|Asparagus Spears by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books|
With a glimpse of pale purple gray on the empty corner lot by my daughter's school, I know that spring is here - wisteria's annual show, gnarly and regal, is the harbinger. The glories of vernal produce will soon be known at the farmer's market - the local strawberries and tender greens, tiny new potatoes and baby Vidalia onions. To my mind, the official sign of spring is cheap and plentiful asparagus, grown, if not in Georgia, at least the Western hemisphere.
It's difficult for me to just jump right into the warm season - I carry a sweater with me when I leave the house, because you just never know when the weather will turn. And I still employ my Dutch oven for hearty oven-braised dishes like chicken legs cooked for hours with bacon, mushrooms and carrots. Do you braise? It's not a word to fear - it just means meat and/or vegetables nestled in a dish, covered with liquid such as broth or wine, and cooked until the meat falls apart and the vegetables are tender. I make this chicken dish frequently through the fall, winter and spring because it's simple and filling and just lingers in the oven, ready for the family to gather around the table. I filled out the plate with my go-to brown rice pilaf, mashed potatoes would be a good substitute, ready to soak up the plentiful juices from the braising dish. And asparagus, who can forget asparagus, skillet-roasted with butter and toasty shallots.
This is one of those dishes that works well for a carpool mom with a slow cooker. I use a Dutch oven and the convection feature on my oven to simulate the slow cooker, but if you have a crockpot, just assemble the ingredients ahead of time, place in the stoneware and cook for about 4 hours. If you haven't invested in a Dutch oven like Le Creuset, check them out. An enameled cast iron pot like Le Creuset will give you a lifetime of lovely braises and stews.This is my cooking timetable: after lunch, I brown the chicken, chop the vegetables and get the sauce prepared and place all in a Dutch oven. The dish will braise in the oven for a few hours, yielding fall-off-the-bone chicken and rich broth.
|Braised chicken legs with carrots, bacon and mushrooms by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books|
Braised Chicken Legs with Carrots,
Mushrooms and Bacon
Mushrooms and Bacon
4 slices bacon, sliced into narrow strips
6 skin-on chicken legs (thighs may be substituted)
1 onion, peeled, halved and sliced into wedges
1 (4-ounce) package sliced cremini mushrooms
4 carrots, peeled, sliced lengthwise and into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup white wine or vermouth
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprig of fresh thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of dried if you're not a gardener
2 cups chicken broth, or more if needed
1. In a skillet set over medium heat, brown bacon until crispy and cooked through. Remove bacon and drain on paper towels. Pour off the bacon fat into a metal bowl and return two tablespoons fat to the pan. Brown the chicken pieces, making sure to season as you go, turning once each side is sufficiently brown (remember that more brown = more flavor). This takes about a half hour to do properly.
2. Heat the oven to 300. Have a Dutch oven (or slow cooker) on standby. As the chicken pieces are thoroughly browned, place them in the main cooking vessel with the chopped carrots and cover with lid. When all chicken is removed, saute the onion and season with salt and pepper. Add the mushrooms and continue the saute until the shrooms are brown and toasty. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, stirring and scraping thoroughly. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Pour the broth over the chicken and carrots, add the thyme and cooked bacon pieces. The goal is for the chicken pieces to sit in a bathtub of broth, so if the sauce doesn't come up to nearly the top of the chicken and vegetables, add more broth, if you have it, or water.
|Braised chicken sealed with parchment by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books|
3. Tear a piece of parchment paper just large than the circumference of pan. Crumple it and place on the top of the liquid. Put the lid on the Dutch oven and place in real oven, or slow cooker in its cooking unit and let simmer for at least two hours, preferably up to four. I cook on convection at 300 for about three hours, any longer and I reduce the temp to 250. Check every 45 minutes to an hour to make sure the liquid level is sufficient; make adjustments if necessary.
|Brown rice and shallots by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books|
The chicken and vegetables are a fine supper all alone, but I like to add a starch, like brown rice pilaf, and a green vegetable, because I'm the mom.
Brown Rice Pilaf
In a nonstick skillet with a lid, melt one tablespoon butter and add one tablespoon olive oil, cook over medium heat. Saute one chopped onion and one chopped celery stalk until translucent (for the onion, until soft for the celery). Add two cups brown rice and stir. Add four cups chicken broth, or a combination of chicken broth and water, and stir. Season with salt and pepper, place lid on pan and let cook for about a half hour. Check on the liquid level every five minutes or so.
|Asparagus spears by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books|
Sauteed Asparagus with Shallot
In a skillet over medium heat, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add one shallot, chopped, and cook until soft. Take a bunch of asparagus, or if feeding just a few, a handful of asparagi, and cut off the woody ends. Slice remainders into 3-inch pieces. Add to skillet and toss in oil and shallot until bright green and crisp. Serve immediately. Save the asparagus scraps to make creamy asparagus soup.
|Braised chicken leg with carrots, mushrooms and bacon; brown rice pilaf and sauteed asparagus. |
Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books
Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer.
And now for a giveaway!
CSN, which sells Le Creuset Dutch ovens at Cookware.com, will give a $50 gift code to a member of the A Cook and Her Books family. Before I tell you how to win, I need to remind you that only entries with valid email addresses will be eligible to win. There are four ways to get an entry in the giveaway. Each person may accumulate four chances to win by doing the following:
1. Leave a comment on this entry.
2. Subscribe by email or RSS to A Cook and Her Books (see the boxes on the right). Leave another comment on this post telling me that you subscribed.
3. Become a fan of A Cook and Her Books on Facebook. If you're already a fan, thank you! Just leave another comment telling me that you're a fan.
4. Follow me on Twitter, @acookandherbook (no "s"). If you already follow, thank you! Just leave another comment telling me that you're following.
In summary, you have four chances to win a $50 gift code from CSN stores. The deadline for entries is midnight on March 31. I will draw a winner using random.org on Friday, April 1. This contest is for U.S. and Canada residents only. Disclaimer: CSN is offering the gift code and I'm not compensated in any way. My opinions are my own. Thanks for being a part of this exciting giveaway!
This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone for participating and I look forward to more great giveaways in the future!