Winter Comfort Food Meets Nourishment - Buttery Greens atop Braised Black-Eyed Peas and Chicken

This time of year, when the snow is falling, the wind gushing, and the cold biting, I find that my body craves foods that are hearty, rich, and nourishing. In other words, comfort foods. When I was younger, the term "comfort foods" had a slightly different meaning than it does to me now. It definitely meant rich, but nourishing? Not so much. As I have gotten older, my taste for real and healthy foods has proliferated, and the nourishing aspect is a key component in my style of cooking. This dish is a reflection of that concept.

Although not to the extent of beets or buckwheat, black-eyed peas have a subtle earthiness about them. Honestly, I have never been crazy about this bean. I found it rather dull on the flavor scale. Attempting to end my lack of enthusiasm for the bean, I was determined to make this dish smashingly delicious. With the aid of the spice cabinet and loving technique, a new appreciation was born. Braising the beans with caramelized vegetables, chicken, and fennel seed (the secret ingredient!), created flavorful and soft, almost melt-in-your-mouth black-eyed peas that I would be happy to indulge in regularly.

 On its own, this stew is delicious, but in order to satisfy my cravings for richly-dark leafy greens, I topped it all of with soft, buttery kale. Not only did this help the nutrition aspect, but also made the stew look ten times more appetizing. The minor bitterness that kale bears was balanced with the sweetness from the carrots and fennel in the stew. A perfect match.

I like to think that I kept things simple with this recipe, although it's important to note that one person's definition of simple can be vastly different than another's definition. Nonetheless, this dish is easy to prepare. Just make sure you plan ahead, as you must soak the black-eyed peas overnight, and cook the dish for several hours.

Braised Chicken and Black-Eyed Peas with Buttery Greens
Serves 2-3 People

1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, sliced thinly, and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
6 large cloves garlic, minced
2 quarts chicken stock (homemade if possible)
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. fennel (anise) seeds (I used slightly more)
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
salt and pepper to taste

3 cups loosely-packed kale or other greens
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. chicken stock
1 Tbsp. butter
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and saute onions until translucent. Add garlic, carrots, and saute a few minutes more. Next add black-eyed peas, stock, and spices, and simmer with lid on for about 45 minutes, until peas are tender. Once the peas are tender, add the chicken and cornstarch mixture, and continue to simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the liquid has thickened.  Season with salt and pepper.

About a half hour before the peas are done, roughly chop and rinse the kale. In a large saute pan, cook the kale in olive oil until bright green, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, and cook with lid on until soft. Just before serving, add butter, salt, and pepper.

When ready to serve, ladle hot black-eyed peas and chicken into bowls, and top with buttery greens.

Love and Health,

Eggs for Dinner: Frittata with Roasted Tomatoes, Onions, Spinach, and Feta

Eggs have to be one of my favorite last-minute dinner options because, well, they are fast and simple. No fat to trim, no bones to de-bone, no extra time to marinate... you get the idea. You simply crack the thing, and proceed with dinner. Because I was getting a late start on my Monday night dinner duty, eggs seemed to be the ideal option for me. Within twenty minutes, I had two crust-less ham and cheese quiches in the oven, and nestled underneath were some cherry tomatoes, sizzling as they roasted. This dinner was beginning to take shape. All I needed to do now was come up with a vegetable dish to serve along with the quiche and something to do with my succulent roasted tomatoes.

A quick look in the refrigerator solved my dilemma. A caesar salad would be perfect to serve along side my quiche, but a quick look at some fresh spinach and feta cheese and I couldn't resist. I had to make a frittata too. To me, the combination of spinach and feta is glorious on its own, but combine it with roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions in a soft bedding of bakes eggs, and it would be a win kind of night.

To Roast the Tomatoes:

1 pint of cherry tomatoes
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a baking dish and roast at 400 degrees for 25-35 minutes, until tomatoes have burst, and start to brown lightly.

For the Frittata:

1 small onion
1 Tbsp. olive oil
A handful of roasted tomatoes
2/3 cup chopped spinach
1/2 Tbsp. butter
1-3 Tbsp. crumbled feta cheese
3 eggs
2 Tbsp. whipping cream
salt, pepper, fresh herbs and seasonings of your choice (I use LOTS of Italian seasonings)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a small saute pan, cook the onions in olive oil over medium-low heat until they begin to caramelize. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, whipping cream, and seasonings and set aside. Next, add the tomatoes and spinach to the onions, and coat the sides of the pan with the butter, so that your frittata does not stick to the pan. Gently pour the egg mixture over the vegetables, and sprinkle the cheese over top. By now, the eggs should have set on the bottom, so that the edges don't jiggle. Now, place the frittata in the oven and bake just until the center is set, about 8-12 minutes. Once set, loose around the edges with a spatula, and serve immediately.

One last note. After several years of wanting to upgrade to an SLR camera, I finally did. Oh my, am I happy that I did! It will probably take me all year to figure out how to use it, but I am so eager and excited to learn. I want to thank my amazing Grandpa, who took the time to help me do the research, figure out exactly what to get, and go shopping with me. I am so blessed to have such an incredible man in my life.