Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad

As the weather gets warmer, I try to have salads for dinner at least once per week. It just seems appropriate—warmer weather means eating less and “cooking” less. The problem is, though, that I’m not really a salad person (I’ll take the fat with a side of cholesterol, please), so to get myself to eat salads more I need to find ones that have something special to offer, such as a special ingredient or a phenomenal dressing. I usually like creamy dressings (I have a great mayo-based one—stay tuned for that), but vinaigrettes can be great, too.

In fact, a vinaigrette is what initially caught my attention about this pecan-crusted chicken salad. This salad is dressed with—are you ready?—caramel-citrus vinaigrette. As in, there’s actual caramel sauce right in the dressing. I used Smucker's Caramel Topping, which I think is meant for ice cream, and it was awesome! Not only is the dressing delicious on its own, but it’s a perfect accompaniment to the chicken, which is coated with a cinnamon-and-sugar pecan mixture. This is my kind of salad.

I changed the recipe just a bit. For the actual salad part I used romaine, cucumber, tomatoes, and scallions, but the original calls for mixed greens, tomato, and carrot, and that would be good, too. I made the dressing taste even more caramelly by using half as much olive oil as called for, and it was deliciously sweet, but not too much so. At least not for me.

Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad
adapted from Pecan Crusted Chicken over Field Greens
Serves 4

For the chicken:

4 chicken breast halves, pounded to an even 1/2-inch thickness
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 cups crushed pecan pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon oil

For the greens:

2 hearts of romaine, chopped
4 Roma tomatoes, sliced
2 small cucumbers, seeded and sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced

For the vinaigrette:

1/3 cup caramel sauce
2 teaspoons water
1/4 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lime, zested, optional
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the chicken:

Place chicken and buttermilk in a plastic bag and allow to sit for 15 minutes up to overnight.

While chicken is marinating, combine pecans with spices and mix well. Place mixture into a shallow dish. Remove chicken and allow excess buttermilk to drain. Coat both sides of the chicken pieces with the pecan/spice mixture. Lightly press in to chicken.

Place a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Heat oil and, working in two batches, sauté chicken for about 4-5 minutes per side, making sure pecan coating has set before flipping. When chicken is done and has slightly cooled, slice and arrange over salad bed.

For the vinaigrette:

Combine the caramel sauce with water and citrus juices and whisk. While whisking, drizzle in olive oil, lime zest, if using, and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Date-and-Walnut Quick Bread

Date-and-walnut has always been one of my favorite combinations. My absolute favorite use of these two goodies is date-and-walnut pinwheel cookies. My grandmom makes these every Christmas and was kind enough to pass the recipe on to me. The recipe requires the making and rolling out of dough though, so I very rarely make them, even though they’re delicious. I have a recipe for date-and-walnut snack bars that starts with boxed vanilla cake mix, and I cling to that as a surrogate.

As I’ve said before, I’m not much of a baker. I also like raisin, date, and walnut instant oatmeal—all that requires is boiling water.

So that’s why I love this recipe for Date-and-Walnut Quick Bread. Quick breads are the best. This one is easy and delicious. The bread is moist and fragrant and makes a lovely breakfast with some hot tea. It really doesn’t need to be slathered with honey butter, but I did it anyway because I laugh in the face of heart disease.

I don’t have a modified recipe because I followed the original exactly, all except for a few gratings of nutmeg added to the batter. It’s a great recipe. The spread is just room temperature butter mixed with an equal part of honey, and the proportions are easily adjusted depending on how sweet you like it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Garlic Oven Fries with Pesto Mayonnaise

I have a sincere and undying love of mayonnaise. I enjoy adding large quantities of it to many things. On nights when I don’t feel like cooking, Adam will bring Subway home, and I will sit on the couch with my sub, mayonnaise jar beside me, butter knife in hand.

I’m afraid to tell you any more than that. Let’s just say that there’s lots of mayonnaise involved.

We have burgers a couple times per month, and I must have mayonnaise on my burger. We usually have fries with our burgers, and I like to have mayonnaise with my fries, as well. On burger-and-fry night, I usually make garlic mayo, which is just mayonnaise mixed with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, and a clove or two of grated garlic. Adam, who claims not to like mayonnaise, uses his fries to shovel the stuff in by the mouthful.

One of my favorite light meals is a tomato sandwich. Vine-ripened salted tomato slices, fresh basil leaves, and mayonnaise on white bread. That’s it. I love basil as well, and basil and mayo is so, so good. So when I saw Emeril’s recipe for Pesto Mayonnaise, I don’t have to tell you that I was all over it like mayo on my Subway sandwich. I made it tonight for burger-and-fry night, along with some oven-baked garlic fries.

Oven-baked fries can be a disappointment, because it’s hard to get them as nice and crispy as fried ones. But then I found another Emeril recipe, this one for oven-baked fries, that calls for coating the fries with a beaten egg white before baking them at a high temperature. The egg white forms a crackly coating on the outside of the fries and—voilà—crispy oven fries.

Just to really kick it up, I tossed the fries in some garlic butter when they were done in the oven. Then I served them with turkey burgers and, of course, the pesto mayo. I have some of the mayo left over, and I know what I’ll be having for lunch tomorrow: a tomato sandwich with pesto mayonnaise. Yum!

Garlic Oven Fries with Pesto Mayonnaise
Adapted from Emeril’s Oven Fries and Pesto Mayonnaise

Pesto mayonnaise, recipe follows
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 large baking potatoes, peeled, about 1 1/2 pounds
1 large egg white
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
4 garlic cloves, minced

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, and grease the parchment with the vegetable oil.

Slice potatoes lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Turn each slice flat and slice again lengthwise into even fries, 1/2-inch thick. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg white until very light and foamy. Add the potatoes to the egg whites and toss to coat evenly.

Spread the coated potatoes on the prepared baking sheet, not touching, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy, turning halfway through the cooking time with a spatula.

Melt butter in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat, and cook garlic in butter for 2 minutes, stirring so garlic doesn't burn. Pour garlic butter over fries, toss to coat, and serve immediately with pesto mayonnaise.

Pesto Mayonnaise

1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves (about 2 ounces)
1/3 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup mayonnaise

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the basil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and pepper and puree, scraping down the sides as needed. With the machine running, add the oil through the feed tube and process until the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the Parmesan and process for 15 seconds.

Transfer to a bowl and add the mayonnaise, stirring to blend well. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The Six-Word-Memoir craze has come my way, and I’ve been tagged by Elle of one of my favorite blogs, Elle’s New England Kitchen. If you don’t know, being tagged for the Six-Word Memoir means that you need to describe yourself in six words. It’s fun for sure, but definitely harder than it sounds.

The trouble, for me, is that you can’t really give an entire picture of a person in six words, so it’s hard to pick which six words to use. But I know that if I think about it too much I’ll just never get it done, so here are my six words, for better or worse:


Not the prettiest picture, is it? Did you notice that one of those words is “critical”? Yeah, that's me.

The next task after writing your memoir is to tag a few other people to play along. Here’s a list of the blogs I’m tagging:

Closet Cooking
Canela & Comino
Nina’s Kitchen
Natural Cuisine
Family, Friends, and Food
The Chocolate Peanut Butter Gallery

These are all really great blogs, so definitely stop by and check them out if you haven’t already.

Have fun!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Brunch Panzanella

I’ve been wanting to make panzanella for a really long time. But panzanella is usually made with tomatoes, and this posed a bit of a problem for me. I happen to live with someone who refuses to eat fresh tomatoes. A freak of nature, if you will. And I know I could make the panzanella just for myself, but I never bothered. If there’s something that I like and Adam doesn’t, it usually doesn’t get made. This is mostly just laziness on my part. If I’m going to make something, I want it to be something we’ll both enjoy. And if I’m cooking for myself alone, I’m not making panzanella. I’m making Hot Pockets or some other culinary no-no that I probably shouldn’t be admitting publicly. Like I said, I’m lazy.

So when I saw a recipe for Brunch Panzanella that did not include tomatoes, I jumped all over it. But the merits of this dish go far beyond a simple omission of tomatoes. This panzanella has all sorts of goodies, such as strawberries, blueberries, raisins, and nuts.

I made a few changes to the recipe, but not many. I used walnuts instead of almonds, because that’s what I had, and amaretto instead of brandy, because that’s my favorite. I topped mine with whipped cream, because I’m like that, but you could also top it with yogurt to make it more healthy and breakfasty. I also found that the proportions for the recipe were a bit off (I ended up with less brown butter syrup than the recipe said I should have), so I’ve cleaned it up a bit and am including the modified version below. You can find the original here.

This recipe is full of possibilities. I’m already thinking of what other combinations of fruits, nuts, and liqueurs might be good. Yum!

This recipe is, as the name suggests, intended for brunch, but I also think it would make a great light supper on a warm night.

Brunch Panzanella
adapted from Brunch Panzanella

3 servings

2 cups macerated strawberries, recipe follows
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2-pound Italian country-style loaf of bread

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon amaretto
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

4-5 oz. blueberries, washed
1/4 cup lightly packed torn mint leaves
1 cup heavy cream, lightly whipped (or vanilla yogurt)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare macerated strawberries, and refrigerate until ready for use.

Toast walnuts in a dry pan over medium heat, about 10 minutes or until fragrant, and reserve until ready for use.

Place the raisins in a small bowl. Cover with hot water. Allow the raisins to plump for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve until ready for use.

Cube bread into approximately 1/2-inch chunks. You should have about 4 cups. Reserve until ready for use.

Make the brown butter syrup. Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over high heat, and cook until it browns. Add the bay leaf and stand back (it might pop). Lower the heat to medium and add the sugar to the pan and stir. When the sugar has melted, add the amaretto and stand back (it might flame). Add the lemon juice. Cook for 15 seconds, then add the orange juice and salt. Stir and cook until the liquid has reduced and reached a syrupy consistency. You should have about 1/2 cup. Remove the bay leaf.

Place the cubed bread in a large bowl and toss with half of the brown butter syrup. Spread the bread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden and crispy on the outside and still chewy inside, 15 to 20 minutes, turning half-way through for even coloring.

When done, return bread to bowl and add remaining brown butter syrup, walnuts, raisins, blueberries, and mint. Toss well. To serve, spoon some strawberries into a bowl. Spoon some panzanella beside the strawberries. Spoon some whipped cream (or vanilla yogurt) over the strawberries. Garnish with fresh mint.

Macerated Strawberries

1 pound strawberries, washed and halved
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well until sugar is distributed and strawberries are evenly coated.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Soup and Sammy

So I'm continuing to love my subscription to Everyday Food. Yesterday I made Green-Pea Soup with Cheddar-Scallion Panini from the March issue. It's very fast and very easy. The panino is basically a grilled cheese with scallions, and the soup is mostly pureed frozen peas and chicken broth.

By the way, I have a story about frozen peas. I recently caught an episode of Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello in which Michael was making a pea dish with frozen peas and, I suppose, felt the need to justify not using fresh peas. He told a story about how, when he was a young chef in France, he asked one of the older chefs how he got his pea sauce to be such a fresh, vibrant green. The chef took Michael over to the freezer and revealed a stash of frozen peas. "Monsieur, it is zee Birds Eye peas," said the chef. I'm paraphrasing here, but Michael definitely said that the French chef showed him "Birds Eye" peas. And you know what? They are pretty darn good.

That being said, the soup, while fresh and bright, is lacking a bit of oomph. I'm not sure what else to do with it, but I thought it might be good with some seasoned croutons floating on top. I served this for dinner but, because it's so light, I think it would make a better lunch. And the sandwich is fabulous. Be sure to use sharp cheddar.

The complete recipe is here. I followed it exactly except for adding extra lemon juice, salt, and pepper to the soup.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wild Cherry M&M Cookies

OK, first things first. How cute is this guy?

Adam and I went to see the cherry blossoms on Friday, and we spotted this squirrel chowing down on a soft pretzel. Before I did anything else, I had to show you that picture. Now that I’ve shared the cuteness, we can move on to me chowing down on cookies.

Some time last week I was browsing the web and discovered that there are now wild-cherry-flavored M&Ms. I can’t remember where I found out, and I don’t know how long these have been around without me realizing it, but I became fixated on getting some. This weekend I found them on sale at CVS (buy one get one free!) and I knew what I had to do.

I had to make cookies.

I knew right away which recipe I wanted to use. I recently found a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for oatmeal cookies with chocolate chunks and dried cherries. I figured this would be perfect, as I could just replace the chocolate and cherries in the recipe with my M&Ms.

My assessment of these cookies is what you might guess: If you like these M&Ms, you’ll like the cookies; if you don’t, well . . . you get the picture. The M&Ms remind me of the chocolate-covered cherry candies that you sometimes find in boxes of chocolate around Valentine’s Day. They’re very sweet, and the flavor is quite different from the tartness of a dried cherry.

The recipe itself is a good one, no matter which way you decide to go with it. I need to mention though that, as written, this recipe makes 16 huge cookies. You’re supposed to make the batter when your butter has softened but is still cool. I wonder if this step is to keep the cookies from spreading too much, because I let my butter come to room temperature and my cookies spread quite a bit. If you don’t feel like hovering around your butter waiting for it to hit the perfect temperature and softness, you could try setting up your cookies on baking sheets and then popping them in the fridge for a few minutes before baking. Or just make smaller cookies.

Wild Cherry M&M Cookies
Adapted from Chocolate-Chunk Oatmeal Cookies with Pecans and Dried Cherries

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup toasted chopped pecans
1 3/4 cups wild cherry M&Ms
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. In second medium bowl, stir together oats, pecans, and M&Ms.

In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until no sugar lumps remain. Add in egg and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated. Add flour mixture and beat until just combined. Finally, with rubber spatula, fold in pecans and M&Ms.

Divide dough evenly into 16 portions, then roll between palms into balls about 2 inches in diameter. Stagger 8 balls on each baking sheet, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart. Using hands, gently press each dough ball to 1-inch thickness. Bake both baking sheets 12 minutes, rotate them front to back and top to bottom, then continue to bake until cookies are medium brown and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, about 8 minutes longer. Do not over bake.

Cool cookies on baking sheets on wire rack 5 minutes; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Baked Falafel Pitas

I never had falafel before yesterday. I wasn’t even sure what it was. Just in case I’m not the last person on the planet who didn’t already know this, falafel refers to a deep-fried cake or patty that’s made of spiced fava beans or chickpeas. Anyway, I saw Ellie Krieger make a baked version recently, and it looked so good and easy that I had to try it.

You just take some chickpeas, onion, garlic, cumin, coriander, parsley, cilantro, and olive oil and mash them all together or pulse them in the food processor, and then you form the mixture into little balls and bake them in the oven for 40 minutes. I left out the cilantro because Adam doesn’t like it, and, as I was making the falafel balls, I rolled them in some breadcrumbs, just a little, to help them adhere. The breadcrumb step may not have been necessary, but some reviews of this recipe said that the falafel balls fall apart, so I was taking an extra precaution. Mine held together nicely and developed a golden outer crust.

Since I’ve never had falafel before I can’t compare these to the traditional deep-fried version, but I still say they were pretty good. The recipe calls for them to be served with tahini sauce, which is what I did, but I think next time I’ll make a nice tzatziki to go with them. This time around I only had half a cucumber in the fridge, and I chopped it up and stuffed it in the pitas.

Baked Falafel Pitas
Adapted from Ellie Krieger’s Baked Felafel Sandwiches

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup parsley leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Breadcrumbs, for forming balls (optional)

Tahini Sauce:
1/2 cup pure tahini paste
3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice
3 to 4 tablespoons water, plus more if necessary

1 cup shredded romaine lettuce
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 medium cucumber, seeded, peeled and chopped

4 pita pockets, sliced open

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Combine all falafel ingredients except 1 tablespoon olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Process for 10 seconds. Stop motor and scrape down sides of bowl, then pulse for another 10 seconds, until all ingredients are well incorporated but mixture is still slightly coarse and grainy. Form mixture into 16 falafel balls, adding breadcrumbs sparingly if necessary, and brush with remaining tablespoon olive oil. Bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet for 20 minutes; flip falafel balls and bake an additional 20 minutes or until falafel balls are crisp and browned.

Combine tahini, lemon juice, and water and stir to incorporate, adding more water to achieve desired consistency. Reserve.

Toss together lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers in a bowl. Warm pita breads for 5 minutes in oven. Fill each pita with 3/4 cup salad, 4 falafel balls, and 1/4 cup tahini sauce.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Arugula Salad with Spring Onions and Blood Orange Vinaigrette

I have previously expressed my love for the blood orange and what it can do for a martini. But blood oranges aren’t only great for martinis, of course. They also make a darn tasty salad. I used them this evening in Emeril’s Arugula Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette and discovered that arugula and blood oranges make an amazing pair. The arugula is peppery, the blood orange is tart, and the marriage of the two strikes the perfect balance. Add some romaine or any other green that you like, top with some spring onions, and you have a delicious jewel-toned salad.

I’m thinking I’ll submit this post to Nutriferia, which is doing a roundup of spring salads. Sounds like a great idea!

Nutriferia badge

Blood oranges will be around until May, so get some while you can and enjoy this gorgeous delicious fruit.

Arugula Salad with Spring Onions and Blood Orange Vinaigrette
adapted from Arugula Salad with Blood Orange Vinaigrette

3 cups arugula
2 cup romaine
2 spring onions, sliced
2 blood oranges, segmented
Blood Orange Vinaigrette, recipe follows

Combine arugula, romaine, scallions, and orange segments in a bowl. Toss with vinaigrette to coat. Serve immediately.

Blood Orange Vinaigrette
1/2 cup blood orange juice
1 finely chopped spring onion
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Whisk together juice, onion, mustard, sugar, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil in a steady stream until combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Noodle Love V: Spaghetti Rigati

Adam has cooked for me a few times. There was soup once when I was sick. There were also some sandwiches here and there which, even though that’s not technically “cooking,” I will count because, somehow, a sandwich always tastes better when somebody else makes it for you.

The first time, it was spaghetti. Things started out well enough. Boil some water, add some noodles. Hard to go wrong. But it went downhill after that. He got a jar of spaghetti sauce, unscrewed the lid, and poured the sauce, straight from the jar, onto my plate. He then dropped some noodles on top of the sauce and, to top things off, added some chickpeas. The chickpeas, like the sauce, were unwarmed, and it’s possible they came straight from the can. I’ve worked hard to forget some of the gorier details, so it’s hard now to say for sure.

Because of this incident, I always thought of spaghetti and chickpeas as a sort of ridiculous combination. I ignored Adam’s future requests to add chickpeas to my pasta dishes. But eventually I saw Rachael Ray make Spaghetti alla Ceci, and I reconsidered the issue. Not only did Rachael warm the chickpeas, but she made them a fully incorporated part of the sauce. This was something I could handle. I made the dish.

I now rescind any earlier contempt I showed toward spaghetti and chickpeas. I was wrong. When it’s done right, it’s fabulous. A little wine, some garlic, a pinch or two of red pepper flakes—delicious! I’m not usually too big a fan of spaghetti and tomato sauce because I think it can be boring, but this dish definitely is not. It’s been added to my regular rotation, which isn’t something that happens very often.

Spaghetti alla Ceci
Adapted from Rachael Ray’s Spaghetti all Ceci
serves 2

1/2 pound spaghetti*
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Pino Grigio)
1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
2 tablespoons chopped parlsey
Grated parmesan, for serving

Cook spaghetti to al dente in salted boiling water.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil and onion and sauté until onions begin to soften; add crushed red pepper flakes and garlic. Place chickpeas in food processor and pulse them to a fine chop. Add chickpeas to pan and season them with thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. Add wine and cook for one minute, then stir in tomatoes and adjust seasoning. Drain pasta and toss with sauce. Top with parsley and grated cheese.

*I really like spaghetti rigati for this dish. The chickpeas make the sauce thick and a bit chunky, and those ridges really help hold the extra weight.