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Monday, March 26, 2012

Tonight's Dinner - Colcannon with Chicken and Roasted Broccoli

Whenever people tell me they don't like vegetables, I wonder if they've ever met my very good friends, Butter and Mr. and Mrs. Seasoning. I have had people rave about veggies at pot lucks and wonder what magical trick I used to make them so delicious. It's almost always butter, salt and pepper. The loss of cooking skills and health fads have made people afraid to flavor their own home cooking then they wonder why it doesn't taste as good as in a restaurant. I'm telling you, it's butter, salt and pepper. So, I ask you, wouldn't it be better for you to splurge at home with a little buttery luxury, rather than getting your satisfaction from fast food?

My lecture is now over and I'll talk about this yummy dinner. The chicken is boneless, skinless chicken thighs that have been seasoned with salt, pepper, granulated garlic and (my new BFF) smoked paprika. After the seasoning, they were simply dipped in an egg wash and dry bread crumbs. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, flipping them once. Crunchy, flavorful and good! The broccoli was tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and granulated garlic and roasted in another pan in the same oven for the same amount of time. Boom! Another yummy veg, seasoned well and coated with a flavorful and healthful fat.

Now, for tonight's recipe - colcannon. If you think you don't like kale, I double-dog-dare you to make this dish! This is a traditional Irish dish that makes use of humble ingredients and transforms them into something deeply comforting and delicious. I recently took this to a party in a crock pot and it was a big hit. On that occasion, I used some dino kale from my garden and a leek from my farm box. Today, I used Russian kale from my garden and green onions from the farmers' market. The foundations of this dish are russet potatoes, some kind of kale, some kind of onion and lots of butter and cream. Feel free to use any kind of kale and any kind of onion. My only advise would be to pre-steam and chop curly kale, if you use it. Dino kale and Russian kale are both tender enough slice and cook along with the onions.

4 lbs. russet potatoes (6 large or 12 medium)
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. butter
1 cup sliced green onions or leeks
4 cups kale that has been trimmed and sliced into thin ribbons
1/2 to 1 cup half & half
salt and pepper

Peel the potatoes and cut them into pretty large chunks - about 2 inches. Rinse the potato chunks in a colander. Add the potatoes and 1 tbsp. salt to a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are fork-tender - about 15 minutes. Drain and allow to air dry while you proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Place 1/2 cup butter into a large, heavy-bottomed, sauce pot. Melt the butter over a medium flame. Add the sliced onions and kale ribbons and saute slowly until tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Return the drained potatoes to their cooking pan. Add the cooked onions and kale along with their butter. Add about 1/2 cup half & half and half a tsp. of salt and some generous grinds of black pepper. Mash them all together with a manual potato masher. Depending on the moisture of the potatoes, you may have to add more cream until they reach a creamy texture. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper, if needed. Finnish by mashing in the remaining 2 tbsp. butter.

This can easily be kept warm while you make the rest of your dinner.

Enjoy your vegetables!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pineapple and Meyer Lemon Marmalade

I love pineapple. I've been known to say, "I'll throw pineapple into just about anything." Have you ever seen a cat on cat nip? That's me on pineapple. I'm not even that picky. Canned pineapple still works its way into my dishes. For years, I've used canned crushed pineapple in my plum and pineapple jam. For this marmalade, I chopped a whole fresh pineapple. I'm really happy with the results and it wasn't that much more work.

I'm getting pretty good at weeknight jamming. If you plan, you can do it too! For marmalade, generally, you can process the fruit one night and make the marmalade the next.

Chopped pineapple sitting on top of the lemon pulp and fruit. The simmered zest and liquid on the right. (And yes, those are extra jars of Lovely Lotion in the background.)

Marmalade that is not made with commercial pectin remains like a thick syrup. I'm good with this. The boiling may take up to 45 minutes. That's why I like to prep one evening and boil the next. Easy Peasy.

Pineapple and Meyer Lemon Marmalade
1 large, fresh, pineapple, peeled, cored and chopped (reserve the cores)
1 cup thinly sliced Meyer lemon zest
8 large Meyer Lemons
4 cups water
6 cups sugar

Prepare jars and lids and boiling water bath. Place a few saucers and teaspoons in the freezer. (If doing this recipe in two steps, save the canning prep for the second night.)

Wash and peel a thin layer zest off of the lemons. Reserve 1 cup of the zest and place in a sauce pan. Add 4 cups cold water. Add the pineapple cores. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Use a sharp knife to cut the remaining peel away from the lemons. Carefully cut the lemon pulp segments away from the membranes. Hold the lemons over the bowl to catch all the juice. 

(The lemon segments, peel with liquid and pineapple can be stored over night for canning the next day.)

Measure the pineapple pieces, lemon segments and simmered peel in an 8 cup (2 quart) measuring cup. Add the zest simmering liquid to bring the measure up to 8 cups. Place all of this in a very large stock pot. Add 6 cups sugar. Bring to a boil and boil until it reaches somewhere between 220 and 226 degrees. Stir frequently. When it comes up to 220 degrees, begin testing with your frozen spoons - scoop a small amount of the marmalade into a frozen spoon and place back into the freezer on a saucer. When it is cool, push it with your finger. If the surface of the marmalade wrinkles, it is done. I should feel like honey on your mouth when you taste it. 

Remove from the heat and skim any remaining foam. Allow to cool for a minute or two and stir to distribute the bits. Carefully ladle into hot jars. Wipe the rims and top with lids and rings. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove to a towel lined tray and allow to sit overnight. 

Makes 7 half-pint jars.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Random Food Fridays - Basic Stir Fry

Here is another one of those basic techniques that can be adjusted in any number of ways. Stir fries and soups are both great ways to use up bits and pieces of veg at the end of the week.

 Tonight's stir fry included snow peas, daikon, asparagus, carrots, onion, garlic and ginger. 

I gave my wok to my daughter sometime last year. When I stir fry, I do it in a very hot cast iron skillet. The only disadvantage to a flat-bottomed pan vs. a wok is that the wok is designed for the liquid that is released by vegetables to collect at the bottom in the area of highest heat. I try to keep my stir fries a bit dry so that they don't over steam. The only items I would consider non-negotiable in this recipe are the garlic and ginger. That's the where the flavor is!

 Here are the veggies all prepared. All are small enough to cook at the same time. The other ingredients are peanut oil, sesame oil, soy sauce and some mandarin orange marinade. My mom picked up the marinade from a farmer at the Mountain Mandarin Festival in Auburn. You could substitute any commercial teriyaki sauce. Sesame seeds get sprinkled over the finished dish.

My dinner! Yum!

I needed a little quick protein, so I added some frozen shrimps. I thawed them in water while preparing the veg. If you use them, add them at the very end, so they just get warmed through and do not over cook. When I make this with chicken, I like to marinate the chicken in the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, mandarin marinade and sesame oil. Again, this is just a foundation for your to adjust to your tastes. Have fun and be brave! 

Basic Stir Fry
1 tbsp. peanut oil
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. mandarin marinade or teriyaki sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 cup snow peas
Some shreds of daikon
Some shaved carrot
5 or 6 asparagus, diagonally sliced
1 large green onion, or some other type of onion, sliced thin
1 cup shrimps 
Sesame seeds

Heat a wok or skillet over high heat. Add the peanut oil and sesame oil. Add the garlic and ginger and stir to coat with oil. Add all the veg and toss to coat with oil and distribute the garlic and ginger. Add the soy sauce and mandarin or teriyaki sauce. Continue to toss the veg in the hot pan until tender-crisp. Add the shrimp and toss until heated through. Remove to serving plate, leaving any excess liquid behind. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Makes one large or two medium sized servings.

Note: to make with chicken, cut up boneless, skinless chicken thighs and marinate in the soy sauce, mandarin or teriyaki sauce, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. Heat the pan and add the peanut oil. Add the chicken pieces and cook until nearly done before adding the veg.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tonight's Dinner - Brats, Greens and Smoked Paprika Roasted Potatoes

Sunday is cooking day. I've had to admit that while cooking real food can be easy and sooooo tasty, to enjoy real, home-cooked, food does take some time. I enjoy puttering in the kitchen so much, that it doesn't seem like a chore to me. It's comforting and creative and I feel in my element. (Sometimes the resulting dishes do feel like a chore, but that's where Mr. Dwayne comes in!)

Today, the contents of my fridge turned into a delicious meal and some awesome soup for weekday lunches. Our dinner included Sheboygan Brats from Morant's - the premier artisan sausage makers in Sacramento. I think it would be seriously challenging to remove the deliciousness from these things! As long as they are cooked to a safe temp, you're good to go. I just pan fried mine with some onions and olive oil. I used up beet greens from last weekend's farmers' market run, and the last little bit of some balsamic vinaigrette for sweet and sour greens. The recipe I want to share from tonight's dinner is for simple roasted potatoes.

Organic potatoes have a habit of sprouting and growing if not dealt with in a timely manner. This an excellent quality that I am counting for potato growing in my garden. However, those little eyes have toxins and they are not to be eaten. My pantry provided a pound of little yellow potatoes from my farm box and three red potatoes from the store. Both were getting their growth on. I trimmed and scrubbed them, dried and cut them and tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper and smoked paprika. I can't believe it has taken so long for smoked paprika to come into my life! (Thanks Garrett!) It adds so much smokey goodness to these simple potatoes. Smoked paprika took these potatoes from a salvage job to a sublime dish, perfect for a stormy Sunday. Do try it!

Smoked Paprika Roasted Potatoes
2 lbs. potatoes, trimmed, washed, dried and cut into large chunks
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. granulated garlic
lots of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Toss all of the ingredients together to coat and place in a 9 X 13 inch baking pan. Roast, uncovered for about 40 minutes. Stir once or twice during the roasting time.

Served two with some leftovers at my house. We probably ate too many!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Random Food Fridays - Creamy Chicken and Asparagus Pasta

Ah, pasta. Sometimes, nothing else will do. It is the food most likely to put me straight into a food coma. Usually, it's worth it. If it's not delicious enough to risk a food coma, I just stop eating.

Creamy Chicken and Asparagus Pasta
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup white wine vinaigrette
8 oz. Pappardelle
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
12 large asparagus spears, washed, trimmed and sliced diagonally
1 shallot, sliced
1 tsp. organic chicken base
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
2 tbsp. sour cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper

Trim and cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Combine with the crushed garlic and white wine vinaigrette. Allow the chicken to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or over night.

Start a large pot of salted water for the pasta. (The sauce comes together quickly, so you'll want to get the pasta going first.) Cook according to package instructions and drain. (If you time it right, the sauce and the pasta will be done around the same time.)

For the sauce, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and tip to coat the pan. Add the marinated chicken and the shallot. After the chicken has cooked about 5 minutes, add the asparagus and the chicken base. (I find organic chicken base at Costco.) Continue to cook until the chicken is cooked through and the asparagus is tender-crisp. Reduce the heat to low and add the ricotta cheese, sour cream, Parmesan cheese and parsley. Stir to combine and add the pasta. Toss to coat the pasta in the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of parsley.

6 servings
565 calories per serving

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mandarin and Cranberry Marmalade with Warming Spices

Here is the first of several new marmalades I've made this year - Satsuma Mandarin oranges, cranberries and a combination of warming spices. Right now, I'm kicking myself for not freezing more fresh cranberries when they were readily available. Next year, I will stock pile!

For what it's worth, Miss Paula declares this to be her favorite so far. In fact, when I gave it to her to taste, after three big spoons full, she asked me to take it away for her own safety! This is very good for the usual applications - toast and yogurt. I think it will also be a welcome dessert filling or glaze.

Mandarin and Cranberry Marmalade with Warming Spices
1 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries
about 24 small Mandarins or other small tangerines
Juice of 1 lemon
6 cups sugar
2 sticks cinnamon
5 slices fresh ginger
2 whole cloves

Prepare jars, lids and boiling water bath. Place some saucers and spoons in the freezer.

Rinse and then roughly chop the cranberries. I usually run them through the slicing blade of my food processor. Set aside in an eight cup measuring cup.

Wash and peel the oranges. Stack sections of the peel and slice very thin. Save 1/2 cup of the sliced peel. Place the sliced peel and 4 cups cold water into a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, pull the segments into quarters and slice out the tough membranes where the segments meet in the middle of the fruit. Slice across the quarters at 1/4 inch intervals. Add the orange pieces to the cranberries, as they are sliced. After the peels have simmered for 30 minutes, drain, reserving liquid. Add the peels to the measuring cup. Add the simmering liquid to the measuring cup until the total of all the fruit and liquid reaches 8 cups.

Add the 8 cups fruit mixture and 6 cups sugar to a large pot. Break the cinnamon sticks into a few pieces and place them, with the ginger and cloves, into a wire mesh tea ball. Add this to the fruit and sugar mixture. Bring to a boil and simmer until thickened. Cranberries have a lot of pectin and this jam will thicken sooner than other marmalades. I pulled mine off the heat at about 216 degrees. When it begins to thicken, test by scooping a small amount into one of the spoons from your freezer. Allow it to cool for a few minutes. You may want to reduce the heat while awaiting the results. When it is cool, but not cold, push it with your finger. If it wrinkles, it is ready.

When desired thickness is reached, remove from heat and skim any remaining foam. Remove the tea ball. Allow to cool for one minute and stir. This helps to even distribute the solid bits throughout the marmalade. Carefully ladle into hot, prepared jars. Wipe the rims and top with lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove and allow to cool overnight before labeling.

Makes about 7 half pint jars.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Random Food Fridays - Ribbon Salad with Pea Shoots and Pepitas

Nom, Nom, Nom

Some cliches just work. They are cliches for a reason, right.

This salad was an experimental model that exceeded my expectations. Like any salad, you could substitute lots of different things, but I particularly like the pea shoots and pepitas with this. I also like the light and zingy flavor of a white wine vinaigrette with this mix. Generally, balsamic is my go-to for vinaigrette, but I wanted the color and variety of these vegetables to come through. I used about half of the vinaigrette recipe on this salad and the rest to marinate some beans for another salad.

Ribbon Salad with Pea Shoots and Pepitas
1 small daikon, or part of a big one (The one I used was about the size of a large carrot.)
2 medium carrots
1 small zucchini
1 heaping cup pea sprouts
hand full of pepitas

Scrub the diakon, carrots and zucchini. Use a vegetable peeler to shave ribbons of each of these vegetables. Stop peeling the zucchini when you reach the seeds. Toss the ribbons with the pea sprouts. Toss all with the white wine vinaigrette and sprinkle with pepitas.

Served two at my house, but we pretty much chowed down!

2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. country style Dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper
pinch garlic & herb seasoning
pinch sugar

Place all ingredients in a jar with a tight lid and shake like crazy.