Friday, August 24, 2012

South West Chicken, and a few other tantalizing tidbits!

My husband Jerry made this recipe up a few years ago. I entered it in one of those national recipe contests, but didn't hear from them. If they actually tried this recipe I think the outcome would've been different. I do not mean to sound boastful, but this one is so easy and so delicious; extremely moist and the bacon lends a beautiful smokey flavor to the chicken thighs and avocado. Here goes...

Chicken Thighs with Avocado, Pepper Jack and Bacon
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 big cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil plus more for drizzling
2 large avocados
8 oz. Pepper Jack cheese, sliced into 8 pieces
8 strips Bacon
Cilantro, chopped, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut fat and gristle off chicken thighs. If you cannot find boneless/skinless thighs, it is not that much work to bone and skin yourself; just takes a bit of time. Thigh skin and bones make wonderful chicken stock.

Rinse trimmed thighs. Pat dry. Place in a shallow baking dish with Olive Oil, generous salt/pepper, and 2 cloves coarsely chopped garlic. Let marinate at least a couple hours, but if you left all day it won't hurt them. Peel, seed and slice avocado. There are many ways to skin an avocado, but what I do is cut in half and then hit the seed or pit with the knife and pop it out. Make 4 slices in the avocado while it is still in its skin. Take a teaspoon and run between the flesh and skin and the avocado will come out whole, but pre-sliced!  After they have marinated, lay the chicken thighs flat; inside up. Divide the avocado slices between the 8 thighs. Add 1 oz. of Pepper Jack to each thigh. Because the chicken has been marinating in olive oil, they will be slippery. Roll up and wrap with one strip of bacon pulled tight to go around the thigh like a belt. Drizzle with a little more Olive Oil and bake for about 1 hour or until bacon is crisp. Baste every 20 minutes or so with pan juices.  Let sit for 15 minutes. Top with with chopped cilantro and serve.  These South West Chicken Thighs are excellent with black beans and Mexican rice.

Here is a simple idea for a quick lunch that looks attractive enough to serve to guests. You can use either real crabmeat (always better, but expensive) or the immitation crab, which is actually made from pollock. I like the immitation stuff, although I don't think it really tastes like crabmeat.
                                     WITH CRABMEAT

This does not really need a recipe.  If you are using fake crab, just chop it into a fine dice, add a bit of finely diced celery, salt, pepper and mayo. Mix it well.  Slice a tomato into eighths being careful not to cut all the way through so the tomato keeps its shape.  Salt the inside of the tomato.  Place about 1/2 cup crab salad into the sliced tomato. You may have to push the crab salad down into the tomato. Top with freshly chopped chives and a sprig of parsley and you have a nice little lunch that takes about 10 minutes to make. If serving to guests add a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a hard roll and you have a perfectly balanced meal. In fact, even if you don't have guests that sounds pretty good!
Another quick and easy lunch idea...
This also takes only minutes to prepare, is super healthy, delicious and different. You can add any ingredient you like or may have on hand.  This is especially fast if you have leftovers, but even if you don't, it takes no time at all to prepare. This time I used salmon and sauted veg.
My husband filling his leaves!
This does not need a recipe either. Chop/dice whatever vegetable you choose. I used tomato, celery, carrot, leeks, garlic, avocado and coho salmon. Saute the celery, garlic, leek, carrot, salt/pepper in a little olive oil until tender. Toss in the chopped tomato and diced salmon. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the salmon turns opaque. Take off heat and add chopped avocado. You can use any type of lettuce, but iceburg makes a nice wide surface. Lay out a few leaves of lettuce on each serving plate. Place the cooked veg and salmon in a serving bowl and let each guest fill and roll their own leaves. Most people like to be involved with their food and this easy luncheon dish gives them the whole experience.

Lettuce wraps can be messy, but they are worth it!
Doesn't he look a bit like a Rabbitt?? Chicken or shrimp and sauted vegetable also work well in a lettuce wrap. Or you can do an all vegie wrap with lots of fresh herbs. The choices are endless...

TIP:  This relates to nothing, but I just tried it recently and it is really yummy. We like to make popcorn at night as a snack. Next time you're popping, add a couple Tbsp. of truffle oil to the oil you are popping in. It makes the popcorn taste like it is dredged in butter. I like to use a combination of olive oil and grapeseed oil. The grapeseed oil has a higher smoke point (the point at which the oil begins to break down and starts to smoke just before burning) so pops the corn quickly making it very light. I know there are those who say you should never cook with grapeseed oil because it is mainly a polyunsaturated oil which releases lots of free radicals, when heated, but I choose to cook with it anyway because I love the taste. The addition of truffle oil elevates popcorn to a very decadent treat.

On to another different entre idea...
This is the strangest squash and really does turn into spaghetti once it is cooked. Use it as you would spaghetti and top with red sauce and meatballs or olive oil and veg which is what I made for dinner the other night.
This squash is very hard, similar to a Blue Hubbard so be careful when you are slicing.
Scoop out the seeds and other fibrous stuff inside. I cooked the squash as two separate halves which took a lot of time, but I wasn's sure if I cut it up if I would still get the long spaghetti strings. Next time I would cut it at least in long quarters. Boil in salted water until tender.
Using a fork, scrape out the squash by running the fork through the flesh of the squash. Plate it up just as you would spaghetti and add your topping. I used a very simple sauted mushroom, lots of garlic, chopped tomato and a splash of white wine. Garnish with basil. Again, the combinations for spaghetti squash are limited only by our imaginations. If you close your eyes while eating this, you really do think you are eating spaghetti!

THE QUESTION OF FAT:  This also has nothing to do with anything, but as you may know I am a big fan of Dr. Andrew Weil and read his health and cooking tips daily. This week he came out with a story on LARD. Yes, the solid, white pig fat that for years has been considered horrible for you. I happen to like fat of all kinds, pig included (pork rinds anyone?) and although I do not bake with lard it does add a flavor and flakiness to pastry that is unmatched. Dr. Weil claims the latest studies show that lard and other saturated fats formerly believed to cause coronary heart disease, high cholesterol, heart attacks, etc. are not really bad for you after all. Of course, he recommends you use lard from organic, grass-fed pigs. BRING ON THE LARD! 

What next?!? I am of the belief that "they" do not really know what is good or bad for us and you should pretty much eat, drink, DO whatever you like as long as it makes you happy and doesn't hurt anyone else. If eating something makes you feel good, it is probably good for you.



I have started experimenting with unflavored Knox gelatin by making home-made jello. It is so much better than the stuff we ate as kids that is filled with artificial colors and flavors, and it is very easy to make. Mix 1 packet unflavored gelain and 4-6 packets of Stevia or sugar. Heat 2 cups of fruit juice. Add to the gelatin/sugar and stir until dissolved. You can either pour the gelatin in individual serving bowls or use 1 large mold. The first time I used V-8 Light  Fruit Fusion--Blueberry Pomegranate. It was fabulous. Next I tried Light Tropical Punch Fuze. I did not realize until after I made the jello that this particular Fuze has pineapple juice in it which impedes the thickening of the jello. If you used all pineapple juise it would not jell at all. I topped the tropical punch jello with alcohol infused whipped cream making it a little more grown-up. This whipped cream comes in different flavors. The vanilla worked well in this case. 
I think unexpected flavors like grapefruit or pear nectar will be fun to try. 
Remember tomato aspic? That will be the next one I try.

I have had a ball this afternoon thinking about food and hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did writing!  Now, let's get cooking!  Until next time...

Be bold in the kitchen. Try new flavors.
Get your creative juices flowing. Have fun!
There are no mistakes when it comes to cooking!
Tune in again soon for another episode of:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fee, Fi, PHO, Fum...

My oldest stepson, Mike, just began his 37th beautiful year on earth. Every year for his birthday I make a "request" meal as my gift to him. Sometimes he will request a theme or country, like last year he said Mexican so we had spicy guacamole with chips to start, lobster enchilladas with avocado corn relish and salsa verde, black beans with red pepper topped with queso fresca, big salad, and for dessert tres leches. This year he said he wanted SEAFOOD PHO. I have to confess I have never eaten Pho so was at a bit of a loss, but had a blast researching ingredients and different points of view on Pho.
Mike about to dig into Seafood Pho
Apparently some believe Pho should be made only with beef, although I found recipes for chicken, pork and seafood. The important aspect of making Pho is the stock so I began making the stock the day before Mike's big dinner.

But let's start at the beginning...

We began the birthday feast with spring rolls and 2 different dipping sauces.

A friend of mine who is Vietnamese told me about an Asian market in Quincy, MA called the Kam Man. I found everything I needed at this fabulous and huge supermarket. In addition to fresh and wonderful produce, they had meats, fishes, whole ducks, spices, sauces, 2 aisles dedicated to different types of name it; they have it! Kam Man is very similar to my favorite market in Tucson that my friend Robb introduced me to a couple years ago. Lee Lee's carries foods from all over the world, plus has a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant next door. Back to Mike's dinner...

2 ounces rice vermicelli noodles
8 rice wrappers (8.5 in. diameter)
8 large cooked shrimp
1 1/3 Tbsp. chopped fresh Thai basil (or regular basil if you can't find Thai)
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint leaves
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
2 leaves lettuce, chopped
1 thinly sliced cucumber (slice the long way; use a peeler to get slices super thin)
4 thinly sliced scallions, green and white parts

Sauce #1:
8 tsp. fish sauce
1/2 cup water
Juice of 1 lime
1 clove minced garlic
1 small hot chili, de-seeded and finely diced
3 tsp. white sugar
1/2 tsp. garlic chili sauce
Mix all ingredients. Let sit for an hour to ripen.

Sauce #2:
3 Tbsp. Hoisin sauce
1 tsp. finely chopped peanuts
Mix same as above.

In Arizona we used to have a neighbor who is Vietnamese. Way (I have not spelled her name correctly, but this is how she pronounced it.) made the most unbelievable spring rolls and she made it look easy. This was my first attempt at making spring rolls. They did not look as pretty as Way's, but they sure were delicious!

Here I am beginning to roll the spring rolls
Pour near boiling water into a bowl. Drop in the rice vermicelli for 3-5 minutes or until al dente. Drain. Fill another large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for a second to soften. Lay wrapper flat on a damp linen dish towel (do not use terry cloth). In a row across the center, place 2 shrimp halves, a handful of vermicelli, a couple slices cuke, 2 or 3 pieces of thinly sliced scallion, basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce. Do not put the filling all the way to the edges so you have room to wrap and roll. Fold in both edges and gently, but tightly roll up the wrapper to form a log. The rice wrappers tear quite easily so if you rip a hole you can add a second wrapper to enclose. As you can see in the above photo, I had all ingredients sliced and chopped and then as I made each spring roll I placed under another damp linen towel to keep moist until time to serve.
I think you could add any veg you like or thinly sliced pork or other seafood. Since the entree for Mike's birthday was simply soup, I thought we should have a second appetizer so I made...


1 cup plain yogurt (I used 0 fat Chobani Greek style)
1 tsp. freshly grated ginger root
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. curry powder
1 Tbsp. tumeric
1 tsp. salt
Wooden skewers soaked for grilling or I used long metal skewers since I planned to take the chicken off the skewers to serve.
PAM or other vegetable oil for grilling
1 1/2 pound chicken breasts, slightly flattening (see previous blog for suggestions on pounding chicken) and cut into strips about 1 1/2 inches wide
Butter lettuce
Fresh cilantro, chopped
Peanut Sauce

Combine yogurt, ginger, garlic, curry, and tumeric in a shallow bowl. Stir to combine. Place the chicken strips in the yogurt marinade and gently toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and let the chicken marinate in the fridge for a couple hours.
Thread the chicken (this is a goopy job!) onto the skewers. Place on medium hot grill, spray with a little cooking oil to prevent sticking (it still will stick a little). Grill for 3-4 minutes per side until nicely seared and cooked through. Serve on a platter with lettuce leaves, cilantro and a big bowl of peanut sauce.

Peanut Sauce:
1 cup either chunky or smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup Ponzu citrus seasoned soy sauce (found this at the Kam Man's...fabulous!)
2 tsp. chili paste (I used Sambal Oelik)
2 tsp. dark brown sugar
Juice of 2 limes
1 Tbsp. Hoisin sauce
1/4 tsp. coarse sea salt
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup chopped peanuts for garnish.
Combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, chilli paste, brown sugar and lime juice in blender or food processor. Puree to combine. While the motor is running, drizzle in the hot water to thin out the sauce (you may not need all of it). Pour the sauce into a nice serving bowl and garnish with the chopped peanuts.


I like to keep various soup stocks on hand in the freezer and I just happened to have a lobster broth which is what I used as a base to begin the Pho stock. To this stock I added another couple lobster bodies, shrimp shells, skin of striped bass and simmered for about 2 hours to rich up the original lobster stock. Drain. Add mirepoix (carrot, celery, onion) back into the drained lobster broth and simmer for another couple of hours. Drain. Now the stock is ready for its final simmer with spices braised onion, ginger and garlic.

2 onions
Ginger root, about a 3 inch piece
5 cloves garlic
Spice blend: 2 large black cardamom pods, 2 cinnamon sticks, 6 star anise, 1 Tbsp. sea salt, 2 Tbsp. fennel seed, about 12 whole cloves
1/3 cup fish sauce
Dash of oyster sauce
Dash of Sriacha sauce
Shitake Mushrooms, about 1 cup
Mung Bean sprouts, about 1 cup
Garnish: chopped cilantro, fresh basil, mint, and limes.
Pea Shoots (optional garnish)
1 lb. scallops
1/2 lb. shrimp
1 lb. squid
1 striper filet (striped bass)
Rice noodles
My other son, Justin caught the striper.
Halve the onions, ginger and garlic. Brush with olive oil and roast them for 30-40 minutes at 450 degrees. Add these and the spice blend to the stock and simmer for another hour. Drain.

Add 1/3 cup fish sauce, a dash of oyster sauce, dash of Sriacha sauce and a pinch of sugar, and simmer for another 1-2 hours. Finally add mushrooms, bean sprouts, uncooked rice noodles, and fish and simmer until it is cooked. Serve with chopped cilantro, fresh basil, mint, limes and extra Sriacha for those who like it hot!

I sliced the squid into rings before adding to the Pho.
Extremely large shrimp and fresh sea scallops ready to drop in.

Time to eat--An ngnon nhe!

For the final course I made Mike a very non-Vietnamese cake using one of his favorite ingredients...and I do not mean Chocolate!

This cake is ridiculously rich and delicious. This also was a first for me so I had no idea it would be so big. When all frosted it stood an impressive 18 inches high! This recipe came from the Barrington Brewery in Great Barrington, MA
I used pansies to decorate the cake!

4 cups white flour
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1 pound good quality semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups Guinness or other stout
4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cup sour cream
4 sticks unsalted butter (Yikes!...that's a lot of butter!)
2 cups whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter three 8 inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper. Butter paper. Bring 2 cups Guinness and 2 cups butter to a simmer in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda and 1 1/2 tsp. salt in large bowl. Using electric mixer beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl. Add the stout/chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Cool cakes on rack for about 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and cool completely on the rack.

I frosted the cakes with 2 cups whipping cream, a tsp. of sugar and 1 tsp. of vanilla. I actually could've used more whipped cream as the cakes were so gigantic.
Before adornment...


Justin's birthday is in November so we will do this all over again with his choice of menu. I honestly think sometimes they come up with these things just to see if they can stump me. So far they have not!

We concluded the festivities with the mile-high cake, a wee glass of Guinness and a spectacular fireworks display shot off our back deck. It certainly was a birthday to remember. Happy Birthday all over again Mike!!

Here's a quick technical note before I sign off for today. If you are interested in searching for a certain recipe or tip, go to: and enter the word you are searching for in the SEARCH BOX at top left of the first page of my website. If it is something I have blogged, it will take you to it. For example, Teriyaki Chicken wings will take you to the tribute to my dear friend Aggie. These wings were her favorite! Let me know if you have trouble finding something and I will help you out.

Thank you once again for tuning in and sharing 
Mike's festive birthday celebration!

As they say in Vietnamese...VO! or CHEERS!