Friday, July 26, 2013

Spinach, Blueberry & Goat Cheese Salad

Last Year's Post: Grilled Cheese with Pesto, Spinach and Avocado

Summer is such a wonderful opportunity for those of us who are trying to eat healthy.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant, beautiful and cheap, and fresh salads seem so appealing.  But it's easy to get into a salad rut and start to get bored, which is never good.  Life is too short and calories are too precious to be bored with what you eat. (Although I do know an elite ultra-marathon athlete who regards food as fuel and eats pretty much the same thing each day, which I can't even imagine.  He's been known to do a 135 mile bike ultra-marathon in the middle of winter at temperatures down to -30 degrees, which I also can't imagine.)

I always think that if I'm not excited about what I'm going to eat then something is wrong, which is why I tend to post a lot of different salad recipes such as The Perfect Little Summer SaladChicken Salad with Fruits and PeppadewsWild Rice SaladSummer Salad with Cheese, Fruit and Nuts, Farro, Kale & Smoked Mozzarella Salad, and French Chicken Salad among others.  I'm always looking for new salad recipes and was very excited when I found a new one for spinach salad with fresh blueberries, goat cheese, cucumber, and edamame.  What an interesting and refreshing combination!  Not only is it beautiful, but very healthy as well with  no less than three superfoods - spinach, blueberries and edamame.

The original recipe was vegetarian but it's easily made into a main dish by the addition of crumbled bacon or cooked chicken, turkey, pork or duck so it's a great opportunity to customize the salad to your tastes or use up leftover cooked meat.  You can further customize it by changing the cheese from goat to blue cheese or fontina or any other cheese you like.

I think I'm usually pretty good at envisioning what a recipe will taste like, but this one surprised me.  Not the main ingredients of the salad, but the salad dressing - it has a touch of Dijon mustard that I hadn't really focused on prior to trying the recipe.  If I had, I would've been skeptical that a mustard vinaigrette would somehow magically tie all the ingredients together including the blueberries, but it does.  Try it yourself and see if you agree.

The only ingredients in the salad that are cooked are the meat and the edamame, so if you plan ahead for those two items (or head to the salad bar - my local salad bar carries edamame and numerous meat items) the rest of the salad can come together in literally just a few minutes. It's a great no-cook alternative for a hot summer day.

Spinach, Blueberry & Goat Cheese Salad
Serves 4

For the dressing:
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the salad:
1 package pre-washed spinach
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup chopped seedless cucumber
1 cup cooked edamame
1 cup crumbled goat cheese
1 cup chopped cooked chicken (or crumbled bacon or other meat)

 In a small bowl combine mustard, lemon juice, sugar, vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking until dressing comes together and sugar is dissolved.

Place spinach leaves in large bowl. Add blueberries, cucumber, edamame, goat cheese and chicken.  Add the salad dressing, toss to combine, and serve.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Chicken Curry

Last Year's Post: Farm Stand Salad

Indian food has not been one of my favorites, so I have absolutely no idea why I decided to try this recipe in the first place ten years ago.  The reason why I remember how long it's been is because The Lawyer and I were in the process of a corporate move to Louisville, KY.  He had gone ahead to begin work and I stayed for a period of months in a small apartment in Minneapolis which didn't really give me much creative outlet for my cooking obsession.  I spent my spare time dreaming about all the great new recipes we would prepare when I finally arrived in Louisville.  Unfortunately, I decided that we needed to make a brand-new recipe the very day I arrived.  I also decided for some reason that all the boxes need to be unpacked in one weekend.  The two decisions collided, and not in a good way.

By the end of the first day of unpacking boxes we were both exhausted, but I had reached that point where you're so tired that you become unreasonably stubborn.  (Or at least I do.  Well, some would say I'm always unreasonably stubborn and that it's just a matter of degree.)  The Lawyer tried to talk me into going to a restaurant or at least ordering a pizza, but NO - I was going to make this recipe come hell or high water.  It's not hard, but a brand-new recipe is not a great idea for one of those nights. I don't recall most of the actual preparation but even through a haze of exhaustion I clearly remember how great it tasted. 

I always thought of Indian food as being heavy and fiery hot, but this dish is very light and fresh-tasting and has warmth from the spices rather than heat.   If you're new to Indian food this is a good introduction.  And it's fun to make because you can see and smell all the individual spices that go into making the overall complex flavor and can adjust them up or down to your taste the next time.  It's much more interesting and instructive than just buying a jar of curry powder and dumping it in.  My guess is that it was the homemade spice mix that attracted me in the first place.

The one fact you do need to come to grips with is that you need quite a number of spices.  Hopefully you already have many of them in your cupboard.  For the rest, I always recommend Penzeys (your local store or online for the widest variety of fresh and inexpensive spices.  And remember, even after buying several spices this meal will still be cheaper than if you went to a restaurant.

The preparation is really pretty straight forward - coat chicken cubes in your homemade spice mix and brown, then remove.

Add onions, ginger and garlic to the pan and cook, then add some more spices - cardamom, bay leaf and cinnamon. I wrap them in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string so they're easier to fish out later (you can find cheesecloth in some grocery stores and most kitchen supply stores).

Add tomatoes and the chicken pieces and simmer, then add a little yogurt, raisins and some cilantro.

Garnish with toasted sliced almonds and serve with basmati rice.  Don't skip the almonds - they're an important component for both flavor and crunch.

Not at all hard, but I do recommend trying it some day when you're not feeling unreasonably stubborn.

printable recipe

Chicken Curry
Serves 4-6

2 ½ teaspoons whole coriander seeds
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2 “cubes
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 large or two medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 whole cinnamon sticks, about 3” long
1 bay leaf
3 green cardamom pods
4 cups whole canned tomatoes with juices
1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup plain yogurt
¾ cup golden raisins, roughly chopped
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish
Hot cooked basmati rice

Special equipment needed: 
spice grinder
cheesecloth and kitchen string, for tying spice bundle

In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast coriander and cumin seeds until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.  Transfer to spice grinder, add crushed red pepper flakes, and grind to a powder.  Place in a large zip top bag, and add turmeric, ginger, cloves, salt and black pepper.  Add chicken and toss to coat.

Heat peanut oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add chicken, cooking until browned, 3 to 5 minutes.  Remove chicken and set aside.

Reduce heat and add ginger, garlic and onions.  Cook until softened and browned, 8 to 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, place cinnamon sticks, bay leaf and cardamom pods in a square of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string.  When the onions are brown add the spice bundle and cook for an additional 10 minutes, making sure the spice bundle is covered with onions.  Add the tomatoes and roughly crush with a potato masher or snip with a kitchen scissors.  Add the chicken stock and browned chicken and raise the heat to medium high.  Cook until the liquid is somewhat reduced, about 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and stir in yogurt and raisins.  Cook until warmed through, then add cilantro.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Serve with basmati rice and garnish with toasted almonds.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Shrimp Fried Rice

Last Year's Post: Tomatoes!

A couple of years ago we traveled to China because we wanted to see their culture while it's in rapid growth mode as they transition to capitalism.  The pace and scope of their growth is absolutely staggering.  For example, it's a really big deal when an American city has a new skyscraper of 75 or more floors being built, but there must have been over 100 skyscrapers under construction in Beijing alone.  We were on a tour and our guide proudly told us the public restrooms had been greatly improved in preparation for the Beijing Olympics, which had occurred the previous year.  Hoo boy.  All I can say is that I'm glad we didn't go before the Olympics.  All meals were provided on the tour, and dinners were inevitably what I came to term "spinner dinners" because they consisted of multiple dishes served family-style on a large Lazy Susan in the center of the table.  Some things we could identify, and some we couldn't.  When asked what any particular unidentifiable dish was, the answer (in very limited English) was usually "chicken".  Right.  Anyway, there was always a huge bowl of white rice but never any fried rice, which led me to believe fried rice may be more of an American Chinese food tradition.

I think fried rice is something most people like but would regard as somewhat of a guilty pleasure.  It is, after all, typically fried in copious amounts of oil.  The good news is that you can make it at home and cut down on the oil and sodium while amping up the fresh veggies to make it healthier and just as good as any restaurant.  The other advantage of making it rather than buying it is that you can use up any leftover meat or vegetables you have on hand, or take advantage of whatever is in peak season at the farmer's market.  The end result either way will be much more fresh and appealing than takeout.

One of the unique garnishes that I've discovered for fried rice is shredded radishes, lightly seasoned with vinegar.  The peppery tart flavor and beautiful color are a wonderful contrast to the rice.  Although they're not essential to the dish, I would really encourage you to give the radishes a try.  It makes the dish kind of special.

There are only two key things that you need to know about making fried rice successfully, and they both involve the rice.  First, the rice must be cooked and be completely cold before you start cooking, so plan in advance and cook it the day (or morning) before you plan to serve it.  If it's not cold, the grains stick together and become a big lumpy mess.  The second tip is to spread the rice in the pan, press it down, and let it cook for a while to get a little crispy before stirring it. This is not stir-frying where your utensils and the food are in constant motion - that part comes later when you add the other ingredients.  You want the rice to have some crispy bits for flavor as well as texture.

I started with some beautiful raw shrimp but chicken, pork, duck, or any other meat would also work.  I like medium-sized shrimp for this dish because they're just the right size to pop whole into your mouth after removing the tail.

For the vegetables, I chose a combination of regular peas, sugar snap peas, and snow peas but you could use literally any vegetables you like.

The vegetables are briefly blanched in boiling water, then shocked in ice water to stop the cooking process.

The shrimp and eggs are cooked and removed from the pan, then the rice is added.

After the rice is cooked all the other ingredients and sauce are added to the pan and stir-fried until hot.  Yum.

printable recipe
Shrimp Fried Rice
Serves 4

1 cup thawed frozen peas
1 cup sugar snap or snow peas (or a combination), ends trimmed
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
½ lb peeled and deveined medium raw shrimp (31-40 per pound)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3 cups cooked and cooled brown or white rice (approximately 1 cup uncooked)
1 cup coarsely shredded radishes (about 5 large)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (plus more to pass at the table)
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Blanch the thawed peas and sugar snap or snow peas by dropping in boiling water for 30 seconds, then drain and immediately submerge in ice water.  Drain again.  Cut the sugar snaps or snow peas into ½ inch pieces.  Set aside.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, then add one tablespoon of oil.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the beaten eggs, then add them to the pan and swirl to coat.  Cook for 30 to 45 seconds, then turn the eggs over and cook for another 10 seconds.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add ½ tablespoon of oil to the pan, then add the onion.  Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes.  Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until almost cooked through, another 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and return the skillet to the heat.

Add the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons of oil to the skillet, then add the rice, pressing it flat with the back of a nonstick pan-safe spatula.  Cook until the rice is slightly crispy, turning it over with the spatula, about 8 to 10 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, combine the radishes and vinegar in a small bowl.  In a second small bowl, combine the soy sauce and sesame oil.  Chop the egg and add it along with the peas and sugar snap or snow peas to the bowl with the shrimp.

When the rice is nicely crisped, add the contents of the shrimp bowl and the soy sauce mixture to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the mixture is heated through.  Serve in bowls and top with radishes.

Serve with extra soy sauce on the side.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Grilled Salmon with Lemon Salsa

I'm always looking for new salmon recipes because it's so good for you, it's readily available, reasonably inexpensive, and we really like it.  I ran across two very similar recipes lately for grilled anchovies with lemon salsa.  We're not great anchovies fans but I reasoned that the lemon salsa, which sounded very intriguing, would go with any fish with a relatively high oil content.  (I don't know, maybe anchovies don't have a high oil content when they're fresh.  They certainly do by the time they hit the can.)  Anyway, I immediately thought of salmon, although I think this salsa would also complement swordfish or tuna.

The fresh lemon salsa has very bright and tart flavors that balance the rich meaty fish beautifully, especially when the salmon is grilled so it has that extra smoky edge.  In addition to lemon, the salsa contains red onion, red chile, mint and cilantro - totally different from your more typical tomato salsa or even the relatively common mango salsa.

This recipe is very simple, quick and easy - perfect for a spring or summer evening of grilling.  Use mint and cilantro from your garden or from the farmers market if you can - it's fresher and cheaper than the herbs in the grocery store.  By the way, have you ever thought of growing mint?  My only caution is not to plant it directly in your garden - plant it in a pot instead, then you can bury the pot in the garden if you want.  The reason is that mint is incredibly aggressive and will be all over everywhere in short order at which point it's very hard to get rid of.  (Another one of those life lessons learned along the way.)  In a salsa filled with big flavors, mint will be the biggest so use it sparingly.

The only part of the recipe you may not be familiar with is how to supreme the lemons. "To supreme" lemons or any other citrus simply means removing the rind and cutting the segments away from the membranes as opposed to pulling apart the segments with membranes intact.  Here's a step by step visual.  Start with a lemon (or other citrus).

Cut the rind (including all the pith) off with a sharp knife.  Try not to cut away too much of the inside of the lemon at the same time.

Then hold the lemon in your hand over a bowl, and carefully cut between the membranes, making v-shaped cuts to release the segments into the bowl.  (I say "carefully" because remember that it's your hand that's involved, after all.)

When you're done cutting the segments, squeeze any remaining juice into the bowl and discard the pulp.  Pick the seeds out of the segments. Many recipes use the whole segments but I preferred to cut them in half for this salsa.

You can prep the salsa ingredients in advance (except I wouldn't chop the herbs until right before serving) but don't combine the salsa until shortly before serving or the lemon dulls the red onion and red pepper too much.

Prep the salmon by brushing with a little olive oil and sprinkling with your favorite seafood seasoning blend - I like Paul Prudhomme's Seafood Magic.

Grill the salmon indoors or outdoors, toss the salsa together, and serve with your favorite accompaniments for a perfectly delicious, light and healthy dinner.  Enjoy!

printable recipe

Grilled Salmon with Lemon Salsa
Serves 4

3 lemons
2/3 cup red onion, finely diced
1 fresh red chile, seeded and finely diced
1/8 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for brushing the salmon)
Salt and pepper
4 (5-6 ounce) salmon fillets
Seafood seasoning blend (your favorite)

Supreme the lemons: with a sharp knife, cut the rind off including the white pith.  Holding the lemon in your hand over a bowl, carefully cut each segment free by making a v-shaped cut between the membranes and letting the segments and juice fall into the bowl. Pick out the seeds and cut the segments into smaller pieces if desired. Add the red onion, chile, mint and cilantro.  Add a pinch of sugar and some salt and pepper.  Add the olive oil and mix well.  Note: do not combine the salsa in too far advance or the lemon will dull the onion and chile flavors too much.  Each ingredient may be prepped in advance, but combine everything shortly before serving.

Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.  Brush the salmon with olive oil and sprinkle with the seasoning blend.  Grill for approximately 10 minutes, turning over halfway through cooking, until the salmon flakes easily.  Serve topped with the lemon salsa.