Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Best of 2012: Main Dishes
For midweek meals and even sometimes during weekends the meat I turn to most is chicken. It’s affordable, lean and, depending on the method, quite fast. One of my favorite dishes to make is Roasted Chicken with Greens and Bread Salad, a recipe adapted from the dish served at San Francisco’s Zuni Café, which Chris and I discovered last year when we visited the restaurant.
The most popular chicken dish among Cook In / Dine Out readers was the Updated Chicken Marbella, a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen that sought to modernize the classic Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook. Even if you love the original recipe as much as I do, this update is worth trying to experience a different take on the dish.
Although I would describe my cooking style as American with strong Italian influences, every so often I venture into Asian territory. I hope to pursue more international flavors next year (I have a stock of Asian dishes I’m planning to post soon after the New Year). When it comes to Chinese food, Kung Pao Chicken has been a personal favorite ever since I was about 9 years old. As delicious as the takeout version can be, it’s just as satisfying made at home and arguably less fattening.
Lastly, the Ricotta Tartine with Chicken, Arugula and Asparagus Salad, Honey-Cinnamon Almonds and Garlic-Sautéed Squash Blossoms (long title!) was one of the more unusual and unexpected things I made this year. It came about from the rather made idea to “mash up” two recipes I’d been planning to make over two nights but ended up with just one to do it in. This is a good dish for early summer with squash blossoms and asparagus are freshly available.
Turkey, the other poultry, plays second fiddle to chicken most of the year but shines at Thanksgiving. This year I brined my Roasted Turkey Breast for the first time, and it was so good, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the herbs-under-the-skin method. I always make a breast, rather than a full bird, since I don’t have a large number of guests. But, if you find yourself with leftover turkey, Thanksgiving Leftover Pizza is a great way to use it up, along with stuffing and butternut squash puree.
Ground turkey, especially ground dark meat, is an effective substitute for ground beef in many dishes. I prefer it in Turkey Black Bean Chili, an old favorite in our house, and its flavor shines in the Turkey and Butternut Squash Meatloaf, really more moist and flavorful than a traditional meatloaf.
For years the pork lobby tried to sell Americans on the idea of pork as “the other white meat,” but that really does a disservice to what is a versatile and delicious meat in its own right. It’s nice to see pork enjoying a renaissance in restaurants these days. When you have the time, slow roasting pork produces excellent flavor, such as in Carnitas Tacos where the pork is cooked in a slow cooker and then finished under a broiler to give it some crispness. But when you don’t have the time, pork chops are fast and easy and benefit from a flavorful sauce, like Pork Chops with Maple-Peppercorn Glaze.
We’re not big seafood eaters in our house, but we do have fish weekly and it’s usually salmon. Broiled, it’s a fast and easy weekday meal, and even when it’s baked it doesn’t take very long. For years, I made it broiled with a paste of garlic, rosemary, olive oil and lemon. This year, I paired salmon with many different flavors to demonstrate its versatility. My favorite was the Southwestern Salmon with Black Eyed Pea Succotash and Yellow Pepper Sauce. The most unusual was the Salmon with Blueberries (it’s good, honest). Chris was particularly fond of the Salmon with Zucchini “Spaghetti,” and I also want to mention the Salmon with Corn, Pea Tendrils and Green Garlic Butter since it uses less common spring ingredients from the farmers market.
We’re not vegetarians, obviously, but many of our friends are. Even meat lovers have favorite vegetarian dishes, especially during the summer, when the bounty of fresh produce makes cooking without meat inventive and interesting. Take, for example, Pasta with Roasted Garlic Scape Pesto. Garlic scapes can be rather potent, but roasting mellows them a bit to make a delicious pasta accompaniment. Blackberries, another summer delight, go great with corn—Corn Pancake with Blackberry Sauce is perfect for summer breakfast.
When the summer bounty peaks, it’s good to have dishes that can use up a lot of vegetables so they don’t go to waste. For that, I recommend Summer Vegetable Lasagna and Ratatouille.