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Main Dishes

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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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.

 

 

 

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:

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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.

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

Main Dishes

Salad Tricks

April 22, 2015

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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.

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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?)

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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Comfort Food

Presto, Pesto!

March 18, 2015

What is it about Pesto that it makes everything extra scrumptious? Pesto is a very handy ingredient to have around if you have unexpected company and don’t know what to make in a pinch. Ditto if kids come over: Like Mac’ ‘n Cheese, almost everyone likes some kind of noodle smothered in Pesto.

Not everyone where I live has tasted Pesto, and I love to take in the look of happy surprise when a child takes a first swallow of warm pasta with yummy pesto. Pesto is also really convenient to have on hand since it can be served hot or cold, and it both freezes and defrosts well.

If you have access to fresh basil, it’s easy to make your own, plus some extra for freezing. If you don’t feel like whipping it up, there are many tasty brands to be found at the supermarket in jars (I don’t like the Pesto flavoring envelopes.)

It’s not always easy or within my budget to find pine nuts, so I have come to substitute Walnuts as my standard recipe, and so far, no one has noticed.  Plus, Walnuts are healthy. Here’s my recipe for Pesto sauce, served in the photo over gluten-free rice noodles and then mixed — at the last minute and while the noodles are hot — with whole Arugula or Spinach leaves. (Although not shown in the photo, this dish is nicer and more finished when topped off with toasted Walnuts or Pine Nuts or Pecans.)

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.)

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Main Dishes

Layer, Layer

March 18, 2015

Layering food for a lasagna, or in this case, a Mexican Inspired Dish, is a little like wearing fancy under clothing. You might be the only one who knows, but you feel better. Still, layering flavors and ingredients evenly in your dish will ensure that all the flavors you put into your meal are distributed and enjoyable with each bite.  Here’s a recent concoction, Mexican inspired and gluten-free, that I cooked up, beautifully layered, completely delicious.

12 Corn Tortillas
3 Breasts of Chicken, Poached, then pulled
Shredded Cabbage
Sliced Tomatoes
Sliced Onion
1 Cup Ricotta Cheese
1/2 Cup Natilla (or anything like creme fraiche, which is sweeter than sour cream)
8 oz Salsa Verde
Provolone OR Mozzerella

Coat your casserole dish with a bit of light oil or Pam
Lay down 6 Tortillas (I like to trim mine to fit the corners)
Spoon on and spread some Salsa Verde, just to moisten
Layer on your pulled chicken
Layer on some shredded cabbage
Lay down your sliced tomatoes
Cover with 6 more Tortillas and begin again
This time Layer on:
Chicken
Tomatoes
Salsa Verde
Ricotta
Cream/Natilla
Onions
Salsa Verde
Provolone or Mozzerella
Top with remaining 6 Tortillas
Cover with cheese & bake at 350 until bubbling hot, about 30 minutes.

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