Monday, August 30, 2010

Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breast with White Wine Sauce

In keeping with this week's goal to eat more veggies, I made this Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breast. A quick, yet veggie-packed recipe (no pun intended!) for weeknights that is ready in a very realistic thirty-five minutes, and is a great way to get rid of some of those annoying (but as yet UN-expired) leftover products in your fridge such as:
a) the mostly-empty jar of shredded parmesan that has been sitting on the fridge door, unused for over a month, completely lost to the untrained eye
b) the bottle of white wine that has about an inch left on the bottom (c’mon, you know you want to just finish it already so you can open a new one with dinner tonight), and,
c) the remaining bit of heavy cream leftover from last week’s Kulfi recipe!

You will need:

1 package frozen chopped spinach (truly a genius product – can anyone find a better time or money value than frozen chopped spinach?)
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 tbsp heavy cream
½ tsp ground nutmeg (can’t you taste the nutmeg already? It is such a no-brainer addition to any dish that uses cooked dark leafy greens.)
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp butter
¼ cup white wine
1 tbsp flour
½ cup chicken stock, heated up for 2 mins in microwave
1 clove garlic, finely minced, or better yet “pressed” (if you have a garlic press)

Cook spinach according to package directions, and squeeze all the water out using a strainer, or kitchen towel. Empty dry spinach into a bowl, and mix in nutmeg, parmesan, and heavy cream. Add salt and pepper to taste, stir to combine.
Make slits in each chicken breast, along the thickest side to make “pockets”. Divide the spinach mixture into four portions and stuff each breast with a portion. Sprinkle lemon juice, salt and pepper on both sides of the chicken breast. (Note: if you put the lemon juice on first, the salt and pepper will “stick” much better – this is desirable!)

Melt butter in a large enough skillet, over medium heat, and add the stuffed chicken breasts. Cook on medium heat for 4 minutes on each side, uncovered. Then, turn heat down to “low”, cover the skillet and do 4 additional minutes on each side to ensure the chicken reaches the proper temperature. Once that’s done, remove the chicken from the skillet and put it to rest somewhere comfortable, like on a cutting board. In the meantime, get the chicken stock heating up in the microwave.

Now, you’re going to make a quick white wine sauce in the same skillet using all those delicious flavors from the chicken! Turn heat back up to “medium” and add the hot chicken stock to the skillet to “deglaze” (which basically means you pour liquid into a pan to sop up all the “stuff” that is stuck to the bottom of the pan, remainders from what you cooked in it previously, a pretty genius thing to do since that is where all the yummy flavor is!) Add flour, and garlic, and give it a good stir to combine and scrape up all the “stuff”. At this point the sauce will look like an unsightly brown paste – but that’s OK! Add the white wine and allow the whole thing to come up to a boil, stirring well. Let it happily boil away for about 2 minutes, so it reduces slightly. In the meantime the chicken breasts have had a good six or seven minutes to “rest”, so now you can slice it. (The “rest” is important to let the juices in the meat settle into an even distribution so that, when you cut into it, all the juice doesn’t ooze out of the meat, leaving your chicken dry - this is not desirable!)

Once the sauce has reduced, turn off the heat, and strain. Sauce, done! Drizzle sauce over the chicken breasts, and serve with your favorite potato dish, wild rice, cous cous, or other starch of your choice. (I served mine tonight with Risotto-style Rosemary Potatoes, but that's another recipe for another day.) Enjoy!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pork and Vegetable Shumai

After three days of Kulfi vegetables are not only desired, but necessary! So I will be writing about, and eating vegetables quite a bit over the coming days. Hold me accountable, people!

I was at the Asian store yesterday (the bulk shopping day!) and stocked up on spring roll skins. I love these because they are incredibly versatile as far as Asian food goes (I will be making Summer Rolls later this weekend, which are basically Spring rolls that are not fried!). I made Pork and Vegetable Shumai last night, the ultimate in Dim Sum fare, and it was delicious.

How yummy does this look?

Five or six of these dumplings are enough to fill you as a meal does. And, they are so easy to put together. You can use pretty much anything for the filling! It really is all about whatever vegetables you have leftover in the fridge, balanced with the right Asian ingredients. I used shredded carrots, lettuce, green onions, ground pork, green chillies, a bit of garlic and ginger, some cilantro, lime juice and a dash of soy sauce (for salt and flavor!). Just mix it all together in the food processor (yes, it is that easy), and add two egg-whites to bind it together. Shumai filling ready! Pretty healthy too with all those veggies, right? Oh, and you can make this filling a day ahead of time! Just store it in the refrigerator covered tightly. Then, all you do is fill the skins with about a spoonful of filling each, steam the Shumai for about 12 minutes, and serve. Pair it with any Asian dipping sauce. Enjoy!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Shopper at large, in a little car

Today I can say, with complete confidence, that I purchased enough food to feed a small army. Enough bread stuffs, processed meat product, and condiments to feed a small country. Or for a medium-sized rural Wisconsin church's picnic...which is really the case. I had a hundred and thirty hot dogs, two-hundred and forty hot dog buns, a hundred and twenty hamburger buns, and large bottles of ketchup and mustard, along with all my personal bulk shopping from the Asian store (twenty-five pound bag of rice, anyone?) neatly arranged in the trunk of my car into little piles before leaving the stores, only to come home and find that my efforts were all in vain when I discovered a jumbled mess in the trunk after the forty minute drive home. But, still, look at how much food this is, and how amazing it looks all piled together...

I love this part of my job that lets me have random, crazy experiences like this one every now and again! This experience also reminds me how much I love my little car! My little 2-door Cavalier, that is truly a "compact" car in every sense of the word. I am always surprised at how much stuff fits into my tiny little car! Ah. But the best "I love my car" story of all is what is fondly referred to in our house as "the futon mattress episode of 2006".

Every young married couple has a few of these kinds of stories, crazy experiences from the early days that bring you joy whenever you remember it. We always laugh when we think about this one! Ryan and I went into Madison one balmy evening in the fall of '06 to buy a new futon mattress, which we really needed. It was time to slowly start replacing the junk we called our "college furniture" and transition into adult living. The old futon mattress was hanging on by a few threads, stuffing all gone, and had been used well beyond its potential. After about an hour of browsing product and negotiating with the sales guy, we emerged from the mattress store having picked out a beautiful new ten inch thick futon mattress. Twenty minutes later, we thanked the sales guy for his "loading help" getting the mattress into the little car and we were on our way home...testing the boundaries of physics with every passing minute. The beautiful new ten inch thick mattress was folded in half and stuffed into the Cavalier, back seat down, Ryan was driving, and yours truly was squeezed into the passenger seat pushed all the way forward, my left arm tethered to the front end of the mattress lest it explode through the trunk unable to withstand the pressure of being stuffed into a space only two-thirds its volume. If it did actually burst through the trunk, I'm sure my arm would have gone with it. It only took one person to sit on the trunk to make it close in the first place. I am still amazed at that trip home. And it still brings a smile to my face.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I had a craving…so I made some Kulfi last night! For those of you who have never heard of Kulfi before, here is a little background: Kulfi is an Indian frozen dessert, like ice cream but decidedly denser and creamier, bursting with the fragrance of cardamom and the green goodness of pistachios. It was one of my most favorite treats as a kid! (Adding to the overall delight, some places served it frozen in a little earthen jar or pot called a “matka”. Imagine eating ice-cream out of something that looks like a flower pot!)

My version is a little more ‘east meets further-to-the-east’, with Green Tea added. (My tea-drinking friends should like this one.) And, it is such a yummy treat for the summer time!

You will need:

1 can evaporated milk
1 can condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup chopped pistachios
1 tsp ground cardamom
5 Green Tea bags

Bring evaporated milk to a simmer in a sauce pan over medium heat, it should be just warmed (bubbly around the edges). Empty contents of the tea bags into the pan, and add the ground cardamom. Whisk together, and remove from heat. Cover and let it sit for about 30 minutes, so the green tea can be fully infused. Strain evaporated milk and dump the soaked tea leaves – you won’t need these anymore. Whisk into the evaporated milk infusion, heavy cream, condensed milk, and chopped pistachios. Freeze for at least 6 hours, but it is best to freeze overnight – seriously, you can wait it out – in freezer-safe bowl (with lid or covered with plastic wrap), popsicle moulds, or ice-cube trays (covered with plastic wrap). Enjoy!

1. With all that heavy cream and condensed milk, I know what you’re thinking…but, honestly, this is not the time to think about calories. Eat one serving, don’t eat another for about week and you’re fine!
2. Those of you who watch the newest food network star Aarti, will know that she uses Earl Grey tea in her kulfi, and there's nothing wrong with that, but mine is decidedly better!
3. If this recipe is simply too sweet for you, substitute half of the sweetened condensed milk for more evaporated milk, or whole milk.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday, and Chocolate Almond Croissants

Not a bad Monday. Great day at work! Productive meeting, with intelligent participants, and good dialog. A rejuvenating hike at dusk with our two dogs. And Chocolate Almond Croissants...which fills the house with the scent of all things buttery, chocolatey, and wonderful! These little treats are only a humble approximation of the authentic French ones that you'll find at a patisserie, but they do the trick if you want to feel like you're someplace outside of your own house, and they smell wonderful! Making it is as simple as toast, Or two words: "crescent rolls".

1. Fill crescent rolls with chocolate of some type (I like semi-sweet chocolate morsels, or Nutella)
2. Brush rolls with egg wash (1 egg white + a dash of water, lightly beaten), then sprinkle on slivered almonds
3. Bake at 350 degrees F for 11 to 13 minutes.

Decorate with melted chocolate, if you wish. And get a good whiff of it before you eat. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rainy afternoon date!

I took my husband out on a date yesterday afternoon. No, you didn't read that wrong. I took him. We had grand plans to go eat lunch at an authentic french patisserie I had heard about last week and was eager to try, only to find when we got there that the place was "closed for vacation". Hmm. With the imminent threat of a thunderstorm, the luck of the Irish came to the rescue and we found a neat little pub just around the corner from the patisserie. Much to their credit, they were open! That was perfect, and looked exactly like Ryan's type of place. Look how happy he is.

We ordered yummy cold beverages, and split their signature appetizer shrimp. The shrimp was happiness on a plate, prepared simmered in a broth of portobello mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, lemon juice, and parsley, served with enough crusty sourdough bread to mop up all the broth. I immediately thought of ways to replicate my own version of it, and I will be making it soon. It was a nice lunch. We made silly faces at each other across the table, some of which have been captured for posterity on the camera!

From there, we moseyed on to a thrift store, with it still pouring rain, to browse for much-needed storage solutions for our little house. Finding nothing, I made my way across to the jewelry aisle (while Ryan patiently occupied himself) and I found this funky necklace for $2. How cute is this, to dress up a plain t-shirt and jeans?

It is shaping up to be a really good weekend. Wishing you all the same joy, memories, and happy relationships.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The brave little gerbera daisy

I got a potted plant this week. So, yes, I am experimenting with yet another house plant. This is a sad paradox, since I am still blocking out memories of the house plant disaster of 2006. (I had purchased an orchid plant at an auction in my workplace, and it did not bloom like the guy swore it would. In fact, it died a quick and quite an unnatural death. Despite my efforts to revive it, even with sound advice from horticultural experts on the internet, I succumbed to the idea that I should probably never have a house plant, ever again.)

But here’s the thing. This new plant is a gorgeous gerbera daisy – that my husband brought to me at work, for no occasion whatsoever, but to simply make me feel appreciated and loved, so HA! – and it came with detailed instructions on how to care for it. And, it has survived three whole days! I even watered it twice. It has two flowers, one already in bloom. The other one was just a bud a couple of days ago and looks like it is slowly blooming. Time will tell.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pears in Port Wine

Sometimes, at our house, dinner is pretty simple. Tonight we had grilled cheese sandwiches, to use up the last of a mediocre smoked Gouda that neither one of us liked! But when dinner is not so hep...we tend to make up for it with a truly scrumptious dessert. So tonight, for dessert, I made Pears in Port Wine, and served it with honey-orange ricotta. Here is the recipe:

Pears in Port Wine

Serves 2

2 whole pears
2 cups port wine
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1/4” piece fresh ginger root
2/3 cup white sugar, or to taste

Add port, sugar, cinnamon stick, cloves, and ginger to a deep saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and stir until sugar is fully dissolved. Remove the skin from the pears using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, but leave the stems on. Add the pears to the simmering sauce, and let simmer covered for about 30 minutes, turning them over once halfway through. When done, remove the pears from the pan, discard spice chunks from the sauce, and leave the sauce on the heat until it reduces further, about 15 minutes, and reaches a thick, syrupy consistency.

Serve pears warm or at room temperature, with warmed port wine sauce. (Optional – mix 1 tbsp honey into ½ cup ricotta or mascarpone cheese, and add 1 tsp orange zest. This is a perfect accompaniment to the pears!) Garnish with fresh mint leaves. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A good day, and Rolled Lasagne

It was a good day. The evening was particularly nice. I finally watched "Remember Me", on the recommendation of a friend, and liked it. The movie was accompanied by a good pasta dinner...Rolled Lasagne, a new thing that I enjoyed creating this evening. This savory dish is heartier than a steak, incredibly flavorful, and has a balance of textures. And, you can use whatever meat or veggies you have on hand! Here it is, followed by the recipe...

You'll need:

8 Lasagne sheets – cooked al dente, or to your taste
1 cup thinly sliced zucchini
1 cup julienned bell pepper
½ cup shredded carrots
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ cup shredded fresh parmesan cheese, plus more
2 cups good pasta sauce
2 sprigs fresh basil leaves, plus more
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper, plus more
salt to taste

Saute red onion, and garlic in a bit of olive oil, over medium heat, until onions are translucent. Add carrots, bell pepper, and zucchini, and cook until slightly softened, or about 5 minutes. You want the veggies to be crunchy when the dish comes together. Stir in half the basil, a bit of salt, black pepper, then remove from heat, and set aside covered.

Lay the cooked lasagna sheets on a flat surface. Spread a thin layer of ricotta cheese along the length of each sheet, then add a bit of parmesan, followed by a thin layer of the veggie filling. Roll up each sheet, end to end, starting from one short side. Warm the pasta sauce, and pour a little bit on each plate, before placing the rolls on top. Garnish with fresh basil, freshly cracked black pepper, and some parmesan sprinkled on top! Serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Zucchini from my garden

I harvested the second 12" zucchini of the summer, and have thoroughly enjoyed making various zucchini entrees. The latest of which is this Deconstructed Zucchini Parmesan that I had fun throwing together last night. They turned out so well, I will definitely make them again. And not just to hear Ryan call them "Zucchini Volcanoes" again :)

Here is the recipe: Deconstructed Zucchini Parmesan (or Zucchini Volcanoes!)

You will need:
1 cup breadcrumbs
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 large zucchini, or 2 medium, sliced ¼ inch thick
½ cup skim milk
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup pasta sauce
¼ cup olive oil or enough to coat the bottom of a large frying pan

Mix breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, set aside. Heat olive oil in frying pan. Coat zucchini slices in milk, then breadcrumb mixture, and fry on each side about 2 minutes. Remove to a paper towel. Once all the zucchini are fried, remove any fried bits from the pan, and heat up the pasta sauce in the same pan. Assembling – start with one layer of fried zucchini, top with a little bit of both cheeses, then a tablespoon of sauce. Repeat with a second layer of zucchini, more cheese, and more sauce. Then place third layer of zucchini over it, with a tablespoon of sauce, then cheese on top, followed by - if you wish - freshly ground black pepper. Serve immediately, and enjoy!