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Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

Mandatory Items: Prepare a pot of gumbo, using one of the recipes provided, a variation thereof, or any other gumbo recipe you find that tickles your fancy.

I’m so happy when a Challenge host says to us that we can use any recipe that tickles our fancy, or fits our dietary/lifestyle needs. Because I’m trying to cook more healthfully, traditional recipes don’t always mesh harmoniously with my lifestyle, and long, complicated recipes don’t always mesh with the busy lives we have. When the husband is coming home from work an hour or two late, you don’t want dinner to be stuck in some sort of limbo while waiting, or wait until he’s home to begin the 4-hour-long preparations required for the meal. Plus, this month my folks are in town from Las Vegas, so the Challenge recipe had to be something that a diabetic eater could fit in to her daily diet, and not include shrimp. So while I didn’t go with one of the provided recipes, I was able to find a gumbo recipe that came together quickly, used easy-to-find ingredients, and was healthful enough to possibly become a regular recipe.

Note: My apologies for the quality of the photos! I had to do them with my cellphone camera. I never charged up the rechargeable battery on the good camera. 😦

Chicken & Sausage Gumbo*
serves 4 or 5

6 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in 1-inch cubes
9 oz. Aidell’s jalapeno chicken sausage (3 links), sliced
10 oz. frozen gumbo-style vegetables (corn, pepper, okra, and onion)**
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 c. low-sodium chicken broth
15 oz. can diced tomatoes
bay leaf
1/4 tsp. dried thyme***
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

*This could also be Chicken & Shrimp Gumbo, or Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo, but for one anticrustacean among us. I’m looking forward to a Shrimp & Sausage Gumbo version in future!
**Perhaps it is my geographic area, but a mix of gumbo vegetables could not be found in my local stores. I was, however, able to find a 10-ounce bag of frozen cut okra, so I supplemented that with some frozen whole kernel corn and frozen chopped onions, to total between 10 and 14 ounces.
***WHY DO I NEVER HAVE DRIED THYME?? I seem to be allergic to thyme, in that there is never any in the kitchen, even when I could have sworn there was. I substituted dried tarragon, with no ill effects. With so much chicken in the dish, it was quite complementary.

Step 1: Get your ingredients together and recruit some assistants! As you can see, my assistant is so excited to participate, she has to be held back:

Until she realizes there is food in progress:

Coat the bottom of a large stewpot generously with non-stick spray. Heat to medium-low heat and add the cubed chicken and the sliced sausage. Brown, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes.

Stir in frozen vegetables and garlic; saute until vegetables are thawed, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle the 1 tablespoon of flour over and cook 1 minute, stirring well. Stir in chicken broth and tomatoes and scrape up any browned bits sticking to the bottom. Add bay leaf, thyme (tarragon), salt, pepper, and simmer 5 minutes.

Remove bay leaf.

At this point, I kept simmering, as I was waiting for the rice cooker to finish up and the gumbo sauce to thicken. I was concerned that it was looking too soupy. When the rice was done and in a bowl on the table — and my diners were waiting — I said the gumbo would be what it would be, and transferred it to a large bowl with a ladle for serving. My dad’s first comment — “Looks good! Although I know some chefs [who] would’ve added a bit more liquid.” So it must not have been too soupy after all! (What qualifies him to pronounce on my gumbo? We lived in Louisiana ages and ages hence.)

In the serving bowl:

Served with rice:

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This is the year of two things: Queen Victoria and Indian cooking. At this moment’s reflection, I realize those two things aren’t necessarily separate. I was looking for easy, “different” recipes for the summer and this jumped right out at me, and was declared an easy winner.

Grilled Tandoori Chicken Skewers with Red Onions
serves 4

1 1/4 lbs. skinless chicken thighs, cut into 32 chunks (about 4 pieces per thigh)*
2 Tbsp tandoori spice mix**
1 medium red onion(s), cut into 16 wedges
2 spray(s) olive oil cooking spray
1/2 cup(s) plain fat-free yogurt

*This measurement is extremely questionable. In the package of thighs I got at my store, 8 thighs is about 2 pounds of meat (a little more). I weighed out a pound and a quarter on my kitchen scale and then cut that in to 32 roughly-same-sized pieces. It came out to about 6 thighs, some larger than others. I didn’t get fewer than 4 pieces from any one thigh, but I got 5 to 6 pieces from others. And I was pleased with this method.

**Once again, I used Patak’s curry paste, available in the Indian foods section of my closest large grocery store.

Put cut-up chicken, 1/2 cup of yogurt, and the spice mix in a resealable plastic food storage bag. Seal bag and turn to mix and coat. Place bag on a plate and refrigerate on lowest shelf for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours, so you can do this well in advance of dinner if you know your afternoon’s going to be busy.

Preheat grill. Remove chicken from marinade; discard leftover marinade. Thread chicken and onion wedges onto 8 metal skewers, using 4 pieces of chicken and 2 pieces of onion per skewer. I did chicken, onion, chicken chicken, onion, chicken. (If you are using wooden or bamboo skewers, as I did, soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before use to prevent incineration.) Lightly coat chicken and onions with cooking spray.

Grill skewers, turning often, until chicken is no longer pink in center, about 7 to 9 minutes. Yields 2 skewers per serving. Serve with sweet potato fries or cous cous or rice.

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Chicken Saagwalla

This is a new, go-to spicy chicken dish that I can throw together on a work night and serve with rice. I’ll give you the whole recipe, which makes 4 servings, but I usually only make a half recipe, since there’s only two of us, and I multiple the number of tomatoes so that I am using 2 or 3 tomatoes in a HALF recipe. Because I take the seeds out of my tomatoes and I prefer Roma or plum tomatoes to any other kind, 1 tomato yields much less for me in quantity.

Chicken Saagwalla
whole recipe serves 4

2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
4 tsp. curry powder, mild
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. ginger root, fresh, finely chopped*
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped**
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed in to bite-size pieces
2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped in to 1/2″ pieces
10 oz baby spinach leaves
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 c. water
2 Tbsp cilantro, optional***

*I use ground ginger from a jar, particularly the Lee Kum Kee brand.
**I use minced garlic in a jar, whichever brand I happen to have on hand. Notice a pattern?
***But cilantro tastes like soap. Why would I put it on my food?

Place half the olive oil in large nonstick skillet with curry powder, coriander, cumin, ginger, and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. The spices and oil will create a thick sort of paste.

Add remaining oil and all the chicken to skillet. Stir thoroughly to coat with the spiced oil paste.

Add tomatoes to skillet. Cover skillet and cook for about 10 minutes. Uncover skillet and stir to combine.

Add spinach leaves to skillet. Cover and cook for 5 minutes more. I leave the lid ajar at this stage to let some of the liquids evaporate, or else I find the final dish to be too liquidy.

Add salt, water as necessary, and cilantro, if you are using it, to the skillet. Simmer for 1 minute. Yields about 1 1/2 heaping cups per serving, or you can visually divide it in to four portions.

I make the half recipe for two people, or:

1 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. curry powder, mild
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. ginger root
1 clove garlic
1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed in to bite-size pieces
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped*
5-6 oz baby spinach leaves
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/8 c. water

*I found one tomato was not enough, so now I’m up to three tomatoes.

Cook as directed for the full recipe.

Serve with 1 cup of freshly cooked white rice.

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Barbecued Turkey Joes

Turkey is such an underused meat. Most of us eat it, deliberately, only once a year — at Thanksgiving. Well, I avoid even that since turkey at Thanksgiving is so cliche. But this year I find myself planning more turkey main dishes and craving the taste of a well-spiced, nicely complemented turkey dish. This is an easy and tasty place to start Adventures with Turkey.

We all know sloppy joes, right? Well, this is Barbecued Turkey Joes, using barbecue sauce as a base instead of ketchup, since barbecue sauce comes with spices and flavorings already added. Just chop up your fresh veggies and you’re good to go.

Barbecued Turkey Joes
serves 4

1 lb. ground turkey breast
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 c. barbecue sauce, your choice

Brown turkey in a nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain off liquid.

Add peppers and onion and cook until tender, about 3 minutes.

Add barbecue sauce and cayenne pepper; heat thoroughly, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes.

Serve on the bun of your choice, but a whole grain or multigrain bun is a great foil for the tangy, sweet barbecue turkey.

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Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.

The very name strikes fear in to the hearts of even the most intrepid cooks and bakers: SOUFFLE. But I was really excited, because I thought the recipes were all well written, easy-to-follow, and confident. And some of that confidence leaked over to me. And since I already had a packet of frozen artichokes in the freezer, I chose to make the Crab & Artichoke Soufflé. I had to buy white pepper and a 2 quart soufflé dish, but I had everything else. And that made me feel good too, that my kitchen is getting better stocked with tools and ingredients!

You can download the PDF with the directions for all three soufflés (Crab & Artichoke, Watercress, and Chocolate) here.

I gathered all my ingredients together in prep bowls before I began, since the directions recommended working as quickly as possible once you get going to take advantage of the souffle’s chemistry. Because I was zipping around the kitchen grabbing bowls and things, my assistant had to be excluded from the room. I think I tripped over her five or six times before I made her go in the other room.

And stay there!

Here’s my crab and my chopped artichokes waiting to be employed. Note also the annotated sheet of directions. I took the motto “Be Prepared!” very seriously here because I knew I could turn out a passable soufflé if I didn’t make a dumb mistake.

To make a savoury soufflé you start with a roux of butter and flour, then add in the milk, herbs, and cheese to build a cheese sauce. Watching the cheese sauce develop was like magic, as the grated soft gouda melted and smoothed out at the same time as the sauce thickened.

(Yes, the recipe calls for gruyere cheese, but I can never find gruyere very easily, and when I do, I don’t like the flavor. So I substituted the same young gouda I used for the Broccoli and Mushroom Quiche.)

My soufflé did not rise fantastically — my baked goods almost never rise correctly, so I did not get upset over this. But once we had cut in to it, it did deflate. So it did se souffle a little bit.

Upon exiting the oven:

A few minutes later after Jim took the first bite:

I was a little bit disappointed in the texture of the finished soufflé. I found it very wet and wished it had been fluffier; perhaps what it really needed was to be baked a bit longer to release the moisture and steam, and therefore rise, a bit more. I also found it MUCH too peppery, so the next time I make it — and it has been requested! Will wonders never cease — I am going to halve or perhaps even quarter the amount of white pepper that the recipe recommends. Jim did not think it was too peppery, and says he can always add a bit more if he feels like his needs it.

Amy wants the soufflé very badly. She loves seafood.

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Pasta alla Norma

Eggplant. A notoriously fickle vegetable (fruit?). I’ve always been wary of it because instructions for recipes always talk about soaking the eggplant in saltwater to remove the bitterness. What if I mess that up? Who wants bitter eggplant? And yet, so many recipes that catch my eye include eggplant in some form or another. It’s something I’ve just got to get over.

Pasta alla Norma
serves 4 (or more)

2 medium eggplants, about 8 oz each, diced small
3 Tbsp olive oil
10 oz dried macaroni or fusili pasta
2/3 c. grated Pecorino cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
shredded fresh basil leaves, to garnish

For the tomato sauce:
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 can (14 oz) chopped tomatoes or 1 jar (14 oz) passata

Soak the diced eggplant in a bowl of cold salted water for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Make the sauce. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion, and cook gently for about 3 minutes, with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir the sauce and add a few spoonfuls of water occasionally, to prevent it from becoming too thick. Remove from the heat.

Drain the eggplants and pat dry. Spread the pieces out in a roasting pan, add the oil, and toss to coat. Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning the eggplants every 4-5 minutes with a spatula so they brown evenly.

Cook the pasta in a large pan of rapidly boiling salted water until al dente (about 10 to 12 minutes). Reheat the tomato sauce. Drain the pasta thoroughly and add it to the tomato sauce, with half the roasted eggplant and half the Pecorino. Toss to mix, and taste for seasoning.

Spoon the pasta and sauce mixture in to a warmed large serving dish and top with the remaining roasted eggplant. Scatter the shredded fresh basil leaves on top, followed by the remaining Pecorino. Service immediately, with generous chunks of crusty bread.

I know this recipe says 4 servings, but I think you could feed 6 or even 8 people, if you add a nice big salad to fill out the meal, or if you serve this as a side to a main course.

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A vegetarian dish that even a carnivore can enjoy. The original recipe from Chow.com indicates a homemade crust, of course, but for the sake of ease, speed, clean-up time, and my sanity, I went with a deep-dish frozen crust from the freezer section in my grocery store. You can do your own crust if you have a crust to be proud of, or you can choose a frozen crust without shame.

Broccoli, Mushroom, & Gouda Quiche

2 c. broccoli florets and tender stems (about 6 oz.), large dice*
1/4 c. olive oil
2 c. portobello mushroom (about 4 oz.), large dice
1/2 medium red onion, minced
3 large eggs
1 c. half and half
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 c. shredded young Gouda cheese (about 4 oz.)**

*I cheated a bit again and got frozen florets from the freezer case, then thawed and diced them as needed.
**Do try to get Gouda which is not smoked, just plain Gouda.

I spent about half an hour in the mid afternoon prepping my ingredients. When I was ready to start cooking at dinnertime, I had a bowl of diced broccoli, a bowl of diced mushroom, and a bowl of minced onion in the fridge and all ready to go. While the broccoli was blanching, I shredded the Gouda. While the mushroom mixture was cooling and the crust thawing, I washed up dishes.

Prepare the crust, either homemade or frozen. If frozen, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for thawing and preparing the crust for a one-crust pie or quiche. If you are using a frozen crust and it only needs to be thawed, as mine was, then keep the crust in the freezer until you are about 15 minutes away from filling and baking it, about the time you finish cooking the mushrooms in the step below.

First, bring a medium saucepan of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add broccoli and cook until fork tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and let cool in a single layer on a large plate.

Then, heat olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add mushroom and onion and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until vegetables are soft and mushroom edges are golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes.

Whisk together eggs, half-and-half, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until incorporated and smooth. Stir in broccoli, mushroom mixture, and cheese.

Pour custard into pie shell and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven until puffed and golden brown, at least 45 minutes. Let cool at least 20 minutes before slicing.

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