Friday, April 28, 2017

Curried Chicken Salad

Last Year's Post: Leek, Bacon and Gruyere Tart
Two Years Ago:  Spanish Asparagus Revuelto

Curried chicken salad was all the rage in the 80's and 90's, but then it went away for a while.  The Lawyer, who I don't think had ever tried it before, had a curried chicken salad sandwich at a restaurant recently and was raving about how good it was so I was inspired to make it this week.  Ina Garten has a classic recipe which I tweaked only slightly, primarily by substituting toasted slivered almonds for the whole cashews that she calls for.  I love cashews, but I wanted to serve the salad in sandwiches and felt the cashews would be too big.  If I made the salad and added pasta shells for a main dish I would probably use cashews instead.  I also cut down on the amount of salt she called for because I find her recipes always have too much salt.  Better to add more later if needed.

There's a reason curried chicken salad was all the rage - it's really that good, not to mention easy.  The creamy curry dressing is offset by the sweetness of the raisins and crunch from celery and nuts for a salad that's just addictive.  Serve it over green for a light lunch, stuff it in multi-grain bread for a sandwich as I did (yes there really is a piece of bread under the salad in the picture above), or add a small-sized pasta such as shells to make it a more substantial main dish salad.  However you serve it, it's the perfect salad for the first picnic of spring.

Just be sure to wait to add the nuts until right before serving so they stay crisp and crunchy.

Curried Chicken Salad
Serves 6

Note: the salad can be served over lettuce, or in sandwiches, or small pasta may be added (such as shells) for a more substantial main dish.

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, baked or poached (or equivalent rotisserie chicken meat)
¾ cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons Major Grey’s chutney
1 ½ tablespoons curry powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup medium-diced celery (1 large stalk)
2 green onions, which and light green parts thinly sliced
¼ cup raisins
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted

Cut the cooked chicken breasts into approximate ¾” bite-sized pieces.

For the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, wine, chutney, curry powder, and salt in a food processor and process until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

Combine the chicken with enough dressing to moisten well (you may have some left over; refrigerate for later).  Add the celery, green onions and raising and mix well.  Refrigerate, covered, for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.

Before serving, taste and adjust seasonings again if needed; add a little more dressing if the salad looks dry.  Top with toasted almonds and serve.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Broccoli Cheese Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Last Year's Post: Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice
Two Years Ago:   Mustard Swordfish Kebabs

I should state right up front that The Lawyer and I don't really care for sweet potatoes, having first encountered them in the ever-popular brown-sugar-and-mini-marshmallow baked casserole.  Having said that, we're trying to eat healthy and more vegetarian entrees so I decided to push the envelope a little.  Many stuffed sweet potato recipes use whole black beans as the major part of the stuffing.  The combination of a soft potato with soft beans seemed unappealing to me - it needed some crunch.  This recipe combines crisp-tender broccoli with a healthy sauce made from pureed white beans and a small amount of cheddar cheese, which lends protein and creaminess to the stuffing without the fat and calories of a normal cheese sauce.  And it worked!  Sprinkle a little extra cheese on top and pop the potatoes back in the oven to heat the stuffing, melt the cheese, and crisp the edges of the potato skin.  Dollop on a little sour cream or Greek yogurt, garnish with some green onions, and you've got a delicious vegetarian entree.  This whole sweet potato thing might just work out after all.

Broccoli Cheese Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4

4 large sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Your favorite spice blend for vegetables, optional
1 head broccoli
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pinch red pepper flakes
15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
¾ cup water
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
½ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
Sliced green onions, for garnish

Preheat oven to 450d.

Wash and scrub the sweet potatoes; pat dry.  Prick all over with a fork.  Use 1 tablespoon of olive oil to rub the outside of the sweet potatoes.  Place them in the oven directly on the oven rack and roast for 50 minutes, or until tender.

Meanwhile, cut the broccoli into small florets.  Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and then add the garlic.  Stir for 20-30 seconds, then add the broccoli, pinch of red pepper, and a few pinches of salt.  Sauté until the broccoli is bright green and crisp-tender, 5-7 minutes. Set aside.

In the bowl of a food process, blend the beans, 3/4 cup water, ½ cup shredded cheese, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.  In a medium bowl, combine the cheese sauce with the broccoli.

When the potatoes are done, remove them from the oven and cut open down the center.  Remove some of the flesh from the middle, then sprinkle the inside of each potato with salt and pepper or your favorite vegetable seasoning.  Divide the cheese and broccoli mixture between the potatoes.  Top with the rest of the shredded cheese, then place the potatoes back in the oven for a few minutes until the cheese is melted.  Top with sour cream or yogurt and green onions and serve.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Slow Cooker Salsa Verde Chicken and Brown Rice Bowls

Last Year's Post: Benedictine Sandwiches
Two Years Ago:  Korean Chicken Lettuce Wraps

I have a thing about chicken thighs.  I know they're more moist and flavorful than chicken breasts, but they also have all those ligament and tendon things that make them more difficult to eat, not to mention disgusting.  My solution is the slow cooker, which causes all that icky stuff to go away and leaves beautiful moist and fall-apart tender chicken in its place.

I recently came across a recipe for slow cooker salsa verde chicken and was attracted to it because I have a favorite recipe for salsa verde that I like to make.  I think it tastes fresher than the jarred version and I can control the sodium, but you could use your favorite brand if you prefer.  I thought of using the salsa verde chicken as a springboard to make brown rice bowls.

In addition to the chicken and rice, I added spinach for nutrition, shredded red cabbage for crunch and color, cherry tomatoes for juicy sweetness, freeze-dried corn for crunch and color (found in the produce section of most stores), and sour cream for a touch of creaminess.  Obviously you can vary the ingredients to your liking - you could add shredded cheese, pepitas, or different vegetables such as radishes. You could also use white rice in place of brown rice if you prefer.  You could even eliminate the salsa verde chicken and substitute black beans to make a vegetarian version.  Just try to add different colors and textures for the most interesting and pretty combination.  Colorful food is more attractive, which means your picky eaters are more likely to try it.

This recipe serves 6 people, but it also works well for two people: dinner tonight, two work lunches later in the week, and one dinner in the freezer for a future hectic day.

Slow Cooker Salsa Verde Chicken and Brown Rice Bowls
Serves 6

For the chicken:
6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (16 oz) jar salsa verde (or homemade)

For the bowls:
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1 ¾ cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
Your favorite southwest spice blend, to taste
6 cups baby spinach
1 ½ cups finely shredded red cabbage
1 ½ cups freeze-dried corn
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 ½ cups sour cream or Mexican crema
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish

Trim the chicken thighs of any excess fat; rinse and pat dry.  Season both sides lightly with salt and pepper and place in a slow cooker in a single layer.  Pour in the salsa verde to cover the chicken evenly.  Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook for 3.5 to 4 hours on high, or 5 to 6 hours on low.  Uncover and shred the chicken using two forks.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

During the last hour the chicken is cooking, prepare the rice; place water or chicken broth in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add 1-2 teaspoons of your favorite southwest seasoning (depending on your preference and the spice level of the blend) and the rice and stir.  Cover and reduce heat to low.  Cook for 45-50 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.

To assemble the bowls, place 1 cup of baby spinach in each of six shallow bowls.  Divide the chicken and sauce between bowls, then add the rice, cabbage, corn, and cherry tomatoes decoratively.  Dollop the sour cream (or drizzle the crema) and add cilantro sprigs and lime wedges for garnish.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Salmon Orzo Salad with Lemon and Pea Pods

Last Year's Post: Manchego Cheese Quesadilla with Pepper Jam
Two Years Ago:   Prosciutto, Mozzarella and Radicchio Panini

Hello, springtime!  OK, it might not exactly feel like spring where you live, but it's definitely April and that means flowers are right around the corner followed closely by shorts and swimsuits.  Time to put away the lasagna pan and lighten up.  Nothing says spring more to me than lemon, peas and radishes in a light salad with heart-healthy salmon.  If orzo isn't your thing you could substitute rice, quinoa, farro or even a bunch of greens instead.

The reason the recipe calls for pan-searing the salmon is because I like the crispy top crust both for color and texture in the salad.  If you prefer to grill or roast the salmon it would be just as good.

The question has come up (at least in my mind) whether this salad could be made in advance and served cold.  The answer is yes  - I had some salad left over that was just as good the next day, although the orzo absorbed the dressing so it needed some freshening with a squeeze of lemon and a few additional dill sprigs.

Salmon Orzo Salad with Lemon and Pea Pods
Serves 4

½ lb. fresh salmon filet
1 tablespoon soy sauce
8 ounces orzo pasta
1 cup snow peas, ends trimmed and cut in half
½ cup frozen peas
1/8 cup shallot, minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons apple cider or white vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
¼ cup radishes, thinly sliced
½ cup radish sprouts
¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted
Fresh dill sprigs, for garnish
Lemon wedges, for garnish

Rub the salmon with the soy sauce and marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for one hour.  Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the salmon, skin side down, to the dry skillet and cook untouched for two minutes.  Carefully turn the salmon over and lower the heat to medium.  Cook an additional 2 minutes, peel the skin off the salmon and flip over.  Lower the heat to medium-low and cover; cook for an additional 5-6 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 145d.  Cool completely. Break into pieces.

Heat a large pot of salted water. Cook orzo as directed on package to desired doneness, adding pea pods and frozen peas during last 30 seconds of cooking. Drain pasta and peas; rinse in cold water.

In a small bowl, whisk shallot, dill, lemon zest, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Gradually whisk in the olive oil.

In large bowl, toss orzo, pea pods, peas, spinach, radishes and radish sprouts with vinaigrette until coated. Add salmon and toss gently to combine.  Serve, sprinkled with almonds and garnished with dill sprigs and lemon wedges.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Hibachi-Style Tuna

Last Year's Post: Spring Green Pasta
Two Years Ago:   Labneh

This is a recipe from the famous grill master Steve Raichlen, who was inspired in turn by the equally famous Hawaiian chef Roy Yamaguchi.  That's enough for me!  Top-quality tuna steaks are marinated in a soy/ginger garlic mixture, then seared and served over an onion/cucumber/sprout mixture with lemony sauce over the top.  Very healthy, and bursting with big flavors.

The small amount of sugar in the marinade caramelizes on the grill, creating beautiful bronzed grill marks and great flavor.  Just be sure not to overcook the tuna - it's best served with a very pink or even red center.  While the tuna marinates for an hour, you can make the sauce and prep the onions, cucumber and sprouts.  It's also a good time to make some white rice to serve on the side and to preheat the grill. You can see below that the tuna picks up a lot of color even from just one hour of marinating.

I found multi-colored radish sprouts at my local store - if you can't find them at your store, try a natural foods store or substitute whatever other sprouts you find.

After the hour is up, all you have to do is a quick sear on the grill, plate and serve.  Note that if it's cold outside or you don't have a grill, you could also sear the tuna in a very hot nonstick pan or on a indoor grill pan and the results will be just as good.


Hibachi-Style Tuna
Serves 4

4 top-quality tuna steaks, each about 1” thick and 6 ounces

For the marinade:
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup sugar
4 green onions, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic

For the sauce:
1 cup mirin
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ to 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

For the slaw:
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into matchstick slivers
1 package (2 ounces) radish sprouts*

Trim any skin or dark or bloody spots off the tuna steaks.  Rinse under cold running water, then blot dry with paper towels.   Place in a large zip-top plastic bag.

To make the marinade, combine the soy sauce, ginger, green onions, ginger and garlic in a medium mixing bowl and whisk until the sugar dissolves.  Pour this mixture over the tuna, seal the bag and let it marinate for 1 hour in the refrigerator, turning the bag several times.

To make the sauce, place the mirin in a heavy nonreactive saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and let boil until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 5 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the soy sauce, lemon juice, lemon zest, and hot red pepper flakes.  Set aside.

To make the slaw, combine the onion, cucumber, and sprouts in a bowl and toss.  Set aside.

Set up a grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.

When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate.  Drain the marinade from the tuna and discard the marinade.  Place the tuna on the hot grate and grill until charred on the outside but still quite rare on the inside, 1-2 minutes per side.

To serve, place the slaw on plates and top with the grilled tuna.  Spoon the sauce over all and serve at once.

* If you can’t find radish sprouts, you can substitute alfalfa or sunflower sprouts.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Baked Four Cheese Spaghetti

Last Year's Post: Vietnamese Chicken Salad
Two Years Ago:  Citizen Public House Chopped Salad

I found this recipe over ten years ago in Food & Wine magazine, and finally found an occasion to try it out when our friends Brad and Mary came to visit for the weekend.  They were going to arrive shortly before dinner time so I wanted an easy make-ahead but still impressive meal.  I made the dish in the morning, so all I had to do when they arrived was throw it in the oven and toss together a big green salad and some garlic bread to go with it.

There's a fair amount of cheese grating involved in the prep, so if you decide to double the recipe for a 9"x13" pan I would definitely break out the food processor. Try to find a Fontina that the label describes as mild because Fontinas vary between mild and pungent.  Mild works best here.  Same thing with the Gorgonzola - I discovered that Gorgonzola dolce is basically a mild Gorgonzola.  I managed to find it in my local cheese shop but if you can't find it, just ask for the mildest Gorgonzola they have.  The cheeses all meld together so no one taste particularly stands out, which means kids will probably like this also.

This dish was very cheesy and very good on its own, but I could definitely see adding some crumbled bacon or prosciutto, or cooked and chopped broccoli rabe.  It's far easier to make than lasagna, and more interesting than your typical baked short pasta dish.  And if you double it, it serves a lot of people.  AND it's vegetarian.  A total winner in my book.

Baked Four Cheese Spaghetti
Serves 4 generously

Notes: the recipe can be made earlier in the day and refrigerated, covered.  Uncover and bake per directions.  Also, the recipe can be doubled for a 9”x13” pan.

¾ lb spaghetti
4 ounces mild Fontina, coarsely shredded
4 ounces mozzarella, coarsely shredded
4 ounces Gruyere, coarsely shredded
2 ounces Gorgonzola dolce, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350d.  Spray an 8” by 8” baking dish (or similar sized dish) with nonstick spray.  Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of salted water until al dente.  Drain well and spread the spaghetti on a baking sheet to cool.

In a medium bowl, toss the Fontina, mozzarella and Gruyere together.   Spread one third of the spaghetti in the prepared dish in an even layer.  Sprinkle 1/3 of the mixed cheeses and half of the Gorgonzola over the spaghetti and season with salt and pepper.  Repeat with another layer of spaghetti, mixed cheeses, Gorgonzola and salt and pepper.  Top with the remaining spaghetti and mixed cheeses.

Baked the spaghetti in the center of the oven until the top is golden brown, about 40 minutes.  If desired, turn on the broiler during the last minute or two to create a few darker brown crispy bits but watch closely so it doesn’t burn.

Let cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Teriyaki Citrus Chicken Salad

Last Year's Post: Cabbage and Spring Onion Tart
Two Years Ago:  Lemon Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl

Did you know that there's a citrus industry in Arizona?  Neither did I until I moved here.  Granted, it's not anywhere near as big as in Florida, but it's wonderful to enjoy fresh lemons, oranges, tangerines and grapefruit for several months each year.  I had the luxury of making this salad using fresh tangerines, but you can make it year-round using readily-available oranges from your local store.  You could probably even get by using fresh orange juice out of a carton, but if you go that route I might suggest starting with a little extra juice and concentrating it down to the same half cup to compensate for the lack of zest strips in the marinade.

Anyway, back to the beginning.  This is a slight twist on your normal teriyaki chicken because it includes citrus flavors in the marinade (orange or tangerine), the salad dressing (lemon), and the salad itself (mandarin oranges).  It's light, refreshing and healthy. Although the chicken needs to marinate for a few hours before cooking, that part can be done in advance or even the day or two before you plan to serve the salad.  You can also make the salad dressing in advance, so meal-time prep becomes a matter of slicing and assembly which makes for a quick weekday dinner.

The soy and honey in the marinade give the chicken a beautiful bronze color after it's cooked.

The sesame seeds and toasted almonds add crunch and the mandarin oranges add sweetness to the salad while a little leftover sauce brings a big pop of flavor.  I think fresh pineapple chunks and/or cucumber slices would also be good and might add them the next time around.  True confession:  I forgot to add the almonds to the salad before I took the picture up top.  The salad was good without them but they added extra crunch so try not to leave them out.

Teriyaki Citrus Chicken Salad
Serves 4

Note: the chicken can be marinated and grilled in advance, then refrigerated.  The salad dressing may also be made in advance, so it will take just a few minutes to slice the chicken and assemble the salads.

For the marinade:
1 cup fresh orange or tangerine juice
½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup honey
4 strips orange or tangerine zest (each about 1 ½ by ½ inch)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and gently crushed with the side of a knife
2 green onions, trimmed, white parts gently crushed
2 slices fresh ginger (each ¼ inch thick), peeled and gently crushed
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

For the salad dressing:
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt

For the salad:
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
8-10 cups mixed baby lettuces, washed and dried
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 (10.5 oz) can mandarin oranges in natural juice, drained
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 green onions, trimmed and sliced

To make the marinade:  place the orange or tangerine juice in a nonreactive saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.  Let boil until reduced by half.  Add the soy sauce, honey, zest strips, garlic, green onion whites, ginger, cinnamon stick and sesame oil.  Stir, then let boil until slightly thickened, about 6-8 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool, then remove the solids from the pan using a slotted spoon. 

Remove any excess fat or sinews from the chicken breasts and discard.  Rinse and blot dry.  Gently pound the breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap until they’re an even thickness.  Place in a zip-top bag and pour half of the marinade into the bag, reserving the remaining marinade to use later.  Close the bag and massage the contents to evenly distribute the marinade, then place in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to 4 hours, turning occasionally.

Meanwhile, make the salad dressing:  combine the lemon juice, olive oil and salt in a small screw-top jar and shake to combine.  Set aside.

To cook the chicken, preheat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan to medium-high.  Remove the chicken from the bag and discard the marinade.  Arrange the chicken pieces at an angle on the grill grates and cook for 4 minutes.  The outside of the chicken should turn a deep brown in spots from the caramelizing of the sugars in the marinade but shouldn’t burn.  Flip the chicken and cook until the internal temperature reaches 165d, basting each side with some of the marinade (that was reserved earlier) during the last few minutes.  Total cooking time should be roughly 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken.  Remove the chicken and let come to room temperature, then thinly slice at an angle.

To assemble the salads, toss the lettuces lightly with enough salad dressing to just barely coat.  Divide among four plates.  Sprinkle with the sliced green onions, mandarin oranges, and toasted almonds.  Divide the chicken slices between the salads, arranging decoratively on top of the greens.  Spoon some of the leftover marinade on top of the chicken, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.