29 January 2008

Amazing Chicken Salad


Sandwich Phobia

Last night I cooked an Herb-Roasted Chicken for the three of us. Spellbound by the warmth of the oven, the aroma of the chicken and the wonders of the French lifestyle described in “Joie de Vivre,” I forgot that one of us had other plans.

Now there are leftovers. Not that that is a bad thing, especially with this recipe I’ve been wanting to try. I got it from one of the great grandmothers at the Tuesday morning Bible study I often attend. This Bible study hosts a potluck sandwich lunch once a month, following the usual meeting.

I am not very good at making sandwiches. Since I was a child I have mostly avoided them. Not that I don’t like the idea of a sandwich well enough, but experience has taught me they are unpredictable and so I always approach them with caution.

Growing up I liked to eat peanut butter sandwiches that consisted of peanut butter and bread, nothing more. After Thanksgiving I liked to eat leftover turkey sandwiches that consisted of leftover turkey and soft white bread, and that’s it. I would even eat a liverwurst sandwich, provided it consisted of only liverwurst and white bread.

Dads and Moms

My Dad was fine with that and made my lunches that way. He was a practical man and, as a single father, he could see the virtue of simple routines. Try to get that past most of my friend’s moms though and you had a challenge on your hands.

It seemed that my friend's mothers could scarcely conceive of a sandwich that simple. At anyone else’s house, or at a restaurant, even when the sandwich was ordered 'plain', I would very carefully look at and sample any sandwich before eating it because it would almost inevitably have something wet on it, whether it was mayonnaise, mustard or jelly and then I would have to choke the sandwich down or rudely refuse to eat it. A peanut butter sandwich could no longer be trusted as almost everyone added a layer of jelly to it. Even a plain cheese sandwich often hid at least a thin layer of mayonnaise, and more often a thick one.

As a result I have a lingering fear of sandwiches. That made attending the Tuesday sandwich lunches a bit of a challenge for me. I admit that I have eaten good sandwiches since my childhood but I would rather claim that I am on a diet and forgo the sandwiches than take a sandwich someone has lovingly prepared and not be able to eat it with a smile on my face. (The problem there is that you give yourself away if you, later, eagerly dig into dessert!)

Sandwich Trials

The first time I stayed after Bible study for the sandwich lunch I forgot to bring anything at all. When lunch time came there was plenty of food but my fears made me somewhat apprehensive. Enter D. She offered me a sandwich of chicken salad on a croissant. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, but expecting the worst, I gingerly bit into it and chewed slowly. As I chewed I found that it was moist, not wet. I could taste the tang of oranges and the crunch of almonds, instead of slimey mayonnaise or sharp mustard. I was both surprised and delighted at how good it was! It was mixed and moist enough to stay in place and still contained a pleasing balance of tastes and textures that made it worthy to be called a salad. I actually found that I enjoyed it!

Since then I have often raved about D’s Amazing Chicken Salad sandwiches, and she kindly continues to bring me one almost every month. She has also taught me the secret of sandwiches. The amount of mayonnaise used in many sandwich fillings is way more than is needed. It turns out that there are other ways to hold a sandwich filling together than to load it up with mayonnaise. I have asked her how she does this and though she shakes her head and says she never uses a recipe she did give some directions I will share with you here:


Amazing Chicken Salad

1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup light mayonnaise
1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 cups shredded chicken breast

Place the dried cranberries in a microwave safe bowl. Cover with the orange juice and microwave for a minute or so, until the cranberries soften slightly and plump up. Add the mayonnaise and stir until combined. Add shredded chicken and sliced almonds, stirring until well mixed.

D serves her chicken salad on small croissants or on sliced bread to which she adds another motherly touch…she removes the crust.

Note: For another great chicken salad recipe that uses no mayonnaise try Blueberry Chicken Salad with hints of ginger and basil.

Enjoy!

28 January 2008

Herb Roasted Chicken


It was cold in Portland this past week. The local news and weather reporters were giddy with it. The sun was shining, temperatures dipped into the 20’s and we were delighted to have some change in the weather to brighten our spirits and give us something to talk about.

While the local reporters and meteorologists talked about the effects of these temperatures, the promising skiing conditions, the burden of high utility bills and the danger of exposure, my thoughts turned to the kitchen. This small blast of winter weather made me want to cozy up and turn the oven on. Unsure of what I wanted to use it for I turned to the first thing I saw when I opened the refrigerator, a whole chicken I'd bought on a whim.

Having a chicken roasting in the oven is delightful when it’s cold outside. I pulled out my Le Creuset oval french oven and tucked the chicken inside with sprigs of thyme and a lemon and popped it into the oven.

In no time at all the kitchen was warm and a wonderful aroma was wafting through the house announcing a nourishing meal for dinner. Meanwhile, what a great time to curl up near the warm stove with a book about French-inspired cuisine, maybe "Joie de Vivre" by Robert Arbor, while waiting for that herb-roasted chicken to be ready for dinner.

There are many "recipes" for roasting chicken. This version is adapted from one in Donata Maggipinto's "Real-Life Entertaining."


Herb Roasted Chicken

1 whole chicken, 3 1/2 to 4 pounds
1 fresh lemon, halved
salt
freshly ground black pepper
several sprigs of fresh thyme (or sage or rosemary)
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Rub a bit of oil on the inside of a roasting pan. (I use a 5-quart Le Creuset oval french oven but another dutch oven or roasting pan will work just fine.)

Remove anything that came stored inside the chicken. Wash the chicken and pat it dry with paper towels. Rub one half of the lemon over the chicken, inside and out. Season the cavity with salt and pepper. Squeeze the juice from the other lemon half inside the chicken and tuck the lemon rind inside the cavity along with several sprigs of fresh herbs.

Place the chicken in the prepared roasting pan breast side up. Tuck it into shape. (I don't bother to tie it or truss it.)

Rub the olive oil all over the skin of the chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Separate the skin from the chicken breast with your fingers, creating a pocket. Tuck several sprigs of herbs into the pocket over each breast.

Place the roasting pan in the middle of a hot oven and roast the chicken, uncovered, at 450 degrees until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 180 degrees, approximately 1 hour.

Remove from oven, tent with foil, and let the chicken rest for 10 or 15 minutes. Carve and serve with pan juices.

21 January 2008

Temari Balls and Chinese Corn Soup


Okay, these aren’t food…..but aren’t they gorgeous?! My sister-in-law, P, makes these! They are called Temari balls. They are a traditional Japanese craft she picked up on somewhere between her interest in woodcutting and kimono silks. She is always making something amazing!
P cooks amazing things too! Over the past couple of years she has explored many areas of Chinese cooking. She enjoys trying her hand at other Asian cuisines too. She spends long hours preparing dishes from scratch and she and my brother are always telling interesting stories about her adventures in the kitchen.

In January I often find my curiosity turning toward Asian cuisine as I search for recipes that are light and healthful, and, since I couldn’t stop taking pictures of those Temari balls P sent me for Christmas, I decided to ask her for a recipe to post along with the photos of her colorful creations. I was a little concerned that the recipe would be complicated and difficult to explain, but I knew she would share something well worth the effort.

What she shared with me turned out to be not only well worth the effort but quite simple as well. This recipe for Chinese Corn Soup starts with canned creamed corn. Add some leftover chicken, scallions, and a few other basic ingredients and you have an easy and delicious foundation for dinner. I served it with Thai Joe's Prig Khing Green Beans from the freezer section at Trader Joe’s.



Chinese Corn Soup

2 cups canned cream style corn
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
½ cup cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
2 green onions, thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 Tablespoons water
2 eggs, beaten
½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1/2 cup frozen shrimp, thawed, if desired

Combine corn, chicken broth and water. Heat to a boil.

Add chicken and green onions, setting aside a few pieces of green onion for a garnish.

Mix the cornstarch and three tablespoons of water. Add to the soup stirring constantly until thickened.

Whisk the eggs and pour them in a thin stream into the simmering soup while continuously stirring.

Cook one minute longer. Stir in most of the shrimp, if desired, reserving enough for a garnish. Remove from heat.

Stir in the toasted sesame oil. Ladle into bowls and garnish with shrimp and green onions.

Serve and enjoy!

16 January 2008

King Cake


Twelfth Night

My family often celebrates Twelfth Night or Epiphany, which falls on January 6, the 12th day of Christmas. We set the table with English Crackers and have a King Cake for dessert. Whoever gets the piece with something special inside is given a small present.

This year, on January 6 we drove to Seattle and back, ate on the road, and when we got home my husband was busy packing to go out of town the next day. Twelfth Night passed by without our usual celebration.


The Season of Epiphany

While we weren't able to celebrate Epiphany on January 6, the season of Epiphany officially lasts until Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. In the New Orleans area, in particular, I am told that King Cakes are popular from Epiphany until Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which falls on February 5 this year. Well, I may not live in New Orleans, but I've lived close enough, and we are still weeks away from February 5, so I decided to go ahead and make a King Cake anyway, to celebrate the Epiphany season.

I thought it would be fun to collect some new ideas on how to prepare a King Cake, so I did a quick Internet search. Among other things, I found some interesting information about Mardi Gras and adapted a filling from the most interesting recipe I found at Cupcake Project. Generally I found agreement about the basics. A King Cake is similar to a coffee cake or tea ring. It is a yeast dough, often braided, traditionally shaped in a ring or oval, perhaps to represent Christian unity or the circular route taken by the Magi to avoid King Herod, and decorated with colored sugar. The colors used are the colors of Mardi Gras, purple to symbolize justice, green to symbolize faith, and gold to symbolize power. Perhaps the three colors also represent the three kings. I have also read of King Cakes being decorated with red sugar to symbolize the life of Jesus.


King Cake Traditions

When a King Cake is cut, each guest anxiously awaits his piece to see if a small "baby" can be found inside. This, no doubt, symbolizes the search of the three kings to find the Christ child as is told in the Gospel of Matthew. Then, whoever finds the "baby" is obligated to host, or at least bring a King Cake to, the next seasonal celebration. What's more the "baby" is supposed to bring good fortune to the person who finds him.

It is nice to have at least a small gathering of people to share a King Cake with since it is most fun when someone finds the "baby" in their first slice of cake. The "baby" might be a small plastic baby if you can find one, or it can be a large whole nut. I couldn't find my plastic baby and since the cake I made this year had a praline filling I was afraid a nut might not be noticed so I used a piece a chocolate instead. A chocolate kiss would be a good size. Whatever you choose to symbolize the baby tell your guests what they are looking for and enjoy their anticipation as they search for the "baby" in their slice.


Sage Advice

I do have one bit of advice. Especially if you are using a plastic baby in your King Cake you will want to heed this "Very Important Tip" I found on Cupcake Project - "Do not put the baby in the cake when you bake it. It will melt. Put it in afterwards." Even if you use a chocolate kiss this is a good idea, since the chocolate might run out and give away its location.

To make my King Cake I ended up using a sweet yeast dough that I have used for many years and adapted for a bread machine.

King Cake

Sweet Yeast Dough

1 envelope of yeast
3 2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2/3 cup warmed milk (approximately 115-120 degrees)
1/4 cup warm water
1 egg
1 -2 tablespoons butter, softened

Praline Filling

1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Icing

2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Purple, Green and Yellow decorative sugars

Place the ingredients for the Sweet Yeast Dough in a bread machine. The ingredients are listed in the order suggested by the manufacturer of my machine but recommendations vary so follow the order suggested for your machine. Set your machine to the 'manual' setting so that you can take the dough out, when ready, and shape it by hand.

(The dough can also be prepared in the traditional way:

 
Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Heat the milk, water and butter over low heat until warm, 115 to 120 degrees. Add mixture to the dry ingredients, along with the egg, and stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough onto a well floured surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turn once. Cover with a towel and let it rise in a warm place until double, approximately 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Continue as follows.)

In a small mixing bowl, mix together the ingredients for the Praline Filling until it forms a paste. Set aside.

When the dough is ready take it out of the machine and divide it into two equal portions. Cover it with a towel and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

Roll each portion into a 18 x 8 inch rectangle. Spread half of the Praline Filling across half of each dough rectangle as pictured below:


Fold the dough in half, lengthwise, as pictured:


then roll the dough out slightly, to press the filling in the middle, till it forms a rectangle roughly 20 x 5 inches.

Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the dough into three equal strips. Beginning in the middle, braid these strips to each end:


Form the braid into an oval and pinch the strips together to join them in a continuous braid. (This part can be a little tricky, but the finished cake will be blanketed in icing, so any rough spots can be easily covered.) Place the cake on a greased baking sheet, with a small glass bowl in the middle of the shape, if desired, to prevent the dough from coming together in the center when it rises and bakes.


Cover the cake with a towel and place in a warm, draft free location to rise until nearly double,( approximately 1 hour).

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 25minutes, (check after 20 minutes), or until golden brown.


Cool cake on wire rack. When completely cool, Turn the cake over and cut a small slit in between the braided strips to insert the "baby". A small plastic baby can be used if you have one. This time I used a Dove dark chocolate candy.


Turn the cake right side up on a serving plate. Mix together the ingredients for the icing until smooth. Drizzle the icing over the cake or place it in a Ziplock baggie, snip a 1/4 inch slit in a lower corner of the bag and pipe the icing in a back and forth motion over the top of the cake. Sprinkle green, yellow and purple decorator sugars alternately over the icing. Serve and enjoy!

12 January 2008

Ham and Cheese Bread

Do you have holiday leftovers still hanging around?

I usually serve a ham for at least one festive dinner over the holidays, but my family never eats a whole ham. This year we had a spiral cut ham on Christmas day, saved the bone for New Year’s Black Eyed Peas, and froze the rest in several meal sized portions.

When I take one of those portion from the freezer we can always have it plain, or on sandwiches, but with a little extra effort I can make a recipe that I first tried over twenty five years ago and is still a family favorite.

This recipe is adapted from one I found in a small Bantam paperback given to me as a wedding present, “Betty Crocker’s Dinner For Two Cookbook." This recipe was one of the first that I tried in my small apartment kitchen. It sounded simple enough for a novice cook and didn’t ask for a lot of special ingredients.

My efforts produced a pretty and versatile loaf that was easy to prepare and could be served warm for dinner or brunch or at room temperature for a snack or picnic entree. I also discovered that leftovers could be sliced and toasted for breakfast.


Ham and Cheese Bread

2 cups buttermilk baking mix
1 cup chopped cooked ham
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons olive oil (or other salad oil)
½ teaspoon prepared mustard
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1 or 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all of the ingredients except the sesame seeds and ½ cup of the cheese.

Spread the batter in a greased 2 quart casserole dish.

Spread the reserved ½ cup of cheese and the sesame seeds across the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 35 minutes or until the top is golden.

Serve warm.

Enjoy!

09 January 2008

Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies

Now that the holidays are over I keep hearing how everyone is watching their weight and trying to eat healthy. I understand. It only makes sense after all of that holiday feasting.

Still there are occasions that call for cookies or dessert. On those occasions what I really hope for is something sweet, and probably chocolate, though I am happy enough to pass on dense buttery richness.

Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies are just the thing. This recipe, that is attributed to my mother, gets down to the basics. It contains no butter … or flour for that matter. It is basically sugar, chocolate and nuts, held together in a meringue cloud. What’s more, it is easy to prepare and because it uses only a few ingredients it is often something I can make without having to run to the grocery.

The only trick to making these is finding a relatively dry day in the Pacific Northwest that is optimal for working with meringue. Usually I just go ahead and risk making them in less than optimal weather conditions. If they are eaten quickly it doesn’t matter much and with this recipe that is usually not much of a problem.


Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies

2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup sugar
6 ounces semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
¼ cup chopped nuts, toasted

Beat together egg whites, salt, cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Add sugar gradually beating until peaks are stiff. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts.

Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto the parchment paper. Bake at 300 degrees for about 20 – 25 minutes or until set and beginning to brown slightly.

Note: I drop these cookies on the parchment paper using two spoons, one to scoop up the desired amount and the back of the other to push the batter onto the parchment. These could also be made, and might look more uniform, if the cookies were formed using a gallon sized Ziploc bag. To try this, simply scoop the meringue into the bag, seal it, then cut a 1/2 inch opening across a lower corner of the bag. Use it like a pastry bag to pipe meringue onto the parchment paper in teaspoon sized dollops.

I make these cookies small and put them fairly close together on the baking sheet. It usually takes two baking sheets to make the whole batch and I put both in the oven at once. Baking time for small cookies is closer to 20 minutes.

The original recipe calls for dropping the meringue on the parchment paper by rounded tablespoons. This makes nice cookies too and usually all of the cookies can be baked on one baking sheet. For this size the baking time is closer to 25 minutes.