Friday, April 18, 2014

Chicken-Broccoli Casserole

Revisiting an old classic.

Dust from a recent construction project sneakily infiltrated every nook and cranny throughout the house, so Spring cleaning included a lot more territory than usual this year. I left the kitchen cabinets until the end, uppers and lowers including several enclosed bookshelves. The bookshelves certainly made it seem more like playtime instead of a dreaded chore. I rediscovered a few treasures, books I hadn't cooked from or even read through in a long time. Waves of memories flooded over me when I pulled a well-used, spiral-bound, 1974 cookbook off a top shelf where it had rested, out of sight, for ages. Giggles followed after I scanned the title and cover photos: Get It On In The Kitchen pictures a variety of produce, seafood and one braided loaf tastefully draped over a naked female form. Oh yes, I definitely remember that book.

Photo: Now this is a book cover designed to attract attention
Local PNW authors John Lysaker and Ray Gorder note they designed the book for people who like to entertain,
"the kind of folks who enjoy feeding their friends and who tend to end up talking and laughing in the kitchen."
Don't most good gatherings end up in the kitchen? The authors included recipes from both locals and friends across North America, plus over 100 recipes from some interesting notables of the era... an eclectic group of contributors. Casual entertaining may have changed a bit in the past 40 years, but recipe ingredients and descriptive commentary have changed far more. Quinoa, arugula, sriracha, umami and gluten-free baking were not mentioned in any of the recipes, not even once.

Knowing that I write all over my cookbooks I flipped to the index at the back of the book where dozens of recipe titles highlighted with my yellow magic marker vied for attention.  Score! the one that really stood out was a homestyle version of Chicken Divan, an American classic said to be invented in the 1930's at Manhattan's Divan Parisien Restaurant. Oh my, that dish has appeared at so many meals over the years that I can't remember when I last referred to the written recipe. Today more health-focused cooks might prepare a proper Mornay sauce with mushrooms instead of preparing the canned soup/mayo version noted below, but this casserole was a major hit "back in the day." 

It's dated but Chicken-Broccoli Casserole still comes in handy after a chilly, rainy day of fishing in a small open boat in SE Alaska. We welcome a quick, tasty meal upon return to the big boat... comfort food, right now, please!  
Here's the process in photos:

Step 1: Precook the chicken breasts and broccoli spears.

Step 2: Arrange the broccoli in a baking dish, stems to the center.

Step 3: Place the halved chicken breasts down the center of the dish.

Step 4: Mix the sauce and pour over the chicken breasts.

Step 5: Scatter shredded cheese and seasoned bread crumbs over the sauce.

Step 6: Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes.

Chicken-Broccoli Casserole
based on two similar recipes in Lysaker's Get It On In The Kitchen

2 chicken breast halves
1 small head broccoli, separated into large spears
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
sprinkle of cayenne (or chipotle chili powder) optional
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated or shredded
2 Tablespoons Italian seasoned bread crumbs

Poach the chicken breasts in lightly salted water; remove skin and bones. Set aside to cool. (OR use breasts and thighs from a precooked deli chicken.)

Steam or microwave broccoli spears until barely tender; set aside to cool. (OR use 1 package of frozen broccoli spears.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl mix together the soup, mayonnaise, lemon juice, curry and cayenne (if using).

Place broccoli into a shallow casserole with flowery tops on the outside, stems arranged to the middle. Line chicken breasts in a row down the center of the casserole over the broccoli stems. 

Pour or spoon the sauce over the chicken, but leave the broccoli tops uncovered. (You will have sauce left over to use on another casserole or with vegetables & rice.) Sprinkle the grated cheese over the sauce. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the cheese. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven until warmed through and the cheese topping begins to bubble and brown, approximately 20 to 30 minutes. (Adjust time according to the degree of crunchiness desired for the cheese topping.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Stacked Crepes with Ginger Chicken Filling and a Coconut Sauce

Chatti Pathiri {Daring Cooks Challenge}

The April Daring Cooks Challenge was brought to us by Joanna from What's On The List. She taught us all about Pathiri and challenged us to create our own version of this inspirational Indian dish!

It has been almost a year since I have cooked with the Daring Cooks, so I took some time to catch up  with this active group, skimming many month's worth of challenges and enjoying a gazillion posts. Back in the kitchen after surgery in March, I had weeks to think about this month's topic, Pathiri, and consider my own version. With some interesting ingredients to play with - Crepes - spices - chicken filling - coconut sauce - I thought, oh yes, this would be fun!

I'm familiar with the stacked enchiladas of West Texas and New Mexico, I've made both savory and sweet versions of southern Italian stacked crespelle, but stacked pseudo Pan-Asian crepes would be a new treat. 

Chicken and crepes can be bland, but the hefty dose of ginger plus some garam masala, garlic and ground coriander popped up the flavor nicely. 

Photo: Fresh ginger seasons the minced, cooked chicken

Coconut milk added subtle sweetness. Green onions and kale provided both color and flavor bite. Pine nuts added a necessary crunch, rescuing what might have been a boring, too-soft mouthful. 

Photo: Pine nuts, green onions and kale add bite and crunch

The delicious result was an example of the total being greater than the sum of the parts (or however that saying goes). Three of us loved this dish for lunch, and H. cheerfully took the leftovers home... now that's a sign of success.

Photo: Filling scattered on top of the first crepe

Photo: 12 crepes stacked, filled and ready for the oven

Photo: Filled, stacked savory crepe cake fresh from the oven

Photo: 12 layered crepes in this stack - go ahead, count them.

Stacked Crepes with Ginger Chicken Filling

serves 4 as an entree, 8 as a first course

For the crepes: 
3 large eggs
3/4 cup 1% milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 Tablespoons melted, unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
additional butter for the crepe pan

1.  Use a blender or food processor to whirl the eggs, flour and milk until smooth. Scrape down the sides as necessary. You can whisk it by hand, but it is very tedious that way.
2.  Choose a crepe pan or flat-bottomed frying pan and prewarm it over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot brush the bottom lightly with melted butter.
3.  Before the butter browns pour a premeasured amount of batter into the hot pan; quickly tilt and swirl to coat the bottom. An 8-inch pan will handle 3 1/2 to 4 tablespoons of batter per crepe.
4.  Cook until the edge is lightly browned and the surface looks dry, roughly 30 to 60 seconds.
5.  Run a wide metal spatula under the crepe’s edge and shake the pan a bit to make sure that the crepe is loose. Use the spatula to turn the crepe over and brown it lightly on the second side, about 10 to 15 seconds. Slide the crepe onto a flat plate, or tip the pan to release the crepe.
6.  Repeat with the remaining batter, stacking crepes on top of each other, separated with waxed paper, as you finish each.

For the filling:
1 large chicken breast; poached, cooled & minced
3 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 cups shitake mushrooms; soaked, drained, chopped
8 green onions, white & green parts, minced
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 large leaf kale, stemmed and minced
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Use a fork and mash the ginger into the cooked, minced chicken. Add the remaining ingredients and mix lightly to combine. Set aside.

 For the sauce:
1 can coconut milk
1/4 cup ground almonds or almond meal
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon coriander

(Plus 2 teaspoons melted butter for the assembly process.)
Lime wedges, optional 

Whisk lightly all ingredients, coconut milk through coriander, until well combined. Set aside.

To assemble:

  1. Brush 1 teaspoon melted butter on the bottom of a non-stick 8-inch skillet. 
  2. With a second brush, coat both sides of a prepared crepe and lay flat on the skillet. Scatter 1/4 cup filling on the top of the coated crepe. Coat both sides of another crepe with sauce and lay flat atop the filling atop the first crepe. Repeat until you run out of filling and crepes, ending with a coated crepe. I used 12 crepes in all.
  3. Brush the top crepe and any exposed edges around the perimeter with the remaining butter. (I'll skip this step next time) Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the stacked crepes (note, some will run down the sides and pool at the bottom).
  4. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven until the sauce is absorbed,or thickens considerably. This took 35 minutes in my oven.
  5. Remove from the oven. Place a large serving platter or dish over the top of the skillet and invert quickly and carefully. Slice into wedges and serve immediately with a slice of lime. (OR chill and serve cold.) 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lamb Ragu with Mushrooms and Capers

I have eaten very little meat since a recent surgery and my meat-loving husband has been so good natured about this dietary change. It was time to treat him to a hearty, meaty main dish. But what?

One lonely package of ground lamb sat on a freezer shelf, inviting me to create something wonderful. I'm sure I had a brilliant idea when I purchased the meat last month, but that was weeks ago and the plan has vanished. Today I was indecisive, waiting to be inspired, maybe even hoping someone else would deal with it. Well, that didn't happen, so I considered some familiar possibilities: avgolemno soup with lamb meatballs, Merguez sausages or mini meatloaves, lamb burgers, stuffed grape leaves, papas rellenas, ... No inspiration yet... sigh.

So I traded thoughtful decision making for action, raided the refrigerator, grabbed some produce, heated a pan and just started cooking. It helped that the pantry was fairly well stocked. 

Capers and feta cheese balanced what might have been a too-heavy lambiness, the mushrooms contributed bulk and soaked up the flavors nicely. The sauce came together easily, a good thing since I didn't do much taste-testing along the way, and was rewarded with a two-thumbs up review from RL. I enjoyed a smaller bowl of pasta with just a smidge of the meat sauce and still agreed, this was a very successful improv.

Half of the sauce remains, an invitation to fill a toasted burger bun or warmed pita round... or bake it with cheese and flat pasta sheets in a lasagna dish... or use it to top a pizza... or... 

Lamb Ragu with Mushrooms and Capers
sauce for 4 entree servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups fresh mushrooms, cleaned & chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced (or use garlic powder)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground lamb
1 tablespoon dried mint
3 to 4 cups marinara sauce
1 generous tablespoon capers, rinsed & drained
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup fresh basil, julienned
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, rough chopped
cooked whole wheat pasta to serve 4

  1. Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped mushrooms and cook until the 'shrooms turn golden brown. (Be patient and wait for them to release their juices, let the liquids cook down and evaporate, and eventually the mushrooms will begin to caramelize.) Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Raise the heat under the pan to medium high; add the chopped onions and cook until they begin to soften. Add the garlic, salt and pepper, and dried Italian spices and cook until the onions are translucent and begin to brown. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. In the same skillet over medium high heat cook the ground lamb until browned, breaking up the large chunks as it cooks. Use a large cooking spoon and remove most of the rendered fat from the pan.
  4. Return the mushrooms and onions to the skillet. Add the marinara sauce, dried mint and capers; simmer, covered, over low heat until the flavors have blended. Taste and adjust seasonings. 
  5. Add the cheeses and fresh herbs; stir to mix. Serve over a nest of cooked long-strand pasta OR add cooked, short tube pasta to the pan. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Banana Smoothie with Kale

A breakfast drink concocted with bananas and kale, totally packed with vitamins and minerals, should deliver a great start to the day... emphasis on should. I enjoy bananas and kale separately, so why was this smoothie such a flop? 

It could have been an attitude issue; for years I've avoided drinking kale anything out of pure stubbornness. "Oh, Dee, you really have to try a green smoothie, it's SO good for you!" Hah, the more I heard it, the more I resisted. 

It might have been the texture, a coarse, grainy feeling that was faintly noticeable and annoying. Smoothies are supposed to be smooth and creamy, right?

Did my blender let me down? Do I need a VitaMix? No, I think I'll stick to delicious braised kale for breakfast, and tasty raw kale for salads at lunch, and let my smoothies stay kale-free.

Declaration: This smoothie may be super-healthy, even semi-palatable, but it will never be my favorite breakfast choice. How about you, do you have a favorite green smoothie? I'm open to suggestions.

Banana Smoothie with Kale

1 large or 2 small bananas, peeled, chopped & frozen
1 cup raw kale, cleaned & stems removed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
1 1/2 cups 1% milk (or almond milk)

Add all ingredients to a blender and whiz until you have a thick, even mixture. Add more liquid as needed to thin to desired consistency.
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