Friday, November 25, 2016

Three Sisters Quesadilla

Last Year's Post: Dried Fruit Sauce (Mincemeat Sauce)
Two Years Ago:  Couscous with Turkey or Chicken

Time for a change of pace (and effort) after the big meal.  "Three Sisters" is an agricultural term for three of the main crops of Native America:  squash, corn and beans.  They historically benefit from being planted together - the corn provides a stalk for the beans to climb, the beans provide nitrogen for the other plants, and the squash spreads along the ground providing shade and preventing weeds.   I read somewhere that plants that are grown together usually also taste good together.  I don't know why that would be true but it's definitely true in this case, making an excellent vegetarian base for empanadas, soups, stews, tarts, or a quesadilla.

As written, this quesadilla is mild yet flavorful and filling.  If you want, you could increase the spice level in one of several ways:  use a hotter chili powder, substitute Pepper Jack for the cheddar cheese, add jalapenos, or use a spicy salsa.  Either way it's a fast, delicious and healthy option for meatless Mondays or Black Fridays.

Three Sisters Quesadilla
Serves 4

1 cup dried black beans (or 1 15 oz can black beans)
1  teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika or chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 zucchini or other summer squash, cut lengthwise into quarters and thinly sliced
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 ear of grilled corn, kernels cut from the cob (or 1 cup frozen corn)
cilantro leaves to taste
4 medium flour tortillas
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Greek yogurt or sour cream, for serving
Sliced avocado, optional
Lime wedges, optional

Cook the beans, if starting with dried beans. If using canned beans, drain, rinse and drain again.  Toss with smoked paprika or chili powder and cumin.  Season to taste with salt.

Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a nonstick pan and heat on medium-high. Add the squash pieces and sprinkle with the salt, then cook, stirring and tossing until the pieces go limp and start to turn golden. Sprinkle with the pepper flakes and keep cooking until the squash has released most of its water and has caramelized with some edges becoming crispy and brown.  Add the corn to the pan and for an additional minute.  Remove from pan to a bowl but do not clean the pan.

To assemble the quesadillas, lay out one tortilla, and sprinkle one half with cheese. On top of the cheese, add beans, corn, and squash to taste along with cilantro leaves, then sprinkle a small amount of cheese over the vegetables.    Fold the other half over the filling.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in the same pan. Place one quesadilla into the pan and cook until the edges turn brown–about 1 minute, then carefully flip the quesadilla and cook until the underside is golden brown and the edges are crispy, about another minute. Repeat with the other quesadillas.

Cut into wedges and serve with salsa, yogurt or sour cream, optional avocado and lime wedges.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Whipped Goat Cheese and Green Olive Dip

Last Year's Post:  Split Pea Soup
Two Years Ago:   Cornmeal Herb Scones

It's the holiday season in addition to football season, which means lots of parties and appetizers.  Anyone can show up with a premade veggie tray with ranch dip, but this goat cheese dip is much more interesting and sophisticated.  You can choose to serve it with pita chips and crackers, or veggies - but not boring old mini carrots, celery sticks and cherry tomatoes.  Try sweet and colorful mini bell peppers, zucchini sticks and jicama sticks for something different.  (I found precut jicama sticks in the produce section of my grocery store, which helped speed things up quite a bit.) The dip is quite tangy from the goat cheese, olives and yogurt, so sweet vegetables such as sweet peppers, zucchini and jicama complement it well.  OK, grudgingly, carrots would go really well also.

Use any type of green olives than you want, but if you choose olives stuffed with garlic you might want to hold off on the garlic in the recipe until you taste it.  Note that I made a half recipe for the photo above - a full recipe makes almost 2 cups of dip.

Whipped Goat Cheese and Green Olive Dip
Makes 1 ¾ cups dip

½ cup green olives, pitted
8 oz plain goat cheese
½ cup full-fat plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
Pita chips or crackers
Cut up fresh vegetables

In a food processor pulse olives until roughly chopped; set aside half of the mixture.  To remaining olives in food processor, add goat cheese, yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and salt.  Process about 1 ½ minutes or until extremely smooth and slightly aerated, scraping down sides as necessary. 

Transfer to a serving bowl; drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired, and top with reserved olives.  Serve immediately with pita chips, crackers, and/or vegetables.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Lemony Green Beans with Toasted Almonds

Last Year's Post: Dutch Baby
Two Years Ago:  Brussels Sprout Leaf Salad

It's holiday season, and that means some big meals are coming up.  Skip the green bean casserole this year and make this fresh take on green beans that's a nice balance to the other heavier dishes on the table.  Lemon adds brightness while the Dijon adds some zip, although you might consider leaving the Dijon out if you have some picky or young eaters.  This is a great side dish for ham, turkey, roast beef, or any other holiday centerpiece.

One of the major advantages of this recipe is that you can make it in advance, which frees up time and cook top space for other things right before the big meal.  Just cook the beans and make the vinaigrette in advance, then toss them together right before serving. It's meant to be served at room temperature which makes it great for a buffet table, and it's easy to carry the components to someone else's house and just assemble at the last minute.

Be sure to buy the most beautiful fresh green beans you can find.  If they're very thin haricot verts, you may need to lessen the cooking time a little.  The best way to figure out the cooking time is to start tasting after a couple of minutes and keep on tasting every minute until they're done how you like them.  I personally like beans that are crisp-tender, which is how this recipe is written.  Note that I made a half recipe for these pictures; two pounds of green beans would easily serve 6 as part of a large holiday dinner.  The recipe may be doubled or tripled.

Lemony Green Beans with Toasted Almonds
Serves 6

⅓ cup olive oil
1 tsp lemon zest
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (optional)
Kosher salt
2 lbs thin fresh green beans
¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, optional Dijon mustard, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Fill a large bowl with ice water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt, then the green beans, and cook until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Immediately transfer the green beans to the ice water to cool; drain and pat dry.

Toss the beans gently in the lemon vinaigrette. Top with toasted almonds and serve.

Make Ahead: Prepare the beans and dressing and refrigerate separately up to a day ahead. Toss together just before serving.

Friday, November 4, 2016

White Chicken Chili

Last Year's Post: Baked Potatoes with Broccoli Cheese Sauce
Two Years Ago:  Sausage and Lentils

Chili is a great way to entertain a crowd, especially if you get together with a few friends who bring a couple of different kinds.  Set up a condiments bar, provide some beverages, and you're good to go.  This is a twist on your normal chili that both adults and children love because it's mild but flavorful.  In fact, The Lawyer had a standing request for many years to bring this chili to every pot luck at work  because his co-workers loved it that much. He usually made a triple or quadruple batch in a slow cooker at work and almost never had any left to bring home.  I brought it to work myself for a chili pot luck and noticed more people went back for seconds of this chili compared to the other, more assertive recipes.

Quick story:  The Lawyer had the brilliant idea to add green food coloring one time when he brought it for a St. Patrick's Day pot luck.  For some unknown reason the food coloring was sucked up by the chicken pieces with the result that the chili looked absolutely normal in color except it contained brilliant green chunks of chicken.  His co-workers ate it anyway. (You just can't make this stuff up.)

The nice part about it is that the people who like spicy chili can spice theirs up with minced jalapenos or shredded pepper jack cheese from the condiment bar, so everyone gets what they like.  Other suggested condiments (or garnishes) include minced red onion, chopped cilantro, shredded Cheddar, sour cream, corn chips, and crumbled toasted corn bread.  People always have fun at a party when they can pick and choose their own ingredients, right?

This is very easy to make on the stovetop or in a slow cooker; I've included instructions for both.  You'll notice that it calls for low-sodium chicken broth and a lower sodium brand of beans if you can find it - the reason is that canned beans have a significant amount of sodium and you're going to dump in the whole can undrained (the liquid in the can adds flavor and helps thicken the sauce).  People can always add salt later if they want.

White Chicken Chili
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized cubes
¼ cup chopped onion
1 cup less-sodium chicken broth
1 can (4 oz) chopped green chiles, drained
1 can (19 oz) cannellini beans, undrained (look for a lower sodium brand if possible)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
2 teaspoons minced fresh cilantro

Suggested Garnishes:
Chopped cilantro
Minced red onion
Shredded pepper jack (or other hot) cheese
Shredded sharp Cheddar
Minced jalapeno
Crumbled toasted cornbread
Sour cream
Corn chips

Heat oil in a 2-3 quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and cook 4-5 minutes, stirring often, until just cooked through.  Remove with a slotted spoon.

Add onion to saucepan and cook 2 minutes.  Stir in broth, green chiles, spices and cilantro; simmer 30 minutes covered.

Stir in cooked chicken and beans; simmer 10 minutes.  Serve with optional garnishes.

Slow cooker version:  cook chicken separately in advance.  Add remaining ingredients (except the chicken and beans) to a slow cooker and cook on high for 1-2 hours or low for 2-3 hours.  Add the chicken and beans in the last half hour or so of cooking.