When the Party’s Over

Between our New Year’s Day celebration and last weekend’s bridal shower party we amassed a lot of inexplicable leftovers.  How we wound up with Camembert cheese left over, I’ll never know.  That’s fancy French cheese from Normandy, for goodness sake!  As I recall, we Americans fought our tails of to liberate that cheese!  And the gouda!  For pity’s sake everyone ignored the gouda!  Other than tulips, legalized prostitution and hash bars gouda is the Netherland’s #1 attraction!  

The leftover cauliflower and broccoli is easier to understand.  They’re always the last stragglers on a veggie tray.  The Kalamata olives went first and then the carrots.  By the time the carrots were gone, so was the creamy ranch dressing dip.  Poor cauliflower and broccoli always get left behind, like a scrawny kid who gets picked last during recess, when teams are chosen. 

So, now it’s time to scrape together all of the those party leftovers and make a meal. 

Rustic Chicken with Winter Vegetables and Whipped Potatoes

My first step was to make the puff pastry for the chicken dish.  From there I prepped much of the rest of the meal in advance and kept it cool until nearly service time.  I finished by roasting the vegetables and frying some matchstick onions.

Ingredients for the puff pastry:

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 ½ cup cold butter (2 and a half sticks)

½ cup ice cold water

Directions:

Puff pastry is really not too difficult to make at home as long as you adhere to a few rules.  There are only a few ingredients but the important thing to remember while making the pastry is to keep all of the ingredients very cold during preparation.  I chilled the flour, in addition to chilling the butter, and I put the water in the freezer, just prior to using it. 

Since hands are warm, and warmth is a pastry killer, I added the flour, salt and butter to a food processor.  I pulsed the food processor several times until the flour and butter combined to make a grainy mixture. 

I added the ice cold water and pulse again, until the dough began to form a ball.  I turned out the dough ball to a clean work surface and formed the dough into a 12” x 6” rectangle.  I worked quickly, using the rolling pin.

I folded the dough over into a tri-fold and squared the dough by pushing the edges with the rolling pin.  I added a little more flour to the work surface to keep the dough from sticking to the surface. 

I rolled the dough out again to a 12” x 6” rectangle and folded it in thirds again.  I repeated this process three more times.  Rolling the dough multiple times increases the amount of flakiness of the finished puff pastry.

I wrapped the rectangle of dough in plastic wrap and kept it refrigerated until I was ready to use it. 

This recipe makes enough dough for 24 pastry cups. 

Ingredients for the rest of the meal:

Infused blueberries:

1 ½ cup water

2 tsp dried rosemary

½ cup blueberries

1 Tbs sugar

Roasted chicken:

4 chicken thighs (bone–in)

5 cloves fresh garlic, sliced thin

2 tsp dried rosemary

1 Tbs rendered bacon fat

½ cup roasted red bell peppers

4 oz sliced mushrooms (I used canned mushrooms)

1 Tbs olive oil

6 oz Camembert cheese (rind removed)

Whipped potatoes:

6 small russet potatoes

2 Tbs butter

¼ cup sour cream

¼ cup milk

5 cloves roasted garlic

Matchstick onions:

1 yellow onion, sliced into very thin rings

1 cup buttermilk (I used 1 cup milk and 1 tsp vinegar)

1 cup flour

1 tsp seasoning salt

Winter vegetables:

               1 ½ cup carrots, sliced and chopped

               1 cup broccoli florets

               1 cup cauliflower florets

               1 Tbs olive oil

               ½ cup gouda cheese, shredded

Directions:

Fill a small bowl with 1 ½ cups of boiling water.  Add the rosemary and sugar.  When the water has reached room temperature, remove the rosemary and reserve for later. 

Add the blueberries to the fragrant water and allow them to soak at room temperature for a few hours.

Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and discard.  Using a small, sharp knife, make several incisions in the chicken and insert the slices of garlic. 

Add bacon grease and olive oil to a baking dish.  Smear the chicken with the grease and oil and nestle the chicken in the baking dish.  Sprinkle the reserved rosemary onto the chicken.

Roast the chicken, uncovered, in an oven at 350° for 90 minutes.  Baste the chicken occasionally.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool down to room temperature.

Once the chicken has cooled, shred by hand.

Dice the roasted peppers and add to the shredded chicken.  Add the mushrooms to the chicken and mix to incorporate.  Set aside.

Wash and scrub the potatoes.  Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water.  Cover the pot with a lid and boil the potatoes at low heat for about one hour, or until the potatoes can be pierced easily with a fork. 

Using a hand-held mixer, blend the potatoes, including the potato skins, with the butter, sour cream, milk and roasted garlic.  Store in warm place.

Drain the blueberries and set aside.

Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and place on a clean work surface.  Divide the dough in half.  Use one half for the chicken dish and reserve the other half for a dessert dish.  Roll the dough out to about ¼” thick.  Slice the pastry into 4” squares.  Form fit the pastry into the muffin pan.

Slice dough into 4″ squares

Place the squares in muffing pan and fill the pastry with the chicken mixture.  Top with a teaspoon of Camembert cheese and a 3 or 4  blueberries.

Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry puffs and turns golden brown. 

Roasted Winter Vegetables

Toss carrots, broccoli and cauliflower in olive oil.  Spread the vegetables out on parchment lined backing tray.  Roast in the oven at 350° for 30 minutes.  Remove and keep warm.

Or, if you want to burn them, leave them in a 400° oven for 45 minutes, like I did.  There I was trying to salvage leftover vegetable tray fodder and I incinerated the whole lot.  Oh well, that’s the way things roll in my kitchen, sometimes.

Matchstick Onions

Slice the onion very thin and set aside. 

Mix the milk and vinegar together in a large bowl (this is a decent substitute for buttermilk).  Soak the onions in the buttermilk for several minutes.

Heat a pot of oil on the stove at medium/high heat (325° to 350° works well.

Add the flour and seasoning salt to a large mixing bowl. 

Toss the onions in the flour mixture to coat.

Add the onions to the oil and fry until golden brown and crispy.  Remove to a paper towel-lined platter and keep warm.

Serve two stuffed pastry shells with mashed potatoes, topped with turkey gravy and fried onions.

Dessert:  Cherry and Cream Cheese Tarts

Assemble 12 pastry cups using the same method as before.  Fill each one with 2 teaspoons of cream cheese and top with cherry pie filling.  Bake at 400° for about 20 minutes, or until the pastry puffs and turns golden brown. 

Impromptu Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve turned out to be a rollicking good time with family, food and holiday movies.  The evening  menu showcased some impromptu stir-fry dishes and the holiday movie marathon ended with a classic… “The Star Wars Holiday Special”.  For the uninitiated, the Star Wars Holiday Special aired on TV in 1978 and was subsequently banished by George Lucas.  It starred all of the favorite Star Wars characters like, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Art Carney, Harvey Korman and Beatrice Arthur.  Yes, Art Carney, Harvey Korman and Bea Arthur!  It’s a must-see!

The idea behind Thai cuisine for Christmas Eve came from a small jar of Thai Green Curry that has been sitting in my refrigerator for quite some time and I wanted to finish it off.  I searched my pantry and refrigerator for items that would be suitable for stir-fry.  Much of the afternoon was spent prepping vegetables, roasting garlic, soaking the noodles and watching holiday classics.  

Thai Green Curry Chicken

Ingredients:

1 lb chicken breast, cut into 1” pieces

2 Tbs Thai green curry paste (3 Tbs for extra spicy)

1 Tbs oil

2 garlic cloves (fresh)

1 head of garlic (roasted)

2 Tbs fresh ginger, sliced thin

¼ yellow onion, julienne sliced

1 cup chicken stock

1 ½ cups coconut milk

2 Tbs fish sauce

1 Tbs dried basil and 1 tsp dried parsley  (substitution for fresh Thai basil)

1 lime

Zest of lime

1 can of water chestnuts (8 ounces, drained and sliced)

1 roasted red bell pepper, sliced

1 green onion, diced greens and chopped white roots

¼ cup cilantro leaves

Directions:

Mix the cut chicken breast with the Thai curry paste.  Refrigerate until needed.

In a bowl, combine the chicken stock with ½ cup coconut milk.  Add the fish sauce, basil, parsley and the juice of half of a lime.  Set aside.

In a wok, add a tablespoon of cooking oil. Warm a tablespoon of sliced ginger and one garlic clove.

Add 1 cup of coconut milk to the wok and turn the heat up to medium/hot. 

Add the roasted garlic and stir the coconut milk as it thickens. 

Add the chicken stock mixture and simmer at low/medium heat .  Add the sliced water chestnuts, green onion roots and sliced jalapeño.  Simmer for a few minutes and removed to a bowl. 

Wipe the wok clean and add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and turn the heat to high.  Add a some garlic and ginger. Add the serrano chile and sear the chile in the oil.  Remove the chile and reserve.

Add the marinated chicken to the wok and stir at high heat.  Return the serrano chile to the wok, along with a garlic clove and 1 tablespoon of sliced ginger.  Stir the chicken for a few minutes and remove the serrano. 

Continue stirring the chicken until the chicken is cooked and browned. 

Add the coconut milk/chicken stock mixture to the wok. Stir to incorporate and turn out to an oven proof bowl. Keep in a warm oven until ready to eat.  When you are ready to eat, add a tablespoon of lime juice and top with cilantro, roasted red pepper and fresh lime wedges.

Serve in bowls, over jasmine rice.

Chicken with Peppers and Pineapple

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into 1” pieces

1 cup flour

¾ cup cornstarch

1 Tbs oil

1 Tbs fresh ginger, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 serrano chile

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 orange bell pepper, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 small yellow onion, julienne sliced

2 jalapeños, seeded and sliced into rings

2 cups fresh pineapple, cut into ½” pieces

1 Mandarin orange

Zest of an orange

2 Tbs garlic chile sauce (Sambal Oelek)

2 cups vegetable oil

¼ cup cilantro

¼ cup green onion, chopped

Directions:

In a large bowl, add mix the flour with the cornstarch.  Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat.  Set aside.

Add one tablespoon cooking oil to a wok.  Simmer the ginger and garlic at low heat for minute and then remove the ginger and garlic. 

Add the serrano and cook at high heat for 30 seconds.  Remove and discard the serrano (or save for another time).

Add the chopped bell peppers, sliced onion, sliced jalapeño.  Turn the heat to high and stir-fry for a few minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic back to the wok and continue to stir until the peppers have softened to your liking.  (Don’t overcook…mushy stir-fry vegetables make a disappointing stir-fry).

In a small bowl, add the cut pineapple.  Add the juice and zest of the orange.

Add the pineapple to the wok and stir a few times to incorporate the flavors.  Turn out to a bowl.  Add the sambal oelek.  Keep the bowl in a warm place.

Add a little flour to the bowl containing the chicken that has been coated in flour and cornstarch.  Toss the chicken to prevent the chicken pieces from sticking together.

Wipe the wok clean.   Add 2 cups of cooking oil to the wok and turn the heat to high.   Add the chicken to the wok, a few pieces at a time.  Stir the chicken occasionally.  Remove the chicken to a paper towel lined platter when it turns golden brown and crispy.

Carefully pour the frying oil in an appropriate container to cool.

Wipe the wok clean and return it to the stove top.  Add the vegetables and chicken back to the hot wok and stir a few times.  Turn out to a serving bowl.  Top with cilantro and green onions.

Shrimp with Rice Noodles

Ingredients:

16 ounces rice vermicelli noodles (rice stick)

1 lb raw shrimp, deveined with tails and shells removed

1 Tbs olive oil

½ tsp sesame oil

1 Tbs ginger, thinly sliced

1/4 yellow onion, julienne sliced

1 Tbs Hoisin sauce

2 tsp oyster sauce

1 Tbs fish sauce

2 green onions

Directions:

Crack the dried noodles in half and add them to a large pot.  Add enough water to the cover the noodles by at least two inches. 

Heat the water to a boil.  Swish the noodles around in the pot as they boil.  Sample the noodles while they cook.  They should become al dente, just like properly cooked spaghetti noodles.  Once the noodles have cooked, strain out the water and rinse the noodles with cold water to stop the heating process.  Add the noodles back to the pot and cover with cold water.  Reserve until needed.

Add olive oil and sesame oil to a hot wok.  Add the ginger and stir for a minute.  Discard the ginger.

Add the shrimp to the hot wok and stir-fry for a few minutes.  Add the onion and stir. The shrimp will cook quickly. 

Add the Hoisin sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce and stir to mix. 

Strain the noodles and add them to the wok.  Stir to coat the noodles and turn everything out to a serving bowl. 

Add the root pieces of the onion to the wok and sear. 

Top the dish with chopped green onion tips and seared green onion roots.

Thai Trifecta

Dessert suggestion:  Sliced bananas, dusted with cinnamon and chocolate sauce and whipped cream topping.

Dust with cinnamon, drizzle chocolate syrup and top with whipped cream

Grapefruit – Four Ways

My favorite sort of days evolve and flow in natural, unpredictable ways.  I don’t always plan meals ahead of time, and even when I do, my instincts guide me when it actually comes time to cook. 

1. Segmented Grapefruit

I saw some nice looking grapefruit at the store recently.  Even though they weren’t bonafide Texas Ruby Red grapefruit, they were large and ripe and I thought they would make a nice addition to the next day’s breakfast.

I like grapefruit but I don’t like the white, bitter pith and I don’t like the membranes between the segments.  I wasn’t a big fan of grapefruit until I discovered that I could cut away the parts that I didn’t like!  I started by cutting the top and bottom off, just to the point where I could see the fruit beneath.  Then I used a sharp kitchen knife to spiral cut the rind, deeply enough to get beneath the pith.  Then I cut the segments, sliding the knife along the sides of the membrane, leaving nothing but pristine segments.  This takes some practice but it’s definitely worth the effort.

2. Citrus Aromatic

I decided to use the grapefruit rinds to make a citrus aromatic on the stovetop.  It’s an easy thing to do and it makes the entire house smell fantastic.  I heated a pot of water and added some star anise, a cinnamon stick and a crushed nutmeg seed.  Just as I was about to toss the grapefruit rinds into the pot I had an idea.  I could use the rinds to make candied ginger and still use the top and bottom pieces of the grapefruit for the aromatic pot.

3.  Candied Grapefruit Peels

Once the aromatic pot was simmering, I sliced the grapefruit rinds into thin strips. I boiled the rinds three times in water, to remove some of the bitterness and then I made a simple syrup, using 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar.  I brought the syrup to a boil while whisking.

I added the cut grapefruit rinds to the syrup and simmered them at low heat for about 20 minutes.  Once the rinds turned  translucent, I moved them to a wire rack to dry for about 4 hours.  On a dry day, they might have dried in an hour but the humidity was high and they took most of the day to dry.  After a few hours I dredged the pieces in sugar and then I returned them to the rack.  An hour later, I tossed them in sugar again and let them finish drying on the wire rack.

I was left with 1 cup of grapefruit flavored simple syrup.  Being the frugal sort of cook that I am, I devised a plan to use the syrup. 

 4.  Sweet and Sour Chicken

Ingredients:

1 cup flour

3/4 cup cornstarch

2 lbs chicken thighs, skinned and deboned

1 cup cooking oil

For the sauce:

1 cup simple syrup (from the candied grapefruit)

1 cup ketchup

1 ½ Tbs soy sauce

1 tsp Hoisin sauce

1 tsp rice vinegar

For the stir-fry:

1 Tbs cooking oil

½ tsp sesame oil

2 garlic cloves, smashed

1 Tbs fresh ginger, minced

½ lb broccoli florets

3 green onions, chopped

2 large carrots, sliced diagonally

2 large, mild jalapeños, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup cilantro

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the cornstarch and flour.  Whisk to combine.  Remove half of the flour mixture and set aside. 

Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and debone.  Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces.  Add the chicken to the bowl containing half of the cornstarch and flour.  Toss to coat the chicken.  Leave the chicken in the flour dredge for 10 minutes.

Prepare a wok by adding  1 cup of cooking oil and set the heat to high.

Add remaining flour to the chicken and toss to coat. 

Add the chicken to the hot oil, a little at a time.  Fry the chicken until crispy, golden brown. 

Remove to a paper towel lined plate and keep warm.

Remove the oil from the wok and wipe the wok clean with a paper towel. 

Combine the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Add 1 Tbs cooking oil and ½ tsp sesame oil to a hot wok.  Add the garlic and ginger and simmer for a few seconds. 

Add the vegetables and stir-fry until the vegetables are tender.   Remove the vegetables to a bowl and keep warm.

Add the sauce to the wok at medium heat.  Once the sauce begins to bubble, add the chicken and stir to coat. 

Add the vegetables and stir to combine.  Turn out to a large serving bowl.

Top with cilantro and serve in bowls with steamed jasmine rice.

Happy Holidays!

Chicken and Spinach Enchiladas

I served two types of enchiladas during  a recent dinner party, along with Mexican rice, refried beans and guacamole.  I found myself forgetting to take pictures along the way because I was having too much fun visiting with friends and family. 

Consider this Part I of a three-part series of posts.

Ingredients:

4 chicken tenderloins

1 Tbs chicken bullion

1 tsp cumin powder

1 bay leaf

5 oz fresh spinach (I used half of a 10 oz bag)

4 Tbs butter

4 Tbs flour

2 cups vegetable stock

14 corn tortillas

1 lb Chihuahua cheese, cut into ½” strips

½ cup salsa verde

Directions:

Trim 4 large chicken breasts and remove the tenderloins.  Add the tenderloins to a pot of water (about 4 cups) and reserve the breast meat for another dish. Add the bouillon, cumin powder and bay leaf.

Cover the pot and simmer the tenderloins on low heat for one hour.  Turn the heat off and leave the pot covered for 30 more minutes. 

Remove the chicken pieces to a cutting board.

Partially flatten the chicken by pressing with the broad side of a kitchen knife.  Pressing the chicken breaks apart the meat and makes it easier to shred. 

Gently scrape the chicken across the grain to shred the chicken.

Note:  I stored the chicken in a seal-able container, along with the chicken broth.  This can keep for a few days in the refrigerator with no worries.

Steam the spinach for a few minutes until it begins to wilt.  Drain and set aside.

Start a roux with butter and flour.  Add vegetable stock and whisk until the sauce forms and thickens.  Add the chicken and chicken broth.  Continue to stir to incorporate.  Keep the heat set at medium and stir until the sauce thickens again. 

Ladle about 1 cup of the sauce into a ceramic or glass casserole dish. 

Arrange some tortillas on a clean work surface and place equal amounts of chicken and spinach on the tortillas.  Add a strip or two of cheese.  Roll the enchiladas and place them side by side in the casserole dish.  Continue rolling and placing enchiladas until the dish is full.  Pour the remaining sauce on top of the enchiladas.

Top with more Chihuahua cheese.

Lightly cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and uncover. Serve warm.

Chicken with Stuffing

Chicken with Stuffing

The turkey went fast this Thanksgiving.   We had enough left over turkey to make a big batch of turkey, biscuits and gravy but that went quickly, too.  The leftover green beans,  yams, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese have all been eaten.  Why is it that dressing is always the last remnant of Thanksgiving at my house?  Maybe it’s because we always make too much of it.  The dressing was very good this year, mainly because my wife made it.  She knows how to balance the flavors.  I tend to get heavy handed when adding herbs and spices. 

But, the fact remains.  I have all of this dressing to deal with.  Some types of leftovers make great additions to other future meals.  Vegetables and meat can be added to omelets or salads…that’s easy.  But dressing, or stuffing, depending on your preference, is pretty much singular, in nature. 

I was portioning some extremely large chicken breasts the other day and I decided to use a few of the breast pieces to make stuffed chicken. 

Ingredients for the marinade:

¼ cup olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

1 Tbs dry Italian seasonings

1 tsp cracked black pepper

½ tsp salt

Ingredients for the stuffed chicken:

3 monstrously sized chicken breasts

3 cups prepared and cooked bread stuffing (dressing)

Directions:

Combine the marinade in a large bowl.

Butterfly slice the chicken breasts, leaving about half an inch of the breast uncut.

Lay the chicken breasts open and put them in the bowl containing the marinade.  Allow the chicken to marinate for a half hour, turning occasionally.

Heat a cast iron skillet to high.  Once the skillet is hot, sear the cut sided of the chicken.  Sear for about 1 minute and turn the chicken over to briefly sear the other side, about 10 or 15 seconds.  Remove the chicken to a work surface.  Sear the remaining chicken breast in a similar fashion.

Lay the chicken breasts on a work surface with the cut side facing upward.

Compress some stuffing in your hands and lay the stuffing on one side of the chicken.  Fold the chicken over along the seam and secure with toothpicks.  Repeat the process with the other chicken breasts.

Return the chicken to the skillet and bake at 300° for 30 minutes, uncovered.  Turn the heat up to 350° and bake for another 10 minutes.

Serve hot, along with a vegetable or salad.  I served this with asparagus…

Skinny Asparagus in Lemon, Garlic Butter Sauce

Maybe it’s just me but I don’t remember seeing pencil-thin asparagus in stores until a few years ago. It’s probably just me… When it comes to asparagus I let the price determine which kind I will use. Naturally, the thicker variety is better suited for grilling and the thinner variety is perfect for pan frying, quickly.

Ingredients:

½ lb skinny asparagus

1 Tbs butter

2 garlic cloves, smashed

Juice of ½ lemon

Directions:

Once the chicken has been removed from the skillet, wipe the skillet with a paper towel to remove most of the residual oil.

Add the butter and garlic and sauté the garlic for about a minute, or until the garlic begins to turn light brown.

Set the heat to low and add the asparagus.  Stir briefly and cover.  I used a piece of aluminum foil. I like the flexibility I get with foil. Let the asparagus steam for about 4 minutes.  Uncover and gently stir the asparagus for another minute.

Remove the pan from the heat and serve hot.

Quick Chick & Shrimp

Several days ago, as I was driving home after an arduous, long day of work, I wondered what I should do for dinner.  It was just going to be my wife and I for dinner.   I started to think about fish.  And then, I thought about shrimp, and then I realized that what I was wanting was something akin to the classic British, “fish and chips”.  Then I thought about mac and cheese, and how that mac and cheese goes so well with fried shrimp, or fried fish.  And then, I realized I didn’t have any fish.  Chicken.  Yes, chicken, instead of fish.  The synapses in my brain jump around in quirky ways like that most of the time.  I really enjoy my drives home, except when I find myself driving next to people texting on their cell phones!

I allowed myself an hour to prepare the meal.  Time at home is precious for me during this busy part of the year.  I typically have about 4 to 5 hours after I get home to prepare a meal, eat it and digest it before I trot off to bed.   

Mac and cheese…check.  Chicken and shrimp…a quick prep and fry…check.  Steamed broccoli…a few minutes in the microwave…check.

The most time consuming part of the meal was the mac and cheese.  The rest was a flurry of flour and cornmeal and chopping a few things.  Easy.

I made enough mac and cheese for six people and I made enough chicken and shrimp for two or three.

My son and his girlfriend joined us, just as we were cleaning up after dinner.  We had enough chicken and shrimp left to share and plenty of mac and cheese.  It was all gone in a matter of a few minutes.  Mac and cheese saved the day…Perfect!

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup fresh broccoli

½ cup cooking oil

2 medium sized chicken breasts, thinly sliced

10 raw jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 1/2 cup flour

1/3 cup cornmeal

2 eggs

1 tsp garlic powder

½ tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

Cut the broccoli into large, bite-sized pieces.  Place in a microwave safe bowl.  Seal with plastic wrap and set aside.

Cut chicken into 3” to 4” pieces. 

Butterfly cut the shrimp.  I do a back butterfly, cutting into the backside, instead of the underside.  Set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet at medium/high heat.

Pour the flour onto a plate.  Dredge the chicken in flour, egg and then flour again.  Drop chicken in pan and pan fry to golden brown, remove to a paper towel lined plate.  Keep warm.

Add the cornmeal to the remaining flour and mix with a fork.

Dredge the shrimp in flour and cornmeal mixture, egg and then flour and cornmeal mixture again.  Drop the shrimp into the hot oil and cook for about 1 minute, or until the shrimp begins to brown and feels firm to the touch.

Lay the shrimp on the paper towel lined plate, along with the chicken, and keep warm.

Put the covered broccoli in the microwave and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the broccoli has softened. Serve with mac and cheese and ketchup or spicy ketchup. 

Chicken on a Stick

I usually don’t start thinking about what to make for dinner until I’m in the car, on my way home.  On a good day, it’s a 20 minute trip.  When there’s heavy traffic it can take 40 minutes.  The good thing about the drive home is that I pass my favorite grocery store ALDI.  I will sometimes pop in to buy just a few items and then head on to the house. 

On this particular day, I didn’t want to make any stops.  I just wanted to get home.  I wasn’t coming up with any ideas for dinner and my mind started to wander.  By the time I pulled into the driveway, I knew what I was going to do. 

I wouldn’t call this a meal, because it’s just chicken on a stick but, it was something that I wanted to try and I knew that it wouldn’t take too long to make.

I decided on making this two different ways.  I wanted to see if I preferred the marinated version or the version that uses a dry rub for the chicken.  As it turns out, I liked both. 

Ingredients (for both versions):

1 lb. chicken breast meat, sliced in 1” long strips

1 lb bacon

3 Tbs brown sugar

1 Tbs chili powder

1 Tbs cayenne powder

12 wooden skewers

Version 1:

Ingredients for the marinade:

3 Tbs soy and 2 Tbs hot sauce

Version 2:

Ingredients for the dry rub:

2 Tbs chili powder, 1 Tbs garlic powder, 1 tsp cumin, ½ tsp paprika

Note: after tasting this, I will use ½ tsp cumin next time.  I like cumin but it overpowered the other flavors.

Directions:

Soak the wooden skewers in water for at least 15 minutes.

Cut the chicken in 1” thick strips.  Divide equally.

Mix the marinade ingredients and pour over one half of the chicken.  Marinate for 30 minutes.

Mix the ingredients for the rub.  Cover the other half of the chicken with the rub.  Set aside.

Mix the brown sugar, chili powder and cayenne powder together.  Lay the bacon on a clean surface.   Sprinkle both sides of the bacon with the sugar and chill powder mixture.

Set the oven to 350°.  Lay a metal rack on a backing sheet. 

Wrap a slice of bacon around a piece of chicken and run a skewer through one end of the chicken and then pierce the other end.  Lay the skewered chicken on the rack.  Continue wrapping and skewering the chicken.  Once the rack is full, put it in the oven.

Bake for to 20 to 25 minutes, or until the bacon begins to crisp and the chicken feels firm. 

Remove the chicken to a serving platter.  Serve with a dip of your choice.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts

The biggest challenge here is making the chicken breast thin enough to roll.  It needs to be thin in order to cook evenly and it needs to be thin enough to roll up like a burrito. 

You could flatten the chicken breasts by pounding them down with a mallet but I prefer to slice the breasts horizontally, nearly all of the way, and then I lay the chicken breast open.  If the chicken breast is really thick you can slice it from the top side and then slice it again, in the opposite direction from the bottom side, to make a tri-fold.

Before we get going…

A caution about using toothpicks to secure food.  I use the same number of toothpicks on each item that I secure.  If I need two picks on one chicken breast, I use two on all of the other breasts, even if I might only need one toothpick for some.  That way, when serving time arrives, I know that I must remove two toothpicks from each breast.  It eliminates the guessing game that comes when I think, “did I use one or two toothpicks on this one?”  Make sure to remove toothpicks before serving! 

As with many recipes, you can stuff the chicken with anything you like.  This time around, I had some ricotta cheese that needed to be used and some prosciutto that was just itching to be used for something.  This recipe serves three people.

Ingredients:

3 chicken breasts

4 oz prosciutto

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

7 oz ricotta cheese (about half of a 15 oz container)

1 ½ cups Panko bread crumbs

½ cup cooking oil

For the sauce:

1 Tbs butter

1 Tbs flour

½ onion

¼ cup chicken stock

24 oz tomato sauce (I used an 8 oz can and 16 oz tomato sauce)

¼ cup half-and-half

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

4 oz spinach

Directions:

On a clean cutting board, flatten the chicken breasts to ¼” thick, or carefully slice them.

Layer the chicken breasts with several slices of prosciutto ham. 

Scatter grated parmesan cheese over the chicken breasts.

Apply a schmear of ricotta cheese to the chicken.

Spread some panko bread crumbs onto a large platter.  Lay a chicken breast onto the bread crumbs and press down lightly. 

Roll the chicken breast and secure with toothpicks. 

Heat a large skillet to medium heat and add ½ cup cooking oil. When the oil is hot, gently lay the chicken breasts into the pan, being careful to not crowd the pan.

When the bottom side browns, turn it over and cook the other side.  When both sides are golden brown, remove to a clean plate, lined with a paper towel.

Discard the oil from the pan.  I like to reuse oil so I usually dump the oil in a stainless steel bowl and filter it later and store it in a can.

Wipe remaining oil from pan but leave a slight, residual film of oil.  Turn heat to medium high and add onions.  Sautee for a minute until onions soften.  Remove onions and set aside.

Deglaze the skillet with chicken stock.

Butter and Flour, Tomato Sauce, Half and Half and Chicken Stock

Add butter and flour and whisk to make a roux. 

Add cream and tomato sauce.  Whisk and sauté until the sauce thickens.  Return the onions to the skillet.  Lower the heat.

Add mozzarella.

Add fresh spinach and sauté for another minute, or so, until the spinach wilts.

Pour the sauce onto an oven proof serving platter.  Arrange the chicken on top of the sauce and add a few slices of mozzarella. Bake in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese.

Garnish with fresh spinach and serve.

Masala – Marsala

This week’s confession is truly astounding, even for someone like me, who has committed so many kitchen atrocities over time that I am sure I will end up in Kitchen Hell, when it’s all said and done.

All kidding aside, this was truly a remarkable faux pas.  I’m the sort of person that likes to be the smartest kid in the class and, if it’s obvious that I am not the smartest, I like to the one that says the most clever things.  Earlier this week I confused Masala with Marsala. 

For those of you who might be scratching your heads, wondering what the difference is between the two, I’ll tell you.  The difference is “R”.  (See what I mean about trying to make up for a lack of intellect by attempting to be clever?)

Masala is a mixture of many spices.  It’s a term used by people from India and Pakistan, among other places.  It is not just one particular spice mix.  The mix can contain any number of spices.  Masala is the flavor foundation for many dishes.

Marsala is a sweet, fortified Italian dessert wine, often used for cooking. 

An innocent mistake, for sure.  And, if that was where my story ended, I could have laughed it off and gone on with my life with nobody being the wiser. 

Several months ago, while visiting my favorite Indian spice market, I struck up a conversation with the proprietor, as I usually do.  He is always willing to stop and talk with me and he has been a tremendous guide, while I attempt to unravel Indian cuisine.  On this occasion, I told him that I was considering making a masala pizza, at least that is what he probably heard.  I actually said Marsala, because I was thinking about making a chicken Marsala pizza.  That was the moment I ran off the rails. 

You see, I have made chicken Marsala before and I have made many dishes with masala, although I’ve never really thought about calling the spice mixture, masala.  I must have had a bizarre synaptic short-circuit which caused me to switch masala with Marsala.  The proprietor, being the gentleman that he is, just stared at me when I suggested the masala pizza.  He gave me a sort of quizzical, pitiful look.

Well, months later, here I am ready to make the pizza.  I wanted to try a test run with the chicken Marsala, before moving on to the pizza.  I went back to the Indian market to pick up some items for other dishes and when I saw the proprietor, I told him that I was really going to make the masala pizza, but I what I actually said was, “Marsala”.  I told him that I was deliberating on how to approach the pizza.  I didn’t want to use traditional Italian marinara and mozzarella because I didn’t think they would pair well with the Marsala sauce.  I asked him if he had a suggestion for a creamy sauce that I could make, instead of using Mozzarella.  After a moment, he suggested coconut milk and followed that with suggesting tapioca starch to thicken the coconut milk.

Coconut milk?  I’ve taken some interesting turns while creating new food but coconut milk didn’t seem like a very good idea for pizza but, I told him that I would give it a try.

As I left the store and headed to the wine store, to pick up some Marsala wine, it suddenly dawned on me that I had been utterly confused.  You see, the proprietor of the spice market speaks perfectly.  Despite the tell-tale Indian accent, his diction and vocabulary is precise and clear.  He speaks better English than most people I encounter, on any given day. 

“Masala”, was what he was saying, and he made sure to say masala each time after I said “Marsala” to him.  The nerve cells in my brain finally made the jump.  I had been enlightened!  I also suffered from incredible embarrassment. 

As I drove to the wine store I convinced myself that the only way to redeem myself was to perform an act of penance.  I would make two pizzas.  One would be inspired by masala and the other would be inspired by Marsala

One final interesting event rounded out the day and convinced me that fate is a very real thing.  I was checking out some other blogs and I came across this blog,  https://ishitasood.com/ .  It’s tagline reads, “The Biggest and Only Indian Blog on Italy”.  Ishita is the author and she has produced some very interesting posts.  One post in particular struck a chord with me… https://ishitasood.com/confessions-of-a-passionate-blogger/

In the blog she offers some words of encouragement, including the following: “It is okay to be vulnerable.”

And that was exactly what I needed to hear.  It is what I needed to remember.  I am an imperfect human and so is everybody else.

I will work on these recipes with an open heart and an open mind.