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Thai Lettuce Wraps aka Larb aka Yum

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I love Thai food. So much so, that when I was traveling through Thailand I took the time to take cooking classes. We made Thai red curry paste from scratch, green papaya salad, fried bananas and so much more. It was all delicious. The fresh ingredients direct from food markets were rich with flavor.

The morning food markets in Thailand were full of the sights, sounds and smells of indescribable produce, spices and meats. I even saw bats for sale once! Don’t get the wrong idea though. There were plenty of flies in sight. The smells weren’t always…delightful (think rotting meat.) And the sounds were of a multitude of loudly haggling locals. They were also crowded, sweaty and a little dirty. But I loved them and all the new ingredients and flavors they represented. Cooking in Thailand is definitely farm to table. Thanks to a local Asian store, I have been able to continue making these dishes with only small adjustments to the ingredients (and a heaping increase in food safety!)

Larb is a Thai meat salad served in lettuce leaves that is flavorful, spicy and light. It can be made with either ground pork or chicken.

The first step though is to head out to your nearest Asian grocery store and buy a small bag of sticky or sweet Thai rice. This recipe only uses a small amount, but don’t worry, it won’t go to waste. My next post will explain how to make Thai sticky rice with mango.

Take 3 tbsp of the rice and place it in a small saucepan on low heat. Toast the rice  for about 15 minutes or until a golden brown color. It will start to smell like popcorn.

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Once toasted, grind it in a mortar until it becomes a coarse powder. (You could also use a food processor). Set aside.

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Cook your pork or chicken in a medium saucepan until cooked through. Remove from heat and add one heaping tbsp of the sticky rice powder and your chili flakes. Mix well and then allow the meat to cool for about 2-3 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients (except the lettuce leaves and peanuts) and stir well to combine.

Serve on lettuce leaves and garnish with peanuts.

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Thai Lettuce Wraps
Ingredients
  • 3 tbsp Thai sweet/sticky rice
  • 1 lb minced pork or chicken
  • 1/2-1 tbsp chili flakes
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2-3 small shallots sliced
  • 1/2 tbsp cilantro leaves chopped
  • 4 green onions chopped
  • 20 leaves fresh mint torn into medium sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup peanuts chopped for garnish
  • 10 lettuce leaves
Instructions
  1. In  a small saucepan, on low heat, toast the sticky rice until golden brown. It will smell like popcorn

  2. Grind the toasted rice using a mortar or food processor into a coarse powder

  3. In a large saucepan, cook the pork/chicken until cooked through. Break into small pieces. Remove from heat

  4. Add 1 heaping tbsp of the rice powder and the chili flakes. Stir till well combined

  5. Allow to cool for 2-3 minutes. You want it warm, but not so hot that your herbs will cook

  6. Add remaining ingredients, except for the peanuts and lettuce leaves. Stir to combine

  7. Garnish with chopped peanuts and serve on lettuce leaves

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Chlodnik. A tangy, cold, Polish soup

I was going to post a Thai recipe today, but since my sneak peek picture of this soup got a lot of interest I decided to let this post jump the queue. Today we’re off to Poland! (Not literally, we’re just making Polish food.)

Chlodnik is a vibrant pink, cold, traditional, Polish soup. The pink color comes from the beets and this soup would typically be served as the first course of lunch. Made with young beets, cucumber and fresh dill it is a welcome starter or full meal during the hot summer months. The base is made up of sour cream and buttermilk or kefir. I added some potatoes for a bit more substance and it is typically garnished with an entire boiled egg. Here’s how to make it:

First off you need to separate the beets from their greens. Save the greens.

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Peel the beets and boil or steam them until soft. Cool and chop into small pieces. Then place them in either a blender or food processor to form a puree. I have a Ninja blender so I used that.

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Boil the beet leaves and/or stems until tender (usually about 5 minutes). Chop.

Boil your potatoes until tender. Cool and chop into bite sized pieces. (I used baby gold Yukon potatoes). (This step is optional.)

Mix the sour cream and buttermilk together in a large bowl.

Add your dill, chives, radishes, potatoes, beet greens and 1 cup of the beet puree (note – you can keep the beets raw, but your soup will have a slightly grainy texture). Mix well. Chill.

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Hard boil and egg. Cut in half and garnish when ready to serve.

To wszystko! (Supposedly that’s how you say “that’s all!” in Polish)

Follow this blog so you don’t miss out on my next post where I make delicious Thai lettuce wraps.

 

 

Chlodnik
Ingredients
  • 5 beets with leaves
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 2 cups buttermilk or kefir
  • 2 cups potatoes cooked and chopped
  • 2 cups cucumbers chopped
  • 7 radishes sliced
  • 1/2 cup chives chopped
  • 1 tbsp dill chopped fine
  • 4-5 eggs hard boiled
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Cut the stems and leaves off of the beets

  2. Peel beets. Boil or steam until tender. Shred in a blender or food processor to form a puree

  3. Boil beet leaves until tender (about 5 mins). Chop and set aside to cool

  4. Combine the sour cream and buttermilk

  5. Add the cucumber, potatoes (I used Yukon gold), radishes, chives, dill, salt, pepper and chopped beet leaves

  6. Add 1 cup of the beet puree and mix well. Adjust seasonings to taste

  7. Chill in the fridge for 2-3 hours before serving

  8. Serve with sliced hard boiled eggs for garnish

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Tequila, limes and margaritas. Tips and techniques from a self-professed tequila snob.

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The quality of your ingredients matter whether you’re making a world class cocktail or a seven course meal. Since we’re in the heat of summer, let’s discuss the ingredients required to make a traditional margarita. I don’t mean the frozen kind made with sugary mixes and drunk out of a fancy glass. I mean the authentic, Mexican margarita.

First and foremost, TEQUILA. You want tequila that says 100% agave or 100% de agave. If it just says agave on it, it’s a mix of agave and fermented cane sugars. These “mixed” tequilas are called “mixtos”. They have a lot of additives for flavor and color. “Gold” tequila is a mixtos tequila with added caramel coloring. It is not a higher quality tequila.

Aside from “mixtos” (which is basically JUNK tequila) there are four main categories of tequila. Silver/blanco, Resposado, Anejo, and extra Anejo. Silver or blanco tequila is the purest tequila. It is 100% agave and is not aged. They tend to have a strong up front agave taste and can be considered “strong”. Resposado or rested tequila has been aged between 2 and 12 month in wooden barrels. This mellows out the agave taste while picking up wood flavors and coloring. Anejo tequila is a reposado that has been aged over 1 year. Extra Anejo has been aged for more the 3 years.

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The other main ingredient in margaritas is limes. A lot of limes are overly acidic because they have been picked too “green” and are not properly ripened. This will make for a sour, acidic drink that will keep you up all night with heartburn. No thanks. The best way to check a lime is to open and taste it. It should be juicy and not sour. But how do you know which limes to buy in the store? I did a little research and I read that ripe limes are lighter in color, have smooth rather than dimpled skin, feel heavy and give slightly when squeezed, so I did a lime experiment. I bought four limes. Two dark green and two light green/yellow.

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You can see that the lighter colored limes also have smoother skin. They were all juicy when I opened them, but the lighter colored limes were definitely less sour.

So now that you have 100% agave tequila and ripe limes let’s make a margarita!

Grab your cocktail shaker and fill it with ice. Add two parts of your favorite 100% agave silver tequila, one part freshly squeezed lime juice and one part either triple sec OR Grand Marnier. (Triple sec will give the margarita an orange flavor, Grand marnier a brandy flavor).  Give it a good shake. The longer you shake the more water will melt from the ice and dilute your margarita. This is just personal preference. I like mine lightly shaken, but if it’s too strong for you just shake it longer.

Take your margarita glass and rub the rim with lime and dip it in coarse salt. Pour the margaritas into the glasses then take a spoon and add some of the ice from the shaker. I do this rather than pour over fresh ice as the ice in the shaker is coated with the drink.

For an extra twist that will impress your friends, take your favorite Reposado or Anejo 100% agave tequila and pour it over the back of a spoon on to the drink to “float” about 1 teaspoon of tequila on top. This step will give you a high quality “tequila shooter” for the first couple sips of your drink. Absolutely delicious!

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Mexican Margarita
Ingredients
  • 2 parts 100% agave silver tequila
  • 1 part freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 part grand marnier or triple sec
  • coarse salt
  • 1 tsp 100% agave resposado or anejo tequila
Instructions
  1. Fill your cocktail shaker with ice

  2. Add the silver tequila, lime juice and grand marnier or triple sec (triple sec will give the margarita an orange flavor, grand marnier a brandy flavor)

  3. Shake well - the longer you shake the more water will enter the drink

  4. Rub the rim of your margarita glasses with lime. Dip rims in coarse salt to coat

  5. Pour the mixed margarita into the glasses. Then add ice from the shaker with a spoon

  6. Take your favorite Reposado or Anejo tequila and pour it over the back of a spoon and onto the top of your drink

  7. Garnish with a slice of lime

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Layered Chicken Taco Salad with a side of Mexican love

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Mexico…it has a special place in my heart. This is where I met my husband. A series of calamitous events had landed me depressed and dejected in Cabo san Lucas. It all started when I was laid off from my government job following the stock market crash of 2008. I made the very responsible decision to spend my new found freedom on vacation in Mexico. I booked a charter trip with my friend to Puerto Vallarta. Shortly before our trip started, a tropical storm formed just off shore of our resort. Perfect…at least the storm matched my mood. My friend and I arrived at the airport at 4am on a cold Sunday morning to catch our flight to Mexico. The Vancouver International Airport is HUGE, but even for that early hour the terminal seemed eerily quiet. We followed the signs to our check in counter, but no one was there. In fact, there was NO ONE in the entire airport! After wandering around aimlessly, we saw a lone soul manning an information kiosk. She told us our flight had left the day before. UGH. I double checked my tickets and they definitely said Sunday. I felt like the universe was conspiring against me and my ill advised vacation. We left the airport feeling frustrated and confused. I was resigned to drinking tea in bed for a week, but my friend was a lawyer and insisted we should just book a new vacation. She was sure that we wouldn’t have to pay for it. So….we booked a slightly NICER vacation resort….and we moved the destination to Cabo to avoid the tropical storm. Once we finally arrived, a group of American guys followed us around all week. The quiet one who mostly read a book while nursing a calf injury looked me up on social media when he got home. A couple years later we were married. Oh, and VISA paid for our entire trip to Cabo since the initial trip was booked through their travel rewards program. Maybe the universe was conspiring…just not against me.

I loved the food at our Mexican resort. My friend and I left 10lbs heavier, and we were only there a week! I LOVE Mexican food. That being said, I should probably move on to this light and delicious salad (which won’t result in a massive weight gain!). It’s perfect for a summer lunch or dinner and the dressing is what makes it so yummy. The layers of crunchy chips, juicy chicken and crisp peppers soak up the flavors of the dressing. Use a glass bowl if you have one to show off the layers.

In the morning, bake or BBQ some chicken to shred for the salad. Also prepare the dressing ahead of time so that the flavors can blend together over time in the fridge.

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My next post will describe how to make the perfect MARGARITA, which would pair nicely with this salad. Visit my facebook page and click on the “follow” button so you don’t miss it!

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LAYERED CHICKEN TACO SALAD
Ingredients
  • 3 cups romaine lettuce chopped
  • 3 cup spinach
  • 3 large roma tomatoes chopped
  • 1 can whole kernel sweet corn
  • 1 can black beans rinsed and drained
  • 1 red pepper chopped
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 4 green onions chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups colby/monterey jack cheese shredded
  • 3/4 cup salsa
  • 1 1/2 cups tortilla chips broken into medium sized pieces
  • 2 avocado sliced
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro chopped
Dressing
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tbsp onion finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Instructions
Dressing:
  1. Mix all ingredients in a large jar that seals. Shake well to blend. Place in fridge for at least three hours prior to use. Shake again before serving

Salad:
  1. In a large glass bowl, place romaine lettuce and spinach on the bottom.

  2. Next layer tomatoes, then corn, black beans, red pepper, shredded chicken, green onions, and cheese

  3. Mix 3/4 cup of the dressing with 3/4 cup of salsa. Stir to mix

  4. Drizzle dressing/salsa mixture over the cheese

  5. Top with tortilla chips

  6. Garnish with avocado, cilantro and a little left over corn and red pepper for color

 

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Pavlova Meringue Cake from Down Under

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When I was 19 years old, my family emigrated to Australia. I was in university so I didn’t move with them, but I spent my summers and Christmas holidays down under. My younger sister lamented that everything in Oz tasted a little “off”. Even Oreo cookies and Heinz ketchup were made using different recipes. She used to hoard ketchup packets from McDonalds because they were imported from North America. My parents would drool in the basement of the David Jones department store where they had an imported food section. I used to try and smuggle in Kraft Dinner for my Dad, but customs always seized them. Apparently those bright orange flavor packets actually contain some cheese. Who knew?

Some food was much tastier though. Especially the cheeses. If you ever find yourself in the land of Oz, definitely order yourself a cheese platter. It’s not only cheese that the Aussie’s specialize in though….there is also pavlova.

Pavlova is traditionally a single layer of meringue topped with whipped cream and lots of seasonal fruits. I was ambitious and decided to do a layered cake. Once you know how to make meringue it’s easy to make one or three layers depending on the occasion. I will explain in detail how to make the three layer cake and how to easily adjust the recipe to make a traditional pavlova.

To make three layers, you really need a double oven. Unless, of course, you have three hours to spend watching meringue baking and cooling. To start you’re going to preheat your oven to 300 degrees.

Line a flat cookie tray with parchment paper. Trace out a 7-8 inch circle. (I traced a side plate.) Repeat with a second tray and try to fit in two more circles. (If you’re making a single layer, just trace out one 10-12 inch circle).

Sprinkle cornstarch over the circles to prevent the meringue from sticking.

In a large bowl separate out your egg whites. You cannot have even a single drop of yolk or grease in your bowl. If you do, start over. It won’t work.

Here’s the trickiest part…beat the eggs until they are stiff and forming small peaks, but are NOT DRY. You do not want to overbeat the eggs or they will collapse when folding in the final ingredients.

One tablespoon at a time, add the sugar and beat between each addition until fully incorporated. This will take some time. Be patient. You are making the meringue now. (If you have a stand mixer I would use it!) Continue to whip the egg whites while adding sugar until they are thick and glossy.

Fold in the vanilla, lemon juice and cornstarch until fully combined.

Equally divide the meringue mixture between the three circles.

Using the back of a spoon or spatula work the mixture, from the center out, to the edges of the circle, forming a disc. (This is actually quite easy). Smooth the top of the disc as best you can. Ensure that your discs are flat so that you can stack them. (If making a single layer build up the rim slightly so that it will hold in your whipped cream and fruit).

Bake for one hour. After one hour turn off the oven, but leave your meringues inside to cool for another 30 minutes. This will prevent further cracking.

 

After completely cooled, carefully peel the parchment paper off the meringue. Place your first layer on a flat plate or cake platter.

Whip up your filling ingredients until stiff. Spoon into a ziplock plastic bag and cut one bottom corner off to allow you to pipe out the cream.

On your bottom layer, pipe cream from the center out, in lines. Top with fruit. (If making a single layer, you’re done!)

Repeat for second layer.

Add top layer. Evenly spread cream on top and add more sliced fruit. Garnish with more fruit.

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Refrigerate until ready to serve and plate with extra sliced fruit.

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Pavlova Cake
Ingredients
  • 8 egg whites room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 4 tsp cornstarch
Filling:
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extra
  • 5-6 kiwis peeled and sliced
  • 5-6 strawberries sliced
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees

  2. Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper

  3. Trace out 3, 7-8 inch circles. Sprinkle with cornstarch

  4. In a large bowl, separate out your egg whites. Ensure that no yolks or grease enters the bowl. If it does, start over

  5. Beat egg whites until stiff and forming small peaks, but NOT DRY.

  6. Slowly add sugar, one tbsp at a time, beating well in between each addition. This will take time. Be patient. Beat until mixture becomes thick and glossy.

  7. Fold in vanilla, lemon juice and cornstarch until well combined

  8. Divide mixture evenly among the three circles

  9. Using the back of a spoon or a spatula, spread,(from the center out), towards the edges of the circle. Make a flat disc and smooth out best as possible 

  10. Bake for 1 hr. After one hour turn off the oven, but leave the meringues inside to cool for 30 minutes. This prevents further cracking

  11. Once completely cooled, carefully peel off parchment paper

  12. Place bottom meringue on a flat plate or cake platter

  13. In a large bowl, beat together heavy cream, vanilla and powdered sugar until stiff

  14. Spoon whipped cream into a Ziploc bag. Seal and cut one bottom corner off to allow you to pipe out the cream

  15. Starting from the center of the meringue disc, pipe cream to the edges in lines

  16. Top with kiwi and strawberries.

  17. Repeat for second layer

  18. Add top meringue. Spread whipped cream evenly over the top and garnish with more fruit

  19. Store in fridge and serve with more sliced fruit

Recipe Notes

To make a single layer traditional Pavlova, divide the recipe in half. Make one 10-12 inch meringue. Build up rim of disc slightly to hold your whipped cream and fruit in.

 

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Spiced Lamb Turnovers and all things Persian

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The Ancient Kingdom of Persia was always known for it’s exemplary food. Renamed in 1935, this area is now referred to as Iran. Politics aside, to ignore this country’s cuisine would be a true tragedy. Their culinary history is rich with the flavors of fragrant spices, sweet pomegranates, cool mint, slow cooked meats and warm roasted nuts.  When I was writing my cookbook, my Persian friend invited me and my mom over to her house to learn about Persian Cooking. It was a magical afternoon where she shared everything from the proper way to serve tea to how your rice should “dance” in the pot when it was boiling. She stressed to us that “presentation is everything” and that taking this extra step when cooking for others is considered crucial in her culture.

After greeting us the front door, my friend poured us a sweet and sour drink called SEKANJABIN. It was a refreshingly cold drink that reminded me of my travels through Jordan. It’s perfect for a hot summer afternoon with friends.

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The syrup is made ahead of time and stored in the fridge. You pour a couple of tablespoons into the bottom of a glass, add ice and cold water, and stir. Garnish with shredded cucumber, fresh mint leaves and a lime rind. I will post the recipe at the end of this blog.

I learned how to make Persian style Basmati rice. Slightly boiled, but mostly steamed, this rice should be drier than that North Americans tend to serve. Her Jeweled Rice, which graces the cover of my cookbook, is traditionally served at weddings. It’s named for the colors displayed by the saffron infused rice, sour red barberries and bright green pistachios. The recipe is in my cookbook so I won’t repeat it here, but her food was so delicious that I went on the hunt for the ingredients. I couldn’t get over the flavor combinations.

One ingredient that is used to both decorate and flavor many dishes is rose petals. I thought it would be hard to find food grade rose buds, but I saw them at my local Asian store.

I ground some up in my mortar and saved it in a jar. The aroma is divine and so is the taste.

Back to my gorgeous afternoon. My friend served us the Jeweled Rice with a saffron chicken dish (also in the cookbook), herbed yogurt and pickled vegetables. It was delicious, and that’s an understatement.

After lunch, she served us tea. She placed cardamom pods in the kettle with the water to boil and then poured the hot water through loose leaf tea brought in from England. She set her hourglass timer to the appropriate steeping time and explained that tea should be served in glass cups, so that the deep colors could be enjoyed.

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Motivated after this amazing spread I searched for Persian recipes where I could find all the ingredients at my local grocery store. What I found was Spiced Lamb Turnovers. I spent the extra time on presentation as my friend suggested and I ended up with a beautiful dish. These take time to make, but they’re well worth it. The garnish adds quite a bit of taste, so don’t skip this important step. This recipe makes about 4 dozen, but they freeze extremely well.

Click HERE to order my cookbook

SPICED LAMB TURNOVERS
Ingredients
  • 3 boxes puff pastry thawed 40 mins
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1 onion diced fine
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 cup fresh tarragon chopped
  • 2 cups fresh Italian parsley chopped
  • 1 cup fresh mint chopped
  • 1 cup pistachios ground (use food processor)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
For wash:
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp milk
For garnish:
  • ground pistachio
  • ground rose petals (available at asian stores)
  • powdered sugar
Instructions
  1. In a large frying pan heat the oil on medium heat till hot. Add in lamb, onion and garlic. Add 1 tbsp water and cover. Lower heat to medium-low and cook for 15 mins.

  2. Add remaining ingredients and turn heat up to medium. Cook uncovered for 15-20 mins or until mixture fairly dry. Make sure to break up lamb into small pieces.

  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

  4. Take out puff pastry and cut into 3 inch rounds using a cookie cutter or jar.

  5. Add 2 tsp filling to each round. Fold into a half moon and pinch closed. Place on a cookie tray.

  6. Brush egg wash on tops of turnovers

  7. Freeze extra turnovers on tray. You may transfer them to a bag or container once frozen. (This prevents sticking.)

  8. Bake for 20 mins or until golden brown.

  9. Remove from oven and garnish. Use whole rose buds to decorate your serving platter.

Recipe Notes

To PIN this recipe click on the thumbnail image and then the P icon

 

Sekanjabin
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (you may add up to 2 tbsp more to taste if desired)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 small bunch fresh mint
  • 1 small seedles cucumbers peeled and shredded for garnish
  • 1 lime for garnish
Instructions
  1. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat on medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves

  2. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10-15 minutes

  3. Add the vinegar and simmer for 30 minutes or until mixture thickens into a syrup. Taste and adjust amount of vinegar/sugar to taste

  4. In the last 2-3 minutes, add in the bunch of fresh mint

  5. Remove from heat and cool completely

  6. Remove mint leaves before serving

  7. When ready to drink, pour a couple tablespoons of the syrup into a cup. Top with ice and water. Stir

  8. Garnish with shredded cucumber, fresh mint and a lime rind

 

 

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Summer Pesto Chicken…and the exploding dinner party

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Confession time… I used to cook very little. I lived alone until my early thirties and cooking for one is BORING. My knowledge of cooking was so scant that when my friends and I would have potluck Thanksgiving dinners, I would be asked to bring the cranberry sauce. One year, feeling somewhat inadequate, I made the cranberry sauce from scratch just to prove to everyone that I wasn’t a complete cooking moron.

When I moved in with my husband, I was suddenly cooking for four. While that was a steep enough learning curve, my husband also loved to throw dinner parties. When he would tell me he’d invited friends over for dinner, I would feel the anxiety rising up over me like a fast moving tide. What?! Cook for 8? What on earth could I possibly serve? Every time we had a dinner party, I was a mess. Then one day, our dinner party exploded.

My husband had asked me to throw a dinner party for six. I was stressing about what to cook and looking up recipes online when I received a facebook message from an acquaintance. She wrote that my husband had invited her family for dinner next week and that they would love to come, they just didn’t know where we lived. Confused, I went upstairs to ask my husband about it. I hadn’t known he had invited more people. When I told him about the RSVP and he turned pale and quietly mumbled, “Umm… I have something to tell you”. My heart dropped into my stomach and a tight knot formed in my throat. I waited nervously for him to continue, but instead he pulled up an excel spreadsheet on his computer. An EXCEL SPREADSHEET? He added four names to the spreadsheet and I quickly realized that it was a guest list.  For 60 people. 60 PEOPLE! My friendly and VERY social husband had apparently invited everyone he had talked to for the past week. Even people we didn’t really know. Panic ensued. I nearly fainted. My husband apologized at least six times. The dinner party had exploded into a massive feast.

That day I learned the value of an easy, (yet visually stunning AND delicious), go to recipe, for large dinner parties. So I’m going to share mine. While “technically” an Italian dish, I’m a little unsure of it’s authenticity. However, it’s ability to be easily adjusted for any number of guests made me want to post it here for all of you.

I call it SUMMER PESTO CHICKEN and often pair it with green beans and roasted potatoes. If I’m serving over 10 people, I add in a pasta dish, salad and bread. (Stay tuned for those recipes!)

I’ve written the recipe to serve 6 people, but you can serve it to as little as four or make an entire tray to serve 20.

First, place your chicken into a baking dish large enough to accommodate them.

Cover the chicken generously with pesto sauce.

Cover with spinach.

Drain and gently squeeze the water from the artichoke hearts (this will prevent your dish from becoming soggy). Spread evenly over spinach. Then add the tomatoes.

Finally, sprinkle dish with mozzarella. I like to grind fresh black pepper on top too.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until chicken cooked through.

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That’s it! You’re done. Now you can relax and enjoy your party.

Stay tuned for my next post on Persian cooking. Make sure you don’t miss it by following this blog. Subscribe either below (if on mobile device) or on the right (if on a desktop)

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SUMMER PESTO CHICKEN
Ingredients
  • 6 chicken breasts
  • 8 oz (small jar) pesto
  • 8 cups fresh spinach
  • 14 oz can artichoke hearts
  • 2-3 cups roma tomatoes cut into eigths
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese shredded
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees

  2. Place chicken breasts into a baking dish large enough to accommodate them

  3. Cover chicken generously with pesto sauce

  4. Cover with fresh spinach

  5. Drain and gently squeeze water from artichoke hearts. Spread evenly over spinach

  6. Chop roma tomatoes into 8ths. Spread evenly over dish

  7. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella cheese over the top

  8. Bake for approximately 45-50 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through

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Sticky Babka

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Did you know BABKA means “little grandma” in Russian, Ukrainian and Yiddish? This coffee cake’s origins are Eastern European, but it’s often identified as Jewish. Recently popularized, this bread is filled with rich, delicate swirls of sweet filling.  A newly Americanized version of this treat is filled with chocolate, but traditionally it was probably filled with fruit and sugar. Anyway you make it, babka is scrumptious.

I had read that Babka took all day to make and involved 14 steps. Wow….I figured I would skip this recipe since that’s not realistic for me right now. Between potty training and rides to and from summer camp, I’m fairly busy. Then I found a recipe that used instant yeast (one less tricky step), used a stand mixer (no kneading=two less tricky steps), and had a simple sticky bun filling (sticky buns are my favorite!). So I decided to give it a try and I was not disappointed. My teenage son actually cracked a smile early this morning when he saw it (and he was up really EARLY).

To make babka you first preheat your oven to 200 degrees Farenheit and then turn it off. Yep, turn it off. You want it to cool down slightly, but be warm enough for your dough to rise. While the oven is warming up, start by mixing your dry ingredients in your stand mixer bowl. Attach the dough hook to the mixing arm. Your dough hook looks like this:

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Then heat your milk on the stove to 110 degrees. Whisk in the egg yolks, egg and vanilla.

Turn the stand mixer on low speed and slowly add the milk mixture to your dry ingredients. After three minutes, turn up to medium speed and slowly add the butter in 8 divided pieces. Mix until the dough becomes smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. This will take about 10 minutes. It should look like this:

Place the dough in a large greased bowl and turn it around until all sides of the dough are greased  (this prevents a crust from forming which would interfere with rising). Cover with plastic wrap and place the bowl in the now turned off oven for one hour. After one hour, remove the bowl and place in the fridge for one hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

Mix all filling ingredients together.

Remove dough from the fridge and punch it down (literally punch it with your fist) to eliminate the large air pockets. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and roll out into a rectangle. Spread filling evenly over dough.

Roll into a long thin cylinder.IMG_2790

Cut it lengthwise with a sharp knife.IMG_2791

Now twist the two pieces together.

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Finally, roll it like a snail and place into a baking dish. (I just used a corningware dish).IMG_2796

IMG_2797Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour. It should start to look puffy.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

If desired, mix powdered sugar with water and drizzle over top.

Serve with hot coffee and friends!

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STICKY BABKA
Ingredients
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter softened and cut into 8 pieces
Filling:
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter melted and cooled
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup pecan toasted and finely chopped
Glaze:
  • 6 tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp water
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees and then turn off

  2. Mix flour, sugar, yeast and salt in stand mixer bowl

  3. In a saucepan, heat milk to 110 degrees F

  4. Whisk egg yolks, egg and vanilla in with milk

  5. With dough hook on stand mixer, slowly add milk mixture to dry ingredients at low speed until dough comes together. This should take about 3 minutes

  6. Increase the speed to medium and add the butter, one piece at a time

  7. Continue to mix at medium speed until the dough is smooth and no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl. This takes about 10 minutes. If dough is still sticking to the sides of the bowl add 2-4 more tbsp of flour

  8. Transfer dough to a greased bowl. Turn dough around in bowl to grease all sides of dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap

  9. Place bowl in oven for one hour. Then remove and place in fridge for at least one hour (until dough doubles in size)

  10. Mix together all filling ingredients

  11. When dough has doubled, remove from fridge and punch down to remove air pockets

  12. Turn out dough onto a floured surface and roll into a rectangle, approx. 1/4 inch thick

  13. Spread filling evenly over dough

  14. Roll into a long, thin roll and cut lengthwise

  15. Twist pieces together to form a long rope

  16. Curl rope like a snail and place in a greased baking dish

  17. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise for an hour. It should start to look puffy

  18. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

  19. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean

  20. Cool on wire rack

  21. Mix together glaze ingredients and drizzle on top

Recipe Notes

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Welcome to the Blue Radish Food Blog!

Hello world! Welcome to my food blog. I’m Jenny and obviously love to cook. I have four kids… yes, FOUR. Two teenagers and two toddlers. YIKES. Needless to say, my days consist of laundry, sweeping and cooking. The laundry and sweeping are pretty tedious, but the cooking, it keeps me sane. I’m originally from the west coast of Canada and moved to New Jersey 7 years ago. Here, being so close to NYC, I discovered the plethora of ethnic restaurants on my doorstep. Ethiopian, Portuguese, Afghani, Persian and Italian…oh delicious, Italian food. I wanted to learn how to make it all. Of course, for me, cooking is messy with multiple interruptions thanks to the toddlers. It’s like they have an uncanny ability to start coloring the walls just when I hit a critical part of a recipe. Thank goodness for magic erasers! It may take me 2+ hours to cook a 1 hour dish, but we muddle through.

Also chickens, because I have so much spare time (insert sarcasm). I love my chickens (no sarcasm). They give me fresh, yummy eggs in all sorts of colors. Did you know some chickens lay blue eggs? These quirky birds have all kinds of personality and my kids are always entertained by them. Well, until the coop needs cleaning!

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So kids, chickens and cooking. I should probably get back to the cooking since that’s why you’re here. My hope is to share with you my journey as I attempt to “cook around the world” in search of the best dishes each culture has to offer.

I’m still new to this whole blogging world and it’s a bit “techy” so forgive me if the site is a little rough at first. When my little ones head back to preschool in September I’m going to attempt to provide cooking videos to accompany the recipes.

To celebrate the first blog I’m going to share my Dad’s famous Mango Martini recipe. He and my mom once spent an entire boozy afternoon perfecting it. It’s delish!

Please subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss my next recipe. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it private and you won’t be getting junk mail!

MANGO MARTINIS

Servings: 2
Ingredients
  • 1 mango
  • 2 1/2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz peach schnapps
  • 1/2 oz simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
  • 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
Instructions
  1. Put ingredients into a blender with 2 cups of ice and blend. Pour into chilled martini glasses and garnish with blueberries or raspberries (frozen or fresh)

Recipe Notes

If you use 1:1 simple syrup, just double the amount

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