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.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Saturday Chef Original: Cooking School Chicken (Braised Chicken with Leeks and Potatoes)

I don’t like change. I never have. I like old towels, worn-in jeans, misshapen sweaters and old-fashioned comfort foods. I adjust, of course, but slowly, and that falls into my culinary tastes. Even when it’s 90 degrees with sweltering humidity, I still crave the delicious richness of a brasied meat and potatoes. But I started this blog as a way to broaden my tastes, change my eating habits and to learn.

There are infinite things to learn about cooking: techniques, knife skills, information on thousands of ingredients, how to salvage recipes gone wrong. Every recipe teaches me something, as does every mistake. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that cooking is a labor of love, a gift to the senses.

Chefs on reality shows and the super-chefs of the Food Network nearly bludgeon viewers with their big idea of Cooking With Love, the use artful and creative preparation of food as a way to express affection to family and loved ones. It is a beautiful sentiment, and realistically, a fantastic and wholesomely marketable way to promote celebrity chefs and their shows, and sell Food Network cookware.

But it’s also true.

The act of cooking serves a paramount purpose: nourishing the people close to you. It is a simple task that can be incredibly profound, and it’s never more apparent than when you discover or create a recipe that inspires much more than just yummy noises. A simple meal can be the bedrock of tradition and nurture celebration. My understanding of the Cooking With Love concept has once again been reinforced by creating. It is everything I love: rustic braised chicken suspended in a rich sauce studded with potatoes. It is warming and hearty, and can be made in about just an hour.

I have dubbed this dish Cooking School Chicken as I get to practice a lot of techniques—braising, deglazing, chopping—and because it has taught me the biggest cooking lesson there is and one that will never change.


1 pound baby red potatoes, cut in bite-size pieces

6 to 8 chicken thighs (with bone and skin)

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Flour for dredging

Olive oil

1 ½ to 2 medium leeks, washed and finely chopped

1 cup dry white wine

2 to 3 carrots, peeled, cut in edible pieces

4 cups chicken broth

1 tablespoon lemon juice (or juice of ½ lemon)

2 tablespoons Half & Half

Salt, Pepper

Parsley Flakes (optional)

Cut potatoes into even bite-size pieces, halves or quarters for the larger spuds. Rinse. Pour potatoes into a medium pot, cover with water and place over medium-high heat to boil while you chop vegetables and prep chicken. Boil potatoes until they are soft but still a bit firm, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain. Season conservatively with salt, pepper and a pat of butter.

Wash and finely chop leeks. Set aside.

Peel and rinse carrots. Quarter carrots lengthwise, then cut into roughly 2-inch strips (Note: You can use baby carrots to decrease prep time. I have used both. I find that larger carrots impart more flavor. And I really like peeling them).

Rinse and pat chicken dry. Season with salt, pepper and dried thyme on both sides. Dredge in flour seasoned with same spices. Be sure to tap chicken gently to remove any excess flour.

Place the biggest skillet you have (16” or bigger) over moderately high heat and add enough olive oil to coat bottom of the pan. When oil is hot, place chicken skin-side down and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. You may need to work in batches as not to crowd the pan. Transfer chicken to plate.

Drain off oil, chicken juices and darkened flour and reserve in measuring cup. Carefully wipe out any burnt bits from bottom of pan.

Place skillet over medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of reserved oil, then leeks. Sweat until leeks are soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Season with salt, pepper. Deglaze with white wine. Cook until liquid begins to bubble at the sides. Add carrots and 1 teaspoon of thyme.

Add 2 cups of chicken broth and stir to combine, allow to cook until liquid is boiling and has reduced a bit. Add chicken, skin-side up, and juices from plate. Cover and simmer chicken on low until meat can be easily removed from the bone with a fork and carrots are done, about 30 to 40 minutes. Shake the pan peridocially while simmer.

When chicken is done, transfer to plate. The leftover liquid should now be thicker and even formed a brown crust in some spots (don’t panic, it’s flavor!). Increase heat to medium. Add remaining chicken broth and stir. Let sauce thicken and reduce for about 10 minutes. Season with pepper and thyme if needed. Add potatoes and two palmfuls of parsley flaskes for color.

When sauce has thickened to desired consistency, add lemon juice to brighten and Half & Half to thicken. Check and adjust seasoning if needed*. Add chicken back to skillet and leave on heat for a few minutes to marry flavors.

Serve immediately. This can be made a day ahead of time.

Recipe Notes

*Lemon juice will bring out the flavor of salt, so use it conservatively when seasoning sauce and vegetables.

*Also, I almost always use Half & Half in place of heavy cream unless I'm baking. It’s readibly available, and a bit healthier. Feel free to use cream if you wish.

*Recipe originally posted on http://www.foodieslikeusblog.com/ as a guest blog by yours truly.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mom's Chicken with Coffee Barbecue Sauce (Grill Not Required!)

There are a lot of things people will do for family, take a bullet, flip a car, walk through fire.  My personal, heroic sacrifice was to make barbecued chicken for my mom's Mother's Day present.  Barbecued chicken on a rainy, cold Saturday in May. 

Honestly, I'd rather walk through fire. 

Because I don't like barbecue sauce.  It's messy and cloying and the smell of it makes me sick.  However, when I started this blog, I did it with the intention to broaden my culinary horizons and even prepare things I loathe.  One of my mother's favorite stories to tell is how she revived Christmas dinner in the 80s with a pan of barbecued chicken.  So instead of taking her out to breakfast, I started researching barbecue sauces.

I found dozens of recipes with at least 15 ingredients...molasses, brown sugar, weird peppers I have no hope of finding.  Then I stumbled upon this recipe by Michael Chiarello.  It had rave reviews, and it was distubingly simple.  I didn't even have to buy anything.  So I started cooking, making my dad taste it.  He said it was too sweet and not tangy enough.  And I wanted to add all of those funky ingredients.  But I didn't.  I trusted the recipe, the reviewers and Mr. Chiarello.  This sauce is made to be baked.  It marries the flavors and it becomes something sweet and bright and amazing.  I ate two pieces...and I actually dipped my chicken in it.  I'm a believer in the BBQ!  But only this one.

After the dinner was done, after my mom ohhed and awwed and yummed, she kissed me on the cheek and declared that this recipe was hers. 


Coffee Barbecue Sauce
Adapted from Michael Chiarello


4 tablespoons mashed and minced garlic, can use crushed garlic

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup soy sauce

2 cups ketchup

1 1/3 to 2 cups honey

½ to ¾ cup of stronger coffee or 2 demitasse cups espresso

Mash garlic with the side of a knife and then mince finely to release oils or use crushed, jarred garlic to save prep time and weeks of garlic hands.

Add olive oil to a preheated saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until it gets light brown, about 1 minute. Add cider vinegar, soy sauce, ketchup, honey and coffee and whisk to combine. I recommend adding 1 1/3 cup of honey as mixture will be very sweet. The coffee will help curb the sweetness. You can adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper, but it honestly doesn’t need it. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 15 to 30 minutes, stirring and tasting ocassionally.


2 lbs of chicken thighs or your favorite cut


Black Pepper


Garlic Powder



Preheat oven to 375.

Season chicken with the spices on both sides. Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to barely cover bottom of pan. When oil is hot, add chicken skin-side down. Brown thighs thoroughly on both sides, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Place chicken on foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the chicken measures 150 degrees. Pour 2 cups of sauce into a bowl and submerge chicken to coat. Place chicken back onto sheet and cook for 20 more minutes, basting with sauce every 10 minutes. Thighs internal temperature sure measure about 165 to 170 degrees when done.

Let chicken rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Use the remaining sauce as for dipping or…drinking. It’s that good.  Freeze the remaining sauce.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Coconut Pavlova with Chocolate Chantilly Cream and Strawberry Coulis

*This recipe was revised on November 3rd*

I wrote a novel two years ago and I need to re-start the difficult process of selling it.  Yesterday, I went to a seminar on query letters. I walked in feeling extremely shy and nervous and like a misfit (because I was the youngest person in the room, probably by decades) and walked out feeling an incongruous combination of inspired and terrified. The woman hosting the seminar published a book eight years ago. While it wasn't a best-selling jaggernaut like Twilight or Eat Pray Love, she had what we all wanted: a published novel. But the speaker was breathless with angst over her currently stalled new manuscript and discouragingly candid about how hard the publishing world is.

Afterwards, I desperately needed security in my passions. I found it in both the kitchen—ironically with fire and knives—and in beautifully intriguing words like "pavlova" and "chantilly" and "coulis." I'm still nowhere closer to the perfect query letter or literally agent, but I did create something: the best dessert I've EVER had. It is light yet decadent. It is chocolatey and sweet and tangy. And it's reassuring that if I can make this tiny dream tangible, then maybe I can take on the bigger ones.



Adapted from recipe at epicurious.com

Toasted Coconut, recipe as follows
6 egg whites (about 1 cup of egg whites)
1 ½ teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup boiling water
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment.
Using an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, beat egg whites, cornstarch, vinegar, vanilla and salt until foamy. Gradually add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Beat in 1/4 cup boiling water, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until whites are stiff and glossy. Pipe or spoon meringue onto baking sheets in circular shapes about 4 to 5 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick.  (NOTE: If you have a piping bag or piping tips, it will be easier to make the meringues uniform, but a spatula works too).
Bake meringue for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 200°F and bake until dry and crisp outside and just cooked through inside, about 1 hour, although it may take a little longer. My meringues were a dusky light brown on the outside and squishy like marshmallows in the middle.  Turn off oven. Let meringue stand in oven 1 hour and leave in oven until completely cool and ready to serve.
Store between layers of parchment in an air-tight container for up to 4 days.
Toasted Coconut
1 ½ cup sweetened coconut flakes
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Spread coconut on a baking sheet. Toast until a light golden brown, stirring every few minutes to prevent burning, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Do not leave the kitchen.  It will burn very quickly.  Cool.
This can be made the day before.  Store in an air-tight container.
Chocolate Chantilly Cream
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
Chill metal mixer bowl in freezer for about 5 minutes.  Sift sugar and cocoa together in bowl or onto parchment paper.  Whisk heavy cream at high speed, gradually adding cocoa mixture while beating.  You may need to scrape the bowl a few minutes to full incorporate cocoa and sugar.  Whipped cream should be the consistency of shaving cream.  (NOTE: Mixture should not be overly sweet.)  Refrigerate any leftovers.
Red Berry Coulis
16 ounces fresh or frozen strawberries (if fresh, hulled and cut in half)
6 oz fresh or frozen raspberries
1 cup sugar plus more if needed
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
*If using frozen berries, make sure they are thawed.
Add all ingredients into a saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until it boils slightly at the sides.  It only takes a few minutes.  Taste and add more sugar if needed.  Transfer to blender and blend until smooth.
This can be made the day before.  Refrigerate until ready to use and up to a week.
Chef’s Note:  It won’t last a week.  It makes fantastic margaritas, toppings for pancakes or base for smoothies.
Remove a meringue from cooking sheet.  Place onto saucer.  Spread a generous dollop of Chocolate Chantilly Cream on top.  Drizzle with Coulis.  Sprinkle on toasted coconut.  Repeat process.  Garnish with chopped fresh strawberries, if you have them.  Enjoy!