Friday, July 29, 2016

Chinese Chicken Salad

Last Year's Post: Grilled Salmon with Kale and Maple Mustard Vinaigrette
Two Years Ago:   Chocolate Honey Almond Tartlets

Pretty much everyone likes Chinese Chicken Salad, and there are a million recipes out there.  What makes this recipe a little unusual is the addition of kale and the red chile peanut dressing, courtesy of Chef Bobby Flay.  Don't be scared by the red chile part - there are only 2 teaspoons of chipotle pepper puree which gives a tiny bit of kick.  The dressing is actually quite delicate with a hint of peanut butter, and very good.

Those aren't red jalapenos, they're actually the little mini bell peppers that come in a bag.  But you could certainly add red jalapenos (also called Fresno peppers) for a little extra spice.

I personally like Chinese Chicken Salad with a small amount of pasta added, but it's up to you to add it or leave it out.  The salad requires quite a bit of prep between making the dressing and chopping all the ingredients, so if you want to do some of it ahead of time you could make the dressing and chop all the ingredients (except the herbs, they wilt fairly quickly).  Put the cabbage, kale, carrots, snow peas and green onions in a big bowl and place in the refrigerator, covered.  Shred the chicken and put it in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator. Leave the peanuts out on the counter. Then all you have to do at the last minute is cook the pasta, chop the herbs, toss the salad with the dressing, and serve.  The reason why I don't recommend cooking the spaghetti in advance is because it clumps together in a big ball if you leave it too long after draining.  If you really want to cook it in advance, add a teaspoon or so of oil to the spaghetti and toss it around to make sure everything is coated, then refrigerate.

Chinese Chicken Salad is a healthy and popular choice for a light dinner on a warm day.

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Chinese Chicken Salad with Red Chile Peanut Dressing
Serves 6

For the dressing:
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons chipotle pepper puree (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
½ cup canola oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:
½ large head Napa cabbage, shredded
7-8 leaves Tuscan kale, stripped off steams and thinly sliced into ribbons
2 carrots, coarsely shredded or julienned
¼ lb snow peas, trimmed and each cut into 3-4 pieces on a diagonal
½ red bell pepper, thinly sliced
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup thinly sliced green onion
4 ounces spaghetti, cooked, rinsed in cold water and drained
2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken or turkey
½ cup chopped roasted peanuts
¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves

Combine all dressing ingredients by whisking in a bowl or shaking in a jar.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Combine cabbage, kale, carrots, snow peas, red bell pepper, cilantro, green onion and spaghetti in a large bowl.  Add dressing gradually, tossing until everything is adequately coated to your liking (some dressing may be left over to pass at the table).

Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and top with the shredded chicken, peanuts, and mint.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Healthy White Bean Dip

Last Year's Post:  Chicken Quinoa Salad with Nectarine Vinaigrette
Two Years Ago:   Fresh Cherry Hand Pies

It's easy to buy a can of bean dip, but it's loaded with fat and preservatives.  This is a healthy alternative that's very quick to make and can be customized to your preference.  Serve with cut-up veggies and whole wheat crackers for a very healthy snack.

Cannellini beans are creamy and mild, perfect for a dip that everyone will like.  It's a nice change from hummus but with the same creamy consistency and protein.You can add more cilantro, garlic, or lemon to your preference, or substitute parsley for the cilantro for you cilantro-haters out there.    Sprinkle the top of the dip with paprika or your favorite spice blend for added flavor.

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Healthy White Bean Dip
Makes about 2 cups

1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (or equivalent cooked dried beans)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (not packed)
1 small clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ large lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except salt and pepper in a food processor and process until smooth.  If necessary, add a small amount of water until your desired consistency is reached.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Add more cilantro or lemon if desired.

May be made 2-3 days in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Coconut Chicken Fingers

Last Year's Post:Ravioli with Fresh Corn
Two Years Ago:  33 Recipes for Hot Summer Days

If you've ever enjoyed coconut shrimp, you'll like this recipe.  It's very easy to make - just cut up boneless skinless chicken breasts, bread them, brown them until golden, then bake until cooked through.  If you want to save calories and fat you could skip the browning step and just bake them for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through, but the pan browning step gives you a browner and crunchier coating.  Your choice.

Coconut shrimp (and chicken) are traditionally served with a dipping sauce that's both sweet and spicy.  The two most common versions are a spicy orange sauce (recipe below) and sweet chili sauce, which is a bottled sauce found in the Asian aisle of most grocery stores.  The sweet chili sauce is actually pretty mild right out of the bottle, but here's a secret that a chef once told me - if you warm it on the stove, it gets progressively hotter in terms of spice level so you can adjust it to your preference.  We chose the sweet chili sauce this time around because we already had a bottle open (and didn't want to open another jar of marmalade since The Lawyer already had three open in the refrigerator, which is another story entirely).  He like the chicken so much that at one point he asked "just where did you get this recipe?" which was pretty funny at least to me.  By the way, sweet chili sauce also makes an excellent dipping sauce for spring rolls or eggs rolls if you're wondering what to do with the rest of the bottle.

You could use unsweetened coconut if you prefer, but we liked the subtle sweetness from using sweetened coconut and felt it went well with the sweet and spicy sauce.  Again, it's your choice.  Isn't cooking great?

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Coconut Chicken Fingers
Serves 4

1 ½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts or cutlets
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
¾ cup Panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 eggs
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup sweet chili sauce (found in the Asian section of grocery stores)
-  or Spicy Honey Orange Sauce (below)

If using chicken breasts, pound to an even thickness.  Cut chicken breasts or cutlets lengthwise into several long strips.

Preheat oven to 400d and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Set aside.

Pulse the shredded coconut in a food processor to make smaller pieces.  Combine with Panko in a shallow bowl.  In a second shallow bowl, whisk the flour, salt and pepper together.  In a third shallow bowl, whisk the eggs.  Line the bowls up in order:  flour, then egg, then coconut/Panko mixture.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Coat each chicken strip in flour, shaking off excess.  Then, dip in egg and let excess drip off.  Finally, generously roll in the coconut mixture and place on a clean plate or baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces prior to putting any in the pan.

When all chicken pieces are ready, place them in the pan (may be done in batches if the pan isn’t large enough).  Fry until the first side is golden brown, about two minutes, then turn and fry until the second side is golden.  One each piece is done, place on the prepared baking sheet.

When all pieces are done, place the baking sheet in the oven for 6-10 minutes until chicken is completely baked through.  Serve with sweet chili sauce or Spice Honey Orange Sauce for dipping.

Note:  baked coconut chicken freezes well for 2-3 months.  Bake frozen chicken in a 350d oven for 20 minutes or until warmed through.

Spicy Honey Orange Sauce
½ cup orange preserves/marmalade
¼ cup honey
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
 Salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients and add salt to taste.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Spiced Carrot Soup (Hot or Cold)

Last Year's Post:  Baked Falafel
Two Years Ago:   Tomato, Watermelon and Basil Skewers

I knew that The Lawyer and I had gone over to the dark side when all we could talk about last week when we were on vacation (and stuffing ourselves with all manner of deliciousness) was coming home and making a healthy cold vegetable soup for dinner.  Say what?  I know, that's really sick.  It's kind of like every time I go to Las Vegas all I want to do when I get home is exercise and eat vegetables.  I guess it's good news that we actually start to crave healthy food while we're consuming the bad stuff, but still.

So why a cold soup in particular?  We've been trying to eat more vegetarian meals as part of a healthy diet, for starters.  One of my challenges to myself was to find more ways to accomplish that without having a salad every day for the rest of our lives.  Living in the Southwest where the temperatures are at or above 100 degrees for most of the summer, I decided to explore the world of cold soups.  When I lived in the Midwest cold soups never really appealed to me, but all of a sudden they make more sense.  And when you're trying to eat light and healthy or maybe lose a few pounds, soup makes a perfect dinner with some crusty bread on the side, hot or cold.

We all know carrots are really good for you, but what I particularly like about this recipe is that the Indian spices add depth and sharpness to what could otherwise be a pretty sweet flavor profile, and the seeds and radish add a nice crunch.  When I first tasted the hot soup there was a definite kick from the cayenne, but when it was cold the heat was much less.   My recommendation would be to make it as written and then taste and adjust the heat level to your own liking.  If it's too spicy, add a dollop of plain yogurt to tone it down when you serve it.  Or if you want more heat, add a little minced jalapeno to the seed topping.

Nobody needs heavy food in the summer.  This is a perfect light, delicious and nutritious meal for the hottest summer nights.

Update:  we had leftover soup for lunch the next day and experimented with sprinkling it with za'atar spice blend instead of the seeds to give it a smoky Middle Eastern profile rather than Indian spices.  Success!  I think it would be good with any spice or seed blend of your preference - BBQ, southwestern, Middle Eastern, whatever.  Have fun and experiment.

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Spiced Carrot Soup (Hot or Cold)
Serves 4-6

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon turmeric
½ teaspoon toasted and ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 pounds young carrots, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 radishes, minced (for garnish)
Cilantro leaves (for garnish)
Lime wedges, for serving
Plain Greek yogurt, for serving (optional)

Put a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil.  When oil is hot, add onions and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until onions are lightly browned.  Add ginger, garlic, turmeric, coriander and cayenne and cook for one minute more, until fragrant.  Season generously with salt.

Add carrots and 8 cups water.  Raise the heat and bring to a brisk simmer, then put on the lid and turn heat to low.  Cook until carrots are tender, about 15 minutes.  Remove from stove and let cool slightly.

Note:  if you plan to serve the soup cold, you can let it cool partially or completely at this point before pureeing and placing in the refrigerator, covered. Proceed with the remaining directions before serving.

Puree in a blender in batches or use an immersion blender to puree in the pot.  Thin with water if necessary; the soup should not be too thick.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a small pan over medium heat.  When hot, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds and cook for one minute, until spices are fragrant and beginning to pop.  Set aside.

Taste the soup and adjust for salt.  Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and garnish with the vegetable oil/seed mixture, minced radishes, cilantro leaves and an optional dollop of yogurt.  Serve with lime wedges for squeezing at the table.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Grilled Lobster Tails

Last Year's Post: Southwest Grilled Shrimp Salad
Two Years Ago:   Spinach Strawberry Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette

I'm a lobster lover and have posted several recipes using lobster in the past such as lobster with pasta and white wine-butter sauceseafood cobb saladKorean seafood pancakes, and hibachi shrimp (or lobster).  Lobster tails are a perennial favorite but can be messy in the kitchen so I prefer them on the grill.  We used to simply cut them in half lengthwise for grilling but they tend to really curl up.  I recently discovered another method that slightly edges out the old method because it leaves the lobster tail intact so it's easier to handle on the grill, while having the same advantage of exposing the flesh for even cooking.

It's just like cutting the lobster tail in half lengthwise, except you stop before cutting all the way through.  Starting by cutting the shell with a kitchen shears, stopping just before the tail end.

Then switch to a knife and deepen the cut along the same line, stopping before you cut all the way through.  Grab the cut edges of the shell and open it up like a book.

This also makes for a very pretty presentation on the plate.  Try it out the next time you see a decent deal on lobster tails at the store - Costco typically carries cold water tails in the frozen food case for a very good price.

Grilled Lobster Tails
Serves 4

For the seasoned butter:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

For the lobster tails
4 (10-12 ounce) lobster tails, thawed

Combine all ingredients for the seasoned butter in a small saucepan and heat over low until the butter is melted.  Keep warm.

Preheat the grill to medium heat.

Place each lobster tail shell-side up on a cutting board.  Using a kitchen shears, cut the shell lengthwise stopping just before the tail end.  Switch to a knife and partially cut through the lobster meat following the same path as the shell cut line.  Be careful not to cut all the way through the lobster.  Grasping the cut edges of the shell, gently open the lobster like a book.  The soft membrane on the bottom will keep the lobster intact while the meat is exposed for even cooking.

Divide the seasoned butter 60/40, reserving the larger portion for dipping.

Rub the lobster flesh with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill flesh side down for approximately 5-7 minutes, then flip and baste with the smaller portion of seasoned butter.  Grill an additional four minutes. 

Serve immediately with the reserved butter for dipping.