Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spicy Soy Glazed Shrimp Skewers with Grilled Pineapple and Green Onions

A Sweet and Spicy Crowd Pleaser:
I've made this recipe a few times now and every time I whip it up, everyone raves at how delicious and versatile this dish is. I am such a sucker for salty/sweet/spicy/savory combinations that play off of the different flavor zones on the tongue. These dynamic flavor pairings always leave my mouth invigorated with flavor and my guests surprised by the complexity of the taste. One of my favorite ways to utilize these flavor compliments is with Asian ingredients and cuisine. The saltiness of soy, the sweetness of ginger, and the spiciness of chillies make many dishes go from just ok to over-the-top saturated with flavor. I also love one-dish-wonders, where you can make a full dish in one clean swoop and skewers are a great way to do that! This dish is so versatile and can be served in so many different ways! Whatever you choose, this intense combination of flavors will give your guests the extra zing their mouths have been craving.

  • 1 lb of fresh, de-veined, and peeled medium sized shrimp
  • 1 bundle of fresh green onions, cut into 1-2 inch slices
  • 1 large container (quart sized) of fresh chopped pineapple or one large pineapple cut into 2 x 2 inch cubes.
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tbs of low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tbs of Asian sweet chili sauce
  • 1/2 tsp of ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp of dry mustard
  • 1 tsp of minced garlic
  • 1 tsp of sesame oil
  • 1/2 tbs of vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tbs of mirin (Japanese rice wine)
  • Salt and pepper

  • 1 large grill pan or gas/charcoal grill
  • 1 pkg of bamboo skewers (soaked in water if skewering before grilling)
  • 1 small sauce pot
  • 1 large tray covered with wax paper or foil

Recipe: Makes 4-6 portions, 2-4 skewers per person
  1. Marinate cleaned shrimp for 15 minutes in 1/4 cup mirin, 1 tbs of sweet chili sauce, 1 tbs of low sodium soy, garlic, ground ginger, and dry mustard. (Do not toss marinade after, reserve and set aside)
  2. Heat grill pan over medium heat and add 1/4 tbs of vegetable oil.
  3. Grill pineapple for 4-5 min, a little less than a minute per side, making sure to get nice grill marks on the pineapple and to let the sugars from the fruit caramelize.
  4. Remove pineapple from pan, set aside, and add 1/2 tsp of sesame oil to pan.
  5. Add sliced green onions to pan, season with a little salt, and let sweat for roughly 4 minutes until tender but still crisp.
  6. Remove onions from pan, set aside, and add remaining 1/2 tsp of sesame oil and 1/4 tbs of vegetable oil.
  7. Increase heat slightly to medium-high and add marinated shrimp, cooking for about 2 minutes on each side until shrimp become pink and opaque.
  8. Remove shrimp from pan, set aside, and de-glaze pan with 1 tbs of mirin. 
  9. In a small sauce pan, combine de-glazed pan liquid, shrimp marinade, additional 1/4 cup of soy sauce, and additional tbs of sweet chili sauce over medium-high heat.
  10. Bring sauce to a boil and reduce to half for approximately 5 minutes. 
  11. Skewer shrimp, pineapple, and green onion in alternating patterns, then line up across wax/foil covered tray.
  12. Drizzle sauce over skewers and serve!

Tenacious Tips:
  • It's sometimes hard to get skewers to cook evenly, so I usually skewer post-grill (and that's how I listed the steps above). But, if you want a more hassle-free cook, then just skewer before hand and be sure that the shrimp is full cooked before removal.
  • I've made this dish several times and every time I tend to serve it a different way, but it's always fantastic! Try it over a light citrus salad, on a fluffy bed of sticky jasmine rice, or let the skewers shine on their own as an appetizer, tapa, or main event! 
  • I like to use San-J organic gluten-free reduced sodium tamari soy sauce. This company makes a ton of great organic and/or gluten-free options for sauces and dressings.
  • The sauce for the skewers is extremely rough and when I make this dish, I usually vary the amount of ingredients based on how my taste buds are feeling that particular day. Basically, there is no exact science for this sauce. You can add more chili sauce for extra spice or tone down the sodium by diluting with a little water. You may even want to introduce other ingredients to the mix! 
  • I use Mae Ploy Sweet Chili sauce in this recipe and you can find it at almost any grocery store in the ethnic foods aisle. I like the flavor and heat combination, but other brands would be just as good!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Garlicy Chicken in a Crushed Cherry Tomato Sauce served with Parmesan Asparagus

Italiano Simplice e Pulito:
People often feel that to make a seriously delicious and truly authentic Italian meal it takes a breadth of culinary technique and knowledge or an exhaustively complicated recipe. If I learned anything from my two weeks in Rome and Positano last May, it's that Italian food is far more simple than many home cooks realize. All it takes is some basic Italian flavors, quality ingredients, and a little heart and soul in the kitchen. This recipe screams both yummy and clean. In fact, this cherry tomato sauce had to be one of my absolute favorite things I got to cook with Salvatore at Il Ritrovo. I get to indulge my Italian cravings, but I also feel like I've had a healthy and fresh meal that won't tip my ever looming scale. So keep it "simplice e pulito", simple and clean, with this quick and easy Italian dinner.

  • 4 thin sliced chicken breast cutlets
  • 1 pkg of fresh cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4 cloves of fresh chopped garlic or 2 tsp of jarred garlic
  • 1 1/2 tbs of olive oil
  • 1 bundle of fresh asparagus
  • 1/4 cup of fresh grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup of dry white wine (optional)
  • Fresh basil
  • 1/2 lemon for juice
  • Flour for dusting
  • Salt and pepper

  • 1 large saute pan
  • 1 large roasting pan
  • Mixing bowl or tray
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cheese grater for parmesan
  • Tongs
  • Wooden spoon/spatula
  • Potato masher

Asparagus Recipe: Makes 4 side portions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Wash and drain asparagus.
  3. Grate fresh parmesan and set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl or tray, coat asparagus with 1/2 tbs of olive oil, salt and pepper.
  5. Cover roasting pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up.
  6. Spread asparagus in one layer across roasting pan.
  7. Sprinkle parmesan over asparagus and squeeze lemon quarter across top.
  8. Roast for 30 minutes, until asparagus are tender but still crisp.

Chicken Recipe: Makes 4 small portions or 2 large portions
  1. Heat saute pan over medium-high and add 1/2 tbs of olive oil.
  2. Wash tomatoes and slice some (not all) into halves.
  3. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then dust lightly with flour.
  4. Add chicken to the pan over medium-high, cook 3 minutes on each side until browned.
  5. Remove chicken with tongs and set aside.
  6. Add white wine to pan for de-glazing, scrapping off chicken bits from bottom of pan with a wooden spoon.
  7. Add garlic and another 1/2 tbs of olive oil to de-glazed pan.
  8. Carefully dump tomatoes into pan and let cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  9. Once whole tomatoes become plump and even brighter in red color, take potato masher and crush the tomatoes.
  10. Return chicken to pan and coat with tomatoes, allow to cook at medium-high for another 2 minutes then reduce to medium-low.
  11. Squeeze a lemon quarter over chicken and sauce to brighten flavor, cook for an additional minute.
  12. Remove from heat and serve.

Tenacious Tips:
  • I love the brightness white wine adds to the tomatoes, but you can just as easily de-glaze with a little chicken broth if you like. Just remember to use quality wine or broth! No store-bought "cooking wine" or sodium overloaded watered-down chicken stock. Only use something you would drink/taste. Just because you are adding it to lots of other ingredients, doesn't mean the low-quality won't be noticed. When in doubt, taste your ingredients yourself before adding them to your dish!
  • Sometimes your tomatoes can be overly-juicy. In this case, your sauce may seem a little watered down. To keep the liquid on low, remove the chicken at the end of the recipe and keep warm with foil or inside of a warming drawer. Then return the saute pan to high heat and allow to reduce for a few minutes. This may concentrate the sauce a little more, but it will only be more delicious! Just be careful not to burn those savory tomatoes!
  • For a more hearty dish, boil a little capellini pasta in salted water. Drain and coat with a little olive oil or butter, red pepper flakes, and chopped parsley. Serve as a side or stack asparagus and chicken over pasta and top with sauce.
  • Because of the seasonality of the asparagus and tomatoes, this is traditionally more of a spring dish. But, you can always use frozen asparagus and any tomato variety still available at your local supermarket. 
  • The lemon may seem out of place in this recipe, but in Positano, lemons are utilized in so many more ways than typical citrus dishes. Just a few squeezes can really highlight the flavors of the sweet tomatoes and tangy parmesan over the asparagus. Just be careful not to add too much. The lemon is used as a catalyst to bring out flavor here, not to stand out as one of the flavors. 
  • If your tomatoes are a bit on the acidic side, which they may be in these colder months, adding a 1/4 tsp of sugar to the sauce may help mellow them out.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Savory Chicken and Orzo Soup

A Cure for the Colder Weather:
Though this hasn't been the harshest of winters here in my new home of Nashville, TN, the crazy up and down weather this winter has left my head spinning. One day it's snowing, the next it's 70 degrees and beautiful. I can't entirely complain, but I have seen some pretty nasty side effects from these dramatic changes. Headaches, a runny nose, clogged sinuses, and joint pain have had me craving something truly comforting these last few days. I perused the aisles in the grocery store hoping to find a good soup that was low in sodium, had some good ingredients, and most of all looked tasty, but with my low appetite and a lack of quality products on the shelves I came home empty handed. Though slightly low on energy, I decided to take matters in to my own hands and whip up a semi-homemade version of classic chicken noodle soup. I added a few short-cuts and twists, but by the bottom of the bowl, I was one happy camper. The silky texture combined with the hearty chicken and veggies warmed me up from throat to tummy. It was the perfect way to recharge after a week of crazy weather. Did you know that doctors at the University of Nebraska Medical Center found in a study that chicken soup had anti-inflammatory properties? Did you also know that UCLA doctors also discovered this savory soup had properties similar to many common cold medicines? Though this recipe may not be the be all end all to your winter ailment, it will surely help you on your path to recovery! With this quickened recipe, you will be able snuggle up with a big bowl of yummy in no time!

  • 1 large container of creamy chicken soup (about 32 oz) 
  • 1/4 cup of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup of filtered water
  • 3 chopped medium sized carrots
  • 3 chopped stalks of celery
  • 1/2 chopped white or yellow onion
  • 1 cup of orzo pasta
  • 1 breast of rotisserie chicken, pulled
  • 1 tsp of pepper
  • 1/2 tsp of thyme
  • 1/2 tsp of oregano
  • 1/4 tsp of nutmeg
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • Dash of salt to taste
  • Cooking spray or 1 tbs of oil

  • Large soup pot
  • Medium-small pasta pot
  • Small sauce pot
  • Cutting board & sharp slicing knife

Recipe: Makes about 4 large servings or 6 medium-small servings
  1. Chop carrots into small coins and boil in unsalted water for 2 minutes, then drain and shock.
  2. Heat large soup pot over medium and coat with cooking spray or oil.
  3. Small dice the onions and celery and then add to heated soup pot.
  4. While onions and celery sweat (about 2-3 min), add orzo to medium-small pot of unsalted boiling water, cook 9 min or 1-2 min less than directed.
  5. Add carrots to soup pot once the celery and onions appear translucent.
  6. Add 1/4 cup of chicken broth and spices (thyme, oregano, pepper, bay leaves, and nutmeg) to soup pot, turn up heat to medium-high and let reduce for 3-5 minutes.
  7. While broth and spices reduce over the veggies, slice off a full chicken breast from rotisserie chicken and pull into small bites.
  8. Remove bay leaves and pour in full container of creamy chicken soup into large pot and stir. 
  9. Drain orzo and add the pasta and chicken to soup pot.
  10. Bring soup to a boil then reduce heat to low.
  11. Taste test soup and add 1/4 cup of water if too rich or add salt if needed (not recommended). 

Tenacious Tips:
  • I like to use a rotisserie chicken because it saves a ton of time, but you can always roast your own chicken, use other chicken left overs, or boil your own chicken breasts. This will help you to control the sodium in this recipe, but may take a little more time.
  • I use orzo because of its size and texture, but you can use whatever pasta you like. Whole Foods makes a great organic durum wheat orzo, and Delallo makes a great organic whole wheat orzo also.
  • For the creamy chicken soup, I like the Imagine Foods organic variety. It has an amazing taste, but it is a little high in sodium, so I add no extra salt to my soup. Pacific Natural Foods also makes a organic condensed cream of chicken soup that would work great for controlling the richness of the soup.
  • You can omit the nutmeg if you like, but I find it adds a undertone of warmth to the soup. You can sub in a little saffron instead, which could give it a particularly nice zing.
  • I also contemplated adding in some cooked drained spinach, but couldn't find any organic at the store when I made this recipe. Spinach would be a fantastic healthy add-on and you could easily use kale or chard as well. Other green veggies like peas or green beans would also be great nutrient rich additions.