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Monday, July 27, 2020

Home on the Range: Chopped Taco Salad

Posted By on Mon, Jul 27, 2020 at 6:20 PM

Chopped taco salad - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Chopped taco salad
It's been a minute, or several, since I wrote one of these columns about cooking with my brother-in-law, Conor. As a refresher, Con had been trying to learn how to cook for his expectant wife, Julia, my youngest sister, throughout lockdown.

I have been trying to help by cooking with him over video calls.  Overall, I'd say we've made some progress, as judged by Julia's grades of the resulting meals.

Since the last episode of Cooking with Conor, as we call it, the very good news is that they have welcomed their daughter into the world. She is small but mighty and everyone is doing well, if a little tired.

Corn, black bean and tomato mixture - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Corn, black bean and tomato mixture
As any parent will tell you, adding a newborn to your life leaves little room for other activities. Recalling my own experience years ago, I remember sometimes feeling like there was no time to eat, let alone cook.

We did, however, manage to squeak in a cooking session a few weeks ago. The recipe, a chopped taco salad, had been planned pre-birth but was bumped out a couple weeks when the baby decided to arrive a week or so early.

It was inspired by one of Julia's favorite food items — tacos — and by the desire for minimal heat in the kitchen during very hot weather.

The only effort? A fair bit of chopping, some frying of ground beef and whisking of dressing.

Juggling new baby with cooking - MELISSA PASANEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Melissa Pasanen ©️ Seven Days
  • Juggling new baby with cooking
The recipe from thekitchn.com, upon which I loosely based this taco salad, calls for frying strips of corn tortillas. That seemed completely unnecessary, what with babies and heat waves.  Crumbled tortilla chips for Conor, and Fritos in my case, did just fine.

Obviously, you can make this with whatever mix of vegetables you have on hand. Cucumber, radishes and shredded red cabbage would be great. Leftover shredded chicken, sliced steak or even cooked diced shrimp tossed with a little taco seasoning could sub for the ground beef.

While not the prettiest dish I've ever served, it was fresh, crunchy and just-right spicy. My new niece, via her mama, gave it a B+. I can't wait to start cooking with her in a few years.

Chopped Taco Salad

Serves about 4

For the dressing:
  • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt (not Greek) plus olive oil to taste, or 1 cup sour cream plus freshly squeezed lime juice to taste
  • ½ cup tomato salsa
  • 1 teaspoon taco seasoning or for a homemade version: combine 2 tablespoons chili powder, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1½ teaspoons garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper (you'll have more than you need for this recipe but use amounts as specified and save the rest for another use)
  • Salt to taste
For the salad:
  • 6 medium scallions, thinly sliced, or 1 diced small red onion
  • 1 ½ cups fresh corn kernels, or 1 (15-ounce) can corn kernels, drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 bell pepper, any color, cored and diced
  • 1 pint halved cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 small head romaine, chopped into thin ribbons
For the beef:
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, or ground turkey
  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning, or use homemade version made from recipe above
  • ¼ cup tomato salsa
 For serving:
  • Crumbled tortilla chips
  • Crumbled feta or queso fresco, or shredded cheese, such as cheddar
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Make the dressing:
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, salsa and 1 teaspoon taco seasoning. Add salt to taste.
  2. Set dressing aside.
Make the salad:
  1. In a large bowl, combine the scallions, corn kernels, black beans, bell pepper and tomatoes. Add about half of the dressing and toss to coat.
  2. In a serving bowl, place the ribboned romaine and top with the corn-bean mixture.
Make the beef:
  1. In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef with the taco seasoning, breaking up any clumps.
  2. When beef is well cooked, about 8-10 minutes, stir in salsa and cook another minute or two.
Finish and serve:
  1. Top greens and corn-bean mixture with warm ground beef and top with crumbled tortilla chips, cheese and cilantro.
  2. Serve remaining dressing on the side.
Got cooking questions? Feel free to email them to pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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Friday, July 3, 2020

Home on the Range: Drink Your Vegetables

Posted By on Fri, Jul 3, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Blender soups: cucumber-yogurt and gazpacho - MELISSA PASANEN
  • Melissa Pasanen
  • Blender soups: cucumber-yogurt and gazpacho
When the weather gets steamy and local produce is abundantly in season, the blender is your friend.

A bit of chopping, a few buzzes in the blender and you can have two cold soups made within 10 minutes each: cool as a cucumber-yogurt with your choice of herb (mint, dill or cilantro) and a classic tomato and bell pepper gazpacho spiked with sherry or balsamic vinegar.

They do each benefit from a bit of time in the fridge but are also delicious sipped right out of the blender. (Not that anyone would do that.)

Packed in mason jars, these soups travel well in a cooler to kick off an elegant holiday weekend picnic menu.  Don't forget a few herb springs wrapped in a damp dish towel, or cherry tomatoes to gild the lily (aka garnish the soup).

No one needs to know they took you so little time and effort. Cheers to drinking your vegetables!

Herbed Cucumber-Yogurt Soup

Makes about 1 quart


  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ cup loosely packed fresh herb leaves, such as mint, cilantro or dill
  • 1½-2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 3 medium cucumbers (about 1½ pounds), peeled if desired and cut into chunks
  • 2 cups plain yogurt (if Greek, you might need to add a little water)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • extra herb sprigs for garnish
  1. Using a blender or food processor, pulse the garlic, herbs and 1½ teaspoons salt.
  2. Add the cucumber chunks and process until finely chopped. Add the yogurt, olive oil, lime juice and cumin and blend until smooth.
  3. Taste and add salt or more lime juice as desired. Thin with a little water if desired.
  4. Chill and serve garnished with herbs.


Makes about 1 quart


  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ sweet white onion or red onion, cut into chunks
  • 1½-2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 large bell pepper, any color, cored, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 1 large cucumber, cut into chunks
  • 4 large tomatoes (about 3 pounds, to yield about 4 cups), cored and cut into chunks
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic or sherry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • several dashes hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
  1. Using a blender or food processor, pulse the garlic and onion with 1½ teaspoons salt until finely minced.
  2. Add the bell pepper, cucumber and tomatoes and pulse a few times until relatively smooth.
  3. Add the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and hot pepper sauce and pulse to blend.
  4. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice as desired. Thin with a little water if needed.
  5. Chill and serve garnished with cherry tomatoes or cucumber slices.
Source: adapted from a recipe by Jim Lamberti, former owner of Inn on the Common in Craftsbury
Got cooking questions? Feel free to email them to pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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Monday, June 22, 2020

Home on the Range: Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2020 at 9:55 AM

Strawberry-rhubarb crisp - MELISSA PASANEN
  • Melissa Pasanen
  • Strawberry-rhubarb crisp
My husband cannot understand why we still need a landline. There are several reasons, but one is that I have a message saved in the voicemail system from October 1, 2014.

It is my friend, Barb, calling about my fruit crisp recipe. Apparently, I had written it on a piece of graph paper at least a decade prior, which sends us back to the very early 2000s.

"Every time I make the crisp," she said in the message, "I pull out this piece of paper you wrote the crisp topping recipe on, and there's your handwriting and it's so lovely."

Barb suggested that I write something about "the recipes that we get from our friends that are scrawled on pieces of paper."

She also said that when I first wrote the crisp recipe down, I reassured her how easy and basic it was in a way that was both encouraging and, as she put it, implied, "Be braver, young cook!"

It made me think that I rarely hand-write a recipe to give anyone these days, though I am constantly giving recipes to people. I'm usually printing out a copy of something I've written up for publication, or maybe sending a photo of a spattered page with some scrawled suggestions or changes I've made over the years.

Rhubarb fresh cut from the garden - MELISSA PASANEN
  • Melissa Pasanen
  • Rhubarb fresh cut from the garden
This recipe for strawberry-rhubarb crisp is one of those that I've scrawled, published and printed out for more than a dozen friends and family members over the years.

In October, 2014, Barb was making an apple crisp. The topping works for any fruit, of course, but my rhubarb plants are still producing abundantly, local strawberries are ripe and the pairing is classic for a very good reason.

I hope the recipe serves you as well as it has served Barb.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing (sub: non-dairy butter for vegan)
  • 4 cups hulled and halved strawberries (about 3 pints) (sub: pretty much any fruit for a total of 8 cups. If using anything other than rhubarb or sour cherries, ½-¾ cups sugar should be plenty)
  • 4 cups sliced rhubarb (about 1 pound)
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour (sub: for gluten-free crisp, 2 tablespoons cornstarch for the flour tossed with the fruit, and oat or almond flour for the topping)
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-by-9-inch (or equivalent) baking dish with butter.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the strawberries, rhubarb, granulated sugar and ¼ cup of the flour. Evenly spread the fruit mixture in the prepared baking dish.
  3. In the same bowl, stir together the remaining 1 cup flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon. Add the chopped nuts if using. Using your hands, smush the butter into the mixture and squeeze it together until it clumps. Evenly spread the clumps over the fruit, pressing down lightly.
  4. Place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any juicy spills and bake until the topping is golden brown and the fruit juices bubble, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool about 5 minutes before serving.
  5. Serve warm with ice cream if desired.
Source: The Little Local Vermont Cookbook: Recipes for Classic Dishes by Melissa Pasanen (W.W. Norton, 2020)
Got cooking questions? Feel free to email them to pasanen@sevendaysvt.com

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Home on the Range: Gone Fishin' With Vermont Wild Kitchen

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2020 at 4:30 PM

Trout cooking in a cast-iron pan - COURTESY OF VERMONT DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE
  • Courtesy of Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife
  • Trout cooking in a cast-iron pan
Fishing has always been a social-distancing activity and, during a global pandemic, it's a great way to get outside. Cleaning and cooking what you catch, though, can be an intimidating task.

Vermont Wild Kitchen is here to help break that barrier. A partnership of the Vermont Farm to Plate Network's Rooted in Vermont program and the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife, the coronavirus-era series of Facebook Live events helps curious Vermonters identify, process and cook wild ingredients.

"With COVID-19 raging around us, we were brainstorming ways to engage folks in the local food movement while also making sure that they were staying safe and staying healthy," Shane Rogers explained.

Rogers is the Farm to Plate communications manager and an on-screen personality in Vermont Wild Kitchen — from his own home kitchen.

The videos cover everything from wild turkey with foraged and farm-fresh sides to fish tacos and nettles. They encourage people to spend time outside experiencing nature in ways they haven't before — sustainably, of course — while celebrating how people eat local food in their own unique ways.

"Wild food carries this connotation as sometimes being scary, or perhaps dangerous," Rogers said. "It certainly can be, if you're not smart about it, but what we wanted to do with Vermont Wild Kitchen was show that if you take the time and learn about the plants and animals that you're harvesting, it can be a really fun activity to do on your own or with your friends and family. And, it's also really delicious."

The isolation of the pandemic, as well as concerns about disruptions to food supply chains, got people thinking seriously about where their food comes from, Rogers noted.

"As they dove into that topic, they not only found that Vermont has an abundance of local food — and that our farmers are working so hard to feed our communities — but also that Vermont has an abundance of wild foods," he said. "With a question here or there and a little bit of research, the forest turns into something completely different from what they've experienced before."

There's plenty to forage in the woods, but if you find the water beckoning as the weather heats up, fishing can be just as approachable. Fish & Wildlife makes it easy to get a fishing license online,  and the department's website is full of great resources for finding fishing holes around the state.

Want to cook what you catch? "We want to help people get over the hump of how easy it is to process a fish," Rogers said. "The actual cooking is as simple as salt, pepper and a hot cast-iron pan."

This video clip from Vermont Wild Kitchen, led by Fish & Wildlife's Corey Hart, demonstrates how simple it can be to process and cook trout.
It's as easy as that! Once you've processed your trout, there's a whole school of ways to cook it.

The cooking method detailed in the video calls for trout, onion salt, garlic salt and butter. To follow along, get your cast iron (or other pan) hot, and throw in a chunk of butter. Sprinkle the onion and garlic salts on both sides and inside the processed trout. Once the butter is bubbling, place the trout skin side down in the pan and cook on each side for 3 to 4 minutes, until the skin is nice and crispy.

This fish dish pairs well with the locally grown greens that are now popping up in farmstands, farmers markets, gardens and grocery stores. Add a maple-balsamic dressing, and you've got a full local, seasonal meal. As Rogers said, "Salad and fish, there's nothing that really beats that!"

The Little Local Vermont Cookbook by Melissa Pasanen - JORDAN BARRY
  • Jordan Barry
  • The Little Local Vermont Cookbook by Melissa Pasanen
If you've had a successful fishing trip (or trip to the grocery store's fish department) and are looking for another recipe, Seven Days writer Melissa Pasanen has your back.

In her recently released The Little Local Vermont Cookbook: Recipes for Classic Dishes, Pasanen heads to the state's "fresh, cold-running streams" for one of spring's "natural pairings": wild watercress and brook trout.

"There's nothing quite like the thrill of finding your own food in nature (just make sure you do so with knowledge and a fishing license!)," Pasanen writes.

If you're in a store rather than a stream, she suggests looking for small butterflied trout and purchasing them "gutted and boned, without the head, and with the two fillets still attached along the back." If you're in the stream, you'll have to take what you can catch.

Grilled Trout With Watercress Butter

Makes 4 servings

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 whole butterflied brook or rainbow trout (6 to 9 ounces each)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups watercress, coarsely chopped
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons minced ramps or scallions, white and green parts
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • Garnish: fresh watercress sprigs and lemon slices
  1. Heat a grill to medium-high. Cut two pieces of foil about 12 by 18 inches and drizzle half the olive oil in the center of each. Pat dry the skin of each trout and season the outside of each with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and generous grinds of the black pepper.
  2. Open each trout like a book, flesh side up. Place two on each piece of foil.
  3. In a medium bowl, mash together the watercress, butter, ramps, lemon zest, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and a few more grinds of black pepper. Divide the butter mixture roughly in fourths and, using your hands, shape each portion into a small log. Place one log in the center of each open trout and fold each trout closed.
  4. Bring the sides of each foil packet together in the center around the two trout, lying side by side. Fold the foil over and seal each packet well.
  5. Grill the trout in packets, turning once, about 5 minutes per side. The fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork. Remove from grill.
  6. Serve on a bed of fresh watercress with the lemon slices.
Source: The Little Local Vermont Cookbook: Recipes for Classic Dishes, by Melissa Pasanen. Published by the Countryman Press.

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Monday, June 8, 2020

Home on the Range: Shrimp With Tomatoes and White Beans

Posted By on Mon, Jun 8, 2020 at 8:48 AM

Shrimp with tomatoes and white beans served over greens - MELISSA PASANEN
  • Melissa Pasanen
  • Shrimp with tomatoes and white beans served over greens
This easy, speedy meal has been a staple in my cooking repertoire for longer  than I can recall. Thanks to quick-thawing frozen shrimp, canned diced tomatoes and white beans, and the Vermont feta I almost always have in my cheese drawer, it takes fewer than 45 minutes and one pan.

Occasionally, I plan ahead and even cook my own white beans, which are definitely more delicious than canned. But usually I'm just proud of myself if I can remember to thaw the shrimp in the fridge overnight. That shaves total dinner prep time down to about 30 minutes.

I make the recipe through every season. In the cooler months, I toss it with pasta, mound it on quinoa, or spoon it warm over baby kale that wilts just enough from the heat of the shrimp's garlicky-lemony juices.

In warmer weather, I often use fresh tomatoes in place of canned and serve it at room temperature over a green salad with crusty bread.

Normally, I try to search out wild-caught American shrimp from the Gulf.  An unexpected pandemic development is that reduced restaurant demand has made farm-raised Vermont shrimp from Sweet Sound Aquaculture currently available direct to consumers for pickup at the Charlotte operation. 
Vermont farm-raised shrimp with tomatoes and white beans - MELISSA PASANEN
  • Melissa Pasanen
  • Vermont farm-raised shrimp with tomatoes and white beans

In April, I drove to Charlotte and picked up a couple pounds of sweet, juicy, shell-on locavore shrimp. When I used some in my standby recipe, I left the shells and heads on to save time and get it on the table fast.

A few nights ago, I made it again with shelled Gulf shrimp.

Both were delicious, though the latter was a bit neater to eat.

Shrimp With Tomatoes and White Beans

Serves 3 to 4


  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • Good pinch crushed red pepper or Aleppo pepper flakes
  • 1 pound small to medium shrimp, preferably shelled (see thawing tip below if frozen)
  • About ¾ cup sliced leeks (sub: sliced scallions, diced onion, sliced shallots)
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (sub: 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (sub: 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves, plus. more to garnish if desired)
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can white beans, drained and rinsed (sub: Cook beans from scratch; it's worth it, but takes planning.)

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, minced garlic, ½ teaspoon salt and crushed red pepper. Add shrimp and stir to coat well.
  2. In a medium sauté pan or skillet set over medium heat, heat remaining tablespoon olive oil and add leeks. Cook, stirring once, until softened, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in cherry tomatoes, oregano and remaining ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have collapsed and given up some of their juices, about 5 to 7 minutes. Gently fold in white beans and cook for a couple minutes just until warmed through. Taste and add salt as desired. Scrape tomato and bean mixture into a serving bowl.
  4. Put sauté pan back on stove over medium-high heat. When a drop of water skitters on the surface of the pan, add shrimp with all the marinade and spread evenly around pan's surface. Cook, tossing once, just until shrimp is cooked through, about 4 to 7 minutes depending on size.
  5. Pour shrimp and cooking juices over white bean mixture. Sprinkle with remaining teaspoon lemon juice and serve over greens, pasta or quinoa as desired.
Tip: To speedily thaw frozen shrimp, take them out of the bag and submerge them in a bowl of cold water set in the sink and keep the faucet running. Depending on size, they should thaw in about 15 minutes. Dry them as well as you can with paper towel before proceeding with the recipe.
Got cooking questions? Feel free to email them to pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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Friday, June 5, 2020

Home on the Range: Radish-Top Pesto

Posted By on Fri, Jun 5, 2020 at 9:00 AM

Radish-top pesto - JORDAN BARRY
  • Jordan Barry
  • Radish-top pesto
Growing radishes has given me a false sense of confidence in my gardening skills. I was one of those Vermonters outside in mid-April, bundled up and digging in the dirt. Most good advice was telling me to stay inside while the ground warmed up, but instead of listening, I planted an entire seed packet of French breakfast radishes on April freaking 19th.

French breakfast radishes fresh from the garden - JORDAN BARRY
  • Jordan Barry
  • French breakfast radishes fresh from the garden
Radishes were my most successful crop last summer, too. Those didn't make it into the ground until mid-July, when I was finally settled back in Vermont after six years of failing to grow anything but mint on fire escapes in Brooklyn.

Between these two questionably timed plantings, the spicy early risers have my thumbs feeling rather green (as long as I don't look too closely at whatever's going on with my beets).

To keep up with the radishes as they poke their pink shoulders out of the soil, I've been eating lots of salads and buying butter in bulk. One of the raddest things about radishes, though, is that their green tops are edible, too. And, yikes, do I have a lot of greens.

When I have an overwhelming bounty of any semi-sturdy green, I tend to ask myself, Will it pesto? In the case of radish tops, the answer is "It sure will."

I like to keep my radish-top pesto light and lemony. The result has a vegetal greenness that pairs nicely with other delicate spring flavors. I've used it as a base for an ad-hoc asparagus-radish tart (see serving suggestion, below), as a spread for sandwiches, and as a topping on an experimental pizza with grilled asparagus from Pomykala Farm and squeaky cheese curds from Sweet Rowen Farmstead.

Asparagus-radish tart with radish-top pesto - JORDAN BARRY
  • Jordan Barry
  • Asparagus-radish tart with radish-top pesto
This is a flexible — and storable — recipe. It would work as a pasta sauce or in a potato salad. The ingredients, too, can be dealer's choice. No sunflower seeds? Try pine nuts, walnuts or almonds. Want to make it vegan? Leave out the parmesan. Feeling wild? Add garlic or ramps. It keeps well in the fridge for a couple weeks, and can be frozen if you want to revisit the taste of spring throughout the year.

And, much like growing radishes, throwing pesto ingredients in a blender and whizzing them all together is easy, satisfying, and a real confidence booster.

Radish-Top Pesto

  • 3 to 4 cups of radish tops, broken off from radishes, rinsed and dried
  • About a handful of shredded parmesan (to taste)
  • About a handful of sunflower seeds (sub: pine nuts, walnuts, almonds)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Lemon juice (to taste, between half and a whole lemon)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor
  2. Blend until smooth (note: blending in batches works if it doesn't fit all at once)
Serving suggestion: To prepare an asparagus-radish tart, roll out pie dough into a rough rectangle. Spread radish-top pesto in an even layer over the dough, stopping an inch from the edge. Place asparagus stalks and halved radishes in alternating rows (pretty!) on top of the pesto and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Fold the edges of the dough over, brush with egg wash and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until the crust is golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve with a crumble of goat cheese on top.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Home on the Range: Sheet Pan Roast Chicken

Posted By on Tue, May 26, 2020 at 3:24 PM

Sheet pan chicken with roasted vegetables - MELISSA PASANEN
  • Melissa Pasanen
  • Sheet pan chicken with roasted vegetables
My most recent virtual cooking lesson with my brother-in-law, Conor, was supposed to prove how easy it is to make delicious roasted chicken and vegetables in just a single sheet pan.

One of our versions turned out delicious, but the other — not so much.
Conor's parents have recently moved from their city home to join him and my sister, Julia, who's about a month out from having a baby.  Julia had joked that they would be much easier graders of her husband's culinary endeavors than she has been.

Case in point: Conor texted me after we each sat down to eat: "My mom gave it a B. Julia gave it a 'See me after class.'"

This was not a huge surprise, given that throughout the process of cooking, Conor's chicken and vegetables had stubbornly refused to brown — to the point that I was throwing shade at their oven.

We will have to claw our way back to honor-student status in our next cooking foray. For now, I  did come up with some learning from this failing grade.

The basic recipe is flexible, but not as much as I'd hoped, apparently.

Russet potatoes (the only kind Conor had) really don't get crispy and delicious when roasted the way all-purpose, waxier potatoes do. I used a mix of fresh broccoli and radishes; Conor used frozen broccoli. I recently learned the latter can be roasted, but in this case the water in the broccoli turned the oven into a steam bath, preventing crisp chicken. And finally, the smoked paprika I used is much more flavorful than the regular paprika that Conor used.

It's also pretty widely understood that roasting or baking two densely filled pans of something in an oven, versus a single tray, will likely take a bit more time. We allowed for that, but it couldn't compensate for the other issues. (I did use a second tray for my vegetables to avoid overcrowding, but that didn't prove to be a problem.)

Please don't let Conor's challenges impact your interest in this recipe, which really is a lovely, easy way to make a one-pan meal with relatively little fuss and mess. The caramelized lemon slices are an especially nice touch.

Sheet pan chicken heading into the oven - MELISSA PASANEN
  • Melissa Pasanen
  • Sheet pan chicken heading into the oven
Sheet Pan Roasted Chicken with Vegetables

Serves 4


  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, or full legs (2-3 pounds)
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Small handful fresh herbs, such as thyme or rosemary, divided
  • Several generous grinds fresh black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds unpeeled white, red or yellow potatoes, washed well and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 lemon, washed well, sliced thinly into rings, seeds removed and ends discarded
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium leek, white and light green part thinly sliced and washed well (sub: one medium onion sliced into 8 wedges, or 6 shallots sliced lengthwise in thirds)
  • 2 to 3 cups raw vegetables cut into bite-size pieces, such as broccoli or cauliflower florets, radishes or fennel bulb

  1. Ideally, at least 30 minutes before cooking and up to 24 hours ahead, put the chicken in a resealable bag with 1 teaspoon of the salt, the smoked paprika, about half the fresh herbs, and several grinds of fresh pepper. Seal the bag and massage the seasonings and chicken together to combine. Refrigerate if more than 30 minutes before cooking.
  2. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. On a large sheet pan or shallow broiler pan, toss the potatoes with the lemon slices, remaining herbs, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread the potatoes out and add the seasoned chicken, skin side up, keeping everything in one layer to ensure even cooking. Put the chicken and potatoes in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes.
  3. While the chicken starts roasting, toss the leeks and other vegetables in a bowl with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, a pinch of salt and a few more grinds of pepper.
  4. After 20 minutes, turn the potatoes to get as much crispy surface as possible and, if there's room, tuck the vegetables around the chicken and potatoes. If the pan is too crowded, use another sheet pan for the vegetables. Roast another 25 to 30 minutes until the chicken and vegetables are all nicely browned and crispy. (Chicken should register 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer if you have one.)
Source: Adapted from My Kitchen Chalkboard: Seasonal Menus for Modern New England Families by Leigh Belanger (Union Park Press, 2018)
Got cooking questions? Feel free to email them to pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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Monday, May 18, 2020

Home on the Range: Magical Cocoabean Cupcakes

Posted By on Mon, May 18, 2020 at 10:29 AM

Nancy Cain's Cocoabean Cupcakes - MELISSA PASANEN
  • Melissa Pasanen
  • Nancy Cain's Cocoabean Cupcakes
I cannot count the number of times I've made these cupcakes over the last five years since their creator, Nancy Cain, told me it was the single recipe in her then-new cookbook I should try if I only tried one.

I will admit I was skeptical. Not only were they gluten-free, as was everything in Cain's cookbook, Against the Grain: Extraordinary Gluten-Free Recipes Made from Real, All-Natural Ingredients, but I had  recently experienced full-on disaster with another baking recipe (not Cain's) featuring the same gluten-replacing ingredient.

But I had promised I would give them a try, and when I did I was floored. With just six simple ingredients that many people will have on hand (even in a pandemic), this is the best and easiest chocolate cupcake recipe I've ever baked.

Nancy Cain and her husband, Tom, cofounded Against the Grain Gourmet, a gluten-free baked-goods company, in Brattleboro in 2006. Tom and one of their sons had been diagnosed with celiac disease; Nancy, a scientist by training, approached recipe development for her family with that rigorous approach.

"I'm very good at holding variables constant," she told me back then.

Nancy has always prided herself on recipes that feature whole ingredients, no funny business. This is a case in point: You literally just blend the ingredients in a food processor, scrape the batter into the pan, and turn out moist, fine-crumbed chocolate cupcakes. 
A cake-size version of the cupcake recipe - MELISSA PASANEN
  • Melissa Pasanen
  • A cake-size version of the cupcake recipe

I've since made the recipe as both cupcakes and as a whole cake for birthdays, team dinners and graduations; for preschoolers, teenagers and octogenarians. It is beloved by all, and I think only one person has ever guessed the secret ingredient on their first try. (No, I'm not going to tell you, but the recipe is below!)

As noted, the recipe is gluten-free (i.e., no flour required) and also dairy-free. That means it can deliver more joy to more people, but I make it even for gatherings without dietary considerations because it's so good.

The original recipe calls for a white-chocolate-lavender icing, but I make a simple chocolate glaze instead. Then I garnish with whatever fresh berries or edible flowers are in season.

The cupcakes pictured here were made a couple weeks ago and garnished with dandelions from my (unsprayed) lawn for a birthday girl who appreciates wild edibles. The cake version was made for another birthday and  decorated with some gorgeous, professionally grown blooms. Each brought a lot of joy.

Cocoabean Cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes


For cupcakes:
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
For glaze:
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (dairy-free if desired)
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil

  1. Position rack in center of oven and heat to 350 degrees. Line cups of a standard muffin tin with paper liners.
  2. In a food processor, blend coconut oil and beans together until they are smooth and creamy, scraping down sides of processor bowl as needed.
  3. Blend in cocoa powder. The batter will become stiff. Blend in eggs and sugar until sugar crystals are dissolved. Scrape down sides of processor bowl a couple times to make sure everything is well blended. The batter will become creamy and look like chocolate pudding. Blend in baking soda.
  4. Scoop or pour batter into prepared muffin tins; each liner will be about 2/3 full.
  5. Bake cupcakes for about 30 minutes, until the tops are firm and a cake tester comes out clean.
  6. Cool cupcakes completely before glazing.
  7. To make glaze, melt together chocolate chips and coconut oil gently in a small, shallow bowl in a microwave, or in the top of a double boiler, just until they whisk together smoothly. Dip the top of each cupcake in glaze. (Tip: Twirl it as you pull out to prevent drips.)
Note: A friend tried to make them egg-free (using flax egg as a sub) and that did not work. I have successfully made the recipe, doubled, as a 9-by-13-inch cake and a 12-inch round. Both take about 40 minutes to bake. Double the glaze.

Source: adapted from Against the Grain: Extraordinary Gluten-Free Recipes Made from Real, All-Natural Ingredients by Nancy Cain (Clarkson Potter, 2015).

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Friday, May 15, 2020

Home on the Range: Brighter Days Sangria

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2020 at 2:30 PM

Brighter Days Sangria - SALLY POLLAK
  • Sally Pollak
  • Brighter Days Sangria
Last week, we asked Emily Morton, general manager of Deli 126, if she could whip up a cocktail recipe for a front porch or backyard hangout — something to drink at home with the arrival, at last, of warm weather.

Our request happened to coincide with a phone call that Morton got from her parents in Williston.

“Did you know you can get wine in a can?” they asked her. Her parents had discovered it at a convenience store and bought a 12-ounce can to share.

“Yes,” their daughter replied. “I definitely knew.”

(I neglected to tell Morton that wine in a can was news to me, too.)

Morton wanted to share a cocktail recipe that uses ingredients people are likely to have at home. She decided to build the drink around 12 ounces of wine — dry white or rosé, canned or bottled.

Her drink, called Brighter Days Sangria, calls for jam and fruit. I used clementines, frozen raspberries and strawberries. Morton gave a shout-out to rhubarb, which is growing in her garden.

We had no liqueur at our house, so I made a quick run to the packie, where I hit the 2 p.m. rush. I bought a big bottle of Aperol, bright red and sticky. It should last a lifetime.

Brighter Days Sangria - SALLY POLLAK
  • Sally Pollak
  • Brighter Days Sangria
Brighter Days Sangria is quick and easy to make and lives up to its name.  Our only adaption, in a microwave-less house, was heating the jam in a pan on the stove. I even pulled a pitcher out of my sleeve — OK, down from a high shelf — a development that stunned my daughter.

“We have a pitcher?” she exclaimed.

If you want the pros to mix your drink, you can get a cocktail to go three nights a week at Deli 126. Morton and bar owner Jake Shane serve drinks in vacuum-sealed packages: grown-up juice boxes. Open and pour over ice.

Brighter Days Sangria

Serves 2

  • 1 12-ounce can of dry white or rosé wine, or 12 ounces from a bottle
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of berry jam, heated in the microwave until runny
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup liqueur (Aperol, peach, apricot, Grand Marnier, etc.)
  • Berries, citrus slices, rhubarb ribbons from your fridge or garden
  • 1/4 cup citrus seltzer (more if desired)
  1. Whisk together the jam, lemon juice and liqueur in a pitcher.
  2. Add fruits and wine.
  3. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes.
  4. Add ice and seltzer, and serve!
Source: Emily Morton of Deli 126

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Monday, May 11, 2020

Home on the Range: Crispy Chicken Parmesan

Posted By on Mon, May 11, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Crispy Chicken Parm - MELISSA PASANEN
  • Melissa Pasanen
  • Crispy Chicken Parm
Chicken Parmesan is one of those recipes I kind of take for granted. I don't make it much, but when I do I remember how good it can be. And it reminds me to think more positively about boneless, skinless chicken breasts, which I tend to dismiss for being bland and boring.

Too often, it disappoints with soggy chicken smothered under layers of tomato sauce and cheese. I owe this crispier, lighter version to a combination of suggestions from an old standby in my (ridiculously huge) cookbook collection, Italian Classics from the editors of Cook's Illustrated (Boston Common Press, 2002) and a recipe from the website Food52.
The key is mostly to broil the cheese onto pan-fried cutlets and to wait until serving to spoon over some hot marinara. Other than that, it's pretty simple, though a bit messy.

I can assure you that it does not require great culinary expertise, because my dear brother-in-law, Conor, earned his first fully fledged A for this dinner when he made it with my long-distance coaching a couple weeks ago. (This says more about the forgiving nature of the recipe than Conor's newly developed cooking skills. We've had both ups and downs in our recent cooking sessions, though the teacher might need to take some responsibility.)

Chicken Parmesan is somewhat less flexible than some of the other recipes I've shared in this column. You could obviously make it with veal cutlets, or thin boneless pork cutlets (which tend to taste like chicken). It would also work with sliced eggplant, of course, making it eggplant Parm. I have a feeling it could even work well with thick "steaks" of cauliflower (cut 1-inch slices crown to stem from the widest center part of the cauliflower; keep the stem on to hold them intact) briefly steamed and patted dry, but have not yet tried that.

Conor actually made it with boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of breasts, because that's what he had on hand. As proven by his grade, it was obviously delicious, if a little more raggedy looking.

You could make the tomato sauce from scratch if you want, but good store-bought sauce works perfectly well. Any pasta shape is fine, and mozzarella can be fresh or the pre-shredded kind.

As some readers might recall, Conor has embarked upon this effort to build cooking skills because he and my sister will be welcoming their first child next month. They recently completed a five-plus-hour online birthing preparation class, which left them exhausted and only somewhat less anxious than before.

How Conor will fulfill his assigned roles as breathing coach and chief hydration officer remains to be seen. I have full faith, however, that he will be able to feed the new mother a fine chicken Parmesan.

Broiled cheese-topped chicken thighs seen via FaceTime in Massachusetts and chicken breasts In Vermont - MELISSA PASANEN
  • Melissa Pasanen
  • Broiled cheese-topped chicken thighs seen via FaceTime in Massachusetts and chicken breasts In Vermont

Crispy Chicken Parm

Makes 4 servings

  • 4 (about 1½ pounds) boneless, skinless chicken breasts (sub: boneless, skinless thighs or other suggestions per above)
  • 1½ teaspoons plus a pinch coarse salt, divided
  • ⅓-½ cup all-purpose flour
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large egg (maybe one more if needed)
  • 1 cup panko Japanese-style breadcrumbs (sub: dry or fresh breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs)
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
  • 1 (24-ounce) jar marinara sauce
  • Pasta, your choice
  • 4-5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • About 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced (sub: 1 cup shredded mozzarella)
  1. If you don't have a large broiler-proof skillet, line a rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan with foil and set aside.
  2. Trim any extra fat from chicken breasts. If they have smaller tenders attached, pull those off. Place your palm flat on the top of each breast and very carefully slice through horizontally in half (with the knife blade parallel to your palm) to make two relatively even, thinner pieces of breast. Sprinkle one teaspoon of salt evenly over chicken and set aside on cutting board.
  3. Arrange three wide, shallow soup bowls in a row. In the first, whisk together the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, ⅓ cup flour and several grinds of fresh pepper. In the second, beat egg with a drizzle of water and pinch of salt. In the third, stir together panko and Parmesan.
  4. Set water to boil for pasta.
  5. Using tongs or your hand (this gets messy), dip each piece of chicken (including any tenders), first in flour to coat lightly on both sides and then egg, before pressing each side into the breadcrumb mixture. Place on a clean cutting board or large platter as they are coated. (If you find you need more of any coating layer, just add a little more to the bowl; much better than wasting excess raw-chicken-contaminated ingredients.)
  6. Start cooking pasta per package directions and pour marinara sauce into a saucepan set over medium to heat up.
  7. Set a large (ideally broiler-proof) skillet over medium-high heat and heat 3 tablespoons of the oil until it shimmers. Add chicken pieces in batches to avoid crowding. Cook until dark golden brown and crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes each side. As chicken is done, remove pieces to a clean plate or foil-lined rimmed baking sheet if using. Add remaining oil to skillet as needed to finish cooking chicken. If using broiler-proof skillet, wipe out any extra oil and put chicken back in skillet to go under broiler.
  8. While frying chicken, turn on oven broiler with a rack in the highest spot. When pasta is cooked and drained and marinara is hot, sprinkle mozzarella evenly over fried chicken pieces and broil for 2 minutes until cheese is bubbly.
  9. Serve chicken over pasta with marinara spooned over top.
Got cooking questions? Feel free to email them to pasanen@sevendaysvt.com.

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