Creamy Gnocchi with Braised Chicken and Winter Vegetables

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After the holidays (or a vacation), do you ever eat so much heavy food (or junk) that you come home and just crave vegetables? I do. But come on, it’s so cold out there that I’m walking the dog in two pairs of pants, a scarf, and a knit hat on top of the hood of my hoodie, with my gloved hands shoved inside the fleeced-lined pockets of my down coat. I know that I can’t keep counting mashed potatoes and corn pudding as my only vegetables, but a cold romaine salad with mealy winter tomatoes and waxy cucumber slices isn’t going to cut it either.

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No, when I crave vegetables in the winter, I want winter vegetables. I want something warm and hearty, not something that I feel like I should eat just because you’re supposed to eat vegetables. I can’t get excited about the same light and refreshing things that I would choose during the summer. And I want to look forward to my food, even if I am making a conscientious effort to include more veggies in it.

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So, the pantry part of this dish came from some leftover butternut squash chunks and a bag of carrots, some frozen chicken thighs, an opened container of mascarpone that was mostly full, and some sage and parsley that had I picked before the frost finally killed it off. I rounded out the vegetables with mushrooms (because cooked mushrooms are delicious), parsnips (totally underrated and so good), and broccoli (mostly because I’m a big fan of broccoli but partly because I was motivated by a deeply-rooted and overwhelming conviction that Dinner Must Include Something Green (thanks, Mom)).

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Sage in the garden on a foggy morning.

I used pre-packaged gnocchi since I’ve tried and failed several times before to make home-made gnocchi; the kind that comes in a vacuum-sealed package is way easier and quicker, and maybe I’m just not too picky about my gnocchi because I’m a sucker for anything that’s like a dumpling / pierogi / potsticker.  All of the vegetables are braised with the chicken thighs—it’s a bit of a pain with the timing because they cook at different rates, and you don’t want your broccoli to be mush while your carrots are raw, but hey!, at least it’s all cooked in one skillet—and tossed with the gnocchi in a lightly creamy pan sauce. It’s a one-dish meal that doesn’t need any sides, except maybe a glass of wine.

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Note: You will need a 12″ skillet with a lid. This dish is best eaten the day it’s made; if you have leftovers, add an extra splash of chicken broth before you reheat them.  Also, my package of gnocchi claimed it was 3 servings, but with everything else that’s added in here, it easily serves 4.


Creamy Gnocchi with Braised Chicken and Winter Vegetables

serves 4

  • 8 oz. cremini / baby bella mushrooms
  • 2 medium parsnips
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 generous cup of 1/2″- 3/4″ cubes of butternut squash (about 6 oz.)
  • 1 medium-large broccoli crown (about 6 oz.)
  • 1/2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 smallish boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 3/4 lb.), trimmed of excess fat
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 Tbsp. minced fresh sage
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 c. chicken broth, divided
  • one 17.5-oz. package of gnocchi (I used De Cecco brand)
  • 1/4 c. half-and-half
  • 1/4 c. mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • chopped fresh parsley for serving
  1. Prep all of the vegetables. You are going to add them to the pan at different times, so—except for the carrots and parsnips—keep them in separate bowls. Wash and stem the mushrooms, and pat them dry; quarter them if they are small and cut them into 6 or 8 pieces if they are large. Peel the carrots and parsnips and cut them on the diagonal into 1/3″ coins. Separate the broccoli crown into bite-site florets.
  2. Heat the butter and olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry and sprinkle it on both sides with salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, add the chicken and cook until browned on both sides, flipping once, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan, place on a plate, and tent with foil.
  3. Add chopped mushrooms to the pan and cook until they release their juices and the juices have mostly evaporated, about 5 minutes total.
  4. Add the garlic and sage and stir for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until fragrant, then pour in the wine and scrape up any brown bits. Boil for 1 minute.
  5. Return the chicken thighs and any accumulated juices to the pan, and also add the carrots, parsnips, and 1/4 cup of the chicken broth. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover, and braise for 5 minutes. After the carrots and parsnips have cooked for 5 minutes, add the butternut squash to the pan, stir, put the lid back on, and cook for 15 more minutes. Then add the broccoli, stir, put the lid back on, and cook for 5 additional minutes.
  6. While the  vegetables are braising, cook the gnocchi according to the package directions, drain, and set aside. Meanwhile, in a small measuring cup, combine the half-and-half with 3/4 cup of the chicken broth. In a different cup, whisk the flour into the remaining 1/2 cup of broth.
  7. After the broccoli has cooked for 5 minutes, remove the chicken, place it in your serving bowl, and shred it with 2 forks. Pour the half-and-half / broth mixture into the pan and also add the mascarpone cheese. Turn the heat up to medium-high and stir until smooth. When the liquid starts simmering, add the flour/broth mixture and stir until thickened. Add the whole thing to the serving bowl, dump in the gnocchi, and toss gently to coat everything evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately. Top each serving with a small handful of parsley.
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Napa Cabbage Salad with Chicken, Edamame, and Creamy Sesame Dressing

After the last post, here’s a more seasonal lunch I made with ingredients I already had. We had some Napa cabbage and bell pepper that needed to get used up, and this is the salad that they turned into. Napa cabbage is my favorite cabbage—it’s crunchy and mild, and it lacks the toughness and pungency that some other cabbages have.

IMG_4826I wanted to use the Napa cabbage raw and make some sort of salad with it, but most of the recipes I found with it were meant to be used as side dishes, and I wanted something that would be more filling so I could take it as a one-dish meal for lunch. I went with carrot, bell pepper, and red onion for the other vegetables, partly because that’s just what I had, and —you guessed it—I didn’t feel like going to the grocery store. I imagine that cucumber, sugar snap peas, and/or snow peas would also be good in it.

IMG_4827For the dressing, honestly, I was hoping to re-create something similar to the sesame coleslaw at Café Asia, which is dynamite. Usually, trying to imitate something I had in a restaurant is a recipe for disaster. (Pun intended.) My version inevitably ends up significantly inferior to whatever I was trying to mimic, and it just leaves me with an even worse craving for the restaurant dish. This dressing, though—this dressing turned out pretty darn well. Just be sure to read the note about the consistency.



Note: If you’re going to use the dressing right away, you might want to thin it down with extra vinegar or some water. If you’re going to keep it on hand for a while, just let it rest. Mine got much, much thinner after a night in the fridge, and I don’t have an Alton Brown-y scientific explanation for why.

Also, for the chicken, I used the spicy asian marinade from Epicurious.


Napa Cabbage Salad with Chicken, Edamame, and Creamy Sesame Dressing

serves 2

For the dressing—you might not use all of it:

  • 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise (I used light)
  • 1 Tbsp. tahini
  • 1 Tbsp. white miso paste
  • 4 tsp. unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. mirin
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  1. Whisk together all of the ingredients until smooth. Taste for seasoning. I didn’t add any salt because the miso paste was salty enough.

For the rest of the salad and assembly:

  • about 4 cups chopped Napa cabbage
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup shelled edamame, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 grilled chicken breast (or rotisserie chicken breast, or leftover chicken from whatever), sliced
  • optional garnish: toasted sesame seeds
  1. Divide the vegetables evenly onto two plates.
  2. Top with the chicken, and the sesame seeds if using.
  3. Add dressing to taste and toss. You might not use all of the dressing.

Curried Chicken Thighs with Okra and Potatoes

When my parents came to visit last weekend, I took them to H-Mart. Yes, the huge Asian supermarket. Yes, for fun! My parents don’t have any grocery stores like that where they live, and they wanted to check it out. Besides, over the years of my parents visiting, we’ve exhausted pretty much everything on the typical DC-area must-do list, so we’ve got to get a little creative with our adventures now. And the Saturday samples at H-Mart!—they put Costco to shame. As we walked in through the doors, my eyes lit up, and I’m pretty sure I exclaimed “Mangoes!” Imagine the delight of a little kid being offered an ice cream cone he wasn’t expecting, and you’ll get the picture. I didn’t realize mangoes were coming into season, and it was like a surprise present seeing them piled high in the produce aisle. I have a thing for mangoes, but specifically the small yellow kind, which are sometimes hard to find and usually more expensive. I’ve seen them labeled as champagne mangoes or ataulfo mangoes (which are apparently two names for the same thing), but comparing them to the more widely-available Tommy Atkins mango is like comparing Haribo Gold Bears to CVS brand gummy bears. It’s just laughable. The champagne mango is sweet and tart and delicious, but the real draw for me is its texture, which is just to die for: it’s unbelievably smooth and creamy, unlike the Tommy Atkins mango, which is so fibrous that sometimes you think it’s been crossbred with celery. I don’t want to have to go floss my teeth after I eat a piece of fruit. Obviously, a box of those mangoes came home with me. I reluctantly shared some with my mom, and hoarded the rest for myself. Mostly, I just like to eat them plain, or mix them into some yogurt with a sprinkle of nuts or granola for breakfast. I have a hard time finding recipes that I like that use mangoes because they rarely seem to do the mango justice. The main dishes are often too one-note sweet for my taste, and the desserts I’ve tried seem to detract from the mango flavor instead of complement it. These curried chicken thighs, however, are spot-on. I have to admit, when I read the ingredient list, it sounded pretty impossible that everything could come together and actually taste good. It’s got a lot going on. First, you blend up a spice mixture that includes fennel and curry powder—not a combination I’ve seen before—and use it like a dry rub on your chicken.

Next, after browning the chicken, you sear potato pieces in the same pan you cooked the chicken in, then dump the chicken back in the pan along with some water, cinnamon sticks, tomato paste and sugar. Sounds odd, right? Just go with it. After a few minutes, you add some okra pods and let them stew a little while. Once the veggies are tender, lemon juice brightens everything up, and it’s cooked a little more until it thickens.

IMG_4341Mango, peanut, and fresh cilantro top everything off, and the dish wouldn’t be the same without them. Seriously, they play a small but essential part; we’ve got some Best Supporting Actor nominees here.

Peanuts, mango, and cilantro for the final touch.

Heat from the cayenne and curry powder, sweetness from the brown sugar and mangoes, richness from the chicken and potatoes, and crunch from the peanuts and okra—it sounds like it would be a mess, but somehow it all works. IMG_4375



Note: This is adapted, barely, from the Curried Chicken Legs with Okra and Potatoes from Epicurious.


Curried Chicken Thighs with Okra and Potatoes serves 4

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 lb.), patted dry
  • 1 Tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp. curry powder; I used hot madras
  • 1 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cayenne
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. peeled minced fresh ginger
  • 1 1/3 lb. new potatoes (red-skinned)
  • 1/2 lb. fresh okra
  • 1 c. water
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • kosher salt, to taste

For topping:

  • 1 champagne mango, diced
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped roasted salted peanuts
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro
  1. Grind the the coriander, curry powder, fennel, and cayenne in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, then place the mixture in a medium bowl. Add the chopped garlic and ginger to the dry spices, and stir to combine. Add the chicken thighs and rub all over. Season to taste with kosher salt. Let them sit while you prep the veggies.
  2. Cut the potatoes into 1″ chunks and trim the okra stems, but don’t cut the pods. Combine the water, brown sugar, and tomato paste.
  3. Heat the oil in a large 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. (I have also made this in a stock pot, and it works fine but you might have to brown the chicken in 2 batches.) Add the chicken and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and tent with foil.
  4. Turn the heat down to medium and add the potatoes to the same skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes start to brown.
  5. Add the chicken plus any accumulated juices back into the skillet, and also add the water mixture and cinnamon sticks. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
  6. Add the okra and simmer, covered, for another 5 minutes. At this point, the potatoes should be almost done, and the okra should be getting tender but still fairly bright green.
  7. Add the lemon juice and cook uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and season to taste with kosher salt. Divide among 4 plates and top evenly with mango, peanuts, and cilantro.