Friday, February 27, 2015

Chicken and Mushroom Gratinate

Last Year's Post: Power Muffins
Two Years Ago:  Sloppy Joes for Grown-Ups

The first question that came to mind when I found this recipe is "what the heck is a gratinate?"  Here's the definition according to the dictionary:  gratinate - to cook with a covering of buttered crumbs or grated cheese until a crust or crisp surface forms.  "Gratin" has more or less then same definition, so don't ask me how they're different.

Anyway, this is a rustic Italian dish from Lidia Bastianich that certainly fits the description:  chicken and mushrooms covered in melted cheese and cooked in a tomato wine sauce.  

The chicken is cooked on the stovetop low and slow to get it started and keep it tender, then the dish is finished in the oven to melt the cheese and thicken the sauce.

The whole thing cooks in one skillet which makes it great for a weekday meal and gives you time to prepare something to soak up the sauce on the side:  pasta, mashed potatoes, or polenta.  I chose polenta simply because we're having pasta later in the week.

It's somewhat reminiscent of chicken parmesan, but without the fried crust and heavy red sauce.  This dish is lighter while still fancy enough to serve for a Sunday dinner or special occasion.  And completely delicious.

Chicken and Mushroom Gratinate
Serves 4

2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 20 ounces total)
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed
½ cup flour for dredging
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, divided, cut into cubes
1 cup tomato sauce or tomato puree
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2/3 cup dry white wine
6 fresh sage leaves, shredded
12 small thin slices Fontina cheese, about 4 ounces
8 tablespoons shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat oven to 425d.

Cut chicken breasts in half horizontally to form 4 cutlets.  Pound lightly to an even thickness, then dredge in flour to lightly coat both sides.  Salt and pepper each side.  Set aside.

In a large oven-proof skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the mushroom caps in a single layer and sauté, about 2 minutes per side, until tender and browned.  Remove and salt lightly.

Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the olive oil remaining in the pan and reduce heat to medium-low.  When the butter is melted, add the chicken cutlets in one layer and cook gently for about 90 seconds, until very lightly colored with no browning.  Turn cutlets over and spread a heaping tablespoon of tomato sauce on top of each.  Arrange the mushroom caps over the chicken, overlapping to cover, then add 3 small slices of Fontina on top of each cutlet, overlapping to cover.

Raise the heat to medium and sprinkle the red pepper flakes into the sauce.  Add the remaining butter into the sauce.  After the butter melts add the wine and remainder of the tomato sauce around the cutlets (not over them).  Bring to a simmer, then drop the sage into the sauce all around the pan.  Finally, sprinkle two tablespoons of shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano over each cutlet.   

Place the skillet in the oven for 10 minutes, then check to see that the cheese is melted and the sauce has thickened somewhat.  Turn the broiler on and continue to bake for 3-4 minutes, watching carefully, until the cheese is browned to your liking (do not let burn).

Serve immediately, with polenta, mashed potatoes or pasta to soak up the sauce.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Baked Pumpkin Spice Granola

Last Year's Post: Wild Mushroom and Gruyere Quiche
Two Years Ago:  Wild Mushroom & Wild Rice Chicken Soup

"Baked pumpkin spice granola" - doesn't that just sound good?  Like it will make your kitchen smell great.  And it's true.

The Lawyer and I like to sprinkle granola over yogurt for breakfast, and it's also fabulous in pancakes to add crunch.  Or, eaten straight out of hand, it makes a delicious mid-afternoon snack.  One time I gave some homemade granola to a friend who didn't particularly like to cook, and she told me later that she had it for dinner every night for a week.  However you eat it, granola is delicious.  This particularly granola is only lightly sweet but has the most wonderful flavor combination where no one flavor overwhelms.  At first you taste the spices, then a hint of coconut comes in, and then the pumpkin comes through.  

This granola is slightly darker than most you'll find at the store, due to the spices, dark brown sugar, maple syrup and pumpkin.  It's about the color of "normal" granola before it's baked, so don't freak out when it turns slightly darker during baking.  Just be sure to stir every ten minutes and it won't turn too dark.

Granola is incredibly easy to make and much less expensive than buying it in the store.  Its a fun little weekend project that you'll appreciate during the following week.  And it makes a great gift, too.

printable recipe
Baked Pumpkin Spice Granola
Yields approximately 5 cups

3 ¾ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2/3 cup unsweetened coconut
2/3 cup sliced almonds
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice*
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325d.

Line two large baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  In a large bowl, toss the oats, coconut, almonds, spices and salt together until well combined.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, add the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, vegetable oil, brown sugar and vanilla; whisk until smooth.  Pour over dry ingredients and mix until everything is moistened.  Divide evenly between the baking sheets and spread out into a thin layer.

Bake each batch for 40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes.  Allow granola to cool on the baking sheets for 20 minutes.  Cover tightly and store at room temperature.

* Or use ½ teaspoon ground cloves, ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, and ¼ teaspoon ground allspice.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Spinach, Squash and Apple Salad

Last Year's Post: Sesame Seed Chicken Salad
Two Years Ago:  Linguini alla Puttanesca

I firmly believe in eating main dish salads all year long.  They're good for you and they actually work particularly well in colder months to balance out the heavy foods we tend to eat at that time of the year.  So if you're planning lasagna or beef stew one night, balance it out by having an entree salad with plenty of veggies or fruits the next night.  We try to plan at least one salad meal per week, but the key is to plan for lots of variety or you'll very quickly get bored if you pick up the same old salad bar version every week.  (That's why you'll see so many salads posted on this blog.)

So that's the first tip - eat a wide variety of salads.  The second tip is to use at least one or two seasonal ingredients when possible, for freshness and because it helps add variety as you move through the seasons.  The third tip is to consider adding substantial meatless salads to your collection (like this one).  You won't miss the meat if you add enough other interesting fibers and proteins.  And finally, use the very best and freshest ingredients possible, like these beautiful greens that I found - a mix of spinach, arugula, mizzuna, and leaf lettuce.  Then I added a head of lacy, curly frisee to make it even prettier.  Doesn't that make you want to dive in?

This salad has a fall/winter feel due to the roasted squash, apples, pecans and maple dressing.  The tangy and slightly sweet dressing works best if you have some bitterness in the greens, so be sure to throw in some arugula.  If you can't find arugula, a little radicchio would also work.  As with most salads, the interplay of textures and flavors works best if there are contrasts - crunchy and creamy, bitter and sweet.

If you're really pressed for time the day you plan to serve it, you can prepare the squash and salad dressing in advance so all you have to do that night is chop and assemble.

Oh, one more tip - make the salad look as beautiful as you can by arranging the ingredients.  Someone once said we eat with our eyes first, which is kind of annoying but true.  Look at the picture up top, then at this picture after it was tossed.  It still looks really good, but not quite as spectacular.  And it only take a minute or two to arrange each salad on individual plates.

printable recipe
Spinach, Squash and Apple Salad
Serves 4

½ medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1” cubes
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 Fuji apple
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
6-oz bag baby spinach, arugula, or combination of greens
¼ medium red onion, very thinly sliced
½ cup blue cheese, crumbled
 ½ cup dried cherries or cranberries
½ cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400d.

In a medium bowl, toss the squash cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss again.  Spread in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes until the cubes are starting to turn golden and lightly browned, flipping once.  Remove and cool.

For the salad dressing, combine ¼ cup olive oil, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a small bowl; whisk to combine.  Core the apple, cut into thin slices, and toss with the lemon juice to prevent browning.

To assemble the salad, toss the greens with half the dressing and divide among plates.  Decoratively top with the squash, apple, onion, cherries and pecans.  Drizzle the remaining dressing on the top and serve.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Coconut-Marinated Pork Tenderloin with Pineapple Rice

 Last Year's Post: Raspberry Dark Chocolate Wonton Cups
Two years Ago:   Banh Mi

If you'd like a little island getaway without the hassle and expense, try this Caribbean-inspired menu.  It's full of interesting flavors and not particularly hot despite the addition of the chile.  I love the idea of serving the pork with hot sauce so each person can kick it up as much as they want.  The pork tenderloin is marinated in all sorts of ingredients that are tempered by the addition of coconut milk, then grilled and served with a wonderful garnish of green onions, cilantro, allspice and peanuts.  (If you live in a climate where you currently have feet of snow on the ground and/or below zero temps, go ahead and use an indoor grill pan or broil the pork. We all have our limits, even The Lawyer.)

The rice is the perfect accompaniment - dried pineapple adds sweetness that balances the heat, plus lime juice, cilantro and green onions echo the same ingredients as in the pork recipe.  I've posted the rice before here with grilled shrimp, but it's so perfect with the pork that I had to do it again.

Notice that you marinate the pork for 2-8 hours, so be sure to plan ahead.  The original recipe called for a Scotch Bonnet chile which I couldn't find at the store, so I substituted a Habanero chile instead.  Both are hot, so be careful when handling or wear gloves.  The heat is lessened by removing the ribs and seeds, plus it's tamed down by the coconut milk so don't worry - the finished dish is mildly spicy at best.  Hence the hot sauce - I tried red and green Tabasco and preferred the green by far - the red overwhelmed the other flavors.

One last note - the little jalapenos in the photo are just for looks because they're cute, so not to worry.

printable recipe
Coconut-Marinated Pork Tenderloin
Serves 4
You can make a chunky purée from the green onion/peanut relish, if you prefer, by pulsing it in a food processor. Handle the Scotch bonnet chile carefully as you chop it.
1 (14-oz.) can unsweetened coconut milk
Grated zest of 2 limes
Juice of 2 limes
1 heaping tbsp. mild curry powder
2 tsp. mild Spanish paprika
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
 1 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero chile, minced
1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1 (2-lb.) pork tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat
2 tbsp. canola oil
Kosher salt
4 green onions, green and pale green parts, halved lengthwise and finely chopped
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 c. coarsely chopped roasted peanuts
Green Tabasco hot sauce

Combine coconut milk, lime zest and juice, curry powder, paprika, garlic, ginger, Scotch bonnet and pepper in bowl. Add pork, turn to coat in marinade, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.
Heat grill to high for indirect grilling. Remove pork from refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking and pat dry with paper towels.
Brush pork with oil and season with salt. Put pork directly over heat and cook until charred on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove to cooler part of grill (indirect heat) and continue grilling until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of pork registers 140 degrees, about 12 minutes longer.
Remove pork from grill, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.
Combine green onions, cilantro, allspice and peanuts in bowl and season with salt.
Slice pork into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Sprinkle with green onion-peanut relish and serve with hot sauce.

Pineapple Rice
Serves 4

Note: dried pineapple is sweeter and more intense in flavor than fresh; don’t substitute.

2 cups water
1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
½ cup chopped dried pineapple
1 tablespoon butter
½ teaspoon grated lime zest
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped green onions
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan and add rice and next 4 ingredients (through salt).  Cover, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Remove from heat; stir in cilantro, onions and juice.