Friday, June 23, 2017

Thai Chicken Salad (Copy Cat Panera Spicy Thai Salad with Chicken)

Last Year's Post: Salmon Nicoise Salad
Two Years Ago:   Muffuletta

This is my favorite Panera salad by far.  I think it's the spicy peanut drizzle along with the crunch of Romaine, edamame, wonton strips and nuts that makes it so satisfying while still low-fat and healthy.  Although I found several versions of the recipe online that supposedly re-created the salad, a lot of them had strange variations (yogurt in the sauce?  I mean, really.)  I KNOW this salad and wanted to re-create it as faithfully as possible so I combined various elements from all the recipes and was very happy with the result.  (OK, true confession, I substituted peanuts for cashews because that's what I had on hand.  Same difference.)

As you go through the Panera ordering line, the server first tosses the greens with dressing, then adds a scoop of edamame/carrots/red pepper and another scoop of sliced chicken.  The peanut drizzle, wonton strips and nuts go on last.  Can you tell I've ordered it a few times?  This recipe mimics that process.  The only thing I couldn't tell is whether they marinate their chicken before cooking, but I found an interesting marinade in one of the recipes so I tried it.  The resulting flavor is delicate but complements the salad very well.  If you don't feel like marinating the chicken I don't think it will impact the salad much with all those other big flavors, which means you could make it quickly any night of the week using a grilled or rotisserie chicken breast from the deli.

The good news is that the only somewhat unusual ingredient is Thai sweet red chile sauce, which you can find in the Asian condiments at any grocery store.

Start by marinating and cooking the chicken, if applicable, so it can cool.  You could also do this in advance.  Then saute the veggies so they can cool which only takes a few minutes, or it can also be done in advance.  Make the salad dressing and peanut drizzle, then you're ready to assemble.

Thai Chicken Salad (Copycat Panera)

Chicken Marinade:
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, grated
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 small lime, juiced
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts

Vegetable oil
1 small carrot, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup shelled edamame (defrosted if frozen)
8-10 cups Romaine hearts, chopped (about 3 hearts)  
½ cup chopped cilantro
4 green onions, sliced
1 cup wonton strips
½ cup chopped cashews or peanuts

1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup Thai sweet red chili sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Pinch of salt and pepper

Peanut Sauce:
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Thai sweet red chili sauce
2 tablespoons water (more if needed)

In a ziplock bag, combine all ingredients for the chicken marinade.  Add the chicken and massage the bag to coat the chicken on both sides, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Cook the chicken on a grill or in a 350d oven for about 30 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 165d.  Set aside to cool, then cut into bite-sized pieces.

Preheat a nonstick skillet to medium, and then add a teaspoon or two of vegetable oil.  Cook the chopped carrot, red pepper and edamame until charred and slightly soft.  Cool mixture and set aside.  In a small bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients; taste and adjust seasoning as needed.  In a second small bowl, combine all the peanut sauce ingredients; thin with a little additional water if it seems too thick to drizzle. 

In a large bowl, combine the Romaine, cilantro, and green onions. Toss with enough dressing to barely coat.  Divide among serving bowls, and then top with chicken and vegetable mixture.  Drizzle with the peanut sauce and top with wonton strips and nuts.

Friday, June 16, 2017


Last Year's Post:  Tomatillo Salsa Verde
Two Years Ago:    Farro and Kale Salad

This is another installment in my occasional and erratic series of famous sandwiches of the world.  Past posts have included pan bagnatbanh miItalian tunachicken schnitzel, and buffalo chicken sliders to name a few.  Cubanos originated in Florida and are made with Cuban rolls, roast pork, ham, pickles, Swiss cheese and mustard, all pressed together on a griddle or grill until warm and crisp.  Outside of Miami they also often include salami.  Although the most authentic version calls for yellow mustard, I used a combination of both whole grain and Dijon mustards for different textures and flavors.  And again although Cuban bread is authentic, you probably won't find it outside of a Mexican market in most cities.  Any soft oblong roll will work - just don't use a hard crusty French roll because it won't compress and crisp they way it should.

If you can find roast pork in the deli, that's great, otherwise plan to make Cubanos with the leftovers next time you make a pork roast or tenderloin.  Use the best quality Swiss cheese you can find, and slice everything as thinly as possible.  Placing cheese on both the top and bottom of each roll ensure the whole thing sticks together as the cheese melts.

Cubanos are like the best ham and cheese sandwich you've ever had, all crispy and warm and gooey.  There's a reason they're famous.

Serves 2

2 (8 to 10”) Cuban rolls (or soft Bolillo or hoagie rolls)
4-5 ounces roast pork, leftover or purchased from the deli
4 thin slices of smoked ham
6 slices best-quality aged Swiss cheese
Yellow mustard or Dijon mustard
2 medium dill pickles, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 tablespoons softened butter or olive oil

Preheat a Panini press or large skillet over medium heat.

Split the rolls lengthwise.  Slice the leftover pork as thinly as possible.

Spread a thin layer of mustard on the top and bottom of each roll.  Tear each piece of Swiss cheese in half and place 1 ½ slices (3 rectangles) on the bottom and top of each roll.  Layer the pork, ham and pickles on the bottom of each roll.  Close the sandwiches, pressing gently together.

Brush the top and bottom of each sandwich with softened butter or olive oil.  Place the sandwiches in the press, using moderate pressure, for about 8 minutes until crisp on both sides.  If using a skillet, use a second pan to press on the top of the sandwiches for about 4 minutes, then flip to crisp the second side.  Sandwiches should be somewhat compressed but not completely flat.

Slice sandwiches in half and serve.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Indonesian Grilled Swordfish

Last Year's Post: Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Sliders
Two Years Ago:   Mini Shrimp Tacos

This recipe is from Ina Garten of Food Network fame.  She claims that it started as her famous Indonesian Ginger Chicken recipe and then she tried it with swordfish.  I've never tried the chicken version although I did notice several of the ingredients are different between the two recipes.  With the omission of honey (from the chicken recipe) and the addition of mustard I'm not even sure this would be considered Indonesian, but whatever.  That's what she calls it.  In any event, it's moist, tender and full of delicious flavors.  If you like swordfish, you'll love this recipe. The marinade doesn't overpower the swordfish but somehow makes the fish taste more delicate.  Don't ask me how that works!

If you happen to look at the swordfish recipe on the Food Network site, note that it has an error regarding the marinating time.  On the video Ina says to marinate no more than 6 hours or the fish will start to break down, but the printed recipe states to marinate at least 6 hours and up to overnight.  Many comments stated that the marinating time should be no more than 6 hours.  I marinated the fish for about 5 hours and it was great.

If you're making the recipe for less than 6 people, I suggest that you make the full amount of marinade and save a small amount separately, then brush it on cut-up vegetables and grill them along with the swordfish.  Onion, zucchini, red peppers and mushrooms are particularly nice and are easy to grill when cut into pieces and threaded on skewers.  Serve the swordfish and vegetables with rice or couscous on the side for a very healthy and delicious dinner.

Indonesian Grilled Swordfish
Serves 6

1/3 cup soy sauce
¼ cup canola or peanut oil
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup minced ginger root
2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Six (6-8 ounce) swordfish steaks, 1” thick
Lemon wedges, for serving

Combine all ingredients except the swordfish in a gallon zip-top bag. Seal the bag and squeeze/massage ingredients to combine.  Open the bag and add the swordfish steaks; reseal and shake to coat the steaks thoroughly.  Refrigerate for 4-6 hours (no more than 6 or the swordfish will start to break down), turning the bag occasionally.

Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium-high.

Remove the fish from the marinade allowing some of the ginger to stick to the fish, and discard the marinade.  Season the fish lightly with salt and place on the grill.  Cook for about 5 minutes per side until the internal temperature is 125d.  Allow to rest for a few minutes before serving with lemon wedges on the side.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Chicken Tikka

Last Year's Post: Blackberry Hoisin Ginger Pork Tenderloin
Two Years Ago:   Red-On-Red Chicken Salad

We all love chicken, but sometimes you can get tired of the same old recipes.  Get out of your chicken rut with Chicken Tikka, a dish popular in India and Pakistan in which chunks of boneless chicken are marinated in spices and grilled.  The marinade often includes yogurt, but this particular recipe omits the yogurt from that step and adds a small amount of yogurt to a very delicious cilantro-mint chutney for dipping.  Don't confuse chicken tikka with chicken tikka masala, which typically includes tomatoes, yogurt and a bunch of heavy cream to make a rich sauce for the chicken.  Delicious, but not very healthy.

The chicken tastes quite exotic from all the spices but is not particularly spicy-hot.  If you like heat, add more cayenne to the marinade or add more chile to the chutney. And don't be tempted to skip the chutney - it really makes the dish.  I like   to serve the chicken with some grilled veggies and basmati rice for a very healthy and balanced meal.

If you have leftovers, you can easily make a pasta salad by combining the chicken with cooked penne pasta, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, chopped bell pepper and a little leftover chutney for the sauce.

Chicken Tikka
Serves 6

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 ½ ” cubes
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons garlic, grated
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
4 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Mini bell peppers, zucchini and/or onion pieces, optional

Mix together canola oil, garlic, ginger, spices, lemon juice and salt in a large dish or large zip top bag. Add the chicken and stir into marinade until evenly coated. Marinate in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours, turning periodically.

Thread the chicken onto skewers. Thread the vegetables on a separate skewer.  Grill chicken for 4 minutes over medium-high heat, flip and grill an additional 2 minutes until cooked through. Grill vegetables 2 minutes, flip and grill an additional 2 minutes.  Serve with cilantro-mint chutney.

Cilantro-Mint Chutney
2 c. of cilantro, loosely packed
1 c. of mint leaves, loosely packed
1/2 c. onion, chopped
1/2 t. garlic, minced
1/2 t. ginger, minced
1/2 t. ground cumin
1 t. serrano chile, minced
1/2 t. sugar
1/2 t. kosher salt
2 T. lemon juice
2-3 T. plain yogurt

Put all ingredients in a food processor (or blender) and process until nearly smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Chicken Tikka Pasta Salad: Mix any leftover chicken pieces with cooked penne pasta, chopped English cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped bell pepper and a little of the leftover cilantro-mint chutney.
Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Byerly's Chicken Cherry Pasta Salad

Last Year's Post: The Best Crisp Waffles
Two Years Ago:   Crab Fried Rice

I love salads in the summer whether they're lettuce or pasta based, just as long as they're cold.  I had some really fun pasta I wanted to use in a salad this week and was doing some web surfing when I stopped at this recipe.  Byerlys!  The best grocery store in the universe!  And they actually published the recipe for one of their most popular deli salads!  If you're not familiar with Byerlys I feel sorry for you but at least you don't know what you're missing.  It's a high-end grocery store chain in Minnesota that reminds me of a cross between Whole Foods and your local grocery store, only better.  They have the best seafood, meats, sushi, etc.etc.etc.  I so miss Byerlys.

Anyway, the salads in their deli case are very popular and the chicken cherry pasta salad is maybe their number one seller.  That's why I was so excited to see the recipe.  The reason why the salad is so popular is the great combination of flavors and textures, and in particular the salad dressing which is creamy and ever-so-slightly sweet.  It goes very well with the cherries and chicken while the celery and walnuts add crunch.  Everybody likes this salad.  Really.

The only things I changed from the original recipe are that I used my fun pasta shape, and I used rotisserie chicken breast rather than cooking chicken from scratch.  If you want to cook chicken breasts that would be perfectly fine, it was just really easy to use rotisserie chicken breast meat from the deli.  One of the interesting things about the recipe is that you make it in advance, using only some of the dressing, then refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.  The dressing gets absorbed by the other ingredients during this time, which is why you add the rest of the dressing along with the fresh spinach and toasted walnuts right before serving.  So, it's a great make-ahead salad as well.

One thing to know about Byerly's - they don't skimp.  As in, this salad has a LOT of chicken in it compared to most deli salads.  That makes it really good, but you could get by perfectly fine with less chicken.  Also, they garnish their salads in the deli case with extra stuff so to honor them I included an optional garnish of a few cherries and walnuts on top.  Make a big bowl of salad for your next gathering (be sure to garnish!) and watch it disappear.

Chicken Cherry Pasta Salad
Serves 4

1 pound rotisserie chicken meat, cubed
8 ounces medium-sized pasta such as shells or bow ties
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)
½ cup chopped red onion
2.5 ounces dried cherries
¾ cup mayonnaise
¾ cup creamy poppyseed dressing
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups baby spinach, stems removed
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to directions.  Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again.  In a large bowl, combine chicken, pasta, celery, onion and cherries (reserve a few cherries for garnish, optional).  In a smaller bowl, combine mayonnaise, poppyseed dressing, salt and pepper.  Fold 1 cup of dressing into the salad, reserving the remaining ½ cup.  Refrigerate the salad and reserved dressing separately, covered, several hours or overnight.

Just before serving, fold in spinach and walnuts (reserve a few walnuts for garnish, optional); add remaining dressing as needed.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Spoon into serving bowl and top with reserved cherries and walnuts, optional.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Zucchini, Goat Cheese and Lemon Tart

Last Year's Post: Cold Pasta Salad with Smoked Salmon, Peas and Asparagus
Two Years Ago:   Melon Ribbon Bowls

This beautiful and delicious tart originated with Maria Sinskey of Sinskey Vineyards, home of Ina Garten's favorite rose wine.  Ina was so impressed she included it in her new book, "Cooking for Jeffrey".  It tastes as good as it looks - maybe even better, because the picture doesn't tell you about the lemon and goat cheese under all that zucchini.  It's a perfect light summer meal with a glass of cold, bone-dry rose and would be equally impressive on a buffet table cut into thin slices.  I fiddled with the recipe only a little bit by cutting out the salt in the goat cheese mixture since the zucchini already has plenty of salt, and by upping the amount of lemon because it really tastes fabulous.  Be sure your goat cheese is at room temperature before you start, otherwise it will be too stiff to spread.

The homemade pastry crust is easy to work with and very light and flaky, but you could easily substitute a premade pie crust if you want. A great tip I recently learned for making a nice round crust - roll the dough out slightly larger than you need, then fold it in fourths and trim around the outside edge to make it even.

 It's going to be difficult (and time-consuming not to mention frustrating) to cut the zucchini slices thin enough and uniform enough without a mandoline so if you don't have one already I would suggest you buy one before trying this recipe -they're not expensive.  It's very useful for slicing all kinds of foods to a uniform thickness - it's invaluable for au gratin potatoes, for example.  Some mandolines have their own stand, but it stores more compactly without one.  The important part is to make sure it comes with different types of blades and that the slicing thickness is adjustable.

The original recipe uses only zucchini, but I added in some summer squash for a little color variation just for fun. The dough needs to chill for 30 minutes and the zucchini slices drain for 30 minutes so it takes a while to assemble plus it bakes for 40 to 50 minutes.  The good news is that I assembled the tart and put it in the refrigerator for 45 minutes while I ran an errand before baking without anything bad happening, so I assume you could assemble the tart an hour or so in advance.  In addition, it's just as good warm or at room temperature so you could bake it a few hours in advance of serving.  The next day the leftovers were equally good cold and the tart crust was still crisp and flaky.

Zucchini, Goat Cheese and Lemon Tart
Makes 1 (11”) tart; 6 main dish servings or 12 buffet servings

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into ½” cubes
½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
5 tablespoons ice water
1 ½ pounds zucchini (can substitute some yellow summer squash)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 ounces plain creamy goat cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Zest from one small lemon

Place the flour, ¾ teaspoon salt, and the butter in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 12 to 14 times, until the butter is the size of peas.  With the processor running, pour the vinegar and ice water through the feed tube and continue to process and pulse until the dough just comes together.  Dump out onto a floured board, form into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the zucchini (and summer squash, if using) to 1/8” thick on a mandoline.  Place the slices in a colander set over a plate and gently toss with 2 teaspoons of salt (the salt will draw out some of the moisture).  Set aside for 30 minutes to drain.  Spread the slices out on a clean dish towel, cover with a second clean towel and gently pat to remove some of the moisture.  Place the slices in a bowl and gently toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

With a fork, mash together the goat cheese, thyme, lemon zest and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400d.

Roll the dough out on a floured board to an 11” circle (tip:  roll the circle slightly larger, then fold the dough into quarters and trim the outside edge to make a smooth circle).  Place the dough on a sheet pan line with parchment.  Spread the goat cheese mixture evenly on the dough leaving a ½” boarder.  Lay the zucchini slices in tightly overlapping circles, starting at the very edge of the dough (the zucchini will shrink as it bakes).  Continue overlapping circles of zucchini until the whole tart is covered.  Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the dough is golden brown.  Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Homemade Chicken Stock

Last Year's Post: Spring Vegetable Ramen
Two Years Ago:   Chicken with Shallots

There are a few things that I tend to think that only crazy people and professional chefs make and have not tried personally:  homemade pasta, homemade croissants, and homemade chicken stock to name a few.  But I've read over and over how much good homemade chicken stock can really elevate your cooking so I decided to make it a project.  Ina Garten is known for her excellent chicken stock recipe so that's what I used.  She describes it as an easy recipe and I must agree, it's very easy IF you have the right tools.  All you do is throw some chickens, vegetables and herbs in a big pot and let them simmer for 4 hours.  Done.  You don't even have to monitor the pot except for once in a while to make sure it's still simmering, so you can make stock on a day when you'll be home for 4 hours but have other things to do like laundry or yard work.

You probably won't save money by making your own stock - you're doing it for quality rather than cost savings.  Having said that, you still want to minimize cost where possible.  I found the best deal on chicken at Costco - 4 small fresh chickens for a total weight of almost 15 pounds cost $14.50  The recipe calls for 3 (5-pound) chickens but 4 smaller chickens work equally well.  Some people may be dismayed because you use whole chickens only to throw them away afterwards, but all the flavor from the chicken goes into the stock and the meat becomes tasteless.   I tasted the meat at the end of the cooking time and can confirm this is true.

About the tools:  this is a bulky project so your normal pots and pans aren't going to work.  You need a 20-quart stockpot, which I bought at my local restaurant supply store for around $25.  You want a light pot to make it easier to move around, and one that's tall rather than wide so it will fit on your home burner.  They're actually not as big as you think.

You also need an 8-to-10 quart pot or bowl to hold the stock after it's done if you want to refrigerate it overnight and then skim off the surface fat.  If you want to skip that step, you don't need the smaller pot.  You need a colander to strain the solids, but you probably already have one. And finally, you need a spider/skimmer to remove the solids from the pot.  If you don't know what that is, this is what one looks like.  You can find them at Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond, etc.  If you don't want to buy one, tongs would probably work also.

Here's a tip:  move the pot to the stove before adding the water.  (It reminds me of the time when our vet had to anesthetize our dog to take an x-ray of his hip.  The only problem was that after they put him under they realized the x-ray machine was across the room and our dog was an Irish Wolfhound who weighed 160 pounds.  Heh.  That must have been an interesting transfer to watch.)

People who make chicken broth regularly have suggested buying the type of plastic quart containers you get from the deli, which I did online but you could also buy them at a restaurant supply store.  You can use any type of container to freeze your stock but these are convenient, re-usable, and are cheap enough to give away with leftovers from your next big dinner.

As I said this is Ina Garten's recipe, with a few tweaks: I described how to move the big pot around to make it easier to handle and easier to get the solids out.  She says to strain the entire contents of the big pot through a colander, but I can't imagine trying to tip over that entire thing without making a huge mess and who has a colander that big anyway? I also made the salt optional:  I've found Ina's recipes are often too salty and I always use unsalted chicken stock anyway.  She originally called for 2 tablespoons of kosher salt; I lowered it to 1 tablespoon and made it optional.

This was actually a pretty fun afternoon project.  The Lawyer provided the muscle for moving the large pot and tipping it over; you may want to have someone else around to help you just in case (unless you've been doing your crossfit regiment faithfully).  The resulting stock is miles ahead of anything you can buy at the store in terms of flavor and well worth the effort.  One last note - the recipe says it makes 6 quarts but I actually ended up with 6 1/2.  How can you only lose 2 cups of liquid volume after simmering uncovered for 4 hours?  It's a mystery.

Have fun.

Homemade Chicken Stock
Makes 6 quarts

3 (5-pound) roasting chickens
3 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
6 carrots, washed, unpeeled and halved crosswise
4 celery stalks with leaves, washed and cut into thirds crosswise
4 parsnips, washed, unpeeled and cut in half crosswise
20 sprigs fresh parsley
15 sprigs fresh thyme
20 sprigs fresh dill
1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in half crosswise
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt, optional

Special equipment: 20 quart stockpot, an 8-10 quart pot or bowl, a colander and a spider/skimmer

Place all ingredients in the 20 quart stockpot and place on the stove.  Add 7 quarts of water and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours, checking occasionally to make sure you maintain a simmer.

Remove the stockpot from the stove and place next to the sink (you may want help to move the pot).  Place a colander in the 8-10 quart pot or bowl, and place the smaller pot in the sink.  Use a spider (skimmer) or other large slotted spoon to remove the solids and place in the colander to drain (you may need to discard the solids and repeat).  After getting rid of all the solids, remove the colander from the smaller pot.  Allow the chicken stock to cool somewhat for easier handling before pouring it into the smaller pot.  Cool to room temperature (this could take several hours), then place in the refrigerator overnight.  The next day remove the surface fat.

Pour into containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Spinach Puff Pastry Tarts

Last Year's Post: Persian Grilled Chicken with Saffron
Two Years Ago:   Toasted Couscous Salad

The filling for these tarts is very similar to Greek spanakopita, but puff pastry is substituted for phyllo dough which makes them much easier and faster to prepare.  You could cut them into small pieces for an appetizer, or serve them as a vegetarian entree with a tomato and cucumber salad on the side.  They're savory, crisp and light with the airy puff pastry and some crunch from the sesame seeds and pine nuts.

Valbreso sheep's milk feta from France is one of my recent discoveries.  I prefer it to normal chunk or crumbled feta that you find in the grocery store deli section, which I think is quite sharp and very salty.  The Valbreso feta is less salty and more creamy than other varieties, so it's worth looking for.  I've found it in upscale grocers, natural food stores and Costco (of course).

Puff pastry needs to thaw for about 40 minutes before unfolding, which gives you time to thaw the spinach and prepare the filling.  After rolling, cutting and assembling the tarts they bake for about 20 minutes, so start to finish the recipe takes a little over an hour.

Spinach Puff Pastry Tarts
Yields 2 - 6” square tarts

1 sheet of Puff Pastry (thawed according to instructions on the packet)
1¼ cups frozen spinach
¼ yellow onion, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, grated
1 tbsp olive oil
½ cup ricotta
½ cup feta, crumbled
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)
Salt and pepper, according to taste
1 egg + 1/2 tbsp water for egg wash
Sesame seeds for garnish

Preheat oven to 425d.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Thaw spinach in the microwave and drain well.  Place in a clean dishtowel and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible.  Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium heat and sauté the onion until it turns soft and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds, then add the spinach.  Stir to combine, then place the pan off the heat to cool.

 While the spinach mixture is cooling, season the ricotta cheese generously with salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Add the cooled spinach mixture to the ricotta and mix thoroughly with a fork. Add the feta and optional pine nuts and mix gently to combine.

Whisk the egg and water together in a small bowl and set aside.

When ready to assemble, unfold the puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface and roll to form a roughly 12”x12” square.  Cut in half horizontally and vertically to form four 6”x6” squares.  Divide the filling equally between two squares and spread evenly to within ½” of the edge on all sides.   Place another sheet on top of the spinach mixture and use your fingers to press down and seal the edges around the spinach, then use a fork to crimp the edges.  Brush the top of the pastry with egg wash and lightly sprinkle with sesame seeds. Make three small slits in the top of each tart with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape while baking.

Transfer the tarts to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20-22 minutes until golden and puffed.  Cut in half to serve.

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.