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Chickplantasagna is born
Aug 10th, 2016 by

Layered like lasagna, with eggplant, chicken, and zucchini, chick-plant-sagna was born out of necessity.

Layered like lasagna, with eggplant, chicken, and zucchini, chick-plant-asagna was born out of necessity.

We were hungry.

I had eggplant, zucchini, some leftover cheddar cheese and a new block of Parmesan Reggiano in the refrigerator. All day long I thought of those ingredients and asked myself what I could make for dinner. Around 4 p.m., the answer came to me.

I just needed chicken cutlets so I stopped at the supermarket on my way home and found some chicken tenders that looked better than the other cuts of chicken there. I brought them home and flattened them between two pieces of aluminum foil (I had nothing else). And that’s where our story (recipe) begins.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken tenders (About 9 or 10, flattened by pounding them with a rolling pin between two pieces of wax paper, parchment paper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil.)
  • Eggplant (1 dark, purple — firm, but not bruised — beauty).
  • Zuchinni (1)
  • Red pepper (1)
  • Cheddar cheese (about 1/4 cup shredded)
  • Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup, grated)
  • Fresh salsa (about 1 cup)
  • Tomato Paste, imported and from a tube (about 3 or 4 good squirts)
  • Red wine (about 1/3 cup), and a little water too.
  • Garlic (1 clove, torn open with your fingers)
  • Olive oil, regular, not extra-virgin (about 1/2 cup)
  • Lemon pepper

Here's what the dish looks like before putting it in the oven.

Here's what the dish looks like before putting it in the oven.

The Process:

Take the skin off the eggplant by peeling off strips of it using a vegetable peeler. The eggplant will look like it has stripes as some of the skin remains.

Cut thin (about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thick) slices of the eggplant. Brush olive oil on one side of each slice. Brush olive oil on a cookie sheet and put eggplant, dry side down. Cook in a 450 degree oven, turning over once, until both sides are brown.

Cut thin slices of zuchhini (about 1/4-inch to 1/2 inch thick). Put oil on both sides. Cut long strips of red pepper (about 1/2 inch thick) and put oil on both sides. Cook zuchhini and red pepper on a baking sheet in a 450 degree oven until done.

Fry chicken cutlets in a little olive oil and the clove of garlic. Sprinkle with lemon pepper.

When chicken is done, heat frying pan again. Add the tomato paste and the wine and water and stir. Add salt and pepper. Let the wine and water evaporate a little bit. Stir scraping the bottom of the pan. Add about 1 tablespoon of butter and stir some more. Turn off heat.

Assemble the dish by putting a little olive oil on the bottom of a ceramic baking dish, along with a few tablespoons of the fresh salsa. Add half of the chicken cutlets. Pour over half of the tomato paste sauce. Add half of the cheeses. Top with half of the zuchhini, red peppers, and eggplant slices. And then repeat this with the remaining ingredients, ending with the rest of the cheese and some fresh salsa.

Bake in a 350 degree oven until cheese melts.

The dish was delicious but it still needed a name. I posted a photo of it on Facebook and asked for suggestions. My friend Katie M. suggested Chickplantasagna. It was the perfect name for a perfect dish.

The End

Find more recipes in the Food Section.

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Short Ribs Provencale
May 2nd, 2016 by

There's a variety of complex flavors in this dish.

There's a variety of complex flavors in this dish.

This recipe is time consuming but it’s well worth the wait. I found it on Epicurious. Cookbook author Rick Rodgers said the editors of Bon Appétit magazine asked him to create the ultimate version of braised short ribs and this is what he came up with, based on elements of various short rib dishes he enjoyed at several restaurants.

I took it a step further by using short ribs I got at a local Massachusetts farm. I also had a pound of bacon and a chicken sausage I needed to cook, so I cooked them in the dutch oven before I cooked the short ribs. Before adding the ribs, I took out all of the oil left from the bacon and sausage except for about two tablespoons. I don’t think cooking bacon and sausage is necessary but I do believe it added even more depth to the wonderful flavors found in this dish.

I didn’t have any black olives so I used what I had on hand: olives stuffed with blue cheese. I also served the short ribs over mashed potatoes and covered it all in a blanket of the delicious sauce. Here’s the recipe. Bon appetite!

Find more recipes in the Food Section.

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An Easy Recipe For Making English Muffins From Scratch
Apr 18th, 2016 by

These english muffins are much better than store bought and contain only a few natural ingredients: not a long laundry list of chemicals you can't pronounce.

These english muffins are much better than store bought and contain only a few natural ingredients: not a long laundry list of chemicals you can't pronounce.

I made english muffins from scratch for the first time this morning. And I’ll be making these again — maybe every week.

English muffins are relatively cheap and available at grocery stores so why would anyone want to make their own? Two reasons:

  1. Warm, with melted butter and strawberry jam, I'm going to make these on a regular basis.

    Warm, with melted butter and strawberry jam, I'm going to make these on a regular basis.

    Chemicals. Read the ingredients on any store-bought english muffin package and the list of ingredients is long, with names of things I do not recognize.

  2. Taste: I’ve been buying Thomas brand english muffins and the taste is good but it always seems synthetic to me, especially the corn-flavored muffins. Is it real corn flavor or is it a corn flavor that was invented in some lab? I’m not sure. But one thing I’m certain of is the taste of these homemade english muffins far surpasses the store-bought processed ones.

I found several recipes online but this one from the kitchn.com looked like the simplest and used basic ingredients I had in my pantry. You don’t have too, but it’s best if you make the starter and dough the night before and let the dough rise in your refrigerator overnight. One other tip. You cook these muffins in a skillet on top of the stove under very, very low heat (when I did it, you could barely see the flames beneath the pan).

Here’s the recipe:

You cook these muffins in a skillet over a very low flame. I suggest popping them into a 350-degree oven for a few minutes too.

You cook these muffins in a skillet over a very low flame. I suggest popping them into a 350-degree oven for a few minutes too.

Ingredients:

For the dough starter:

  • All-purpose flour or bread flour, 3/4 cup (3 1/3 ounces)
  • Water, 1/2 cup
  • Active dry or instant yeast, 1/2 teaspoon,  (or 2 tablespoons active sourdough starter)

For the English muffin dough:

  • Milk, whole or 2%, 1 cup
  • Active dry or instant yeast, 1 teaspoon
  • Sugar, 2 tablespoons
  • Unsalted butter, melted, 2 tablespoons
  • Salt, 1 teaspoon
  • All-purpose or bread flour, 3 to 3 1/4 cups (13 1/2 to 14 1/2 ounces)
  • Cornmeal for dusting
  • Butter for the skillet

Roll the dough into balls and let them rise for two hours.

Roll the dough into balls and let them rise for two hours.

What do do:

  1. Make the dough starter: Mix the flour, water, and yeast for the starter in a small mixing bowl. Beat until the batter is smooth and glossy, about 100 strokes.
  2. Let the starter sit 1 to 12 hours: Cover the starter and place it out of the way for at least 1 or up to 12 hours. The starter will become increasingly bubbly the longer it sits and will double in bulk. The longer you can let the starter ferment, the better the flavor and structure of your finished English muffins. (I let mine sit for about 6 hours and the taste was tangy but mild.)
  3. Whisk together the milk, yeast, and starter: In the bowl of a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, combine the milk and yeast for the dough. Scrape the starter into the bowl and use a whisk to break it up and dissolve it into the milk. It should become quite frothy.
  4. Mix the dough together: Add the sugar, butter, and salt to the bowl and whisk to combine. Add 3 cups of the flour and stir with a stiff spatula until you form a shaggy, floury dough.
  5. Knead the dough: With a dough hook on a stand mixer, knead the dough until it comes together in a smooth ball, 5 to 8 minutes. Alternatively, knead by hand against the counter. If the dough is very sticky like bubble gum, add extra flour as needed, but err on the side of caution. The dough is ready when it forms into a smooth ball and springs back when poked; it will feel slightly tacky to the touch, but shouldn’t stick to the bowl or your hands. (I kneaded mine by hand and within a few minutes, the dough was smooth and springy.)
  6. Let the dough rise overnight in the fridge: Transfer the dough to a large bowl lightly filmed with oil. Cover and place in the fridge overnight or for up to 3 days.
  7. Divide and shape the muffins: Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Use a pastry scraper to divide the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece gently against the counter to shape into smooth, round balls. (Don’t worry too much if each piece is the exact same size. Mine weren’t and yet I was pleased with the results.)
  8. Transfer the muffins to a baking sheet to rise: Scatter cornmeal generously over a baking sheet and arrange the balls on top, spaced a little apart. If you have muffin rings, place them around the balls at this point. Sprinkle the tops of the balls with more cornmeal.
  9. Let the muffins rise until puffy: For dough that was refrigerated, this will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours; for room temperature dough, this will take about 1 hour. Depending on the size of your muffin rings, the muffins may not totally fill the rings — that’s okay.
  10. Warm a skillet: When ready to cook the muffins, warm a large skillet over medium heat. Melt a small pat of butter — enough to just coat the bottom of the pan and prevent sticking.
  11. Cook the muffins 5 to 6 minutes on one side: Working in batches, transfer a few of the muffins to the skillet — allow an inch or so of space between muffins and do not crowd the pan. If using rings, transfer the muffins with their rings to the pan. Cook until the bottoms of the muffins are golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. (I found that I had to keep the flame very low as the muffins cooked quickly and you really want to cook them slowly.)
  12. Flip and cook 5 to 6 minutes on the other side: Flip the muffins and cook the other side until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. If you prefer thinner, less puffy English muffins, you can gently press the tops with the spatula to prevent them from rising too much.
  13. Adjust the heat as needed: If your muffins seem to be browning too quickly on the bottoms (or not quickly enough), adjust the heat as needed. (If you find that your muffins are browning too quickly, throw them in the oven at 350°F to finish baking through.) (I found putting the muffins in the oven for a few minutes was a good idea to ensure the insides were cooked through.)
  14. Finish cooking all of the muffins: Transfer cooked muffins to a cooling rack. Continue working in batches until all the muffins have been cooked. Add a small pat of butter to the pan between batches to prevent sticking.
  15. Split and serve! Split the English muffins with a fork, spread with butter or jam (or both!), and eat. English muffins will keep for several days in an airtight container on the counter and are fantastic warmed in the toaster oven. Fresh English muffins can also be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and kept frozen for up to 3 months.

You can eat these english muffins a few minutes after frying them without toasting them, but I found putting them in a toaster for a minute, just to get a light crackle on them was best. Thanks to all who watched my cooking demonstration on Periscope. I hope I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself.

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Bike Initiatives on a Roll North of Boston
Dec 10th, 2015 by

(We interrupt these recipes for a word about bike safety. This is an article I wrote and a video I created about bike accidents in communities north of Boston. It was published in the Boston Sunday Globe on Nov. 29, 2015.)

By Mark Micheli

It happened to cigarette smokers and drunk drivers.

Richard Fries believes the next major shift in what’s not socially acceptable will zero in on impatient motorists, bicyclists, and even pedestrians.

“It used to be acceptable to be drunk and drive,” said Fries, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. “It used to be acceptable to smoke — in a school. And here we are again. The times are changing.”

Fries said he is expecting — and fighting for — a world where bicyclists not only feel safe on the roads, but that they belong there and they matter. And he believes communities north of Boston — with a few exceptions — are working toward that end.

  • In Somerville, they’re planning the city’s first elevated bike lanes, to be separated from traffic by a curb and the sidewalk by a buffer zone with plants.
  • In Salem, they’re planning to connect the Salem State campus and the Marblehead Rail Trail to an off-road path reaching into downtown. That trail could eventually join the off-road East Coast Greenway stretching from Canada to Florida.
  • Beverly and Lowell this year adopted the Complete Streets program, which requires city engineers to consider all users when improving roadways, making accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians where appropriate.
  • There’s work being done to connect rail trails in Topsfield and Boxford, as well as trails in Amesbury, Newbury, Newburyport, and Salisbury.
  • This year, a portion of the Northern Strand Trail was built in Revere, providing the missing link to create 7½ miles of continuous off-road riding from Everett, through Malden, Revere, and Saugus, to the Lynn line.

For Fries, it’s all about the realization that many bicyclists ride not for recreation, but out of necessity to get to jobs, schools, to shop, or simply to use their cars less. And that, he said, is why off-road trails, in combination with on-road accommodations, are needed.

“We’re not talking about working out,’’ he said. “We’re talking about expanding people’s radius of unmotorized travel to about a 3-mile radius.

“Imagine if they built 5 miles of the interstate highway and then you had to drive 10 miles more to get to the next section? That’s where we’re at right now in the construction of bike facilities.”

Somerville, he said, leads the regional pack on bike-friendly accommodations, with more than 30 miles of painted bike lanes, eight bike boxes — areas painted on roadways where bicyclists can wait in front of motorists for the light to change — and a police department more concerned with why someone violated a road rule than issuing citations.

“Our police force is so good at this,’’ said Brad Rawson, the city’s director of transportation and infrastructure. “I see it all the time in my daily commute.”

“They ask them ‘Why are you running a red light? Why are you riding a bicycle the wrong way down a street? Why are you crossing mid-block?’ Those types of things,” said Bonnie Polin, chief safety analyst with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. MassDOT gave $40,000 to Somerville this year for extra police details to work at problem intersections. She said some safety improvements have come from the answers police get.

The 12 communities the state chose for the extra details program — a list that includes Salem, Haverhill, and Lynn — have the highest ratio of bicycle and pedestrian crashes compared with total accidents, Polin said.

Somerville has some of the region’s worst hot spots for bicycle accidents: Four of the state’s top 10 bicycle crash clustersare in the city. Overall, according to MassDOT statistics, Somerville has 13 such clusters where 589 accidents occurred from 2004 through 2013. One was deadly; 382 others involved injuries.

The city seems to be zeroing in on the problem spots; the plan to build elevated bike lanes along Beacon Street, from Inman Square to Cambridge’s Porter Square, is one of the solutions officials envision. Some 300 bicyclists per hour travel that route during morning and evening rush hours, said Rawson.

In Lynn, both the severity of bike problems and the city’s response are quite different. The city doesn’t make the top 10 list on accidents, but it is home to three bicycle crash clusters where 41 accidents occurred from 2004 through 2013. Twenty-four of those accidents involved injuries, and one a death.

There are no plans to fix those spots, said James Marsh, the city’s community development director, who said that narrow roadways make such work all but impossible. He said Lynn is instead focused on a much larger project to develop its waterfront, which would include three pedestrian bridges over the Lynnway, where he said two or three people have been killed in recent years. Those plans, however, are years from design and completion.

To Fries, Lynn is the least bike-friendly community north of Boston. It has no bike lanes, he said, and is the last holdout to approve the Northern Strand Trail from Everett to Nahant Beach. Similarly, Swampscott is the last town to agree to completion of the Marblehead Rail Trail, which some abutters — not town officials — are delaying. Filling in those two gaps would create an off-road path from the North Shore into Boston.

Barbara Jacobson, who works with municipal officials as program manager at the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, said there is little political will in Lynn to support bicycling. Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy did not respond to interview requests for this story.

Still, the city has taken some safety steps. It took part in the program that provided money for more detail officers at dangerous intersections, said Lynn Police Sergeant Ned Shinnick, and it conducted two bicycle and pedestrian safety audits. In addition, it will likely add shared bicycle/motorist lane markings on Lynnfield Street as part of a new project.

Some communities require a push to become more bike-friendly. Last year, Lowell considered removing newly painted bike lanes from Father Morissette Boulevard, but bike advocates fought back, packing a City Council hearing. Now the city is working on better markings for those lanes, said Nicolas Bosonetto, Lowell transportation engineer.

“It’s a quality-of-life issue,’’ said Bosonetto. “As more people come back to the urban center they’re expecting more amenities, more walkability, more bicycling accommodations, more transit.”

“I believe the next frontier in bicycle advocacy is not the hip, happening, Boulder, Colo., Portland, Ore., Cambridge, Somerville, Manhattan,” said Fries. “I think it’s the Brocktons, and the Lynns, and the Lowells. Those are the communities where folks can really use good basic bike infrastructure.”

Bicycle safety improvements underway north of Boston

Beverly

  • Road projects considering bicyclists and pedestrians are planned for Bridge Street; the Beverly/Salem bridge; Routes 97 and 1A; and River Street.
  • Bike lanes to be painted on Brimble Avenue, with plans to add shared bicycle/pedestrian paths.
  • Signs, shared lane markings, and possible traffic-calming measures are planned for Cabot Street.

Haverhill

  • Improvements along the Merrimack River and boardwalk will include accommodations for bicyclists, pedestrians.

Lowell

  • Plans to connect off-road paths.
  • Working with state to make VFW Highway safer for all users.
  • Working with UMass Lowell to make Pawtucket Street safer for bicyclists, pedestrians. ? Safety improvements at VFW Highway/Bridge Street intersection, including realigning road and shortening pedestrian bridge.
  • Planned redevelopment project to make Lowell Overpass safer.

Lynn

  • Planned waterfront project could include three pedestrian bridges over Lynnway and boardwalk connecting to Lynn Shore Drive.
  • Shared bicycle/motorist lane markings on Lynnfield Street.

Salem

  • Accommodations along Bridge Street to the train station.
  • More bike lanes planned for Lafayette Street (Route 114).
  • Off-road path planned along Canal Street to connect Salem State campus and the Marblehead Rail Trail to the downtown.

Somerville

  • Spring construction start planned for first elevated bike lanes, along Beacon Street from Cambridge’s Porter Square to Inman Square.
  • Safety improvements for Holland Street south of Teele Square. ? Safety improvements are being studied for Elm Street near Davis Square.

SOURCES: Cities, towns, and the Mass. Bicycle Coalition.

Mark Micheli can be reached at markfmiceli@gmail.com.

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Giant Peruvian Lima Bean Soup (From Taranta Restaurant in Boston’s North End)
Oct 19th, 2015 by

Here’s a recipe I got when I was shooting Dorm Room Chef videos for the Boston Globe and Boston.com. It’s delicious and very healthy, according to Taranta chef/owner Jose Duarte.

Duarte’s restaurant is unique in that it features both Italian and Peruvian dishes, two cultures that are part of his heritage. Watch the video above to get the recipe. It’s only 2 1/2 minutes long and the recipe is pretty easy to make. I also wrote the recipe below.

I’ve made it dozens of times and plan to make it again soon, now that the weather in this part of the country is getting colder.

Ingredients:

  • Giant Peruvian lima beans (About 1 1/2 cups). I couldn’t find anything labeled “Peruvian lima beans” at the supermarket so I just bought the largest ones there.
  • Water (About 1 1/2 cups)
  • Chicken stock (About 3 or 4 cups)
  • Garlic, chopped (A few cloves)
  • Celery, chopped (About 1/2 cup)
  • Carrots, chopped (About 1/2 cup)
  • Potato, diced (About 1/2 cup)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (3 or 4 tablespoons)
  • Egg (1 large egg per serving)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure:

Add the lima beans, the water, and enough chicken stock to completely cover the beans (about 1 1/2 cups) to a crockpot and cook for about 6 hours.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a ban over medium heat. Add the celery, garlic, carrots, and potatoes and cook until tender (about 3-5 minutes).

Add the lima beans and the remaining chicken stock to this pot and cook until nearly boiling.

Add one egg at a time and stir gently to cook the egg. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve each portion of soup with one egg. Pour a little olive oil over the top of each serving too.

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Tuscan-Style Fried Sage Leaves
Oct 11th, 2015 by

The light batter is reminiscent of tempura.

The light batter is reminiscent of tempura. (Photo by Mark Micheli)

This recipe was printed in the Boston Globe’s food section at least 15 years ago, probably closer to 20 years ago. I cut it out of the paper then and used it to make these today but unfortunately, there’s no date on the clipping.

The headline on the article was “Tuscany’s last secret,” and the recipe for the frying batter, which can also be used with vegetables and zucchini blossoms, was taken from the Fine Art of Italian Cooking, by Giuliano Bugialli. I think the Globe should ask readers for their favorite recipe from the Globe’s food section over the past fifty years and then print an article based on the top 10 selections.

Here’s the recipe:

TUSCAN FRYING BATTER

Ingredients:

  • All purpose unbleached flour, 1 1/8 cup
  • Kosher salt, a pinch
  • Ground black pepper, just a little
  • Nutmeg, a pinch
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons
  • Egg yolk, one from an extra-large egg
  • Dry, white wine, 1/4 cup
  • Vodka, unflavored 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • Cold water, 1/2 cup

What to do:

In a large bowl, mix the flour with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Make a well in the center of the flour, then add the olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, mixing very well and incorporating just a little of the flour from the rim of the well.

Add the egg yolk, wine, and vodka and incorporate more flour.

Finally, add the water and mix everything together very well. The batter should be very smooth with no lumps.

Let it rest at least one hour in a cool place.

FRYING THE SAGE LEAVES

Heat about an inch or two of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Insert a wooden spoon in the oil and if bubbles form about it, it’s hot enough to cook the leaves.

Dip the leaves quickly in the batter, being sure to coat well on both sides and cook in the hot oil in several batches. Cook each leaf about one minute or two on each side. Remove from the oil when they turn golden brown and place on a plate lined with a paper towel to allow the oil to drain.

Sprinkle salt on the leaves and a squirt of lemon juice.

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