Friday, September 22, 2017

Roasted Cauliflower with Pasta and Walnuts

Last Year's Post: Korean Rice Bowls
Two Years Ago:  Healthy Baked Apples

This is an excellent and somewhat unusual pasta dish that can be served warm, room temperature or cold which makes it a good choice for any time of the year.  Plus, it's much lighter and healthier than most heavy red-sauce pastas.

I've recently discovered vegetables that I thought I didn't really care for all that much such as cabbage or cauliflower can actually become wonderful when they're cooked to the point that they turn into something else.  For cabbage, that means cooking it down until it's very tender and sweet (see cabbage and spring onion tart) and for broccoli or cauliflower that means roasting or sauteing  until they're pretty well torched (see chicken and caramelized broccoli ramen) which results in a much deeper and nuttier flavor.  The roasted cauliflower is a highlight of this salad, along with the walnuts and bacon.  (You could also use a combination of roasted cauliflower and broccoli if you want.)   Leave the bacon out and you've got a great vegetarian meal.

The sauce is very simple - good olive oil with a little garlic flavor (or a lot, depending on your taste). You could also add additional red pepper flakes to spice things up - there's just a small amount on the cauliflower.  The cauliflower only roasts for about 20 minutes so you could make this meal in the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta, making it a good choice for a weeknight meal.

Leftovers are excellent cold for lunch - just add a few drops of olive oil and maybe a squeeze of lemon to fresh things up.

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Roasted Cauliflower with Pasta and Walnuts
Serves 4

 1 small head cauliflower, large stems removed, florets separated and halved
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (more for serving, if desired)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
9-10 ounces short-cut dry pasta (such as penne or ziti)
2/3 cup frozen peas
¼ cup olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
4 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
2 slices bacon, chopped, fried until crisp and drained (optional)
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Preheat oven to 450d.

Add cauliflower to a mixing bowl with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and sea salt.  toss to coat, then spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast for 15 minutes, then turn the florets over.  Turn the oven to broil and return to the oven for 5 minutes or so, watching closely, until browned.  Remove and let cool.

Heat a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to directions, adding the peas to the cooking water during the last 1-2 minutes.  Drain.

While the pasta is cooking, add the garlic cloves to the ¼ cup olive oil in a small saucepan and warm gently for a few minutes over low heat.  Remove the garlic cloves.

Return the pasta and peas to their cooking pot and add the garlic oil, parsley and parmesan, tossing to combine.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve with the walnuts and optional bacon scattered on top and additional parmesan on the side.  Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.  (If refrigerated, add a little additional olive oil and toss before serving.)

Friday, September 15, 2017

California Chicken, Avocado and Goat Cheese Salad

Last Year's Post: Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
Two Years Ago:   Mexican Baked Egg Casserole

I do love a beautiful green salad, don't you?  They're so refreshing and healthy.  One thing I've discovered is that if your salad has a large number of ingredients you can cut down on the amount of chicken to make it even healthier.  Of course, feel free to up the amount listed below but honestly we felt it was plenty and were perfectly satisfied.

If you marinate the chicken in advance, it's very easy to throw together the vinaigrette while the chicken cooks (or make that in advance too).  Then all you have to do is a little ingredient slicing and you're good to go.

One of my favorite tricks to make a salad even more appealing is to chill the salad plates in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so. It makes the salad seem restaurant-special.

Have you discovered watermelon radishes yet?  They taste like a mild version of a regular red radish but they're so pretty with the pink center and pale green ring on the outside.  I always have fun at checkout when I buy one because the cashiers never know what they are. Like the trick of chilling your plates, adding one unusual ingredient can elevate your entire salad to a new level.  Here's what they look like in the store - you'd never know how pretty they are on the inside.

 And take some time arranging the ingredients to make sure the colors look good next to each other.  My final suggestion for this salad is to use smoked almonds rather than regular almonds because again, it just adds a little extra flavor.  And it seems very California-y.

California Chicken, Avocado and Goat Cheese Salad
Serves 4

Note: because there are so many other ingredients the recipe calls for less chicken than, say, in a chicken Caesar salad.  Feel free to increase the amount as desired.

8 ounces boneless skinless chicken tenders or cutlets
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon kosher salt and pepper
2 heads romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
1/3 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 watermelon radishes, thinly sliced (can substitute red radishes)
1 avocado, sliced
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese
½ cup smoked almonds, coarsely chopped
Large handful of sprouts or micro greens

White Balsamic Vinaigrette:
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, parsley, basil, paprika, cayenne, and salt and pepper.  Between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, gently pound the chicken tenders or cutlets to an even thickness.  Place them in a zip top bag and pour the marinade over.  Close the bag, massage the chicken to coat evenly, and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to overnight.

To make the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a glass jar and shake well.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Keep stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium high.  Grill the chicken for 2-3 minutes per side, until cooked through.  Let rest, and then thinly slice the chicken.

In a large bowl, toss together the lettuce, cucumbers and vinaigrette.  Divide among 4 large plates, preferably chilled.  Divide the chicken slices between salads, and surround with avocado slices, radish slices, cherry tomatoes, crumbled goat cheese and almonds.  Garnish with sprouts and serve.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Lemony Kale and White Bean Soup

Last Year's Post: Italian Tuna
Two Years Ago:   Grilled Hawaiian Filipino Adobo Pork

This is a wonderfully comforting soup with the touch of lemon, rich chicken broth, and creamy beans, plus it's incredibly good for you.  For some reason I think white beans are very soothing, maybe because they're so creamy.  Anyway, this would be a great dinner to have during a particularly stressful week because it's light, healthy, warm and comforting all at the same time.  Make it in advance and all you have to do is reheat it on your worst day.  And because the soup is relatively light, it makes a nice transition into fall without going all the way to a big bowl of chili.

The chicken broth plays an important role her so use the best quality that you can find, or make your own.  I did that recently and it was actually a fun project plus I have containers sitting in my freezer just ready for the next recipe. Click here if you're interested.

If you don't want to make your own broth, be sure to use a low sodium variety.  One of the main reasons to make your own soup is to control the sodium.  Prepared soups (whether canned, from the deli or in a restaurant) have unbelievable amounts of sodium - check it out next time.  I love Panera soups, for example, but a bowl of their soup can have as much sodium as you should consume in a day, if not more.  I didn't list the amount of salt to add to the soup because it all depends on the sodium level in your chicken broth - start with a small amount and taste as you go.  You can always add more at the table.

Serve the soup with some crusty bread for a very satisfying meal.

Lemony Kale and White Bean Soup
Serves 4-6

Note: There are no amounts given for salt and pepper because it really depends on the chicken stock you use.  I used zero-sodium chicken stock and add ½ teaspoon of both salt and pepper while cooking and it still needed more salt at the table.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large stalk or celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, diced
1/8 cup dry sherry
6 cups good quality low-sodium chicken stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
1 bunch Tuscan (Lacinato) kale, stemmed, washed and chopped
2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or 8 oz dried white beans, cooked and drained)
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the celery, carrots, garlic and shallots and sauté until just tender, 5-8 minutes.  Deglaze with the sherry, then add the stock, bay leaf and thyme.  Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes.    Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

Remove the thyme and bay leaves, then add the kale and simmer for an additional 8 minutes. Add the beans and lemon zest and juice and cook, stirring, for 5 more minutes to make sure everything is hot.  Taste and adjust seasonings again if needed.  Serve hot.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Chicken with Fresh Corn Sauce and Wild Rice

Last Year's Post:  Mayan Quinoa Salad
Two Years Ago:    Wine Bar (or Brewery) Platters

This chicken and fresh corn sauce recipe recently caught my eye because it's still fresh corn season in many areas.  The recipe is courtesy of the esteemed French chef Pierre Franey, which inevitably means it contains butter and cream.  I debated whether to make the recipe healthier by replacing the cream with corn puree but ultimately decided that once in a while a treat is in order.  And am I glad!  This is a restaurant-quality dish, definitely worthy of company.  Just to give you an idea about the sauce, The Lawyer told me "do NOT throw out the leftover sauce".  When I asked him what he was going to do with it (the chicken and rice were all gone) he said, "I don't know, but I'll eat it straight up if nothing else".  Enough said, I guess.

When I first read the chicken recipe I envisioned it with one of my favorite recipes for wild rice on the side, thinking that the contrast in color, texture and taste would go well with the chicken and sauce.  It went so well that I'm including the recipe for the rice here as well.  If you don't want to make them together that's up to you but I strongly suggest it.  Both the chicken and wild rice are very fast to prepare as long as you cook the rice in advance; if not, add about an hour to the 20-30 minutes it takes to make everything else.

Yes, there is some butter and cream involved.  But what better way to celebrate fresh corn and the last fleeting days of summer?

Chicken with Fresh Corn Sauce and Wild Rice
Serves 4

Note:  the wild rice needs to be cooked in advance; it may be prepared up to the day prior and refrigerated, covered.

For the chicken and sauce:
4 skinless, boneless chicken cutlets
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
1 large ear of corn, shucked and kernels cut off
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup minced shallots
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2/3 cup heavy cream
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley

For the wild rice:
1 cup uncooked wild rice
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped roasted red pepper (from a jar)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

To cook the wild rice: rinse the rice in a strainer, then place in a medium saucepan and cover with water until the water is an inch or two above the rice.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover (the rice should be at a low simmer) for 45-50 minutes until the individual grains have mostly split but are not fully opened and curled.  Check the rice partway through cooking and add more water if it begins to get dry – there should be some left in the pan by the end of cooking.  Drain and set aside.

To prepare the chicken, rinse and pat dry.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.  Melt the 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the chicken.  Cook 2 minutes and turn, then cover for an additional 2 minutes until cooked through.  Remove and set aside.  Do not wipe out the pan.

At this point, start the rice: melt the 2 tablespoon of butter in a second large skillet over medium heat.  Add the pecans and lightly toast for a minute or two, then add the green onions and red pepper.  Stir for a minute or two, then add the garlic salt, cooked wild rice, and parsley.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes until the rice is heated through and slightly crispy.

While the rice heats, make the sauce:  add the shallots to the skillet the chicken was in and cook briefly.  Add wine and bring to a boil.  Add the corn and stir in the mustard.  Add the cream and stir to blend.  Bring to a boil for a minute or two to reduce slightly, then add the parsley.

To serve:  place a portion of wild rice on each plate.  Add a chicken cutlet and spoon sauce and corn over the chicken.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Spicy Pork and Noodles with Herbs

Last Year's Post: Coconut Curry Rice
Two Years Ago:   Summer Harvest Quiche

There are two ways you can go at this recipe.  You can treat it as an adventure and an excuse to visit your local Asian market, or you can use the ingredients you have on hand or can find at your regular grocery store.  I was particularly intrigued by the casual mention at the very end of the recipe about serving the chile oil and chile oil solids on the side at the table.  Chile oil solids?  Not in any brand I've ever purchased at my local grocery store. Happily, we have wonderful and extensive Asian markets in Phoenix so I took a trip and found not only the specific chile oil the recipe calls for, but even the Sichuan preserved vegetables (they're actually pickled mustard greens).

I asked the guy at the checkout counter if he'd ever had the chile oil because it looks like it could be fiery.  He just nodded and smiled and as I left he said, "be careful with that one".  Ohkaaaay.  I took that advice seriously and only added a little chile oil at the table (with said solids) and it was plenty for me.  But it wasn't as explosively hot as I expected.

If you want to go the other route, skip the preserved vegetables (truth be told, I couldn't really taste them anyway) and use a chile oil from the Asian aisle of your local grocery store. You could even use Sriracha or another hot sauce to give it some spice if you don't want to buy chile oil at all.

This is a very easy recipe to prepare and can be served hot or at room temperature.  The important part, however, is to make sure the pork mixture becomes browned and crispy because the texture is very appealing with the noodles, herbs, radishes and peanuts.  I debated long and hard whether to substitute ground turkey for the ground pork, which I would normally do to cut down on fat and calories, but decided for the sake of authenticity to go with the pork.  Although the pork was very good, I think you could substitute ground turkey or chicken without too much change in flavor as long as you make sure to brown the meat until it's crisp.

Spicy Pork and Noodles with Herbs
Serves 4

1 pound thin, round rice noodles (or other thin noodles)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon black vinegar
1 tablespoon chile oil (like Lao Gan Ma brand)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
½ pound ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 1-inch piece ginger, chopped
2 scallions, light parts chopped, green parts reserved for garnish
1 tablespoon yacai (Sichuan preserved vegetables, optional)
 Handful of herbs like mint, basil and cilantro leaves, washed
¼ cup salted, roasted peanuts, chopped
4 radishes, sliced

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and cook noodles according to instructions. Drain noodles while running under cold water, until they are cool to the touch. Toss with sesame oil to avoid sticking.  Set aside. Mix dressing by whisking rice vinegar, soy sauce, black vinegar, chile oil and sugar until sugar dissolves. Set aside.

Cook the pork topping: Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat, and add ground pork and salt. Pan-fry, breaking meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until no pink parts and no liquid remain in the pan, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and scallion whites, and stir occasionally until the raw smell has disappeared and the meat is starting to brown in places, about 5 minutes. Add the vegetables, if using, along with a tablespoon of water, and cook for 2 or 3 minutes more, or until mixture is darkened and thick.  (The pork should be browned and crispy.)

Divide noodles between four individual bowls, and top each with a tablespoon of vinegar dressing followed by a pile of ground pork, herbs, peanuts and radishes. Serve with additional chile oil and chile-oil solids, on the side.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Grilled Spiced Salmon with Corn Relish

Last Year's Post: Mexican Chicken Pasta
Two Years Ago:   Roasted Tomato Californian

It's corn season, and this is a fun and different way to use fresh corn.  Almost nothing says "summer" more than grilling so celebrate the end of summer and the fleeting corn season with a healthy and delicious salmon and corn dinner.

I made fairly drastic changes to a recipe I found in the New York Times that featured halibut, but I'm sure the halibut would be equally good.  Their recipe called for pre-cooked corn which made no sense if you're going to be grilling anyway, does it?  If it's not corn season, just use frozen thawed corn - Trade Joes even has a bag of frozen roasted corn with nice char marks already on it that would be perfect.

Note that the recipe says to marinate the fish with spices for up to 3 hours, although I'm not sure why.  I think you could skip that step and go directly from rubbing on the spice mix to the grill, letting the fish sit and marinate on the side while you grill the corn.

Regarding the spices, they're fairly potent so use your discretion regarding how much to add to the salmon and how much to add to the corn relish.  I preferred a light hand with the spices so I could taste them more as a background note to the fresh salmon and corn. If you really like the spices in Indian food, by all means increase the amount.  Just remember you can always add more later but you can't take some out.

The yogurt might seem like an unusual addition but the neutral creaminess goes really well with the spices and the rich salmon.  If you skip (or shorten) the marinating step, this is a really easy weeknight dinner.  Start the grill, rub the spices on the salmon, then start some rice.  Grill the corn, then put the salmon on the grill while you (or a helpful friend) make the corn relish.  Start to finish, I would say this shouldn't take any longer than about 45 minutes.

Grilled Spiced Salmon with Corn Relish
Serves 4

2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground fennel seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 salmon fillets, 5-6 ounces each
2 lemons (1 juiced and 1 quartered)
1 large or 1 small ears fresh corn, shucked (about 2 cups of kernels)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves plus more for garnish
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
Hot cooked rice

Combine cumin, coriander, fennel, ½ teaspoon black pepper and ½ teaspoon salt.  Rub salmon fillets with juice of ½ lemon, then sprinkle on some of the spice mix (light to medium as preferred), leaving at least 2 teaspoons spice mix for the corn relish.  Rub the spice mix in, then refrigerate the salmon for up to 3 hours.

Preheat a grill to medium-high.  Brush the ears of corn with the vegetable oil, then grill for 2 minutes per each of 4 sides until grill-marked and tender.  Remove and let cool.

Place the salmon fillets on the grill skin side down for about 5 minutes, then carefully flip with a spatula (the skin should come right off).  Grill another 3-4 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 140d.  Remove and let rest for 5 minutes.

While the salmon is grilling, prepare the corn relish:  stand the ears of corn upright and cut the kernels off the cobs.  Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet, then add the chopped onion and sauté until tender.  Stir in 1-2 teaspoons spice mix (depending on preference) and sauté, stirring, until you can smell the spices.  Add corn kernels and the juice of ½ lemon.  Cook briefly to heat through, then add the cilantro and stir to combine.

To serve, place some rice on each plate.  Top with a salmon fillet and corn relish.  Add a dollop of yogurt or sour cream on the side and garnish with a lemon wedge and cilantro sprig.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Chicken Paillards

Last Year's Post:  Spanish Omelet
Two Years Ago:   Cold Sesame Noodles with Cucumber

Paillard (pie-yar) is just a fancy term for a chicken or veal cutlet that's been pounded until it's thin and then grilled or sauted.  It's often cooked in a skillet with the pan drippings used to make a sauce, but I like this particular recipe because it's healthier - the additional flavor comes from seasonings, greens and a mustardy vinaigrette instead of a butter sauce.  It's a very quick, elegant and healthy weeknight dinner.

My inspiration for making it this week was the container of baby kale that I found at the grocery store.  Baby kale?  Totally cute, ridiculously healthy, tender and delicious.  If you can find it, try it, but if you can't, use arugula for a similar tender-yet-slightly-bitter taste.

All you have to do is toast some nuts, gently pound the chicken, make the vinaigrette, cook the chicken for about 4 minutes, and toss the greens.  I think it took less than 30 minutes from start to finish.

One last note about pine nuts:  I added them here because I thought they would go perfectly, and they did.  However, there must be a worldwide pine nut shortage because they're expensive and hard to find at the moment, so feel free to substitute toasted almonds or walnuts.

Chicken Paillards
Serves 4

2 large or 4 small boneless skinless chicken breast halves
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Garlic powder
Grated zest and juice of ½ lemon
½ teaspoon grainy mustard
8 cups baby kale, baby arugula, or mixed greens
Shaved parmesan cheese
½ cup toasted pine nuts

To make the dressing, whisk the lemon zest and juice, mustard, and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a bowl until combined (or shake in a small jar).  Season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside.

Preheat a grill pan, outdoor grill, or large nonstick pan to medium high.

If using large chicken breasts, cut each in half horizontally to make two cutlets.  Place the chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound gently using a meat hammer until each is an even thickness and quite thin – about ¼”.  Remove the chicken pieces from the plastic and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, massaging it into both sides with your hands.  Sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

If using a nonstick pan, coat lightly with oil.  Grill or sauté the chicken pieces for 2-3 minutes per side until cooked through.  Place on individual plates

Combine the greens with just enough dressing to coat lightly, then mound on top of the chicken.  Top with parmesan shavings, toasted pine nuts and additional freshly ground black pepper.