Mushroom Cognac Pinwheels (make ahead!)

For an easy holiday appetizer that looks elegant, try these winter-inspired pinwheels.  They have meaty portobello mushrooms sauteed with thyme and sage, the two most earthy spices.  Thyme and sage are what I imagine a forest must taste like, wild and fresh.  The cognac was a little improvisation.  With 5 bottles of red wine staring at me and not a single bottle of white to impart flavor on the mushrooms, I was stuck between using gin or cognac for the mushrooms.

My husband looooves cognac and got me to try it once, but never again.  In its pure form, cognac has dragon-like fumes that make you light headed when you get within 4 inches of the glass.  When you taste it, the fumes burn down your throat and clear up your sinuses as if it were a hot pepper.    Still, cognac was a better choice than gin and I knew the alcohol would cook off.  Since I’m an avid cookbook reader, I know that cognac is highly flammable, so I took extra precaution, ok, obsessive precaution when I added it to the mushroom filling; I took the entire pan off the stove, poured the cognac in while holding the pan over the sink, then returned it safely to the stovetop.  I didn’t even want to leave the mixture unattended to go put back the cognac because I was afraid it might light on fire.  If you don’t want to go the adventurous route, hopefully you have white wine you can use, if not chicken broth or the ever-friendly H2o, water.

P.S. I will never hear the end of “remember that one time you cooked with cognac…”

Click here for the printable.

Mushroom Cognac Pinwheels
Makes 15-20 large pinwheels or 30-40 small pinwheels (see note)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 portobello mushroom caps, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
5-6 fresh sage leaves finely minced, or 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/3 cup cognac or dry white wine or water
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated smoked fontina, gruyere, or swiss cheese
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1/4 cup of water in a small cup for binding the dough together or 1 egg lightly beaten
1.  In a large saute pan over medium high heat, heat the olive oil, then add the diced onion and saute about 3 minutes until the onions are translucent.
2.  Add the diced mushrooms, salt, thyme, and sage to the saute pan.  Cook another 2-3 minutes.
3.  Take saute pan off of heat and away from flames and add in cognac.  Use caution as cognac is highly flammable.  Cook another 5 minutes or so until the mushrooms are soft and have absorbed all of the cognac.  Add the butter, allow it to melt, then mix with a spoon.  turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.
4.  On a clean working surface, roll out the puff pastry dough.  Use a sprinkle of flour if the dough has become sticky.
5.  Starting at the bottom (the side of the dough closest to you), sprinkle the puff pastry with the grated fontina cheese.  Make sure to cover every part of the dough EXCEPT the top inch of the side furthest from you.  Add the cognac-mushrooms and spread on top of the cheese in the same manner.  Brush the top inch with water or egg to help bind the dough when you roll it up.
6.  Starting with the side closest to you, roll up the puff pastry like a jelly roll.  It should roll up around itself at least two times.  Use water and your fingers to bind the of dough at the top.  You will have one long piece.
7. Place on a baking dish and refrigerate overnight ( or up to 2 days).
8.  When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut the log into 1/3 inch slices and arrange on a baking sheet, leaving space between the pinwheels.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
Note: for smaller pinwheels, cut the puff pastry dough in half before topping with the filling and make two smaller logs to cut up.

Garlic and Butter Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls (make ahead!)

Thanksgiving is tomorrow,  and I have been strangely absent.  My mom is hosting, and I am in charge of making dinner rolls, an appetizer, and 2 vegetable dishes for our 12 person Thanksgiving dinner.  So far I’ve got the rolls and the appetizer prepped and ready for baking.  Tomorrow I’ll get the roasted vegetable dishes done.

This is my first time making homemade dinner rolls from scratch, with yeast.  While I have baking issues when it comes to desserts, I have quite a handle on yeast doughs.  Usually it’s the other way around for people, they are intimidated using yeast, maybe for the time commitment (I can understand that), but making desserts is a piece of cake (pun intentional).

The greatest part about working with yeast is it allows you to multi-task.  Once the ingredients are put together and the dough kneaded and shaped, you can fuhgit about it for 45 minutes.  That’s an episode of “Glee.”  Or, the responsible route, it’s enough time to prep an appetizer for Thanksgiving.

I don’t have final pictures yet since the rolls haven’t technically been served.  But after taste-testing the dough, I’m pretty sure they will be a hit.  They are buttery with a touch of sweetness from the sugar and random kicks of garlic from the minced cloves.  If you don’t like garlic, try chopping up some fresh rosemary, or add chives.  This dinner roll recipe is a blank canvas.  I will update about what my family thought of the dinner rolls.  Let’s hope I don’t burn them.

Click here for the printable recipe.

Garlic and Butter Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls

Makes 15-16 rolls

1 cup fat-free half and half
6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 6 chunks
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) rapid rise yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon minced garlic (4-5 cloves)
1.  In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter in the half and half.  As soon as the butter is melted, turn off the heat.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, yeast, sugar, and salt.
3.  Mix one third of the half and half/butter combo into the dry ingredients, and use a spoon to combine; you should have small, pea-size chunks.  Add the next 2 thirds in the same manner, a little at a time.
4.  Add the egg, 2 egg yolks, and garlic to the dough and mix to combine.  At this point, your hands may make the combining easier.
5.  On a clean work surface, knead the dough about 5 minutes.  Place the dough in a clean mixing bowl and cover with a dark kitchen towel.  Let it rise in a warm place for 45-55 minutes.
6.  After the dough has doubled in size from rising, spray a 13 x 9 inch baking dish (preferably glass) with cooking spray.
7. Divide the dough into fourths.  working with one fourth at a time, roll it into a log shape about 6 inches long.  Cut the dough in half, then cut each half in half again so you end up with 4 pieces.  Roll one piece at a time into a ball and arrange in the baking dish in rows or randomly.  Repeat this step with the remaining dough.
8.  Cover the baking dish again and set the rolls in a warm place to rise for another 45 minutes.  (Optional let the rolls rise for 30 minutes, then place then in the refrigerator for the next day.  If making the rolls ahead of time, set them on a kitchen counter for about 20 minutes before baking them.)
9.  Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.  Bake 20-25 minutes, until the rolls are puffy and golden brown.  Serve immediately with extra melted butter brushed on top if desired.
This recipe was adapted from The Weekend Baker by Abigail Johnson Dodge.

Coconut Curry Soup with Roasted Salmon

Oh the weather outside is frightful (OK, not so much in California), and the chill in the air (mainly because we don’t have the best insulation in California houses) means it’s time to cook warm soups to help warm the body.  When cooking for two, soup is an effective way to make lunches for the week.  A pot of soup equals 6-7 meals, all that’s needed is really good Tupperware to make sure it doesn’t spill while commuting.

Another reason to love soup is it’s incredible capacity to use up leftover or past their prime vegetables.  Soups are endlessly adaptable given what’s in the fridge or taste preferences.  The soups I make are quick, between 20 and 40 minutes to prepare.  This soup is Thai inspired.  It looks like a sunset with its  pinkish-orange color from the mix of coconut milk and chicken broth.  Instead of adding in the salmon to cook in the soup (a possible variation), I roasted the salmon separate in order for the soup base to maintain its unique Thai curry-coconut flavor.  This method allows the soup and the salmon to remain two distinct but complementing flavors.

Here are the ingredients:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste, such as Thai Kitchen
1 14-ounce box low-sodium chicken broth
1 13 or 14-ounce can low-fat coconut milk
3 small potatoes, peeled, and diced
1 pound fresh salmon sprinkled with salt pepper, and 1 teaspoon olive oil
fresh lime wedges and chopped fresh parsley (not pictured)
In addition to the parsley I forgot to photograph 3 small peeled and diced potatoes.
First saute the aromatics (onions, poblano pepper, celery, and garlic) in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Instead of a classic Latin sofrito where I’d usually add tomato paste or sauce, I used Thai Red Chili Paste, a fun ingredient to have on hand for easy Thai flavor without the fuss of finding and figuring out ways to use items I’m not familiar with.
Then add the liquids, chicken broth and coconut milk.  The color of the soup will look like a sunset, pinkish-orange.
Also add the diced potatoes.  Bring the soup up to a boil, then lower the heat to allow the soup to simmer for 20 minutes or so, enough time to roast up some fresh salmon.
Whenever I’m cooking for two, I prefer to use the toaster oven for small baking needs since it’s a manageable size and doesn’t need more than a minute or two to preheat.  I lined a mini baking sheet with tin foil for very easy clean up, and sprinkled salt, pepper, and a little olive oil on top of the fish.  Salmon’s a fish with more oil than others, so it doesn’t need a lot.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes, until the edges are crisp and the fish is flaky and pink.  Don’t you love those close up sizzling bubbles?
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, top with chunks of roasted salmon and chopped fresh parsley.  Squeeze half of a lime on top of each bowl for added flavor.  Add a bowl of fresh salad and you’ve got yourself one tasty soup and salad combo.
Buen Provecho!

Welcome to Your New Grain Staple: Quinoa

It is the “Mother of Grains,” or so the Incans would have us believe, but after taking a closer look at the nutritional and taste benefits of  quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), I am in full agreement.  Eating quinoa is like winning the nutritional lottery as far as grains are concerned.  I have decided that I love it so much it will now replace brown rice as my go-to grain.  Here are 5 reasons why you should eat quinoa instead of brown rice.

1.  Taste.  Quinoa has a rich nutty flavor to it that makes it taste more substantial and filling than brown rice.  It also has  little more fiber, so the scientific data even shows that quinoa is more filling.

2.  Time.  Quinoa takes 12-15 minutes to rinse and then cook up in water on the stove top; brown rice takes 50+ minutes, not to mention a hefty amount of spices and salt to make it have flavor.  When I come home after a long day, the last thing I want to do is wait for rice to cook.

3. Versatility.  Don’t just limit quinoa to a side grain dish, that would be a disservice.  Quinoa can add substance to soups, be a breakfast porridge, or even be the main ingredient in sweet baked goods.  Quinoa has no gluten, so it is excellent for gluten-free diets.

4. Quinoa is a symbol for endurance.  The crop thrives (was domesticated) in one of the harshest climates on earth, the highlands of the Andes mountains.  It can grow in altitudes over 9,800 feet above sea level where wind and fluctuating temperatures can damage other crops like corn and potatoes.  The Incas used quinoa to protect these other staples in their farming terraces.  Additionally, the Incas had the most extensive road network in Pre-Colombian South America.  The runners who used to send messages along these roads most likely relied on quinoa for nourishment.

5. It packs a much larger nutritional punch than brown rice.  Consider these numbers that I gathered from the nutritional label of a box of quinoa and a bag of brown rice.  Additionally, quinoa has thiamin, niacin, and folate, but I ran out of room in my table to show it.  I also don’t exactly know what these nutrients do for out bodies.  Let’s face it, quinoa outperformed long grain brown rice in every single category.

Long Grain Brown Rice Quinoa
Serving size ¼ cup dry 1/3 cup dry
Calories 170 160
Total Fat 1.5 grams 2.5 grams
Potassium 0 grams 320 mg (9% DV)
Carbohydrates 35 grams 30 grams
Fiber 2 grams 3 grams
Protein 4 grams 6 grams
Iron 4% (DV) 20% (DV)
Phosphorous 0 20% (DV)


 

Quinoa Fruit Bars

This recipe is a make-over for quinoa, transforming the unglamorous side dish into a sweet and hearty dessert bar that doubles as a to-go breakfast or quick energy snack.  For those of you who have never tried or heard of quinoa, you are in for a treat.  For those of you who have only use quinoa as a side dish for your dinner, you are also in for a treat.  This nutritious grain is much more versatile than I originally thought.

Up until this point, I had only used quinoa, an ancient grain from the Andean highlands of South America revered by the Incas, as a quick grain option.  It’s very easy to cook and has a rich, nutty flavor.  It is one of my favorites. Then I rented from my local library The South American Table cookbook by Maria Baez Kijac.  This book is a collection of 450 recipes from South America, a culinary jewel often overlooked by cooks in the US who are generally more familiar with Mexican recipes.

I wanted to use quinoa in a different way other than relegating it to the side lines and figured that Peruvian or Bolivian cooking would guide and inspire.  After all, Peru and Bolivia were the geographic centers of the Incan empire where quinoa was the “mother of grain.”   I adapted this recipe slightly from a Quinoa Bars recipe in The South American Table by adjusting the spices moderately and taking out the anise seeds, since I don’t like licorice flavor.

Quinoa Fruit Bars uses quinoa like flour, making a “cake” that holds and binds the dried fruit and nuts.  Orange juice and spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg add an autumn holiday flavor.  These bars are moist and versatile.  Since quinoa has no gluten, these bars are an excellent gluten-free baked good option, just use rice flour instead of all purpose). Make variations of these bars by substituting other dried fruit or nuts.  Cut up the leftovers into ready-to-go bars for a quick breakfast or snack. Store at room temperature in covered Tupperware containers for 3-4 days.

Click Here to Print

Quinoa Fruit Bars
adapted from The South American Table
makes 24 bars

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place 1/2 cup of raisins in a cup of warm water for 15 minutes to plump them.

2.  Toast 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts (or other nuts) in a small saute pan over medium heat, about 4 minutes.

3. In a medium sauce pan, over medium-high heat, add
2 cups water and
1 cup rinsed quinoa (See How to: Cook Quinoa for preparation instructions)
Cover the pot and cook 12-15 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  The quinoa will be light and fluffy.

4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the following:
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour (for gluten-free use rice flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 -2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped dates (or dried apricots, cherries, etc.)
plus your toasted nuts and plumped raisins.

Mix these ingredients together.

5.  Add the quinoa to the dry ingredints.  Mix to combine.

6.  To the dry ingredients mix in the following:
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup fresh orange juice, and
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

7. Pour the batter into a 13 x 9 inch pan that’s been lightly coated with cooking spray.  

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Buen Provecho!

Chicken Tostadas

Has it been one of those days?  Long?  Exhausting?  You need dinner in 20 minutes?  I got you covered.  One word: tostadas.

This is another 3-2-1 meal.  3 meals, 2 people, 1 chicken.  The other recipes are the Yucatan-style Chicken Soup and this Chicken Tortilla Soup.

Tostadas are one of my go-to meals.  One makes a great snack, 2 makes a light meal.  They are an ideal way to use up leftover meat from previous meals.  For me, one thing that is essential in making tostadas is having a lot of colorful ingredients.  I often use red (really purple) cabbage in addition to cilantro.  Other colorful vegetables you might want to consider playing around with are colored bell peppers, carrots, red onion, green onion, roasted beets, cucumber….  You get the idea.  The more colorful your tostada, the more fun you’ll have.  (I just got an idea for rainbow tostadas- I wonder what that could be?)

Printable recipe: Chicken Tostadas

Here’s how you make tostadas in under 20 minutes.

start with your quick refried beans.

1 14-ounce can low sodium black beans (or pinto beans)

1 tablespoon roasted garlic flavored olive oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Rinse out the beans in a colander.  Combine the beans, oil, and cumin in a small bowl and smash with a fork until you get quick refried beans.

In another bowl, combine 1 cup shredded red cabbage, 1/3 cup chopped cilantro (about 1/3 of a bunch), and 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar.  Mix well and enjoy the beautiful color, especially when the vinegar turns a little purple.

Take 4 tostada shells and layer each with a 1/4 of the beans.  Then add leftover shredded rotisserie chicken.  Layer on the cabbage and sprinkle with cheese.

Serve with fixings like salsa or sour cream.

Note: You can make your own tostada shells by lightly coating tortillas with cooking spray and baking them at 350 degrees for 4-7 minutes, flipping them once, until crisp.

Buen Provecho!

Chicken Soup for the Soul- Yucatan-style

 

“Have you been taking your vitamin C?  Flu season is coming.”

Get ready to keep telling your mom (or anyone else who cares about you) that you are taking care of your health and getting plenty of Vitamin C.  I don’t know how Vitamin C became the panacea for all health-related maladies, but it is the most prescribed “medicine” from my mom.  Got a cold?  Take Vitamin C.  Feeling low energy?  It’s because you haven’t been taking enough Vitamin C.  Runny Nose?  Vitamin C, to prevent it from getting worse.

Of course, there’s also making sure that you are eating well and adding vegetables whenever the opportunity arises, like in this recipe, a chicken soup for the soul, Yucatán-style.  In Spanish it is called sopa de limón or sopa de limo.

The Yucatán Peninsula geographically looks like a foot kicking a soccer ball off the Southeastern shore of Mexico.  Though most of the Yucatán Peninsula are 3 Mexican states (Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo), it also contains northern parts of Belize and Guatemala.  It is considered the eastern heartland of the ancient Mayas.  Many American tourists know it for the resort town, Cancún and the Mayan Riviera.  More cultural and historical tourist destinations include the beautiful colonial city Mérida and the famous Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza and Tulum.  Yucatán food is full of flavor and Mayan influence.

This soup is both healthy and fast.  It’s even faster if you use part of a store-bought rotisserie chicken.  It has vegetables like carrots and celery.  But don’t stop there.  Add zucchini if you have it or pre-cooked butternut squash.  Corn kernels would be a tasty addition as well.  It also has plenty of Vitamin C in the form of fresh lime juice.

Some people believe in substituting lemon juice for the lime juice.  For me, these two citrus are not interchangeable, close, but not equal.  Lime juice gives the soup a sharper sweetness and tanginess.  Lime juice is also more authentic.  If you can, please for me, use lime juice, but I’ll still love you if you use lemon juice.

Get the recipe: Yucatan style chicken soup

This recipe is part of a 3-2-1 series.  3 meals, 2 people, 1 chicken.  Stay tuned for 2 more recipes for 1 store-bought rotisserie chicken. Buen Provecho!

Perfect Black Bean Goodness

Perfect Black Bean Goodness, the ultimate comfort food.  Did I mention that it’s vegetarian?  Most black beans are made with some combination of pork: fat, sausage, bacon drippings, etc.  On top of the rich meaty taste of the beans, the pork flavors them during cooking.

And cook they will.  For an hour plus.  Making beans requires forethought, something I’ve generally lacked, and patience, something we are all improving upon.  In any case, making beans is an essential kitchen skill.

Beans are probably the most economical of meals.  But their cheapness is only one of their many fine qualities.  Make a large pot of beans and you have dinner for the next few days.  Moreover, leftover beans only get more and more flavorful, something not every dish can flaunt.

This recipe is a combination of cooking knowledge from 2 amazing women.  My mom who’s sofrito method I use, and Ms. Dragonwagon who has an ingenuity at making healthy and richly flavorful vegetarian recipes.  (See my note at the end of the post for specifics on what changed and what stayed the same)

OK, OK, gimme the recipe: Perfect Black Bean Goodness recipe

Start with a little forethought.  Cover the beans with water and soak overnight or all day while you work.

Drain the beans and place them in a large dutch oven.  Add water until they are covered about a 1/2 inch, about 8 cups.

Here’s what we’ll need for our first round of flavor.  1 entire onion, 6 cloves, 1 head of garlic, 2 bay leaves, and some fresh oregano (It’s from my herb garden).

Take the 6 whole cloves and stud the onion.  Push them into the onion like nails- that is what cloves look like.

Add all of this to the pot.  Yes, the skins is on for the onion and the garlic head.  Trust me on this.

Bring to a boil, then lower to medium-low and cook 1 hour.

After an hour, add chopped sweet potatoes and rough chopped carrots.  Lots of orange color=lots of beta carotene.

After an hour an a half of cooking, fish out the whole head of garlic and clove-studded onion.  Set aside the garlic and discard the onion.  Here’s what they should look like, a mess.

Make the sofrito.  We’ll need another diced onion, 6 cloves minced garlic (not shown), about 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, and 2 diced bell peppers.

Cook these ingredients in large saute pan with a little olive oil.

Add in 1 diced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce.  Oh…I love this stuff.

Saute these aromatics 4-5 minutes.

Add in half a can of tomato paste.  (Use a 6-ounce can)

And coat all of the sauteed vegetables.  Cook another 3-4 minutes.

Add the sofrito to the beans.  Also add more flavor in the form of 1 1/2 tablespoons of ground cumin smoky goodness, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, zest of one orange, and salt to taste (1-2 teaspoons).

Remember that cooked head of garlic.  This is the true secret to giving these beans a depth of flavor.  Squeeze out all the garlic pulp onto a plate and stir into the beans.  It will be very messy, and you will be utterly tempted to lick off pieces of garlic pulp on your fingers; go ahead, my full support is behind you, just don’t “taste” it all.

Cook another few minutes for all the flavors to get friendly with each other.  Serve with rice.  Trust me this stuff only gets better with time.

Recipe Notes: This recipe was inspired by my mentor-vegetarian, Crescent Dragonwagon, from her Black Bean Feijoada recipe.  I followed her process for the preliminary cooking of the beans, using a clove-studded onion and entire head of garlic with its cooked puree added in afterwards.  This method has completely transformed how I cook beans.  I also kept the orange zest and chipotle, a classic combination.  I changed her process based on how my mom taught me to make beans which is to combine the aromatics (onions, garlic, bell pepper holy trinity) in a separate saute with tomato paste.  I also didn’t add any of the soy-meats to make it a feijoada.

Blackened Chicken Salad

Which side are you on with Cajun food?  Love it?  No, thanks it?  I enjoy it because of the explosion of flavor that it always has.  Flavor like that asks, are you living life as fiercely as you could?

Well…are you?

Print this recipe and be fierce: Blackened Chicken Salad for Two

We’ll start with the dressing.  The amounts I’m giving you here are for 2 servings.  Math is required should you be needing more than that.  I am sorry, but Wednesdays are not my math days, Thursdays are.

I put my ingredients in a bowl for production value, aka a pretty picture.  You should just plop all of them into a blender and whizz it all together.

I’m on a tofu craze, so I started with 1/3 cup of soft silken tofu.  Plus 1 tablespoon of deli style mustard (Please use one that’s Dijon style with visible mustard grains in it, not the fluorescent yellow kind).  1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.  And the twist, the zest and juice of 1 lime.  A dash of salt and black pepper is good too.

This is an intense dressing, but it has to be able to cut the spiciness of the blackened chicken.  The citrus from the lime and tang of the apple cider vinegar do just that.

Liquify all this in your blender, and let it wait while you finish everything else.

Surprisingly, blackened chicken is an easy thing to make.  You need 3 ingredients: chicken, Cajun seasoning, and oil (olive or vegetable or canola all work).  You’ll make an assembly line for your spicing process: olive oil (2-3 tablespoons), 1/4 cup of Cajun spices (this was my entire small bottle of Cajun spice!), and a saute pan warming up 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat.

Now all we have to do is add chicken. I cut 2 boneless, skinless breasts long-wise into tenders.  Again, math required for more servings.

I know, it’s intimidating to use this much spice.  Cajun food really asks you to take risks.  Honestly, this is the one and only time in my life where I’ve used an entire brand new bottle of spice in one recipe.  It seemed absurd, but oh man, once I tasted that spice delight crusted on the chicken, I forgot everything.

Grab one chicken tender.

Drop it in the oil and coat both sides lightly.  Drip off any excess oil.

Now plop the chicken tender in the Cajun seasoning.  Give it a bath basically.  Cover as much of the chicken in a coat of spices.  Really press it in, but keep in mind you have other chicken pieces, so don’t let one tender hog it all.

Then put the chicken in the heated saute pan.  Repeat with all your chicken tenders.

DON’T TOUCH THE CHICKEN for 5 minutes.  This is called blackened chicken, remember?  Not that it’s burned, it shouldn’t be, but every time you touch the chicken a little bit of the spices flake off making it less spice-blackened.  This bears repeating, the less you touch it, the better the flavor.

After 5 minutes, flip the tenders and cook the other side for 3-4 minutes.  Here’s my one and only flip.  Fabulously spice-crusted.

Remove the chicken from the heat, and let it rest on a plate while you chop up the rest of your salad ingredients.  This is where you look at what you have in your fridge and use that or whatever you like in your salads.  Don’t have romaine, use iceberg.  Prefer the spring mix; you’re genius.  Have some leftover roasted veggies from last night’s dinner?  That’s one of my favorite things to add to salads.  We all have our own routes to Blackened Chicken deliciousness.

Here’s my route for two newlyweds.  I had 6 leaves of romaine lettuce.  1/2 cup of grated carrots, about 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (always needed on salads), 1 garden-fresh tomato, and 2 green onions.  (Shameful side note- we only had baby carrots which is why I decided to grate them up before taking the shot of salad ingredients.  I don’t recommend that, unless you want your knuckles an eighth of an inch away from sharp grates.  Blood is not an ingredient of this recipe).

Prettily arrange all your salad ingredients in a bowl.  Or just throw them in.

Now add 1 peeled and diced apple.  You’ll swoon, I promise because in one bite you can have spicy Cajun chicken, sweet apple crunch, and citrus lime tang.  Apples are one of my go-to ingredients on salads, especially for a touch of sweetness.  Once you start adding them to salads, you won’t be able to stop.

Cut the chicken into chunks the size of quarters and sprinkle over the salad greens.

Drizzle half of the dressing over each salad.

Buen Provecho!

Spinach and Eggplant Quiche (with tofu!)

What my husband doesn’t know won’t kill him.

In this case, what my husband doesn’t know is that instead of using cream in a recent quiche recipe, I used soft tofu.  All to a brilliant ending of “Wow, this is tasty, honey.”

I love quiche.  Not only is it a simple, very versatile recipe, but it’s also a fabulous way to use up leftover vegetables.

Here’s the finished product.  I forgot to charge my camera battery, so I don’t have a step-by-step tutorial.  Sorry folks.

Print this recipe: Spinach and Eggplant Quiche (with tofu!)

In any case, the basics of a quiche are the following:

  • 1 pie crust.  Use store bought for a faster prep time.  Use a store bought one that’s already in a tin for the epitome of convenience.
  • 2 cups of cheese.  I like Gruyere cheese because it has a rich, nutty flavor.  Regular Swiss cheese is fine too.
  • 2 eggs to help bind everything together.  3 would be fine too if you like your quiche with more egg flavor.
  • Other flavorings.  Obviously salt and pepper, but herbs and other spices work well too.  I used dried marjoram (one of my favorites) and 1 seeded and diced canned chipotle pepper with an extra teaspoon of its smoky adobo sauce.  De-seeding it is optional; it decreases the spiciness.
  • Heavy cream or tofu.  1 cup of cream if that’s your route.  I wanted to go lower fat so I used half a package of soft tofu which melted as soon as my mixing spoon touched it.
  • 1diced onion, sauteed with vegetables to start the cooking process
  • Vegetables.  Also sauteed with the onions.  Open your produce drawers and play connect the dots.  This is truly a recipe for making-over any leftover vegetables into a knockout.  I used about 2 cups of fresh eggplant and 1 10-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach.

Ready set, 3 steps.  That’s all.

1.  Mix cheese, eggs, tofu, and extra flavorings in a large bowl.

2.  Saute the diced onion and vegetables in olive oil for 5-7 minutes until they are cooked.  The onions will be translucent.  I used eggplant and their color went from pale white to buttery yellow. Generally the vegetables need to cook a little beforehand to ensure that they are fully done and melt-in-your-mouth-soft when you serve the quiche.

3.  Mix everything together to make the filling.  Empty it into your pie shall.  Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, plus or minus.  Insert a toothpick or butter knife in the center and make sure it comes out clean.