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baja-fish-bundles-krautlook

When I got an email from Rachel last week about her new website, I couldn’t help but respond. Her angle? Promoting the health benefits and delicious uses of sauerkraut. I didn’t begin to enjoy the stuff until this year, when a friend of mine made an incredible stew featuring a full quart of the fermented cabbage condiment. Since then, I’ve adapted it for my slow cooker, and I can’t wait to try out Rachel’s recipe for Baja Fish Bundles, featured here!

- Coco a.k.a. Opera Girl

Tilapia is my absolute favorite from the white fish family. It’s a foolproof fish for those who are timid about cooking seafood. It absorbs any flavors added to it and always comes out buttery and flaky (even if I leave it in the oven too long!). Sauerkraut is an unbelievable complement to the mild fillet, giving it a savory and more complex flavor.

Krautlook’s Baja Fish Bundle recipe is worth bookmarking: it’s delicious, healthy, fast, and cheap. It might sound too good to be true, but I guarantee once you try it, it will be showing up on your plate more often than you may have expected. The trick to this recipe is making sure you fold your parchment packets enough so that the steam cannot escape. The steam should remain inside the packet in order to cook the fish and retain moisture.

Krautlook’s Baja Fish Bundles (printer-friendly version)

Makes 4 Fillets

4 tilapia fillets
½ c drained fresh salsa (could substitute Coco’s Hot and Spicy Ancho Tomatillo Salsa)
½ c drained and rinsed sauerkraut
¼ c sliced black olives
2 Tbsp. plus 4 extra dollops plain, non-fat Greek Yogurt

1.Preheat oven to 400°F.

2.Cut 12” x 12” squares of parchment baking paper; fold each in half to crease, then unfold.

3.Place fillets on paper squares; immediately to the right of the crease, centered between top and bottom.

4.Mix together salsa, sauerkraut, black olives, and 2 Tbsp. yogurt. Distribute evenly over fillets.

5.Fold unfilled side of paper over filling, matching edges.

6.Starting with the opposite edge, fold ¼” over crease; then fold and crease again to make a double fold.

7.Fold and double crease the other two edges to make double fold seals.

8.Place packets on baking sheet; bake 10 minutes or until packets puff up and brown slightly.

9.Slit each packet open being careful of released steam.

10.Top each fillet with dollop of yogurt.

Rachel Carlson is a guest blogger from Krautlook, a website dedicated to sauerkraut recipes and health benefits. Visit Krautlook on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

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plum-chili-chicken-plated

As recipes go, Plum Chili Chicken falls somewhere between quick weeknight dinner and special occasion dish. It’s not going to come together in 30 minutes flat (an hour and 15 is more like it), but it is far from fussy or complicated, and the flavor is restaurant-quality delicious.

My boyfriend’s mother got the recipe from Better Homes and Gardens’ 100 Best Chicken Recipes, a cookbook published in 2003. Unfortunately, it’s no longer in print and impossible to track down. If this recipe is any indication, I imagine there are a lot of gems in there. Jan no longer has a copy, as she downsized her cookbook collection the last time they moved. If anybody out there has this book, I am very curious to know about your favorite recipes.

On Valentine’s Day, we stayed in and enjoyed our Plum Chili Chicken served over brown rice, with soy sauce-roasted broccoli and shallots on the side. Brendan’s eyes lit up when he took his first bite — it was a total kick to watch him mind-travel back to his mom’s dinner table in San Diego. Score one for me!

The hardest part of making this recipe was tracking down a jar of plum jam. It used to be much more widely available — Smucker’s supposedly makes a Red Plum variety, but I’ve never seen it on a store shelf. June Taylor makes an incredible Santa Rosa Plum Conserve, but at $15 a jar, I can’t imagine using a whole jar in just one recipe.

Luckily, I managed to find not one, but two (!) brands of plum jam at The Milk Pail, my favorite neighborhood open-air, European-style produce and dairy market. I picked up Bonne Maman Damson Plum Preserves, which I used in this recipe, as well as D’arbo Plum Fruit Spread.

The original recipe calls for 2 1/2 to 3 pounds of chicken pieces — to save time and effort, you can use a package of thighs, breasts, or drumsticks. I chose to break down my own Whole Body Fryer chicken from Mary’s, a free range chicken farm in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Their organic, air-chilled chickens are my favorite birds to cook at home. Because they’re cooled with air instead of the chlorinated water used by most chicken processors, the skin is taut rather than waterlogged, getting reliably crisp in the oven. Air-chilled chickens are also more flavorful (again, due to lack of water absorption during processing), and they tend to be far lower in bacteria since there is less chance of cross-contamination.

On a tip from Jan (a.k.a. Brendan’s mom), I deviated from the original recipe by doubling the sauce. This was a great suggestion, as we enjoyed spooning the extra over brown rice, and even incorporating some of it into a vinaigrette for chicken salad with the next-day leftovers.

Plum Chili Chicken (printer-friendly version)
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens 100 Best Chicken Recipes

Serves 4

1 medium-sized (4-pound) air-chilled chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 bunch green onions, sliced 1/4” thick on the bias
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons sambal oelek chili sauce
1-inch knob of fresh ginger, grated on a fine microplane
2 cloves garlic, grated on a fine microplane
1 cup Damson plum jam

1. Preheat oven to 375°F and line a 9” by 13” pan with aluminum foil. Arrange the chicken pieces in the pan so that they are not touching.

2. In a small (1-quart) saucepan, combine green onion, soy sauce, chili sauce, ginger, and garlic. Brush chicken with 1/4 cup of the mixture.

3. Bake the chicken for 40 minutes.

4. While the chicken is baking, add the plum jam to the mixture in the saucepan and whisk to combine over low heat, until thoroughly combined.

5. Remove chicken from oven and baste with about half of the jam mixture. Return to oven and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

6. Return the remaining jam mixture to the stove, and heat over medium-low flame until it just begins to boil. Spoon over chicken before serving.

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orecchiette-with-cauilflower-and-meatballs-4

I just love this kind of dinner. A cold winter night is the perfect time to turn on your oven and stove for a comforting but healthy pasta dish. Toothsome orecchiette (that’s Italian for “little ears”) are tossed with Moroccan-spiced turkey meatballs and turmeric-hued florets of cauliflower, and a quick dressing of garlic-infused olive oil, meyer lemon juice and freshly chopped parsley livens up the dish just before serving. The whole thing comes together in about 45 minutes, making this an easy, one-bowl meal.

ras-el-hanout-bottle

Ras el Hanout is one of my favorite seasoning blends. North African in origin, it sounds exotic but the flavors are familiar and comforting. I used a fantastic rendition from Oaktown Spice Shop to flavor the meatballs in this recipe.

orecchiette-with-cauilflower-and-meatballs-2The combination of roasted vegetables and meatballs with chewy pasta is a great one. Furthermore, roasting your ingredients allows for a mostly hands-off dish — once everything is in the oven, all you’ve got left to do is boil a pot of pasta, then toss everything together before serving. Oh, and how’s this for an aesthetic bonus: the turmeric from the cauliflower colors the pasta a beautiful vibrant yellow, making your dish healthier and prettier to boot.

orecchiette-with-cauilflower-and-meatballs-5

Moroccan Orecchiette with Roasted Cauliflower and Meatballs (printer-friendly version)

serves 4

1 medium-sized green cauliflower
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

1/2 lb. ground turkey
1/2 C. plain bread crumbs
1 jumbo egg
juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon
2 Tbsp. chopped flatleaf parsley
1 tsp. Ras el Hanout
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. crushed Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes)

1/2 lb. orecchiette pasta

juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon
2 Tbsp. Garlic Gold Oil
2 Tbsp. chopped flatleaf parsley

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Place a large pot of water on the stove over high heat.

3. Slice cauliflower into florets and place on one of the baking sheets. Sprinkle with olive oil, turmuric, salt and pepper, and toss to coat evenly.

4. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the ground turkey, bread crumbs, egg, lemon juice, parsley and seasonings. Stir until evenly combined, then roll into 1” meatballs. Place meatballs on the remaining lined baking sheet.

5. Place the cauliflower in the oven for 30 minutes. After the first 10 minutes of cooking, place meatballs in the oven (they will cook for 20 minutes, and be finished at the same time as the cauliflower).

6. After you place the meatballs in the oven, season the pot of boiling water liberally with salt, then add the orecchiette pasta and let cook for 12 minutes, or until al dente. Drain the pasta.

7. In a large serving bowl, combine cooked pasta, meatballs, and cauliflower. Toss with remaining meyer lemon juice, Garlic Gold Oil, and chopped parsley. Serve.

orecchiette-with-cauilflower-and-meatballs-3

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chile-verde-chilaquiles

After getting some great Mexican takeout the other night, we were left with a bag full of tortilla chips, quickly going stale on the countertop. Never being one to waste perfectly good food (and not a fan of slightly chewy chips), I decided to repurpose them in this classic Mexican comfort food dish.

Chilaquiles is a dish born of leftovers. It is most commonly served for breakfast or brunch, using tortillas and salsa from the previous night’s meal. The tortillas are cut into wedges or strips, fried until crispy, simmered in salsa, then topped with a fried egg. The salsa can be whatever you’ve got on hand, whether it be a tomato-based salsa roja, mole sauce, or a tomatillo-based salsa verde.

For today’s version, I made a simple salsa using a mix of Anaheim and Jalapeño peppers, onion and garlic. I tossed the vegetables in oil and salt, then roasted them on a sturdy sheet pan until mellow and sweet. A quick blitz in the blender yielded a velvety smooth, almost creamy sauce, with just a bit of a spicy kick.

You can top your chilaquiles with a fried egg as I did, or grate a mound of cotija or queso fresco on top. Serve it alone or with refried beans on the side. Oh, and the salsa recipe makes enough for three generous servings of chilaquiles — you can freeze the extra salsa for future chilaquiles cravings, or make a big batch to share.

Roasted Pepper Salsa Verde (printer-friendly version)

makes about 3 cups

4 Anaheim peppers, seeded and cut into 1” pieces
4 Jalapeño peppers, seeded and cut into 1” pieces
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1” pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 ½ C. low sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1. Preheat oven to 450F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

2. Place peppers, garlic and onion on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat everything with the oil, then bake for 30 minutes.

3. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the ingredients to cool to room temperature. Place in a blender or food processor, pour in the chicken broth, and blend for about 10 seconds, until salsa is smooth and thick.

Roasted Green Pepper Chilaquiles (printer-friendly version)

serves 1

1 C. Roasted Pepper Salsa Verde
2 ounces tortilla chips

top with:

1 egg, cooked over easy
½ of one serrano pepper, thinly sliced into rounds
¼ C. chopped fresh tomatoes (Early Girl or other variety)

1. Ladle the salsa into a medium (10-inch) skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat.

2. When the salsa begins to simmer, add the tortilla chips. Stir the tortilla chips into the salsa and let simmer for about 3 minutes, until they have absorbed the salsa and become pliable but not broken down.

3. Transfer the cooked mixture onto a serving plate. Fry an egg and set on top. Garnish with sliced pepper and chopped tomatoes and serve immediately.

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DSCF1002

Hello, everyone! I’m back in California, having just returned from the Contemporary Performance Studies program at the Vancouver International Song Institute. The week-long program consisted of back-to-back coachings, masterclasses, lectures, and a final concert, all focused on art songs from the 20th and 21st century. Highlights included lots of focused but giggly practice sessions with my pianist partner, being twirled around the UBC recital hall stage by none other than Jake Heggie, and being exposed to tons of great new repertoire. I’ve returned to the Bay Area refreshed, inspired, and excited to perform more contemporary classical music . . .

It's Jake Heggie!

It’s Jake Heggie!

. . . and also in need of a big ol’ salad or two. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are lots of great salads in Canada, but I didn’t manage to eat a single one while I was there, nor did I cook a single meal during my nine day stay in the Great North. My wonderful host served me yogurt and berries in the mornings, and then I’d run off the UBC for 12-hour days of intense programming, arriving back home after dark. My diet consisted almost entirely of meals purchased from the Student Union Building’s downstairs cafeteria. After a week of grab-and-go sandwiches, sushi, and bananas, I could not wait to get back into the kitchen.

My pianist partner Amy Lee, practicing before one of our coachings.

My pianist partner Amy Lee, practicing before one of our coachings.

Inspired by a hearty chopped salad at my friend Emma’s last dinner party (look for her recipe on TheKitchn next week!), I decided to make one of my own. I threw in some leftover cooked chicken breast and quinoa to add lots of protein — it’s filling enough to be a one-dish meal, but still bright and summery with the addition of a chopped nectarine, one of my favorite summer stone fruits. Ribbons of tender red lettuce, cubes of crunchy celery, and a handful of fresh cilantro round things out, and all of the ingredients are gently tossed in kicky and sweet Honey Lemon Vinaigrette. Serve this salad at a luncheon or potluck, or pack it along for an easy picnic dish.

DSCF1005

Chopped Salad with Honey Lemon Vinaigrette (printer-friendly version)

serves 4

1/2 C. quinoa
3/4 C. water

1/4 C. extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp. clover honey
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt

1 head red leaf lettuce, cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
3 ribs celery, diced small
1 nectarine, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 C. cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cooked chicken breast halves (1/2 pound), cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1. Combine quinoa and water in a small (1-quart) saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn down to low, cover, and let simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off and let sit for another 5 minutes.

2. While the quinoa is simmering, make the vinaigrette: In an 8-ounce jar or small tupperware, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, honey, pepper, and salt. Shake to mix until the honey is thoroughly blended into the other ingredients.

2. Spoon the cooked quinoa into a large bowl, and let cool for a few minutes. Add the lettuce, celery, nectarine, cilantro, and cooked chicken. Pour in the vinaigrette, then toss gently to thoroughly coat all of the ingredients evenly.

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soy-sesame-sauce-tofu-bowls

I don’t often take shortcuts in the kitchen, using prepackaged foods to get a meal on the table more quickly. But when a locally-made product is delicious, organic, and devoid of unpronounceable ingredients, I’m willing to make an exception.

For today’s dish, I used Hodo Soy’s Five-Spice Tofu Nuggets. Cubes of their housemade firm tofu are fried in soybean oil, then braised in water, apple juice, tamari, and five-spice powder. They’re full of flavor, not too salty, and a perfect addition to this brown rice bowl, adding a little protein and chew.

The rice bowls and their accompanying sauce couldn’t have been easier to put together. The only cooking invovled simmering a pot of short-grain brown rice and heating up the Tofu Nuggets in a skillet until warmed through and lightly browned. Soy Sesame Sauce requires no heat whatsoever — you just whisk the ingredients together until combined.

Oh, and feel free to use whatever your favorite vegetables happen to be. For this rice bowl, the produce drawer yielded carrots, red cabbage, and some mini sweet peppers. Anything with a little crunch would be great — next time I might try some radishes or thinly-sliced romaine lettuce. Just cut or julienne slice your veggies, arrange them on top of the rice, and spoon some Soy Sesame Sauce over the top. Add some sliced avocado and fresh cliantro, and you’ve got a colorful, healthy meal.

soy-sesame-sauce-tofu-bowl-overhead

Soy Sesame Sauce (printer-friendly version)

makes about 3/4 C.

3 Tbsp. mirin
2 Tbsp. tamari
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. sesame paste
2 Tbsp. organic cane sugar
2 tsp. sambal oelek (or favorite chili sauce)

1. Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl until fully combined.

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squaw-snow-shot

Happy TGIF, Dear Readers! I hope that, unlike me, you find yourself with boundless energy for your upcoming weekend adventures. Things are a bit fuzzy around the edges chez Opera Girl on Day 2 of Sneezefest 2013. After staving off every virus that’s hit these parts in the last few months, I’ve finally succumbed to a head cold.

lake-tahoe

I sure earned this one, though! Presidents’ Day Weekend brought a raucous, fun-filled trip to the snow. Last Friday afternoon, we piled into Jason’s truck and left the Bay Area to spend a few days in South Lake Tahoe.

coco-varun-jason-snow

Today, I’d like to share a couple recipes from a dinner we enjoyed on our second night at the cabin: Vietnamese-inspired rice plates, featuring turkey meatballs and a spiced-up version of Nuoc Cham dipping sauce. Made with ground turkey breast, the meatballs were tender and full of flavor. With Italian-American meatball technique (breadcrumbs and eggs kept the super-lean meat from drying out) and a Vietnamese-y roster of ingredients including fish sauce and lemongrass, they made for some awesome fusion cuisine.

vietnamese-meatball-dinner

And of course, any Vietnamese rice plate demands a few spoonfuls of Nước chấm, a classic Vietnamese dipping sauce. Basic recipes include fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar, and water, but here I’ve added chili peppers, onions, garlic, and cilantro to spice things up.

nuoc-cham-sauce

While the meatballs are baking, steam some Jasmine rice and throw together a quick pickle of julienned cucumbers and carrots. Next, shred a small head of iceberg lettuce and assemble your Nước chấm (one great feature of this sauce is that there’s no cooking required). Served family style, you’ve got an easy meal to serve a hungry crowd.

lake-tahoe-group-shot

Vietnamese Meatballs (printer-friendly version)

makes 24 two-inch meatballs

2 lbs. ground turkey breast
2 large eggs

3 Tbsp. fish sauce

2 Tbsp. Bragg’s aminos or soy sauce
2 Tbsp. lime juice

1 Tbsp. organic cane sugar
4 cloves garlic, grated on a fine microplane
1/2 C. finely diced red onion

4″ inner stalk of lemongrass, chopped very fine
2 Serrano chilis, seeded and finely diced

2 Jalapeño chilis, seeded and finely diced
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided

1. Heat the oven to 400F. Brush a baking sheet with one tablespoon of the vegetable oil.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except remaining vegetable oil. Using your hands or a large spoon, mix the ingredients together until everything is evenly combined.

3. Shape the mixture into meatballs approximately 2 inches in diameter. Place them on the oiled cookie sheet, patting them down slightly. Brush the meatballs with the remaining vegetable oil.

4. Bake on the middle rack in the oven for 20 minutes. Turn the heat up to broil, then let the meatballs cook for about 5 more minutes, until the tops are lightly browned.

Spicy Nước chấm

makes about 2 cups of sauce

1/3 C. fish sauce
1/2 C. organic cane sugar
1/2 C. water
juice of 2 large limes
1 Serrano pepper, seeded and finely diced
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/3 C. diced red onion
3 small green onions, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, grated on a fine microplane

1. Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl.

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