Saturday, March 28, 2015


Last Year's Post: Lentil Salad with Bacon and Walnuts
Two Years Ago:  Asian Roast Pork with Broccoli Slaw and Pasta

I have to thank my friend Rita as the inspiration for this particular post.  She brought some appetizers to our house a while back that used Greek yogurt cream cheese, which I hadn't heard of previously.  It was very good and I liked the idea of the product (healthier than cream cheese) so I looked for it in the store.  There are at least two different brands out there and both seem to be a blend of Greek yogurt with cream cheese.  They have the texture of cream cheese but not quite the richness, plus an added tang from the yogurt.

OK, fast forward a few weeks when I stumbled across an article on ways to use yogurt, including making labneh.  Labneh?  Labneh is a cheese made from straining the liquid out of yogurt, popular in the Middle East and Central Asia.  It sounded like the yogurt cream cheese except even better because it doesn't contain cream cheese, so of course I had to try it.

We all know how healthy yogurt is, but what I didn't know is that strained yogurt has a higher protein content and lower sugar/carbohydrate content than regular yogurt. In addition to Labneh, Greek yogurt is also a strained yogurt  unless the label reads "Greek-style" in which case it may be thickened with thickening agents rather than by straining.

The process for making Labneh couldn't be simpler - combine yogurt with a tiny bit of salt, enclose in cheesecloth, and suspend over a bowl in the refrigerator for 24 hours to allow the liquid to drip out and the cheese to thicken.  How thick you want it is entirely up to you - the longer it sits, the thicker it gets.  (If you have a fine mesh strain that hooks over a bowl, you could line it with cheesecloth and use it instead of the wooden spoon trick to suspend the yogurt.)

The result is wonderful - a cream cheese substitute that's actually good for you and delicious at the same time - a total win/win in my book. If you put it in cute little glass jars it makes a great hostess gift.  Here are some ideas for how to use Labneh that you could print on a card to go with the jar:

  • Open-faced sandwich with thin toasted bread, labneh, sliced radishes, sea salt.
  • Add a bit of brown sugar and some chopped walnuts to labneh, and use to fill pitted dates.
  • Stuff peppadews or hollowed-out cherry tomatoes with labneh, garnish with small basil leaf. 
  • Place labneh in a shallow bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with za’atar seasoning, serve with toasted pita wedges.
  • Serve a dollop on top of quiche or frittata.
  • Bagels!
  • Slice of rye toast, layer of labneh, layer of fig jam.
  • Spoon a dollop on stew, chili or lentil soup.
  • Breakfast granola bowl with labneh, granola, fruit, a drizzle of honey.

printable recipe
Makes about 2 cups

Note:  Full-fat yogurt really is better to give the cheese richness.  Don’t substitute low-fat or non-fat.
32 ounces plain full-fat yogurt
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

 Line a deep bowl with a triple layer of cheesecloth.  Stir the salt into the yogurt and spoon into the cheesecloth.  Gather the top of the cloth together and tie with a string.  Tie the neck of the bundle to a wooden spoon that’s long enough to set across the top of the bowl. Use the spoon to hang the bundle over the bowl making sure the bottom of the cheesecloth is suspended a couple of inches above the bottom of the bowl.  Cover the whole thing with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.  Check to see if you like the consistency of the cheese – if you want it even thicker you can refrigerate it longer,  it’s all a matter of preference.

Remove the cheese from the cloth and store in glass or plastic containers in the refrigerator.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Citizen Public House Chopped Salad

Last Year's Post:  Filipino Chicken Adobo
Two Years Ago:   Egg Gratin

Citizen Public House is a very popular Phoenix restaurant, and this is by far the most popular dish on their menu.  It's so popular that when they opened a second restaurant concept they had to offer it at there as well.  The salad even has its own Facebook page: .  And the owner has been interviewed on television while making the salad.  So, that was enough for me!  We made it for a recent girls' getaway weekend and all four of us loved it, even Michelle who claims she's never had salmon before. (I mean, really.)

I was slightly skeptical because the combination of ingredients is pretty unusual, especially the "trail mix" of aged Asiago cheese, toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and currants.  Not to mention the freeze-dried corn, which turns out to be very light and crunchy sort of like popcorn. You'll find it in bags in the produce section of upscale grocery stores, and I think Whole Foods carries it as well.  Don't be tempted to leave it out because it's important to the overall mix of flavors and textures.

Speaking of the overall mix, there's a lot going on in this salad but magically it somehow all comes together really well.  Creamy, crunchy, sweet, smoky, bitter, herbal - it's got it all.  If you're not a fan of salmon, try it anyway - it doesn't overwhelm the other ingredients and it does add a nice smokiness.  The chef who created it said he doesn't even usually like salmon but does like it in this salad.  Use hot-smoked salmon, not cold-smoked.  What's the difference?  Hot-smoked salmon is darker on top from the smoke, and is flaky.  Cold-smoked salmon is light in color, soft in texture, and typically sliced into very thin slices much like lox.

Although there are a number of ingredients, you only have to cook the couscous and make the dressing in the blender.  After that, it's just shredding cheese, chopping veggies, and assembling everything.  It's actually very easy.

My suggestion is to cook the couscous in advance so it has time to cool.  It keeps well in the refrigerator covered.  I don't suggest making the dressing in advance because I discovered it thickens when stored in the refrigerator.  If you really need to make it an hour or so early, be sure to stir it well after removing it from the refrigerator and thin if necessary with a little water or additional lemon juice.

This is definitely a company-worthy salad both in terms of presentation and taste, but easy enough to make for your family.  And healthy!

Note:  I slightly adapted the original recipe because it didn't state the number of servings, and to make it a little more clear.  Otherwise it's identical.  Because it's a restaurant recipe, the servings are quite generous.  If desired, you could cut down the amounts of each ingredient a little to make smaller servings.

Citizen Public House Chopped Salad
Serves 4 generously

1 ½ cups mayo
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 ½ Tbsp. Pecorino Romano cheese
Juice of 1 large lemon
18 basil leaves
1 ½ tsp. minced garlic

Trail mix:
1 cup black currants
1 cup toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
¾ cup ground aged Asiago cheese

Tomato mix:
2 cups chopped Roma tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
 2 tablespoons olive oil
Four large basil leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups smoked salmon, flaked
2 ½ cups freeze-dried corn
2 ½ cups chopped arugula
2 ½ cups cooked Israeli (pearl) couscous

 Combine all dressing ingredients thoroughly in blender and set aside. Toss all trail mix ingredients together in one bowl, and all tomato mix ingredients in a second bowl.  To assemble the salads, divide ingredients evenly between four plates and assemble in strips in the following order: salmon, couscous, arugula, trail mix, corn, and tomato mix.  Serve with dressing on the side or drizzled over the top.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lemon Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl

Last Year's Post: Sausage Rolls with Mustard Cheese Dipping Sauce
Two Years Ago:  Hibachi Shrimp, Chicken or Beef

Chinese takeout has the benefits of being fast, easy and good-tasting.  It also has the downsides of fat, calories, high sodium and potential additives such as MSG.  Making your own takeout has the benefit of being healthy at the same time as delicious, and you can control exactly what does or doesn't go into it.

This recipe tastes much like a popular dish from a chain restaurant, but it uses lower-sodium soy sauce, high-fiber brown rice, a light hand with the sauce and lots of veggies to amp up the healthy quotient.  Starting from scratch it takes a little under an hour to prepare, mostly because brown rice needs to cook for 45 minutes.  If you're going to be pressed for time, cook the rice in advance and just reheat it - then it will take 15-20 minutes to prepare the remaining ingredients.

As always, feel free to substitute any vegetable or combination of vegetables that you like for the broccolini - green beans, asparagus, carrots, edamame, pea pods or kale would all work well and add good nutrition.  Just throw them in boiling water briefly until crisp-tender (well, edamame never get crisp-tender but you get the idea).


Another secret is to use chicken cutlets instead of chicken breasts in this or any other recipe that calls for them.  Like everything else, chickens have grown in size to the point that it's very difficult to find anything other than very large chicken breasts which are too big for a reasonable individual serving.  Cutting them in half horizontally to make two thinner chicken cutlets does several good things - it cuts the calories in half, it shortens cooking time, and it stretches your shopping dollar.  Best of all, no one will know and they'll still be completely satisfied.  I used one chicken breast and cut it in half to serve two people; you can't tell from the pictures or the serving size, can you?  P.S. Chicken cutlets can be purchased at the store, but they're more expensive per pound than chicken breasts.  Buy the chicken breasts and cut them yourself.

Lemon Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl
Serves 4

1 cup brown rice, uncooked
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
½ teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 teaspoons mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
12 ounces broccolini, cut into 2” pieces
4 lemon wedges, for garnish
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
Extra soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 400d.

Cook the brown rice according to package directions.  While the rice is cooking, prepare the sauce and cook the chicken and broccolini.  To prepare the sauce, combine the soy sauce and cornstarch in a small saucepan, stirring with a whisk.  Add the dark brown sugar, mirin and lemon juice; bring to a boil.  Cook 1 minute or until thickened.  Set aside.

Cut each chicken breast into two thin cutlets to make four total.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Heat a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat, then add the canola oil to the pan and swirl to coat.  Add the chicken to the pan and cook 4 minutes, until golden on the bottom.  Flip the chicken and drizzle 1 tablespoon of the sauce mixture on top.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 4-5 minutes until done.  Place the chicken on a cutting board and let stand 5 minutes.  Cut chicken into slices.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil; add the broccolini and cook for 3 minutes.  Drain.

To assemble, divide the rice between four bowls, top with the broccolini and chicken pieces.  Drizzle with the remaining sauce.  Garnish with lemon wedges and toasted sesame seeds.

Serve, passing soy sauce on the side for those who might want extra.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Mushroom & Pea Risotto

Last Year's Post: Chicken Parmesan with Oven-Roasted Tomato Sauce
Two Years Ago:  Orange Pecan Salmon with Three Pea Salad

As a former food company marketer, I have a pet peeve about recipes looking the way they should if you followed the recipe exactly - not prettied up just for publication.  I was attracted to the picture of this recipe, which looked much like the one above but it didn't match the recipe.  As written, the mushrooms were supposed to be cooked in the risotto and the peas stirred in at the end, which would definitely not showcase either ingredient on top of the rice.  So I re-wrote the recipe to match the image and was happy with the results - particularly with the nutty, caramelized cremini mushrooms.  This is a very satisfying dish although it's vegetarian, but you could always add cooked chicken or Italian sausage if you prefer.  It has a light, springtime feel with the peas and chives that could be accented even further if you wanted to add some asparagus.  And it's a one-pot meal, even better.

Stirring risotto does take some time, but I find it oddly soothing especially if you've had a hard day.  And it only takes about 30 minutes to stir, which isn't bad.  Start by cleaning and trimming the mushrooms, then cut them into wedges through the stem - four, six or eight wedges, depending on the size of the mushroom, to end up with pieces that are roughly even in size.

The mushrooms are cooked first to achieve the nutty brown caramelization - they give up their water and shrink considerably during the process.  Don't be tempted to stir continuously, just let them brown before turning over to brown on the other side.

After the mushrooms are browned, they're removed and you start adding layers of flavor to the risotto with shallot, garlic, wine, rice, chicken broth and Gruyere cheese.  Some of the peas get stirred in at the end, and some go on top with the mushrooms and chives.  Easy, light and delicious for (almost) spring.

print recipe
Mushroom & Pea Risotto
Serves 2

8 oz cremini mushrooms, cleaned and stems trimmed
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if necessary
1 large shallot, minced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 qt chicken stock
¾ cup Arborio rice
¼ cup white wine
¾ cup frozen peas, thawed
½ cup grated Gruyere cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives, for garnish

Cutting the mushrooms into wedges through the stem (like a pie), cut small ones into four pieces, medium into six pieces, and large mushrooms into 8 pieces so all pieces are roughly the same size. At the same time, heat the chicken stock in a saucepan to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to maintain a simmer.

In a large sauté pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and sauté on the first side without stirring until browned, about 4-5 minutes, then turn and sauté on a second side until browned, another 4 minutes or so.  Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside.  Turn the heat down to medium and add shallots and garlic to the same pan, adding a small amount of more olive oil if the pan seems dry, and sauté for 3 minutes.  Add the rice and let toast for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the wine and stir well. Cook until the wine is absorbed and the pan is almost dry, about 2 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low.  Add one large ladle (about 1 cup) of the simmering chicken stock to the rice and stir continuously until the broth is absorbed and the pan is almost dry.  Add another ladle of stock and continue stirring until almost dry once more.  Continue the process until all the stock is absorbed and the risotto is creamy, about 25-35 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

Add half of the peas and the grated Gruyere to the risotto and stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve on two individual plates or in shallow bowls, then top with the remaining peas, the mushrooms, and chives for garnish.  Serve immediately.