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Braised chicken with hard cider and pears. (Credit: John Ross)

Braised chicken with hard cider and pears. (Credit: John Ross)
Braised chicken with hard cider and pears. (Credit: John Ross)

Food and beverages affect us in many different ways and at every level of our journey through life.

We learn to eat what is around us for sustenance from a very early age. During this time we develop tastes for familiar things in our environment that are then influenced by our culture. As we grow older we discover the enjoyment of food and those who consume it with us, no matter what our circumstances are in life.

For some it is a struggle to feed the family, sometimes relying on the charity of others to get through the week; For others, food and drink are another act of conspicuous consumption in which the latest trend and the priciest foods determine our menu. And for the lucky ones at every level, using good ingredients to prepare food to be shared with others is one of life’s great joys.

Here are a couple of recipes that don’t require a lot of money, just a little skill and a lot of love.

Braised Chicken with Hard Cider and Pears
Remove the giblets from a whole chicken and rinse under cold water. Using a sharp knife, remove the wings, then cut through the skin separating the thigh from the body and cut through the thigh joint. Separate the leg from the thigh with a cut through the leg joint.

Hold the carcass upright by the neck bone and run your knife down along the backbone, cutting through the rib cartilage. Repeat on the other side of the backbone to remove the back.

Bend the breast backwards to expose the hard keel bone between the two breast pieces. Remove this bone with your hands, then cut the breasts in two. Make another cut through the two breast halves so that you have 4 pieces. You will now have 10 pieces of chicken plus the backbone.

Unwrap the giblet package and discard (or freeze) the liver. The neck, gizzard and heart will remain. Save the backbone and giblets to make stock.

Heat a dutch oven and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle kosher salt and ground pepper over the chicken pieces. Place the chicken, skin side down, in the hot oil and cook at high heat until golden brown. Cook in small batches to avoid crowding and turn to brown on both sides.

Meanwhile, peel 12 small white onions. Remove the chicken, brown the onions in the hot drippings and set aside.

Reduce the heat to low and add 4 cloves of garlic and 2 stalks of celery cut into small pieces. Place the chicken and onions back in the dutch oven and flambé with 1/4 cup brandy: Heat the brandy in a small pan, ignite with a lighter and pour over the chicken.

When the flames die out, add 1 bottle (12 ounces) of hard pear cider to the pot. (You can substitute hard apple cider.) Bring the mixture to a boil on the stove, then cover and place in a 300-degree oven.

While the chicken is cooking, peel, core and cut into quarters 4 Bosc pears (or substitute tart apples), then add them to the dutch oven. Continue cooking in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and transfer the chicken, pears and onions to a large casserole and keep warm.

Strain the juices into a saucepan and place on the stove. Dissolve 2 tablespoons cornstarch in cold water and add to the sauce. Bring it to a boil to thicken. Reduce the heat and whisk in 8 ounces of sour cream. Check for seasoning and pour over the chicken.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve over wide noodles.

Serves 4-6.

French Lamb Stew (Navarin of Lamb)
Purchase 2 pounds of lamb stew meat or an equal amount of shoulder lamb chops.

Season 1 cup flour with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Dredge the lamb in the flour and set aside.

Peel 12 small cipollini onions.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a dutch oven and place over high heat. Brown the pieces of lamb (or chops) on both sides, being careful not to crowd and not to burn them. Remove the lamb as it turns brown and set aside.

Add the peeled onions, brown them in the hot drippings and remove.

Reduce the heat and add 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1/4 cup of the remaining seasoned flour. Stir to make a roux and add 1/2 cup red wine. Bring to a boil and stir in 2 cups chicken stock and bring back to a boil.

Add 1 small can of diced tomatoes, then add back the lamb and onions. Season with 2 bay leaves, 1 sprig of rosemary and 3 sprigs of thyme. Cover and place in a 300-degree oven and cook until tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

While the lamb cooks, trim and peel 1 bunch of stem-on carrots and cut them into 2-inch pieces. Trim and peel 3 parsnips and cut into 2-inch pieces. Cut 1/2 pound of green beans into 2-inch pieces. Remove the leaves from 1/2 bunch of kale, wash and tear into small pieces. Peel 5 Yukon gold potatoes and cut into 2-inch chunks.

Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a large soup pot and add 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Add the carrots and parsnips to the boiling water and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl.

Add the green beans to the same boiling water and cook until just tender and remove.

Add the kale and cook at a boil for 3 minutes and remove.

Rinse the kale in cold water and squeeze out as much moisture as possible.

Place the potatoes in the boiling water and cook until very tender.

Remove the lamb from the oven and stir in the carrots, parsnips and green beans and return to the oven.

Mash the potatoes and chop the kale.

Add the kale to the mashed potatoes along with 2 minced green onions, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/4 cup milk, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Place the potato mixture in a small casserole and place in the oven with the lamb.

When the lamb is very tender, remove the bay leaves, thyme and rosemary. Add 1 package of frozen peas and 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Serve in shallow bowls along with the mashed potatoes.

Serves 4-6.

John Ross