Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An unexpected dinner party

My 18-year old niece was in town from Pennsylvania to visit a friend in Manhattan. Because they are both broke, they asked if they could come over for dinner to our apartment in Brooklyn instead of going out to Lucky Cheng's--the karaoke, drag-show dinner theatre we wanted to take them to. This was Saturday morning, so I had to whip up a plan. I overplanned, and overcooked, as always, but it was fun. This spread is a little time-consuming, but I think worth the effort.

Make-Your-Own Chicken Tacos (for four)

Olive oil
Two medium onions
1 clove of garlic
2 large chicken breasts
1 avocado
3 medium-sized tomatoes
1 cup of uncooked black beans
1 cup of uncooked brown rice
4 spinach tortillas
1 portobello mushroom
1/2 cup of pepper jack cheese
1/2 cup of yogurt
4 Tbsp cilantro
2 Tbsp parsley
1 can of tomato sauce
One lemon

Soak the black beans and the brown rice for a few hours. When they are ready to cook (I soak mine for about 6 hours), measure the rice and make sure you put twice as much water in its pot with a little bit of oil. Boil. Same with the black beans, except instead of adding oil, add the small can of tomato paste. Dice one of the onions, and saute in a pan with olive oil and one diced garlic clove. Set aside. Dice the other two onions, and put it in a bowl.

Slice the portobello mushrooms into 1/2 inch strips. Slice the onion so that they are 1/2 inch thin pieces to match the onions. Saute them both until tender and deep brown in a cast-iron pan.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. When the rice and beans are cooking, spray or spread olive oil in a baking dish. Place the breasts in the dish, and cut about four slits in each breast, spread or spray them with a bit of olive oil, and season the breasts with salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika. Slice about four rings of lemon and place them on top of the breasts. Place the seasoned chicken breasts in the oven.

Make some guac. Cut the avocado in half, scoop out the avocado and lightly mush. Add half of the diced onion, chop and add 2 Tbsp of cilantro, sprinkle with salt, pepper, paprika, a bit of cumin to taste, and squeeze the rest of the lemon on top. Stir gently so that the guac is nice and chunky.

Remember to keep stirring the beans so they don't stick to the pan! At some point before they are completely soft, add 1/2 of the sauteed onion/garlic mixture each to the rice and to the beans. Stir, stir, stir.

Dice the tomatoes.

Chop up the parsley and remainder of cilantro.

Mix 1/2 cup of yogurt with 2 Tbsp of cilantro, a healthy pinch of cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper. Should be nice and spicy. You can add as much cumin as you want, just keep tasting it.

When the chicken is cooked, the beans and rice should be nearly done. Take out the chicken, and when it is cool enough to shred, do so, and toss with parsely until coated.

Shred the cheese!

Warm the tortillas (either in a toaster oven or right on a gas-stove flame) and place in a dish covered with a napkin. Place all the things you've created in their own little bowls and arrange on a table.

Tell your guests to come and get it! Make their own tortillas.

Suggestion: I like to put two large pinches of cheese on the warm tortilla, then add the chicken, beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes, fold, and then put the guac, yogurt sauce, and rice on the side. (I don't like the raw onions!)

If you're having dinner with kids, of course you shouldn't include Margaritas . . . .

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pesto chicken resting on quinoa

Inspired by Barbara Kinsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about using local ingredients to store food for the seasons when its not available, last summer I made over 64 ounces of fresh pesto from nuts from Sahadi's and fresh basil from the Farmer's Market. I made traditional pine-nut pesto, but I also made walnut pesto, hazelnut pesto, and pecan pesto. We didn't eat as much of it as I thought we would over the winter because we essentially stopped eating pasta. Every once in a while I get an idea about how to use it again, and here's one of my favorites.

Pesto Chicken Resting on Quinoa

1 cup red quinoa
1 veggie (or chicken) bouillon cube
1/2 cup pesto (I used pecan this time)
2 free-range antibiotic free chicken breasts (not too big)
1/2 onion
nice olive oil

Prep time: 1 - 1 1/2 hour (and an overnight soaking)

The night before you're going to make the dish, put 1 cup of dry red quinoa in a bowl with twice as much water and let sit. (You can use regular quinoa, but then you'd have to make it colorful to balance out the dish--maybe chopped seasonal tomatoes or roasted red peppers...hmmm, that WOULD be good!)

Start preparing by draining and rinsing the quinoa. Dry it a little bit and then place in a large saucepan with 1 3/4 cup of water. I added a bouillion cube (vegetable) to this one, but that's optional, salt, pepper, and paprika. Bring to a boil.

While the quinoa is heating, chop coarsely the 1/2 onion and sautee in some nice olive oil until carmellized in a cast-iron pan. Dump the carmelized onions in with the quinoa (you can even wait towards the end, just set the onions aside in a small bowl).

Pour a little bit of water in the cast iron pan and swirl around. Do not clean the pan before the next step!

Take the two chicken breasts and cut diagonal slits (about four per each breast) with a sharp knife. This wil help keep the chicken moist. Sprinkle some salt, pepper and paprika on the breasts. Heat some oil in the pan that still a bit mucky with the onions, and when the oil is hot and begins to smoke a bit, sprinkle some salt, pepper and paprika on the surface of the pan and immediately put the breasts, spice side up, in the pan. Push them around a bit immediately so they don't stick to the pan. Brown the breasts on both sides until they are a nice golden/tan color. If they are thick, turn and cook a bit on the sides as well.

When they are browned (but not necessarily cooked fully on the inside) place them on a oiled baking dish (or you can keep them in the cast iron pan). Spread about 1/4 of a cup of pesto on each breast, coating the top completely. Pop in the oven for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the breasts.

When the quinoa is done, so should the chicken breasts. Spoon about 1/2 cup of quinoa on each plate and either slice the breasts attractively to sit on the bed of quinoa, or just put a whole breast on top and serve. Enjoy!

If you're trying to eat less, and everyone (except anorexics) should, cut the portions in half (eat only one half of each breast) and save the rest for tomorrow's lunch.

We served this with a simple green salad with sliced sundried tomatoes, sunflower seeds, and sliced almonds.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Breakfast Lago de Atitlan

At Casa del Mundo, and in many other greenie-granola-hippie-friendly places in Guatemala, they serve the best breakfast I've ever had. Since we've been back, we we made it at least three times a week. Unfortunately, we've run out of the homemade granola from CdM, which means that we're currently searching for a granola recipe that approximates the crunchy goodness we found there.

What is it?

Breakfast Lago de Atitlan

1 cup of freshly sliced fruit (apple, mango, banana, papaya, strawberries, pineapple)
1-1 1/2 cup of yogurt (or even cottage cheese will work)
wheat germ or flax seeds (optional)

Place the cup of fruit in a bowl and spoon the yogurt over the fruit. Drizzle with honey, and then surround in a ring with granola. You can sprinkle the wheat germ or flax right on tops

Take a big spoon and eat. Yum!

If you have a suggestion for a granola recipe that has pepitas in it, please let me know.

Our ideas: oats, unsweetened coconut, peanuts, sesame seeds, a few raisins or currants, pepitas, honey, oil. Bake it all up and mix it around.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Searching for great food in Guatemala

I haven't written for so long because its been a rough winter, and we were planning a big trip to Guatemala. The picture on the side is of me at a vegetable market in Antigua. I persuaded the seller to let me sit on her crate and pretend to sell vegetables just for the picture. I love Central American food, but I have to say we were infrequently impressed with the food. We stayed at an amazing place on Lake Atitlan near Panajachel--Casa del Mundo http://lacasadelmundo.com/ -- and they had very good food, but not very original and not really Guatemalan. They used fresh ingredients, though, and the setting is unreal (check out the photos on their website or on my facebook page).

The best idea we took from there was a breakfast of fresh fruit (papaya, mango, pineapple, apple) with yogurt, honey, and homemade granola (made with fresh pepitas that are ubiquitous in the country). We'll definitely be looking up some recipes for granola and sharing them here.

Two other notable dishes: a honey-and-sesame-glazed carrot dish with olives in the middle; and an amazing black bean soup at Cafe No Se, a place that took me in years ago as a volunteer helper when they first opened and I was desperate to not return to the U.S. You can read about the founder and the cafe here, but I'll post photos of the place on a slide show once I figure out how to use it.


The dish? Black bean soup. I know, it sounds basic, but they used just the right amount of fried tortilla strips and cheese, the consistency was wonderful, and there was a bowl of fresh avocado on the side. Yum. The setting was also lovely.

We got some other ideas (cardamom dishes, chocolate panqueques, and chicken stews...) but they'll take some development, and we've both been so busy with our jobs, I don't know when we'll get a chance.