French Fridays with Doire: Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Prunes

 

I got to use my big daddy pot!

I got to use my big daddy pot!

Last week the Dorsita’s participated in Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day, which is all about getting children excited about real food. Turns out that people who cook their own food eat healthier and kids who help choose, grow and cook food are more likely to make healthy choices including eating their vegetables!  It makes a lot of common sense; folks who don’t grow up eating certain foods have a much harder time adapting to new tastes and textures as adults. Grown ups might be able to eat spicier, or more unusually flavored foods, with our less sensitive taste buds, but having the expectation that vegetables, fruits, and whole foods are part of a normal diet starts when we are young.

The goal this week was to pick a recipe that we thought all kids should learn. I picked Chicken Taigine, a slow simmered Moroccan inspired stew, that might be a bit advanced for younger children, but it encompasses a lot of basic kitchen and food knowledge that I think young people, and adults learning to cook, should know. Here is why I think this dish works well:

  • It combines familiar flavors (chicken, onions, sweet potatoes) with possibly new ingredients (saffron, star anise, prunes).
  • There is a lot of history to be learned about Morocco and the influences of many cultures in the dish, including adding ingredients from the New World vs the Old. The the origins and growing of ingredients like saffron, star anise, cinnamon, and sweet potatoes alone would make a great school project.
  • The cutting of onions, peeling and chopping sweet potatoes and slow cooking methods can be applied to every stew or soup they make in the future.
  • Depending on the young person’s age, interest or skill level you can teach boning a chicken, or simply buy one cut up already. Cutting up whole chickens is thrifty and will serve when when they are on their own and making decisions about $.
  • Stews are good ways to use less expensive cuts of meat and stretch ingredients. They can cook for a crowd of their friends and family, while still staying on budget.
  • Despite its exotic sounding name, the ingredients are simple. Saffron might be the most challenging and pricey, but you can typically buy small amounts that will last for when they, or you, tackle a paella or cous cous with your new knowledge. :-)
we went back for seconds...

we went back for seconds…

I made the dish last Friday to be served Saturday night to my co-workers. We were helping to staff a fundraising event over a weekend and thought dinner togehter would be a good way to end the day. Did I mention the event was at the beach? :-) I took a bunch of photos, ate two servings, washed down with some iced margaritas – all with the intent to post a quick blog of the dinner that night – however many margaritas later…I’m a bit late with my posting. A week late to be exact.

The tagine was wonderful: the spices slow simmered with the chicken made the house smell like I imagine an Eastern spice market would. Sweet potatoes are a favorite southern food and appealed to most everyone there. The broth was a bit sweet from the prunes and honey, a bit savory from the slow cooked onions that melted into the taste of cinnamon, bay, star anise and saffron.  Even D who dislikes cinnamon thought it was good when he dug into the leftovers.  We served this with a kale/cabbage salad with a poppy-seed dressing and cooked red quinoa for those who wanted a grain accompaniment.

sun is setting and dolphins are frolicking

sun is setting and dolphins are frolicking

Since 2011, a group of cooks and bloggers have been making their way though all the recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s “Around My French Table.” We don’t publish the recipes, but you can pick up your own copy of the book and cook along, or just enjoy all the great food to be found in its pages. 

Posted in French Fridays with Dorie, Gluten-free, Low/er Carb, Main Dish | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grilled Mahi Mahi with Cucumber Avocado Pesto “Salsa”

summery grilled fish with avocado cucumber salsa

summery grilled fish with avocado cucumber salsa

No matter how precise the recipe there always seems to be that table spoon or two of pesto, tapenade, tahini, remoulade, or some other sauce leftover in the fridge. If you are a bread eater, the easiest thing to do is spread it on a sandwich. Lacking that option, we are always looking for ways to sneak odds and ends into other dishes. A few weeks ago we made a batch of simple three ingredient pesto for a bean and artichoke ragout and then used it to top grilled flank steak. Pesto keeps and freezes well, so the remainder was used for this fish dish.

The mahi mahi fillets are dusted with Adobo seasoning, (a pre-mixed seasoning of salt, pepper, garlic, cumin and oregano available in most Hispanic foods sections at the grocery) and a bit of chili powder, then grilled and served with a chopped fresh salsa of cucumbers, avocado, lime juice, olive oil and pesto.  The salsa doubles as a salad or vegetable side dish, and would also be a good topping for a fish taco version of this dish. We are firing up the grill pretty regularly over here, but even if you don’t have a grill this recipe can be easily adapted to the stove or oven/broiler.

Grilled Mahi Mahi

4 pieces of mahi mahi

Adobo seasoning

Chili powder

Dust both sides of the fish fillet with both seasonings. Grill (or broil, bake or sauté) until just done. About 5 minutes a side, or 15-20 in a 350 degree oven depending on the thickness of the fillet.

 

Avocado Cucumber Salsa

1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded

½ an avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped into small cubes*

1.5 Tablespoons of pesto

2 teaspoons of olive oil

Juice of ½ a lime (or more to taste)

Salt, a few sprinkles if needed

Dice the cucumber and add in to the cubes of avocado in a small bowl. In a second bowl, thin the pesto with the olive oil and lime juice. If it’s not thin enough to toss in the cucumber and avocado mixture, add a tiny amount of water.  Gently mix the pesto dressing with the cucumber and avocado. Serve on top of the grilled fish.

*If you like avocado, you can use the entire fruit in the salsa which will be more guacamole-like. You may need additional lime and/or salt if you double the avocado.

Posted in Gluten-free, Low/er Carb, Main Dish, Sauces | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

This Week at the Farmers Market

Fresh young summer squash are already in the markets!

 

It was a beautiful day for the Apex Farmer’s Market this past weekend, sunny, no chance of rain. Last week the market was closed due to PeakFest, our town’s annual street fair and the farmer’s market space is used for a stage and entertainment area. I didn’t miss the market last week – we still had veggies left over from the big shopping trip for Easter dinner. One of the best things about buying farm fresh produce is that it lasts longer, so if you over purchase, you will have a longer timeframe to use them up. D joined me on my weekly shopping this week, hopefully not just because of the promise of Sol Tacos. :-) But, yes, there were tacos.

D's tacos: chuck burger on fresh tortillas

D’s tacos: chuck burger on fresh tortillas

We picked up a whole chicken from Andreas Homestead to use for a stew later in the week.  We got another jar of pear preserves from Natural Choice, which are great served with soft cheese (really, any cheese!).  Natural Choice makes all natural German mustard as well as preserves.  D and one of the owners had a long chat about Paul McCartney, Wings, the Beatles while we waited for our freshly made tacos.

Breakfast in a taco

Breakfast in a taco

The tacos were really good: My breakfast version had spicy salsa, black beans, ham, cheese and eggs and D’s chuck burger tacos are an American-Latino hybrid of a cheeseburger and taco. Doug’s only complaint is that he likes his burger meat more well-seasoned, but otherwise great. And they make their own fresh flour tortillas, of which D got to eat mine covered in salsa as well since I ate the breakfast innards out of it.

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The entire market smelled intoxicatingly of strawberries. I picked up some zucchini to turn into “noodles” with the julienne cutter, some cabbage and squash possibly for a stirfry, and a head of romaine lettuce for salads and lettuce wraps. Produce vendors had:

Asparagus

Cabbage (likely the remainder from the winter/fall)

Cucumbers, pickle variety

Green beans

Lettuce, heads of romaine and leaf

Onions, larger ones than the spring version

Strawberries

Squash, yellow summer squash

Tomatoes

Zucchini

Zucchini were going fast

Zucchini were going fast

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French Fridays with Dorie: Leeks Vinaigrette with Mimosa

Leeks w Vinaigrette

It’s wonderful to be cooking with a group of people again. So fun in fact I am looking around for another potential cookbook and group. While I’m not sure I could juggle two online groups, it’s very tempting. Having said that, its sometimes difficult for me to think of what to write about a dish. Two years ago I took a brief food writing class through a local university continuing ed program hoping to better understand both the mechanics and the inspiration. The most lasting thing to come out of those weeks was the deeper appreciation for people who write as both profession and passion.   Turning vision into thoughts, taste into words, sensual into print, still has the steamy mystique of a miracle.  Like turning sugar crystals into cotton candy.

Why the musing on writing? This week’s recipe contains, separately, several favorite ingredients: leeks, sherry vinegar, and eggs. It involved kitchen twine and poaching. The “salad” was dressed while still warm (an under utilized technique in my opinion) and contained straight forward ingredients combined in a new way. And yet it left me a bit uninspired.

The leeks themselves may be in part to blame. No skinny young leeks to be found and not even any large long white leeks, which are generally more tender. These were a bit short, and more green than I like: a sign they may be more tough on the outside (and they were). The inner texture when poached was fine and the leeks had that buttery flavor that comes from them simply being leeks. The vinaigrette was balanced with olive and walnut oil, sherry and a bit of Dijon. I had a farm fresh egg. The combination was tasty and yet I’m not sure I would trouble to make them again, unless I could find some of those thin, young leeks to see if that made the difference.

Curious as always to see how the other Doristas fared.

Since 2011, a group of cooks and bloggers have been making their way though all the recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s “Around My French Table.” We don’t publish the recipes, but you can pick up your own copy of the book and cook along, or just enjoy all the great food to be found in its pages. 

 

Posted in Appetizers, French Fridays with Dorie, Gluten-free, Low/er Carb, Non-dairy, Salad, Side Dish, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Easy Dinner: Grilled Flank Steak and Asparagus

Eat asparagus while it's still in season locally.

Eat asparagus while it’s still in season locally.

There is a book on my nightstand (that I will be writing about in the near future) where the author suggests that home cooks would do well to work more like professional cooks and 1) plan meals for 1-2 weeks 2) shop once, weekly or bi-weekly, based on that plan 3) spend an hour or two on Sunday pre-cooking many items for the weekly meals. This makes a lot of sense. Especially if you are adapting to a new way of eating or trying to eat more whole foods. Eating out is less of an option and those without plans tend to eat off plan…

But sometimes you just need a quick meal on a weeknight with little thought. I hesitate to call this a recipe. Think of it as a starting point. Grilled meats and vegetables are flavorful on their own, with just salt and freshly ground pepper (yes, I like mine rare to medium rare.) If you have extra time, you can embellish the basics with:

Vinaigrette: Favorite oil, favorite vinegar, salt pepper, a bit of Dijon mustard. Shake. Sneak peek: The Dorie recipe this week calls for walnut oil, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and Dijon. Vinaigrette dressings keep for weeks, so make extra and use on salads, grilled vegetables or as a marinate for the steak.

Pesto: This easy one that accompanied the bean and artichoke ragout at Easter is just herbs, garlic and oil. Pesto without dairy or nuts will keep quite a while in the fridge, but any version can be frozen ice cube trays and placed in a bag, or in small containers in the freezer for later use.

Avocado: Tastes great with grilled meats, especially lean ones, and grilled veggies. My Dad used to put slices of avocado on pizza (Trust me. Fantastic) A squeeze of lime and a dash of salt and you have the essence of guacamole.

Directions:

Salt and pepper your meat. Add a dash or two of olive oil to the cleaned and washed asparagus, then some salt and pepper. Let them sit a bit to absorb. Heat your grill. Cook items to desired doneness. Hardest part is keeping the asparagus from falling through the grill when you turn it. Don’t overcook the steak or the asparagus. Both will keep cooking briefly when they come off the grill. If you are using flank steak, be sure to cut against the grain so it is tender. Top leftovers with an egg for breakfast.

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New Gadget: More Silicone Covers!

I still use a baking pans frequently, even without making a lot of desserts.

I still use a baking pans frequently, even without making a lot of desserts.

Well, I went ahead and finally used my birthday gift card online to get more silicone covers. Shaped like banana leaves. Yes, banana leaves.   A few weeks ago I posted about a silicone bowl and pan cover that I recently purchased.  The lilly pad shaped cover will replace plastic or foil in the fridge, on the table, in the oven, as well as covering saute pans. This versatility makes it one of my favorite new finds (though they have been around a while, apparently. :-)

Researching them online, the same maker has square and rectangular covers that mimic banana leaves. I keep saying “banana leaf” because to me they have such a nice shape, color and texture. Maybe its just the association of eating banana leaf wrapped tamales and living here in a quasi tropical climate that does it for me, but the designer did a great job taking a pleasing natural form and adapting it to something so practical. They cover square baking pans and rectangular “lasagna” roasting pans. Both key for me as I use those pans to roast chicken drumsticks and bake crust-less quiche which are weekday meals and there are always leftovers to put in the fridge.

My Pampered Chef stoneware pans get a lot of use.

My Pampered Chef stoneware pans get a lot of use.

These covers have the same small handle on one end that allows you to hang them from a hook on the inside of a cabinet or pantry door. I’ve added two more 3M removable hooks to the inside of a cabinet door, staggered so all three lids fit.

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Easy Slow-Cooker Dinner: Filling for Chicken Tacos

 

the chicken filling, over sauteed peppers, yellow squash and served with greens and some cheese

the chicken filling, over sauteed peppers, yellow squash and served with greens and some cheese

Do not put away your slow cooker for the winter! Slow cookers are a great option for cooking inside during the warm summer months. They make less heat than the oven, and you don’t have to stand over the heat of the stove top. You’ll want to choose recipes with a focus on lighter ingredients: chicken, curries, bean dishes with lots of veggies. Or, use the slow cooker to make a meaty main dish you can serve with raw or lightly cooked vegetables to make use of all the great fresh produce coming your way.

Barbecue pork shoulder, sloppy joes, or this chicken taco meat are great examples of using the slow cooker to make a “filling” that can be used in a variety of ways. These main dishes can top a salad, fill a taco or burrito, or even be tossed with cold pasta. Paleo and gluten-free eaters can use spaghetti squash, ribbons of lightly steamed summer squash, or strips of peppers for a great alternative to noodles.

I’ve taken a shortcut in here an used a packet of gluten free and starch free natural taco seasoning from Trader Joe’s. To make your own taco seasoning at home try this recipe with similar ingredients, and play around until you get the seasoning mix you like best (Trader Joe’s is a bit heavier on the paprika). You will need 3-4 tablespoons for the larger recipe below, so make a triple batch. Leftover spice mix can be sprinkled on wings or chicken legs as a dry rub for the grill. The chipotle pepper, a smoked jalapeno, makes the dish spicy and a bit smoky. If you prefer, use a more mild pepper or hot sauce that suits your heat level.

Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Filling

4 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs

1 cup of diced tomato with juice, or whole tomatoes in juice that have been chopped or crushed up

1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced or chopped up in blender with tomatoes

3/4 cup of chopped green onions (I had a lot of green tops to use up. Regular onions work well too, reduce to a half cup)

1 yellow or red bell pepper, diced

1 package of Trader Joe’s taco seasoning mix or about 4 tablespoons of a taco seasoning blend

Juice of one lime

 

For serving (depending on your preferences):

taco shells or tortillas

baby greens or chopped lettuce

avocado

tomatoes

peppers

onions

zucchini or yellow squash

cheese

sour cream

Blend the tomatoes and chipotle pepper in the blender, until the chipotle is chopped. No blender? Just chop the chipotle very fine and mash up the canned tomatoes if they are not already diced.  Add the tomatoes, chipotle pepper, chopped bell pepper, green onion, and spice mix to the dish of the slow cooker. Mix with a spoon. Add the chicken and stir the pieces so they are coated with the sauce. Make sure the chicken is evenly distributed. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3.5-4 hours. When done, use two forks to shred the chicken in the slow cooker dish.

The dish makes its own salsa and the shreds will absorb some of the liquid making it very juicy. If you want the sauce to be thicker, you can remove the cooked chicken before shredding, reduce the sauce on the stove and/or use a gluten-free or low-carb thickening agent such as tapioca or xanthan gum. After thickening, shred the chicken and return it to the thickened sauce.

Use as topping for a taco salad or filling for tacos with topping of your choice.

Posted in Gluten-free, Low/er Carb, Main Dish, Non-dairy, Slow Cooker | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment