Friday, January 29, 2016

Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken with Asparagus Pesto Sauce

Last Year's Post: Hand Blended Loose Leaf Chai Tea
Two Years Ago:  Coq au Vin

Life as a food blogger has its ups and downs.  The downside happens when a recipe doesn't come out as you hoped, or it was a ton of work, or it tastes good but doesn't look like much.  But then there's the upside when a recipe is even more delicious than you thought, it's easy to make and beautiful to boot.  Happily, this is one of those because I had a spectacular (and expensive) halibut failure last week and was feeling rather traumatized but now I'm all better.  :-)

It's so spectacular, in fact, that I would suggest it for a special occasion dinner like a birthday, anniversary or Valentine's day - it's that good.  And it's fast enough to make on a weeknight - all you have to do it steam some asparagus, cook some pasta or rice to go with the dish, then cook the chicken and add the sauce at the end.  I was tempted to leave out the cream but after tasting it I wouldn't - it adds flavor and creaminess (duh) and it's only a 1/4 cup for four servings.

The recipe was so easy that I couldn't even think of all that many pictures to take of the process.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken with Asparagus Pesto Sauce
Serves 4

6-8 ounces asparagus, tough ends snapped off, cut into 1” pieces
¼ cup flour
4 chicken cutlets (or 2 large chicken breasts, cut in half horizontally to make 4 cutlets)
4 slices prosciutto
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup pesto
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup chicken broth
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish (optional)
Hot cooked pasta, rice or mashed potatoes for serving

Steam the asparagus pieces for 4-5 minutes (depending on the size of the spears this may need to be adjusted up or down) until crisp-tender, then run under cold water or shock in an ice bath to stop cooking.  Drain and set aside.

Put the flour in a shallow plate.  Pat the chicken cutlets dry, then season with pepper on both sides.  Lightly dredge both sides in flour and shake off the excess.  Wrap a piece of prosciutto around each cutlet and set aside.

Mix the pesto, cream and chicken broth together in a small bowl.  Set aside.

When ready to start cooking, heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken cutlets and cook for five minutes or until the cutlets release easily without sticking and are golden brown.  Lower the heat to medium, turn the cutlets over and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes until golden and cooked through.

Lower the heat to low and add the pesto sauce.  Simmer very gently for 1-2 minutes until the sauce thickens slightly, then add the asparagus.  Simmer for another minute to heat the asparagus through, then taste and adjust seasonings (remember the prosciutto is salty so go easy on salt in the sauce).

Place the cutlets with the asparagus pesto sauce over hot pasta, rice or potatoes.  Garnish with optional basil leaves and serve immediately.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sesame Salmon en Papillote

Last Year's Post:  Eggplant and Rice Parmigiana
Two Years Ago:   Lobster and Shrimp Gratin

Cooking something "en papillote" (pronounced en pa-pee-oh) is French for cooking "in parchment" - basically cooking in a paper pouch to seal in moisture.  It's a great way to cook delicate fish because it seals in the moisture so the fish doesn't dry out, and at the same time it becomes infused with the flavors of the sauce.  I've previously posted recipes for swordfish en papillote (with an Italian twist) and sea bass en papillote (with a Mediterranean theme) so I thought this Asian salmon would be a good complement.   

It's not only flavorful, it's a very healthy dinner as well.  I modified a recipe that I found online to include spinach for nutrition and color, mushrooms for flavor, and sesame seeds for crunch and because they look great.  A mix of white and black seeds is especially attractive - you can find black sesame seeds at Asian markets and at Penzeys - but all white seeds would work also.  Tip: you can usually find a large container of toasted white sesame seeds in the Asian section of your grocery store for much less than a small bottle in the spice aisle.

The recipe is really easy once you get the parchment paper technique down.  Basically you just take a big piece of paper, fold it in half, and cut it in a folded semi-circle with one end slightly more pointy than the other.  Open it up, pile the ingredients on one side of the fold, and close the other side over the top.  Then you start make tight little overlapping folds to ensure the packet is sealed.  Or, you could just use aluminum foil and crimp the edges which is easier, but not as traditional or pretty.  If you plan to serve the packets at the table, parchment is definitely the way to go.

Sometime I remove the contents from the packets before serving, depending on my mood and the contents of the packet.  If there's going to be a lot of cutting involved it tends to be easier to take them out of the paper although it's less dramatic and fun.   Either way, it's a fast, easy and delicious meal that's very healthy.

Sesame Salmon en Papillote
Serves 4

For the sauce:
Zest of ½ orange
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon peeled minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey

10-12 leaves baby spinach per packet, about ½ bag of baby spinach
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
7 ounces shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and thinly sliced
4 (6 ounce) salmon fillets, skinned
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup toasted white or black sesame seeds, or a mix
1/3 cup green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Parchment paper (or aluminum foil)

Preheat oven to 425d.

Combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until blended; set aside.

Cut 4 large (approximately 16” by 12”) sheets of parchment paper.  (If you don’t have parchment paper, foil works just as well but definitely transfer the contents out of the foil before serving.) Fold each sheet in half. Place the fold on the bottom edge nearest you. Starting at the right side, cut a large semi-circle with the fold as the spine and one end more pointed then the other.  Open the paper and place ¼ of the spinach leaves, red bell pepper and shiitake mushrooms in a pile on one side, near the fold.  Moisten with one tablespoon of the sauce.  Place a salmon fillet on top; season with black pepper and additional tablespoon of marinade.  Sprinkle the top of the salmon with sesame seeds.

Fold the other half of the paper over the fish. Starting at the flatter end of the semicircle (not the pointy end), fold 1-2 inches of the edge inwards. Work your way around the circle making a series of tight, overlapping folds to enclose the fish. When you reach the pointy edge, fold the last pleat several times and wrap it under the pouch.  Repeat with the other three packets.

Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake for 11-12 minutes, depending on thickness.

Transfer the packets to plates and cut open.  Garnish with green onions prior to serving.  Alternatively, transfer the package contents to a plate and garnish prior to serving.  Serve any remaining sauce on the side.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Shrimp and Bacon Ramen

Last Year's Post:  Chicken Pho
Two Years Ago:   Italian Sausage Soup

I love ramen noodles because I love all things pasta, but ramen has the additional benefit of all those fun curls.  Plus, it's cheap, easy to cook, and a perfect blank canvas for nearly any sauce and ingredients.  This particular recipe is sort of an American-Asian mashup of ingredients much like you'd find at a good food truck - good old American bacon pairs up with the typical Asian flavors of soy sauce, sesame oil, shiitake mushrooms, red bell pepper and shrimp for an absolutely delicious result.  Of course, if you want to make it a little lighter you could leave out the bacon but it really added that little extra something.  I adapted it from a recipe that called for a lot of special Asian ingredients and substituted readily-available ingredients instead.

I love my serrated grater for making the thinnest carrot strips, but if you don't have one (hint:  Bed, Bath and Beyond) just cut them as thin as you can.  The benefit to having long thin strips is that after they're briefly sauteed they soften a little and start to mimic the noodles in shape and twirl-ability.

Start by doing all your prep, of course, including the shrimp - peel and devein them, take off the tail shells, then cut them through the back all the way down to (but not through) the tail to butterfly them open.  That does two things:  it allows them to cook faster and more evenly, plus they curl into the coolest shapes as they cook.  Very fancy.

When everything is ready, cook the bacon while you're cooking the ramen noodles.  Use half the bacon fat to cook the shrimp and vegetables, then use the other half to briefly fry the noodles to make them a little crispy.  Toss everything with the sauce until it's absorbed, and you're done - very fast and easy.  And again, if you don't want to include the bacon, just use a little peanut oil instead.  You could also skip the step of frying the noodles to cut down on fat and calories - the noodles will just be a little softer.

I would put this up against your favorite food truck food any day, plus you get to eat it piping hot at home whenever you want.

print recipe
Shrimp and Bacon Ramen
Serves 4

For the sauce:
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil

For the ramen:
4 (3 ounce) packages ramen noodles
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
4 strips of bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
12-14 ounces large shrimp (about 4 per person), peeled and deveined, tails removed
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks (or julienned)
1 tablespoon peanut or olive oil
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed, and sliced
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish, optional

For the sauce, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Cut each shrimp in half lengthwise almost to the tail end (but not cut in half completely). 

For the noodles:  bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook the noodles until just barely cooked according to package directions (they will cook more later).  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Using a kitchen shears, cut the noodles into approximately 8-inch lengths.  Toss with 1 teaspoon sesame oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.

Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp and brown, then transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.  Remove and reserve half of the bacon drippings in a small bowl for later.  Re-heat the remaining bacon drippings over medium heat, then add the shrimp to the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Sauté, turning occasionally, until the shrimp are curled and cooked through, about 4 minutes.  Remove to a plate.

Add a tablespoon of oil to the same pan and place over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the red pepper and carrots and sauté for additional minute or two, then add the green onions and sauté for 30 seconds.  Remove to a large bowl.

Add the remaining bacon fat to the pan and heat to medium-high.  Add the noodles and cook, stirring minimally, until the noodles are crispy and charred in places, about 3 minutes.

Add the noodles to the bowl with the mushrooms, green onions, red pepper, and carrots.  Add the sauce and toss again.  Divide among bowls, then top with shrimp and bacon.  Garnish with sesame seeds, optional.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Last Year's Post: Miso-Glazed Scallops with Quinoa and Grilled Pineapple
Two Years Ago:  Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Smoked Mozzarella

I remember disliking stuffed peppers as a kid - bland ground beef stuffed in a green pepper, then baked until the pepper was gray-green and mushy.  Bleh.  This is definitely not that recipe.  Quinoa is combined with kale, spices, pepitas and your choice of protein (spicy, mild, or vegetarian), then quickly baked to heat everything through.  The result is a crunchy , bright blend of flavors and the pepper is basically warmed through but still retains its own crunch.  It's served with an tomatillo avocado sauce for even more flavor, and I added some sour cream on the side because my protein of choice was Mexican chorizo and I needed a little something to tame the spice.  The whole thing is very healthy, delicious and colorful.

I prefer red quinoa's color and think it's slightly more crunchy than white quinoa, but you could certainly substitute white, or even farro or barley or rice.  After cooking the quinoa, you cook your protein - spicy Mexican chorizo, or mild ground turkey.  (If you used tofu of course you don't have to cook it.)  Add in some kale, the quinoa, and some pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds).  If you can't find pepitas, use toasted pine nuts.

While everything is cooking, the peppers are cut open and seeds removed.  I like this method of cutting them open on their side rather than from the top because they're less likely to tip over and they're easier to stuff.  Top the stuffed pepper with a little panko/Parmesan mix for crunch, then bake.

For the tomatillo avocado sauce, you start by roasting the tomatillos. Tomatillos look like little green tomatoes covered in paper - they should be firm to the touch with no soft spots.  Remove the outer papery layer and wash them because they're sticky.  After roasting, throw them with the rest of the ingredients in the blender and puree.

You could easily stuff the peppers and make the sauce in advance, then just bake right before serving so this makes a great weekday meal or a gift meal for someone special.

 print recipe
Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
Serves 4

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup red quinoa (or white quinoa)

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound lean ground turkey, Mexican chorizo, or diced tofu
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 clove minced garlic
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 cup white wine
2 large red bell peppers
2 large green or yellow bell peppers
2 cups lightly packed stemmed and julienned kale leaves
1/4 cup toasted pepitas (or pine nuts)
1 1/2 cups finely ground panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Roasted Tomatillo Avocado Sauce, recipe follows, for garnish
Fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, for garnish
Sour cream, for garnish (optional)

Roasted Tomatillo Avocado Sauce:
6 medium tomatillos (about 8 ounces), husked
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 jalapeno, coarsely chopped and seeds removed
1/2 sweet onion, like Maui or Vidalia, rough chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 handful fresh cilantro leaves

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

For the quinoa: Over medium-high heat, bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. As the broth is coming to boil, add the quinoa, then stir and cover. Reduce the heat to a simmer and steam the quinoa until the grains pop, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

For the peppers: Set a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and add the turkey or chorizo, crushed red pepper flakes and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until well browned, 5 to 7 minutes, while stirring with a wooden spoon and breaking up the pieces. Deglaze with the wine. While the turkey or chorizo is browning, rinse the peppers and pat dry. With the pepper lying down on its side, cut off the top and remove the seeds and membrane. Repeat for the remaining peppers. Leave the stem on the top for presentation. Set aside.

Once the meat is browned, shut off the heat and fold in the quinoa, kale and pepitas (add the tofu at this point, if using). Mix to incorporate all ingredients thoroughly. Check for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper if required.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the panko and Parmesan. Add a drizzle of olive oil to lightly moisten and season with salt and pepper. Set the peppers on a roasting tray cut-side up and stuff each with filling. Top each pepper with 1-2 tablespoons of panko-Parmesan topping. Cover loosely with foil, place in the center of the oven and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes remove the foil and turn on the broiler. Cook under the broiler to brown and crisp the panko breadcrumbs, 1 to 2 minutes, watching carefully so they don’t burn. Remove the peppers from the oven and allow to rest before serving.

Place 1/4 cup of Roasted Tomatillo Avocado Sauce on each plate and place the roasted, stuffed pepper halves in the middle of sauce. Garnish with parsley sprigs and an optional dollop of sour cream.

Roasted Tomatillo Avocado Sauce:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the tomatillos onto a baking sheet. Toss the tomatillos with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and place into the oven. Roast until nicely charred, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Combine the tomatillos, 1/4 cup water, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, avocado, garlic, jalapenos, onions, lime juice and cilantro in a blender and puree until completely smooth. Place in the refrigerator and allow the sauce to settle before serving, so it is smooth.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Chicken and Wild Rice

Last Year's Post:  Korean Seafood Pancakes
Two Years Ago:   Smashed Potatoes

I was watching a cooking show the other day where the star was making a casserole with what she claimed was wild rice.  It was actually a rice blend that was probably 90% white rice with a few grains of wild rice sprinkled in.  If you're from the Upper Midwest as I am where wild rice is hallowed, this is unforgivable.  When we talk about wild rice, we mean 100% wild rice.  It got me thinking nostalgically about Byerlys, the best grocery store in the world, and all their great wild rice recipes (they also have a cooking school, a catering function, gift shops, and the. grocery. stores.) Plus, they have every gourmet ingredient you could ever imagine - kind of like Whole Foods but ten times bigger and better.  I miss Byerlys.

Anyway, it inspired me to look up their chicken and wild rice recipe, which I've had for probably 20 years at least.  One way I could tell it was relatively old (and from Minnesota, where ketsup is a spice) is that it called for canned mushroom soup and canned mushrooms but almost nothing in terms of seasoning.  I remember really liking the recipe but had a strong suspicion that if I made it today it would taste really bland.  

So, I fell down the recipe-remake rabbit hole and ended up changing almost everything. Chicken cutlets were substituted for chicken breasts to cut down on portion size and calories.  Kale and roasted red peppers were added for taste, nutrition and color. A healthy homemade sauce replaced the canned soup, and fresh wild mushrooms replaced the canned mushrooms.  Fresh thyme and garlic were added for seasoning, and toasted almonds for crunch.  Whew.

The wild rice can be cooked in advance.  (For that matter, you could prepare the whole thing in advance and just bake it on the night on the night you want it.)  After cooking the wild rice, the sauce is prepared starting with wilting the kale, then sauteing the mushrooms.

The sauce continues by making a roux with butter and flour, then adding the liquids slowly so it doesn't get lumpy.  The kale and red peppers are added, then some of the sauce is reserved before adding the wild rice and most of the almonds (save a few for garnish) to the remainder.

The wild rice goes in a prepared dish, topped with the chicken cutlets.  I had two small chicken cutlets and one large breast so I ended up cutting them into similar pieces which resulted in 6 smallish pieces total.

Top the chicken with the remaining sauce and cheese, then bake.

When you change a recipe that much you have to be prepared that it isn't going to be right the first time, but I was really happy with the results and wouldn't change a thing.  It was delicious and had great texture from the chewy wild rice and crunchy almonds.  Yes, it's more work than opening a few cans, but it tastes better and it's so much healthier.  You could use rotisserie chicken or leftover chicken, turkey or ham just as easily. Or as an alternative, you could saute the cutlets separately and place them on top of the plated wild rice so you can see the chicken better, but I like serving it this way...the Byerlys way.  Sigh.

Chicken and Wild Rice
Serves 4

2 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup wild rice
1/2 bunch of kale, leaves stripped off steams and chopped
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup 2% milk
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup dry sherry
¼ cup sour cream
½ cup chopped roasted red bell peppers
4 chicken cutlets or 2 chicken breasts cut in half horizontally
1/2 cup gruyere cheese, shredded (or parmesan, or a combination of both)
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Salt and pepper

Rinse and drain the wild rice.  Bring water or broth to boil in a medium saucepan.  Add the wild rice; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 35 minutes.  Check to determine if grains are swollen and most are split.  If not, check again every five minutes until done (typically 45-50 minutes).  Remove from heat, drain, and set aside to cool. (May be made a day or two in advance.  Keep covered and refrigerated.)

Spray a 9”x12” baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat a large saucepan over medium-­high heat. Add the kale and 1 cup of water to the skillet. Cover and cook for 10­ minutes, stirring occasionally, until the kale is wilted. Once the kale is wilted and most of the water has been absorbed, remove the kale and drain well.

Return the saucepan to medium heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the skillet is hot, add the mushrooms in a single layer. Let cook until browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes, then stir and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the butter to the skillet. Once the butter is melted reduce the heat and add the garlic, thyme and nutmeg and cook for about 10 seconds.

Combine the milk, broth and sherry in a measuring cup.  Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the broth combination a little at a time, stirring constantly to allow the flour to absorb the liquid before adding more (this prevents lumps).  Increase the heat and bring to a boil; cook stirring constantly for 2-­3 minutes until thickened. Add the sour cream and stir to combine, then add the kale and roasted red peppers. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove and reserve 1 ½ cups of sauce, then add the remaining sauce to the cooked wild rice. Pour the wild rice mixture into the prepared casserole dish.

Lay the chicken pieces on top of the rice mixture and cover with the remaining sauce.  Sprinkle the cheese on top and cover with foil.  Bake the casserole for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake or broil a few more minutes to lightly brown the top.