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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tarragon Chicken Thighs

I love fresh tarragon!  It has a very distinct anise flavor and it works well with chicken, fish or vegetables.  Although tarragon is used extensively in French cooking, it is not used very often in American cooking.  If you've never cooked with fresh tarragon, this is a great recipe to try.  Tarragon can be purchased fresh in your local market during the spring and summer months, and it can be purchased dried, but the fresh flavor is much more bright and aromatic.

For this recipe we wanted to showcase the tarragon flavor by using it with chicken.  Chicken thighs make an inexpensive dinner and they have much more flavor than the white meat, and tarragon adheres to the dark meat very nicely.

The seasoning for this recipe is super easy, by using a compound butter.  This is made with a mixture of butter, olive oil, minced garlic and chopped tarragon.  Mix the butter, rub it onto the chicken, pour a little white wine around the chicken, then pop it in the oven. Dinner is ready in about an hour.  Enjoy!!

8 - 10  Chicken Thighs
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper
4 oz  Salted Butter, softened
1 TB  Olive Oil
1 TB  Minced Garlic
2 TB  Chopped Fresh Tarragon
1 cup  White Wine

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Rinse the chicken thighs under cool water and pat dry with paper towels.  Place the chicken on a roasting pan and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl combine the butter, olive oil, garlic and tarragon, blending with a fork until smooth.  Rub a teaspoon of the compound butter onto each chicken thigh, rubbing half inside the skin and the other half on the outside of the skin.  This will help season the meat and keep it moist, while making the outer skin crispy.

Pour the white wine around the chicken thighs and bake for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and cook for 30 - 40 minutes longer, or until the chicken juices run clear and the chicken is golden and crispy.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Salmon Salad with Mango-Avocado Salsa

Salad Sunday is a new feature we've started at our house, and it's sure to be lots of fun as we work our way into the warmer summer months.  Making a dinner salad is a great way to save money by using lots of fresh produce that's currently in season.  It's also a great way to boost your fruit and veggie intake, which is something that's good for everyone, especially kids.

Another reason for our Sunday Salad idea is that Sunday is a really busy day at our house and making a salad is a simple way to get a healthy dinner on the table fast.  So check back each Monday for a new dinner salad idea.  We've got lots of great salads coming up.

For this week's dinner we started off with a piece of seared salmon.  With just salt and pepper for seasoning, it's a healthy protein that cooks quickly and keeps the meal nice and light.  We placed the cooked salmon on a bed of mixed greens including spinach, radicchio, and romaine lettuce, then we were ready for a colorful salsa on top.

The salsa can be made an hour early to let all of the flavors blend, which makes dinner prep quick and easy.  Fresh mango, avocado, red onion and garlic are combined with a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, lime juice and honey to create a light and summery sauce to spoon over the salmon.

4 - 5 portions of  Salmon Fillet, skin removed
1-1/2 TB  Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Red Wine Vinegar
2 TB  Lime Juice
2 tsp  Honey
6 TB  Olive Oil
1/4 cup  Minced Red Onion
1 small  Jalapeno Pepper, minced
1 tsp  Minced Garlic
1  Mango, diced
1 Avocado, diced
1/2 tsp  Kosher Salt
Dash of White Pepper
6 cups  Mixed Greens or Romaine Lettuce, washed

Whisk together the red wine vinegar, lime juice and honey, then whisk in the olive oil.  When the vinaigrette is fully blended, add the onion, jalapeno, garlic, mango, avocado, salt and white pepper.  Stir with a spoon to combine, then chill until ready to serve.

In a large skillet, heat 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.  Season the salmon portions with salt and pepper.  When the oil is shimmering, place the salmon in the skillet, top side down and cook for about 4 - 5 minutes, depending on thickness, or until browned.  Gently turn the salmon over and cook 4 - 6 minutes longer or until cooked through, but still a little pink in the center.  Turn the heat off and remove the skillet from the stove to allow the salmon to rest until the salads are ready to be plated.

Place a bed of salad greens on each plate, then place a portion of salmon on top of the greens.  Spoon the salsa over the salmon and serve.  Enjoy!!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sauteed Collard Greens with Bacon

This was the main focus of our Southern dinner tonight, the Sautéed Collard Greens.  My husband brought these giant leaves home from work, saying all of his co-workers loved them, so maybe I could cook something with greens, too. Surprise!!

These huge greens were quite a mystery to me but I was pleased with the way they turned out.  In order convince my youngest daughter, a.k.a. - the picky eater, to try these, I knew I would have to include something to spark her interest, and I thought Bacon!  That almost always works.

So we started with sautéed bacon and onions, which is a great start for just about anything, then added the greens and let them cook down for about 20 minutes.  The greens were actually delicious with a flavor somewhat similar to cabbage, but also like spinach.  The 20 minutes of cooking time can be extended depending on your own preferences.  After 20 minutes they were nicely softened, but still tender-crisp.

Collard greens are very different but I can't wait to try them in other recipes.  They might even be good in a quiche, so stay tuned for that at a later date.

My daughter liked the greens, too.  She added a little dash of cider vinegar to hers, which is also the way she likes to eat spinach.  So whatever works for her, works for me. Collard greens might have a bit of a bad reputation, especially for Northerners, but they are definitely worth trying.  The nutritional content is pretty amazing, with just 46 calories in a 1/4 pound of greens and they are a great source of vitamins C, K, and fiber.

We served the Collard Greens with Crispy Crunchy Fried Chicken and Baked Corn PuddingEnjoy!!

1  lb  Collard Greens
1/4 lb  Bacon, chopped
1 medium  Onion, chopped
Water, if needed
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large bowl, wash the greens in cool water, then let them sit for about 15 minutes, then rinse once more under cool water.

Use a large knife to cut the center thick stalk from each of the large leaves.  Stack 3 or 4 leaves on top of each other, then roll them into a tube and slice the greens into ribbons.  Place the sliced greens into cool water until ready to cook.

In a large skillet, sauté the bacon and onion until both are softened.  Add the greens all at once to the top of the bacon and onions, but do not stir.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Stir the greens to combine with the bacon and onions, then add a little water, if needed, to allow the greens to continue to steam, cooking for 10 minutes longer, then serve.

Crispy Crunchy Fried Chicken

The inspiration for this meal was a bag of collard greens that my husband brought home from work.  His co-worker had been bringing these into work all week and everyone was quite excited to take a giant bag of "greens" home to cook for dinner or even breakfast.  My problem was, I had never even "seen" collard greens up close, let alone cooked them.  (Hey, I grew up in the north! lol)  So that was my challenge, to cook these collard greens in such a way that even our picky eater might just try a bite or two.

So tonight we made a very Southern meal of Crispy Crunchy Fried Chicken, Sautéed Collard Greens and Baked Corn Pudding.  You can't get much more Southern than that!  The recipe for the fried chicken was pretty simple and includes a mixture that I find works very well to help the coating stay stuck to the chicken.  A base of half and half (or you could use buttermilk) seasoned with lemon pepper, followed by a three part coating mixture of flour, to help the coating adhere and hold in the juices, cornmeal, for a touch of sweetness and a crispy crust, and panko crumbs for the crunchy factor. All of these combine to create a super crispy and crunchy exterior while the chicken juices stay in to keep the meat moist.

8 - 10  Chicken Drumsticks
1-1/2 cups  Half and Half  (or buttermilk)
2 tsp  Lemon Pepper
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 cup  Flour
1 cup  Yellow Cornmeal
1 cup  Panko Breadcrumbs
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
Oil for Frying

Rinse the drumsticks and pat dry with paper towels.  In a shallow bowl combine the half and half, lemon pepper and 1 teaspoon salt.  Add the drumsticks to the mixture and marinate for 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, panko crumbs, 2 teaspoons salt and pepper, and stir.  Using tongs, remove the drumsticks from the marinade one at a time, allowing the excess liquid to drain off, then dip the drumsticks into the flour mixture, and place the coated drumsticks on a platter.

In a large heavy-based skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. When oil is hot and shimmering, carefully add the drumsticks to the oil and fry for 6 - 8 minutes or until crispy, then turn the drumsticks over and cook for about 8 minutes longer, or until the juices run clear.  (You may need an additional 3 - 5 minutes if the drumsticks are a bit larger.)

Drain the drumsticks on paper towel lined platter, then serve.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pork-Asparagus Stir Fry

Cooking with seasonal produce is a great way to find fruits and vegetables at their peak of freshness and also save a little money.  One of my favorite vegetables to cook with is asparagus, and I couldn't wait to try a new stir fry with it.

This is a quick and easy stir fry recipe that combines fresh asparagus, sliced red pepper and red onion with lean pieces of pork loin.  The finishing touch is a mild glaze of red curry paste, soy sauce and fish sauce.  If you like your stir fry a bit spicier, just add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes to the oil for an extra layer of heat.

1 TB  + 2 tsp  Peanut Oil, divided
1/4 tsp  Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
1-1/2 lbs  Boneless Pork Loin, cut into thin 1-inch long pieces
1/3 cup  Low Sodium Soy Sauce
1 tsp  Red Curry Paste
1 tsp  Fish Sauce
1 TB  Cornstarch
1 tsp  Sugar
1-1/2 cups  Chopped Fresh Asparagus Pieces
1 cup  Sliced Red Onion
1 cup  Sliced Red Pepper Strips
Cooked Brown Rice

Place the pork in a glass bowl and add the soy sauce, curry paste, fish sauce, cornstarch and sugar.  Stir to combine and let marinade for 20 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat.  (Add red pepper flakes at this point, stir fry for 30 seconds for extra spice.)  Add the pork and sauce to the wok and stir fry for 4 minutes, stirring constantly, until nearly cooked through.  (If needed, cook the pork in 2 batches.)  Remove the pork to a plate and keep warm.

Add 2 teaspoons peanut oil to the wok, then add the asparagus, onion and red pepper.  Cook for 3 - 4 minutes or until the vegetables are softened slightly.

Return the pork to the wok and stir to combine.  Continue to heat for 2 - 3 or until the pork is cooked through and the sauce has thickened.  Serve over cooked brown rice with a side of steamed edamame.  Enjoy!!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Chicken and Asparagus with Tarragon Cream Sauce

After a busy day, it's nice to have a delicious go-to dinner that can be put together quickly, without too much prep, and can be served in one dish.  A meal that's something better than a salty, hamburger-and-pasta-in-a-box type of dinner would be even better.  This recipe is just that type of meal and it doesn't require lots of pots and pans to prepare.  Just one sauté pan for the main course and one pot to cook some noodles and dinner is served. 

This dish is assembled in three basic steps.  First sauté the chicken, then sauté some asparagus and mushrooms, then make a quick sauce of white wine, chicken stock, cream and mustard with a sprinkle of tarragon** to infuse a layer of elegant flavor.  Mix everything together, pour over noodles and dinner will be on the table in about 30 minutes.  This dish is fast and easy, but the tarragon cream sauce makes it nice enough to serve guests. Enjoy!!

2 TB  Olive Oil, divided
2 lbs  Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, thinly sliced into 1-inch pieces
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 lb  Fresh Baby Asparagus Spears, peeled, with ends removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 oz  Portobello Mushrooms, cut into thick slices
1 large  Shallot, minced
3/4 cup  Dry White Wine
1 cup  Chicken Broth
1/2 cup  Heavy Cream
2 TB  Coarse Grain Mustard
1 TB  Cornstarch plus 1 TB  Heavy Cream (if needed for thickening)
1 TB  Chopped Fresh Tarragon ( or 1/2 tablespoon dried Tarragon)
Prepared and Buttered Noodles

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the skillet in a single layer.  Cook the chicken for 3 minutes, turn and cook 2 minutes longer, until the chicken is beginning to brown but is not fully cooked through.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to a platter.  Cover and keep warm.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan, then add the asparagus and sauté for 3 minutes over medium-high heat, then add the mushrooms and shallot and cook 3 minutes longer.  Add the wine and cook until the wine has reduced, about 2 minutes.  Add the chicken stock, cream and mustard to the pan, stir and bring the sauce to a low boil.  Simmer until the sauce has reduced by half, about 6 - 7 minutes.  If the sauce is too thin, combine the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon heavy cream in a small bowl until smooth.  Add this mixture to the sauce and stir until thickened.

Return the chicken to the pan, including any of the collected juices, stir and simmer over medium heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, then sprinkle with the tarragon and stir to combine.  Serve over buttered noodles or rice.

** Note:  If you are not familiar with Tarragon, here is a little information on this tasty herb.  Tarragon is a slightly sweet, anise-flavored herb that is used in béarnaise sauce and is known as one of the four fine herbs of French cooking, along with parsley, chives and chervil.  Tarragon plants can be difficult to find.  When shopping for Tarragon plants, remember to purchase only the French variety.  Most local stores carry Russian Tarragon, which is a very mediocre substitute, or Mexican Tarragon, which is actually a very bitter weed.  In my opinion, neither of these should be used for cooking, but they are unfortunately sold and marketed for cooking purposes.  If you cannot find fresh Tarragon, substitute a 1/2 tablespoon of the dried variety.  Also, some markets now carry fresh Tarragon is small packages in the produce department.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Caribbean Seafood Sandwich with Lime-Dijon Vinaigrette

Summer has arrived early here in Florida with temperatures already in the low 80's.  Although my basil and tomato plants are very happy to have the warm temperatures, after a few hours of yard work,  we wanted something light and cold for dinner. 

We started by boiling some medium-sized shrimp.  Just a few lemon wedges, Old Bay seasoning and bay leaves are all you need for delicious boiled shrimp.  And they only take about 4 minutes to cook. Super easy!

Next, we chopped imitation crab meat into bite-sized pieces,  (This crab is also called surimi and is the same crab used in some sushi.)  and added a little minced jalapeno and green onion.  I used half of a jalapeno in this recipe, but I think I would use the whole pepper next time.  The heat from the jalapeno was really tasty.

Instead of a mayonnaise-based dressing we went with a simple and light Dijon and lime juice vinaigrette.  The flavors of the Dijon, lime and jalapeno all came through it this light, delicious coating and were a huge improvement over the customary heavy mayonnaise dressing.

We used Cuban bread to make the sandwiches because of its light, airy texture, and adding a drizzle of the vinaigrette to the sandwich allowed the bread to soak up some of that zingy flavor.  As an alternative, my daughter used the butter lettuce leaves to make "wraps" that were also delicious.  I'm sure this cool seafood sandwich will be a family favorite this summer.  Enjoy!!

1-1/2 lbs  Medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1-1/2 quarts  Water
1  Lemon,  cut into wedges
1 TB  Old Bay Seasoning
2  Bay Leaves
10 oz  Imitation Crab Meat, coarsely chopped
1 heaping TB  Dijon Mustard
1 TB  Lime Juice
2 TB  Red Wine Vinegar
2 tsp  Honey
4 TB  Olive Oil
1 TB  Minced Green Onions
1 TB  Minced Jalapeno Pepper ( use 2 TB for more heat)
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to taste
Cuban Bread, sliced lengthwise and into portions
Garnishes:  Sliced Tomatoes, Butter Lettuce, Avocado Slices, Chopped Green Onions and Lime Wedges

Place the water, lemon wedges, Old Bay and bay leaves in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, then add the shrimp to the pot.  Cook 3 - 4 minutes, stirring several times, until the shrimp are bring pink and cooked through.  Drain the shrimp and transfer to a platter to cool.

In a medium glass bowl combine the Dijon, lime juice, vinegar, honey, olive oil, onions and jalapeno.  Whisk vigorously to combine, then season the vinaigrette to taste with salt and pepper.  Add the cooled shrimp and the chopped crab meat to the vinaigrette and stir to coat the seafood.

Slice the Cuban bread into the desired portions and cut out a wedge of the bread interior.  Place a scoop of the salad onto the bread, along with a spoonful of the vinaigrette.  Top with butter lettuce, and a few slices of tomato and avocado and a sprinkle of diced green onions.  Served lime wedges on the side.  Enjoy!!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Chipotle Shrimp Soft Tacos

Tonight we were in the mood for Mexican food.  Something spicy with a little chipotle pepper flavor.  I love cooking with chipotle peppers, and the adobo sauce the peppers are packed in adds a nice smoky undertone to any dish.  So when I went to the grocery and spotted Florida Gulf shrimp on sale, I started thinking...Shrimp Tacos!

We started off with some very thinly sliced red onions, and let them marinade in lime juice, almost like a ceviche-style mixture.  The lime juice worked its magic on the onions, adding a citrusy bite to the sweet red onions.

Next we let the shrimp marinate in a very simple mixture.  Olive oil, a few spices and a couple spoons of adobo sauce was all that was needed to infuse the shrimp with lots of flavor.

We wanted to add a sauce to the tacos, too.  Something light and not so strong in flavor that it would hide the seasoned shrimp.  So for the sauce we went with a simple, yet amazingly delicious sauce of sour cream, one chipotle pepper and a dash of milk to thin the mixture.  If you like things a little more spicy, just add a second (or even a third) chipotle pepper to the mixture.

All of these bold flavors came together beautifully and this meal will definitely be added to our regular rotation of dinners.  This meal is very quick to prepare and can be ready start to finish in about 30 minutes, and any leftovers make a great lunch the next day.  Also as a side note, the chipotle sauce was simply heavenly and I know it would be wonderful on chicken sandwiches, or as a base for chicken salad, so you might see those recipes pop up here very shortly.  Enjoy!!

1/2 medium  Red Onion, thinly sliced
1 TB  Lime Juice
1/4 tsp  Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 lbs  Medium Raw Shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 TB  Olive Oil
2 TB  Minced Garlic
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
3 tsp  Adobo Sauce
1/2 tsp  Smoked Paprika
3/4 cup  Sour Cream
1 - 2  Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
1 tsp  Adobo Sauce
1 - 2 tsp  Milk
Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to taste
Soft Taco Tortilla Shells
Garnishes:  Sliced Fresh Avocado, Fresh Lime Wedges

In a small glass bowl, combine the onions, lime juice, salt and pepper.  Stir until coated and set aside.

In a medium glass bowl, combine the shrimp, olive oil, garlic, pepper, adobo sauce and paprika.  Stir to evenly coat all of the shrimp and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

To make the chipotle sauce, use a small blender cup and combine the sour cream, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, 1 teaspoon milk and salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.  If mixture is too thick, add the additional teaspoon of milk and blend.  Adjust the salt and pepper here, if needed.  Chill the sauce until ready to serve.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the shrimp and marinade in a single layer and sauté for 5 - 6 minutes, stirring frequently and turning the shrimp over to cook evenly.  When the shrimp are pink and cooked through, remove pan from the heat.

To serve place a soft taco shell on a plate, place several pieces of shrimp in the center of the taco, add slices of avocado, a scoop of the marinated red onions, and a drizzle of the chipotle sauce.  A squeeze of lime is optional, but adds a beautiful, crisp citrus flavor to the taco.  Serve with Spanish rice.  Makes about 6 servings.  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pork Chops with Mushroom Gravy

This recipe is a family favorite and we've made it many times over the years, but it has always been made with a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup.  We've really been making an effort to use less processed foods, especially those with too much salt, so when my kids requested this for dinner, I thought it was time to reinvent the recipe a bit and make the gravy from scratch. 

Homemade gravy is a snap to make and it really doesn't take very much time.  A little butter, flour and some drippings from the chops, plus a handful of sautéed mushrooms was all I needed for a flavorful, creamy sauce.  For this recipe I used Portobello mushrooms, but it would also be great with a combination of oyster or shiitake mushrooms or whatever varieties you can find at your local market.  The mushrooms add a wonderful earthy flavor to this gravy, and that is something you will never find in a can.  Enjoy!!

2 tsp  Olive Oil
1 medium  Shallot, minced
2 tsp  Minced Garlic
1 tsp  Dried Thyme
5  Boneless Center Loin Pork Chops (about 3/4-inch thick)
2 TB  Butter
8 oz  Assorted Fresh Mushrooms (Portobello, Shiitake, Oyster or a mix of all 3)
2 TB  Flour
1/2 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
3/4 cup  Chicken Stock
1/2 cup  Half and Half

In a large skillet, over medium heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering.  Add the shallot and garlic and sauté 3 minutes, until tender.

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper, increase the skillet to medium-high heat, and place the chops in the skillet.  Cook 4 - 5 minutes on each side until golden and nearly cooked through.  Transfer to a warm plate, cover with foil and keep warm.

Add the butter to the skillet, stirring to loosen any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet.  Add the mushrooms and sauté for 3 minutes until softened, then add the flour and pepper to the mushrooms and stir to blend.  Add the chicken stock and half and half, stirring constantly until the gravy is smooth and creamy.

Add the pork chops back to the skillet, including any juices that may have collected on the plate.  Turn the chops over in the gravy to coat them and blend in the juices.  Continue to cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.  Serve with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed veggies.