Superspark

a year in food and life

Cumin chicken with black beans August 5, 2009

Filed under: chicken,food — superspark @ 10:57 am

grilled cumin chicken

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times featured a story on how Manhattan was named the slimmest county in New York. The news probably didn’t come as a surprise to many.  In my high school days in New York City, I was constantly running around town exploring and even now, when I’m in the city visiting my in-laws, I think nothing of walking several miles just to run an errand. There’s just so much to see that the blocks fly by. I won’t even start to get into the other half of it- pressure to be chic and slim, the fashion industry and the media…suffice to say that there are many reasons why Manhttanites take that crown.

No word on how my new home, Monroe County, NY fared in this statewide comparison, but let me present my own findings.

Exhibit A: Buffalo has its famous wings and Chicago is known for pizza. What is Rochester known for in the culinary world? Something called a garbage plate and a friend of ours who is a Rochester native stated singing the praises of this particular delicacy the moment he heard we were considering moving here. An ungodly combination of hamburger, macaroni salad, hash browns, and french fries, all mixed up beneath a meaty sauce, it is, as someone delicately put it, “not the sort of thing you want to eat before a long road trip.” But it well-loved enough to have earned its very own Wikipedia page.

Exhibit B: Rochester loves a street fair, as it turns out. Me, not so much, but Dylan is a fan and so we ventured down to the Corn Hill festival a couple of weeks ago. Among the food vendors was one offering the particularly intriguing “fried Oreo”. I know, you’re simultaneously repulsed and compelled. I’m not one to buy such things, but it just so happens that one fell into my hands (they’re sold in 6-packs, far to many for one person to eat alone) and it was pretty tasty.  I won’t be devastated if another fried Oreo never crosses my lips, but I wouldn’t turn one down if it showed up at my desk right now.

In my last post, written not too long after we rolled into town in our 26-foot Penske truck with all of our earthly belongings, we were still in shock from the reality of mortgages, school taxes, day care, utilities, and car payments and we had taken to budget eating at the extreme.  I was actually feeling quite svelte from this fear-of-being-destitute diet, but of course that’s when our paychecks for our new jobs started rolling in and things more or less went back to normal.  From this experience we will take with us a newfound love of dried beans- so cheap and so easy!- and a temporary aversion to that neon yellow boxed mac and cheese (no more!).

It was with great joy that I started cooking again in the last few weeks, slowly but surely, with particular attention to healthy recipes. So I wish that I had more exciting things to report about this cumin chicken with black beans from Yum Sugar (originally from Real Simple). It was, you know, okay (said with a distinct shoulder shrug). Decidedly underseasoned, it was improved by some liberal salt and peppering after the fact. But even so,the chicken seemed overcooked (possibly my fault, though I thought I followed the directions) and it was just kind of forgettable.  In a face-off with a single, solitary fried Oreo, a whole plate of cumin chicken with black beans wouldn’t stand a chance.

Cumin chicken with black beans (serves 4)

Ingredients:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
3 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained (or use dried ones!)
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 1/4 cups cherry tomato halves
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1. Place chicken between 2 sheets of plastic wrap; pound with a mallet to 1/2-inch thickness. Combine cumin with cayenne pepper and rub over chicken.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté chicken for 4 minutes per side. Remove to a cutting board.

3. Return the skillet with pan drippings to medium heat. Add the onion and jalapeño and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the beans, corn, tomatoes, and 3 tablespoons water and cook, stirring, 1 or 2 minutes, until ingredients are just heated through.

4. Remove from heat and toss with the scallions, cilantro, and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Slice chicken and arrange on top of beans.

 

Grilled lemon cumin chicken with feta March 20, 2009

Filed under: chicken,food — superspark @ 9:50 am

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I won’t regale you with tales of the multi-course celebratory dinner we ate last night, keeping Maddie up way past her bedtime.  I won’t tell you about the three bottles of wine that proved to be little match for four very thirsty people in very festive spirits.  Nor will I expound upon the half dozen cream puffs and tubs of ice cream that became mere memories as the hour grew late.

Yesterday was “match day”, you see, when fourth year medical students at long last get their assignments as to where they will spend the next few years of their lives.  Unlike college admissions, in which you collect acceptances and rejections, weighing the possible offers and ultimately deciding where you want to go, the residency “match” process is all or nothing.  After submitting your preferences as to where you’d like to do your residency, you receive an assignment and you either take it or you don’t practice medicine the following year.  Adding to that stress, the big reveal, when students receive word of their “match”, happens very publicly at a brunch, so that those who thrillingly open their envelopes to find themselves destined for the program of their dreams may find themselves alongside those faced with bitter disappointment.  Stressful? Nah.

Maddie, Dylan, and I went to USC yesterday morning to find out our future, where we’d soon be headed for Dylan’s five year surgical residency.  Had you told me a year ago that I would be jubilantly celebrating an impending move to upstate New York, I would never have believed it.  Yet there we were, hugging, kissing, and even shedding a few tears as our future unfolded.  We would have happily taken our second or third choices (Manhattan and Los Angeles), but for many reasons abandoning big city life for something a bit slower seems to make sense for us for the next few years.  Dylan and I will be working in the very same building of the hospital, our commute will be no longer than ten minutes, and we’ll be able to afford to buy a gorgeous house with a yard for Maddie to make snow angels (let’s not forget that snow will be a very constant part of our lives!).  And in five year, when Dylan finally makes a salary commensurate to his 25+ years of schooling and his long hours of training, we can reassess whether we want to move back to somewhere a bit more urban and cosmopolitan.

grilled-lemon-cumin-chicken

So, what, you may be wondering now, does this possibly have to do with grilled lemon cumin chicken with feta? Well, not much, to be honest, aside from the fact that three bottles of wine and several thousand calories later, in our post-celebratory haze, all we can think about eating is something clean and healthy, with fresh, unadulterated flavors.  Not one for the hair of the dog and all that jazz, I just want something simple and nutritious, like this well-balanced meal from Family Style Food.  I made it several weeks ago and it was a perfect combination of flavors and textures, with a little protein, a little bit of carbs, and some veggies and dairy thrown into the mix. Although it was originally envisioned with fava beans, I was more than happy to skip the labor of shelling them and substitute frozen edamame instead.  Now if only it could whip up itself as we recover from our post-excitement exhaustion…

Grilled lemon cumin chicken with feta (serves 4)

Ingredients:
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb frozen shelled edamame
1/2 cup crumbled feta or ricotta salata cheese

1. Pound the chicken between sheets of plastic wrap to an even 1/4-inch thickness and place in a large ziptop bag.

2. Whisk the lemon juice, oil, mint and cumin together. Reserve half, and pour the rest over the chicken. Seal the bag and refrigerate for an hour and up to six hours.

3. Rub a grill pan with oil and heat the grill to medium-high heat. Remove chicken from the marinade and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill the chicken, covered, about 6 minutes per side.

4. Meanwhile, cook edamame on stovetop or in microwave according to directions on package.

5. Serve chicken over couscous or brown rice with the edamame, sprinkled with cheese and drizzled with remaining lemon-cumin mixture.

 

Tortilla soup January 21, 2009

Filed under: chicken,food,soups — superspark @ 1:05 pm

tortilla-soup

Tortilla soup is a staple here in Southern California, but much like fish tacos, it’s a culinary delight that was more or less foreign to me growing up in New York. Actually, I do have one particularly vivid memory of tortilla soup from my east coast days. In my undergrad days at a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts, Mondays were tortilla soup days. Having never heard of the dish before, I figured it was a dining hall invention, a la the “mexicorn lasagna”, which I’ve never again spotted outside that remote corner of Massachusetts.

How do I remember that Mondays were tortilla soup day? I came to the slow realization that at the beginning of the week, the soup station always featured a light, clear broth and as the days went by the soups became thicker and denser, moving through mulligatawny and onto chowders. The explanation, of course, was dining hall conservation- soup left over at the beginning of the week becomes the base for soups made later…just add more ingredients and adjust the seasonings and you have an entirely new meal- voila! Although this revelation didn’t curtail my tortilla soup habit, I feel fairly certain that my chowder intake went way down.

Fast forward a number of years and across a continent and I finally made tortilla soup myself a few weeks ago, in my new best friend, the slow cooker. Our friends Andrew and Meredith brought this dish to my baby shower last summer, a rollicking pot luck affair, and it held its own against all sorts of treats like Sprinkles cupcakes, Dylan’s famous baked apple french toast, and homemade frittatas. It took me nearly six months to get around to trying it on my own, but I couldn’t have been happier with the results. It was seriously easy (dump a bunch of ingredients and a couple of chicken breasts in a slow cooker and go) and made a great warm dinner watching Sunday Night Football. I was shocked at how well the chicken came out- tender and moist, it literally fell apart at the touch of a fork as I shredded it. My only complaint is that between the soup and the toppings, it involves a lot of ingredients, many of which aren’t exactly staples in my pantry (like red chile sauce and green chiles). But with a little forethought, this soup is well worth your while. Next time we’ll be making a double batch.

Tortilla soup (from Southwest Slow Cooking; serves 4)

Ingredients:
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 16-ounce diced can of tomatoes, undrained
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 green chiles, roasted and chopped
2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tbsp cornmeal
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 cups red chile sauce
2 boneless chicken breasts
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and diced

toppings:
1 lime
cilantro
monterey jack cheese
tortilla chips (we fried our own fresh from corn tortillas)

1. Saute the onions in a pan with the olive oil.

2. In a slow cooker, combine the sauteed onions, garlic, jalapeno, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chiles, cumin, cayenne, cornmeal, chicken stock, red chile sauce, and chicken breasts. Cover and cook on low 5-6 hours.

3. Remove chicken, shred with a fork, and return to the slow cooker. Add avocado, cover, and cook on low until soup is thoroughly heated.

3. Serve in bowls. Top with lime juice, cheese, cilantro, and tortilla chips.

 

Mango chicken curry July 8, 2008

Filed under: chicken,food — superspark @ 5:56 am

As I mentioned last week, we’re expecting a L’il Spark in about a month. One of the first things I investigated at the beginning of the pregnancy, of course, was exactly what I was and wasn’t supposed to be eating. Clearly alcohol and caffeine were off limits, but I didn’t know much beyond that- say, that unpasteurized juices are to be avoided or that bean sprouts are a no-no. And while there are a few things that I miss (primarily gorgonzola and the other moldy cheeses), it’s hardly been a restrictive diet and I think I’ve done a good job of maintaining a reasonable attitude about the whole thing. Dylan has been similarly supportive, happily eating the blue cheese out of my salads on the occasion a piece slips in, not fussing when I have a little caffeine, and indulging my one craving, pizza.

His one strange hang-up came recently, when I was up in Northern California for a two day conference. I returned home to find that in that short time span, he had eaten every piece of tilapia in the house, having deciding that bottom-feeding fish were probably best avoided until the baby was born. I don’t know how many pieces had been in our freezer, but suffice to say, despite his sizeable appetite, even Dylan admitted that he was feeling rather ill after all of that fish. So the house has been a tilapia-free zone since then, and in fact, we’ve been left with nothing but frozen chicken cutlets as animal protein after that. Although I’d happily skip the animal protein altogether, I’ve been trying to make sure to include some in our diet, both for the baby and for my meat-lovin’ husband.

Hence this mango chicken curry from Simply Recipes, which includes chicken, but is really all about mango, ginger, and all of the tasty spices. It’s mild enough for even the most timid curry eater, so you can serve it with no worries about offending sensitive palates. And the mango makes it just a little different and more interesting than your average curry. Strangely enough, after mixing a good helping of rice in, I ended up bringing it to a concert picnic potluck a couple of weekends ago. Not the most obvious thing to bring perhaps, but amid baguettes, cheese, and an assortment of Trader Joe’s prepared foods, I think our friends were more than happy to have a little home cooking.

Mango chicken curry (serves 4)

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp (or more) of vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped (1 1/2 to 2 cups)
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp fresh minced ginger
2 Tbsp yellow curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 mangos, peeled and diced
2 Tbsp cider vinegar or white vinegar
1 1/4 cup water
1 1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup golden raisins (I omitted these)
1/2 cup heavy cream (can substitute all or partially with coconut milk- I used light coconut milk)
Salt and pepper
Cilantro for garnish

1. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the red bell pepper and another tablespoon of oil, cook for a couple more minutes. Add the curry powder and cumin, cook for a few more minutes. The spices will absorb some of the oil, so if anything begins to stick too much to the bottom of the pan, add a little more oil to the pan. Add the ginger and garlic, cook for one minute more.

2. Add the vinegar, water, and a 1/2 of the chopped mango to the pan. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to maintain a low simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat. Scoop the sauce into a blender. Purée the sauce, pulsing until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan.

3. Add chicken pieces and raisins to the pan. Return to a low simmer. Cover the pan and let cook for 8-10 minutes. Chicken should be just cooked through. Use a knife to cut open the largest piece to check.

4. Add remaining mango pieces to the pan. Stir in the cream. Let cook at a very low temperature for another minute or two, uncovered. Do not let boil! Or the cream may curdle. Adjust seasonings. If a little too sweet, add a little more vinegar. If not sweet enough, you can add a dash of sugar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice. Garnish with cilantro.

 

Chicken fajitas with crunchy lime cabbage and avocado June 19, 2008

Filed under: chicken,food — superspark @ 6:01 am

My mom came out from NY to visit a few weeks ago, having recently retired, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I thought it was high time that she put her feet up for a few days and let herself be pampered a bit. Truth be told, she wasn’t one to sit around doing nothing so she helped me put together a quilt Dylan and I were making as a wedding present while I hit the kitchen. I wrote before about our diametrically opposite diets- me a consummate carb-lover and Mom a devotee of a low-carb, high protein and fat diet. It ended up being easier than I had imagined to reach compromises, and after regaling Mom with my favorite fish tacos (sans tortilla for her, natch) and a zucchini ricotta frittata, which she declared the “best frittata ever”, I settled upon this recipe for chicken fajitas with crunchy lime cabbage and avocado for our final dinner before she headed back east.

Originally from the March 2008 issue of Bon Appetit, I found the recipe here on Epicurious, while trying to dream up ways to use up half a head of cabbage.  It was a quick and easy dish, once I really read the recipe and realized that the chicken needed to marinate for several hours ahead of time (but who doesn’t love a late-night dinner, right?).  What the title doesn’t tell you is how spicy the chicken is- Mom and Dylan seemed not to notice, but I definitely went through a fair bit of water as I scarfed down my fajitas.  This is one of those dinners that can suit different tastes and you get to add all of the fixings at the table- Mom skipped the tortillas and went heavy on the avocado, I went light on the chicken (having tasted how spicy it was) and heavier on the veggies and sour cream. Really, it’s up to you.  It’s not exactly a revolutionary or ground-breaking meal, but it’s a nice variation on Mexican for a warm weeknight evening.

Chicken fajitas with crunchy lime cabbage and avocado (serves 4-6)

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breast halves,
cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch-thick strips
1 large red onion, halved, sliced lengthwise
3 cups thinly sliced cabbage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
6 to 8 fajita-size flour tortillas
1 avocado, halved, pitted, sliced
sour cream, optional

1. Whisk 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, and chili powder in large bowl. Add chicken, bell pepper, and onion. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Let stand 1 hour at room temperature or chill up to 4 hours.

2. Toss cabbage, cilantro, lime juice, lime peel, and 3 tablespoons olive oil in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap tortillas in foil and place in oven until heated through, about 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, heat large pan over medium-high heat. Put chicken and vegetables in pan and cook until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are browned, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes.

5. Divide chicken among warm tortillas; top with cabbage mixture and avocado slices, and sour cream, if desired.

 

Apricot and almond stuffed chicken June 7, 2008

Filed under: chicken,food — superspark @ 3:27 pm

Being a fairly recent convert to meat-eating, as I’ve mentioned before, I am just now getting over my squeamishness about dealing with raw chicken.  My earliest chicken-cooking endeavors were most notable for the machinations I would go through in order to avoid touching the uncooked breasts.  Think large spatulas, plastic wrap, and the like… I wish I could attribute it to just a fear of salmonella, but the truth is that the thought of raw chicken, especially those white fatty bits, just completely repulsed me. I’ve been slowly conditioning myself to become accustomed to it and have gotten to the point that last week I decided to try making stuffed chicken breasts for the first time, a task that would require some serious chicken handling.  One must make a long slit in the side of the breast to form a pocket, an act that most definitely requires a hands on approach, and although putting the filling into the pocket might be accomplished with the help of utensils, it is certainly easier with a little poking, prodding, and sealing from the fingertips. It was a little bit ooky, I’ll admit, but the results were SO good that I am now more than willing to add stuffed chicken breasts to my regular repertoire.

I found this particular recipe here on Dinner Tonight, the blog associated with Martha Stewart’s magazine Everyday Food . I was drawn in by the apricot/almond/goat cheese combo and probably would have been equally enticed had they just been sitting atop a green salad, but as it was, the dish was presented as a quick and easy alternative to your standard, ho-hum, everyday chicken breast. In fact, it exceeded my expectations- turns out it wasn’t just the combination of flavors in the filling that made me love this dish, but the chicken ended up perfectly cooked- crisp and crunchy on the breadcrumb and almond encrusted exterior, juicy on the interior. We made these twice in a week and even when we let them sit in the oven five minutes too long, they turned out terrific. I can’t vouch for the pesto, as I steered clear of making it after finding a caterpillar infestation on our mint plant, but the meat was moist and flavorful enough that I didn’t think it needed anything more. Served alongside a healthy helping of green beans, this was a great and filling alternative to my usual carbohydrate-based meals. Delish!

Apricot and almond stuffed chicken (serves 4)

Ingredients:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, (6 ounces each)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 ounces goat cheese
4 dried apricots, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (3 tablespoons)
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
Mint Pesto (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut a slit in one side of each chicken breast to create a pocket about 4 inches long.

2. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup almonds with the goat cheese and apricots. Stuff each breast with 1/4 of the mixture. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

3. On a plate, combine breadcrumbs and remaining 1/4 cup almonds. Dip each breast into egg, then dredge in breadcrumb mixture.

4. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken until golden, 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer to oven; bake until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Serve hot with pesto on the side.

 

Balsamic chicken and pears March 8, 2008

Filed under: chicken,food — superspark @ 1:19 pm

balsamic-chicken-with-pears.jpg

As a child, I never had much of a taste for meat and ate it only on rare occasions. Even then, I could only stomach very particular types. Hamburgers had to be extra-lean. Hot dogs were only eaten out, never at home (turns out my mother was trying to sneak inferior turkey dogs into our diets, which accounted for my aversion). As far as chicken, I’d only eat the white meat and then only when it had just been cooked, no leftovers. I know, it sounds like a parent’s nightmare and I’ll surely be punished with even pickier children myself. Around age 12, I made an semi-deliberate decision to just stop. If I didn’t like meat, if I was just forcing myself to make the best of something I didn’t enjoy, why bother?

So from age 12 to about age 27, figuring that it was what I liked best, I followed a wholly vegetarian diet. So what happened around age 27? I was given the opportunity to live in Norway for six months to do research on my doctoral dissertation. As part of the preparation for this trip, I flew over for a week to meet with my collaborators, who greeted me at the airport with promises (in my mind, threats) to take me to the best fish restaurant in town that night. Not only was there nothing purely vegetarian on the menu, but my dinner companions recommended the whale or reindeer. Horrors! Ill at ease and in something of a panic, I spent the next few minutes trying to figure out what fish on the menu would arrive on my plate as an innocuous filet, rather than an intact specimen, eye staring up at me, tail frozen in time. It was then that I realized it would be a long, unsocial six months were I to try to adhere to a strictly vegetarian diet while in Norway and I started reintegrating chicken and seafood into my diet.

I’ve grown to like chicken and fish in the intervening few years, but it’s still harder for me to get excited about making them, as opposed to trying a new grain or pasta dish. I tend to use chicken and fish as a way of filling me up so that I don’t eat quite as much of the sometimes less healthy vegetarian dishes I love so much. Case in point, after an American-themed dinner party this past weekend, we ended up with a tray of fabulous mac and cheese to last us through the week. While there’s nothing I’d like more than to sit down with the entire tray and a fork, it seemed wiser to exercise some portion control by coming up with a protein to temper all the delicious cheese and carbs.

Enter this recipe for balsamic chicken and pears, which I found in a quick and healthy recipes piece on MSN recently. Having toted around a folded up, ratty print-out of the recipe for days, last night finally seemed the perfect time to make it. It was, as promised, quick as can be to put together- you could probably do the whole thing in 15 minutes, were you in a huge rush. And as it turned out, the chicken ended up being more than just a healthy foil to the true star of the meal, the mac and cheese. With tender sauteed pears, sweet dried cherries, and a tangy balsamic-based sauce, it was something I enjoyed not just because it’s healthy, not just because it gives me some much needed protein, but for its blend of the sweet and savory. So perhaps this recipe, simple and unassuming as it might be, may convert the picky eater in your life as well.

Balsamic chicken and pears (serves 4)

Ingredients:

2 tsp vegetable oil
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 Bosc pears, unpeeled and each cut into 8 wedges
1 cup chicken broth
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup dried cherries or raisins
rosemary sprigs

1. In non-stick 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tsp vegetable oil. Add chicken breasts and cook 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, until juices run clear when pierced with tip of knife. Remove chicken to bowl.

2. In same skillet, in 1 tsp vegetable oil, cook pear wedges until lightly browned and tender.

3. In cup, mix chicken broth, balsamic vinegar, cornstarch, and sugar until blended. Add chicken-broth mixture and dried cherries to skillet with pears. Heat to boiling; boil one minutes. Return chicken to skillet, heat through. Garnish with rosemary to serve.