Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Honey Mustard Chicken and Pineapple Kebabs

The ability of food to transport us through time and space is undeniable. Whenever I cook with pineapple I am taken back to our trips to Hawaii. To the many roadside fruit-stands, to the sweet cold frosties on Kauai (at Banana Joe's) made simply of pureed frozen pineapple slices, to the sounds of the waves on Kaanapali beach, the striking orange shades of Maui's breathtaking sunsets, the clean fresh morning breeze coming off the Pacific ocean towards the Big Island, to swimming with sea turtles back on Maui. Hawaii is truly synonymous with pineapples (among other things) but my relationship with this fruit goes way back to my early years (way, way back.)

When I was a child, my father planted a pineapple garden at the back of our house in the Trinidad "countryside." The neat rows of pineapple crowns made for a pretty sight and an exciting obstacle track for my sister and me until they grew to full size and playing in there was just asking for trouble. (Trust me, being poked and scratched by the long spiny leaves is not fun.) It was a short hobby of his but it seemed as though we ate pineapple for a long time. The variety he planted was one of the sweet and tangy varieties. But the Maui Gold variety is the best I have ever tasted: ultra sweet with a low acid content ( so no tangyness.) And did you know that it even has more vitamin C than other varieties? Yes, more than three times! All the more reason to add some pineapple to your summer meals.

Honey Mustard Chicken and Pineapple Kebabs
Serves 4 to 5

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup dijon mustard
2 tbsp yellow mustard
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 cups large pineapple chunks
wooden skewers

1. Cut chicken into 1" chunks and combine with honey, dijon mustard, yellow mustard, and cilantro. Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. (Of course, better if refrigerated over night.)
2. Skewer the chicken and pineapple chunks on wooden skewers and cook on a hot grill for about eight to ten minutes, turning once, until chicken is cooked thoroughly. (Alternatively this can be done in a 400 degree F oven for 15 minutes until chicken is cooked through. )

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chicken and Shrimp Paella

After an intense month of joy and heartache, Spain has own the 2010 world cup. On that eventful Sunday, my husband and I planned our day around the event. Spain was our second choice after the US didn't make it into the final group of sixteen. Isn't that the magic of the game? That after the crushing loss from the US departure, all of our hopes were revived with Spain in the final. That two people with no real ties to that country (except my diluted Spanish heritage, and our love of spanish food, music, and culture) would find so much happiness in a single goal, to me, is part of the magic of the game. And not just us; among our freinds everyone was interested in the final match. One person even threatened to "unfriend" me on Facebook because of my exuberant status update after the win. Needless to say, she's a Netherlands fan, and of course was only joking... I think.

In honor of the event, I made this seafood and chicken paella. This is my basic go-to recipe for paella but this was the first time that I've made it in my new paella pan from Kitchen Window in Uptown Minneapolis. And what a difference it makes, especially in terms of a reduction in cooking time. And that chewy layer of rice at the bottom of the pan; worth every cent!

Chicken and Shrimp Paella
Serves 3 to 4

2 oz prosciutto
2 to 4 tbsp olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed*
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced bell pepper
1/2 tsp saffron threads, crushed
1 1/2 cup long grain white rice
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts
1/2 cup green peas
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
8 to 10 raw shrimp, with tails on

1. In a large pot or paella pan over medium heat, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Cook the prosciutto until crispy. Remove and add the chicken. Cook for about 15 minutes until evenly browned. Remove and add the remaining two tablespoons of oil. Saute the onion, garlic, and peppers for another 8 to 10 minutes until they have browned on the edges.
2. Add the rice and saffron threads. Stir thoroughly until the rice becomes glossy and is coated nicely by the onion mixture. Pour 2 1/2 cups chicken broth over the rice and stir. It takes about another 20 minutes for the rice to cook. Stir occasionally and add more chicken broth or hot water (up to 1 cup more) if needed.
3. Once the rice has cooked, add the raw shrimp. Stir and allow shrimp to cook for another 3 or four minutes until pink throughout. Evenly layer the cooked chicken, tomatoes, peas, and crunchy prosciutto on the top before serving.

*I always like to season chicken for recipes like this, i.e. recipes where the chicken is just part of the main dish. It's a technique I've learnt from growing up in Trinidad. So here, I seasoned the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, one crushed garlic clove and the leaves of one sprig of thyme and a teaspoon of paprika.
Also, you would notice that I did not add salt to the recipe above and that is because the chicken broth already has a lot of sodium. Of course, if you find you need more salt, go right ahead and add to taste.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Turkey Burgers with Parsley and Fontina. Happy 4th!

Turkey breast is probably one of the healthiest meats available, with about 1 gram of fat per serving (33 grams.) Compared to regular hamburger meat which has about 7 grams of fat per serving and you see why I prefer to use turkey meat more often. Due to its lack of fat, turkey understandably dries out quickly during cooking. But I think the key to getting around this, especially for turkey burgers, is to use very high heat and to cook the patties for not more than four minutes on either side. I have also added chicken broth concentrate and fontina cheese to this recipe for extra moisture and "gooey-ness."

Happy 4th of July!

Turkey Burgers with Parsley and Fontina Cheese
Makes about eight 1" thick x 3 1/2 "diameter patties

1 lb ground turkey breast
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup minced onion
2 large garlic cloves, grated or minced finely
2 tbsp yellow mustard
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated fontina cheese
3 tbsp chicken broth concentrate
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt

1. Combine all of the ingredients together. Mix well to fully incorporate - you might have to use your fingers for this.
2. Shape meat into patties about one inch thick and three and a half inch in diameter. Heat skillet over medium high heat and grease well with vegetable oil. Cook each patty for four minutes on one side and three to four minutes on the other side, until the center is no longer pick. Serve on whole wheat buns with lettuce and avocado.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fresh Strawberry Tart with Port Glaze

Last Wednesday, after a lazy morning of coffee, exercise, and brunch, we drove to the town of Delano (about fifty miles west of Minneapolis.) The quest: strawberries-picking at Apple Jack Orchards. Now, I've never been berry-picking before, but I expected fun to be had. Wide open spaces, fresh air, sweet fruit,and the satisfaction of comes with an awareness of the natural environment.

Not entirely the case. I would suggest embarking on this endeavor in the early morning or late afternoon. Not at midday when the sun is at its hottest. I always get asked, "But you are from the Caribbean, don't you like being in the sun? " Sure I do but physical activity in ninety degree heat can make even the most avid of sun worshippers a bit miserable. And, after all of that, a bee got caught in my hair and as I tried to free it, the little punk - I mean the cute, fuzzy, sweet-honey-producing bee - stung me! (Another suggestion, if you have long hair, tie in a pony tail or braid before strawberry picking.) Luckily, I'm not allergic to bee stings but never again will I complain about strawberry's high price. Locally grown strawberries are worth every cent.

All in all, the day wasn't a total disappointment . Even though it was the end of the season and most of the fruit were already gone by the time we got there, we (and by we, I mean mostly my husband) still managed to gather about three pounds. More than enough for this scrumptious tart.

My recipe is an adaptation of one I saved from a 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine; changing only a couple things. I added whole wheat pastry flour and cinnamon to the crust, and I tossed the berries with fresh mint for the filing, just to add another dimension of flavor and freshness.

Freshly picked, from the farmers market, or store bought, do try and get some local strawberries before the season is completely over. And if you do decide to drive to Apple Jack's Orchard, try their strawberry tart. Theirs is freshly made, and very good too!

Fresh Strawberry Tart with Port Glaze
(Adapted from Gourmet)
Serves 8

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
7 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp cold water

1 1/2 lb strawberries (trimmed)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup port
1 cup mascarpone
1 cup fat free cream cheese (softened at room temperature)
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
about 10 mint leaves

1. Combine pastry and all purpose flours, salt, and butter in a bowl using your fingers, pastry blender, or food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal with some lumpy pea-sized butter bits.
2. Beat together yolk, vanilla, lemon zest, and water, then drizzle over flour mixture and stir until mixture comes together. Gently knead dough on a lightly floured surface until a dough forms. Press into a 5-inch disk.
3. Place dough disk in center of tart pan and cover with plastic wrap. Using your fingers or the bottom of a measuring cup, spread the dough to evenly cover the bottom and sides of pan. Prick bottom of shell with a fork and freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.
4. Pre-heat to 375 degrees F, with rack in the middle. Line tart shell with foil and pie weights and bake until sides are pale golden about, 20 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights and continue to bake until deep golden all over, another 15 to 20 minutes. Cool in pan, about 45 minutes.

TO MAKE PIE FILLING (while tart shell cools):
1. Stir together strawberries and brown sugar in bowl and let stand about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain liquid into a saucepan, reserving berries. Add port to liquid in pan and boil until slightly thickened and reduced by half, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to cool slightly.
3. Tear the mint leaves into thin strip and toss in reserved berries.
2. While port glaze is cooling, blend together mascarpone, cream cheese, confectioners sugar, lemon juice, zest, and vanilla until thoroughly incorporated.

To Assemble Tart:
Spread mascarpone-cream cheese mixture evenly in cooled tart shell. Top with strawberries, and drizzle with port glaze.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Zucchini and Chocolate Chip Muffins (& Minneapolis Farmers Market Recommendations)

Last summer, I made a batch of these muffins for my friend. And it was all she could talk about since then. Every time she saw me, it was either "I'm dreaming about those muffins - they were so good!" or "Can you please make me some more of those muffins - they are so good!" or "My birthday is coming up, and all I want is your zucchini muffins! " Well, she celebrated her birthday last weekend (on beautiful Lake Minnetonka) and I did make her a batch. Needless to say, she was happy.

You might be wondering why I didn't simply make her the muffins a long time ago. (It's not that I am a bad friend. Really.) At the time that I made her that first batch, it was the end of the zuchini season in Minnesota, and I have been waiting for zucchini to show up in the farmers market ever since. Our farmers grow an excellent crop and in my mind it was a travesty to purchase them anywhere else. Luckily, my friends accept my wild and sometimes wavering convictions (even though they might not share the same.)

Zucchini is slowly finding its way into the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Last Sunday, I saw them in about three stalls. But come July, they will be abundant. Also worth trying are hummus from Deana's Gourmet (the label on the container suggests using within seven days - it didn't make it past day two in my kitchen; that was that good), locally grown strawberries, and snap peas.

Zucchini and Chocolate Chip Muffins*
Makes 12 medium-sized muffins

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbps ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup light sour cream
2 eggs plus 1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (or more if you like)

1. Set oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tray with cupcake liners.
2. Combine the first six ingredients, and set aside.
3. Whisk together sugar, oil, sour cream, eggs and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, folding gently. Finally, fold in the zucchini and chocolate morsels, until fully incorporated.
3. Divide among cupcake liners and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set muffin tray on cooling rack for five minutes then remove muffins from pans, and allow to cool completely.

*Although it is unusual to frost muffins, birthdays require some sort of frosting, no? Here I used a basic butter frosting. Of course, this is optional.