Friday, May 29, 2015

Red-on-Red Chicken Salad

Last Year's Post: Grilled Salmon and Pineapple with Avocado Dressing
Two Years Ago:  French Rhubarb Tarts

When I found this recipe in a magazine it was so pretty I just had to make it immediately.  We had friends over for dinner and I made it with watermelon, cantaloupe and strawberries because I already had the cantaloupe and strawberries on hand.  I totally forgot the basil but it was still great.  Now it's fresh cherry season so I modified the recipe to include watermelon and either cherries or strawberries for the red-on-red theme.  It's a cool, refreshing and light salad that's perfect for summer.

Note that the chicken needs to roasted and cooled in advance, which is easy to do the day before or early in the day.  (The vinegar mixture also needs to be reduced and cooled, but cooling only takes 15 minutes or so.)  Basting the chicken with soy sauce and olive oil before roasting gives it a deeper flavor, and refrigerating the chicken with its drippings keeps it very moist and makes it easy to cut cleanly.  Or, if you don't have the time, just buy a roasted chicken breast at the store.

I found some beautiful Bing and Rainier cherries at the farmers market, but of course you could use all Bing cherries if you can't find the more unusual Rainiers.  And you can either buy a watermelon and cut it up yourself, or buy a container of pre-cut watermelon from the produce department.

Regarding the feta cheese - I used to buy the little tubs of feta crumbles and thought they were OK until I finally bought a high-quality feta from France and realized how much better a really good feta tastes.  It's creamier, less salty, and has far better flavor. If you talk to your cheese person they can steer you toward a milder or stronger-flavored feta.  This time my cheese guy told me their highest-quality feta was from Greece so that's what I bought.  Yes, it costs more than the tubs of crumbles but not by much, and you can freeze what you don't use so it doesn't go to waste.  It's SO much better, I'll never go back.

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Red-on-Red Chicken Salad
Serves 4

Note:  the chicken needs to be roasted at least an hour in advance (or day before serving).  The vinegar mixture needs to be reduced at least 15 minutes in advance to cool.

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
6 cups seedless watermelon cut into bite-sized cubes
3 cups pitted and halved fresh cherries (or halved strawberries)
¼ red onion, very thinly sliced
6-8 cups baby spinach or arugula/baby spinach mix
½ cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
½ cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 450d and line a baking pan with foil.  Place the chicken breasts in the pan, and brush both sides with soy sauce and olive oil.  Sprinkle both sides with pepper.  Roast to an internal temperature of 160 degrees (165 degrees after resting a few minutes), about 20 minutes.  Cool completely in the pan, then place the chicken breasts and pan drippings in a sealable plastic bag.  Shake the bag to coat the chicken breasts with drippings, then place in the refrigerator for an hour or two.

In a small saucepan combine vinegar and honey.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat for 7 to 8 minutes until reduced by half, stirring frequently.  Cool.  (If the cooled mixture is too thick, it may be thinned with a little additional vinegar.)

Combine the watermelon, cherries, and red onion in a bowl.  Divide the spinach among 4 plates; top with the fruit mixture, basil, and crumbled feta.  Thinly slice the chicken breasts and divide among the salads.  Sprinkle with pecans and drizzle with the vinegar mixture.  Serve immediately.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Crab Fried Rice

Last Year's Post: Edamame Spread
Two Years Ago:  Sausage Sliders with Broccoli Rabe Pesto

There are usually several drawbacks to crab fried rice that you'll find in a restaurant: it contains large amounts of oil and sodium, but very little crab (and what's there is usually claw meat rather than lump crab).  Making your own solves all three, plus you can bump up the nutritional value by adding lots of veggies.  I like LOTS of crab so I did some investigating to discover where to buy the best crab without breaking the bank.  Outside of buying, cooking and shelling crabs yourself, I found the best source to be Costco.  They carry 1 pound tubs of lump crab for around $18, which is an excellent price compared to the smaller cans of crab most grocery stores carry.  (You can find the crab near the meat and deli area at Costco typically.  Not by the tires, underwear, or swing sets.  I love Costco.) It's worth it to check your local sources, especially if you have a good seafood market.  The crab makes all the difference.

Be aware that the rice needs to be cooked and refrigerated for at least several hours, so plan ahead or buy some at the Asian takeout counter in your grocery store.  The ingredient list may look a little long, but after you prep the ingredients it takes all of 10 minutes to stir-fry.  Prepping will take about 20 minutes.  The asparagus can be blanched while you're chopping (multi-tasking is a wonderful thing), and as you finish prepping each ingredient place it in its own little bowl so when you actually start cooking all you have to do is toss things into the pan.

This recipe calls for low-sodium soy sauce, so be sure to taste the rice right before serving to see if it needs a little more salt.  Or, let everyone season to their taste at the table.  And it only calls for a small amount of vegetable oil.  Control the sodium and fat, and bump up the veggies and crab for a better crab fried rice than you could get in any restaurant.

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Crab Fried Rice
Serves 4

Note: the rice should be cooked and refrigerated for several hours or overnight, so plan ahead.

1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
Pinch ground white pepper
Pinch granulated sugar
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 cup asparagus tips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large eggs
¼ small white onion, finely chopped
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over for shells
1 clove of garlic, minced
5 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced and divided
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 jalapeno, stemmed and seeds removed, minced
2 radishes, chopped
½ medium cucumber, thinly sliced into rounds
1 medium tomato--cored, halved and thinly sliced 

Bring 1 ¾ cups of water to a boil in a saucepan, then add the rice and stir.  Cover, turn heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Set aside to cool, then refrigerate covered for several hours or overnight.

Combine the pepper, sugar and soy sauce in a small bowl.  Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil and drop in the asparagus tips.  Cook 2-3 minutes (depending on size) until crisp-tender, then immediately drop into a bowl of ice water to shock.  Drain and set aside. 

At this point you’re ready to start stir-frying, so be sure all ingredients are prepped and ready in small bowls because the process moves fast. Remove the rice from the refrigerator and fluff with a fork to separate any clumps before starting.

In a medium nonstick skillet or wok set over medium-high heat, add the oil and heat until shimmering, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs to the skillet and stir constantly to scramble the eggs, cooking until the egg whites are set, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the cooked rice, sauce mixture, and garlic and stir to combine. Add half of the scallions, peas, asparagus tips, jalapeno, radishes and crab.  Cook, tossing frequently for about 3 minutes, until the rice and crab are heated through and the sauce is incorporated.  Season to taste with salt and additional pepper.

Divide the fried rice between serving bowls and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of scallions. Serve the fried rice alongside the sliced cucumbers and tomatoes.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Melon Ribbon Bowls

Last Year's Post: Pan-Seared Tuna with Capers and Red Wine Sauce
Two Years Ago:  Orzo and Radicchio Salad

This is so simple I really can't call it a recipe - it's more an assembly technique.  I ran across a picture of the melon ribbons in a magazine and immediately loved the idea as a very pretty breakfast, brunch, or healthy dessert.  The whole concept revolves around an innovative technique for thin-slicing the melon to make ribbons.  Other than that, you're really just making a yogurt parfait.  The original recipe called for making an orange anise syrup, but I think that's overkill.  If you really want a little sweetness, just add a drizzle of honey.

To make melon ribbons, you cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeds, then cut it into quarters.  Carefully separate the flesh from the rind, then use a mandoline, vegetable peeler, or sharp knife to cut ribbons.  After that it's just assembly.  I was having so much fun with the process that I entirely forgot the mint garnish, but I think it still came out great and it was very delicious to eat.  Serve with forks, not spoons.

Melon Ribbon Bowls
Serves 4

The melon ribbons make a great breakfast, brunch, or healthy dessert.

1 ripe cantaloupe or honeydew melon (or a combination)
Vanilla Greek yogurt
Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, or a combination
Honey (optional)
Sliced almonds for garnish (optional)
Mint sprigs for garnish (optional)

Cut the melon in half and remove the seeds.  Cut each half again to make quarters, then carefully slice away the flesh from each quarter in one whole piece.  Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, make thin melon slices.

Divide the melon slices among four bowls, then top with yogurt, a sprinkle of granola, and a few berries.  Optional garnishes include a drizzle of honey, some sliced almonds, or mint sprigs.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Chicken with Shallots

Last Year's Post: Flax Seed Crackers
Two Years Ago:   Venetian Shrimp and Scallops

This recipe originated with Martha Stewart, then Andrew Zimmern's wife adapted it and he posted it on Twitter.  (If you're not familiar with Andrew Zimmern, he has a bizarre foods TV show where he eats a lot of bugs.)  Any way, his post was:  “Brown 8 thighs, 3 C shallots. Add wine, tarragon, Dijon, sim 30 min covered. Remove lid, reduce. Add 2C cut cherry toms.”   Succinct, but a little lacking in a few details.  The New York Times Cooking team picked it up and added a few more instructions, which is where I found it and adapted it slightly yet again.  It's kind of like starting a story to see if it bears any resemblance at all by the time it gets back to you.

Anyway, this is a very easy recipe to make because it only takes one pan and minimal prep.  Twelve to fifteen whole shallots may seem like a lot, but shallots have a delicate onion flavor to start and then they get caramelized which softens the flavor even more.  Wine, Dijon mustard and tarragon add richness and the relatively low and slow cooking time results in very tender chicken that's not dry.  I served it over wide pasta ribbons but it would be equally good with rice or bread to soak up the sauce.  Speaking of the sauce, I was surprised by how light it actually was.  For some reason I was expecting something like a cream sauce even though there's no cream (go figure) but it's much lighter than that.  This recipe reminds me somewhat of a French chicken dish that I previously posted called Chicken Gaston Gerard that has a Dijon sauce containing cream and cheese, so that might be where I got it.  This is a lighter version that that but it still tastes very French.

I eventually looked up the original Martha Stewart recipe just out of curiosity.  Her version had garlic, less wine, and more water in the sauce.  Next time I may add garlic but more wine is better in my opinion.  :-)

Chicken with Shallots
Serves 4

6 boneless skinless chicken thighs, rinsed and trimmed of excess fat
2 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 – 15 whole medium shallots, peeled
2 cups white wine
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half

Sprinkle the chicken thighs with flour, salt and pepper on both sides.  Melt the butter in a large skillet or pot over medium heat.  Add the chicken (in batches if necessary) and cook until browned on both sides (do not cook through).  Set aside.

Add the whole shallots to the same skillet and sauté until they begin to soften and caramelize, about 10-12 minutes.  Add the wine and deglaze with a large spoon, then add the mustard and tarragon.  Stir, then add the chicken thighs.  Cover, turn to low heat and simmer 30 minutes.

Remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce and thicken for 15 to 20 minutes, adding the cherry tomatoes in the last 5-10 minutes so they begin to soften.

Serve immediately with rice, pasta, or bread to soak up the sauce.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Toasted Couscous Salad

Last Year's Post:  Coconut Lime Grilled Shrimp with Pineapple Rice
Two Years Ago:    Jewels of Spring

This is a delicious salad that could be either a great side for grilled meats, a stand-alone vegetarian entree, or a more substantial main-dish salad with the addition of some cooked turkey, chicken or shrimp.  The original recipe that came from Giada de Laurentiis called for cooking the couscous first, then frying it in olive oil.  I like the idea of adding some toastiness to the couscous, but frying?  Seriously, I doubt Giada eats anything fried because she looks like she weighs about 90 pounds sopping wet.  I modified the recipe to toast the couscous in a dry skillet before cooking it and was very happy with the result.  It's probably not quite as crunchy as fried couscous, but I just can't imagine all that oil in a nice healthy salad.  Just be careful when you're toasting the dry couscous, because it can go from toasted to burned in about 2 seconds.  Don't take your eyes off it, and stir almost continuously until it's a nice medium golden brown.

In addition to the toasted couscous, the salad contains sun-dried tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and ricotta salata (or feta) cheese.  Ricotta salata is basically the Italian version of feta - a firm, mild and salty cheese.  Ricotta salata can be hard to find, so a block of feta is an easy substitute.  This is a nice refreshing salad on its own, but you could also add nuts, olives, or anything else you want.

You can use dry or oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, whichever you prefer.  I tried working with the dry version but I find them a little too chewy for my preference, so I use oil-packed.  If you use oil-packed tomatoes,  don't throw away the oil!  It's full of flavor and can be used for vinaigrettes, cooking eggs, drizzled on sandwiches, making paella, or any manner of other dishes.  For this recipe, I used half and half regular olive oil and sun-dried tomato oil for the vinaigrette to give a little more tomato flavor without it becoming overwhelming.

This is a good salad for serving outdoors because it doesn't contain anything like mayonnaise that could spoil.  Think about it for your next grilling party or picnic.

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Toasted Couscous Salad
Serves 4-6

1 ¼ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 ¼ cups couscous
4 ounces feta or ricotta salata cheese, cut into ½” pieces
½ English cucumber, seeds removed and cut into ½” pieces
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
¼ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (may substitute half from jar of oil-packed tomatoes)
Zest and juice of ½ large lemon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

In a non-stick skillet, toast the couscous 3-5 minutes until browned, watching very closely and stirring almost constantly to avoid burning the couscous.  Add the broth and stir, cook one minute, cover and place off the heat for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, place the couscous in a medium bowl and add the Parmesan, toss to combine.  Let cool.

While the couscous is cooling, make the vinaigrette by whisking together all the ingredients.

When the couscous is cooled, and the feta or ricotta salata, cucumber, tomatoes, and fresh basil.  Pour the vinaigrette over and toss to combine everything.