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Archive for July, 2010

When in doubt, cranberries — even in the summer. This is a good leftovers dish, the sauce is sweet but not too sweet — sort of like a sweet and sour — although if you’re colour blind, it will make mixing the sauce much easier to stomach, as the contrasting shades of ruby-red cranberry sauce and bright-orange French dressing can be a little overstimulating. But it darkens and thickens as it bakes and comes together like a charm.

Serve with rice and plenty of leftover sauce on the side for each person’s taste.

Cranberry Glazed Chicken
serves 4

2 1/2 lb. meaty chicken pieces*
1 16 oz. can whole cranberry sauce
1 8 oz. bottle reduced-calorie Russian or French salad dressing
1 envelope onion soup mix (1/2 2 oz package)

*I thaw one chicken breast for each person I’m feeding, plus any leftovers I want to plan on. If you decide to go with wings or drumsticks, I would calculate 3 of these pieces per person and get that much chicken. Sometimes the by-weight recommendation in recipes just don’t work for me.

Arrange the chicken in one layer in a rectangular baking dish. For the glaze, combine in a large bowl the cranberry sauce, salad dressing, and soup mix. Pour the glaze over the chicken.

Bake, uncovered, in a 350-degree oven for about 1 hour or until the chicken is no longer pink. Stir glaze and spoon over chicken once or twice during baking. Serve in the baking dish or on a platter, with the glaze, and hot cooked rice if desired.

This has few ingredients and ingredients which you can keep on hand in your pantry, which makes it ideal for family dinners, but it is good enough to serve guests for dinner as well. I made it for a hearty dinner while my parents were visiting, the day Jim and my dad spent most of the day in the hot New England seaside summer sun doing work on the exterior basement entryway. My mom was able to eat it and enjoy it, with a little less rice, even being diabetic, and my dad, who has been known for years as the picky eater, said it was a good meal.

One takes one’s credit where one can.

For 8 servings:
5 lb. meaty chicken pieces
2 16 oz. cans whole cranberry sauce
2 8 oz or 1 16 oz. bottles reduced-calorie Russian or French salad dressing
2 envelopes onion soup mix (1 2 oz package)

Prepare and bake the same as 4 servings, but use two baking dishes instead of one.

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Basic Caesar Salad

A Caesar salad is a basic thing but for some reason, I was intimidated by it at first. Then I broke it down in to its component parts, and now the Caesar is my go-to salad.

For a Caesar salad to serve about two people, as a side dish at dinner:
1 heart of Romaine lettuce
croutons
parmesan cheese
Caesar dressing, your brand of choice*

*We are in love with the creamy garlickiness of Ken’s Chef’s Reserve Creamy Caesar with Roasted Garlic. It certainly lives up to its name.

Wash and break up the heart of Romaine — just tear it to pieces with your fingers under cool running water, then pat away any excess moisture with a white paper towel. Don’t make your pieces too small, just comfortably-sized for eating. Sprinkle your patted Romaine with grated Parmesan cheese — not too much, but just enough to make an even, thin layer over the top of your bowl. Add in croutons as you prefer: We like a few extra, but some people don’t like croutons at all. You’ll know when it looks about right.

When you add the dressing, DON’T GO OVERBOARD: a little goes a long way, especially with a garlicky dressing. Add 6 or 7 quarter-sized drops over the top of your bowl, then mix. It should evenly coat your lettuce without drowning it, and the cheese and the croutons will help spread it out.

I know this isn’t a recipe per se, just a guideline — but it works wonders for me!

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The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.

Posting Date: July 14, 2010

They gave us a basic step-by-step recipe for homemade nut butters: Take nut of choice. Throw in food processor. Process the life out of it. Add a neutral oil if necessary to bind the puree together. Try not to eat it all straight out of the food processor, or there won’t be enough left for the recipes!

They also provided challengees with four savory recipes that incorporated homemade nut butter, often in place of mere chopped nuts. I chose the recipe that seemed the most likely to be enjoyed at the Eatery, Chicken with Pecan Cream and Mushrooms.

You know, for someone who doesn’t particularly like pecans, I sure use them a lot.

I decided to make my actual nut butter during the afternoon, when I was home by myself and the screaming whine of the food processor wouldn’t bother anybody. I put my pecans in the processor:

and whirred away.

And whirred, and whirred, and whirred. I watched the pecans reduce in size:

I could feel the processor bowl getting warmer and warmer. I started to worry that my processor would give out before I achieved pecan butter. I was just starting to get a butter-like cohesion around the bottom of the bowl when I decided to add a drip — just a drip! — of vegetable oil. And that’s when the magic happened:

Pecan butter! It’s thin, pourable not spreadable, and very very tasty.

I transfered it to a glass bowl with an airtight lid, trying not to eat too much of it on the way. It. Was. DELICIOUS.

Here’s the actual recipe:

Chicken with Pecan Cream and Mushrooms
serves 4

For the pecan cream:
3/4 c. coarsely chopped pecans*
1 cup water
3/4 tsp. salt

*If starting with prepared pecan butter, blend 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. pecan butter with the water and salt until smooth.

For the sauce:
1 Tbsp. deglazing liquid, your choice (water, broth, wine)
1 tsp. olive oil, more as needed
1/4 c. finely chopped shallot
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced

1/2 lb. egg noodles or pasta
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 tsp. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Prepare pecan cream. Combine your prepared pecan butter, the water, and the salt. Set aside.

Cook noodles to package instructions. Drain, rinse, and keep warm.

Pound chicken to 1/4 inch thickness to promote even & quick cooking. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper to taste. Heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and saute the chicken. You will probably need to do this in batches. Set aside cooked chicken on a clean plate and cover to keep warm.

Add the deglazing liquid of your choice to the skillet and stir to get any browned bits off the bottom. Add another teaspoon of oil, if necessary, for sauteing the shallots and mushrooms. Saute shallots and mushrooms over medium heat 4 to 6 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and starting to brown. Add fresh thyme to the pan. Stir in the pecan cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 2 minutes or until slightly reduced.

Slice the chicken in to strips, divide noodles among serving plates, and add a scoop of mushroom pecan sauce on top of noodles. Lay sliced chicken on top. Garnish with fresh thyme or a pinch of chopped pecans if desired.

Very Pennsylvania Dutch with shades of beef stroganoff. Jim was wary at first but the first bite of mushroom pecan cream sauce definitely won him over. He even went back for more sauce!

Things we would do differently if we made this challenge recipe again:
Sauteing the chicken as individual paillards is hot, intense work, ESPECIALLY in the heat of late June. Next time, we’ll cube the chicken and saute that way. We’ll also probably substitute rice for the egg noodles, because rice practically cooks itself if you use a rice cooker, and it can be ready at the exact moment your mushroom pecan sauce is ready if you time it wisely.

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Wet Walnuts

I had never heard of wet walnuts before my Pennsylvania-born husband started looking for them in the grocery store. Apparently it is a very popular ice cream topping in that region. However, it doesn’t seem to be very popular in New England, so he had to find a recipe for making them. His favorite, or the one that sounded the most authentic to him, was Mama Lisa’s at Mama Lisa’s World Blog. It’s easy to make; we make it easier and even leave out the cinnamon.

The resulting concoction is not too syrupy, not too sweet, and the walnuts have a warm, somewhat smoky flavor that permeates the whole mixture, especially if you let it sit. This will keep in an airtight container on the countertop for at least a week, or you could refrigerate it. I don’t think the syrup would get too sludgy and you could always gently re-warm it if you preferred warm wet walnuts with your ice cream.

Are there any other regional ice cream toppings we should try??

Wet Walnuts

1 c. walnuts, chopped
3/4 c. maple syrup
1/8 c. corn syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the chopped walnuts in one layer on a baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes. Monitor them fairly closely so they don’t REALLY start burning. My oven is a little touchy and I usually take the walnuts out around 10 or 11 minutes.

While you’re waiting for the walnuts, mix together the maple syrup and corn syrup.

Mix slightly cooled walnuts in to the syrup mixture. And you’re done!

Particularly good with plain vanilla ice cream, which lets the maple and smoky walnut flavors really shine.

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