Sunday, March 26, 2006

Chicken: Mexican and Texican

There are days that I don't feel like cooking. I wake up uninspired in the morning, shuffle over to the freezer or fridge and just stare at the insides. I stare at what's on the shelves, at what's hiding in the crisper, I uninterestedly squeeze the celery or poke a tomato and close the doors. After five seconds, I open them again, as if expecting an inspiring new load of groceries, or for the cooking muse to hit me over the head with a stale piece of cheese. But no such luck.

The last three weeks have been like that. Usually my night stand contains stacks of cooking books, a newsletter or two with dates for cooking classes, and several gastronomy travel guides, and I look forward to going to bed and reading for a while. The recipes line up in my head after I have fallen asleep, and when I wake up in the morning, one of the first thoughts is : "Yummmm......I think I'll fix some *insert name of dish here* today", and all is well. I jog over to the freezer, make sure I have all the ingredients and go on my merry way. But lately, I have left the books unopened and even returned the Two Fat Ladies cooking video series back to the library without viewing.

But God is good, and He must have pitied me because last night the Taste of Home Cooking Show (http://www.tasteofhomeschools.com) came to town. Proud as a puppy I entered the premises of the Four Rivers Cultural Center with my ticket in hand, ready to be whipped back into cooking shape, and encouraged to be inspired. It was a fun evening, with wonderful, easy to prepare recipes, tips and suggestions, and lots and lots of material. The next morning, I knew I was back on track, because the first thing on my mind was a great pork barbecue dish that had been prepared at the show. Hurray!!!! I'm not big on pork unless it's in the shape of a slab of bacon, so I'm preparing the meal with chicken instead.

Tortillas with Pulled Chicken Barbecue

1/2 can chopped green chilies (4 oz)
1/2 can tomato sauce (8 oz)
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thin
2 tablespoons of your favorite salsa
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 large chicken breasts
1 cup cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
Flour tortillas
Sour cream
Salsa

In a non-stick pan with lid, or a crockpot, add the chilies, tomato sauce, barbecue sauce, onion, salsa, chili powder and cumin, and stir the ingredients. Bring to a slow boil, add the whole chicken breasts and the beans, and turn low to a simmer. Set you crockpot to high. Cover and let it cook for 2 1/2 hours. Take the chicken out of the pot, and with two forks, pull the meat in shreds, return it to the pan and stir the meat into the sauce. Heat the tortillas, scoop a generous amount of chicken barbecue in one, fold, dollop some sour cream and salsa on top and enjoy this delicious meal. Serves two for lunch, or four for a snack.

Now what to do with the leftover chilies and tomato sauce? No worries !!

Mexican Chicken and Bean Soup

2 Maggi Chicken and Tomato bouillon cubes (from the Hispanic section in your supermarket)
8 cups of water
2 chicken breasts
3 ribs of celery, cut in 1 inch pieces
2 cups of baby carrots
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thick
1/2 can of chopped green chilies
1/2 can of cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon of dry taco mix

Dissolve the two bouillon cubes in the 8 cups of water, add to a stock or soup pot and bring slowly to a boil. Add the two whole chicken breast, and simmer on low for a good hour. Remove the chicken from the bouillon, cut into bitesize pieces and return to the pot. Add the celery, carrots, onion, chillies and beans, stir and finally add the taco mix. Stir well, bring to a boil, turn low and simmer for another forty minutes, salt and pepper to taste if needed.

This soup is best the next day, with a spoon of salsa, sourcream and some crunchy tortilla chips. Add some cilantro on top for color.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Potage with chorizo

Potage with chorizo really doesn't *sound* that appetizing, does it? Especially if you don't know what potage is, I guess. Poh-taaazh..... I love that word. Here, say it with me: pohhhhh-taaaaaazzzzzhhhhhh........ I get visions of sturdy clay pots with bubbling, savory broth containing vegetables and meat, on a solid old farmers kitchen table in the middle of the Provence, accompanied by a piece of crusty French bread, and a fancy piece of cheese. Not that I've ever been to the Provence, mind you. Or at least doubt I have. But the word potage just sort of rolls of your tongue. Poh-tah-zhe. Poh-tah-zhe with chorizo. No, definitely doesn't sound right. Chorizo is such an abrupt, strong short word. Cho-ree-zoh. Almost sounds Japanese, if you didn't know any better. Which I don't, let's face it. Oh by the way, potage is " liquid food prepared from meat, fish, or vegetable stock combined with various other ingredients and often containing solid pieces", as defined by Answers.com. Hmmm....I think I like my visual better.

Julie Engel from the Argus had a nice article about bridging cultural gaps through food in last Sunday's edition. Two of the food items she mentioned have stuck with me all week: chorizo and baked ziti. Neither one of these dishes are in my freezer so I'm caught in a dilemma. Should I give the freezer a break for a day? I weigh my chances, yes no yes no, and go with the yes. What the heck, I'll just make up for it tomorrow, how's that !!

Potage with chorizo

Chorizo is a brilliant invention: a spicy pork sausage with garlic and paprika. Yummmm !!! It's originally from Spain, but can also be found in Mexico and the Caribbean, although in a slightly different version. The Spanish chorizos are usually cured, the Mexican chorizo is often fresh. For today's dish we're using the Spanish sausages, you can find these at Red Apple.

1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 large onion, peeled
4 medium potatoes, peeled
3 chorizos, cut in 2 inch pieces
warm water
half a cube of Maggi Pollo con Tomate bouillon (or beef bouillon)
1 1/2 cups of turnip greens, green cabbage or kale
pinch of thyme
salt, pepper
1/2 tablespoon of paprika

Choose a pan, or pot, with a lid. Add the olive oil to the pan and put it on the stove, on medium. Thinly slice the garlic cloves, chop the onion and add both to the pan, stirring carefully, letting the onions get soft. Cut the potatoes in bitesize pieces, and add to the onions. Keep stirring occassionally so that the garlic doesn't burn. Add the chorizo, cook for five minutes, then add just enough warm water to cover the contents. Carefully stir in the bouillon cube and the greens, then top off with the pinch of thyme, and the paprika. Bring quickly to a boil, lower to simmer and cover with a lid. Let it simmer until the potatoes are done, approximately twenty minutes. About ten minutes into the cooking, uncover the pot and stir the ingredients once. This will release some of the starches in the potato and thicken the broth. Serves 4.

This is great: it's simple, good, solid, honest food. Gotta love it!!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Pork Panini with Roasted Red Peppers

Panini is plural for panino, bread roll, in Italian. The word itself creates a visual image of crunchy grilled bread with dark crisscross marks on the outside, and hot tasty meat, roasted vegetables and oozing cheese on the inside.

Yesterday I pulled four thin cut pork loin boneless chops out of the freezer. The thin cut serves especially well for sandwiches, as it cooks quicker. And with four crunchy rolls from our local Tres Coronas Bakery (more about this place some other time!), we'll have a quick and tasty lunch today. Serves four.

Pork Panini

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced very thin
1 can of mushrooms, 4 oz, drained
4 thin cut pork loins, boneless
1 tablespoon of rosemary (dried or fresh)
4 rolls
4 slices of Swiss or American cheese
roasted red peppers (the dollar stores carries these often, buy some extra next time you're in there!)
salt and pepper

Melt 1/2 of the olive oil in a large skillet or grill pan and add the sliced onion, letting it simmer on low until the onion is soft and lightly browned, about ten minutes. Drain the can of mushrooms and add to the onions, simmer on low for five more minutes, add a small pinch of salt and pepper, then push them to one side of the pan.

Lightly salt and pepper the pork chops on both sides and rub in the rosemary. Melt the rest of the oil in the pan and quickly sear the meat on both side, then turn to low. Stir the onions with the mushrooms once or twice to make sure they heat evenly.

Mix the mustard with the mayo, and cut the bread lengthwise, spreading the mayo-mustard on the bottom piece. Slice the roasted red peppers.

Assemble the sandwich as follows: place a piece of pork on the bottom part of the sandwich, on top of the mayo-mustard. Cover the pork with a slice of cheese. Scoop a good helping of onions and mushrooms on top, garnish this with roasted red pepper slices and cover it all with the top part of the sandwich. Place this between the plates of your former-boxer-turned-cooking-fiend countertop grill and grill briefly. You can also use your stovetop grilling pan or skillet, turning it over so both sides will toast evenly. Place a plate on top of the sandwich to weigh it down.

*if you like a bit of heat, put a pinch of red chili flakes on top of your onions before you grill the sandwich

Bon Profito!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Mixed Berry Cobbler

When I opened the ad circular of one of our local stores, the words "Freezer Frenzy: March is National Frozen Food Month!" stared me straight in the face, as if mocking me. For the last three days, I have been down with a nasty flu. Just thinking about cooking or food was enough to send me straight back to bed, and I have not made any progress on getting our freezers emptied out. How frustrating!

Looking at the ads again this evening I groan, not so much at the sight of food (I must be getting better!), but because I am missing out on some great deals. It's been "freezer frenzy" in my house since last October and I am not even close to having enough space cleaned out so I can buy new food!

The National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA) has been coordinating the March National Frozen Food Month promotion for 21 years. Why? Because it works, they say. The sales numbers of frozen foods increase considerably during that month, enough to organize a $10,000 sweepstakes. They also provide recipes and tips at http://www.bringustoyourtable.com/.

Here I learn that not only is March Frozen Food month, but that in the June/July timeframe we can expect a Summer Favorites Ice Cream and Novelties sales event. And when I read that October is the Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Festival month, I am encouraged to continue with my own freezer frenzy project. I may have my freezers empty just in time for the festival! How about you?


Mixed Berry Cobbler

2 cups of frozen berry mix
1 cup of sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons milk, room temperature
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat the oven and set at 350F. Mix the frozen berries with a 1/4 cup of the sugar and set to the side. Stir flour, 1/2 cup of the sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Pour in the milk and stir until you have a smooth batter.

Place the butter in a 9 inch pie pan and swirl around so you cover the bottom of the pan. Pour in the batter, then put the berries on top, spreading them evenly. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden on the middle rack of the oven. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup sugar over the pie when it comes out of the oven. Serve warm with some vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Two quiches: salmon and chicken-vegetable

Triple hurray for the freezer in the garage! I've shuffled some items around and I have seen its bottom! Noooo....not that bottom, but I am excited about the fact that we are making progress in this effort to use up all we have in the freezer and replace it with some fresh items. Incidentally, it is giving me an excellent idea on what to skip hoarding next time, or what to safely buy five-fold when it's on sale, like half-gallons of milk or frozen vegetable mixes.

BJ, my husband, is a milk-drinker but I am not, so we only freeze half gallons (remove about a 1/4 cup from each plastic bottle before you freeze it, the milk will expand and might break the container if you don't). I have come to really appreciate my huge quantity of frozen vegetables, and will probably continue to stock those, as they come in so handy for stews, soups and as we will see today, quiches. Nothing beats the fresh stuff ofcourse, but frozen is a close second. And I have also learned to freeze meat in smaller portions, to always have a fryer or two on hand and since I have learned to cut and debone a chicken, I no longer have to buy the expensive frozen chicken breasts or tenders ! See Basic Chicken Soup post from November 19 2005 for details on how to cut up a chicken.

Yesterday, I found two 9 inch pie crusts in that same garage freezer, so today we're having Quiche. This can be a great meal for lunch with a salad, or a dinner party if you offer various fillings. Be creative!

Salmon Quiche

1 cup small broccoli crowns (if you use fresh broccoli, steam them first before using)
1 can salmon (16 oz)
5 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon corn meal or breadcrumbs
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper

Preheat oven at 350F. Drain the salmon well and remove skin and bones as well as you can. Mix the eggs in a bowl, and add the milk slowly, beat again, and add in the tomato paste, and beat again until well blended. Remove the pie crust from the freezer, distribute the corn meal or breadcrumbs evenly over the bottom, and place pieces of the salmon on top. A quiche will usually be cut in 8 wedges, like a pie, so make sure each piece has a nice chunk of salmon. Place the broccoli in between the salmon pieces, ensuring that the surface of the pie is well covered. Pour the egg mixture over the salmon and the broccoli, filling the pie crust. Do not overpour.

Place in the middle of the oven and bake for 45'-50' or until a toothpick comes out clear.

This is great served straight from the oven, with a nice salad or cold the next day with some ketchup.

Chicken Vegetable Quiche

2 cups of mixed frozen vegetables: I chose corn, green beans and red peppers for this quiche.
5 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 large chicken breast
1/2 tablespoon italian seasoning
pinch of thyme
salt
pepper
olive oil
1 garlic clove
brie or grated cheese
1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs or corn meal

Mix the vegetables in a bowl and season with salt, pepper, and the herbs. Set aside. Cut the chicken in small, bitesize pieces and brown quickly in a pan with some olive oil and garlic. Add to the vegetables and stir. Mix the eggs with the milk, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Drain the vegetable/chicken mix of any liquids that might have accumulated at the bottom of the bowl and place in the pie crust, after you have covered the bottom of the crust with the breadcrumbs or the corn meal. This will soak up any liquid that might generate during cooking. Distribute the vegetable/chicken mix over the pie crust. Add grated cheese, or little chunks of brie, then pour over the egg mixture and fill the pie crust.

Place in a preheated oven at 350F and cook for 45-50 minutes.

Have a lovely meal!