Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chicken Spinach Pasta Toss

If you like the taste of "sour" - think lemon, olives, feta - you will love this easy, throw-together dish.  I concocted it with leftovers - 2 cooked chicken breasts, a quarter jar each of black and green olives, a half box of pasta, already cooked, and chicken broth reserved from when I poached the chicken.  It was fast, easy, and very satisfying with its assortment of flavors. 

The good thing about this dish is that it's easy to substitute items.  If you don't like olives, perhaps artichoke hearts would suit you better.  Not a fan of feta?  Try shredded or grated parmesan.  I used portabello mushrooms because it's what I had on hand, but if you prefer button mushrooms, or no mushrooms at all, it's up to you.  It's fun to experiment, and as I told my husband as we sat down to try it - "I'm not sure what it will taste like", it's also fun to be a self-made guinea pig. :)  And I loved it!!!

Chicken Spinach Pasta Toss

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
4-5 scallions, chopped
1 Portabello mushroom, diced into medium chunks
2 cooked chicken breasts, cut into 1/2" - 1" chunks
1/4 cup each chopped green and black olives
Nature's Seasons (or any kind of herb seasoning blend)
2-3 cups cooked pasta, any kind (I used penne)
1 10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1/4 - 1/3 cup chicken broth
2-3 sun-dried tomatoes, diced
1/4 lemon
1/4 - 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Prepare everything before you assemble - chop or dice the vegetables and chicken, get out the ingredients you will be using, thaw the spinach.  If you don't have leftover chicken, you will need to prepare it - either by poaching in a small pot with seasonings until cooked through, or sauteeing in a skillet.  The same goes for pasta - cook 1/2 box according to directions.  Note - if you have to cook the chicken and opt to saute it, you do not need to wash out the skillet before using for the rest of the recipe.  Remove the chicken to a plate to cool, then dice just before adding to the other ingredients.

In large skillet, heat olive oil, then add garlic and chopped scallions, sauteeing at med. high heat for 10-15 seconds.  Add portabello mushrooms, saute for 30 seconds, stirring occasionally.  Stir in chicken and olives.  Season mixture in skillet with salt, pepper, and Nature's Seasons (once around the pan for each).  Allow chicken to heat through.  Add pasta, spinach and chicken broth, stirring to distribute spinach evenly throughout the pan.  Stir in sun-dried tomatoes.  Saute for 2-4 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Squeeze lemon over mixture and stir, allowing to cook for another 2 minutes.  Add half of the feta, stir in, then sprinkle remaining feta over the pan.  Voila!  It is ready to serve - 4 servings.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Eggplant Parmesan Casserole

This recipe is similar to a vegetarian lasagna - without the noodles!  It was delicious on it's own, but would also be great served over pasta.  And it is made with my favorite fresh herb, basil.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan Casserole

Preparing the Eggplant and ingredients:

             1 eggplant, peeled and sliced crosswise into 1/4 inch slices
             2 eggs
             2 tbsp. milk
             1 tsp. Nature’s Seasons
             ½ cup Italian panko bread crumbs
             8 oz. ricotta cheese
             6 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese
             ¾ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
             ¼ chopped fresh basil
             Olive oil
             2-3 garlic cloves
             1 jar prepared pasta sauce or 1 ½ cups homemade pasta sauce (tomato basil is delicious)

Place eggplant slices in a single layer in colander or on paper towel and sprinkle with salt.  Let sit for one hour.  This allows all the moisture to drain from the eggplant and will give a better texture in the end. While eggplant is resting, beat 1 egg in a bowl with 2 tbsp. milk and Nature’s Seasons, then set aside.  Put Italian panko bread crumbs in another bowl, and set aside.  In third bowl mix ricotta cheese, mozzarella, ¼ cup of the shredded Parmesan, 1 egg, and fresh basil, then set aside. 

Put it all together:

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. In large skillet, add 2 tbsp. olive oil and 1 fresh garlic clove, crushed.  Let garlic cook for about 20 seconds.  Put several eggplant slices into the bowl with the beaten egg.  Dip each slice into the panko bread crumb mixture then place in skillet with the olive oil and garlic.  Cook on one side until lightly browned, then turn to cook the other side.  Remove onto separate plate.  You will need to repeat this procedure 2-3 times until all eggplant slices have been browned.
3. In 9 x 13 baking dish, spread half of the pasta sauce.  Layer half of the cooked eggplant slices, then  half of the cheese mixture, the remaining eggplant, the remaining cheese mixture, then the rest of the pasta sauce.  Top with the remaining parmesan cheese. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes.

Homemade pasta sauce recipe (optional, to be made beforehand if you don't use bottled sauce)
             1 clove garlic, minced
             28 oz. canned petite diced tomatoes (undrained)
             1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
             1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake (optional)
             1/4 teaspoon salt
             Handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped roughly

1. Heat olive oil over medium heat.  Saute garlic for a few minutes.
2. Add tomato, red pepper flakes, oregano, and salt.  Let sauce simmer, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes.  Reduce heat. Add chopped basil leaves.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Basil is the Crowning Touch for Summer Grilled Chicken

My garden is filled with basil plants - my favorite fresh herb.  I discovered that basil is easy to root to keep your garden in continuous supply.  Snip off a stem of basil, cutting it at a leaf nodule.  Remove leaves at the bottom so that about 2 inches of the stem are free of leaves.  Insert into a container of water and let the basil sit near a sunny window.  I have found that empty wine bottles make beautiful containers for basil stems!   Add water as necessary, and over the next 2-4 weeks you should find that the stem has developed good, long roots(with wine bottles, you will have to add water everyday so that the end of the stem is always in water).   If the stem dries out and the leaves wilt because the water level has dipped too low to cover the bottom of the stem, you will have to start over with a fresh stem of basil.

Transplant the rooted basil into a container that has been filled with potting soil that has been thoroughly soaked first.  Make a deep indentation into the wet soil, and set the plant in it.  Firmly tamp down soil around the plant, then place container outside where it will get at least 6 hours of sun per day, in a sunny window, or under a grow light.  Make sure to water whenever it starts to dry out.  After another two weeks, the roots should have satisfactorily developed in the pot that you can transplant, if you wish, into the garden.

Basil will grow indefinitely under the right weather and watering conditions, as long as you regularly cut off the leaves and stem from the top to prevent flowering.

Here is a great marinade using fresh basil that was wonderful for grilled chicken.  You can also use it to marinade shrimp, which you would skewer after marinating in order to grill.  As I have mentioned before, I am a fan of the seasoning compound, Nature's Seasons, but you may substitute seasoning that includes salt, pepper, garlic powder and herbs/spices.

Summer Grilled Chicken
1/4 cup white wine vinegar                                                             
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 clove fresh garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp. Nature's Seasons
4 fresh basil leaves, minced in strips
4-6 chicken breasts

Combine first five ingredients in a medium bowl to make the marinade. Add the chicken breasts, pressing into the marinade, and allow to marinate for an hour, turning breasts occasionally to ensure full coverage. Over med-high heat on gas grill, or hot coals that are no longer flaming on charcoal grill, sear breasts on both sides, then allow to continue cooking on medium heat, turning occasionally until breasts are cooked through, approximately 20 minutes, more or less depending on the size of the breasts. The "touch test" is when you press a finger into the breast and it feels firm. Check by cutting into the thickest part of the breast to see that the flesh is white with no traces of pink remaining. Remove from grill and serve.  

Serving idea: this chicken is great on its own, but also delicious cut into strips and stirred into fettucine alfredo. Even kids love it!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pepperjack Chicken

Certain cheeses complement chicken very well, and one cheese that has a zip to it is pepperjack.  Combined with chicken that has been sauteed with olive oil, a little butter, and fresh herbs, the cheese is the perfect finish.  I used three herbs from my garden - thyme, marjoram and sage - but feel free to experiment with different combinations.  You will get a different taste every time - and try substituting the cheese, too.  Swiss, havarti, and gouda are all good choices.  This chicken can be paired with wild rice, pasta or potatoes, and served with asparagus, broccoli, or a vegetable medley.  Bon appetit!

Peppperjack Chicken
4 chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/2 in. thickness
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic (optional)
1 tbsp. each chopped fresh thyme, marjoram and sage (a few sprigs each of thyme and marjoram, leaves stripped off the stem, and about 5-6 sage leaves)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 slices (sandwich size slices) of pepperjack cheese

Season chicken breasts on both sides with sea salt and pepper.  In skillet, heat olive oil and butter together on medium heat.  Add minced or pressed garlic and chopped herbs, and saute for 20 seconds.  Add chicken breasts to skillet and brown on both sides.  Reduce heat to med. low and cover, cooking chicken until it is no longer pink inside, approximately 10 minutes, turning occasionally.  Remove cover and place 1 slice of cheese on each chicken breast.  Replace cover and continue cooking until cheese is just melted.  Serve immediately.  4 servings.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Blissful Mint Julep

Mint is flourishing in Michigan after the rainy spring we had, coupled with the mild summer now.  And what better time to think of ways to use it?  Since mint is often associated with desserts and beverages, I will present a few recipes in those categories, and then we'll dig into entrees that use mint.  Yum! 

Here is a recipe for an alcoholic beverage that uses fresh mint, garnished with mint sprigs.  It is one of the best Mint Julep recipes around.  If you've never had a Julep, be prepared to be surprised.  Enjoy!

Blissful Mint Julep

Lightly muddle 10 mint leaves and 1 tbsp. Simple Syrup (equal parts sugar and water, cooked in a saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves, then cooled - extra can be stored in the refrigerator) in a mixing glass/  Stir in 3 tbsp. VSOP brandy or your favorite brand of Cognac and  2 tbsp. rye whiskey.  Fill a Julep cup or glass with crushed ice.  Pour mixture over.  Stir until frost forms on outside of cup.  Add more crushed ice to make a mound.  Garnish with 4 mint sprigs and serve with a straw.  Makes 1.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stir the Pot

One thing that always brings people together is cooking.  People like to help, and when they ask, sometimes one of the easiest things to do is hand them a spoon.  Contrary to cautionary tales, "stirring the pot" is very rewarding! 

Yesterday I made chili - and I wanted to experiment with using ground turkey instead of ground beef, pork instead of steak, and some farmers-market-purchased Italian sausage.  One thing I do fairly well is chili, and experimenting is always so much fun.  There are certain essentials to good chili flavor, and other than that, my only rule is "no beans".  I use fresh herbs instead of dried whenever possible, and since I've picked up a few herb plants from the Royal Oak Farmers Market recently, I had fresh thyme, oregano and rosemary on hand.  That is a wonderful thing, in the dead of winter!

So what are the essentials?  At the top of my list are cumin and chili powder.  Beyond that, I always include onions, fresh garlic, sea salt, pepper, Morton's Natures Seasons (I'm a huge fan of this seasoned salt) and crushed or diced tomatoes.  I like spicy chili, so I generally add chopped jalapenos or pepperoncini (and if jarred, some of the liquid from the jar), and I love chunky chili, so I have chopped celery and  green pepper in addition to the chunks of steak.  Here's where the fun comes in - going through the refrigerator and my spice cabinets to add everything else!  In no particular order, I add some of these to get an explosion of tastes: basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, marjoram, sea salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, cayenne pepper, barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, V-8 juice or Bloody Mary mix, beef bouillon, onion soup mix or onion powder (even though I already have chopped onions in the recipe), garlic powder, apple cider or red wine vinegar, chocolate syrup (or if I use baking chocolate, then I also add some brown sugar), Frank's hot sauce or Tabasco (especially if I'm short on hot peppers) and tomato paste.  Chances are there are even more ingredients I've added in the past that just aren't coming to mind now.

The formula is always the same - saute the onions and garlic in olive oil in a large stockpot, then add the ground meat and chunks of meat to brown.  Drain the fat, and start adding the tomatoes and other liquid ingredients, then add any other vegetables, then the seasonings and spices.  Allow to simmer for at least an hour before adjusting any seasonings, stirring occasionally to keep meat from sticking to the bottom.  After two hours I usually add 1/2 can of beer (and then let someone drink the other half), and let the chili simmer at least another 1/2 hour.

This is a work in progress - I will add two chili recipes shortly!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Lettuce wraps are flavorful, filling alternatives to sandwiches, lavash wraps and tacos.  This filling is slightly sweet, slightly spicy and easy to make.  The fresh basil intensifies the flavor, and the crunchy lettuce makes it very satisfying to eat.  You can make these wraps as appetizers or as a meal.  Enjoy!

Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps
1 lb. chicken breast meat, boneless, skinless
Nature's Seasons or other seasoning salt
2 tbsp. veg. oil
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 lg. red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
4-5 button mushrooms (optional), sliced
1 oz. canned sliced water chestnuts, sliced again into thin strips
1 cup shredded cabbage and 1 carrot, cleaned and shredded (or use packaged cole slaw mix of cabbage and carrots)
3-4 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup plum suace
1 tbsp. white vinegar or rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. fish sauce
1 tbsp. oyster sauce (Optional)
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (Optional)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, cut into half again

Optional toppings:
Thai-style peanut sauce, chopped seedless cucumber, chopped peanuts

Prepare all ingredients before cooking as this will cook quickly.

Thinly slice chicken (or make ground chicken in food processor). Saute chicken in hot oil in skillet, seasoned with Nature's Seasons or other seasoning salt to liking, approximately 1/2 - 1 tsp. Cook chicken, stirring often, until no longer pink, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in garlic, ginger, red bell pepper, mushrooms, water chestnuts, cabbage, carrot, and scallions and stir fry for 2 minutes. Stir in plum sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, brown sugar and crushed red pepper flakes. Simmer on med-low heat about 2 minutes. Add basil and cook long enough to wilt the leaves. Place spoonfuls of chicken into a piece of lettuce and add any of the optional toppings as desired. Fold lettuce around filling to form a wrap to eat.