Friday, February 24, 2012

Very Lemon Chicken and Fruited Couscous

This week's post is a "two-fer", courtesy of a recent girls' getaway weekend in the sun. Among other strenuous activities like shopping and lounging at the spa, we managed to make a delicious yet healthy dinner of very lemony chicken and couscous with dried fruits and almonds. Either recipe can stand alone or be combined with other foods but they go particularly well together. Both make great dishes to take to any large gathering since they can be served warm, cold or room temperature.  As the chicken cools the sauce thickens to a syrupy consistency which then can be drizzled over the chicken when served.  The last time I made the chicken I served it cold over a fresh spinach salad and it was truly delicious.

The couscous has lemon notes that echo the lemon chicken in addition to dried apricots, golden raisins, currants and toasted almonds that give it a slightly Mediterranean feel.  If you don't like any one of the dried fruits feel free to substitute but don't leave them out altogether - they lend a slight sweetness that really makes the dish.

So here are my friends that participated in making (and eating!) the meal.  They insisted on previewing the picture before they would allow it on my blog, and they also insisted that it should not be full-length.  I have good-looking and funny friends - Jessica, Michelle and Karrine.

Very Lemon Chicken
Serves 4

3 lemons
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (6-8 oz each)
1/3 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
½ cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grate the zest from two lemons and set aside. Sprinkle the juice from one of the lemons over the chicken breasts (reserve the second lemon). Mix the flour, salt and paprika in a large zip-top bag and shake one chicken breast at a time in the mixture. Remove from the bag and shake off any excess flour. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces and then discard the flour.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and fry until lightly browned on both sides, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a foil-lined baking dish.

Thinly slice the remaining lemon that was not zested. Top each chicken breast with the reserved zest, the thyme, and lemon slices. Put in the oven and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

In a small bowl, juice the remaining lemon that was zested. Add the chicken stock and brown sugar to the juice, stirring until the sugar dissolves. After 20 minutes of baking, top the chicken with the lemon-sugar mixture. Bake an additional 30 to 40 minutes or until the chicken tests 180 degrees on a meat thermometer. Baste with the pan juices halfway through the cooking time. Remove from the oven and serve, or cool and refrigerate (covered) until ready to serve, up to two days. Spoon any pan juices over the chicken when served.

* * click here for a printable Fruited Couscous recipe * *

Fruited Couscous
Serves 4

1-1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1-1/2 cups couscous
1/3 cup finely diced dried apricots
2 tablespoons golden raisins
2 tablespoons dried currants
1-1/2 teaspoons dark Asian sesame oil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup sliced green onions including 2” of green tops
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Bring broth to a simmer in a medium lidded saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in couscous, apricots, raisins and currants. Cover and remove from heat. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Uncover pan and fluff the couscous with a fork. Stir in sesame oil, lemon zest and juice, parsley, and green onions. Taste and season with salt. (Couscous can be made 20 to 30 minutes in advance. Keep covered in pan.)

Serve sprinkled with almonds. May be served warm or cold.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Turnovers are incredibly easy to make - they only have three ingredients so how hard can it be, right?  It's mainly just a bit of assembly.  The hardest part is deciding where to categorize the recipe in my plethora of three ring recipe binders - are they a snack, sandwich, breakfast, or dessert?  The answer is "yes", which isn't particularly helpful when trying to figure out where the recipe is.  If I was insanely organized I would probably create an alphabetized index of my hundreds and hundreds of recipes so I could cross-reference by keyword, but that's too much even for me. 

I just noticed that I've done two posts in a row using puff pastry.  Well, at least they're dramatically different recipes and puff pastry is still a magic ingredient - really easy to use but it looks really complicated.  You can put literally any filling in a turnover - savory or sweet - to suite your tastes.  For this post I did half chocolate and half apple turnovers.  I'm thinking of trying cheese, arugula and prosciutto turnovers in the near future.  Any type of jam works exceptionally well also - I recently saw something about cream cheese and blackberry jam that sounded enticing for a turnover filling.  And how about lemon curd?  I love lemon. The only thing to watch is that the filling isn't extremely liquid or it will end up running out of the turnovers and all over your oven.

The other dimension you can vary is the size.  The chocolate turnovers were small using 4" squares of puff pastry.  The apple turnovers were more what you would call a "normal" turnover size using 6" squares of puff pastry.  It all depends on what you intend to use them for - the chocolate turnovers were treats for The Lawyer's office and the apple turnovers were breakfast.

 The other good news is that you can make these ahead and refrigerate or freeze them, then just throw them in the oven when you want them.  Yum!

* * click here for a printable recipe* *

makes 18 small or 8 large turnovers

1 (17-1/4 oz) package puff pastry sheets
1 egg, beaten
Filling: 4 oz finely chopped semisweet chocolate, or 18 teaspoons of jam or lemon curd, or apple filling (below)

Adjust oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions and heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Working with one sheet at a time on a lightly floured work surface, roll the puff pastry sheet lightly and trim to a 12” square. Cut evenly into nine 4” squares or four 6” squares, depending on your preference.  Working with one square of dough at a time, place a portion of filling (chocolate or 1 teaspoon of jam or lemon curd) on the lower corner, brush two edges of the dough with beaten egg, and fold the dough in half diagonally to form a turnover. 

Place each turnover on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes to harden, then brush the dough tops with the egg wash and pierce the top of each with a small knife.

Bake until golden brown, switching and rotating cookie sheets halfway through baking to ensure even browning, about 15 minutes. Cool the turnovers on a wire cooling rack. May serve warm or cold.

Apple filling:
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the apples and stir for about 2 minutes. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Stir together the cornstarch and ½ tablespoon water. Pour into the skillet, mix well, and cook for 1 more minute until thickened. Remove from the heat to cool. When adding to the pastry sheets, drain the apples slightly so the turnovers won’t have too much liquid.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Special Dinner - Chicken, Gruyere and Fig in Puff Pastry

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I was a logical child.  When my mother asked me (4 years old) and my sister (8 years old) one day whether we would like a baby brother or sister, I didn't interpret it as a yes-no question.  Rather, I thought it was multiple choice, and enthusiastically voted for a baby girl.  Now, we had catalogs lying around the house full of all kinds of things to order.  Since I had never seen grownups picking out children in a store, I logically assumed they were ordered from a catalog (specifically the Sears catalog - they had the widest range of household items).  You can imagine my consternation, therefore, when my mother brought The Brother home from wherever.  My sister and I quickly warmed to him when we realized that baby brothers are just as fun to dress up as our dolls were, particularly with lamp shades. ( Hmmm, I do believe there are a few pictures left lying around somewhere.)

In my humble opinion the very best way to show someone you care is to cook them a special meal, whether it's for their birthday or that certain holiday featuring lots of red hearts that's coming up.  Sure, you can plunk down a piece of plastic at a restaurant.  But a homemade meal displays more time, attention and effort.  Even people who claim they "don't want to celebrate" like a little attention.  And with all the dinero you save by not going out, you might even buy them a little something from a catalog.

The magic ingredient in this recipe is the puff pastry.  You don't have to make it - it comes premade in the freezer section of the grocery store - but it transforms foods into something special and it looks really complicated even though it isn't.  Chicken, fig jam and gruyere cheese are encased in the puff pastry to form a pretty package.  Dress it up further by putting it on a piece of red leaf lettuce, serve it with a glass of wine,  and it'll look like something in a restaurant.

The slight sweetness of the fig jam contrasts really well with the nuttiness of the melty gruyere and the richness of the chicken, not to mention the buttery puff pastry.  The first time I made this recipe I wrote a note that it would be a good dinner for our Gourmet Club, which is high praise indeed.  (We take our food seriously in Gourmet Club!)

* * click here for a printable recipe version * *

Chicken, Gruyere and Fig in Puff Pastry
Makes 4 servings

4 small boneless skinless chicken breasts (or two very large breasts cut in half)
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed according to directions on the package
4 slices of gruyere cheese (1/4" thick), cut to fit on top of the chicken pieces
¼ cup fig preserves
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 400d.

Pound each chicken piece lightly to an even thickness. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and rosemary. Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Lightly brown the chicken on both sides, approximately 3 minutes per side. Remove from heat.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured board, use a rolling pin to roll the puff pastry until it is 12 inches square.Cut into four equal squares. Place a piece of chicken on each square and top with fig preserves and a piece of cheese.

 Wrap the dough up and over the chicken, sealing the edges with egg wash.

(May be wrapped and frozen at this point. Thaw overnight before proceeding.)

Brush the tops of the packets all over with the remaining egg wash. Bake 15 minutes, until golden. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Tuxedo Strawberries

Valentine's Day is coming!   What better way to surprise someone than to make them a very special treat?  These cute little guys would make the perfect dessert or even a evening treat with a glass of champagne.  There's something about the taste of fresh strawberries and chocolate together that is just heavenly.  And they're really easy to make!  Just dunk some strawberries in two kinds of chocolate and chill in between.  To make it really fancy, buy some raspberry or strawberry syrup for a drizzle on the plate.

People go crazy for these.  Try them and you'll find out for yourself!

* * click here for a printable recipe version * *

Tuxedo Strawberries
Makes 10 strawberries

10 medium heart-shaped strawberries with green tops (try to find perfect red ones)
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
Raspberry or strawberry syrup (optional)

Wash the strawberries and dry thoroughly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the white chocolate by placing in a small bowl in the microwave for approximately 3 minutes at low power, stirring after each minute.

Dip each berry up to the shoulder in white chocolate while holding by the green top.

Let the excess drip off while swirling gently, then place on the baking sheet. 

Chill in the refrigerator until the chocolate is hard, approximately one hour.

Melt the semisweet chocolate in the same manner as the white chocolate. Dip two sides of each berry in the chocolate to cover most (but not all) of the white chocolate, resembling a tuxedo jacket. Place on the baking sheet. Dip a wooden skewer in the chocolate and dot two “buttons” on the white chocolate front. 

Chill until ready to serve.

To serve, drizzle the syrup on a plate (optional) and top with strawberries.

For best flavor, serve within 5 or 6 hours.