge our traditional cuisines into a single meal, often using herbs and seasonings to link everything together like a colored ribbon tying all the dishes into pretty packages waiting to be opened.
Growing up, my favorite dishes were chicken and dumplings, a deeply golden roasted chicken, and sizzling fried chicken (are you sensing a theme here). Each one remarkably simple in their seasonings as my mother rarely used anything except salt and pepper. But as I began cooking on my own and started experimenting with herbs and spices, I discovered a whole new world of exotic, tantalizing, and exciting flavors that transformed simple dishes into enticing new creations.
This year I am making us Chicken Cacciatore, the traditional Italian hunter’s chicken stew rich with tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms and herbs. This is the perfect blending of our childhood favorites; a simple braised chicken with Italian ingredients and seasonings. It has been a long time since I’ve made it and I know the aromas as it bakes will fill the house with memories, warming our aching hearts and easing our sorrow a little.
Though the early versions of cacciatore did not have tomatoes (they hadn’t arrived in Europe yet), not including them in Italian dishes these days is nearly a sacrilege. In this dish I like the balance of tomatoes with the other ingredients, making it one of many flavors combining to create a rich, savory sauce that begs for a bed of cooked pasta, mashed potatoes, creamy polenta, or rice to help us lap up every satisfying drop.
If you are lucky to still have your mom, call her, send her a card, of if you are close enough, go for a visit. Moms deserve to be treated like a queen every day of the year to thank them for all they do for us and the sacrifices they make for the family. They are the unsung heroes. If you are like The Artist and me and have lost your mother, our hearts are with you.
May you all have a lovely, happy and peaceful Sunday.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
This is a dish that is better on the second day. Cook as directed, then cool and transfer the cacciatore to an airtight container and hold it overnight in the refrigerator. Reheat it gently the following day.
The only places where gluten may hide in this dish is in the canned tomatoes or the chicken broth. Check the labels to be sure and if in doubt, contact the manufacturer or use a brand that is labeled gluten-free.
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts*
- 1/4 cup organic olive oil
- 1 red bell pepper, stem and seeds discarded, chopped
- 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
- 2 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
- 1/2 lb mushrooms, halved or quartered
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic or Gourmet Garden Garlic
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 tsp dried oregano or Gourmet Garden Oregano
- 1 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes (my favorite brand is Pomi)**
- 1/4 cup tomato sauce
- 1-1/2 cup chicken broth (gluten-free if needed, see note above)
- Kosher or fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes or Gourmet Garden Chile Flakes, optional (add if you want this to be spicy)
- Brown the Chicken: Lightly season both sides of the chicken breasts with kosher or fine sea salt. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or Circulon's 12-inch Deep Covered Skillet over medium-high heat. When it is shimmering, add the chicken and reduce the heat to medium. Cook just until golden brown, then turn them over and brown the other side. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside on a plate. You will finish cooking it in the sauce.
- Make the Sauce: With the stove on medium heat, add the bell peppers, onions, and celery to the same pan. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, and oregano. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the wine and scrape up any browned bits from the chicken, deglazing the pan.
- Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and cook at a low boil for 20 minutes to blend the flavors and thicken the sauce a bit. About halfway through, stir in the mushrooms. When the sauce is thickened to your liking, taste and add salt and pepper if needed. If you want a spicy dish, add the red pepper flakes.
- Place the chicken back in the pan, nestling it into the sauce. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 15 more minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted in the middle of the breast registers 155°F to 160°F. Timing will depend on the thickness of the chicken pieces. If the chicken pieces are sitting partially exposed above the level of the liquid, turn them over once or twice while cooking so they cook evenly and absorb the flavor of the sauce. Taste the sauce again and adjust the seasonings if needed.
- Pull off the heat and cover. The cast iron pan will hold the heat for a long time, giving you time to finish making any accompanying dishes. I like to serve this with cooked pasta, smashed potatoes, creamy polenta, or boiled rice to help us get every last bite of the delicious sauce!
- * If you choose, you can use bone-in chicken pieces instead of the boneless breasts. Brown them and set on a plate as described. Once you’ve stirred in the chicken stock, add the bone-in chicken pieces while you are reducing the sauce. They will take about 20 to 25 minutes to cook, just about as long as the sauce takes to thicken and the flavors to blend. Add the mushrooms about halfway through the cooking. Check the chicken with an instant read thermometer making sure the probe isn’t touching a bone for the best accuracy.
- ** If you are using Pomi tomatoes or another brand that has their chopped tomatoes in a thick sauce, you can use 1-1/4 cups and delete the 1/4 cup of tomato sauce.
Now, for today’s Prize Package …
Today we have a one-two punch for you. A cookbook from the just announced James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef of the Year and a little something to help you recreate the recipes in the book. And by “a little something” I mean one of my favorite pans for cooking Circulon’s new Momentum Hard Anodized 12-inch covered deep skillet works for a wide variety of dishes, from simple sautés to long-cooking stews, this pan does it all. It would be the perfect choice to make today’s recipe!
Today’s cookbook, The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook, shares the recipes, stories, and pioneering philosophy from one of New York City’s best restaurants, helmed by the newly crowned James Beard Foundation 2015 Outstanding Chef, Michael Anthony. Gramercy is a culinary landmark that has been changing the face of American dining for years. High on my list when I attended IACP’s annual conference in New York, it was one of my top favorite meals. Simple and unpretentious, the chicken I had was the most succulent and memorable of my life (even better than my grandmother’s!). It takes an incredibly skilled chef and team to create a dish that still makes me yearn for it years later.
Enter the Rafflecopter drawing below. The more Facebook pages you like, tweets you send, and Pinterest pages you follow, the more chances you have to win. Good luck!
Just announced in April, the new dishwasher-safe Circulon Momentum Hard Anodized Cookware is made of heavy-duty hard-anodized aluminum – a material that is twice as strong as stainless steel – and includes a premium nonstick exterior finish in a handsome black hue with matching silicone black handles. Expertly crafted to deliver excellent cooking results and convenience, Circulon Momentum cookware features Circulon’s patented TOTAL® Nonstick System for a superior nonstick experience.
Circulon’s signature and unique cooking surface of raised circles – combined with a premium quality, PFOA-free and metal-utensil safe nonstick – ensures that foods prone to sticking easily slide off the cooking surface and cleanup is quick. I can personally attest to it’s high quality and easy clean up. This is one of my favorite pans in my kitchen and I know you will love it too.
Circulon has generously donated this beautiful skillet for today’s prize package.
The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook by Michael Anthony (Clarkson Potter):
Gramercy Tavern has become a New York institution earning dozens of accolades, including six James Beard awards, plus this year’s honor for Chef Anthony. Its impeccable, fiercely seasonal cooking, thoughtfully sourced ingredients, welcoming and convivial atmosphere, and steadfast commitment to hospitality are unparalleled. The restaurant has its own magic that is captured in these pages and 125 recipes.
“With its generous size and mouthwatering photographs, it looks like a coffee table fixture, but this book from the famed Manhattan restaurant is meant for true home cooking. Corn soup with honey and a julienne of shiso leaves, earthy mushroom lasagne topped with crispy garlic, and other recipes are as approachable as they are elegant.” –Saveur
This Contest has ended. Congratulations to Winner Rose M!
After each drawing, the non-winning entries will be added to the next prize set so that each entry makes you a candidate for all the giveaways! Apologies to my wonderful international friends, but these giveaways are limited to USA and Canadian readers. Each entry period will last 10 days. Winners will be randomly picked and notified by email. The winner has 48 hours to contact me with their shipping information. If I do not hear from them, another winner will be picked and contacted. All cookbooks provided by The Heritage Cook.
Create a New Tradition Today!
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