Archives for category: Fast and Fresh Dinner

Ribs, Paleo Meatloaf, asp veggies 071Every time I make this dish it is always a little different.  The flavor combinations of green chile, creamy white beans, tender chicken and earthy cumin come together perfectly in this light summer chili but my earlier versions of this dish were good but not great and I wanted  to keep tweaking the recipe until it was amazing.    I have finally found the perfect combination of meat, beans, smoky veggies, spicy chile and flavorful cumin with this latest version.

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The first change I made was to use ground chicken instead of diced chicken.  This chili recipe is good with diced grilled chicken thighs  but the cumin permeates the ground chicken and creates a  chili  with an amazing taste.

The next change I made was to brine my beans before cooking.  I  like the flavor and texture of  beans from a can where the beans have a whole structure with a creamy interior and great flavor.  When I cook dried beans to get them as tender as canned beans I would usually have to cook them until they fall apart.

Then I found out about brining  beans before cooking.  I often brine meats before cooking especially if you buy free range chickens or fresh heritage pork.  These meats are not commercially brined and can turn out tough if not cooked  carefully.   Brining  will also distribute flavor through out the meat and help your meat  stay tender.  Same technique evidently works with dried beans as well.   The bean will stay whole and the interior is creamy and perfectly seasoned.

This is a link to an earlier post on brining meats.

 Cider brined chicken and the trans-formative power of salt.

Brining beans is a new technique for me and  is one of those kitchen skills that is useful for making perfectly cooked foods and saves money.  Cooks Illustrated has this great video on the how and whys of brining beans.  I highly suggest you try it next time you cook dried beans.

You are welcome to use canned beans but I just wanted to share this bean cooking revelation so when you do have extra time or want to save money you can cook dried beans perfectly.

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Amazing White Chicken Chili with Grilled Veggies, White Beans and Poblano Chilies

Serves 8-12

2 lbs ground chicken (I use a combination of thigh meat and breast meat)

1 large red onion cut into large circles

3 medium zucchini sliced lengthwise in half

3 bell peppers cut in half (I like to use a combination of red, yellow and orange)

4 poblano chilies or 1 cup fire roasted green chile from a can like Hatch Fire Roasted Green Chile

3 carrots peeled and cut in half lengthwise

2 15oz cans of white beans or 1/2 lb white beans brined and cooked ahead of time

1 24 oz can of Muir Glen fire roasted and crushed tomatoes

2 tbs avocado oil, canola oil or olive oil

1 tbs ground cumin

1 cup chicken broth, stock or water

fresh cilantro, sour cream and jack cheese to garnish

Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Heat the grill to cook the veggies.  While your grill is heating start browning the ground chicken in a dutch oven or heavy bottom pot with 1 tbs avocado oil and season with sea salt the pepper.

If you do not have a grill you can use a grill pan, roast your veggies in a hot oven or buy them grilled at Whole Foods or your local specialty store that has such wonderful luxury items as grilled fresh veggies.

Toss the veggies in  1 tbs avocado oil and season with salt and pepper.  When you grill your veggies for the chile make sure your grill is very hot because you will just be marking the veggies and getting a good smoked flavor in them.  The veggies do not necessarily need to be cooked through on the grill since they will finish cooking in the chile and if you under cook your veggies on the grill they will hold together better in the chile.

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The  poblano chiles should be cooked much longer than the rest of the veggies since you want to get the outside skin blackened over at least 60 percent of the chile.

While your veggies are cooling add broth, beans, cumin, roasted tomato, to the ground chicken.

Dice the zucchini, onions. bell peppers and carrots into a small dice.  Peel the black skin off the poblano chilies and dice into a small dice as well.  Here is a good article on roasting and peeling bell peppers and chilies.  How to peel poblano peppers.

Add diced veggies into your chile and taste for seasoning.

Add salt and pepper as desired.

Let chile simmer for about 10 minutes and serve hot topped with cheese, fresh cilantro or sour cream.

 

Just a quick note on a new pantry item that I cannot do without.  I buy this tasty oil at my local Costco.  Hope you can find it in your local store or buy it at Chosen Foods online.  Avocado oil makes perfect salad dressings and is also great for high heat cooking.  Popcorn turns out sublime when made in avocado oil.  It does not have a strong flavor but adds a nice creamy flavor to foods.

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frittata 4 lemon chicken 099My last blog post was titled “Self Hosting Fun”  and it was not fun at all.

This is why I have not been blogging.  I regret it.  I have blog posts swirling around in my brain all of the time.  I still have not been blogging.

Why?

Fear of failure.  It really is that simple.  I tried to jump over to self hosting with a new template and failed at being able to figure it out.   I have used many different types of templates and have been pretty successful at figuring  out how to work with templates, but not this time.  I have met my match and lost the fight.  The template I chose was not something I could figure out.  I failed.

I have a quote on my fridge that says, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.”  -Winston Churchill

It is on my fridge! I see it everyday but I was not approaching this particular failure with enthusiasm.  Instead I was hiding from it.  My goal with the self hosting and new template was to create a more professional looking blog.  How could I go back to blogging until I succeeded?

My failure was not in being unable to figure out my new blog template but by not continuing to blog while I solved the problem.

I was talking on the phone to my lovely sister Shelley over the holidays and she said, “My mother in law, Doris and I love cooking the recipes from your blog.”

That was it.  That was all I needed to hear.  This is why I write this blog.  It has nothing to do with professionalism or how the blog looks.  It is about getting people to enjoy being in the kitchen and cooking healthy, scratch-made meals for family and friends.

I have not given up on making the change to a more professional looking blog but will continue to post while I approach the transition without fear and with lots of enthusiasm.

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Lemon Chicken Thighs with Thyme and Garlic

Simple and delicious, this entree is easy to make and tastes great.
Gluten Free and low carb as well as Paleo,  I love to make this dish on any night since it is quick and easy.

4-6 servings

10 minutes prep and 20 minutes cooking, but remember to let the chicken rest for at least 10 minutes after baking for the lovely juices to redistribute in the chicken for the most tender and moist results.

Start heating your oven to 425 degrees for at least 20 minutes before baking the chicken.

Total time:  40 minutes to delicious chicken.

6-12 Good quality Chicken Thighs with bones and skin.

4 large good-looking lemons, preferably organic as you will be using the whole lemon with skin and all.

1 generous handful of fresh thyme chopped lightly with the woody stems cut off or 1 tbs dried thyme (if I am using dried I like to use the French thyme from Savory Spice Shop)  Remember to save your fresh thyme stems for stock, just put them in a zip lock bag in the freezer for later use.

2 large cloves of fresh garlic minced.

2 tbs good quality unsalted butter softened. 

1 ½ tsp kosher salt

Cracked pepper to taste

Get your oven really hot.  Pre-heat to 425 degrees for at least 20 minutes while you are prepping your ingredients.

Smash together in a small bowl, the garlic, ½ tsp of kosher salt and ½ of your fresh thyme and your softened butter.  Use a fork to get it all mixed together by smashing it with the tines of the fork.  

Slice your lemons into thin circles.  Remove any seeds. 

Lay the chicken out on a foil or parchment lined baking sheet.  Give the thighs a little room for the heat to circulate around them and allow for the skin to get crispy.

Lift up the skin of the chicken thighs and insert a small amount of butter mixture and one slice of lemon.  If you are making 6 thighs you will put in more butter mixture than if you are make 12 thighs.  Just use you judgment on how much you should put in.  You can measure out the butter mixture ahead of time so that you can see how much to use on each thigh.  I usually use around ¼ tsp per thigh.

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Season the top of the chicken with the rest of your kosher salt and cracked pepper.  Liberally sprinkle the rest of the thyme over the top of the chicken and bake for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches around 170 degrees and the skin is crispy and browned.

Let chicken rest for about 10 minutes.

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Great served with roasted Brussels Sprouts or steamed fresh broccoli.

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Last weekend I catered a lovely little party in Jamestown.  My friend Andy had asked me a couple of months ago to cook for his birthday party.  I knew it was coming up but did not realize that he didn’t have my phone number.  I was in Jamestown the friday before dancing at Town Hall to a great line up of local bands including the Gasoline lollipops.  I went out on the porch to cool off because the place was packed and the music had us all dancing and started talking to Nolan Farmer.  Andy rents a room in Nolan’s’ beautiful house nestled in the mountains above Jamestown.  Nolan asks if I am coming to Andy’s party on Sunday.  SUNDAY!  I told Nolan I better call Andy in the morning because I am supposed cater the party for him.  I called Andy in the morning a we worked out a quick and healthy menu.  Andy is committed to eating healthy and he is doing a great job.

Andy B-day in Jimtown 109Here is the birthday boy telling a joke.

I arrived at Andy and Nolan’s on Sunday and had a great day cooking with Andy and listening to the talented Nolan Farmer playing his guitar and singing some of the wonderful bluegrass songs he has written.  Does it get any better than that?

I made a kale and cabbage slaw with oven dried apples.

Andy B-day in Jimtown 056A light platter of salami and olives with some delicious fresh oranges.

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My whole wheat carrot cake cupcakes were a hit.

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Andy made a fantastic guacamole.

Andy B-day in Jimtown 089I also made some yummy goat cheese and veggie flatbread.

Andy B-day in Jimtown 088The center dish was an oven roasted salmon fillet with marinated baby heirloom tomatoes with garlic and fresh basil.

Andy B-day in Jimtown 040The guests loved the food but I think I had the most fun just watching my friends enjoy food cooked with love.

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Oven Roasted Salmon with Marinated Tomatoes

This dish is simple and delicious

2 lb Fresh Salmon Fillet

1 Pint heirloom Grape Tomatoes or Regular Grape Tomatoes

1 Garlic Clove Sliced Thinly

8-10 Fresh Basil Leaves

1 Lemon Sliced into Rounds

Sea Salt

Cracked Black Pepper

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Balsamic Vinegar

8 Hours before cooking marinate Tomatoes slice in half, Garlic and Basil with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Slice the salmon fillet down the center and then slice into the salmon about 1 inch on each side of the center cut so that the salmon will open up.

Rub the salmon with olive oil and season with sea salt and black pepper.

Open the top and pile in the tomato mixture.

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Top with slices of lemon and bake until salmon is fully cooked.  About 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Serve hot or cold.  The roasted tomatoes take on a bright and sweet flavor.

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Mothers Day is coming up and this dish would be a hit.

I had always wanted to buy that bag of organic farro at Costco.  I would pick it up and just look at it but I would always put it back.  Nothing was coming to mind as to how I would use it.  I love it in soups but I am usually in a salad mood this time of the year.

I read this post from Orangette.  She used farro as a warm side dish with caramelized onions and feta.

I then saw this post from Epicurious.  This salad was a bit closer to what I was looking for.

I had some lovely grape tomatoes, a chunk of french feta and some kalamata olives.  I think you can see where I am going here…

I cooked the farro as per the instructions on the bag but added some herbs and garlic to the cooking water.  Make sure you cook the farro al dente.  It keeps a wonderful chewy texture and sweet flavor if you do not over cook it.

Letting it sit after being cooked in a bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and herbs overnight in your fridge is really the way to go.

I wanted to bulk out the salad and bit so I tossed some baby organic spinach in right before serving and poured some more olive oil over the salad.

Perfect.  Just the right combination of nutty grain, sweet tomatoes, salty olives and feta and the fresh bite of spinach.

Farro, Baby Spinach, Tomato and Feta Salad

Cooking the farro

1 cup dried farro

2 cups water

1/4 tsp granulated garlic

1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Bring water to a boil and add salt, garlic and thyme.

Add farro and boil until tender but not over cooked.  Al dente is just perfect for this grain.  Drain water and put cooked farro into a bowl with oil, vinegar and season to taste.  Let sit in your refrigerator until chilled or best yet leave it there overnight.

For the salad

1 cup halved sweet grape tomatoes

1/2 cup kalamata olives

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

5-6 cups fresh baby spinach

Toss farro with the above ingredients in a large bowl and serve.  Add more balsamic or olive oil as needed and season to taste.

When we moved up into the mountains it was clear I needed to develop a pizza dough recipe that was quick and easy to make and would also pass the high standards of my family.

When our schedule was busy or I was not around to cook my husband would order pizza delivery.  Living in the mountains has made this impossible.  No pizza delivery up here!

Pizza is one of those meals that my husband and two kids are always happy to have so I needed to find a way to make it easy so that they could make it when I was not around.

I have a pizza dough recipe I developed for my catering business but it was one where the dough rests over night and takes some skill in stretching it out.  This is a delicious pizza crust but not one my family could make on their own.

For Cal-Wood I have developed a pizza dough recipe that is easy to make for lots of people.  I usually serve 60-95 people per dinner so I needed an easy pizza dough for large-scale cooking.  I developed a foccacia like dough that is spread out on a full size sheet pan that holds 40 servings of pizza.  The guests and more importantly the kids who visit Cal-Wood love this thick crust with the tender crumb and lots of yummy toppings.

My family wanted something more chewy and crispy like the New York Style Pizza they would order out when we lived in civilization.

I have been working for the last year on different recipes but had yet to get one that was both tasty and easy to make.  I believe that I have finally found the perfect, easy, flavorful and chewy pizza crust for my family.

One of the key techniques in this recipe is that the dough is mixed and kneaded in a food processor.  This process takes about 5 minutes and is so easy anyone could do it.

This dough freezes great after the first rise and will keep well in the freezer for up to 3 months.  I will usually make about 12 dough balls, a vat of sauce and mix up some cheese with italian seasonings and freeze it all in single pizza portions.  That way I can pull enough for each pizza and defrost for the next day.

Simple and Delicious Pizza Dough

This recipe makes enough for two 12 inch pizzas.

2 3/4 cups or 12 .75 ounces all-purpose flour

1 1/4 tsp yeast

1 1/2 tsp sea salt

1 tbs honey

1 cup warm water 110 degrees

1/8 cup good extra virgin olive oil and some extra for oiling a bowl

This recipe is easy because you mix and knead your dough in the food processor.  I love this part because it takes about 5 minutes total to put this recipe together and knead.  Really…I kid you not!

Pre-heat your oven to 500 degrees and put in your pizza stone if you are using one.

If not, my friend Doug has this great technique where he starts his pizza on a parchment lined sheet pan and then takes it out half way through baking.  You lift the pizza up off the sheet pan by the parchment and just put it directly on the oven rack, parchment and all to finish baking and your crust will become deliciously crispy on the bottom.

Add the flour and salt to the food processor bowl and pulse a couple of times to mix.

Add yeast and honey with warm water in a bowl and let rest for five minutes.  This allows to yeast to start working.

Add water mixture to your food processor and mix until dough forms a ball.

Pulse dough 15 times.  This should be enough to knead the dough.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 4 or five times to bring it all together.

Oil a bowl and add dough.  Turn the dough over to make sure it is coated in oil on all sides.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 to 2 hours or until doubled in size.  It only takes an hour up here in the mountains.

After the first rise you can wrap and freeze your dough for up to 3 months.

If you are going to bake your pizza you can start stretching your dough after it has doubled in size during rising.

Do not roll out your pizza dough with a rolling-pin.  This will make for a tough and dense pizza dough instead of a light, airy and chewy crust.

On your work surface lightly dust a sheet of parchment paper with flour.   Cut your dough into 2 pieces and cover the one you are setting aside.

Stretch your dough gently and then lay it on the parchment pushing it into a circle.  Work with the dough gently and push from the edges out.  This may take some practice and your pizza does not need to be  a perfect circle.  Mine is usually oblong in shape.

Top with what ever you have about and bake at 500 degrees until browned and cheese is melted and starting to brown on top.

For this recipe I have used sausage, fennel, sweet tomato and feta cheese and instead of a tomato sauce I brushed the dough with olive oil and garlic.

Yesterday was bright and sunny when I woke up.  There was a bit of a chill in the air but overall it was sunny and clear.

I went up to the lodge and got the grill ready.  My mother in law, sister-in-law and nephew were coming up for Sunday brunch.

It was a perfect spring day.  I was even thinking we may set up a table on the deck and eat outside.  Was I wrong.   Weather can change fast in the mountains.

I starting grilling and decided to take some pictures from the deck.

It was warm and sunny.  Next thing I know I spot a white mass out over one of the hills.  It almost looked like smoke.

As the mass began to move and drift toward the lodge I realized the it was bringing a chilly wind.  It began to spread out and when it reached the lodge I realized it was snow.

Snow….in May.  Well I do live in the Rocky Mountains.

So here I am standing on the deck in cut offs and sandals grilling in the snow.  It made me laugh because almost every time I pull out the grill it starts raining.  I should grill more often since we are having a dry spring.

Thankfully I was done grilling and could move in a light the fireplace and relax with my family.

Ok, so back to the food….I was planning on featuring a summer salad.  This is a salad that we make nearly everyday during the summer.

But how can I feature a salad when it is snowing?  Shouldn’t I feature a stew or soup?  Well since the rest of the country is not blanketed in snow I will go ahead with my summer salad.  It kept snowing all night.  Most of the snow melted on impact but we got some great precipitation that was needed.

In the warm spring and summer months my  family enjoys salads nearly every dinner.  Sliced ripe red tomatoes, rich and creamy cheese, and bright fresh herbs is our favorite combination.

This salad is made with tomatoes (Compari vine ripe tomatoes from Costco), fresh mozzarella, balsamic, extra virgin olive oil and fresh thyme.

Fresh Tomato, Mozzarella and Balsamic Salad

The key to getting the best flavor from this salad is to thinly slice the mozzarella which can be done if you freeze it for about half an hour or until slightly firm but not hard.  With the thinner mozzarella you can marinate it with balsamic and olive oil and the flavor will permeate the creamy cheese.

8-12 vine ripe compari tomatoes (I used the tomatoes from our local Costco but the salad is best with fresh tomatoes in season)

1 lb fresh mozzarella ( I used Bel Gioioso brand)

1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar (I used my trusty Kirkland Signature Brand from Costco, yes I know I love Costco..)

1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove minced finely

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves (you can also use basil, oregano or mint)

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Slice your mozzarella thinly and marinate with balsamic, olive oil and garlic.  Let marinate for at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours in your refrigerator. 

Slice tomatoes and arrange tomatoes, mozzarella with marinade and fresh herbs on a plate.  Drizzle a bit more vinegar and olive oil and top with fresh herbs.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.   Serve as a first course with crusty fresh-baked bread or as a side dish with a nice piece of grilled meat.

Here are a few variations on this salad:

Fresh tomato, feta cheese, mint and kalamata olives

Fresh tomato, feta cheese, oregano and kalamata olives

Fresh tomato, blue cheese and bacon and arugula

Fresh tomato, brie cheese and pancetta

More great tomato salad recipes:

This one from Jamie Oliver. (I just love how he uses tomatoes of different sizes and shapes.)

Or try this one from Martha.

Here is Elsies’ beautiful version of the tomato mozzarella combo.

I enjoy to just sitting and watching my tomato starts and dream that this season will be long enough for us to actually harvest some tomatoes.  Last year our crops froze before they had a chance to ripen.  We are much more prepared this year.  Wish me luck!

If I am not successful I will have the Boulder Farmers Market at my disposal and in late summer the farmers in the area will have a dizzying array of tomatoes to choose from.

Now I will resume my fresh tomato dreams…..

I will frequently go through a phase where I will make a frittata at least once a week.  I use lovely farm fresh eggs and what ever I have in the fridge.  I never get tired of eating fritattas.  In my house we will eat them for breakfast, lunch with salad or even as a light dinner with salad and crusty fresh-baked bread.

Making fritattas is a wonderful way to clean out all of those little bits of cheese, cooked meats or veg you may have in the fridge.  I have made grilled skirt steak, sharp cheddar and green chile, or ground beef with taco seasonings, salsa and jack cheese combinations.  Kalamta olive, feta, sun-dried tomato and spinach is also a good flavor combination.  You can keep it simple with a classic combination of Ham and Swiss.  You really can’t go wrong.

My favorite is roasted bell peppers, sausage and goat cheese.  When I purchase goat cheese I will often buy Laura Chenel Chevre.  Laura’s goat cheese dairy  is the gold standard of American made French style goat cheese.  The dairy is located in Sonoma California and uses primarily local dairies so you can really taste the terrior of the Napa and Sonoma regions.  Terrior is a delightful French word meaning the flavor of a certain region or land.  We do not have a similar word in English but we should.

In Boulder we are lucky to have a local dairy that produces some excellent goat cheese. I have been purchasing Laura Chenel Chevre for years but lately will frequently purchase Haystack Mountain goat cheese for cheese boards or appetizers.  Haystack makes a goat Camembert that is the best cheese I have ever eaten.  The Queso de Mano is also delightful.  They have a large variety of artisanal goat cheeses.  This is a thriving local business that has grown steadily during the economic downturn and continues to produce excellent cheeses that win awards every year.   I could consume buckets of the Applewood Smoked Chevre.  Seriously….this cheese is light with just a hint of smokiness.  I made a quesadilla with the applewood smoked chevre and roasted green chile.  Very delicious.

Fritatta with Goat Cheese, Roasted Sweet Bell Peppers and Sausage

10 Large Eggs

1/4 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream or Milk (You can use low-fat milk for a lighter taste)

1/2 lb good quality Breakfast Sausage Crumbles (I used Jimmy Dean all natural)

1 Sweet Red, Orange or Yellow Bell Pepper Charred on the grill or gas stove, cleaned of black bits and rough chopped

4 oz Fresh Soft Chevre (Goat Cheese)( I used Laura Chenel fresh soft chevre)

1/4 Tsp Thyme (If you use fresh use 1/2 tsp)( I used some of the lovely French Thyme I bought at Savory Spice Shop.)

1/2 tsp Corn Starch

Sea Salt and Pepper to taste.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray pie pan or cake round with non-stick spray or rub with butter.  Beat together eggs, heavy cream and corn starch.  The corn starch will help the frittata stay light a fluffy during baking.  You can omit the corn starch if you are eating gluten free or low carb.

Cook sausage in a pan and drain off excess fat.

Put sausage, peppers and cheese in the pie pan.  Pour over egg mixture and top with thyme.  Season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until custard is set in the middle.  Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting.  Can be served either hot, cold or room temperature.

You can also use the classic italian method with a cast iron pan instead of a pie pan.  Elsie from Simply Recipes has good instructions on how to make a frittata by starting it on the stove top.

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