About The Saturday Chef

Midwest, United States
I am NOT a professional chef. I am what I affectionately dub a Saturday Chef—a weekend warrior of the culinary variety, fortified by the education I have gleaned from two high school cooking classes, the Food Network and my own gastronomical experiments. While I’m not ashamed to spend all day making bagels by hand, and proudly call myself a foodie, I’m not a food snob. I enjoy an Extra Value Meal as much as the next girl. My culinary escapades are still relegated to the weekends, but my love for cooking is stronger than ever, galvanized by more successes than failures, and the beautiful fact that the more I cook, the more people there are to feed. So please stay tuned for fun recipes, inevitable disasters and hopefully, a lot of good food.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chicken and Mushroom Ragu with Pasta

It seems like everyone is on the search for quick dinners that require little time at the stove yet produce bold flavors on the plate, especially in a summer that seems to have no intentions of surrendering to fall. After catching a nasty summer cold that had me out of the kitchen for more than a week, I am more serious about embracing vegetables, fruits and lighter fare.

I discovered a delicious dish that is not only comes together quickly, it is flavorful and rustic. It also combines ingredients I love—chicken, arugula and pasta—with a few that I'm learning to love—mushrooms and tomatoes. Fortunately, with beautifully sweet San Marzano tomatoes and mushrooms chopped fine, I cleaned my plate and went back for seconds.


Chicken and Mushroom Ragu
Adapted recipe by Maggie Ruggiero


4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium leek, rinsed and finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried rosemary, divided

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 (28-ounce) can dice tomatoes in juice, preferably San Marzano

3 cups of baby or wild arugula

½ pound of your favorite pasta, cooked al dente


Finely chop mushrooms and garlic. Set aside.

Finely chop leek. Set aside.

Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces.

Place a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat add ¼ cup of olive oil. When oil is hot, add chicken. Season with salt, pepper and ½ of the dried rosemary. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is slightly golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from skillet with a slotted spoon into a bowl.

Reduce heat to medium and add onions to pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic and remaining rosemary. Season lightly with salt and pepper, stirring often, until vegetables begin to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Add balsamic vinegar and cook until evaporated. Add tomatoes and juice. Use your spoon to break up tomatoes. Reduce heat to low and simmer until mixture thickens slightly, about 15 to 18 minutes.

Finally, add arugula to sauce, stir, and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes.

Serve with over your favorite pasta and a bit of grated parmesan.

Saturday Chef's Slow-Cooked Brisket with Rustic Vegetables and Jus

I am like an athlete when I cook. I want to be in the paint. In the zone. In the action. While I understand it's all apart of the game, I don’t like idle time. I don’t want to be benched while the cake cools or the dough rises or the chicken marinates. For this reason, my crockpot has been collecting dust.

When I found the plastic had been punctured on a frozen piece of brisket, I had no choice but to cook it. Only problem? It’s August in Wisconsin, and it’s 90 degrees with suffocating humidity. The solution came in the form of a twenty-year-old silver and black Rival Crockpot.  It could cook the meat wihtout turning the house into a sauna.

Like any braise, I seared the meat to lock in the juices, created a flavorful braising mixture with rough chopped vegetables and herbs and poured it in the crockpot. The little machine more than did its job; it also convinced me that crockpots can be a very value player.


4 to 5 lb brisket, trimmed if necessary

Kosher salt, pepper


3 to 5 carrots, peeled, halved

1 large leek, rinsed, rough chopped

½ yellow onion, rough chopped

2 to 3 sprigs fresh rosemary

3 fresh sage leaves

4 to 5 sprigs fresh thyme

3 to 4 dried bay leaves

1 16oz can diced tomatoes and juice

1 ½ cups red wine

3 cups low-sodium beef broth

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 oz dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted per directions and broth (optional)

Cut brisket into sizeable pieces to ensure that it will fit into your crockpot. Season liberally with kosher salt and black pepper. Let rest for about 10 to 20 minutes.

Turn on crockpot to low and cover.

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Lightly coat brisket pieces in flour, tapping to remove excess. Place brisket in pan and brown to form a golden crust all sides, about 5 to 7 minutes per side.

Remove from pan and set aside. Add vegetables, fresh herbs and bay leaves to hot oil and season with salt and pepper. Stir for a few minutes or until fragrant. You do not want to cook vegetables as they will be braising for a very long time. Add wine and stir to combine. Pour in tomatoes and juice, balsamic vinegar, and beef broth (and mushrooms and broth if using). Season liberally with salt and pepper again. Let cook until mixture begins to boil slight around the edges. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Using a ladle or slotted spoon, scoop vegetables and spices into crock pot. Add the brisket pieces, then carefully pour the broth mixture over the top until full. Cover.

Let cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or until meat is lusciously tender. Remove bay leaves and stems of herbs. Enjoy!

Chef’s Note: Although I didn’t bother chopping herbs, you may want to run your knife through the rosemary as the leaves are a bigger.