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Candidly Yours

DID YOU KNOW? REFLUX MEDS CAN CAUSE DANGEROUS DEFICIENCY

March 31, 2018

Secretly, I thought I might be crawling toward death and I wasn’t at all sure why. I had been so depleted, for months, and I was quietly frightened enough that I began writing the names of my loved ones on the backs of treasured  heirlooms in case I kicked the bucket in the night.

Looking back, so much was going on but I never strung the issues together. It just felt like my body and my mind were going down like a slowly but inevitably sinking ship.

I’ve always had insomnia, even as a small child, but for months, I had been almost unable to sleep at all and, if sleep came in spurts, it was never for more than 90 minutes, a couple of times in one night.  Yes, I had been living and working on about 3 hours of sleep for over a year.

Even sexier,  I had developed creepy, wrestlers legs. And to add to the fun, my muscles started going into painful spasms, my  eyes felt like they had grains of sand in them but a trip to the eye doctor and liquid tears did nothing.  The heart was palpitating, I was dizzy, my hair was falling out and my joints hurt so much that I could hardly walk in the mornings. Beyond dragging my sad self to work, I couldn’t get out of bed or get enthusiastic to do anything at all. Not even dance, my favorite activity, ever. Ugh. This is not the stuff for an alluring dating profile page!

Those who know me, know I generally a happy chick,  high-strung for sure, even hyper, but still a happy lady and this helped me be able to  ignore for too long, or hide all the above from anyone around me. Then, on Christmas Day, my stress level and my ability to cope with the regular bustle of guests was so overwhelming I felt embarrassed. I was a freak!

Blessedly, a few weeks into the New Year, a shocking blood pressure attack forced a reluctant visit to the doctor where it was suggested I have my vitamin B12 level checked.

B12 is an essential vitamin. Without it, one can develop pernicious anemia, neurological issues, even Alzheimers. It is detrimental to go without B12 yet oddly, it is not part of a routine blood panel. Still, it is easily fixed if caught in time.

In countries that follow a mostly vegetarian diet, such as India, B12 deficiency and it’s consequences, is common. Vegetarians and vegans are told they must  take a B12 supplement or consume foods fortified with the vitamin if they are to maintain  healthy levels. A close friend of mine became vegan when in her 20s. After a time, she began passing out. It was discovered she was B12 deficient and today, decades later, has a permanent loss of feeling on one of her little toes!

Since today, B12 is easily obtained in supplements and  fortified foods such as cereals, vegetarians can make a good case for giving up meat altogether.  Still, doctors tell me that it is best to obtain essential vitamins through diet over supplements, if possible, and B12 is naturally provided only in meats, eggs and dairy.  Okay … well … Ahem! I eat meat, eggs and dairy. So why, then  did I become dangerously deficient? And could this be happening to you? Well, if you suffer from acid reflux, it just might!

What many don’t know, and what no doctor told me 12 years ago when I began taking acid reducing meds daily,  is that people who suffer from acid reflux and related issues, and who are on a prolonged regimen of proton pump inhibitors such as Nexus or Prylosec, can develop a B12 deficiency because the stomach is not producing enough acid for absorbtion. This is likely how I became deficient. If you are taking reflux meds, think about having your B12 checked with your next blood panel.

I am happy always to cater to my vegan and vegetarian friends. But whenever I have tried to go without meat, it just does not feel right for me. I don’t eat a lot of meat, and I am conscious about where my meat is produced, how it is fed and slaughtered. Ditto for eggs. But I just don’t feel well when I remove it from my diet completely. And it begs, for me, the question that follows…

If Vitamin B12 is not readily available in plants, were we ever intended to be 100% vegetarian, as some claim?  If our creator had wanted us to abstain from meat altogether, would he not have provided B12 in plant foods?”  

I started taking high doses of B12 daily, without fail. You can get your B12 in a regular vitamin but for me, a sublingual or liquid delivery is more efficient because of  malabsorption in the stomach.  After just a few days, I began to sleep! Within 2 weeks, or even sooner, every one of the symptoms described above had begun markedly to disappear. Within 4 weeks, I was out dancing again! And my stress level is noticeably down and manageable.

Today, I take a medium dose of B12 daily. About once a month, I add liver to my mostly Paleo diet.To make liver taste almost like a good filet mignon, I soak it for about an hour in milk which helps remove that metallic after-taste.  I lightly dredge the meat in Quinoa flour, then I simply sauté in butter with a little salt and pepper. I top it off with caramelized onions. Delicious.

 

 

Comfort Food

Caldo Verde, Gringa Style!

January 13, 2018

On a cold day, this soup will bring happy tears to your eyes and warm you to your socks.

I had read that Caldo Verde, a traditional Portuguese soup, was the considered by some to be the comfort soup of all comfort soups and, on this unusually chilly Florida day, it did not disappoint.

Traditionally, Caldo Verde is prepared with true Portuguese sausage called chouriço or linguiça and kale. Since I have never followed a recipe, (or for that matter any agenda one hundred percent), and as I don’t live near a Portuguese butcher, I decided to use the sausages available to me in my local store. I also went for  spinach over kale, because I thought it would appeal to my peeps.

I used both a smoked Polish sausage and a house-made Italian from Publix. I think the smoke factor matters here, but if you have liquid smoke, you could add a few drops of this.

When you create your version of Caldo Verde, try it with the traditional kale (removing the stems) or collard greens (again, sans stems), or a combination of these and/or spinach.

This soup turned out to be dreamy warm, hearty, filling and delicious!
It was a meal in itself.

PORTUGUESE CALDO VERDE, My Way

Into a pot full of salted, boiling water (about 4 cups), add:

  • 3 large, russet potatoes, chopped into big chunks
  • 1 large, white sweet potato, chopped into big chunks (this is non traditional)
  • 1 cube of chicken stock flavor
  • Pinch of salt & pepper to taste

Boil for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender.

While the potatoes are cooking, into a heavy pot or Dutch oven, sauté together:

  • 3 slices of smoked bacon
  • 6 sliced or quartered large links of Portuguese or hot Italian sausage (or you can use Andouille, or any smokey, spicy sausage)
  • 3 Large teeth of garlic, minced
  • 1 Medium onion

Sauté until the fat is rendered from the bacon and sausage and the onions and garlic are clear.  You’ll notice the sausages are beginning to brown or caramelize. Now just set all this aside.
Do not toss the fat/oils!

Return to your pot of potatoes and with your favorite hand tool, smash them roughly, enough so that they are both creamy and chunky. Do not change the water! Just take your potato smasher and mash it all up until you see both creamy and chunky.

Place your pot of potato mixture on medium low and add all the sausage, bacon, onion and garlic mix to this,

Now, slice up 3 cups of baby spinach OR kale OR collard greens and add to the pot.

Cook another 10 to 15 minutes and serve with grilled, buttered bread.

 

Main Dishes

Make-Ahead Pear Bake (w/Vegan Option)

September 28, 2017

Entertaining is exhausting.  By the time I’ve done the planning, shopping, cleaning, arranging, last-minute cooking to have everything timed just right and served hot, not only am I filling the atmosphere with my nervous fussing, I’m  already on to onto the dishes and I’ve missed out on my own party. My solution? Delicious, make-ahead meals that taste out of this world.

I was able to make this entire dish, including my rice and salad, the night before my gathering.
The day of the party, with my meal cooked, tables set, I went to work a full day.

Once home, I simply popped  my make-ahead pear bake into the oven an hour before my guests were to arrive.  20 minutes before, I simple tossed 1/2 a cup of water into the rice (made the night before and  left on the stovetop, unrefrigerated), poured myself a glass of wine and waited for the eaters to show.

It turned out some people were arriving late but no need to panic! You can leave this dish in the oven until the cows come home. It only gets better. And the rice, once warmed, will happily stay that way on the stovetop, covered. Besides, you are going to spoon piping hot broth from the main dish onto the rice so it doesn’t have to be tongue-singeing hot.

My Goddaughter, Connie from New Zealand, inspired the  recipe below whilst visiting us in Panama.
She claimed it was an easy, fail-safe dish that company just adores. And she was correct.
In her recipe, Connie used local vegetables, pears and pork chops.

I decided to change it a bit, using sausage and chicken, and to brown my meats first.
It was a good call! This was absolutely scrumptious, the sauce had some sophisticated, developed flavors,  and the whole meal was an easy self-serve! So, I got to sit with my company and enjoy the conversation.

The bonus is that this dish is even better the next day and, it’s gluten-free if you omit serving with a roll!

Feel free to change this recipe up or down to suit your personal diet but whatever you decide, you must keep the pears, wine, sage and thyme. I am including a VEGETARIAN/VEGAN option below! So veggie folk, scroll down!  

My peeps and I are meat-eaters, so here is what I did.

Baked Pears with Sausage & Chicken

  • 3 Mild Italian Sausages, cut into halves to make 6
  • 3 Hot Italian Sausages, cut into halves to make 6
  • 4 Large chicken breasts, split into halves, making 8  (Or use 6-8 chicken thighs)
  1.  Brown all the meats in 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil into a large frying pan
  2.  Set them into a very large baking pan. I used a big lasagna pan.
  3.  Now, into the lasagna or baking dish, and arranged evenly, add:
  • 6 small new potatoes, halved
  • 1 Sweet potato, chopped into large chunks
    (If you dislike sweet potatoes, don’t worry. You will like them in this dish. I promise!)
  • 10 or 12 chunks of  peeled carrots, cut to 2″ long pieces
  • 1 Large, sweet visalia onion, cut into 8 chunks
  • 5 Bartlet pears, sliced into half-moon wedges. Ripe is great but semi-ripe will work.

4.  Into the juices from the meats in your saucepan, sautée:

  • 4 large cloves of garlic, just crushed
  • 3 or 4 cups of white wine
  • 1 cube of chicken stock (vegetarians, just use a vegetable flavor)

5.  Pour the hot wine, garlic & broth mixture over the entire meat and pears dish.
6.  Sprinkle 2 tbsp. of fresh thyme and 1 tbsp. of fresh, cut sage over the entire dish
7.  Salt and Pepper to taste

Bake 335 for 3 hours.
Serve over rice, with a soft dinner roll for dipping into the delicious broth, and a side of salad.

TIP:  When laying an array of food for self-serve, or buffet style, arrange your table so that your guests can serve from both sides of the table. (In other words, do not have your table up against a wall.) All you have to do is add a utensil on each end of the dish. This speeds up service remarkably!

VEGETARIAN/VEGAN OPTION.  Instead of chicken broth, use your favorite vegetarian flavoring.  And in place of the meat, use large chunks of dried bread. Any type of bread you like but they must dry, in the style of a traditional stuffing.  

You don’t have to purchase packages of stuffing mix, but you can.  I prefer cutting up chunks of a favorite bread and place them on a tray into a low oven until they are very firm. Also, this  is a perfect way to make good use of older bread.

Add the dried bread  chunks in after you have cut and distributed your veggies in the pan.  Now, toss  the bread in with all your vegetables and distribute evenly.

Now you are ready to  pour your wine mixture on top.  It is essential that you add the very fresh thyme and sage. You might want to use more sweet potato as well. This will be delicious. I made something similar for thanksgiving last year.

Breakfast

All Eggs are Not Created Equal

September 27, 2017

I love eggs.  I eat them poached, coddled, fried, boiled, scrambled or as an omelette. Sometimes nothing hits the spot better than a simple egg salad sandwich on squishy white bread with crunchy lettuce. (Okay not healthy, but this is one of my guilty comforts!) When I order Chinese, I always have the Egg Foo Young, basically a Chinese frittata.

Eggs are personal. Some people just can’t eat eggs. On the other hand, I once cooked for an ova-lactate vegetarian who could eat eggs all day long. Then there are my vegan friends who don’t eat any animal products at all. Others eat only the whites, but  I love the entire egg, especially the yolk. These are all personal choices and to be respected.

(Some of my vegans make the argument that they don’t eat eggs because all eggs are a potential life, a position that for me holds no water. Eggs are a byproduct of a hen. Whether there is a Rooster hanging around or not, that little lady is going to drop that egg no matter what. To my thinking, if the egg isn’t fertilized,  it’s not really a potential life, is it?).  

Before moving to Panama, I pretty much thought an egg was an egg was an egg. I couldn’t have been more wrong, but I only knew what was around me.  Before Panama, I had switched to organic eggs after hearing  the Buddhist monk, Thich That Hahn explain that “If you are going to eat an egg, eat a happy egg from a happy hen.”  But I learned that “organic”  doesn’t guarantee the hen is raised in a happy environment and these so-called organic eggs tasted and looked about the same to me with a very pale yellow yolk inside a runny liquid white.

It’s not all about taste for me.  No, I’m not an activist vegan for several reasons, but I do respect their cause and their commitment.  And, if you haven’t gone online to view how hens are treated at the big egg factories, please do. It is not pleasant. There is nothing remotely good,  appetizing or humane about factory farming.  It’s destructive and cruel. But it lines the pockets of the big companies and it does offer a less expensive product for people who need to shop economically.  The latter point I understand and I have chosen, on my tight budget, to cut corners elsewhere so that I can pay for my happy eggs. My local supermarket, Publix, now offers at least three farm-raised egg options, indicating, at least anecdotally, that the mainstream demand for fresher eggs seems to be increasing. (Links to some of these companies are posted, below.)  When I support a company selling “pasture-raised” eggs, I am supporting the local farmers who provide product for these labels. 

It wasn’t until we moved to mountains of Panama where my neighbors had hens that I had my Come-To-Jesus moment.  These eggs, even those from the supermarket, were delicious!  They were rich, rich, rich! The yolks were a deep cadmium yellow, brighter than a school bus, nearly orange and at first I was actually startled by the intensity of color.  These gorgeous yolks sat in a firm albumen that stood up on its own when you cracked it into a pan.

With fresh eggs, the white around the yolk will stand firmly after cracking. Note the color of the yolk.

All Panama eggs have brown shells.  I’ve never seen a white-shelled egg in Panama, but I think this speaks only to the breed of hen. In Mexico, eggs are white and often called  “blanquillos” meaning whites.  The only drawback to having brown eggs is that if you have little ones, it puts a damper on Easter Egg-dyeing fun … but my neighbor’s hens laid pastel colors eggs, shown in the featured picture for this post, and I was able to get some color on these.

Panama spoiled us forever. I could purchase eggs from my neighbor, Rumelia, for .15cents per. Further up the road, Grandma Gloria , who loved my cakes but who was reluctant to use her propane gas for baking, would share her pastel colored eggs in exchange for some of my oven treats. And at one point, we had a few hens of our own and Honey Bun, the prettiest, sweetest and cleanest hen ever, would come up onto my porch at 7 am, sit outside my kitchen, lay an egg and leave it for me under my table.

The flavor of an egg from a pasture-raised hen is so notably richer that my brother Nicholas, who lives lives in California where there’s a lot of conscious eating going on, exclaimed that the eggs he ate at my Panama house  were the best tasting eggs he had ever had. Ever. And he’s traveled the world.

When we moved back to the USA, my son William, who had grown up on Panama eggs, declared that he simply could not eat the supermarket eggs sold in the USA.  So I resolved to spend the big bucks!  A dozen eggs from pasture-raised hens will cost me anywhere from $4.50 to $5.99 (occasionally more). They are not quite as good as our Panama eggs, but they are noticeably better than the factory raised eggs with their pasty yellow yolks and runny whites.

Note of caution:  “Organic” does not mean cage-free. And “Cage-free” does not necessarily mean “Pasture-raised.”  “Free-range” might mean that a hen has one square foot of space.  So it’s best to get acquainted with the companies who are selling you your eggs. It’s not hard to do: A good company will have a website that answers all your questions under it’s FAQ section. Read on for links…

Here are links from two of the companies I purchase eggs from here in Florida.e Happy Eggs,  Nellies.  You will find good explanations of the differences between “free range,” “cage free,” and “pasture raised.”

 

 

 

Main Dishes

“Wicked Good” Mussels in Wine & Pernod

July 31, 2017

I grew up in New England. I know, I know…Greenwich, CT is on the edge of New York but still, it îs New England. I’m never, ever late for anything. You won’t find me on your doorstep without first calling you, and I refer to those big, long a submarine or hoagie sandwiches as a “grinder” which is very Connecticut.

I spent summer holidays eating oysters and clams raw, sans the cocktail sauce, picked fresh that morning by my dad, straight from the bay in Wellfleet, MA. The first home I ever purchased was in Norwalk, CT, famous for mussels. I also make a wicked, creamy fish chowder.

I love mussels. They are beautiful  as the subject of a painting and they are even better to eat. I only eat them steamed. But once, at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, I had some unbelievably tasty mussels on a stick, swathed in a creamy garlic sauce.

My favorite way to steam mussels is with white wine and a touch of Pernod. I was first introduced to steamed mussels by Tom Nye,  a chef  who cooked for a little restaurant in Greenwich called The Chowder House, where I waitressed as a teenager. It was located on Lewis Street, now long gone, it served only a handful of tables and  Tom Nye made the most delicious chowders and shellfish I have ever tasted.  Ever.

Tom taught me that when mussels are harvested on the full moon, they are extra plump and he showed me so with each full moon catch. Somewhere, tucked away in storage, I have a tiny box full of teensy pink and gray mussel pearls I gathered from my many Tom Nye mussel meals.

Tom steamed his mussels in the most delicious broth, good enough to eat with a spoon. He used only white wine, fresh rosemary, garlic and  shallots. Over the years, I’ve added the Pernod flavor and the tomatoes, substituted a bit of fennel for the rosemary, borrowing here and there from the best of  various restaurants where I have dined on mussels.

Here is how I prepared my mussels in the photo.

By the way, I ate all two pounds by myself.
Enjoy!
From me to you, with love and butter.

MUSSELS IN WHITE WINE WITH PERNOD

What you will need to have ready:

  1. 2 pounds fresh mussels, cleaned, Norwalk or Prince Edward Island mussels (or whatever your fish supplier has fresh).Toss out any that have begun to open. Ick…they’re dead.
  2. 2 cups of any dryish, white wine. Try any Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc
    Do not use a sweet wine such as Zinfandel or Riesling.
  3. 3/4 Shot of Pernod, or Ricard, Anise or Ouzo.
  4. 1 Tooth of minced garlic
  5. 1/8 Tsp ground fennel seed (Optional). Grind in a coffee grinder or a mortar & pestle.
  6. 2 Stalks green onion, chopped into small rounds.
  7. 1/2 Cup of grape tomatoes, whole. Or 1/2 cup chunked fresh tomato
  8. 2 Tablespoons of melted butter, in a separate dish, for dipping.
  9. A wedge of lemon

Now do this:
Set your cleaned mussels aside 2 pounds

In a large soup pot, with the flame on medium, sauté together:

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Tooth minced garlic
  • 1/8 Tsp ground fennel seed (again, optional)
  • 1 or 2 stems of green onion, chopped

After you have sautéed these in ingredients for a few minutes, add:

  • 2 Cups of any dry white wine of your choice.
  • 3/4 Ounce of Pernod, Ricard, Ouzo, or any Anise flavored liquor you have handy.
  • When the wine has been brought to a simmer, dump all the mussels in and cover the pot tightly.
  • Just before covering the pot, add the tomatoes and the sliced green onion.
    If you don’t have grape tomatoes, don’t worry. Just cut up a medium tomato into small bites.
  • Allow the pot to steam for three – five minutes, checking after three or four.
    Your mussels should have gently opened.
    As soon you see nearly all are open, turn off the flame! You do not want to overcook them.
  • Pour out the entire contents into two large bowls  and place the lemon wedge (missing from my picture) and the melted butter within reach.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: If a now-cooked mussel refuses to open, toss it.
    You want to eat only the mussels that are open.
  • Serve with your favorite dipping bread so you can soak up the broth.

ALTERNATE RECIPE

Use ONLY Wine, a Tablespoon of fresh rosemary, shallots, a pinch of salt, a little butter.

 

 

Comfort Food

Left-Over Lift: Arroz con Pollo

March 5, 2017

Arroz con Pollo is a staple of many Latin American households and there are as many ways to prepare it as there are moms and grandmothers.  I make it the way I was taught by my neighbor in the Panama Interior, with a few spins of my own.

What’s even better is Arroz con Pollo is versatile; serve it hot or cold, and it’s easy to put your own spin on it using whatever feels right to you, or what makes sense from your fridge on any given day.  Leave out the chicken and bingo! Now you have a Vegetarian/Vegan dish! 

My recipe is perfect for both left-over chicken and left-over rice.  I don’t always make it with left-overs. I’ve been known to gently poach chicken breasts and then hand-shred them. But that’s just not necessary. And if you are using freshly cooked rice, chill it before blending it into the dish.

This past Saturday was “beach out like a whale” day which  in my house. means lots of binge TV and binge food, including super market fried chicken.

On Sunday, I was  left with an ample amount of tender chicken under the cold, crusty, greasy skins.  I also had a decend amount of cold, left-over chinese take-out rice (let’s not discuss that binge!) — perfect since this recipe uses cold rice.

I peeled and tossed the chicken skins, shredded the tender meat, and set it aside.

ARROZ con POLLO

  • Place two cups of cold, cooked, white rice into a large bowl. If you have freshly cooked rice, spread it out in a wide dish and refrigerate 1/2 hour.

    To the rice, add the following, adjusting quantities according to taste.
  • 1  or 1-1/2 cups of shredded chicken breast
  • 2 Tablespoons sliced green (or black) olives
  • 1 Teaspoon of caper berries
  • 1 Very thinly sliced or shredded carrot
  • 1/4 Cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 Teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 Cup green peas (Frozen…then run under warm water.)
  • 1/4 Cup corn (Frozen is fine, just run under warm water.)

As a main course, I was taught to serve this warm and always together with a light, crispy and simple salad with Russian dressing. Personally, I love the warm rice dish together with the crisp cold of the salad.

TIPS: This is such a versatile and deceptively filling way to eat rice and chicken so change it any way that works.

  1. Add chopped celery tops (the light green only) or celery heart.
  2. Make it without the chicken and you have a Vegetarian/Vegan dish.
  3. Toss in a little olive or caper juice, or even a squeeze of lemon or vinegar
  4. Some people add chopped tomato
  5. Remember: Use cold rice. It’s easy to quickly chill freshly made rice.
  6. Serve hot or cold, as a side dish or as a main course.

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Comfort Food

Absolutely Delicious Spinach

August 9, 2016

Spinach is a funny vegetable. Kids and adults can claim to love it or loathe it, but for me, almost anyone will love it if it’s prepared in a tasty way.

When my son’s girlfriend, Sabrina, a self-proclaimed disliker of the green stuff, ordered and then devoured yummy, warm and cheesy spinach appetizer at a local restaurant, I put my mind to creating a spinach dish that would be just as tasty, but healthier.

Not every mom is as lucky as I am when it comes to kids and vegetables, especially spinach.
William eats just about anything, but when he was little, I didn’t know if this would hold when it came to something like spinach. So I would prepare what we simply called “green noodles” as my way of adding this healthy vegetable to his diet.

The recipe below blends my “green noodles” idea with the comfort of the creamy, warm and cheesy restaurant dip.  So it’s not just for kids.
It’s super as a side dish but also filling enough to eat on its own.
The bonus is that it serves up the warm comfort feeling of something like Mac & Cheese, but definitely healthier!

Here is how I prepare spinach for even the most finicky guest or visiting child.

Oh! And if you like gooey, creamy, hot spinach dips, you and your guests will devour this comforting and tasty side dish.

PREPARATION

Finely mince, and I do mean mince,  two cups of lovely, tender baby spinach (or one cup per person) until the leaves are teeny tiny. Do not cook. Just set the pile aside on the chopping board.

  1. Boil the right amount of tiny pasta until done. I measure out about 1/2 a cup, dry, per person.
    For the pasta here, I used Orzo, but you can also use little stars, or other really small pastas. I do not recommend larger noodles and wouldn’t suggest any thing bigger than an elbow macaroni.
  2. Drain pasta and return to the hot pan it was boiled in.
  3. Immediately add 3 tablespoons of good butter so it will melt into the pasta.
  4. Toss in all the uncooked, minced spinach.
  5. Add 1/4 fresh, grated parmesan cheese.
  6. Add 1/4 sour cream or creme fraische.
  7. Salt & pepper to taste.
  8. Stir until the butter, parmesan and sour cream are well combined.
  9. Top with fresh, grated parmesan.

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TIP: If you eat gluten-free, simply substitute wheat pasta for a Quinoa or Rice pasta.

Main Dishes

Mexican-Inspired Poached Chicken Lasagna with Tortilla Surprise

August 3, 2016

Long before I can remember ever seeing a commercial tortilla with any pizazz, I began jazzing up my own totillas with fresh herbs. My favorite herb to use is Rosemary, freshly cut and finely chopped.

When you add just a bit of fresh herbs and salt to your tortilla mix, the notes come through just enough to make the lovely, subtle difference you need to transform a bland tortilla base into an integral part of the dish.

Rosemary seems to go well with most dishes where I use tortillas, such as the Mexican inspired lasagna below, with eggs dishes, or even home made tortilla chips.

(Tarragon is an intereting herb to add to a tortilla mix and I encourage you to try it with a bit of lemon zest!)

How to make Elizabeth’s Mexican-Inspired Poached Chicken Lasagna.

Filling 1
Poaching the Chicken

  • Place two, plump, boneless chicken breasts into a pan with about 1-1/2 inches of water. You to not have to submerge the chicken.
  • Cover the pan.
  • Simmer (do not allow to boil)  for about 5 –  minutes.
  • Turn OFF the heat and allow chicken to rest for a full 20 minutes, cover still on.

Meanwhile, prepare your tortillas.

Making the Tortillas

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Most supermarkets carry Maseca, a corn flour mix which blends fast & easy with water. I use about equal parts of flour to water. I prefer the white Maseca which I found in Panama. Here in the USA I found only yellow so I went with that. No big deal.

Here is what I did…

First: I measured out a large, heaping spoonful of dry dough for each tortilla. For this recipe I wanted 12 tortillas. I think I probably used 16 spoonfulls for 12.

Next: I added about a 2 tablespoons of finely chopped Rosemary to the dry flour … and some salt.

Then:  I began adding water, stirring with a fork, a spoon, or my clean fingers until I achieved a moist mass of dough that easily molds into golf ball sized nuggets.

Note: This is hardly an exact science. Maseca is forgiving, so if your mix is too wet, sprinkle on more flour, or if it’s too dry, add a spritz of water.

Tortilla Press  I searched for months — online and in stores — for a simple tortilla press, coming up empty-handed. Then my little sister,  Chiclet found not one, but two heavy aluminum presses, both at the GoodWill —  both costing a whopping $5!

It’s easy breezy to press a tortilla!

  • Lay the right half of a long piece of plastic wrap over the press.
  • Place your ball of dough in the center.
  • Fold the upper half of the plastic wrap over the top, press and… Presto!
  • Peel the plastic wrap slowly and flop your tortilla into a hot skillet. No oil necessary!
  • The tortilla will likely bubble up and that’s when you flip it, just one time. If it doesn’t form a bubble, flip it after about a minute. Cook the tortilla another minute and set it aside on a plate. Repeat until you have 12 stacked up.  It does not matter if they are softer or crispier. They are going to bake in the oven anyway. As I said, this is not an exact process and it is forgiving.

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Filling 2
Layering it all together

  • Proper cooks shred their now cooked and cooled chicken breasts with a fork. I confess, I pull apart my chicken threads with clean fingers. I’m hyper and I have no patience.
  • Butter the bottom of your favorite baking or lasagna dish.
  • Lay down four tortillas and cover with half the shredded chicken.

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  • Over the chicken, layer on thinly sliced, sweet, white onion.
  • Now add fesh, chopped cilantro, about 1/4 cup.
  • Add fresh, sliced tomato OR canned, chopped tomato
  • Place evenly dots of guacamole (optional) and then cream or sour cream. I mixed up a combination of sour cream and Nestle canned cream, added salt, and dotted my dish with this.
  • Now add dots of Salsa Verde or Rotel salsa.
  • Over all this, lay on some Provolone cheese. I prefer provolone because it is less gooey, but you can feel free to use mozzerella or any melty cheese of your choice, such as Monterrey Jack, etc. It doesn’t matter.
  • Cover this with four more tortillas and repeat the above process.
  • Bake at 350 for 1/2 an hour. Cut and serve

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Continue Reading…

Main Dishes

Sweet ‘n Hot Coconut Plantain Chicken

August 17, 2015

It’s neither too sweet, nor too hot, but just right.
Need I say more?

Preparation:

Heat 2 tablespoons of Coconut Oil in a large frying pan.

  • Sear 4 pieces of your favorite chicken cuts,  skin side down, until brown
  • Add 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground or chopped ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped medium-sweet plantain (skins are yellow, not black)
  • 1/cup light coconut milk or regular
  • 1/4 cup any favorite liquid Adobo sauce (see photo of mine, but use any brand you like.)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Cover and simmer 45 minutes. Add water if sauce gets too thick.
    Serve on a platter with Quinoa/Rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

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TIP: If I had thought of it in time, I would have added some pan roasted cashews, or peanuts.

 

Comfort Food

Key 2 World’s Best Roast Chicken!

June 10, 2015

Yes, I am boldly claiming to have been handed the key to making the world’s tastiest roast chicken!
But wait… Lest I be accused of arrogance, the recipe isn’t mine, but belongs to my little sister, Claire who is, in my opinion, the better cook.

image“Chicklet,” as she’s known within our family, has grown up in restaurants since the age of eight, when her mom (my stepmother) started the best hot dog truck in Greenwich, Connecticut, eventually graduating to a full on restaurant, one of several.  Like e all of us children of Billy Ballard, she too has the “feeding gene” and has been honing her recipes to perfection for years. We think her chicken is out of this world and we are serious, critical eaters!

There is a trick to how my sister turns an ordinary,  3- 4 pound chicken, into an explosion of tenderness and flavor. Here is exactly how she accomplishes this.

Chicklet’s Chicken & Tastiest Roasted Carrots

HERE IS THE KEY !
Before you prepare your chicken
, begin pre-heating your oven to a whopping 450°.
If you do not heat to this temperature, your chicken will not be the best in the world! Do not lower your oven temperature during roasting.

FOR THE CARROTS

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Roasted Rainbow Carrots

  • Peel 12 -15 medium carrots into thin strips. Claire uses a colorful array of Rainbow Carrots from Trader Joe’s, but your everyday orange variety will do just fine!
  • Place your carrot strips into a roasting pan.
  • Lightly douse or toss them with extra virgin olive oil.
  • Now sprinkle with your favorite salt and pepper to taste, and pop the pan, uncovered, into the oven, as it is heating up.
  • It does not matter if the oven is hot. Just leave these in the oven and they will be perfectly done when your chicken is cooked.

FOR THE CHICKEN

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1 Whole Chicken, generally 4-5 pounds, but adjust for size accordingly. (Claire always buys free-range and organic, which is not only humane, but the meat will be natural, not spongy and slimy, as factory-farmed chicken inevitably is. Ask any chef.)

Inside the Chicken’s Cavity, sprinkle:

  • 1 Tablespoon of kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder (not fresh, use the powder. We are doing this one Chicklet’s way.)
  • 1 Tablespoon of thyme, fresh is nice but Chicklet often uses dried, with a great result!
  • 1 Whole Orange, with the rind, cut into 4-6  sections. You may also add a lemon. The key is to add a good amount of citrus, but Claire swears by at least one orange!
  • Now, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil into the chicken’s cavity.

Outside the Chicken:

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1. Rub your chicken with olive oil so your spices will stick.
2. Sprinkle all over and around the chicken’s surface

  • 1-2  Tablespoons of kosher salt,
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder
  •  1-3 Tablespoons of Thyme

3.  Pour 1/2 cup olive around the chicken, right into the pan.
4.  Pour 1 cup white wine (any white variety, but not too sweet!)
5.  Add, around the outside of the chicken,  1 diced onion.
6.  Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth.

Roast, uncovered, until done, about 1 hour for a 3 pound chicken and about 1 hour, 20 minutes for a 4 pound chicken.

Important Tips!
Keep your oven at 450°.

About 40 minutes into roasting, check to see that there is enough liquid. If not, feel free to add some more wine and/or  chicken broth.