Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chicken Stuffed with Goat Cheese & Sundried Tomatoes

A few weeks ago, I started my training regimen for the Nassau half marathon. When a coworker asked me if I was following a set diet and increasing my calories, protein, etc., I responded with the truth: Of course I was increasing my calories. But just with anything within reach.

I think this would be those nasty things that we call "empty calories". You know, candy bars, chocolate and other such processed foods. This may be the reason I actually gain weight during my half marathon training, rather than lose or maintain my weight.

After some thought, I decided that I should be a good runner and eat right for the next 8 weeks of training. In my arsenal of recipes (that I will one day have a chance to recreate for myself), I discovered two quick and easy chicken dishes that I had been meaning to, someday, maybe get around to making. Here is the first:

Chicken Stuffed with Goat Cheese & Sundried Tomatoes
from Ask Georgie's recipe

* Note: I doubled Georgie's recipe because I would have had leftover chicken breasts and it's just too easy to freeze the leftovers for noshing on another day
  • 8 sundried tomato halves (not packed in oil)
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 1/2 ounce fresh basil, chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 (5-ounce) chicken breasts
  • Salt
  • Cooking oil spray
1) Place the sundried tomatoes in a small bowl with the hot water.

2) Soak the tomatoes for 10 mins. Drain and chop the tomatoes.

3) Combine the tomatoes, goat cheese, basil, and pepper. Stir the mixture together.

4) Use a paring knife to slice a "filling pocket" into each chicken breast. Do not slice all the way through or the stuffing won't stay in the chicken.

5) Stuff the chicken pockets with the goat cheese mixture. You may need to use toothpicks to keep the chicken together securely.

6) Lightly sprinkle salt and pepper on the outside of the chicken breasts to season them.

7) Place a non-stick skillet over a medium flame and spray the bottom of the pan with nonstick cooking spray.

8) Once the pan is heated, add the chicken breasts and cook on one side for ~5 mins or until golden brown.

9) Reduce the heat to low and turn the chicken breasts over. Cover the pan.

10) Allow the chicken to cook for about 15 mins. This may vary depending on several factors such as the thickness of the chicken and the level of heat.

11) Once done, let the chicken rest for a few minutes before digging in. (It's really difficult to sit there and wait to eat this deliciousness. I know. I've been there.)

I'm not sure why it took me this long to make this recipe. I love goat cheese and I love the tomato/basil combination. And who doesn't love chicken. It's like all my favorite things are wrapped up into one package, ready for me to consume. The sauteed chicken was tender and complimented the soft, tangy goat cheese and sundried tomatoes. The pungent aroma of the basil permeated each bite I took.

Regardless of the number of steps listed above, this recipe is super simple. It's relatively healthy too. Georgie puts this at 239 calories per serving. (1 piece of chicken = 1 serving). I'm sure this will fit right in with my half marathon training plan.

Uh, well, about that training plan. Earlier this week I may have encountered a leg injury, so we'll see what happens in terms of the running.

Now excuse me while I rummage through the rest of my bookmarked recipes to find more of these hidden gems.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sweet Potato Mallow

I realize that it may be a little late to update your plans for Thanksgiving sides. But you should consider adding sweet potato mallow to your holiday feast this year. And if that's not possible, don't give up hope just yet. Fall is still upon us, so let's gobble up those sweet potatoes while we can. And if Jack Frost's winter wonderland still sneaks up on you, screw it and just make this dish anyway.

This sweet potato mallow is a traditional side at any and every one of my family's get-togethers, be it Thanksgiving or Christmas or any meal in between. I didn't realize that it was a dish that was also made here in the states until I started researching possible recipes. Who knew this side was everywhere? I finally decided to just go with what I know and get the recipe from my sister. This is where I fell into the typical "family recipe" trap. My conversation with my sister went something like this:

Me: "What's the recipe for sweet potato mallow?"
Nett: "Mix together some sweet potatoes, butter, cream, and brown sugar. Then bake until the marshmallows are done."
Me: "OK. I'm going to need some measurements with that."
Nett: "Well, I don't really measure. Use 5 cans of sweet potatoes, then just mix everything together until it tastes right."
Me: "Hmmm..."

After some more prodding, I finally got an approximate recipe for the sweet potato mallow. I decided to go old school and use real sweet potatoes in the recipe, but if you find you don't have the time, you can use 5 1lb cans of sweet potatoes instead. You'll be able to save time by skipping the whole peeling and boiling process.

Sweet Potato Mallow
a family recipe
  • 5lb sweet potatoes (or 5 1lb cans of sweet potatoes)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 1/2 cups brown sugar (either light or dark brown sugar)
  • 2 bags regular-sized marshmallows
1) If you're using raw, whole sweet potatoes, peel and dice the potatoes. If you're using canned sweet potatoes, skip to Step 3.

2) Boil the potatoes until they are tender. You want them to be easily blended by your mixer. (I admit that I didn't time this step. I was distracted by my sore wrist which I obtained from peeling and dicing 5lbs of sweet potatoes.)

3) Add the boiled, diced sweet potatoes to a mixing bowl. Add the butter, brown sugar, and evaporated milk.

Two things to note here if you're using canned sweet potatoes: (1) Make sure that the butter is at room temperature. The canned potatoes won't be warm, so they won't melt the butter for you. (2) You won't need as much brown sugar as called for in the ingredients list. Canned sweet potatoes are typically mixed with heavy syrup. I don't know how much brown sugar you will need since I didn't actually use canned sweet potatoes, but make sure to add the sugar gradually and not all at once.

4) Mix everything together. It's OK if the mixture is still a little chunky. The chunks will smooth out during the baking process. (My mixture was a little smoother than I would have liked because I had to continuously add more sugar, milk and butter as I figured out the ratios.)

5) Pour into a non-greased pan and smooth out the mixture.

6) Top with marshmallows.

7) Bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees for ~45 minutes. You'll notice that the marshmallows are golden and crispy when the dish is done. Serve warm.

I personally had to make the sweet potatoes in two batches, since the mixer couldn't hold 5lbs of potatoes. No problem. I just mixed together half of the butter, evaporated milk, and sugar with half of the potatoes, then I spread this mixture in the baking dish. I whipped together the remainder of the ingredients and added it to the baking dish. The marshmallows went on top.

This side dish turned out to be pretty tasty -- irrespective of the fact that I had no actual measurements for the recipe. The sweet potato was smooth and creamy from the butter and evaporated milk. It was also sweet from the sugar and the marshmallows. Interestingly enough, the roasted marshmallows provided an unexpected texture which was sometimes chewy and sometimes crunchy.

I actually made this as a side dish for my neighbors pre-Thanksgiving feast this past weekend. Apparently no one at the shindig had eaten this particular side dish before, although one person did confess that he had seen it before but with mini marshmallows. Pssshhhh...I say go big or go home! Thankfully, the consumers seemed to be converts once we were done stuffing our faces!

!!!Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Dried Cranberry & Walnut Cous Cous

I don't know why, but I seem to be in a mood for grains lately. Seriously, what's up with the quinoa and cous cous recipes?

The first time I tried this cous cous, a friend of mine had made it for a picnic. It was my first time trying cous cous and this combination of ingredients was just delicious. I was super impressed that she had made this dish and I begged for the recipe.

Of course I never dreamed that it would be this simple. Are you kidding me? I could do this blindfolded. OK, I'm exaggerating. Maybe just with one eye closed. It may be the easiest side dish of all time. Because I would never dream of eating it as an entire meal. Never...

I've actually made this cous cous several times since first becoming acquainted with this recipe from Dave Lieberman. However, I hadn't made it in the past year or so. For some reason I suddenly began craving it on a random Tuesday. So as soon as I came home from my weekly travel excursion, I whipped up a bowl of this. And all was well with the world again.

Dried Cranberry & Walnut Cous Cous
adapted from Dave Lieberman's Curried Couscous Salad with Dried Sweet Cranberries
  • 2 cups instant couscous
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon + 3/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • Freshly ground pepper
1) Toast the walnuts: Spread the chopped walnuts out on a flat pan and bake at 400 degrees F for ~5 minutes. Watch them because they can go from toasted to burnt in a few seconds.

2) Stir the couscous, cranberries, curry powder, salt, and sugar together in a heatproof bowl.

3) Pour boiling water over the couscous mixture.
4) Add the orange juice. You could also use grapefruit juice if you're running low on OJ.

5) Stir everything together, cover the bowl tightly for about 5 minutes. (I usually use some sort of clingwrap.) You can give it a stir once or twice in those 5 minutes.
6) Remove the cover and fluff the cous cous with a fork.
7) Add the olive oil, lemon juice, and walnuts.
8) Stir until everything is mixed thoroughly.
9) Add salt and pepper to taste.
I slightly adapted Dave's recipe primarily because 1) I don't like parsley and 2) I didn't have any scallions. I like green leafy herbs and veggies, but I just never get the chance to use them all up and I hate throwing away food. It makes me sad. That said, if you want to add parsley and scallions, then by all means please do so.

Now let's get to the heart of this matter. How does it taste? Well, the curry gives the cous cous a smoky flavor, which is balanced out by the sweetness of the dried cranberries. You can taste a hint of the tart lemon juice but you also get a salty crunch from the walnuts. So's pretty freaking good. And that about sums it up.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Spinach & Feta Quinoa

I like to think that I'm pretty successful at Food Blogger stalking. If it was a sport, I'd at least get to Nationals. One of my favorite blogs to stalk is "Closet Cooking". Kevin, the mastermind behind it all, posts almost daily and always pairs pretty simple ingredients together to make an interesting meal.

As I was making my daily visit to his page a while ago, I noticed that he had made a quinoa salad with spinach and feta. I love the Greek-style combination of spinach and feta and I had always wanted to try cooking with quinoa. I bookmarked the page and I finally got around to making it, albeit several months later! Of course I changed the recipe a smidgen, since I'm not a huge fan of the parsley that Kevin uses. I compensated with feta cheese and some crushed red pepper, for a little kick.

Spinach & Feta Quinoa
slightly adapted from Closet Cooking
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion (chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1 bunch spinach (roughly chopped)
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth or water)
  • ~ 1/2 cup dill (chopped)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • splash of lemon juice
  • ~1/2 cup feta (crumbled)
1) Drizzle oil in the pan and let it heat up for a minute.

2) Add the onions and saute until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.

3) Toss in the garlic and saute with the onions for another minute.

4) Add the spinach and let it cook down until it wilts.

5) Add in the quinoa, chicken broth, dill, and crushed red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper, then bring it to a boil.

6) Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for ~20 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender.

7) Remove the pan from the heat and hit the quinoa with the lemon juice.

8) Mix in the feta.

9) Serve warm, room temperature, or cold.

First of all let's get to why I use an approximate symbol (~) in my ingredients list. Well, it's because I don't always measure everything. I know this is frustrating, but sometimes I just forget. Go with it. So add as much or as little feta or dill as you think you might like. Just taste everything and you can't go wrong because you'll know if you like it or not.

Now let's talk about the quinoa. Kevin's pictures may be better than mine, but this dish was so tasty it doesn't matter. I love the tang from the feta cheese and the lemon juice. The sauteed onions provide a slight sweetness and the pepper flakes gave me a little heat. The quinoa almost has the texture of rice. Almost. It's firmer and pops a little in your mouth. That's some fun eating right there. Try this out with your own little twist and let me know how it turns out.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Bahamian Conch Stew

As you all may or may not know, I grew up in the Bahamas. Yes, I was born and raised there. But I haven't actually lived there for a loooonnnng time. One of the things I really miss is the food. Conch stew is something that I don't actually remember growing up with, but I do remember eating it in my teenage years. In the Bahamas, it's pretty regularly served as a breakfast or brunch item. Of course, that doesn't stop up from eating it as a snack or for dinner either.

A few weeks ago, I was on vacation with my family in St. Kitt's/Nevis and although it was a pretty steady 85 degrees the entire time, my mom made some conch stew for brunch one day. Let's face it, who's going to turn down home-cooked native food? I haven't been home since April, so it was time to get my fix...

Bahamian Conch Stew
a family recipe
  • 2 large conchs, cleaned
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 tomato, diced
  • 4 potatoes, chopped
  • 2 limes
  • 1 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tbsp ketchup
  • pepper sauce or red pepper flakes to taste
  • 3 tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 7 cups water
1) Bruise the conch. (In layman's terms, this means you need to use a mallet or other object to tenderize the conch. If times are tough, you can always use an empty beer bottle. Thankfully, we had plenty of those lying around the apartment in Nevis...)

2) Place the conch in a pot of water. The water should just cover the conch. Boil for 20-30 minutes. (If the conch has been bruised thoroughly, then you can boil it for closer to 20 minutes than 30 minutes.)

3) In a large pot, add the oil and allow to heat up for a minute.

4) Add the flour and stir to make a roux. Let the roux simmer for about 5 minutes. Don't let the roux burn!

5) Add the tomatoes, onions, thyme, pepper sauce/red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir. (It may seem like a lot of salt, but this recipe makes a large pot of stew.) Stir and let simmer for a minute or two.

6) Add the potatoes, tomato paste and ketchup. Stir and let simmer for about 15 minutes.

7) Meanwhile, take the conch out of the water and cut it into chunks.

8) Add the water, conch and the juice of 1 lime to the large pot.

9) Cover the pot and simmer until the potatoes are done. For us, this was ~30 minutes but you know how you like your potatoes.

10) Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

11) Serve with bread, johhnycake, and/or a wedge of lime. The lime can be squeezed over the stew before eating, if desired.

The stew is a mixture of flavorful sensations. With each bite you get the spicy broth, which is complimented with just a hint of the tomatoes, onion, thyme and lemon. Then, periodically, you taste the soft potatoes and the fresh, chewy conch. A bowl of this stew is enough to fortify you for a long, productive day of drinking ahead. This is one of the best comfort foods for the upcoming winter season.

Note: You can also try this with lobster, but don't boil the lobster before adding it to the stew. Chop the uncooked lobster into bite-sized pieces and drop into the stew in the middle of Step 9. Remember that lobster cooks really fast, so you'll probably want it to simmer with the broth for somewhere around 10 minutes.