Friday, 30 October 2015

Brown Rice Salad with Chicken, Garbanzo Beans and Feta Cheese






That brown basmati rice is almost finished! There's probably enough for one more meal, and I must say the more I eat it, the more I like it. I am still alone in this view though...

This salad is served at room temperature, with the hot chicken breast sliced on top. Cucumber, roasted red pepper, toasted almonds, feta cheese and lime juice are added to the rice to make the salad; the chicken breast is seasoned with cumin before cooking.

The vegetables added crunch, so did the almonds and pomegranate seeds; the lime juice added some acidity and also brightened up the rice while the feta cheese added the salt needed for the rice, which can tend to be bland if not well seasoned.

As for what I used up, besides the rice? A red pepper that was losing its crunch, half a cucumber, half a can of garbanzo beans that were in the freezer, the last piece of feta cheese and 2 previously zested limes.


Cook:

1/2 cup brown basmati rice, using the absorption method (see the post Rice for more information).

When the rice is cooked, add :

1/2 can garbanzo beans





Cover the rice and beans, turn off the heat and allow them to steam for another 5 minutes. Remove from the pot, and allow to cool to room temperature.




Place the red pepper directly over the flame if you have a gas stove. It can be done in the oven if you don't have a gas stove.

Keep turning the pepper as it chars and blackens. When all sides are black, remove the pepper from the flame and place into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and leave the pepper to steam







 When the pepper is cool enough to handle, rub the charred skin off, and rinse it under cold water to remove any residual black bits. Cut the pepper open and remove the seeds. Dice and set aside.




In a dry pan, toast some almonds...








...and then roughly chop them, and set aside.







 In a large bowl, combine:

1 1/2 cups diced cucumber
The diced, roasted red pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Juice of 2 limes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper





Add the rice and garbanzo beans to the vegetables, and stir gently to combine.

Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remember that the feta cheese will add a lot of salt.

Add more lime juice and/or olive oil if you feel the rice is too dry.



Season 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts with salt, pepper and ground cumin.

Cook in a hot pan, with a drizzle of olive oil.

When the chicken is cooked, remove from the heat and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before thinly slicing.




To serve, place a portion of rice and vegetables on the plate. Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese, pomegranate seeds and the toasted almonds. Place the sliced chicken breast on top.


  • I am including a link that explains how to roast red peppers in the oven. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-red-peppers-recipe.html
  • Roasted red peppers can also be purchased in jars or cans; these don't have as much flavour as freshly roasted peppers, but are a good substitute when you are short of time.
  • The peppers can also be left raw, and diced along with the cucumber. This will add even more crunch to your salad, and some extra sweetness.
  • Green onions, or fresh chives would be a nice addition if you have them. Other herbs such as cilantro, basil or fresh oregano can also be added.
  • Use lemon juice if you have no limes. If you would rather use vinegar as your acid, try apple cider vinegar.
  • The salad would be a good use for leftover rice. It can be heated up, or left cold. Brown rice has a slight crunch, and a nuttiness that works really well with the vegetables.
  • Alternatives to rice are couscous, quinoa, bulgur wheat, orzo or barley.
  • The garbanzo beans are optional; they can be omitted or replaced with any other beans...black beans or edamame are some other options to try.
  • The chicken can be omitted; with the beans and cheese you have a complete meal. If you do want the meat, use any meat you have available...pork, beef, lamb, fish.
  • Serve the salad on a bed of greens such as fresh or wilted spinach or kale. Use it in a lettuce or tortilla wrap.
  • Pomegranates are in season right now, and add colour, crunch and Vitamin C as well as potassium. Diced mango, red grapes or fresh berries can be used instead.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Chicken Breast Baked with Asparagus, Leeks, Figs and Cambozola




I have to admit that one of my favourite meals is a baked chicken breast. It's always easy to prepare, doesn't take long to cook and can be combined with just about anything you have in the fridge or pantry. The only trick to cooking a chicken breast is to make sure it is not overcooked; that will dry out the otherwise tender and juicy meat and turn something delicious into the exact opposite.

Searing the chicken in a hot pan before placing it into the oven helps to add flavour and to seal in the juices. Have your pan hot and ready to go before adding a bit of olive oil, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is almost smoking carefully add the chicken. Do not move it around for at least 5 minutes, then check to see if the bottom is brown and crisp...if the chicken does not lift easily, it is not ready to turn. When it is ready, flip it over, and proceed with your recipe...placing the chicken into the oven at the required point.

Cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 165F; or if the juices run clear when the breast is poked with the tip of a knife. Always test for doneness in the thickest part of the breast. Remove the chicken from the heat and allow it to rest for 5 - 10 minutes in a warm spot (usually the back of the stove top works well) before serving.

I was pairing my chicken with a leek, some asparagus, and the last bit of Cambozola cheese. I added in some sundried figs to add a bit of sweetness, and took yet another opportunity to use up some of the dry sherry, this time for a marinade.


To make the marinade, combine the ingredients in a resealable plastic bag:

1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of chili flakes
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper





Place 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts inside the bag, removing as much air as possible while sealing it.

Place in the refrigerator for 4 hours.







Turn the oven on to 350F. Put a frying pan onto the stove to heat up.



Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and place in the hot pan to sear.

There is enough olive oil in the marinade to prevent sticking, so I did not add any oil to the pan.

Sear both sides of the chicken, and then remove from the pan and set aside while you cook the leeks.





Finely slice and clean:

1 leek

Add a bit of olive oil to the same pan that the chicken was seared in, and cook the leeks over medium heat until they start to soften.

Season lightly with salt and pepper.




Place the chicken breasts back into the pan, placing them on top of the leeks.

Scatter around the pan:

8 sundried figs, quartered

Place the asparagus spears on top of the chicken. I allowed 8 spears per person.





Place the pan into the oven and bake until the chicken is cooked. Turn the oven to broil. Remove the chicken from the pan and place it onto a plate, keeping the vegetables warm.





Place thinly sliced Cambozola cheese on top of each breast and place under the broiler to melt the cheese.








Allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes. I served this with orzo. The sweet figs and the gooey, sharp cheese were a perfect were a perfect combination. The asparagus was still slightly crisp, and the leeks added a peppery kick to the sauce.



  • By marinating the chicken before cooking it, you add flavour as well as moisture. Any alcohol can be used...rum, wine, brandy. Juice can also be used if you prefer.
  • The flavours of the garlic, orange and fennel infused the chicken and added to the sauce without competing with the leeks, figs and cheese.
  • The chicken can be marinated the day before, or placed in the marinade and frozen. 
  • Adding leeks to the pan before baking the chicken adds moisture, which helps to prevent the chicken from drying out while cooking.
  • The figs I was using were very plump and moist. If your figs (or any dried fruit you choose to use) are dry, simply set aside a bit of the marinade for them to soak in. The figs can also be steeped in warm water, or juice before being added to the pan.
  • Fresh figs can be substituted if they are in season. Other fresh fruit options are peaches, apricots or pear.
  • Thinly slice and caramelize an onion, and use that in place of the leek.
  • The Cambozola is optional; I decided to add it at the last minute when I saw that there was such a small piece in the fridge. It did add a creaminess to the dish, which was nice.
  • The leeks can be turned into more of a sauce by adding a bit of whipping cream to the pan after the chicken and asparagus have been removed. Cook over a medium high heat to reduce the cream to a saucy consistency.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Turkey and Brown Rice Burritos






For some reason, I've never made burritos at home before, only at work. With so much leftover Thanksgiving turkey in the freezer, this was an opportunity to treat the family to some home made burritos.

As well as the turkey, I used the opportunity to use up some more of the brown basmati rice that no one but me likes. I'm slowly working my way through it...I added the half cup of Basic Tomato Sauce and some tomato paste that I found in the fridge, and along with some spices, ended up with a moist and flavourful filling.


Using a drizzle of olive oil, cook until softened:

1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced

Add the spices:

2 tablespoons chili powder
1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried ancho chilli powder





After the spices have cooked for a couple of minutes, add:

1/2 cup Basic Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste






Stir in:

4 cups diced, cooked turkey

Add about 1/2 cup of warm water, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.







Remove the lid, and keeping the heat at a simmer, stir in:

1 tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
3/4 cup frozen corn

Allow the filling to simmer until most of the remaining liquid has reduced away.






Remove the filling from the heat, and stir in:

1 cup cooked brown basmati rice








Now that the filling is ready, grate about 2 cups of white cheddar. Get an ovenproof dish ready, and have some 10" tortillas ready to fill and roll. Heat the oven to 350F.





In the centre of each tortilla place:

2/3 cup of the meat filling
White cheddar







To roll the burrito, fold the sides in over the filling and then fold the side closest to you over the filling.

Roll it up carefully, keeping it as tight as possible without tearing the tortilla.

Place the burritos seam side down in your dish.





Loosely cover the dish and the burritos with a piece of foil. Place in the oven and bake until the filling is heated through, about 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for a further 5 -10 minutes, to crisp the tortillas up a bit.

Serve, accompanied by sour cream, diced avocado and extra cheese.



  • Any type of rice will be fine in this recipe; as I mentioned I have some brown basmati rice that no one seems to like, so I used that. If you have leftover cooked rice, that is even better...it saves a step and also makes space in your fridge.
  • The rice can be eliminated. It makes the burritos a bit more filling, and also helps to absorb any extra liquid that would make the tortillas soggy.
  • Add beans...black, red or white kidney, navy or romano. I was on a use up binge, and didn't want to open a can only to use half and add something else to the freezer when I'm trying to empty it out.
  • As I mentioned, this was a way to use up some of the Thanksgiving turkey. Leftover chicken, beef or pork can be used instead. If you are cooking meat just for this, use ground beef, chicken or turkey. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are also a good choice, as they cook quickly, have a lot of flavour and don't dry out as easily as chicken breast does. There is also no reason why fish can't be used...firm fleshed fish such as red snapper, cod or salmon are good choices.
  • The Basic Tomato Sauce added moisture and flavour, but it can be omitted. Use extra water, to add the moisture. Chicken stock can be also be used to add another layer of flavour.
  • If you have sweet red peppers, jalapeno peppers or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, add those to the filling.
  • Herbs such as cilantro, parsley, oregano can be added. The spices can also be adjusted to suit your heat preference. The ancho chili powder added a distinct smokiness as well as some heat.
  • I used white cheddar, however orange cheddar, jalapeno jack, queso fresco or manchego can be used. Smoked white cheddar would also be a nice addition.
  • The burritos can be assembled the day before they are baked. They can also be assembled and frozen.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

White Chocolate and Cashew Bar



This is my version of the White Chocolate Cashew Brownie on the site lovefoodies.com. There was a piece of white chocolate in the cupboard, as well as some cashews, and with those being two of my husband's favourite snacks, when I saw this recipe I had to try it out! It was even better than I thought it would be, soft and chewy inside, with chunks of cashews and chocolate in every bite. It was also very quick and easy!

I made a few small changes...less nuts and more chocolate, because I had such a little bit of chocolate left and decided to use it all. I also saw a lime in the fruit bowl, so I added some lime zest.

Start off by turning the oven on to 325F. Line a 10" X 10' pan with foil,  lightly greasing it.



In a double boiler, over low heat, melt:

150g white chocolate, chopped
150g butter, cubed


When it has melted, set it aside until needed.






In the bowl of a stand mixer, place:

4 eggs
1 egg yolk
Zest of 1/2 lime






Add:

1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla









Whip on high speed until the mixture is thick and pale.










Add the cooled, melted chocolate and butter and whip until it is combined. The mixture should still be fluffy, but the colour will be pale yellow.







Add the dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups flour
Pinch of salt

Whip on low speed until the dry ingredients are just incorporated.






Fold in :

1/3 cup chopped white chocolate
1 cup roughly chopped, toasted cashews









Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly.








Place the pan into the oven and bake until it is golden and set, but with a few moist crumbs still sticking to a wooden skewer inserted into the centre of the bar.

This took about 50 minutes.






Remove the pan from the oven and allow the bar to cool completely, before using the foil liner to carefully lift the bar out of the pan. Cut into 2" squares...these are very sweet, and very rich and oh so delicious!



  • This bar was so delicious, and so easy, and has inspired me no end...I can't wait to try it again, with variations, of course.
  • I increased the original recipe so that I could bake it in a 10" X 10" pan, and used slightly less sugar. I also used part white and part brown sugar, because I didn't have enough white sugar! 
  • Try this using other nuts such as hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans or even salted peanuts. I would like to try it with dried fruit such as cherries, cranberries or figs. Dark, bittersweet chocolate chunks would contrast nicely with the sweetness of the white chocolate if you have some to use.
  • Other than lime zest, orange or lemon could be used. Other extracts such as almond, coffee or rum can be used in place of the vanilla. Spices can be added...cinnamon, star anise, chili peppers or ginger (try grated fresh ginger, or finely chopped candied ginger).
  • If you keep these bars well wrapped they can last for 2 - 3 days...unless they are eaten before that!
  • Serve the bars with ice cream or whipped cream, and some fresh fruit as a dessert.
  • Christmas is just around the corner, and these would make a lovely hostess gift, dusted with icing sugar or drizzled with melted chocolate. There are a lot of beautiful cookie tins and boxes available in stores for this purpose.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Pink Peppercorn and Fennel Pork Medallions with Honey Roasted Apples and Carrots






Pork tenderloin was available at a really good price, but what to do with it? Luckily there was inspiration in the form of 2 soft apples, 3 carrots, an abundance of fennel seeds and about half a glass of white wine. This would all work well with the pork...adding pink peppercorns to the fennel seeds gave a hint of spice to the dish.  The natural sweetness in the apples and carrots was emphasized by the addition of honey, and roasting them caramelized all of the sugars. The acidity of the white wine cut through all of the sweetness and pulled everything together.

I used a russet potato and a rutabaga, along with the last of the whipping cream and Parmesan to make a gratin to serve with the pork.

I knew it was a success when my husband went back for seconds...and there were no leftovers to deal with.

I put the gratin together and into a 400F oven, as it would take the longest time to cook. While that was baking, I worked on the rest of the meal.


Place the apples and carrots into a roasting pan. You will need:

2 apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into pieces the same size as the apple slices

Drizzle with:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 tablespoon honey





Place the carrots and apples into the oven to roast until they are caramelized on the outside, and soft on the inside, about 45 minutes. Give them a stir two or three times during this roasting time.







If the carrots and apples are ready before the rest of the meal, take them out of the oven and put them back in to reheat about 5 minutes before serving.





To make the seasoning for the pork, place the spices into a spice grinder, and grind until fine:

1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns







Clean a pork tenderloin and cut it into slices that are about 1/4" - 1/3" thick.

Sprinkle both sides of the slices with the ground spices.







Using a bit of olive oil and a really hot pan, sear both sides of the pork.

Lightly sprinkle the slices with salt just before placing them into the pan.







When both sides of the pork have been seared, remove the meat from the pan and place it on a tray, and put it into the oven to finish cooking, while you use the pan to make the sauce.




Keeping the heat on medium, add:

1/3 cup white wine

While the wine reduces to about 2 tablespoons, use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan. This is where all of the flavour for your sauce is.



Turn the heat to low.

Using a whisk, add:

1/4 cup cold butter, cut into cubes

Add one piece at a time, whisking until it is completely melted, before adding the next piece of butter.





This will result in a smooth, shiny butter sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning. Keep the sauce warm by removing it from the heat and placing it at the back of the stove.

Take the pork from the oven and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving it, along with the roasted carrots and apples. Pour the sauce over the pork once it is on the plates, or serve it on the side if you prefer.



  • When I started thinking about this meal, I wasn't quite sure how it would all turn out, especially since I seemed to be making most of it up as I went! This goes to show that sometimes you just have to try something to know if it will work. 
  • Fennel was chosen for two reasons: I have a lot of it right now, and it is a great spice to use with carrots, apples and pork (the licorice flavour really complements all three). Originally I was going to use cumin with the apples and carrots; this would also work with pork. Other spices to try are ground ginger, aniseed, cinnamon, start anise or Chinese five spice.
  • I used pink peppercorns as I have about 1 tablespoon of them and want to use them up before replenishing my stock. Despite their name, they are not related to black, white or green peppercorns...they are a berry from either the Brazilian or the Peruvian pepper tree. They are hollow inside, and they have less heat than the other peppercorns, instead having a citrusy flavour with a slight heat. These were perfect with the fennel, as neither one overpowered the other.
  • If you do not have any pink peppercorns, substitute black, white or dried green peppercorns, but if you do not want your pork to be too spicy, use only 1/2 teaspoon of peppercorns.
  • Other fruits and vegetables that can be roasted this way include pears, quince, parsnips, beets, rutabagas.
  • Instead of honey, try maple syrup, brown sugar or golden syrup.
  • The pork can be left whole, rubbed with the spices and then seared and roasted. To allow the flavour to penetrate the meat, make some shallow slits in the meat before rubbing the spices on, and make sure that some of the spices gets rubbed into the slits. The spices can also be rubbed onto the meat a few hours ahead of time.
  • When you are making the butter sauce, it's important that you do not let it boil once you start to add the cold butter, or your sauce will separate. By adding cold butter to a warm wine reduction, and whisking you emulsify the two. I used a gewurztraminer that was slightly drier than normal, so it still added the necessary acidity to the sauce.
  • To make a pan sauce without the butter, add wine and/or apple juice to the pan and allow it to reduce until it is the right consistency. You can add a small amount of jelly to the sauce to give some thickness and shine if you like.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Moussaka with Chicken and Grilled Baby Eggplant






While away for the weekend we stopped at a farmers market and when I saw the selection of baby eggplants, I had to buy some...purple, white, yellow, orange and all different shapes. What's not to love? I considered stuffing and baking them, but opted instead for a slightly lighter version of moussaka.


I used ground chicken instead of lamb, as it is not as rich. I also grilled the eggplant, which used a lot less oil. The bechamel was made slightly thinner than usually called for, and I topped it all off with crumbled feta cheese.

To go along with the baby eggplant, I baked the  moussaka in individual dishes...why not? It was interesting to taste the differences in the eggplant varieties as we ate; some were sweet, one was quite bitter; some were much softer in texture. All in all an interesting meal.



Cook the meat sauce. In a pan, heat some olive oil, and cook until softened:

1/2 medium onion, diced.

Season with salt and pepper.






Add:

1 pound ground chicken

Cook, breaking any large lumps of meat up with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook until the meat is still slightly pink.




Add:

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch cayenne pepper

Continue cooking, until the chicken is no longer pink.



Add:
2  tablespoons tomato paste
1 x 28 ounce can tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped (reserve the liquid)
1 Parmesan rind

Continue to cook, adding tomato juice as needed if it is too dry. Taste and adjust seasoning.






Slice the eggplant into 1/4" thick slices. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil.










Cook the eggplant on a hot grill.

Remove and set aside until needed.







Heat:

2 cups milk
1 bayleaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved








Use this milk to make a bechamel. Follow the recipe from the post Basic White Sauce (Bechamel). Whisk a handful of grated Parmesan into the finished sauce. Now the moussaka can be assembled.

Turn the oven on to 350F.  Have 4 individual ovenproof dishes, or 1 large dish, ready.





Spread a thin layer of bechamel on the bottom of each dish.



Top that with some of the grilled eggplant. Use half of the eggplant for this layer.




Next use half of the meat sauce to cover the eggplant.










Add another layer of bechamel on top of the meat sauce.

Repeat the eggplant and meat sauce layers, and then finish with a layer of bechamel. Sprinkle crumbled feta cheese over the bechamel.




Bake the moussaka until it is heated through and bubbling, and the cheese is golden and crispy. Serve with a salad.





  •  Moussaka is often made using ground lamb; ground beef can also be used. I actually wanted to use ground turkey, but only had chicken. I find that ground lamb can have quite a strong flavour, and like to use half lamb and half beef when I do use it.
  • Fresh tomatoes can be used if you prefer; use chicken stock if the sauce is too dry.
  • Use fresh oregano if you have some available...you will need about 1 tablespoon, chopped. Fresh parsley and basil can also be added.
  • The meat sauce can be made up to 2 days ahead; it can also be frozen. If you take the time to make a large batch of meat sauce and freeze the extra, you will have sauce for more moussaka; for tossing with pasta; adding to pizza or making pastitsio...meat sauce and noodle layers topped with bechamel and cheese and then baked.
  • The recipe for bechamel that I use is a bit thinner than most I have found when making moussaka. It does lighten the dish up without compromising that creaminess. If you want a thicker bechamel, add another tablespoon or two of flour when making the sauce.
  • I added the bayleaf and garlic to the milk for another layer of flavour. They can be omitted. Other options to add to the milk include fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano or parslery; chili flakes; fresh ground nutmeg; black peppercorns; 1 or 2 whole cloves; lemon peel; 1/4 of a small onion.
  • The bechamel can be made a day ahead and kept tightly sealed in the refrigerator.
  • I chose to use feta cheese to top my moussaka as I like the crumbly texture and saltiness. If you are using feta, make sure to taste it before using it...some brands are saltier than others and need to be rinsed under cold water to remove some of the brine before using. Also, keep the saltiness of the cheese in mind when seasoning the other parts of the dish.
  • Other cheeses can be used. Try mozzarella, Kefalotyri, mizithra, pecorino or even Parmesan.
  • Baby eggplant are not very common, so if you are using purple globe eggplant, or even Japanese eggplant, slice it thinly and grill it as I did with the baby eggplant. This adds a smoky dimension to the dish. The best thing about grilling the eggplant is that it uses less oil...eggplant can be a sponge soaking up oil when pan frying it if it hasn't been salted first, and left to sit so that the excess moisture is drawn out by the salt.
  • Use zucchini instead of eggplant for a change, or use a combination of the two.
  • Moussaka can be frozen before or after it is baked.