Archive for September, 2011


Chilled, Cheap, Cheerful Chicken Salad

Turns out I need to be adding a bit more protein to my diet than I originally thought. Luckily for me, protein is easy to come by and includes some of my more favorite foods: cheese, yogurt, eggs, and–you guessed it–chicken! I love chicken because it’s simple (me and my simplicity :-), inexpensive to buy, easy to cook, low in fat, and there’s SO many possibilities in how you can choose to prepare it. My first thought in reveling on chicken-centered student meals: some kind of savory, spicy chicken salad mmm…

So this week I’m sharing meals with a couple of friends and I wanted to bring something we could eat that would travel well in my backpack, still taste delicious when I whip it out, and fit into this tasty, light brunch/lunch category. And what’s one ingredient that enhances in flavor as it sits in the fridge? Curry. And god bless it!

I like this particular version of chicken salad because it contains a lot of healthy raw fruits and vegetables (but isn’t every salad supposed to, in some form or the other?) I softened the raisins in hot water, baked the chicken with lemon juice, salt & pepper, and used 5 green little pears I picked off the tree myself (I’m telling you, this picking fresh fruit yourself stuff does not get old). Mix it all together and you get a wonderfully fresh medley of flavors–the crunchiness of raw onion and carrot, smoothness of crème fraîche, savoriness of cubed peppery chicken–and all with plenty of zing in using mint, curry powder, and mustard. My only advice (ha) would be to make sure you chop everything, especially the crunchy counterparts, into finer bits;  yeah, a blender would have definitely saved me some time and energy here…

And no, there is no mayo in this chicken salad recipe, unlike the more common versions out there. I went for low-fat crème fraîche and a little bit of milk to make it creamy. All in all, it turned out seriously delicious and I’m really not ready for it to be over :[ Any type of bread will do for making the sandwiches, whole grain especially (you know, something with nuttiness:-) and it’s best layered on thickly with slices of a good white cheese and a few strips of lettuce.

The star ingredient in this recipe would have to be the crème fraîche, which I guess is the ‘french’ version of sour cream (and here I’m thinking they’re 2 totally different things…and I call myself culinary!) This dairy goodness adds a creaminess that’s hard to substitute; and since the combination of all these ingredients in the salad is so full of substance, I think it’s necessary to add an entire container of the stuff just to smooth it all out–at least you’ll have plenty of extra for other, later sandwiches. It’s also good to note that in using ‘lite’ crème fraîche there’s no need to feel bad about the fat content (remember, it’s NOT mayo;-). Curry powder is a close second star ingredient in this recipe because the salad would simply not be as tasty without it. I think that for such a fine, yellow pile of powder, this spice lends the most flavor to the salad and is pretty inexpensive so curry away! I used Madras curry powder but any other substitute, like yellow, red, or brown curry powder would give the same delicious effect.

Curried Chicken Salad Sandwiches with Pears, Raisins, and Fresh Mint

Ingredients

(for the salad)

3 lbs. chicken breast, trimmed

3 carrots, peeled & grated

1 bag/box of raisins

5 pears, finely chopped

2 yellow onions, finely chopped

1 bunch fresh mint, minced

1 tub lite crème fraîche (3-5%)

1/3 cup milk

4 Tbs. Dijon mustard

5 Tbs. Madras curry powder

1 Tbs. allspice

3 Tbs. white balsamic vinegar

1 Tbs. sugar

lemon juice

olive oil

sea salt & cracked pepper

(for the sandwiches)

12 slices thickly sliced bread, pref. whole grain

lettuce (or spinach) leaves

6 thick slices of Gouda cheese (sub Havarti or white cheddar)

(1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 190 degrees Celsius). Put all the chicken breasts in a large oven-proof dish and sprinkle with a little lemon juice, seasoning both sides with salt and pepper. (2) When oven has preheated, bake the chicken 20-25 minutes until cooked through. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. (3) Put the raisins in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water, letting sit until softened, about 5 minutes. (4) In a large (and I mean large) mixing bowl, add the shredded carrot, fresh mint, allspice, chopped onions & pears. Next, cube the cooked chicken, drain the softened raisins and add both to the bowl; mix everything together very well. (5) Moisten the salad with all the remaining ingredients: vinegar, crème fraîche, Dijon mustard, milk, and 2-3 Tbs. of lemon juice, stirring all the while. Season with salt and pepper and finally add the curry powder before trying a spoonful, adding 1-2 tablespoons more depending on your taste. (6) Let the chicken salad chill in the fridge 1 hour (or overnight) before serving. To make the sandwiches, put a thick piece of Gouda cheese on bottom slice of bread, top with a generous layer of chicken salad, a lettuce leaf, and another slice of bread. Cut sandwich in half, accompany with a cold beverage, and enjoy :]

Serves 6

Sandwiches are the ideal student snack. Lately I’ve been forced to watch my fellow colleagues munching away on them so I’m glad to have made some of my own; I’ll be eating them ravenously all week };-) Sure chicken salad is a little messy, but it’s tasty and that’s all that really matters (to me at least!!) My next culinary attempt will have to be something equally savory, if not a little more spicy 🙂

My question: What is your favorite type of curry powder/paste?

I should know more variations of this delicious spice…

9.28.11

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Dipping Madness }:-)

Lately, (in the wake of all this on-campus studying) I’ve been trying to think of a good type of snack food to bring along with me to school–something super low-maintenance that doesn’t need to be heated up (since microwaves are so few and far between) and has the potential to be both healthy and inexpensive. The answer? Dip.

I think the culinary concept of the “dip” gets a bad rap these days, often being portrayed as unhealthy or deceptively fattening but when looking at some of the classic dip recipes out there, I can see why. I’ve been flipping through some Taste of Home recipes for appetizers, which included a plethora of dips but very few that actually appealed to me. I suppose it’d be better if I got down to the basis of my complaints with these recipes: Okay first of all, there is never, ever any need to put mayonnaise in dip; just thinking about it gets me feeling gross; seriously, it’s mayonnaise, leave that goopy stuff to the sandwiches. If you’re looking for healthy (yet tasty) things to substitute, I got plenty of better recommendations like lite sour cream, cottage cheese, creme fraiche, and my favorite–Greek yogurt; now that kind of protein is actually good for you, so why not make a dip using yogurt as the base? That’s what I did and it’s cheap, nutritious, and delicious 🙂

Second of all, many of the dip recipes I looked at called for seasoning packets. Well, seasoning packets are boring and far too uncreative if I may say so myself 😉 Being in Denmark, I can’t make a lot of the dips in these recipes because they call for ‘Italian seasoning’ packets or ‘ranch dressing’ packets. Yeah, they’ll be no ranch seasonings over here. But why do we need seasoning packets anyway? Because it’s easy, too easy if you ask me (ha). But seasoning packets contain way too much salt anyway (ridiculous amounts, actually) and it’s better to get the hang of making your own spice or seasoning mixes–that way you can come up with unique, flavorful combinations yourself–all the while making use of the spice pantry.

And third (finally, right?), why are dips always served with carbohydrates? Chips, tortillas, bread–as if poor humans didn’t already have to feel bad about eating some of the lusciously fattening dips out there. The best ‘dippers’ are the obvious ones: vegetables! And there are so many to choose from–carrots, snow peas, celery, broccoli, cucumber, cauliflower, bell peppers, jicama, endive, sugar snap peas, radishes–the list goes on and on 🙂 Vegetables don’t have any of the fat or carbs that bread and chips do and in some instances they’re cheaper too (but always healthier so that’s good). I don’t see why a few whole-grain crackers now and then aren’t a good idea either. Ahhh, so now that I’ve listed my complaints with the dip concept I can get on to good stuff, namely the concoction I came up with }:-]

I made my dip mainly with Greek yogurt (1%) and added substance with a can of mashed beans (whatever is cheapest) and another can of artichoke hearts I chopped finely. The spice mix I used to season the dip with was New Orleans style, a blend that would normally be used in roasted chicken dishes (what can I say? I wanted to taste it!) I’ve delineated the exact measurements of the spices below to make this practical. If I had my spice cupboard with me, I’d have been even more creative but I am still quite satisfied with the result. As for dippers, I went for cheap and cheerful: carrots (they are exceptionally good in Denmark) and steamed broccoli for my veggies with a handful of crackers. The crackers I actually baked this week with a friend and, thanks to her marvelous expertise, they were surprisingly easy to make and included much healthier ingredients than those found in the crackers you’d buy at the supermarket. Our batch included rough oats, flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds; how’s that for fiber? They are flippin’ delicious too 🙂

The star ingredient in this recipe would have to be the garlic powder just because it packs so much flavor. Guaranteed this dip would not be so tasty without it. Not only is garlic powder incredibly flavorful, it packs its own health benefits too (like lowering cholesterol, the exact opposite of what using mayonnaise would do to this dip). Anyway, if you ever find yourself wanting more flavor–use garlic powder–it’s savory, salty, and best of all, garlicky!

Spicy Yogurt Dip with Artichoke Hearts, Green Onions, and Kidney Beans

Ingredients

(for the dip🙂

1 large tub 1% Greek Yogurt

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1 can red kidney beans, drained

1 can artichoke hearts, drained

2 Tbs. olive oil

1/4 cup milk

(for the seasoning🙂

3 Tbs. paprika

2 Tbs. chili powder

2 tsp. Cayenne pepper

3 Tbs. garlic powder

2 Tbs. onion powder

3 Tbs. black pepper

2 Tbs. salt

1 Tbs. dried Thyme

2 Tbs. dried Oregano

2 Tbs. dried Basil

1 tsp. Nutmeg

(for the dippers🙂

1 head of broccoli

1 lb. carrots

1 bundle of crackers

(1) Wash the head of broccoli and cut florets into bite size pieces; peel the stem and coarsely chop. Steam the florets and stem pieces for 4-6 minutes until tender enough to be pierced easily with a fork (this is done by placing all the broccoli pieces in a metal/plastic strainer which is then put in a pot with 2 inches of boiling salted water at the bottom; use the pot lid to cover the veggies until they are cooked). When steamed, rinse the broccoli thoroughly with cold water and set aside. (2) In a large bowl, combine Greek yogurt with all the spices (paprika through nutmeg) and stir well. (3) Put the kidney beans, green onions, broccoli stem pieces, and artichoke hearts into a blender, pulsing until smooth. (4) Add the blended mixture to the dip using a spatula. Next stir in the milk and olive oil, mixing everything together very well. (5) For the dippers, line a large plastic container with paper towels. Wash and peel the carrots, then halve them. Put the steamed broccoli florets and carrot pieces in the plastic container and refrigerate until ready to use. (6) Let the dip chill in the fridge at least 30 minutes. Serve with veggies and/or crackers, garnishing the dip with a sprig of oregano or dash of pepper if desired.

Serves 6

I am happy to have this cooled treat to munch on in my many hours spent sitting in the library. It was a little bit of work prepping all the veggies, but absolutely worth it…now at least I don’t have to listen to the grumblings of my stomach all day. I think the dip’s so good I almost don’t need the dippers, would eat this stuff with a spoon }:-)

My question: what are your favorite vegetables to use as dippers in appetizer recipes?

I feel like I may be missing some awesome ones…

09.21.11

And Now for Something Sweet…

Apples, apples everywhere! One dropped on my head the other day as I was walking down the sidewalk, as if the trees themselves were trying to get my attention 😉 They litter the streets and yards and pile up in the gutters; people in our neighborhood put basketfuls out on the sidewalk packed full of apples with a sign saying ‘gratis’.  It seems like every tree over here is loaded down with delicious, brightly colored fruit, from Dutch to Danish apples and endless other varieties I don’t know the names for yet. In my opinion, they all taste good, but I’ve been told some are better than others…and some still are best left for baking so I thought with all this fruitful abundance I’d at least give it a try.

This apple cake recipe I got from a friend, a fellow international student at my University who let me try a piece she made before relaying the recipe; needless to say that after one bite of the sugary fruitfulness, I was sold on the idea of making the cake. And, after going through the motions of baking it once, I’m already resolved to make it again. It’s rare that I enjoy baking as much as I do regular cooking; I’m not sure what it is exactly–all the waiting, whisking, explicit measurements, and intricate chemical reactions are a bit intimidating but this recipe was neither difficult nor complicated, so I highly recommend it anyone craving something sweet }:-]

Can you guess the star ingredient? That’s right, apples. And what would this cake be without them? Just butter, sugar, and flour–still pleasantly sugary–but certainly not possessing the same fruity goodness. I put the ingredients for this recipe in grams & deciliters this time since that’s what I’m working with; if anyone desires a ‘European experience’ as I like to call it, you should try making this recipe doing the conversions yourself, it’s useful math and not difficult, I promise ]:-) At the end of all this baking, I brought the finished product over to a friend’s who was having us for dinner. I arrived with the whole damn cake, thinking I was probably bringing too much but ended up leaving with none at all. I mean seriously, it’s gotta be good if everyone has 2 & 1/2 pieces of it after a large supper. I bet if success had a smell, it’d be sugary and sweet…

Sugary Cinnamon Apple Cake

Ingredients

100 g butter

2 deciliters sugar

4 deciliters flour

2 1/2 deciliters milk

1 egg, beaten

3 tsp. baking powder

4 apples (of your choice)

cinnamon

(1) Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius (or 350 degrees Fahrenheit). Melt all the butter in a small saucepan over very low heat. (2) In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg & sugar together with a whisk until light and fluffy. (3) Stir in the milk and melted butter. Next, add the flour in stages (a deciliter/cup at a time), whisking well to ensure that no lumps form. (4) Grease a round baking pan with a little bit of butter and pour in all the batter. (5) Peel and core the apples, slicing thinly before arranging the pieces in the batter in the pattern of your choice (the cake will rise as it bakes so be sure to add as much apple slices as you can); when done, sprinkle the top with a (generous) layer of cinnamon and sugar. (6) Bake on the top rack of the oven for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out cleanly when stuck into the center of the cake. Let cool 10 minutes before cutting into triangular pieces. Serve the pieces of apple cake with a dollop of clotted cream (if you’re feeling adventurous) and a pot of tea :->

Serves 4

I will admit, I’m a bit relieved to have made a cake successfully and I believe my baking qualms are over, for the time being at least 😉 And while the cake didn’t last (at all), I have confidence that my next food concoction will last just a little bit longer…I mean it’s got to, right?

My question: What is one of the best fruits to use in a cake?

(Other than apples, of course) I’m thinking pears…maybe peaches…

9.9.11