Tarragon Chicken

IMG_3031My neighbor brought me a wonderful gift last week. She knocked on my front door and I opened it to find her smiling and holding out a bunch of sweet-smelling herbs from her garden, all tied up with yellow ribbon. Since tarragon is difficult to grow in this part of Texas I substitute an easier to grow herb, Mexican MInt Marigold, in my own garden so this was a real treat!  Tarragon is called the “King of Herbs” by the French, and with good reason. It is the main flavoring in many of the sauces that form the foundation of classic French cuisine. I understand that Tarragon Chicken was one of Jackie Kennedy’s favorite dishes (Another neighbor years ago gave me a cookbook titled Cooking for Madam, written by the woman who began as nanny and became the Kennedy’s housekeeper and cook.).

Tarragon Chicken

3  large unpeeled garlic cloves

4 small skinless boneless chicken breast halves 

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

Heat small cast iron skillet, add garlic and cook, turning occasionally  until browned in spots and tender when pierced with knife tip. Remove to cool.
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Melt butter in larger skillet. Add chicken and cook until browned and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate but do not clean skillet, as browned bits will be deglazed by wine, adding delicious flavor to sauce.
 Peel garlic. Add garlic and wine to same skillet; cook until reduced by about half, mashing garlic finely with fork, about 1 minute. Add broth and tarragon; simmer until liquid is reduced by about half, 1 to 2 minutes. Add cream and simmer to thicken slightly, about 1 minute. Return chicken to skillet with any accumulated juices. Simmer to heat through, turning occasionally, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate; spoon sauce over. Serve with rice.

Mahi Mahi Poached in Olive Oil with Tomato, Olive, and Rosemary Salsa

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Before I was married (over 50 years ago!), I rarely ate fish cooked any way but fried.  My personal favorite was fried shrimp. Mother avoided most fish, but loved fried catfish. My parents owned a small cafe where my father cooked delicious foods, but I don’t remember his ever serving seafood other than fried fish and shrimp. Daddy loved fried oysters, and liked to make oyster stew with fresh oysters when he cooked at home, especially at Christmas. I still enjoy fried oysters, shrimp and catfish with hush puppies. But now, we enjoy a variety of fresh fish cooked in many ways.  For quick family suppers, my go-to methods of preparation are grilling and baking.  We grow fresh herbs in our garden, so often have fish paired with fresh dill, rosemary, or thyme. When This recipe was originally published Coastal Living. I did a search and found several versions online. I had never poached fish in olive oil before and wanted to try it  The results were delicious so it won’t be the last time I use this combination of flavors or this method of cooking.  The following is the way I adapted the Coastal Living recipe.  And yes, we do live on the South Texas Gulf Coast.

Mahi Mahi Poached in Olive Oil with Rosemary and Tomato Salsa

2 (4-6 ounce) Mahi Mahi filets

2 cups olive oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

4 Roma or Compari tomatoes (small, but not cherry tomatoes), halved

2 Tablespoons capers

1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped

1 Tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Heat olive oil in flat sided deep skillet.Place tomatoes in oil, cut side down, along with 1 sprig of rosemary.  Cover and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, or until tomatoes are tender  Remove tomatoes to plate to cool.  Rinse fish and pat dry before sprinkling with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Lower fish carefully into flavor infused hot olive oil and poach  8 to 10 minutes or until fish is cooked through and flakes easily with fork. Remove from oil and place on serving dish.

While fish is cooking, put tomatoes in bowl and mash with fork or a few swirls of an immersion blender.  Add capers, chopped Kalamata olives, chopped rosemary, and vinegar.  Spoon this mixture over fish in serving dish and garnish with a whole sprig of rosemary.

 

 

Stuffed Garden Peppers

IMG_0735If you think ground meat and rice stuffing when you think of stuffed peppers, these peppers will surprise you.  Typically, a savory stuffing with some variation of beef and rice is stuffed into green Bell peppers before baking. For this version, I wanted to use Gypsy peppers from our garden.  They are only slightly spicy, and can be eaten when they are pale green, or, as here, brilliant shades of orange and red. They are smaller than most of the sweet peppers we get, and can be stuffed whole, or cut in half and filled for appetizer portions. I used a combination of goat cheese, garlic, and herbs, also from our garden..

Garden Peppers Stuffed with Goat Cheese

6 small red and orange sweet peppers (packaged mini peppers will do if peppers don’t grow in your garden!)

8 ounces goat cheese

2 cloves of garlic, diced

6 large basil leaves, chopped

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

olive oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash peppers and pat dry before slicing off stem end and removing seeds. In baking dish, pour enough olive oil to spread over bottom of pan. Add peppers, turning to coat and spreading olive oil inside and out with your fingers.  Mix cheese and herbs with salt and pepper to taste, then use a small spoon to stuff into peppers. Add a sprinkle of sea salt over top of peppers.  Bake for 15 or 20 minutes, or until peppers are fork tender. This is a wonderful light supper when served with a salad, but is also a beautiful addition to grilled meats..

 

 

Marinated Cucumbers with Basil

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A variation of sliced cucumbers seasoned with salt and pepper and covered with vinegar, my new favorite side for grilled fish, meats or sandwiches is this delicious Marinated Cucumber and Basil.  This is derived from a Japanese style pickle which uses Shiso instead of Basil. Shiso is an aromatic Asian herb which is becoming more popular but I do not have a good source for it, and I love basil. I added a just picked glossy jalapeno pepper, and the result was a perfect combination of sweet and heat served with a crunch.  If you can’t take the heat, leave out the pepper, but be sure to try this. Try the marinade on carrots, radishes, onions, or almost any other summer vegetable.  I like zucchini rounds!

Marinated Cucumber and Basil

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

3 Tablespoons sweet  Mirin, a Japanese rice wine

1 Tablespoon sea salt

2 English cucumbers

1 seeded, sliced jalapeno pepper

8 or 10 large fresh basil leaves

Mix sugar, vinegar, Mirin, and salt in glass or pottery bowl (non-reactive).  Whisk until salt and sugar are dissolved.  Slice cucumber very thin.  Wash and pat basil leaves dry, then stack them and roll them. You may shred with a small sharp knife or cut across with kitchen shears..  Add cucumber slices and basil to marinade, tossing to cover as well as possible.  They will shrink as they marinate.  Cover and refrigerate for several hours.

 

 

Caprese

IMG_0465One of the simplest summer salads is this most beautiful and flavor filled Italian favorite It is a family favorite, and I can (and have!) eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Insalata caprese (salad of Capri) consists of freshly sliced tomatoes and mozzarella topped with basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper.  In Italy it is usually served as antipasto rather than as a side salad. The classic recipe has only olive oill, but we enjoy adding a splash of aged balsamic vinegar.  Home grown tomatoes and full fat mozzarella guarantee a satisfying, refreshing plate of goodness.

Caprese

3 large, ripe tomatoes.

3-4 slices mozzarella

fresh basil leaves

olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

balsamic vinegar, optional

Slice tomatoes thinly and arrange on large plate. Cut mozzarella into triangles or slice if using ball of mozzarella.  Add to tomatoes and garnish with whole basil leaves.  Drizzle olive oil over the top and add salt and pepper. Pass balsamic vinegar.

 

 

The Real Dill

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 In Texas, we consider dill a cool-weather annual. Plant this herb in the fall, typically mid- to late October, and you can begin harvesting leaves around eight weeks later. It prefers temperatures between 40º and 78º F, but you’ll find mature plants are frost-tolerant.

Our dill harvest is usually over long before we have much to pickle. To preserve dill for the cucumber or okra harvest yet to come, cut fresh dill fronds and bloom heads into segments  2 to 3 inches in length. Fill a gallon-sized glass jar with the dill segments and completely cover with white vinegar (or your pickling vinegar of choice). If the jar has a metal lid, be certain to cover the jar first with a double layer of plastic wrap before screwing on the metal lid. This will prevent corrosion. Place the jar in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to start pickling your harvest. By then, your pickling vinegar will be well flavored and can be used as directed in a favorite recipe. I found this information in  a Texas Gardener magazine article.

One of our family’s favorite “real dills” is pickled okra. To use the preserved dill and vinegar as described above, use this recipe for small batches of pickled vegetables. We also like to add sliced jalapenos.

Basic Pickling Liquid

2 cups dill infused cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 whole cloves garlic
3 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
1/4 cup equal parts mustard seed, black peppercorns, coriander seed, dill seed and lightly crushed red pepper (approx. 2-1/2 teaspoons each)

Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Pour hot liquid over clean, prepared vegetables, add some of the reserved dill leaves and stems from the dill vinegar, and refrigerate until well flavored.

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Baked Scallops with Pineapple Salsa

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Sea scallops bake perfectly when dusted with seasoned cracker crumbs and sprinkled with fresh lemon juice.  Pineapple salsa adds just the right sweet and tart flavor.  Served with baby green peas and garnished with a tomato “rose” – this is beautiful on the plate and delicious for the palate, an elegant meal that is simple to prepare.

Baked Scallops

1 lb. large sea scallops (around 10)

1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

1/2 cup butter, melted

1/4 cup white wine

1/2 lemon

garnish (parsley, chives, or thyme)

Set oven to 350 degrees.  Coat  8X8 baking dish with oil or cooking spray. Combine crushed crackers and seasoning in small bowl.  Coat scallops one at a time in crumbs and place in baking dish.

Mix melted butter, wine, and lemon juice and drizzle over scallops.  Bake until scallops are beginning to turn golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and serve with a few leaves of parsley on top and a spoon of pineapple salsa on the side.

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Pineapple Salsa

2 cups chopped fresh pineapple, may substitute canned pineapple.

2 small jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Combine all ingredients in small bowl and serve with grilled or roasted seafood.  This is also a great condiment to serve with roasted pork tenderloin  or ham.

Rosemary Wreath Chicken Soup

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I like to cook with herbs I grow in our garden, but I also like to share them.  Many people know they are welcome to stop by and cut their own bunch of fresh herbs.  I also like to use herbs for making small gifts.  During the holidays, I made a number of these small rosemary wreaths, tucked in a bay leaf, and tied them with a bit of ribbon to attach to this recipe. I think the next time I take a pot of soup to someone who needs a meal, I might add  one of the little wreaths and the recipe.  A similar herbal wreath is mentioned here.

.http://jimlongsgarden.blogspot.com/2013/12/make-cooking-wreath.html

 Herb Wreath Chicken Soup

2  quarts chicken broth or stock

2 chicken breasts

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 – 3 carrots, peeled, sliced

The entire cooking wreath

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

sea salt to taste

freshly cracked black pepper

wide noodles (I use Reames frozen noodles)
Bring broth to a boil and add the chicken and vegetables. Cook until the chicken is tender,  remove chicken and chop, then add back to the soup. Add the noodles and rosemary wreath,  and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes or until noodles are tender.

Spicy Soba Noodles

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There are so many different kinds of pasta that sometimes we miss trying types of Asian noodles that are so delicious.  I have a new favorite dish made with soba noodles. Soba is the Japanese word for buckwheat, synonymous with a type of thin noodle made from buckwheat flour. Using soba noodles instead of white-flour spaghetti is a good way to cut back on calories and carbs. In fact, you can cut your calories almost in half by making the swap. Due to their buckwheat content, soba noodles are a slow-releasing carbohydrate with a low glycemic index.

I have eaten soba in soups before, as well as served cold with dipping sauces, but I discovered a blog post on Molly Parr’s blog Cheap Beets which sounded so good that I tried it this week.  It can be found on many food websites since the publication of the cookbook Plenty, published by Yotam Ottolenghi, a London chef and food columnist.  I modified the recipe only slightly, shown by my notes in parentheses. It is good as a vegetarian entree, or topped with grilled shrimp or chicken. Either way, it is a flavorful combination of sweet and heat that you will enjoy.  When you read the recipe, don’t be discouraged by all the steps. While the water is heating you can prep the mango and eggplant, and cook the eggplant while the noodles cook. It all took me about 30 minutes, but it is important to let the mixture marinate for an hour or longer.  Adding the remainder of the chopped fresh herbs at serving time gives an extra surge of bright flavor.

Spicy Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango
 ½ cup rice vinegar
3 Tbs. sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ fresh red chile, finely chopped
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 cup sunflower oil (or your cooking oil preference)
2 eggplants, cut into ¾-inch dice (I only used 1 because that is what I had)
9 oz. soba noodles
1 large ripe mango, cut into half inch cubes
1 1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped (if you use Thai basil, use much less of it)
2 ½ cups cilantro leaves, chopped
½ red onion, very thinly sliced
 
In a small saucepan gently warm the vinegar, sugar and salt for up to 1 minute, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add garlic, chile and sesame oil. Allow to cool, then add lime zest and juice.
Heat oil in a large pan and fry the eggplant in several batches to avoid crowding. Once golden brown, remove to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave to drain.
Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally. They should take 5 to 8 minutes to become tender but still al dente. Drain and rinse well under running cold water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry on a dish towel. This step really helps dry the noodles off so they absorb marinade better.
In a mixing bowl toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, eggplant, half of the herbs and the onion. Set aside for 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve add the rest of the herbs and mix well before serving.  
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