Weekly Winner:  Perusing Persia through seriously yellow chicken

I don’t think I’ve ever made a recipe from Persia.  Heck, I’m not even sure I’ve ever eaten Persian food before finding this recipe last week.

Persian Chicken with Turmeric and Lime caught my eye for several reasons.  First of all that color!  I mean that is sunshiny-yellow chicken with some seriously verdant green toppings.  It’s beautiful, right?? Then looking at the list of ingredients it had lots of the things I’ve grown to love:  white rice, warm spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric, yogurt, and nuts.  And not just any nuts but pistachios which easily make the list of my top three all-time favorite nuts.  

This dish was exotic and familiar at the same time.  There’s nothing more cozy to me than a bowl of chicken and rice and that’s exactly what this dish is, but it’s also so much more.  The spice mix in the rice alone elevate the lowly basmati rice to something incredible and the hit of the turmeric on the chicken really make this dish unique.  Its spicy without being at all hot.

This perfect “getaway in a bowl” comes from Epicurious and while the list of ingredients might seem daunting, it is really quite easy and quick to prepare.  One word of warning however:  if you’re like me and use your hands to rub herbs, marinades and seasonings on meat, you will (as I did) have yellow fingernails for about 3 days after making this! That turmeric is serious stuff!

Persian Chicken with Turmeric and Lime

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

• 1 medium onion, halved, thinly sliced

• 2 teaspoons ground turmeric

• 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped, plus 1 garlic clove, smashed

• 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus 8 wedges for serving (3–4 limes total)

• 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

• 2 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin, divided

• 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more

• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

• 1 cup basmati rice

• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1 cup plain yogurt (optional)

• 1 English hothouse or large standard cucumber, peeled if desired, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/2″ pieces (about 2 cups)

• 1 cup (packed) herb leaves, such as mint, cilantro, and/or dill (I used mint, parsley, and basil)

• 1/3 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

• Sumac (for serving; optional)

Procedure:

Mix chicken, onion, turmeric, chopped garlic, lime juice, 1 Tbsp. oil, 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. salt, and 3/4 tsp. pepper in a medium bowl.

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium in a heavy medium saucepan. Add rice and smashed garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 1–2 minutes. Stir in cardamom, cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. salt, and remaining 1/4 tsp. cumin and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Add 1 3/4 cups water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer, covered, until water is evaporated and rice is cooked, 18–20 minutes. Remove from heat. Let sit, covered, until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil over medium-high in a large skillet until very hot but not smoking. Add chicken mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, 6–8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in yogurt, if using, then adjust seasoning to taste. Cover to keep warm.

Gently toss cucumber, herbs, and remaining 1/4 tsp. salt in a small bowl.

Fluff rice with a fork and divide among bowls. Spoon chicken over. Top with cucumber salad, pistachios, and sumac, if using. Generously squeeze lime wedges over

Weekly Winner:  Seriously Spiced Steak and One Crazy Korean Pasta Salad

You can’t go wrong putting a marinated flank steak on the grill, right?  I mean, you can pretty much marinate it in anything, throw it on a hot grill and you’re going to have a great meal (and hopefully leftovers afterward).  And pasta salad is a very common accompaniment to anything on the grill.  It’s a barbecue staple.  This pasta salad, however is the craziest version I’ve ever put together. There were things in this salad that I never could have imagined putting together in any kind of dish.  I mean, squash, pineapple, and …. peas???  With mayonnaise?  But you know what?  It worked!

Gochujang Flank Steak and Korean Pasta Salad is not for people with timid taste buds.  The steak has some nice subtle heat, but the pasta salad is very spicy. That’s where the pineapple and mayonnaise really works their magic to help cool down the fire in your mouth. But its an addictive heat and can be mitigated by using less gochujang (which I actually might do next time).

The recipe comes from Food & Wine, and if you really want to shake up your next cookout and spice things up a bit, this is your recipe. The recipe calls for cooking the flank steak in a skillet on the stove. That seems sacrilegious to me.  Fire up the grill and let that thing rip!

Gochujang Flank Steak and Korean Pasta Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

STEAK:

6 Tbsp gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)

3 Tbsp mirin

1 Tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp toasted sesame oil

4 garlic cloves

1 Tbsp chopped peeled fresh ginger

1 2-lb flank steak

1 Tbsp canola oil

PASTA SALAD:

1 lb fusilli

1 cup mayonnaise

3 Tbsp gochujang

3 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise

1 medium yellow squash, halved lengthwise

1 8-inch long slice of pineapple (from 1 peeled, quartered and cored whole pineapple)

1 Tbsp canola oil

1 cup thawed frozen peas

3 scallions, thinly sliced

Kosher salt

Procedure:

  1. Make the Steak – In a blender, puree the gochujang with the mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger until smooth.  Put the flank steak in a large resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Seal the bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours.  Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before cooking.
  2. Meanwhile, make the Pasta Salad –In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the fusilli until al dente.  Drain and rinse under cold water until cool; drain well.  In a large bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the gochujang and lime juice until smooth.  Fold in the fusilli.
  3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet.  Lightly brush the zucchini, squash and pineapple with 1 tablespoon of the oil and cook over moderate heat, turning once, until charred and tender, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a work surface and let cool.  Cut the vegetables and fruit into 1/2-inch pieces and add to the pasta.  Fold in the peas and scallions and season with salt.
  4. Grill the Steak – Remove the steak from the marinade, letting the excess drip off, and grill over a moderately high heat, turning once until desired degree of doneness
  5. Transfer the steak to a work surface and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice steak and serve with the pasta salad.

Weekly Winner:  Move over Miso — it’s Tahini’s turn

I always think its funny how certain ingredients are suddenly hip.  You can’t flip through a food magazine or watch a cooking show without seeing four or five references to them.  Turmeric, Sumac, Pomegranate Molasses, and most recently miso have been everywhere and in everything.  It’s not that these ingredients are new or novel, but for some reason, all of a sudden they’ll be rediscovered and flaunted on and in everything.  Now, the latest ingredient to get a new manager and hit the road in shameless self-promotion is….tahini.

Tahini-Marinated Chicken Thighs with Cucumber and Tomato Salad is an excellent use of tahini.  It really doesn’t make the chicken taste like sesame, but ensures that it remains incredibly moist. Also, much like yogurt, it helps make really nice, impressive char marks on the chicken when grilled.  While the recipe calls for the leftover marinade to be used as a sauce for the chicken (and is quite tasty as such) I think next time I might mix it into the rice to make it a bit creamier and more interesting.

The recipe comes from Cooking Light Magazine and is also a nice introduction to the warmer weather we’re finally having in Chicago.  The chicken gets grilled outside and a tomato and cucumber salad just always screams “summer” to me. Hurry up and make this recipe before tahini become “so last month”!!

Tahini-Marinated Chicken Thighs with Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

CHICKEN:

1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste), well stirred

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 teaspoons grated lemon rind

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 garlic clove, finely grated

1 small shallot, finely grated

8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 lb.)

Cooking spray

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

SALAD:

1 1/2 cups chopped cucumber

1 1/2 cups chopped tomato

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups hot cooked brown rice

Procedure:

To prepare chicken, combine first 10 ingredients in a bowl. Place 1/4 cup tahini mixture in a small bowl; reserve. Place remaining tahini mixture and chicken in a large ziplock plastic bag; seal, turning to coat chicken. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat grill to medium (350°F to 450°F). Coat grill grate with cooking spray. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Sprinkle chicken with salt. Arrange chicken on grill grate; cover and cook 4 minutes on each side or until done. Arrange chicken on a platter; drizzle with reserved 1/4 cup tahini mixture.

To prepare the salad, combine cucumber and next 6 ingredients (through 1/4 teaspoon salt) in a bowl; toss gently to combine. Serve cucumber salad with chicken and rice.

Weekly Winner – Back in Balance…with bread!

My gluttonous moment has passed and I have put away all my gooey cheese, pasta, and pork products (temporarily, of course –everything in balance).  I am back to embracing salads and my favorite type of salad is one that includes bread.  I don’t care if its croutons or a roll on the side — I’m in.  My all-time favorite, however, is a panzanella salad.  What is better than crunchy bread brought back to life with a little dressing?  OK, yes, bacon… but we’re being virtuous this week, so work with me!!

There were a couple of things that caught my interest with this recipe for Chickpea Panzanella which I found in Cooking Light magazine.  First of course, was the chickpeas.  I adore chickpeas.  The other was the fact that this salad had artichoke hearts.  I cannot say I love artichoke hearts.  I didn’t think I hated them either.  Truth be told, with the exception of spinach artichoke dip, I just haven’t had much exposure to them.  I thought this would be an excellent time to try them out.  Everything else in this salad I know I adored so perhaps this would be the vehicle to win me over.  The salad was excellent.  The artichoke hearts?  Meh.  I can honestly say I would like the salad more without them.  Maybe next time I’ll swap them out for cucumbers or roasted peppers.  My husband can have his dislike for watercress, I apparently dislike artichoke hearts.

Chickpea Panzanella

Serves 5 – (seriously, that’s what they say!)

Ingredients:

1 (8-oz.) ciabatta loaf

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

1 (15-oz.) can unsalted chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 (8.5-oz.) can quartered artichoke hearts, drained

3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Remove and discard crust from ciabatta; cut bread into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread bread cubes in an even layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350°F for 12 minutes or until toasted and golden.

Combine toasted bread, tomatoes, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, feta, onion, and basil in a large bowl.

In a separate smaller bowl, combine oil, vinegar, oregano, pepper, and salt. Stir with a whisk. Pour over salad; toss to combine. Garnish with chopped fresh basil.

Weekly Winner:  Because You Can’t Always Be Good

For the most part I cook healthy food. My weekly repertoire consists of low-calorie, whole foods made from tons of veggies and lean meats with the rare exception of the occasional pork fest.  No processed foods, not a lot of fat (but come on, some!) and a healthy dose of all the right “super foods”.

But you know what?  Every once in a while you just gotta be bad. I’m not talking about three Big Macs and a couple of milk shakes kind of bad, I’m referring to heart-warming, soul-satisfying, ooey-gooey, cheesy bad. The kind of dish that restores your faith in humanity.  For me, that kind of dish is usually mac-n-cheese.  But just because I’ve decided to be bad (and be happy about it), that doesn’t mean I can’t dress up and “adultify” mac-n-cheese and transform it into something, dare I say, elegant?  Its spring and the asparagus (look, a vegetable!!!) is fabulous right now so lets add that along with a sophisticated pork-product (prosciutto) and put on our fancy jammies to enjoy this meal.

Macaroni and Cheese with Asparagus and Prosciutto is too good to be abbreviated and hyphenated.  This dish deserves to be called by its full name and eaten with reverence.  The recipe comes from Fine Cooking Magazine and is surprisingly a one-pot wonder.  No separate pan for a cheese sauce or even for a bechamel.  Nope, all you need here is one big ‘ol pot and the restraint to actually dish it out into separate bowls rather than diving in with the wooden spoon.  Not that I would ever do that. Because that would be bad.

Macaroni and Cheese with Asparagus and Prosciutto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Kosher salt

3/4 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

8 oz. elbow macaroni

2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3/4 cup evaporated milk (not fat-free)

2 large eggs

5 oz. Fontina, coarsely grated (about 1-3/4 cups)

1 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into thin strips

2 Tbs. thinly sliced fresh chives

Freshly ground black pepper

Procedure:

Bring a 4-quart pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. With a wire skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to a bowl, and keep warm.

Bring the water back to a boil, add the pasta, and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain and return to the pot. Add the butter and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, whisk the evaporated milk, eggs, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Add to the pasta, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until the sauce begins to cling to the pasta, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cheese and cook, stirring, until the cheese melts, another 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, and stir in the asparagus, prosciutto, and chives. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.

Weekly Winner:  A Divisive Dinner Where Pork is the Only Winner

So last night was not a total success.  I liked everything about dinner, but hubby… not so much.  I really can’t complain as he is willing to try darn near anything and has a very short list of things he absolutely does not like.  Apparently we now need to add watercress to that list. Who knew? The pork however, received thumbs up all around.

Orange Pork With Watercress Rice comes from Martha Stewart Living magazine.  I really didn’t think this was going to be risky new recipe to try. Basically stir-fried pork and rice with an Asian orange sauce. However, what makes this dish unique is also what made it not-so-stellar for my husband.  I am pretty sure I’ve served watercress before, but not in such heavy concentration — usually mixed with other greens and generally raw.  This time it was only wilted into the rice.  Let’s just say it was not well-received  The rest of the recipe will be repeated and I’ll simply find another green to swap in for the watercress.  Live and learn and try again!

Orange Pork With Watercress Rice

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 cup jasmine rice

Kosher salt and black pepper

3 cups coarsely chopped watercress, plus sprigs for serving

3 Tbsp safflower oil

1-1/4 lbs pork tenderloin, cut into 3/4-inch pieces and patted dry

1/2 cup finely julienned peeled ginger (from a 2-1/2 inch piece)

2 Tbsp minced garlic

2/3 cup orange marmalade

2 Tbsp fish sauce

3 Tbsp fresh lime juice

Procedure:

  1. Bring rice, 1-1/3 cups water, and 1/2 tsp salt to a boil in a saucepan.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed, 16 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Toss watercress with 1 Tbsp oil; season with salt.  Add to pan; let stand, covered 10 minutes.  Stir
  2. Season pork with salt.  Heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high.  Add half of the ginger; cook until golden, 1 minute.  Let drain on paper towels.
  3. Add pork to skillet and brown, 3 to 4 minutes; then remove from pan.  Add remaining ginger and garlic to skillet; cook 30 seconds.  Add marmalade, fish sauce, and lime juice; bring to a boil, stirring, until syrupy, about 1 minute.  Return pork to pan; simmer 30 seconds.  Serve over rice, with watercress sprigs and crisp ginger.

Weekly Winner – Digging into a Big Bowl of Goodness

There is little I look forward to more than being able to curl up on the couch with my favorite evening show (or in my case, Cubs baseball) and eat dinner out of a big ‘ol bowl.  More often than not, however; the more comforting and satisfying said Bowl is to eat, the less healthy and virtuous it is to have consumed.  Not in this case. Today I present a big bowl of comfort, joy and about the healthiest thing you can eat for dinner.

I find myself eating like this more frequently than I have in the past.  Rather than a protein, veggie, starch, etc artfully displayed on a plate, I now enjoy throwing a bunch of goodness in a bowl, mixing it up and digging in!  Grain Bowls with Chicken, Spiced Chickpeas and Avocado has a bit of everything and keeps you happy and picking away until the very end.  The chickpeas and the avocado add perceived luxuriousness without any guilt.  Their creaminess is a nice contrast to all the fabulous crunch in this dish and it all of it comes together with a bright herby vinaigrette.  The recipe comes from Epicurious and while they gave a choice of grains to use in this dish, my go-to grain of choice is always farro and that’s what was used here.

Grain Bowls with Chicken, Spiced Chickpeas, and Avocado

Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the chickpeas – 

2 tsp olive oil

1 15.5-oz can chickpeas, drained, rinsed, patted dry

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp kosher salt

For the dressing – 

1-1/2 cups parsley leaves

3/4 cup mint leaves

1-1/4 cups olive oil

6 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp honey

1/2 tsp salt

For the bowls – 

4 cups cooked quinoa, farro, barley or brown rice

4 cups shredded cooked chicken

2 mini seedless cucumbers, halved, sliced

2 avocados, halved, pitted, sliced

4 cups baby arugula

1@ cup pickled red onions

4 tsp toasted sesame seeds

Procedure:

Make the chickpeas – Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Cook chickpeas, cumin and cayenne, shaking to coat, until heated through.  Increase heat to medium-high and cook, shaking occasionally, until chickpeas are golden brown and crisp, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to paper towels and season immediately with salt.

Make the dressing – Meanwhile, pulse parsley and mint in a food processor until finely chopped.  Add oil, lemon juice, honey, and salt and pulse to combine.

Assemble the bowls – Toss grains (farro in my case) with 1/2 cup dressing in a large bowl.  Divide among individual bowls.  Toss chicken with 1/4 cup dressing in the same large bowl.  Arrange chicken, cucumbers, avocados and arugula over farro.  Top with chickpeas, pickled onions, and sesame seeds.  Serve remaining dressing on side for drizzling.

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