Quinoa and Pecan-Crusted Chicken with Maple Dijon Sauce

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Ta-da! My first ShopRite recipe has just been posted on ShopRite’s Potluck blog. Crunchy quinoa-crusted chicken and perhaps the world’s easiest (2-ingredient) sauce. Take a look here:  Quinoa and Pecan-Crusted Chicken with Maple Dijon Sauce (And be sure to “share” if you like the sound of it.)

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Go-To Grilled Chicken

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It’s easy to get into a recipe rut – making the same thing over and over again because it’s what you know. You know which ingredients are needed and keep them stocked – or can grab them quickly at the store without a list.  You know you can crank it out quickly – say, before soccer practice or a lacrosse game. And, you know how it will turn out and that everyone in the family will eat it. This Garlic-Lime Chicken is at the top of my rut list – a weekly regular during grilling season, and often a winter guest star via the grill pan or broiler. Continue reading

Thanksgiving Loaf

Thanksgiving-inspired turkey loaf with traditional trimmings

With Thanksgiving only a week away, it’s time to talk turkey. Recipes, sure – but more importantly, a recounting of all we have to be thankful for.  Where I live in New Jersey, The Storm is still at the forefront of all conversations. “Were you guys hit hard?” “Any tree damage?” And then the unifying, “How long were you without power?” So it’s no surprise that family safety, an intact home and the miracle of electricity top the “thankful for” list this year. We spent 10 days without power, and will never again (at least until next month) flick on a light switch or oven or dryer without a little bit of wonder and appreciation.

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Tomato, Basil and Cheese Tart

Every school’s got them, and I’m not talking about the universally-dreaded things that rhyme with “rice” (though that too would be accurate).  I’m talking about super-moms – the tireless volunteers who chair almost every school committee and make the rest of us look like slouches in comparison. As a show of appreciation (and also because they’re nice people), I invited two such moms to an impromptu lunch earlier this week. Guess what? They were just coming from a meeting at the middle school. In July! (See what I mean?) Continue reading

Mo-Rockin’ Chicken Tacos

Please excuse the pun – it’s just that I’m always looking for ways to make grilled chicken a little more exciting (who isn’t?), and sometimes an intriguing title or analogy helps entice the family into trying an “exciting” new dish.  (This is marketing at its best.) My clan might not be ready to embark on the culinary voyage of “Chicken Souvlaki with Coriander, Turmeric and Mint”, but call something a taco and they’ll be pulling out their Premier cards for early boarding privileges.

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Foolproof Ribs for 60

Last Friday night we hosted a neighborhood association potluck BBQ, which doesn’t seem like a big deal unless you consider that our neighborhood is comprised of over 300 homes, or that I thought it would be fun to cook ribs and sausages instead of the traditional preformed burgers and dogs. We figured somewhere between 60 and 80 adults would show up – that’s a lot of meat! Was I crazy? (My husband thinks so.) But there was a method to my madness: ribs and bratwursts make great party food because they can be cooked a day ahead of time and then just crisped/warmed on the grill right before the party.  It will look like you’ve been busy grilling and basting all day, but really you’ve spent more time stashing Barbies and piles of papers out of sight while trying to determine the best wine-to-seltzer ratio for the perfect white wine spritzer. (By the third one I think I got it right, but at that point had given up on measuring and recording.)

Whether you’re feeding 6 or 60, the process for cooking ribs is the same. (And note that this is more of a process than a recipe, so don’t worry too much about measuring; it’s the pre-braising that makes all the difference.) To economically feed our anticipated crowd, I set out to Costco for 3 value packs of pork loin ribs (6 full racks), bratwursts, barbeque sauce and heavy duty aluminum roasting pans. (That was the hardest part! Trips to Costco always wipe me out.) For a smaller family dinner,  figure 3 servings per full rack of meaty pork loin ribs (or maybe 2 servings per rack for big appetites).

Once home, I set the oven to 350ºF and cut open the packs of ribs (over the sink – they drip) and set all 6 racks in an aluminum pan.  Purists would pat dry the racks and cover with a homemade rub of salt and secret spices. I was in party panic mode at this point so did none of this; instead, I grabbed some seasoning salt from my spice drawer and generously seasoned both sides of each rack.

Love my spice drawer!

Then I poured about ½ a big jug of barbeque sauce (again – not even homemade!) and about a cup of water into the pan, covered ribs with a piece of parchment paper, and then covered the pan tightly with foil.

Into the oven for at least 2 hours, until you smell it and the meat is tender and falling off the bone. (My 7-year-old was driven crazy by the aromas in our kitchen and insisted that this be her dinner; it was.) Take out of the oven (carefully – the pan will be full of liquid) and let cool. Then gently transfer rib racks to a clean pan (one that will fit in your refrigerator), add a little extra BBQ sauce if you like, cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. This will firm up the ribs and make them much easier to cut.

Shortly before the party (or dinner), remove the ribs from the refrigerator and cut into 1 or 2-rib pieces. (Cut larger pieces for dinner portions.)

Place pieces meat-side down in a large aluminum pan. (I needed 2 pans for 6 racks of ribs.)

Heat grill to medium-high. If you have a smoker box, add some water-soaked mesquite wood chips. Place pan(s) on top of grill grates and cover grill. Cook about 5-7 minutes until sizzling and meat is starting to crisp. Turn grill to low.

Drizzle with your favorite BBQ sauce – I used 2 different brands (Sweet Baby Ray’s and Anna Mae’s Smokey Sweet Sauce, both from Costco) plus a little bit of hot pepper sauce. You can use any brand or combination or quantity that you like.  Use tongs to coat both sides of the rib pieces in BBQ sauce. After coating in sauce, I combined the 2 rib pans to make room on the grill for the brats. (Sausages, not kids!) Once ribs are nicely glazed with sauce and heated all the way through, turn off grill (or alternate between off and low) and serve directly from the grill.

I wish I had set aside some of the ribs for a “beauty shot” (or for a post-party snack), but they disappeared! Nothing was left but a few bones and some crispy scraps (which were tasty).  If I can get my act together tomorrow I’ll start another batch for Father’s Day dinner.

FYI, for the brats I just set them all to a pan, added 2 bottles of beer I found in the back of the fridge and one sliced onion, covered with foil and cooked in the oven alongside the ribs. Before the party, I grilled them all to give them some crisp and color, and then served in the beer liquid on the grill. (Serve with sauerkraut, mustard and hoagie-style rolls.)

Pine Nut and Parmesan-Crusted Halibut

It’s a recurring theme in life: you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until you no longer have it. For me, I could say this about wrinkle-free skin (kids: wear sunscreen!), having family within an hour’s drive, and fresh Pacific halibut. Growing up near Seattle, I never realized what a novelty and luxury this seemingly-ubiquitous white fish was. In fact, I never really sought it out, unless it was beer-battered and fried. Then I moved away. Then, during a visit home early one summer, my mom made this recipe from BC chef Karen Barnaby’s Pacific Passions cookbook. Whoa – what a revelation! Now I crave halibut but can almost never find it here in New Jersey. I find myself fervently scanning the fish counters about this time each year – awaiting, hoping for the arrival of some glistening white Alaskan halibut filets. Finally, just last week, I struck fish gold.

Alaskan halibut is a mild-tasting, lean and highly versatile fish.  I had always assumed it was related to sea bass or grouper, but just recently learned it’s actually the largest member of the flounder family. While I’m still a fan of beer-battered halibut & chips, this recipe (adapted from Karen Barnaby’s) is a go-to for an easy yet restaurant-y (and to my surprise, kid-friendly) meal. At over $25 per pound, though, halibut is a bit (!) of a splurge. By some accounts, a portion of fish is supposed to be 4 ounces, so a pound and a half of halibut should yield 6 servings. (Karen’s recipe calls for 6-ounce portions.) Feel free to adjust the filet/portion size to your preference. If you’re looking to stretch the halibut into smaller portions (like I do), you could serve this with olive oil and garlic-tossed pasta or oven-baked “fries” (recipe below). Also note that you could make this crust topping for any white fish – just adjust the cooking time depending on the thickness of the filet.

Finally – a word on fish skin. It’s just not my thing. I know – this is babyish; I don’t really like organ meats either, which is why I will never be a “real” chef. Anyway, I remove the skin from the halibut filets before preparing this recipe. You could (some might say should) leave the skin on, if your filets come with the skin on, and just place the filets skin-side down on the baking sheet. Or, you could do what I plan to do next time and ask the fish guy to remove the skin for you. (It’s trickier than it looks.)

Pine Nut and Parmesan-Crusted Halibut

Serves  4-6

  • 1/2 cup raw pine nuts (pignoli), chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1-2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan (preferably parmigiano reggiano) cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ½ lbs fresh halibut, cut into four 6-ounce or six 4-ounce filets
  • Kosher salt

Heat oven to 425ºF. In a small bowl, combine chopped pine nuts, garlic, basil, parmesan cheese and olive oil.

Place the halibut filets on a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt. Scoop some pine nut mixture with a spoon or your fingers and cover the tops of the halibut filets, pressing and patting lightly to form an even crust. [Can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated for several hours before baking.]

Bake in the middle of the oven for 10-15 minutes (or 10 minutes per inch of fish thickness) until the crust is golden and the fish is opaque and firm but not hard. Hard means overcooked – which can happen quickly, especially when you’re trying to get the crust golden and the rest of the dinner ready. When in doubt, pull it out! (Or – use a digital thermometer; 140º is done.)

 

Easy Oven Fries

Cook these on the bottom rack of the oven while you’re preparing the fish.  Make sure they’ve started to brown and are close to done before adding the fish to the oven.

  • Russet (Idaho) potatoes (1 large potato makes about 2 servings, so use as many as you need)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt

Heat oven to 425ºF. Wash potatoes and cut into thin (½” – ¾”) wedges. Mound onto a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  (Enough to coat all sides.) Loosely arrange in a single layer (using additional baking sheets if necessary) and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Bake for 20 minutes or until starting to brown. Use a spatula to flip wedges. (Confession: this isn’t really necessary if you’ve used enough oil; all sides will brown, but the pan-side will be crisper.)  Serve immediately, seasoning with more salt if necessary.

Prize-Winning Chile Verde

Verde Vidi Vici! Amid a highly competitive field of entries, my prophetically titled chile verde took top honors this past weekend at the second annual Chili Cook-Off fundraiser for MS. I promised to post the recipe if I won, so here it is – secrets and all. (Guess I’ll have to come up with a new chili recipe and bad pun title for next year.) 

One of my secrets for prize-winning chile verde is freshly roasted poblano chiles – a green and relatively mild type of chile that still delivers a nice amount of heat as well as flavor.  You can make this recipe without them, but the chile verde won’t have the same zing. I usually roast a whole grill-full of chiles at one time, and then freeze the extra in little packets for future use. Another secret for my chile verde: jarred (gasp!) green salsa; I use Xochitl brand, which is made from tomatillos, onions and jalapenos. If you’re morally opposed to using shortcuts such as this, go ahead and make your own roasted tomatillo salsa. (But I bet you won’t taste the difference in the end.)  Finally, for this winning recipe I used pork tenderloin – which I know some people will find crazy since pork tenderloin is pricier and leaner than the pork roasts typically used for slow cooking. Allow me to defend (or at least explain) myself: a) I found a 4-pound value pack at Costco, and b) I simply prefer the lean, uniform taste and texture of pork tenderloin. (I make this recipe with turkey breast as well.) So call me crazy if you want, but now I have a trophy so I can’t be that far off my rocker.

Some chili tasters at the cook-off may have been swayed (as was the plan) by my dish-enhancing garnishes: diced avocado, homemade corn tortilla crisps, and a drizzle of my no-longer-secret cilantro lime sauce. (I featured the cilantro sauce recipe in my Almost Famous Turkey Burgers post, but have reprinted it here below.) The avocado and cilantro sauce lend cooling, fresh notes to the spicy, slow-cooked chile verde, and the tortilla crisps provide textural contrast (something I’m always striving for). If you don’t feel like making homemade tortilla crisps, a handful of crushed tortilla chips would deliver similar results.

Roasted Poblano Chile Verde                         Click Here for Recipe Only

  • 3* poblano chiles, roasted, skinned/seeded and chopped (see below) [*double this amount to make a freezer stash]
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-4 lbs pork tenderloin, pork loin or turkey breast, trimmed and cut into 1½” cubes
  • 2 large yellow or white onions, finely chopped (approx. 3 cups)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon dried cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 jars (15 oz. each) salsa verde (Xochitl brand, preferably)
  • 1 box (14 oz.) chicken stock
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 squeeze (approx. ½ teaspoon) agave nectar or honey
  • Kosher salt

Roast the Poblanos

Heat a gas grill to medium-high. Place the whole chiles directly on the grill grates and close the lid.

After 5 minutes, check the chiles; if they are nicely charred on the bottom, turn them over using tongs.  Check again after a few more minutes. Repeat until chiles are charred on most sides; then remove from grill and set them on baking sheet or large plate. Cover with plastic wrap and let cool. [Note: you can also char the chiles on a baking sheet under a broiler.]

When chiles are cool, slip off the burnt skins (wearing gloves if you have sensitive skin), then pull off the stem tops and seeds. (Use a spoon to scrape off seeds, or give the chiles a quick rinse under cold water.) Be careful not to touch your eyes during this process! Slice the chiles into strips and then chop into pieces.

Prepare the Chile Verde

Trim most of the fat and silver skin from the meat and cut into approx. 1½” cubes.

Heat oven to 325ºF or set out slow-cooker/crock pot. Place a very large, heavy pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tablespoon (a splash) of olive oil to the pan. Working in batches to prevent pan overcrowding, add the meat to the hot oil and let sear for 5 minutes. Resist the urge to stir; the meat will release from the pan when it’s nicely browned and ready to turn.

When at least 2 sides of the meat cubes have browned, remove from pan and repeat with the next batch of meat (adding more olive oil as necessary). The meat cubes will not be all the way cooked. To keep dirty dishes to a minimum, you can place the browned meat back on the same platter/baking sheet with the uncooked meat cubes since it’s all going back into the pot anyway.

Once all the meat has been browned and removed from the pot, add the diced onions and sauté a few minutes until softened, adding another splash of olive oil if necessary. Note that in this batch I got lazy and just added the onions to the pot with the meat. Since the chile verde cooked for so long in the oven, it didn’t matter in the end. Sautéing first is safer, though; the texture of not fully cooked onions would detract from the dish. Then add the browned pork and any accumulated juices back to the pot.

Add the garlic and cumin and sauté another minute. Add oregano, salsa verde, chicken stock, bouillon cube and chopped poblanos.

Cover pot and bake in oven at 325ºF for 3+ hours (or place in crock pot and set on low for 8 hours or high for 3-4 hours), until sauce has thickened and meat is falling-apart tender. (It should flake apart with a fork.)

Stir and then taste for seasoning; add a small squeeze of agave nectar or honey (this helps round out the flavors), and then a few pinches of kosher salt only if necessary. If mixture seems dry or overly salty, add a cup of chicken stock or water. 

Serve in bowls with desired garnishes. (Shown here with corn tortilla crisps, diced avocado and a drizzle of my Cilantro Lime sauce.) Can also be served over rice or with warmed tortillas.

Serves 8-10

Corn Tortilla Crisps

  • 1 package white corn tortillas, cut into ¼” slivers
  • Vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt

Cut tortillas into ¼” slivers.

Set a large tray or baking sheet covered with paper towels next to the stove. In a large cast iron pan or Dutch oven, pour in approx. ½” – 1” vegetable oil. Heat on medium high until shimmering. Fry tortilla slivers in batches, about a handful at a time. Using a strainer or tongs, stir the tortilla slivers around a little until they are golden brown. (You don’t need to turn them.) Remove slivers from oil and let drain on paper towel tray. Sprinkle with kosher salt while still hot. Repeat with the next batch until all strips are fried. Store in an airtight bag or container. Will keep for several days if you hide them from kids or other snackers.

Cilantro Lime Sauce

  • 1 small bunch cilantro, washed & dried (roots and thick stems twisted off) (approx. 2 cups packed)
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 small clove garlic, pressed or minced
  • ½  teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼  teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup reduced fat sour cream or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Few drops agave nectar or honey

Add all ingredients to food processor or beaker if using stick/immersion blender. Pulse and puree until smooth. (Add a little more olive oil to aid pureeing, if necessary.) Adjust seasoning to taste (i.e., another pinch of salt or drop of agave/honey) Refrigerate until ready to serve; will keep for several days.

See original recipe here for photos of steps. (Scroll down to end of post.)

You might also like:

Turkey & Roasted Poblano Empanadas

 

Baked Campanelle with Mushrooms (and Chicken)

While my 9-year-old has always had a taste for adventure, she’s not been known for her adventurous tastes. No sauces, limited vegetables, no comingled ingredients – you get the idea. Then one day she blew me away by asking if she could please have a salad. A few days later when I was sautéing mushrooms for this recipe, she asked if she could try one of those things in the pan that smelled so good. What?! Aliens have abducted my firstborn and replaced her with a vegetable-craving clone! Fortunately, my 7-year-old is still subsisting on bread, butter and milk products so all’s right with the world.

 

Back to the mushroom pasta. The inspiration for this dish was all the stuff in the fridge that needed to get used up before a President’s Week ski trip: a box of crimini (baby portabella) mushrooms, half a block of cream cheese, a little cream, and half a box of chicken stock.  If I had had some rotisserie chicken, I would’ve added it for a complete meal-in-one. (Meal-in-one = fewer dishes to wash!) For those of us happy with vegetarian meals, this dish is already a meal-in-one. With or without the chicken, I’d serve it with a simple green salad (and perhaps a glass of pinot noir). It reheats well for leftovers and probably would freeze well also.

Every time pasta goes on sale, I stock up in all shapes and sizes. One of my favorite shapes is campanelle, aka bells or lilies. I’m a sucker for the little ruffles, which get nice and crunchy on the top layer of a baked dish. I also love how the bell shape traps the sauce or filling. Feel free to use any shape pasta – even spaghetti would work.

Baked Campanelle with Mushrooms (and Chicken)

Serves 6-8

  • 1 box (16 oz.) campanelle (or any shape dried pasta)
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 large shallots or 1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 3-4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 lb. white or brown (crimini) mushrooms, sliced (stems trimmed or removed)
  • ½ teaspoon dried or 1teaspoon fresh thyme (optional but complements the mushrooms nicely)
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
  • Splash (¼ cup) dry sherry (or white wine)
  • ½ block cream cheese (optional)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (16 oz. or ½ box)
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube or 1teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 ½ cups finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, divided
  • Optional: 2 cups (+ / -) rotisserie or leftover chicken, shredded or cubed
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Cook the pasta according to package directions (using 1-2 teaspoons kosher salt in the pasta water). Drain and set aside. (Reserve some plain pasta for picky eaters.)

Preheat oven to 375ºF. In large nonstick skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté shallots in butter until softened. (2-3 minutes)

Add sliced mushrooms; stir to coat and then let sit in the pan for a few minutes to develop some color. (This really does make them taste better!)

Stir in thyme and garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more.  Add sherry or wine and stir to deglaze the pan. Stir in cream cheese (if using), chicken broth, bouillon cube or salt and cream.

Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and stir in chicken, if using, and 1 cup parmigiano cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Combine sauce with cooked pasta and pour into an ungreased casserole dish or lasagna pan. Sprinkle remaining parmigiano cheese over top. Bake 20-30 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and sauce is bubbling.

Can be made up to a day ahead (though add about ½ cup more chicken stock if you do). Reheats well for leftovers.

As a side dish side note, the sautéed mushroom mixture would be delicious on its own – even without the pasta and cheese. Omit the chicken stock and reduce the cream to 1/4 cup or omit altogether. Serve as a vegetable side dish, or as a topping for steak, burgers or chicken.