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COOKING

Back to Basics

The post-holiday menu calls for old familiar fare

creamed chicken
Thick slices of golden challah serve as the base for old-fashioned creamed chicken, made with diced poultry, carrots, celery, onion, and peas.

Many families that feel frayed after the holidays resolve to stay home, ignore the phone, and spend a quiet night together. Informal Sunday suppers can set the tone for the week, and since conversation should be the draw, serve something familiar, so no one’s wondering what’s on the plate: grilled cheese sandwiches, eggs and hash browns, old-fashioned creamed chicken on toast (our rich sauce of diced chicken breasts and vegetables actually has no cream), or sloppy Joes, hearty sweet-and-sour ground beef heaped onto golden rolls. Getting back to basics is a great way to start the New Year.

CREAMED CHICKEN ON TOAST

SERVES 4

Creamed mixtures can contain milk or heavy cream – or neither. In this version, chicken stock is thickened with a butter-flour paste and has a creamy consistency; the taste is a little like filling for chicken potpie.

4 cups chicken stock

2 chicken breast halves (1½ pounds total), skin removed

½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1 onion, coarsely chopped

2 carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch cubes

2 stalks celery, cut into ¼-inch pieces

4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

4 tablespoons flour

1 cup frozen peas

Pinch of grated nutmeg, to taste

¼ teaspoon pepper, or more to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

4 thick slices challah or other soft eggy bread, toasted and halved

In a large flameproof casserole, combine the stock and chicken breasts. Add ½ teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Skim the surface, lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer the chicken for 10 minutes.

Add the onion, carrots, and celery to the chicken. Cover the pan and continue cooking for 20 minutes or until the chicken and vegetables are both cooked through.

Remove the chicken from the liquid and set it aside until the chicken is cool enough to handle. Use a slotted spoon to remove the vegetables from the stock.

On a plate with a fork, mash the butter and flour together until they form a smooth paste; set it aside. Remove the chicken from the bones and cut the meat into ½-inch pieces.

Return the chicken cooking liquid to a boil. Using a whisk, scoop up half of the butter paste and whisk it into the simmering liquid. Add the remaining butter paste and let the sauce simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

With a large metal spoon, stir the chicken, vegetables, and peas into the sauce. Continue cooking for 5 minutes or until the meat and vegetables are very hot. Taste for seasoning, add nutmeg, pepper, and more salt, if you like, and the parsley.

Arrange two pieces of toast on each of 4 dinner plates. Ladle the creamed chicken mixture on top and serve at once.

SLOPPY JOES

SERVES 4

1½ pounds ground sirloin or other lean ground beef

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded,

and fi nely chopped

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Salt and black pepper, to taste

1 can (14 to 15 ounces) whole tomatoes with their juice, finely chopped

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 teaspoons light or dark brown sugar

½ teaspoon dry mustard

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

Dash of liquid hot sauce

4 6-inch sub rolls or other soft rolls, split

Olive oil (for brushing)

In a large dry skillet, cook the meat over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until it is broken up and turning brown. Remove it from the pan and wipe out the skillet.

Add the oil, and when it is hot, cook the onion and green and red bell peppers over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring often, or until the vegetables soften. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper, salt, and black pepper, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir the meat back into the pan. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, allspice, cloves, and Worcestershire and hot sauces. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. If the mixture seems dry, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Meanwhile, set the oven at 375 degrees. Set the rolls on a baking sheet. Brush the cut sides of the rolls with oil and transfer to the oven. Toast them lightly for 10 minutes or until golden.

Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more salt and black pepper if you like. Set an open roll on each of 4 dinner plates. Spoon the meat mixture on each roll and serve at once.

ASK THE COOKS: Easy Swap

We are not fans of goat or feta cheese. I see recipes that sound good but call for one of these. What are the best cheeses to substitute for them?

CAROL BARTOLI /// Andover

The most common objection to goat’smilk or sheep’s-milk cheeses is the degree of “goaty” fl avor. Prized by some, reviled by others, such cheeses can change considerably in taste and texture when they are cooked. If your recipes include other strong flavors, you may find the cheese more tolerable, if not downright delicious, once cooked.

Fresh goat’s-milk or sheep’s-milk cheeses are often used to make fillings, as in the Italian ravioli, and, of course, they are a key ingredient in the venerable spanakopita, a Greek spinach pie. They are also often sprinkled onto cold dishes.

Feta, a sheep or goat cheese, is stored in a salty brine, which makes the cheese tself salty. If you choose to substitute another cheese, you should add salt to the other ingredients to compensate.

As for substitutions, fresh soft goat cheese, or chevre frais, can be swapped with large-curd cottage, ricotta, or farmer cheeses (well-drained firm-curd cottage cheeses) that include the French fromage blanc and the Mexican-stylequeso fresco. Even extra-firm silken tofu can work.

If your recipe calls for a firmer cheese, such as kasseri or manchego, try substituting Muenster, Monterey Jack, domestic Swiss, or fontina-like cheese.

Fresh cheese will sometimes curdle or separate when warmed, so to avoid an objectionable texture, it should be one of the last things added to a hot dish.

Answer by Peter J. Kelly, a chef-instructor at Johnson & Wales University.

ASK THE COOK
Have a question about something in the kitchen? Send it to us. It may be answered in an upcoming Cooking column.
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