Monday, June 26, 2017

Spanish Chicken and Rice for Dinner

Want an easy casserole of chicken, rice, tomatoes, onions and garlic, herbs and spices and a little marsala wine? Check out this one that was a family favorite for many, many years. I made it tonight but had to change a few things. It was supposed to be sherry instead of marsala, and the dish should have saffron, but those were both missing. It still tasted wonderful! The good news was that it went together so quickly. We've spent quite a bit of time today on our next project and suddenly it was almost dinner time. From start to finish was less than an hour. Don't leave out the whole is an essential flavor in this dish.

Sweetie and I are in the planning stages for replacing the tub in Grandma's farmhouse with a nice alcove shower with glass doors. We still haven't decided on the size but have narrowed it down to a 5 foot one that is basically the same size as a tub in length, or a 4 foot one that will allow us to move the vanity over to the same wall...a blessing in a bathroom as narrow as this one. I'm going with white shower, vanity and toilet, brushed nickel fixtures and door frame, and cream colored walls with bright white trim. The floor is currently cork colored but it will need replacing, so we may go with something darker for contrast with all that white. It should be fresh feeling once we are done. We are hiring a plumber to do all the plumbing and the electrical that's in there should be OK, so it's really mostly constructing some walls to attach the shower walls to, some tile or sheetrock, and paint. Probably doing demo will be the most complicated because it involves, among other things,  moving a very heavy cast iron clawfoot tub out and across to the outbuilding where it will live until we find a place for it or sell it.

I'll try to remember to post photos of the before and after once the project is finished. The one at the top is courtesy of WayFair. Probably not the vanity we will use, but I like the sleek look.

Speaking of photos, I completely forgot to take any of this delicious dish. Think browned chicken pieces peeking out of a sea of tomato-studded rice with a nice sprinkle of peas on top. Colorful and savory. Don't take my word for it...try it yourself.

Arroz con Pollo (Spanish Chicken and Rice)
From Family Food by Patricia Lachman
Serves 6-8

2 1/2 lbs. chicken...I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but a cut up frying chicken is traditional
salt (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium pepper, chopped (traditionally green, but I used red)
1 can peeled, chopped tomatoes in their own juice
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 bay leaf
a pinch saffron
2 whole cloves
1 cup water
1/3 cup sherry (or marsala)
1 cup long grain uncooked rice
1 cup cooked green peas
1 pimento, cut up (optional)

Use a large skillet or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Season chicken with salt, if desired (I always skip the's not needed). Brown the chicken in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Remove the chicken and cover with foil. Add remaining olive oil, heat, then add the onion, garlic and pepper. Brown 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, except for rice, peas and pimento. Return the chicken to the pot. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Add the rice. Bring to a boil, stir, being sure that the rice is submerged in the liquid in the pot, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Garnish with the hot peas and with the pimento, if using.

This dish makes great leftovers since the rice tastes even better the next day.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer Flowers

Love the pink poppies that have come up among the pink and purple wildflowers. Kinda makes up for the absurd heat.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Berry Blast

Dear friends, it's been hot. I know that we in California have been told that we don't know from hot or have to live in Phoenix or Minnesota for that, but yesterday it was over 100 here and 106 or so in the Sacramento area, so that is bunk.

My ancestors are from the cool and rainy west of Ireland. I'm not bred for heat. I wilt and get cranky.

Since there is nothing to do about it, a way to take advantage of the heat is to make icy drinks. Today's was a Berry Blast, but over the last 4 or 5 days there have been Berry-Banana-Nectarine Cooler, Mango Strawberry Delight (where I used mango juice instead of milk), Blackberry Vanilla Cooler and more. The blender has been getting a workout. Fortunately we started with some very ripe bananas on hand, plus lots of fresh berries since this is the season for them.

It was way too hot for actual measurements, so I'm giving approximations. You can change it up, too. If you have a different fruit handy, throw it in. Like real ice cream and milk instead of soy...go for it! The key is to have ice, fruit, and some liquid, plus a bit of ice cream, soy cream or sorbet for richness. Let the blender run until you have a nice, thick, smooth drink.

Berry Blast
serves 1-2

1 cup crushed ice or ice cubes
2 scoops ice cream or soy ice cream (I like vanilla, but use what you like)
3 cups assorted fruit. (I used about a cup each fresh strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. Frozen would work, too, but fresh gives the best flavor.)
1 cup soy milk or regular milk

Place all ingredients in a heavy duty blender. Blend on low for a few seconds, then increase to medium and finish at high to make sure all the ice is blended in as tiny pieces.

Serve in a tall glass with an iced-tea spoon. Umbrella optional.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Garden Update

You may be wondering why there was a ten day gap in posts and now two in a row. The reason is the heat and the garden. We are experiencing a heat wave and it promises to continue through Friday or maybe even longer. Those who know me are aware that I'm not a fan of hot weather, preferring our usual summer fog. Still it's nice for the kids recently out of school to have weather where they can swim in the ocean or a neighborhood pool. Maybe that's what I should try! In general when it's too hot I just hunker down and nap or read. Anything else sounds like too much work, including cooking and baking.

Before the heat descended, I spent a glorious amount of time in the garden, at last. Weeds that had been sitting there reminding me of my tardiness were pulled and went into the green can. Pots of used soil that should have been cleaned up last fall were finally cleared of old soil and given a good scrub before new soil was added. Sweetie helped with the weeding and with checking out the drip system for watering a large section of the garden. There is still some hand-watering needed, but not much.

With the addition of bags and bags of bark mulch, the garden was finally ready for me to place the pots and add the seedlings that had gotten root bound waiting for me to get into the garden, to rig up the netting for the cucumbers and beans to climb up, to plant the bean seeds in the pots. Trellises were placed for the late sweet peas and for the morning glories to climb. It is so uplifting to see things fall into place.

zucchini, delicata squash, morning glories, roses, netting for cucumbers

Along the front walk there are lovely mixtures of wild flowers blooming. I had planted those seeds in late winter. This morning I spotted a hummingbird enjoying the flight from flower to flower. The mystery element were the large poppies, but they bloomed this morning and are a pretty pink that goes well with the other wild flowers in bloom there.

I did plant a pumpkin plant,

 two zucchini plants and a couple of delicata squash plants in early spring in the big planter box. They are thriving, along with a couple of sunflowers, some nasturtium, and the morning glories that self-seeded last fall. Around the planter are the love-in-a mist (nigella) that also self-seeded.

There are a couple of pots with tomatoes that went in at the same time, so we might at least get cherry tomatoes by July. The strawberry plants that have been on a drip system for a while are producing sweet red berries.

Of course about 20-30 minutes per day is spent watering the things with no drip, including a lily that should bloom in July, some pretty Sweet Williams and nice Iceland poppies.

At the same time that I was enjoying being in the garden, I made a lovely set of whole-wheat walnut breads. I'll post about that the next time.

XO, Elle

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Cold Noodle Dinner In A Bowl

I used to subscribe to Bon Appetit magazine, but stopped recently because most of the recipes seemed to be ones I couldn't see myself making. That is why I was so surprised when I purchased their June issue in late May at the airport so I would have something to read on my flight home. Despite the fact that it was the Grilling Issue and Sweetie is the one who grills, I found quite a few recipes and ideas for things to make. I think that, with all the recipes so easily available on the internet, that cookbooks and cooking magazines provide inspiration more than anything.

One of the articles was on how to put together a variety of cold noodle salads. There was coconut-lime shrimp with rice noodles, garlicky chicken with udon noodles, Veg lover's soba with a miso-mustard dressing and spicy steak salad with ramen noodles, but they also explained how to mix and match.

Inspired by the article, I decided to make a salad similar to a Vietnamese bun salad, using grilled teriyaki chicken for the protein, rice stick noodles, carrot matchsticks and cucumber, peanuts, cilantro and a fish sauce-lime dressing. It made a wonderful dinner and is a great warm weather dish. I took the same salad on a picnic a few days ago and it was just as refreshing and surprisingly filling.

Rice Noodles With Salad and Chicken
serves 4-6
Inspired by Bon Appetit June 2017 issue

4 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
hot pepper flakes or hot sauce, to taste

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce

4-6 cups thinly sliced iceberg lettuce
2 teaspoons minced cilantro
2 teaspoons minced fresh mint
1/2 cup shredded or matchstick carrots
1/2 cup thinly sliced cucumber, slices cut in half
2-3 tablespoons chopped peanuts

1 package fine rice stick noodles or vermicelli noodles
vegetable oil

In a jar with a tightly fitting lid, place all the sauce ingredients, then shake to combine. Let sit at least 30 minutes, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard the solids.

Place the chicken thighs in a glass pie dish or similar non-corrosive dish, or in a plastic ziplock bag. Pour the teriyaki sauce over the chicken and let marinate at least 30 minutes. Grill until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Cut into bite sized pieces.

While chicken is marinating, combine the lettuce, cilantro, fresh mint, carrots and cucumbers in a large bowl. Set aside.

Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling water until al dente', then drain in a collander and rinse with cold water. Put the noodles back in the pot and drizzle with a small amount of vegetable oil, then toss the noodles with your fingers to coat them with the oil. If too hot, use salad tongs for tossing.

To assemble the salad, place a portion of the rice noodles in the bottom of a large soup bowl. Add a generous helping of the salad mixture, top with the warm chicken and drizzle with the sauce. Sprinkle chopped peanuts on top. If desired, garnish with additional cilantro and mint.

If you like, you can skip mixing the lettuce, cilantro, mint, carrots and cucumbers and just put the carrots and cucumbers in little piles on top of the lettuce in the bowl, then scatter the cilantro and mint on top, along with the peanuts. Once it all gets stirred together in the bowl as you eat there is no difference in the eating experience.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

First Berry Pie of the Season

The olallieberries along the road are fat after our rainy spring and some of them have ripened...enough for a pie for Sweetie. He really does love pie.

It's been awhile since I've made a double crusted pie but that seemed to be the way to go with this one. I picked two pints of ripe berries and rinsed them, removing a couple that were hosting tiny green worms! I checked the rest after a while, but they were all clean and shiny.

With a single fruit pie you want the flavor of the main ingredient to shine through, so I went easy on the spices, using just a half teaspoon of Penzy's Pie Spice, plus another half teaspoon of their Hi-Fat Cocoa powder. The idea was to make the berries taste richer, which these did, while not adding more than a hint of spice. You couldn't taste the cocoa at all, just the rich berry flavor.

The other thing that I did was to create a custom thickener. These were juicy berries and I didn't want a pool of juice when I cut the pie slices, so I used both flour and cornstarch. For some sweetness, since these are early berries and a bit more tart than later ones will be, I used some raw cane sugar.

The spice mix, cocoa, flour, cornstarch and sugar, plus a bit of salt, were mixed together in a small bowl. The clean and drained berries went into a large bowl. I poured the flour mixture over them and gently stirred to coat each berry.

Some days I like to make pie crust, some days I use Pillsbury Ready Crust from the market. This pie was a Ready Crust pie...faster, easier, not so many dishes to wash up, plus it is a nice, flaky crust.

A hot oven and baking stone help ensure that the bottom crust gets baked through and the top crust golden brown. I did turn the oven down to 350 degrees F for the last 15 minutes to make sure that the berries cooked through.

This was a wonderful pie! The filling held together and the taste was rich and strongly berry. If you use the Ready Crust, it really doesn't take long to have a freshly baked pie. I'll bet you know someone who would enjoy a nice pie. This would work with  raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries, too.

Olallieberry Pie
Elle original recipe

2 - 3 pints fresh olallieberries (or use 5 - 6 cups raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries)
1/3 cup flour
1 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 teaspoon Penzy's Pie Spice, or a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
1/2 teaspoon Penzy's High Fat Cocoa or your favorite unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons raw sugar or brown sugar
1 box Pillsbury Ready Crust pie crust, or your favorite two-crust pie dough recipe
1 shallow 9-inch pie pan
1-2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 and 1/2, or light cream, or soy creamer
sparkling sugar or raw sugar or granulated sugar

Rinse the berries and drain. Set aside.

In a small bowl thoroughly mix together the flour, corn starch, Pie Spice, cocoa, salt and raw or brown sugar. I used a small whisk.

Roll out the bottom crust slightly larger than the pie pan. Carefully place crust in pie pan and smooth into pan. Dough should extend past the edges of the pie pan.

Roll out top crust, if needed,to slightly larger than the pie pan. Cut a small decorative vent in the middle of the circle of dough. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. If possible, place a baking stone on the center rack.

Place drained berries in a large mixing bowl. Pour the flour mixture over the berries, using a spatula, gently scoop to the bottom of the bowl and turn the berries over. Continue until all berries are coated with the flour mixture.

Pour berries into prepared pie pan. Dot with butter or margarine.

Use your clean finger to moisten, lightly, the pie dough where it sits over the edge of the pan (there is usually a thin flat space), then place the second circle of dough (with the vent) on top and gently press to seal around the edge.

Trim excess dough, if needed, then turn edges of the dough under and crimp, or flatten with the tines of a fork.

Use a pastry brush to brush 1/2 and 1/2 or light cream or soy creamer over the top and edges of the pie. This is usually a tablespoon or less of creamer. Sprinkle lightly with sparkling sugar, raw sugar, or granulated sugar.

Place pie carefully in the hot oven, of possible directly on a preheated baking stone.

Bake for 15 minutes.

If crust edges become browner than the center, place strips of aluminum foil to mask them from the heat.

Remove pie from oven and place on a cookie sheet (to catch drips) and return to oven. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and bake another 15-25 minutes, or until center of pie crust is golden brown and juices are bubbly at vent.

Cool on a rack for 10 minutes or longer. Best served the same day.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

It Might As Well Be Early Spring

Flying up from my recent visit to the Los Angeles area, I flew in a plane that hugged the coast and flew pretty low so that you could really see the scenery. The arid landscape of southern California gave way to lush green hills and rows of vines in multiple vineyards, plus fog hanging out near the ocean. To look at the scene one would think that it was early spring instead of the beginning of June. We have had such a long, wet winter and cool spring that everything seems to be dragging its way towards summer. Since I love the spring I'm a very happy camper, but it has slowed growth in the garden. The first tomatoes might come in September or even October at this rate!

Sweetie did a great job of keeping everything watered. A couple of the zucchini are looking like they will soon start real growth and the love in a mist (nigella) is spectacular right now. The flowers are a pale blue when they bloom and slowly turn to a dark velvety blue, all surrounded by a misty green leaf spray.

Managed to catch a cold while down south, so nothing much happening in the kitchen...or elsewhere except that I'm sleeping a lot. Hope to have a recipe to post soon, but, in the spirit of spring, here is a visual recipe for spring rolls.

These are the great shrimp and lettuce spring rolls with cucumber, basil, and carrot that my talented daughter made because she fell in love with something similar from a local Thai place.