Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chicken, Broccoli, and Noodles

We've had a busy last few days, Randy working and me volunteering, a day trip to the Pacific Ocean to visit friends, and both of us playing water volleyball, so we wanted something good but fast for dinner tonight. Unfortunately, I didn't start anything in a Crock-Pot this morning, so it's in the kitchen making something yummy but easy. This is one of my favorite recipes for times like these - plus, it has the added benefit of being really flexible - be sure to see some suggested substitutions or options at the end of the recipe. And it makes yummy leftovers - what could be better?

Chicken, Broccoli, and Noodles
Makes about 6 servings
Leftovers reheat well

3/4 cup chicken broth
12 - 16 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
12 ounce package egg noodles
2 cups broccoli florets, either fresh or frozen
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk, heated
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, or to taste

  1. In a frying pan, poach the pieces of chicken in chicken broth, adding more broth if necessary
  2. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a large pot; add noodles when water boils and cook according to package directions (about 8 minutes); drain noodles; set aside keeping hot
  3. In a saucepan, steam or boil the broccoli until just tender; drain and set aside
  4. In a saucepan, make a Béchamel (white sauce) by melting the butter, then adding the flour; cook flour and butter for a few minutes, but don't let it brown; whisk in the hot milk and continue cooking until sauce has thickened; add white pepper and mix well
  5. In a large serving dish, combine chicken, broccoli, noodles, and Béchamel and mix well

Substitutions and Options:
  • You can increase or decrease the amount of chicken and/or broccoli according to what you have in your kitchen or to your tastes
  • You can jazz up the chicken by adding thyme, a couple lemon slices, a little onion or garlic to the poaching liquid
  • You can substitute 2 (10 1/2 ounce) cans of Cream of Chicken soup and 3/4 cup of milk for the Béchamel (but the Béchamel is really easy and tastes better!)
  • To make this fancier, poach chicken breasts whole and slice into nice pieces after cooking; use broccoli spears instead of florets and arrange them next to the chicken slices on top of the cooked egg noodles; drizzle the Béchamel over all and pass the extra in a gravy boat
  • To add a pop of color, dice a red bell pepper and steam with broccoli the last 2 minutes or so
  • To make this richer, make the Béchamel an Alfredo sauce by adding 4 - 6 ounces grated Parmesan cheese and 4 - 8 ounces cream cheese
  • You can substitute mashed potatoes, steamed rice, barley, quinoa, polenta, pasta, or spaghetti squash for the egg noodles
  • You can substitute turkey breast or even boneless pork loin for the chicken; once, I even substituted a couple of sliced hard boiled eggs for the meat

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Summer Salad

It's the third week of July and the farmers' markets and farm stands are rapidly filling with all sorts of fruits and vegetables. It's so easy to walk through them and get lots of ideas of wonderful things to cook. This summer salad is full of colorful, healthy, delicious fruits and vegetables, and it's flexible too. I'll suggest ingredients, but really, feel free to use whatever is available in your area and that seems yummy to you. You really can't go wrong here.

Summer Salad
Choose ingredients from vegetables and fruits; toss them lightly together; make dressing and use the minimum amount to dress the salad just before serving.

dark leafy greens such as spinach, arugula, watercress, red or green leaf lettuce, torn
herbs such as basil, oregano, mint, thyme
red, green, or napa cabbage, shredded
celery, sliced thinly
carrots, shredded
red onion, shallot, or scallions, sliced thinly
bell pepper, sliced thinly
mushrooms, sliced
cucumber, seeded and sliced thinly
beets, peeled and shredded
any other vegetable that you find irresistible

blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, or other berries
mangoes, peeled and diced
apples, diced
pineapple, peeled and cut tidbit-sized
any other fruits that you enjoy

unsweetened coconut flakes
sunflower seeds or pistachio
walnuts or pecans

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pomegranate juice
juice from 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Falling Off the Bone BBQ Ribs

Our grand-kids were visiting and one night we had a great summer dinner: barbecued pork ribs, corn on the cob, steamed green beans, and sliced fresh tomatoes. There are millions of recipes and techniques for barbecued ribs, but this one is my favorite because it's versatile, can be made in any season, is super easy, the meat is guaranteed to fall off the bone, and is flavorful and delicious. I use a dry rub to infuse some flavor and lay down a nice base of sweet heat. My husband likes his with just the dry rub, but I like a sweet thick barbecue sauce to finish it - maybe I like the extra mess of barbecue sauce on my chin and maybe a drip on my shirt. Luckily, this recipe can accommodate both ways even if you're cooking only one rack of ribs.

Although this is a super easy recipe and you spend little time actually doing something, it does take a few hours overall, so read through the instructions and plan accordingly. Here's the recipe for the dry rub, followed by the recipe for the ribs. Plan on putting the rub on at least 2 hours ahead of cooking the ribs; the rub can be left on for several hours if you cover the ribs with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Plan on another 3 hours for cooking the ribs.

Rib Rub
This makes a little more than one cup of rub, enough for about 3 racks of ribs. Any that you don't use can be saved for the future.

2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cayenne (ground red) pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin

  1. Combine all ingredients, mixing well so there are no brown sugar lumps and all spices are evenly distributed
  2. Store any extra in an airtight container
Falling Off the Bone BBQ Ribs

 1 rack of pork baby back ribs (one rack serves 3 - 4 people)
1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil (or any vegetable oil)
1/3 - 1/2 cup rib rub
your favorite barbecue sauce

  1.  At least 5 hours before serving, prepare the ribs. You may wish to remove the silver-white membrane on the back of the ribs called "silverskin," though it's not absolutely necessary. Some say you must always remove it and others say you don't have to. I usually do; it's an easy process: simply slide the blade of a table knife under the membrane and work towards one end. Pick up the end of the membrane with a paper towel and peel off the rest. It's very easy
  2. Place the rib rack(s) on a baking sheet; brush one side with olive oil and sprinkle on half of the rib rub (about 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup). Turn ribs over and repeat on the other side
  3. Cover ribs with aluminum foil and refrigerate until about 3 hours before you wish to serve them
  4. Preheat oven to 300 degrees
  5. Bake for 3 hours unless you are planning on basting the ribs with barbecue sauce. If using sauce, brush on sauce after 2 hours of baking and baste every 20 minutes until total baking time is about 3 hours
  6. If you wish, you can remove the ribs from the oven after 2 3/4 hours and finish them on a grill