Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lemon Olive Garlic Chicken

A good friend was visiting last week and we came up with some amazing meals. I wanted to make chicken for dinner one night and she said that she liked all kinds of chicken, but really didn't like the skin, regardless of how crispy it was. I had some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the freezer and took those out to thaw. An hour before we wanted dinner, I started preparing the chicken. This is one of the easiest meals to make and the flavor and fragrance is wonderful. Do give it a try!

Lemon Olive Garlic Chicken
Serves 4
1 large lemon
4 cloves garlic
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
12 - 16 pitted kalamata olives (can substitute green olives)
1 shallot
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

  1. Slice the lemon in 1/4 inch wide slices; remove seeds; slice lemon into half moons; place half of the lemon slices in the bottom of a large baking dish and set aside the remaining slices
  2. Slice the garlic cloves thinly; place half of them in the bottom of the baking dish and set aside the remaining garlic slices
  3. Place the chicken breasts in a single layer on top of the lemon and garlic; sprinkle lightly with paprika
  4. Place remaining lemon and garlic slices on the chicken along with the olives
  5. Slice the shallot thinly and place on top of the chicken
  6. In a small bowl, combine the wine, chicken broth, white pepper, thyme, and oregano; mix well and pour over the chicken
  7. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven
I served this with baked potatoes. If you prefer, you can bake fingering or small new potatoes in with the chicken or you can use quartered Yukon potatoes. Or you could serve steamed rice, angel hair pasta, or orzo.

You can also add a couple of more chicken breasts without changing the rest of the ingredients. We had leftover chicken and ate it chilled the next day - it was delicious!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pie Time!

I've just finished reading a culinary cozy mystery novel, Pies and Prejudice by Ellery Adams. For those of you who are not familiar with the mystery genre, a cozy is a type of mystery where the murder is not a focus of the book, solving the mystery of whodunit is the focus. And the solution is found through understanding people, sifting through gossip, and paying attention to subtle signs rather than forensics or following police procedure. This book was a fun read about a woman who returns to her hometown to open a pie shop and discovers that she has some extra talents: when she has very strong emotions and is making a pie, her emotions get transferred into the pie and are exhibited by those who eat it. Finishing this book made me want to offer a couple of my favorite pie recipes: Cherry Cream Cheese Pie and Spring Rhubarb Pie.

Cherry Cream Cheese Pie
This is my husband's favorite pie. His Mom taught me this recipe over 40 years ago; she probably got it 
from a woman's magazine or possibly from the label of one of the few ingredients. It's so easy to make, 
is foolproof, and most everyone loves it.

8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
9 inch prepared graham cracker pie crust
21 ounce can cherry pie filling

  1. Combine cream cheese, milk, and lemon juice in a mixing bowl and beat with electric mixer for several minutes, until it's light and fluffy
  2. Spoon this mixture into a prepared graham cracker pie shell and smooth the top
  3. Lightly spoon the cherry pie filling on top, totally covering the cheese mixture
  4. Chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours
Spring Rhubarb Pie
 I'm thinking of this particular pie because the rhubarb in my yard is just about ready to pick. It's one 
of the very earliest things to grow and it comes up every year, without fail.

4 cups of rhubarb, sliced in 1/4 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
2 9 inch pie crusts (use your favorite recipe)
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine rhubarb, sugar, and flour; mix thoroughly to coat rhubarb
  2. In a pie dish, place the bottom crust and smooth to fit
  3. Spoon the rhubarb mixture into the pie dish
  4. Dot the top of the rhubarb mixture with the tablespoon of butter
  5. Place the top crust on the rhubarb mixture and pinch the edges to seal
  6. Cut 3 or 4 1 inch slits in the top of the crust
  7. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 350 and bake another 45 minutes
  8. Remove pie from oven and brush on the tablespoon of butter and sprinkle on the 2 tablespoons of sugar; cool at least 30 minutes before serving

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Blueberries Are Coming!

It has been a fairly typical March in the Pacific Northwest: showers, occasional sunshine, and temperatures in the 50s. The daffodils and jonquils are opening their bright yellow blooms; tulips are poking their leaves out of the ground, and flowering trees are beginning to bloom. This morning, I saw that my blueberry bushes are beginning to bud and I am so excited to see my blueberries later this spring. I love blueberries just plain, or on my cereal, or in muffins, but I also like them in a chutney.

Chutney is a relish or condiment that is both sweet and spicy. It accompanies meats such as pork or chicken, and can also be served as a topping for cheese, bread, or crackers. I really like blueberry chutney on Brie, or as a topping for cream cheese or ricotta cheese on crackers or sliced French baguettes.

Chutney can be made from a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. These include blueberries, cherries, apples, mangoes, pineapples, figs, dates, raisins, onions, tomatoes, garlic, shallots, peppers, fenugreek, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and so on. Here's my recipe for a blueberry chutney:

Blueberry Chutney
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 lemon, both juice and zest
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

  1. In a large saucepan over low heat, cook the onion in butter until the onion is soft and translucent - about 10 - 15 minutes
  2. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes
  3. Add the blueberries, vinegar, and lemon juice; bring to a boil and then lower the heat; simmer for about 20 minutes; some of the blueberries will pop
  4. Add the lemon zest, brown sugar, cornstarch, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cayenne pepper; mix well and cook over low heat until thickened - about 10 minutes
Serve warm with meat, such as pork or chicken, or chill for at least an hour and serve with cheese, bread, crackers, etc. This chutney is delicious warm, room temperature, or chilled.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Little of This, A Little of That

Sometimes - or I guess, often - blog posts are a lot like weekday meals: a little of this and a little of that. There are so many blog topics to choose from and sometimes each of those choices aren't quite enough for a full post. This week's blog is like that; and so I'll describe a great meal we had last night. We had beef, barley, vegetable soup - it was so rich and satisfying on a rainy night! But because my friend Bobbie built it from leftovers, I'll first need to describe the original ingredients.

Slow Cooker Braised Beef Roast
2.5 pounds (approximately) roast beef (I used a sirloin tip roast)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
20 ounces beef broth
1 onion, peeled and diced into large chunks
2 stalks celery, cut in 1/2 inch chunks
2 carrots, cut in 1/2 inch chunks
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
4 potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 bay leaves

  1. Rinse roast beef and pat dry; sprinkle with salt and pepper
  2. In a large pot, heat oil; then add roast and brown on all sides
  3. Add red wine and cover quickly; simmer 5 minutes
  4. In a slow cooker (such as a Crockpot), heat the beef broth while browning beef
  5. Add the beef and all remaining ingredients
  6. Cover and cook on LOW setting for 6 - 9 hours
  7. Remove bay leaves; let roast rest for 10 minutes and then slice; serve au jus with vegetables
Here's the recipe for the soup from leftovers (Note: this is soup from leftovers, so all of these measurements are approximate. Feel free to modify as you wish - it'll still be wonderful!)

Beef with Barley and Vegetables Soup
leftover beef broth - about 2 - 4 cups
1 - 2 cups water
1/2 cup pearled barley
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 large onion, peeled and diced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
leftover roast beef - about 8 ounces or so, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup diced mushrooms
8 - 12 cherry tomatoes, diced
  1. In a large pot, combine broth, water, barley, carrots, celery, onion, and bay leaves
  2. Simmer until barley is soft - we like it a little chewy or al dente; add water as necessary
  3. In a large frying pan, saute the beef, peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes until soft; set aside
  4. When the barley is cooked to your liking, add the beef, peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes to the soup and heat through
  5. Remove the bay leaves and serve
We had this soup with a cold, crisp Romaine salad and completed the meal with Trader Joe's Triple Ginger Cookies - great combination. Oh! And we had an actual terrific wine pairing with this meal: Washington state's Columbia Crest Merlot, 2011. Delicious!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cardamom Bread - Yum!

Growing up, my sister and I loved it when we visited our Great Grandma, Kuka, because she almost always baked cardamom bread for us. It's also commonly called cardamom braid, because of its shape; in the Finnish language, it's called pulla. Whatever you call it, the luscious fragrance of cardamom and yeast baking in the oven is unbeatable. And when the bread is fresh from the oven and warm, thick slices are slathered with butter, there's nothing more homey and delicious.

Kuka did not speak English, only Finnish. I'll tell you the story of her name another day. Luckily, our  Grandma and Mom spoke both Finnish and English and so were able to bridge the gap between us. The three women would drive us kids crazy at Christmastime by talking about our gifts in Finn - which we couldn't understand.

Many years later, I was trying to show off my culinary skills to my new Mother-in-Law, who was an excellent home cook as well as a caterer. I really wanted to impress her with pulla, and I told her that it was one of my specialties. Truthfully, I had never made it by myself and though I was around when Kuka or Grandma made it, I didn't really pay attention. In addition to not making pulla before, I don't think I had ever made any yeast bread from scratch - refrigerator biscuits from the grocery store, but other than pulling them apart and baking them, I had no experience.

So I got my Grandma to give me the recipe and I bravely began. Amazingly, I did not start off by killing the yeast and managed to get the dough together fairly easily. And then the last part of the recipe said, " Divide dough into 3 and braid." And so I did. I divided the dough into three balls, made them into thick ropes, and braided them together. What I did not know, was that the recipe really should have said, "Divide into 3, and then divide each ball into 3 and braid to make 3 loaves." So instead of 3 nice loaves, I ended up with one giant loaf. I remember that my Mother-in-Law said, "Oh, my! Is it supposed to be that large?" "Oh, yes," I lied, still trying to keep the pretense that I knew exactly what I was doing. Well, the bread rose again and I still baked the monstrosity. As you can imagine, the edges were way overdone and the inside was raw. We ate the edible parts and it was delicious anyway. The best part was that I admitted to my novice baking skills and my Mother-in-Law offered to teach me. And she didn't laugh at me, but with me.

Here's the recipe - just remember that you should end up with 3 braided loaves.

 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 large eggs
8 cups all purpose flour (you may need a little more or a little less to make the dough correctly)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup brewed, strong coffee, cooled
1/2 cup pearl (coarsely granulated) sugar

  1.  Dissolve the yeast in warm water
  2. Add milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, eggs, and 2 cups of flour and beat to a smooth batter
  3. Add 3 cups of flour, a little at a time, mixing well
  4. Add melted butter and enough of the remaining flour until it's a stiff dough
  5. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes
  6. Place dough in buttered mixing bowl, turning a few times until it's all coated with butter
  7. Let dough rise in a warm place, covered, for about 1 hour and it's doubled in size
  8. Punch down the dough, cover, and let rise 30 minutes
  9. Lightly flour a board and divide the dough into 3 even-sized balls
  10. Divide each ball into 3 pieces and roll out each piece into a rectangle about 16 inches long
  11. Place these 3 rectangles on a greased baking sheet and braid the 3 rectangles together; pinch both ends together and tuck the ends under the loaf
  12. Repeat the process with the remaining 2 balls; you'll end up with 3 braided loaves
  13. Allow to rise an additional 20 minutes
  14. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees; meanwhile, glaze the 3 braided loaves with coffee and sprinkle on the pearl sugar
  15. Bake at 400 degrees for about 25 - 30 minutes, until lightly browned