Browsing Category

Main Dishes

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.

image

 

 

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.

image

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

image

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.

image

Pimageimageimage

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.

image

  • 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

image

imageimageimage

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.

image image

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

image

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

image image image image

 

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:

image image image image

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.

 

 

 

Main Dishes

A new way to serve Veggie sides

June 4, 2015

Instead of serving the usual side of steamed cauliflower, why not serve your main vegetable side as a pancake!
Cauliflower
Cakes:

image
You can toss all your ingredients, all at once, into a bowl, as in the photo.

  • 1 Cup of Cauliflower, processed into rice-size morsels
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/2 Cup Gluten-Free Baking Mix
  • 1/2 Cup of Pesto Sauce
  • 1/3 Cup milk, or enough to blend into pancake consistency
  • Salt & Pepper to taste.

Mix all ingredients together in the bowl until completely blended.
If your mix is too dry, add milk. If too wet, add some more Baking Mix.

Heat 1 Tablespoon of Clarified Butter OR Coconut Oil OR Olive Oil and then spoon into a hot frying pan.  Cover pan and immediately reduce heat to low.  When pancakes are solid enough to flip, turn them and cook the other side for about 1 minute, or until done.

imageimage

Tip: For a little zing, add about 5 drops of Sirracha or favorite hot sauce.

Main Dishes

Salad Tricks

April 22, 2015

imageimage

I confess…I am a salad-making sinner. I like my salads to feel like a real meal, filling, something of substance that I can scoop up, even with a spoon. I have a special way I prepare all my salads and it works great for large parties, and for getting extra greens into the kids.

Now I have a way more sophisticated brother, Nicholas, who spent years in France and who falls of the much finer side of cooking and dining. He prepares his salads using  either the whole lettuce leaf, or if torn, done so gently, but still left in large pieces. He says this is the proper way to serve a salad.  I’m sure he’s right.

But okay…. try to look cute and impress your date while wrestling a leaf of lettuce the size of a cat’s head into your mouth … and do this gracefully, without splattering oil on your fine silk blouse.  You can cut gently, but that gets awkward if the lettuce is defiant, holding on to the plate, refusing to be cut, then suddenly letting go, causing your knife and fork to send the lettuce shooting off your plate.  Finally, if the salad is not tossed, you have to find a way to get the dressing on all your salad without making this a distracting project that keeps you from having charming conversation.

So I have developed a method of salad-preparation that solves all these issues and has added benefits!

  • Your guests will find this easy to eat and they will be utterly full when through!
  • With each bite, you will get the satisfying flavor of the dressing without needing to struggle for the flavor.
  • You can customize each salad — easily — for guests that have dietary restrictions.
  • You will get twice the greens into your kids.
  • If you are having salad as a main course for a luncheon, you can get all the work done ahead of time, until the plating.

image

image

Here is how I prepare my salads…

First
I gently separate all my lettuce leaves and soak them about 10 minutes in a tub of water with vinegar & salt just to make sure they are really clean.

Second
I then tear them tenderly into smaller pieces and place them in a salad spinner (the greatest thing since grated cheese!). I spin until completely dry… (nothing worse that watery, drippy lettuce on a plate.)
So, my lettuce is washed and dried and I can set it aside in the fridge until I am ready to continue. I usually place the greens in a large bowl and cover with a damp tea towel until you are ready to put your salad together.

Tip: I like to store individual portions of cleaned lettuce in baggies, sucking  the air out of each baggie but not tightly enough to bruise, then tie the baggie air-tight and keep in my vegetable drawer for a later day. Voila! Instant salad.

Third
I have all my salad toppings ready and handy. These I prepare long before my guests arrive so I have little pressure at meal time.  For example, if I am using carrots, I have them already lightly steamed & sliced (Carrots are easier to eat and healthier lightly steamed). If using chicken, unless I am grilling it, I have it poached and pulled. In one photo on this posting you can see I used a lovely pear in my salad and I had it sliced and ready to go. Same with the hard-boiled egg, already cooked, peeled and at the ready.

Fourth
Putting it all together! This is the most important part of the process.

When it’s time to plate up and serve, I measure out two large handfuls per person of lettuce and place into a large, large bowl. Make each handful really hearty bunches, more than would fit on a plate before chopping.

Fifth
I sprinkle about half dressing I think I will need, measuring about 2 tablespoons per person. (Go light! Dressing is like hair cuts, in reverse. Once the hair is cut, you can’t put it back. And once you’ve added too much dressing, you can’t take it out. )  I can place dressing on the table .

Sixth
Here’s the ticket! Holding the bowl with my left hand (I am right-handed)  I start cutting my lettuces up furiously, with scissors. That’s right, scissors, the kind you get at the dollar store or office supply. The cheap ones. Nothing fancy, as long as they cut. I can’t live without scissors in a kitchen.

I use a system of cutting and turning the bowl, I go fast, developing a sort of rhythm, cut…turn…mix a little;  cut…turn…mix a little. I do this until the salad is reduced by nearly half, the leaves appear bite-size or smaller, the dressing is incorporated but not too heavy.  You do not want the salad to be wilted.

Plating:
As I have my plates lined up and all my toppings at hand, the rest is simple.
Then I fill each plate all the way to the sides and lay on my toppings in a way that I think looks pretty.

Tip: If you have guests with special diet requirements, it’s easy to cater to them by simply keeping out certain items. If someone can’t eat nuts, leave the nuts off that plate!  I once had 8 women over and one had just learned she was diabetic, so for her plate, I simply added more tomatoes, nuts, egg, and left off the potatoes and croutons! Everyone was happy.

 

Comfort Food

Easy Veggie Comfort

April 22, 2015

I often feel that if I eat vegetarian or vegan, I’m going to be left wanting. I have nothing against the raw food champions, but me? I like my food warm and creamy.

This dish not only fills the comfort-food bill, it fills you up and it does so without dairy or meat. It’s vegetarian healthy (vegan if you use a pesto that does not include Parmesian).

Serve up a large bowl for lunch, or serve it as a side dish to a main course.

Mushroom Comfort

Lace the bottom of a your favorite frying or sauté pan with 1-2 tbsp. coconut oil (or substitute cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil, or half & half, mixing the oils), and heat.

Add to the pan, and  in this order:
2 Teeth garlic, minced
1 Medium onion, thinly sliced
Sautee onion and garlic about a minute, then add in:
2 Cups sliced mushrooms (any kind)
2 Cups sliced zucchini (I cut half-moons to match the mushroom shapes).
Salt & Pepper to taste.

Sauté together until the mushrooms are soft, but not limp,  and the zuchini is softening, but not going clear. You want it to hold a little firmness.

Add 3 tbsp of your favorite home-made or jarred Pesto (vegans, you will want to use a pesto that huses a substitute for the Parmesian cheese or incorporates extra nuts and basil).

Stir together until hot and then… add the juice of 1/2 a lemon.
This is going to really give the dish some zing and bring out the flavors.

Vegetarians and meat-eaters, top with grated Parmesian.
Vegans, opt out of the cheese and top with toasted nuts.

 

Comfort Food

Pesto Pasta “Fake Out!”

April 13, 2015

This dis has it all: Gluten- and Grain-free, fits Paleo, Vegan & Veggie. But meat-lovers won’t be let down.

I adore Pesto. I could eat it with a spoon  (in my nightie, sneaking a late-night taste by the romantic light of the refrigerator…)

For those of us who are avoid carbohydratess such as  pasta, or all the “white” yummy things that keep the sugar up and those extra pounds clinging to our frames, there is salvation!

I don’t like moderation, so you can imagine how I  handle deprivation.
Ah… but there is a way to have your Pesto  with a pasta feel… sans the guilt and the carbs.  Zoodles! Or zuchini noodles, also known as zuchini spaghetti, or zuchini pasta/noodles.  Serve it up as a main dish, or a yummy side. It’s also a fun way to get some veggies into the kids.  (Kids love Pesto!)

For the Fake-Out Pasta
2 Cups zuchinni, sliced into thin slivers, or julienned (you can purchase a “spiralizer” or noodle maker online. I like the Zen feel of slicing.)
1 Pot of boiling water, enough to take the zuchinni
Have a saucepan ready on the stove. warmed & with a pad of butter or a shake of Olive Oil
Have a strainer handy, near your sink
Blanch your zuchinni for only about 2 minutes in the boiling water, till the strands are limp but still have a tad of firmness.
Drain & strain in the sink. You can store these in the refrigerator for later, or use them right away, as follows:

Simply plunk all those lovely, soft zuchinni “noodles”  straight into your warming saucepan, the butter or oil having already been melted.
Using a fork, gently toss as you stir in in 4 tablespoons of Pesto (recipe below, or use a good jarred brand).

Options:
I topped mine, seen in the photo, with some tarragon & tarragon flowers. I enjoy the licorice-like flavor combined with the basil from the Pesto. You might want to top yours with some toasted Pine Nuts or Walnuts?  Some chopped Tomatoes could be nice, don’t you think? And the cool mixed with the warm would be interesting.  If you are not Vegan or Paleo, you can sprinkle on some grated Parmesian.  Salt & Pepper to taste, and dig in.

Oh, and hey, it’s zuchinni, so have some more!

Pesto, My Way
In a food processor, blender, or using a hand-blender, process:

2 Cups packed, fresh basil leaves
3 Teeth garlic, smashed
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 – 1/3 Cup Olive Oil (or drizzle in a little more if you see you need it when you start blending)
1/3 Cup Walnuts, lightly toasted (or Pine Nuts, which is traditional)
Juice 1/4 Lemon
Salt & Pepper to Taste

Tip: If you find you don’t have quite enough sauce, you can make it “stretch,” do this:  just before serving , add to your Pesto 1/2 cup boiling water and 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (not you, Vegans!).

Tip: Break the rules: don’t be married to using only the traditional Pine Nuts. I have gotten quite used to Walnuts, and I think it would be interesting to experiment with other nuts you have handy, such as Brazil or Pecan.( But not peanuts.)

Comfort Food

Hearty Veggie Bake!

April 4, 2015

What is a cook to do with left-over, deliciously roasted Squash & Taro Root?  (Or any roasted root veggies?)

imageimage

Line a baking dish with 4 corn tortillas warmed in a spritz of olive oil.
On top of these, layer on some smashed, already roasted squash & taro (any baked vegetables that you have, such as zuchini, carrots, potato, yucca, etc.). Season more if you like.

Next, chop up some Kale-Like leaf…stems and all! (I had something kale-like  from the market, but spinach, mustard greens, any heavy leaf will be fine!). Lightly sautee these with a half a sliced onion & one tooth of garlic, salt & pepper, just until wilted. Then strew on top of the layer of roasted roots.

Now, if you have some handy,  smash up a handful of garbanzo beans just using a fork and mix them with home-made Ricotta (or farmer cheese or even cottage cheese!). Add this to your layer.

image

image

Next comes a colorful layer of sliced, ripe tomatoes. To these dab on a little  “natilla” which is a very light sour cream but it’s actually not acid, like a creme fraische

(Do not use yogurt, but something on the sweeter side.) Finish it all off with another layer of warmed corn tortillas, and slather across these some spicy red Mexican salsa (Salsa Verde would also be lovely!).

imageimage

Bake at 325 until hot and serve.
This is hearty, rich and delicious.  Even without meat, it tastes “meaty.”
Oh … No need to tell the kids what is in here.

imageimage