Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Spring chicken

Oh, thoughts of spring spilled out onto our dinner plates a few nights ago!

Bright green and golden yellow shone brightly at we sat down to enjoy what could have been a boring chicken dinner. Boneless, skinless breasts of chicken are not my favourite piece of meat. I find them rather tasteless and often dry.

But they are convenient, which is why chicken breast recipes are popular with the readers of Canadian Family Magazine. In fact, they are far more popular than any other recipes we post. So I am currently working on developing chicken recipes. Here is one variation that riffs on an Argentinean style of beef served with their signature “green” sauce.

Just a few notes about ingredients you may not be familiar with:

Smoked Sweet Paprika adds a smoky, sweet essence and some fantastic colour to the chicken. If you are in Toronto, Pasquale Bros. has a few varieties in stock or go to Anna Olsen’s website and buy online. This is a must stock spice; paprika with real flavour. Buy and try.

Ancho chile powder is made from dried poblano chiles. I like it because it is not too hot but packs a nuanced balance like a great red wine. I think, combined with the smoke paprika, they are a perfect duo.

The bright yellow beets were roasted unpeeled until tender with their green tops trimmed leaving a one-inch end (to keep the sweet juices trapped inside) for about one hour. When they are cool enough to hold, just push off the skin with your hands. If it is not coming off easily, they are not cooked. I sliced then tossed in some olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Yum.

1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (6 oz each or larger breasts cut in half)
1 tsp olive oil

1 Combine sugar, spices, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub mix into chicken and let rest while you prepare sauce.
2 Pre-heat cast iron pan or barbeque to high. Lightly rub olive oil on chicken.
3 Start with chicken “good side” down and cook for 5 minutes. Turn over and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until cooked through.
4 Remove chicken from pan when done and tent with foil to rest. When serving, drizzle with chimichurri sauce.

Chimichurri sauce
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 medium shallot, peeled
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup parsley leaves, packed
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, packed
1/4 cup mint leaves, packed

1 Combine oil, vinegar, juice, garlic, salt and pepper in blender; blend until almost smooth.
2 Divide the herbs into thirds; blend one third until incorporated. Add remaining herbs in 2 more additions, pureeing until almost smooth after each addition. Thin out if needed with additional oil if needed. Cover and chill. Makes four servings.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Healing Power of Congee

Many of you know that my dear mother-in-law is not well.

I have been bringing her food in hopes of keeping her energy and spirits up. When she got home from the hospital a month ago, I suggested that she try congee. Congee is a rice-based dish that looks somewhat like a thick, white soup. There is a very good congee place right near her house, but my MIL is allergic to gluten and was terrified that unidentified ingredients (mainly soy and fish sauce) would contaminate the good-for-her rice dish.

So I made and bought over a big pot of congee. Spiked with her gluten-free soy sauce (anyone know where you can get gluten-free fish sauce?) it was a soothing, easy-to-digest meal. She kept taking about how it was the only thing she has eaten this month that didn’t make her feel awful.

Just imagine that for one moment….eating usually brings joy or at least satisfaction. Imagine it bringing pain….

After a painful procedure the other day that left her feeling particularly weak, I made another huge pot. I made the stock particularly rich with tons of ginger, garlic, onions, carrots and a mixture of chicken & fatty pork bones.

Congee is one of those things that you can add in whatever you fancy. I like to spike it with chilli oil, cilantro leaves and a few raw peanuts, but that's just me.

Here is my basic congee recipe that I made for Hennie: add additional stock or water if it gets too thick for your liking.

10 cups stock
1 1/2 cups glutinous rice (don’t worry it is not that kind of gluten- it means it's sticky)
1/2 lb pork tenderloin
1 acorn squash, cut in half and cooked in the microwave until tender
3 cups baby bok choy or spinach, chopped
1/4 cup chopped chives
Fish and soy sauce to season

1. Bring stock to a boil. Add rice and stir. Bring back to boil then simmer. Simmer for 1/2 hour or until rice is very tender and the rice is splitting.
2. Slice pork into thin slices then again into slivers. Add to pot. Simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Scoop out baked squash and add to pot then stir in boy choy and chives.4. Taste and add fish and soy sauce or salt.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Recession busting pepperoni and 3-cheese bake

Egg recipes are simple, healthy, mostly pantry-based and they taste great.

And better yet? Eggs are a great ingredient for tight budgets and tight belts. At only 16 cents and 70 jam-packed-with-protein-calories each, eggs are super value all around.

Once you get the technique of this egg dish down pat, you can mix it up. Just remember to pre-cook any vegetables with high water content or else it will be soggy city.

Make it gluten-free with a quick substitution of brown rice flour for wheat flour. My apologies to lactose-free folks out there: it's the cheese that makes this dish sublime!

6 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp each: baking powder & salt
1 cup each: cottage cheese & grated mozzarella cheese, divided
6 sundried tomatoes, sliced into slivers, divided
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
3 bocconcini ball cut into 15 slices (about 2 oz)
18 pepperoni slices

1 Pre-heat oven to 350F
2 Beat eggs well. Mix in flour, baking powder, salt, cottage cheese, 3/4 of mozzarella, half of the tomatoes and basil.
3 Pour eggs into a greased 9” glass pie plate. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella. Top with bocconcini, pepperoni, remaining tomatoes and basil.
4 Bake for 35 minutes or until golden and firmly set when tested with a toothpick.

Makes 6 servings.