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Comfort Food

Key 2 World’s Best Roast Chicken!

June 10, 2015

Yes, I am boldly claiming to have been handed the key to making the world’s tastiest roast chicken!
But wait… Lest I be accused of arrogance, the recipe isn’t mine, but belongs to my little sister, Claire who is, in my opinion, the better cook.

image“Chicklet,” as she’s known within our family, has grown up in restaurants since the age of eight, when her mom (my stepmother) started the best hot dog truck in Greenwich, Connecticut, eventually graduating to a full on restaurant, one of several.  Like e all of us children of Billy Ballard, she too has the “feeding gene” and has been honing her recipes to perfection for years. We think her chicken is out of this world and we are serious, critical eaters!

There is a trick to how my sister turns an ordinary,  3- 4 pound chicken, into an explosion of tenderness and flavor. Here is exactly how she accomplishes this.

Chicklet’s Chicken & Tastiest Roasted Carrots

Before you prepare your chicken
, begin pre-heating your oven to a whopping 450°.
If you do not heat to this temperature, your chicken will not be the best in the world! Do not lower your oven temperature during roasting.



Roasted Rainbow Carrots

  • Peel 12 -15 medium carrots into thin strips. Claire uses a colorful array of Rainbow Carrots from Trader Joe’s, but your everyday orange variety will do just fine!
  • Place your carrot strips into a roasting pan.
  • Lightly douse or toss them with extra virgin olive oil.
  • Now sprinkle with your favorite salt and pepper to taste, and pop the pan, uncovered, into the oven, as it is heating up.
  • It does not matter if the oven is hot. Just leave these in the oven and they will be perfectly done when your chicken is cooked.


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1 Whole Chicken, generally 4-5 pounds, but adjust for size accordingly. (Claire always buys free-range and organic, which is not only humane, but the meat will be natural, not spongy and slimy, as factory-farmed chicken inevitably is. Ask any chef.)

Inside the Chicken’s Cavity, sprinkle:

  • 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder (not fresh, use the powder. We are doing this one Chicklet’s way.)
  • 1 Tablespoon of thyme, fresh is nice but Chicklet often uses dried, with a great result!
  • 1 Whole Orange, with the rind, cut into 4-6  sections. You may also add a lemon. The key is to add a good amount of citrus, but Claire swears by at least one orange!
  • Now, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil into the chicken’s cavity.

Outside the Chicken:

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1. Rub your chicken with olive oil so your spices will stick.
2. Sprinkle all over and around the chicken’s surface

  • 1-2  Tablespoons of kosher salt,
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder
  •  1-3 Tablespoons of Thyme

3.  Pour 1/2 cup olive around the chicken, right into the pan.
4.  Pour 1 cup white wine (any white variety, but not too sweet!)
5.  Add, around the outside of the chicken,  1 diced onion.
6.  Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth.

Roast, uncovered, until done, about 1 hour for a 3 pound chicken and about 1 hour, 20 minutes for a 4 pound chicken.

Important Tips!
Keep your oven at 450°.

About 40 minutes into roasting, check to see that there is enough liquid. If not, feel free to add some more wine and/or  chicken broth.




Main Dishes

A new way to serve Veggie sides

June 4, 2015

Instead of serving the usual side of steamed cauliflower, why not serve your main vegetable side as a pancake!

You can toss all your ingredients, all at once, into a bowl, as in the photo.

  • 1 Cup of Cauliflower, processed into rice-size morsels
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 Cup Gluten-Free Baking Mix
  • 1/2 Cup of Pesto Sauce
  • 1/3 Cup milk, or enough to blend into pancake consistency
  • Salt & Pepper to taste.

Mix all ingredients together in the bowl until completely blended.
If your mix is too dry, add milk. If too wet, add some more Baking Mix.

Heat 1 Tablespoon of Clarified Butter OR Coconut Oil OR Olive Oil and then spoon into a hot frying pan.  Cover pan and immediately reduce heat to low.  When pancakes are solid enough to flip, turn them and cook the other side for about 1 minute, or until done.


Tip: For a little zing, add about 5 drops of Sirracha or favorite hot sauce.

Main Dishes

Salad Tricks

April 22, 2015


I confess…I am a salad-making sinner. I like my salads to feel like a real meal, filling, something of substance that I can scoop up, even with a spoon. I have a special way I prepare all my salads and it works great for large parties, and for getting extra greens into the kids.

Now I have a way more sophisticated brother, Nicholas, who spent years in France and who falls of the much finer side of cooking and dining. He prepares his salads using  either the whole lettuce leaf, or if torn, done so gently, but still left in large pieces. He says this is the proper way to serve a salad.  I’m sure he’s right.

But okay…. try to look cute and impress your date while wrestling a leaf of lettuce the size of a cat’s head into your mouth … and do this gracefully, without splattering oil on your fine silk blouse.  You can cut gently, but that gets awkward if the lettuce is defiant, holding on to the plate, refusing to be cut, then suddenly letting go, causing your knife and fork to send the lettuce shooting off your plate.  Finally, if the salad is not tossed, you have to find a way to get the dressing on all your salad without making this a distracting project that keeps you from having charming conversation.

So I have developed a method of salad-preparation that solves all these issues and has added benefits!

  • Your guests will find this easy to eat and they will be utterly full when through!
  • With each bite, you will get the satisfying flavor of the dressing without needing to struggle for the flavor.
  • You can customize each salad — easily — for guests that have dietary restrictions.
  • You will get twice the greens into your kids.
  • If you are having salad as a main course for a luncheon, you can get all the work done ahead of time, until the plating.



Here is how I prepare my salads…

I gently separate all my lettuce leaves and soak them about 10 minutes in a tub of water with vinegar & salt just to make sure they are really clean.

I then tear them tenderly into smaller pieces and place them in a salad spinner (the greatest thing since grated cheese!). I spin until completely dry… (nothing worse that watery, drippy lettuce on a plate.)
So, my lettuce is washed and dried and I can set it aside in the fridge until I am ready to continue. I usually place the greens in a large bowl and cover with a damp tea towel until you are ready to put your salad together.

Tip: I like to store individual portions of cleaned lettuce in baggies, sucking  the air out of each baggie but not tightly enough to bruise, then tie the baggie air-tight and keep in my vegetable drawer for a later day. Voila! Instant salad.

I have all my salad toppings ready and handy. These I prepare long before my guests arrive so I have little pressure at meal time.  For example, if I am using carrots, I have them already lightly steamed & sliced (Carrots are easier to eat and healthier lightly steamed). If using chicken, unless I am grilling it, I have it poached and pulled. In one photo on this posting you can see I used a lovely pear in my salad and I had it sliced and ready to go. Same with the hard-boiled egg, already cooked, peeled and at the ready.

Putting it all together! This is the most important part of the process.

When it’s time to plate up and serve, I measure out two large handfuls per person of lettuce and place into a large, large bowl. Make each handful really hearty bunches, more than would fit on a plate before chopping.

I sprinkle about half dressing I think I will need, measuring about 2 tablespoons per person. (Go light! Dressing is like hair cuts, in reverse. Once the hair is cut, you can’t put it back. And once you’ve added too much dressing, you can’t take it out. )  I can place dressing on the table .

Here’s the ticket! Holding the bowl with my left hand (I am right-handed)  I start cutting my lettuces up furiously, with scissors. That’s right, scissors, the kind you get at the dollar store or office supply. The cheap ones. Nothing fancy, as long as they cut. I can’t live without scissors in a kitchen.

I use a system of cutting and turning the bowl, I go fast, developing a sort of rhythm, cut…turn…mix a little;  cut…turn…mix a little. I do this until the salad is reduced by nearly half, the leaves appear bite-size or smaller, the dressing is incorporated but not too heavy.  You do not want the salad to be wilted.

As I have my plates lined up and all my toppings at hand, the rest is simple.
Then I fill each plate all the way to the sides and lay on my toppings in a way that I think looks pretty.

Tip: If you have guests with special diet requirements, it’s easy to cater to them by simply keeping out certain items. If someone can’t eat nuts, leave the nuts off that plate!  I once had 8 women over and one had just learned she was diabetic, so for her plate, I simply added more tomatoes, nuts, egg, and left off the potatoes and croutons! Everyone was happy.


Comfort Food

Easy Veggie Comfort

April 22, 2015

I often feel that if I eat vegetarian or vegan, I’m going to be left wanting. I have nothing against the raw food champions, but me? I like my food warm and creamy.

This dish not only fills the comfort-food bill, it fills you up and it does so without dairy or meat. It’s vegetarian healthy (vegan if you use a pesto that does not include Parmesian).

Serve up a large bowl for lunch, or serve it as a side dish to a main course.

Mushroom Comfort

Lace the bottom of a your favorite frying or sauté pan with 1-2 tbsp. coconut oil (or substitute cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil, or half & half, mixing the oils), and heat.

Add to the pan, and  in this order:
2 Teeth garlic, minced
1 Medium onion, thinly sliced
Sautee onion and garlic about a minute, then add in:
2 Cups sliced mushrooms (any kind)
2 Cups sliced zucchini (I cut half-moons to match the mushroom shapes).
Salt & Pepper to taste.

Sauté together until the mushrooms are soft, but not limp,  and the zuchini is softening, but not going clear. You want it to hold a little firmness.

Add 3 tbsp of your favorite home-made or jarred Pesto (vegans, you will want to use a pesto that huses a substitute for the Parmesian cheese or incorporates extra nuts and basil).

Stir together until hot and then… add the juice of 1/2 a lemon.
This is going to really give the dish some zing and bring out the flavors.

Vegetarians and meat-eaters, top with grated Parmesian.
Vegans, opt out of the cheese and top with toasted nuts.


Comfort Food

Pesto Pasta “Fake Out!”

April 13, 2015

This dis has it all: Gluten- and Grain-free, fits Paleo, Vegan & Veggie. But meat-lovers won’t be let down.

I adore Pesto. I could eat it with a spoon  (in my nightie, sneaking a late-night taste by the romantic light of the refrigerator…)

For those of us who are avoid carbohydratess such as  pasta, or all the “white” yummy things that keep the sugar up and those extra pounds clinging to our frames, there is salvation!

I don’t like moderation, so you can imagine how I  handle deprivation.
Ah… but there is a way to have your Pesto  with a pasta feel… sans the guilt and the carbs.  Zoodles! Or zuchini noodles, also known as zuchini spaghetti, or zuchini pasta/noodles.  Serve it up as a main dish, or a yummy side. It’s also a fun way to get some veggies into the kids.  (Kids love Pesto!)

For the Fake-Out Pasta
2 Cups zuchinni, sliced into thin slivers, or julienned (you can purchase a “spiralizer” or noodle maker online. I like the Zen feel of slicing.)
1 Pot of boiling water, enough to take the zuchinni
Have a saucepan ready on the stove. warmed & with a pad of butter or a shake of Olive Oil
Have a strainer handy, near your sink
Blanch your zuchinni for only about 2 minutes in the boiling water, till the strands are limp but still have a tad of firmness.
Drain & strain in the sink. You can store these in the refrigerator for later, or use them right away, as follows:

Simply plunk all those lovely, soft zuchinni “noodles”  straight into your warming saucepan, the butter or oil having already been melted.
Using a fork, gently toss as you stir in in 4 tablespoons of Pesto (recipe below, or use a good jarred brand).

I topped mine, seen in the photo, with some tarragon & tarragon flowers. I enjoy the licorice-like flavor combined with the basil from the Pesto. You might want to top yours with some toasted Pine Nuts or Walnuts?  Some chopped Tomatoes could be nice, don’t you think? And the cool mixed with the warm would be interesting.  If you are not Vegan or Paleo, you can sprinkle on some grated Parmesian.  Salt & Pepper to taste, and dig in.

Oh, and hey, it’s zuchinni, so have some more!

Pesto, My Way
In a food processor, blender, or using a hand-blender, process:

2 Cups packed, fresh basil leaves
3 Teeth garlic, smashed
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 – 1/3 Cup Olive Oil (or drizzle in a little more if you see you need it when you start blending)
1/3 Cup Walnuts, lightly toasted (or Pine Nuts, which is traditional)
Juice 1/4 Lemon
Salt & Pepper to Taste

Tip: If you find you don’t have quite enough sauce, you can make it “stretch,” do this:  just before serving , add to your Pesto 1/2 cup boiling water and 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (not you, Vegans!).

Tip: Break the rules: don’t be married to using only the traditional Pine Nuts. I have gotten quite used to Walnuts, and I think it would be interesting to experiment with other nuts you have handy, such as Brazil or Pecan.( But not peanuts.)

Comfort Food

Hearty Veggie Bake!

April 4, 2015

What is a cook to do with left-over, deliciously roasted Squash & Taro Root?  (Or any roasted root veggies?)


Line a baking dish with 4 corn tortillas warmed in a spritz of olive oil.
On top of these, layer on some smashed, already roasted squash & taro (any baked vegetables that you have, such as zuchini, carrots, potato, yucca, etc.). Season more if you like.

Next, chop up some Kale-Like leaf…stems and all! (I had something kale-like  from the market, but spinach, mustard greens, any heavy leaf will be fine!). Lightly sautee these with a half a sliced onion & one tooth of garlic, salt & pepper, just until wilted. Then strew on top of the layer of roasted roots.

Now, if you have some handy,  smash up a handful of garbanzo beans just using a fork and mix them with home-made Ricotta (or farmer cheese or even cottage cheese!). Add this to your layer.



Next comes a colorful layer of sliced, ripe tomatoes. To these dab on a little  “natilla” which is a very light sour cream but it’s actually not acid, like a creme fraische

(Do not use yogurt, but something on the sweeter side.) Finish it all off with another layer of warmed corn tortillas, and slather across these some spicy red Mexican salsa (Salsa Verde would also be lovely!).


Bake at 325 until hot and serve.
This is hearty, rich and delicious.  Even without meat, it tastes “meaty.”
Oh … No need to tell the kids what is in here.




Comfort Food

Presto, Pesto!

March 18, 2015

What is it about Pesto that it makes everything extra scrumptious? Pesto is a very handy ingredient to have around if you have unexpected company and don’t know what to make in a pinch. Ditto if kids come over: Like Mac’ ‘n Cheese, almost everyone likes some kind of noodle smothered in Pesto.

Not everyone where I live has tasted Pesto, and I love to take in the look of happy surprise when a child takes a first swallow of warm pasta with yummy pesto. Pesto is also really convenient to have on hand since it can be served hot or cold, and it both freezes and defrosts well.

If you have access to fresh basil, it’s easy to make your own, plus some extra for freezing. If you don’t feel like whipping it up, there are many tasty brands to be found at the supermarket in jars (I don’t like the Pesto flavoring envelopes.)

It’s not always easy or within my budget to find pine nuts, so I have come to substitute Walnuts as my standard recipe, and so far, no one has noticed.  Plus, Walnuts are healthy. Here’s my recipe for Pesto sauce, served in the photo over gluten-free rice noodles and then mixed — at the last minute and while the noodles are hot — with whole Arugula or Spinach leaves. (Although not shown in the photo, this dish is nicer and more finished when topped off with toasted Walnuts or Pine Nuts or Pecans.)

Pesto, My Way
In a food processor, blender, or using a hand-blender, process:

2 Cups packed, fresh basil leaves
3 Teeth garlic, smashed
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 – 1/3 Cup Olive Oil (or drizzle in a little more if you see you need it when you start blending)
1/3 Cup Walnuts, lightly toasted (or Pine Nuts, which is traditional)
Juice 1/4 Lemon
Salt & Pepper to Taste

Tip: If you find you don’t have quite enough sauce, you can make it “stretch,” do this:  just before serving , add to your Pesto 1/2 cup boiling water and 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (not you, Vegans!).

Tip: Break the rules: don’t be married to using only the traditional Pine Nuts. I have gotten quite used to Walnuts, and I think it would be interesting to experiment with other nuts you have handy, such as Brazil or Pecan.( But not peanuts.)


Main Dishes

Layer, Layer

March 18, 2015

Layering food for a lasagna, or in this case, a Mexican Inspired Dish, is a little like wearing fancy under clothing. You might be the only one who knows, but you feel better. Still, layering flavors and ingredients evenly in your dish will ensure that all the flavors you put into your meal are distributed and enjoyable with each bite.  Here’s a recent concoction, Mexican inspired and gluten-free, that I cooked up, beautifully layered, completely delicious.

12 Corn Tortillas
3 Breasts of Chicken, Poached, then pulled
Shredded Cabbage
Sliced Tomatoes
Sliced Onion
1 Cup Ricotta Cheese
1/2 Cup Natilla (or anything like creme fraiche, which is sweeter than sour cream)
8 oz Salsa Verde
Provolone OR Mozzerella

Coat your casserole dish with a bit of light oil or Pam
Lay down 6 Tortillas (I like to trim mine to fit the corners)
Spoon on and spread some Salsa Verde, just to moisten
Layer on your pulled chicken
Layer on some shredded cabbage
Lay down your sliced tomatoes
Cover with 6 more Tortillas and begin again
This time Layer on:
Salsa Verde
Salsa Verde
Provolone or Mozzerella
Top with remaining 6 Tortillas
Cover with cheese & bake at 350 until bubbling hot, about 30 minutes.





Main Dishes

Delicious Gluten-Free Lasagna

February 26, 2015

Gluten-Free LasagnaIf you’re eating gluten- or carb-free, you can substitute Zuchinni noodles for lasagna noodles! I promise, no one in your family will miss the pasta.

It is ik to replace any pasta noodles with Zucchini noodles for any of your favorite lasagna recipes.

This dish turned out so scrumptious I am posting the recipe, below. It is a lower calorie recipe and uses only mozzarella cheese. No ricotta! But we didn’t even notice!


Have sauce handy, either canned, jarred or make your own sauce.
Ladle 1/4 cup on the bottom of a lasagna dish, 9 x 13 or close to that size.

Using a sharp, good potato peeler, peel 2 large Zucchini or 4 small ones into very thin noodle shaped strips.
Lay the strips, raw and not heated, across the bottom of your casserole dish to cover the bottom entirely, reserving the remainder for 2 more layers.

Meet or Filler
Sautee 1 pound of ground beef (I prefer 1/2 beef and 1/2 ground pork) in a sautee pan laced with a tbsp of olive oil
To the meat, add 1 tsp of ground Fennel (I ground my fennel up swiftly in a coffee grinder! Easy  Breezy!)
Make sure your meat is crumbled well.
This dish will not be the same without this ground Fennel.

Grate, or very thinly slice, 8 oz Mozzarella and set aside for layering.
This is the only cheese for this lasagna. That’s right. No Ricotta!

You already have a layer of Zucchini noodles down, over some sauce.
Atop this, sprinkle with 1/2 the meat mixture, including the juices from the pan.
Sprinkle with Salt & Pepper to taste.

Next, sprinkle grated or sliced Mozzarella to cover lightlly. Don’t lay it on too thickly.
Spoon a good 1/2 cup of sauce over all.
Now, cover the cheese entirely with an evenly placed layer of the Zucchini noodles.

Repeat, layering meat; cheese; sauce,

Again, place your last layer of Zucchini noodles over all.
Add a final layer of cheese.
Finish off the dish by sprinkling about 10 chopped, fresh basil leaves all over (See cover photo)
Cover with aluminum foil.
Refrigerate until ready to heat.
You can remove from fridge before heating, and let it set to room temperature.
Keep the foil on the dish until you serve.
Heat about 30 minutes in preheated oven at 325.


Main Dishes

Warm Steak Salad w/ Pear & Egg

February 19, 2015

This salad gives you almost perfect food combining (okay, the virtuous can legitimately argue the pear is just all wrong), mixing fresh, hydroponic greens with happy proteins. But hey, use any greens you have handy! It’s so easy to make a beautiful salad out of what you have handy!

The filet mignon featured here is grass-fed & neither the cow nor Miss Hen had miserable, factory-farmed lives. Indeed, as far as I know, the little hen is still running free in Rumelia’s yard.

I use Arugula a lot because for me, it’s so rich in substance and flavor, it’s like the “steak of all letuces.”  It adds oomph to your whole salad meal.

And I use (pureists will cringe) ice berg lettuce whenever I feel like it. The way I see it, I’m using so many nice, green leaves, who cares if I throw in some ice berg? The truthy is, most people are relieved to have something to crunch their teeth into! Again, use any lettuces  you have, but do break them up smallish. The French will balk but I say “P-Shaw!”  becaueI really hate looking like an odd animal when I a giant leaf of lett’m all dressed and then have to try to fold a piece of lettuce the size of a baby’s head onto a fork and then  cram it into my mouth. So, unsophisticated me … I’m all for the bite-sized salad. It’s only radical until everyone is doing it! Ha! Then it’s chic!

Easy Preparation

LETTUCE: Use two or three varieties.
Soak 2 large handfuls of Arugula in a bowl of water laced with 1/3 cup white vinegar, for 10 minutes
Soak 4 large handfuls of any other lettuce you like as well, to make a total of 6 hands full of lettuce.
Spin lettuce dry in a salad spinner. Nothing ickier than drippy, wet lettuce!

Place the dry lettuce into a bowl. Into the bowl…

  • Shake 3 shakes of Olive Oil.
  • Squeeze in juice from 1/2 an orange or 1/2 a mandarin right on top (2 tbsp orange juice if you don’t have fresh!)
  • Sprinkle 1/4 tsp fresh or ground, bottled thyme right on top
  • Sprinkle pepper & salt to taste.

Now, mix all the lettuce up in the bowl, using a pair of scissors to chop and stir as you mix …
When lettuce is bite-sized and coated, arrange the dressed salad to cover 4 plates

Around the edge of the plate, arrange:

  • Sliced tomato
  • Sliced boiled egg
  • Sliced pear from a can, or fresh pear if you have it (or fresh, sliced apple or any fruit of your choice)

In the center of the plate, arrange your sliced Filet Mignon.