Unusual ingredients turn into an interesting meal


"Relax, It's Only Dinner" (Fireside, $14) by Cheryl Merser is terrific, just what a harried cook who's trying to maintain some standards needs: recipes that aren't too complicated but are tasty and a bit different and have a fairly wide margin of error.

Pasta with broccoli, goat cheese & pine nuts

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, peeled, ends removed, minced

10 stems of fresh thyme, washed, dried; or 1 teaspoon dried

1/2 cup white wine

1 can (10 1/2 ounces) chicken broth

4 to 6 tablespoons pine nuts

4 stalks broccoli, washed, dried, cut into florets

2 logs (3 ounces each) goat cheese

2 tablespoons half-and-half or heavy cream

1 pound fettuccine, cooked according to package directions

freshly ground pepper

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and saute until they are translucent, 2 to 3 minutes; remove them from the heat before the edges start to brown.

Separate the leaves from the stems of thyme and add the leaves to the skillet; discard the stems. Add the wine and chicken broth. Return the skillet to the heat; bring to a boil and reduce the mixture by a third.

Spread pine nuts on baking sheet and place them under a heated broiler. Toast until they're a little bit browned. Remove from broiler and, using a wooden spoon, spread the nuts again to expose their other sides. Place them back in the broiler and toast again. Remove the nuts from the broiler and set aside.

When the broth is reduced, decrease the heat to low and whisk in the goat cheese.

Meanwhile, place the broccoli florets in a microwave-safe dish, add a few drops of water and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high 3 to 4 minutes until broccoli is crisp-tender.

When the cheese is folded in, add the half-and-half or heavy cream. If the oil seems to separate from the cheese, just whisk a little harder. The finished sauce should be creamy and thick enough to pour, but not runny. If it's too thick, add a little water; if it's not thick enough, boil it down a little.

Toss the cooked and drained pasta into the skillet with the sauce, raise heat to heat pasta through. Transfer to a serving dish if desired. Place the broccoli florets on top of the pasta, then work them into the pasta itself a little to be sure they are coated with sauce. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top and serve.

Roast chicken with a surprise

Serves 6

1 roasting chicken (approximately 5 to 6 pounds), washed, patted dry

1 to 2 packages (5.2 ounces each) Boursin cheese

1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth

1 small Spanish onion, peeled, ends removed, chopped medium fine

salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Stuff the cavity of the chicken with Boursin cheese. Pull up the flap of the skin just below the cavity to enclose, and tie the legs together. Place the chicken in a roasting pan not much bigger than the chicken.

Pour white wine or chicken broth into the roasting pan to cover the bottom. Place the onion in the pan around the chicken, then add a little salt and a generous amount of pepper.

Place the chicken, uncovered, in the 450-degree oven; lower temperature to 350 degrees. Roast the chicken for 20 to 25 minutes per pound. The chicken is done when the juices run clear and the leg is easily moved.

Remove the chicken from the oven and set on serving platter; let sit for 10 minutes before carving.

Meanwhile, cut or untie the twine; spoon out the Boursin and whisk into the pan juices from the chicken.

Carve and serve with sauce.

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