Mexican Skillet Chicken

IMG_1185Sometimes a recipe is born simply from a suggestion. While being told about a chicken dish that was enjoyed on a recent trip to Vegas, my mind was clicking away, trying to think about how to prepare a similar dish, having never seen the original, with the description more about how good it was, not really about how it was made. Our conversation wandered along several paths, never returning to the chicken dish. Several nights later I played the “what if” game while cooking what turned out to be the first draft of this very fresh, spicy dish of chicken with a light topping of melted cheese, and topped with fresh tomatoes, avocados, tomatillos, & green onion. Theoretically it should feed four. So far, it has only ever fed two, with no leftovers. Continue reading

Coconut Chicken Stew with Basil & Lime

IMG_9606There is something incredibly satisfying about stews, regardless of their country of origin. Pieces of vegetables nestled in a rich sauce, sometimes with meat, sometimes without. Once I discovered the wonderful aspects of Thai red & green curry pastes, I started playing with different versions of stews using coconut milk as a base. I remember a surprise visit of a large family, and making enough vegetable stew to feed us all easily, using a mixture of just the vegetables I had on hand, along with coconut milk and some curry paste. We served it over mounds of rice in large bowls while we got caught up on each other’s lives.

However, a day came when I didn’t have any curry paste in the pantry, so needed to go it alone. Often now, I tend to make this coconut based stew without the curry paste, and have sorted the ingredients out to make a wonderfully flavoured stew.   I’ve shown it here with chicken, but as the option that follows shows, it is completely wonderful as a meatless stew (although it does use fish sauce, so not completely vegetarian). Continue reading

Fried Rice ~ Basic Recipe

IMG_9565_2For several months one year, we had two young women staying with us through the Canada World Youth Program; one was a Canadian university student from Sherbrooke, Quebec, and the other, an economics student from Jakarta, Indonesia. Language was one of the key components to their stay here, as well as volunteering in the community. While I struggled with Indonesian, finding it difficult to separate the words, as the language is so fluid, I did find my high school French coming back to me so quickly. The three of us would laugh, quite often pointing, or drawing pictures to communicate. But slowly it all started to happen. Often just a quick sentence, but the intent was picked up on.

Besides language, food was a huge part of us getting to know each other and our cultures. Our household became used to the scent of rice in all its cooked forms. During Ramadan, the two of them would get up before dawn, and start cooking the early meal. Usually it was a simple assembly of fried rice. A few pieces of garlic, onions, and hot peppers, fried with leftover rice from the evening meal. Other bits of vegetables or meats would be added, and served with sambal oelek and ketjap bentang. This meal would last them right through until the late meal. Our Quebec guest found it very hard to manage the long days of fasting, but did it to experience her counterpart’s religion. Our tiny, Indonesian friend explained to me, that if you eat less, it is far easier to make it through the day, as she watched with glee as our young Canadian friend wolfed down a bagel with cream cheese following her fried rice.

Frying the rice before cooking it (instead of frying leftover rice) gives it a nuttier flavour. The recipe still uses small amounts of vegetable, meats, and egg to make it a complete meal. Be creative with this, as it is a very simple meal, using what is at hand. It can easily be fully vegetarian, or just use the egg if you like. Continue reading

Potato Crusted Quiche

IMG_6332I’ve been methodically going through my cooking files.   Everything is kept in legal sized hanging files, where I can jot things down on the folders themselves, such as cookbooks that offer a recipe that I use often, idea notes can be tossed in indiscriminately to a parent file.   I moved away from a recipe card box a long, long time ago.  I still have the recipes; they’re just in larger folders now.

As I work through the files, it gives me a chance to look at the whole of an idea, instead of a recipe standing on it’s own.  Sorting through my “breakfast” file, I’m reminded of the amount of milk to egg, for quiche, that works.  Little things like ratio are actually really important building blocks in developing a recipe.  If I know these things, then I’m able to be creative without messing with the core.  Of course, the ingredients you mix with the core can have an effect on the finished product, but it’s usually best to start with what you know.  It just makes for better science!

For this quiche, I use the core of ¼ cup of milk to each extra-large egg.  It has a good ratio of cheese to the other filling.  Which gives a recipe that is easy to switch some of the ingredients to create something new, or simply to make use of what you have on hand.

This quiche is an excellent meal.  It can easily be converted to a vegetarian version, and is naturally gluten-free.  The mashed potatoes that are used for the crust work best if they are a day old. Just make some the day before, if not using leftovers. Continue reading

Three Cheese Macaroni

IMG_5944As a kid I found macaroni & cheese to be too bland.  I could get through a serving if I had enough pickles.   Apparently, though, I was a rarity.  Macaroni & Cheese was part of pretty much any Children’s section on a menu, and presented frequently at Potlucks for “the kids”.  I watched in horror as other children slathered it in ketchup and gobbled it up.  Then there was the boxed version, Kraft Dinner.  My older brother and sister would share a box upon returning home from school some days.  I would go to my room.

It wasn’t until I had children of my own, that I realized why kids are served Mac & Cheese, a protein-laden pasta dish that would fill them up.  Texture is important to children when eating, and it has a very consistent texture, so doesn’t get picked apart.

However, my palate still wasn’t buying it!  So I started to play around.  Typically when I make a simple white sauce, I add bay leaves to the heated milk, and nutmeg to the finished sauce.  By adding a pinch of cayenne, it gave it a bit more zest.

I had always used aged cheddar, but added in some Parmesan and Gruyère, which definitely upped the flavour.

It wasn’t until reading Martha Stewart’s Favorite Comfort Food in the late 90’s that I found the one missing element that would raise my concoction to just what I was looking for, by adding a topping of buttered fresh bread crumbs.

This mixture of zest, cheeses & crumb elevates the lowly macaroni & cheese of my childhood, to something I am proud to serve, and even enjoy myself. Continue reading