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Friday, May 27, 2016

Flashback Friday - Chicken Salad with Couscous and Pecans

Here's an easy main dish salad recipe inspired by one of my favorite restaurant dishes of the 90s.


This post was originally published on September 4, 2013.
Chicken Salad with Couscous and Pecans

The other day, I found that I hadn't made adequate plans for dinner so had to whip something up from ingredients on hand. There were two fried chicken thighs and some baby spinach in the fridge, but that's not enough for two people for dinner. At least, not these two people.

I poked around in the cupboard and found a bag of pearl couscous, which made me think of the chicken salad with pistachios and couscous at Donna's. Only we didn't have pistachios. No worries - any nuts will do, really. The combination of chicken, greens, pasta, and nuts is earthy and satisfying.

Chicken Salad with Couscous and Pecans

2 leftover fried chicken thighs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon agave syrup or honey
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
pinch crab spice (or salt and pepper)
1 cup pearl couscous
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
pinch of minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 cups mixed baby greens per person
1 avocado, sliced
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans

Remove the coating and skin from the chicken thighs and place it, skin side down, into a large skillet. Cover pan and cook over medium-high heat, turning skin pieces once or twice, until dark brown and crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt.

While the skin is crisping, remove the chicken meat from the bones and tear into shreds. Mix the mayo, mustard, honey, lemon zest, and crab spice in a small bowl. Pour over the chicken and mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Bring 1 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the pearl couscous and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and a pinch of salt and stir to coat the grains with oil. Set pan aside and allow couscous to cool.

Blend together the three tablespoons of olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, garlic, Dijon and maple syrup to make a vinaigrette. Toss the baby greens with the vinaigrette until the leaves are lightly coated.

For each serving: Place a bed of baby greens on a serving plate. Top with a mound of the couscous (you might have to stir it with a fork, first, to break up any clumps) and a mound of the chicken salad. Arranged sliced avocado around edge of salad. Garnish with the pecans and some of the crisp chicken skin.

Serves 2-4

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New Cookbooks from Harper Collins

Lose Weight by Eating 
Audrey Johns

Blogger Audrey Johns has come up with what sounds like a novel concept but is really just common sense: cut out the crap. She found that by eating clean, real, non-processed food and cutting out that evil diet soda, she lost weight. Her book, Lose Weight by Eating, tells her story and provides 130 recipes for favorites like fudge brownies and fried chicken. Those brownies are real brownies, with butter, eggs, sugar, white flour--all the things you expect to find in brownies. No black beans, artificial sweeteners, or other weirdness. In other words, no feelings of despair or deprivation will come from using this book, despite everything coming in at 500 calories or less per serving.

There's nothing fancy or overwhelming in Lose Weight by Eating, no weird science or funky ingredients. Anyone interested in cooking nutritious and tasty food, even someone without a lot of cooking experience, should be able to work from this straightforward book. There's even a weekly menu plan listing all of the dishes (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) that are especially good for new cooks. (Other menu plans list dishes that are kid-friendly, vegetarian, or quick to prepare.)

Overall, a good basic cookbook that makes sense, even if you're not trying to lose weight.

The Quick Six Fix: 100 No-Fuss, Full-Flavor Recipes - Six Ingredients, Six Minutes Prep, Six Minutes Cleanup

It's ok if you've never heard of Stuart O'Keeffe--before I got this book, I hadn't either. This Irish-born chef was featured on the Food Network's Private Chefs of Beverly Hills and even had his own show, Stuart's Kitchen, that was broadcast in Ireland and New Zealand. He was a brand ambassador and chef for Tupperware, too. But putting "celebrity chef" in front of his name doesn't make it so, nor does it have any actual bearing on the contents of this book.

The conceit of The Quick Six Fix is that all recipes include six ingredients, take only six minutes to prep, and six minutes to clean up. I wouldn't get a stopwatch out to check if that's all correct; everyone works at his own pace so it might take 10 minutes to prep and 15 minutes to clean up if you're a slowpoke. The numbers don't matter. The point is--these recipes are fast to put together, particularly if you've already stocked your pantry with the list of "must haves" he includes in the first section (Marylanders take note: Old Bay Seasoning is on the list!). However, the pantry staples are not included in the "6 ingredients" mentioned on the cover. In fact, some recipes have far more than six ingredients (and one of the dessert recipes includes nothing from the pantry). So that first in the trio of sixes that make up the "quick six fix" is more accurately described as "six ingredients that you need to put on your grocery list because you probably won't have them in the pantry already." (I guess that was a little long to put on the cover.)

Now that I've blown that whole 666 thing out of the water, let's examine the book without the conceit.

O'Keeffe's book has some rules to follow that will help users stick to creating a meal that is relatively quick to prep and tidy up. For one thing, one should read the recipes thoroughly before beginning--some he recommends reading three times. That way, there are no surprises and one can manage time more efficiently. It also familiarizes the user with the ingredient list so they can shop in advance for the things they need (whether it's one of the 6, or a pantry ingredient they don't already have on hand). Another useful rule is one he calls the "reverse traffic light theory." Basically, if there's a break in the action (say, waiting for something to come to a boil), the cook should take that time to clean up any messes they have created to that point (like washing knives and cutting board). I have always called it "clean as you go," and it is something that everyone who works in a kitchen, from professional chefs on down, should practice. Why leave everything for after dinner when you're too logy from those three glasses of wine to do anything but lie down and belch? All prep clean-up should be done before you sit down to eat, so you only have plates and the pots you cooked in to clean up after you eat. (This is a big pet peeve of mine, so pardon the lecture. It's definitely something O'Keeffe has right.)

The recipes themselves are pretty basic. Without laundry lists of ingredients, they have to be. But they all sound pretty tasty. Cider-braised chicken, which involves chicken thighs and a lot of cider vinegar to produce something that is "the perfect blend of tart, savory, and sour," seems like it would be great, and looks really easy. There are only three non-pantry ingredients in this recipe, but if you're like me, you have packs of chicken thighs in the freezer already, cutting the shopping list items down to two. There's also a recipe for Sticky Ribs, which uses hoisin, garlic, soy, brown sugar, and rice wine vinegar from the pantry, plus baby backs, ginger, and five spice powder from the grocery store. (I'm sure the dish would still be pretty delicious without the ginger or five spice). There are also recipes for breakfast and lunch items, pasta and soup, burgers, sauces, veg, and desserts.

While there are no guarantees that the recipes in this book will take a non-professional chef six minutes to prep and six minutes to clean up, someone who is looking for a book that contains recipes to fit every occasion and aren't particularly complex might get some use out of The Quick Six Fix.

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Sausage and White Bean Stew

A recipe for a hearty stew might seem a bit out of place in May, but with the weird chilly and rainy weather we've been having here in Baltimore, it's really quite apropos. And actually, despite containing Italian sausage and white beans, this stew is really not all that heavy. It's tomato-rich, which brings a nice hit of bright acidity, perfect to chase away some rainy-May blues.

Normally, a soup like this might have some dark leafy greens in it, like kale. We didn't have kale, but we did have a head of organic bok choy from the farm box we received earlier in the week (from Washington's Green Grocer). It was green, and like kale, a member of the Brassica genus. But unlike kale, bok choy is crisper and juicier and cooks faster. And isn't kale. Come on, I know you are all as sick of kale as I am. Yes, it's green, yes it's good for you. But hell, there are plenty of other Brassica that are tastier and more fun to eat (gai lan, rapini, romanesco, heck, even plain old broccoli). Anyway, so I added bok choy. If you are a kale-ie, and have some hanging around, then by all means add it to the pot, remembering to remove the tough stem, and cook it for a bit longer to lessen the chew.

Serve with crusty bread, or by itself (as we did).

Sausage and White Bean Stew

1 red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 onion, chopped
Olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (divided use)
2 (15-oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
1 lb sweet or hot Italian sausages
2 (15-oz cans) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Cayenne pepper
1 head bok choy

In a large pot, cook pepper and onion in a few teaspoons of olive oil and a pinch of salt over medium heat until softened. Stir in garlic, fennel seeds, and half the tarragon. Stir for a minute or so, then add the tomatoes and their juices and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for one hour. (You could cook it for less, if you're in some kind of hurry, but the longer you cook it, the better it will taste, and the more mellow the tomatoes will be.)

About 45 minutes into the tomato + veg + stock cooking time, place the sausages in a saute pan with a half cup of water. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat until water has evaporated and sausages start to sizzle. Turning sausages occasionally, cook for about 8-10 minutes, until they are cooked through. Remove the sausages from the pan, cut each into 5 or six slices, and add them to the pot along with the cans of beans. Cook an additional 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add cayenne, a big pinch of sugar if the tomatoes still seem a bit acidy, more salt, and the rest of the tarragon.

Wash the bok choy thoroughly. Cut off the stem end, slice the bok choy crosswise into 3/4" pieces, and add to the pot. Cook an additional 10 minutes, until bok choy is tender.

Serves 6.

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