Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Roasted Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Cornbread and Spinach

There have been 2 pieces of cornbread in the freezer for a couple of months, leftover from another dinner. I had planned to use it for stuffing, so I picked up some skin on chicken breasts, and used the opportunity to also use up some of the leek that was in the fridge.

First, make the stuffing. You want to be sure that it is cold before you stuff the chicken, since the leeks and spinach will be cooked.

Crumble the cornbread into a bowl. I had about 1 cup.

My cornbread has corn kernels in it, so it had the added texture and sweetness from that.

Finely chop half a leek and cook it in a bit of olive oil until it softens. Season with salt and pepper while it is cooking.

Remove from the pan and add to the cornbread.

 Add the spinach to the pan that the leeks were cooked in. Turn the heat to medium high and allow it to wilt down. I used one good handful per breast.

Use tongs to turn it often, so it doesn't scorch.

Season the spinach with salt and pepper. Place it in a strainer to cool, and to allow excess moisture to drain.

Squeeze any remaining moisture out, and roughly chop the spinach.

Add the chopped spinach to the bowl of cornbread and leeks.

Add 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme and chopped fresh sage to taste.

Add a small amount of chicken stock and mix to combine. Add stock as needed, you want the stuffing to stick together when pressed gently between thumb and finger.

Taste and adjust seasoning.

When the stuffing is completely cool, you can prepare the chicken breasts and stuff them. Gently loosen the skin on the one side of the chicken, to create a pocket.

Gently tuck the stuffing under the skin.

Season the skin with salt and pepper.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil into a hot pan, and carefully place the chicken in, skin side down.

Leave it for 3 - 5 minutes, until the skin is golden and crisp.

Carefully remove the chicken from the frying pan, and place it skin side up in an ovenproof dish.

Put into an oven that has been pre-heated to 350F and bake until the chicken is cooked through.

When the chicken is cooked, allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

 I served this with herb roasted vegetables (carrots, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, shallots and garlic tossed with fresh thyme and rosemary, olive oil and salt and pepper) and steamed asparagus. And of course, the gravy, that was made in the pan that the chicken was browned in! Our family loves gravy!!!

  • Any bread works for stuffing, but cornbread is moist, slightly sweet and with the corn kernels in it, adds texture to your stuffing. If the bread you use isn't a crumbly textured bread, cut it into small cubes.
  • Leeks, minced onions, shallots, green onions or chives....use whatever is available.
  • Fresh spinach loses a lot of volume when it wilts. If you are using pre-cooked spinach, use about 2 tablespoons per breast.
  • Add dried fruit to the stuffing...raisins, cranberries, chopped apricots, blueberries. Soak them in juice or alcohol before adding to the stuffing, for a burst of flavour.
  • Turn the stuffing into a meat stuffing by cooking and crumbling your favourite sausage and adding it to the bread and leeks.
  • Fresh sage is a very strong flavoured herb, and can be overpowering for some people. That is why  I  suggested adding it to taste. If you only have dried sage, I would recommend omitting sage and just going with thyme. Sage loses most of it's flavour when it is dried.
  • Another stuffing option is to make a flavoured butter, by mixing chopped fresh herbs and/or spices with softened butter, and stuffing it under the skin. This will keep the meat moist, add flavour and also help the skin to crisp up even more.
  • Roast garlic, and make a paste by mashing it with ground black pepper, chopped fresh rosemary and pinenuts. Use this as your stuffing. The effect is sweet and buttery, but with a lot less fat than butter.
  • Mash soft goat cheese or feta cheese with chopped fresh basil, cooked spinach and chopped sundried tomatoes for a Mediterranean inspired stuffing. Add chopped artichokes, olives or pinenuts if you like.
  • Cook diced apples or pears in a bit of butter until they soften, but still retain their shape. Allow the fruit to cool, then mix it with crumbled blue cheese, chopped pecans and a drizzle of honey for a sweet and tart stuffing.
  • The stuffing can be multiplied to make enough to stuff a whole chicken or turkey. The stuffing can be made a day ahead, but do not stuff the chicken or turkey until you are ready to roast it. Also be sure that the stuffing is cold before it goes into the cavity of the bird.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Toasted Quinoa Salad with Chickpeas and Roasted Corn

I find that quinoa has a very distinct smell when it is cooking, and I'm not quite sure that I like it. If the quinoa is toasted before cooking, however, the smell becomes nuttier and much more appealing. This salad uses toasted quinoa, roasted corn and a tangy lime dressing, and makes a filling and healthy lunch.

Spread 1 cup of quinoa out on a baking sheet, and bake at 350F until slightly golden and fragrant, about 3 - 5 minutes. If it's still not done, leave it for a bit longer...give it a stir and let it continue to toast.

Immediately place the toasted quinoa in a saucepan with 2 cups of water.

Bring to a full boil, cover and turn the heat to simmer. Cook until all the liquid has absorbed.

Turn off the heat and allow it to steam for another 10 minutes.

When the quinoa is cooked, the grains will be lighter in colour and fluffy.

Using a fork, gently spread the cooked grains out onto another baking sheet and allow to cool completely.

You can roast the corn at the same time that the quinoa is toasting.

Place 1/2 cup of frozen corn in an ovenproof dish. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin.

Roast until the corn is tender and starting to become slightly golden in colour. Allow to cool completely.

While the quinoa and corn are cooling, you can prepare the rest of the vegetables for the salad.

In a large bowl, combine:

3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced
3/4 cup cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 green onions, thinly sliced

Add the roasted and cooled corn to the vegetables.

Add the cooked and cooled quinoa, along with 1/2 can of chick peas that have been drained and rinsed.

Add lime juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

                                     Stir well to combine, and your salad is ready to go...

  • Quinoa is a good source of protein, and combined with the chick peas, gives you a filling, healthy meal, no meat necessary! This salad also works as a side dish.
  • If you don't have any quinoa, make the salad using couscous or orzo, or even brown rice. These do not need to be toasted first, just cooked.
  • Try the salad with roasted red peppers, and crumbled feta cheese.
  • Add fresh herbs such as parsley, oregano, basil or chives.
  • The salad keeps well for 2 to 3 days, well covered in the fridge. This amount will serve about 4 - 6 people.
  • Use lemon juice instead of lime juice; avocado oil instead of olive oil.
  • If you like things spicy, add chili powder or dried chipotle chilies to the corn when roasting.
  • Feel free to add toasted nuts or seeds...try pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, toasted almonds.
  • Use the vegetables you have: asparagus, cut into 2" pieces and blanched; broccoli florets, blanched; diced red onion; frozen peas; grated carrot; thinly sliced celery, olives or top the salad with diced avocado just before serving.
  • If you have leftover vinaigrette from another salad, use that instead of just lime juice and olive oil.
  • Use the beans you have available, or leave them out. If you do open a can of chick peas or beans, freeze the rest for another time.
  • Another option instead of corn is to cut peeled butternut squash into 1" dice, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until tender. Mix this into the salad.
  • Dice up a ripe mango and add that to the salad, along with minced red onion and chopped fresh cilantro.
  • Don't limit yourself to just water for cooking the quinoa. That last bit of chicken stock (or vegetable stock to keep it totally vegetarian), juice or even a bit of white wine combined with water will add depth to your salad.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Linguine with Smoked Salmon 'Carbonara'

Time to use up that last piece of smoked salmon, along with some fresh parsley and basil that were in the fridge. My husband suggested pasta, so I came up with this play on Spaghetti Carbonara. It was easy, quick and tasty.

Spaghetti Carbonara uses cooked bacon, along with the eggs and Parmesan. I substituted the smoked salmon for the bacon, and added in some extra herbs and lemon juice.

First, get a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta. If you are using dried pasta, start finishing off the sauce when the pasta is almost ready to serve. If you are using fresh pasta, which takes only a couple of minutes to cook, start finishing off the sauce when the pasta goes into the pot to cook.

Use the time it takes for the water to boil to get the sauce ingredients prepared and ready to go...

Crack 3 eggs into a large bowl, season with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Remember, smoked salmon is salty, so go easy on the salt, you can add more at the end if needed.

Grate a large handful of Parmesan.

Some will be for the sauce, and some will be for sprinkling on top when the pasta is portioned.

Finely chop:

1/4 cup of fresh parsley
2 tablespoons of fresh basil

Thinly slice 3 green onions, and cook in a small amount of olive oil, just to soften slightly.

Turn off the heat until you are ready to finish off the sauce.

Flake or chop the smoked salmon and add it to the pan with the green onions, ready to heat up at the last minute.

I had about 1 heaping cup of salmon.

When your pasta is almost ready, remove 1 cup of water from the pot to use in your sauce. Turn the heat back on and heat the green onions and salmon.

Whisk your eggs well, and add in the juice of half a lemon. Whisk well to combine.

Drain the pasta, and place it back into the large pot you cooked it in.

Add the green onions, salmon and herbs to the pot.

Then add the whisked eggs and lemon juice and mix well to coat the pasta with the eggs. Add a bit of the reserved pasta cooking water. This will help with cooking the eggs, and to create a smooth sauce that will coat the pasta.

Add the Parmesan, reserving enough for garnish.

Mix well, taste and adjust seasoning, or add more pasta cooking water if needed.

                           Serve immediately, topped with grated Parmesan. Buon Appetito!!!

  • This made enough for 4 people. It can easily be doubled or divided.
  • Go easy on the pasta water when adding it to the sauce. You want to create a smooth sauce that just coats the pasta nicely, not a soup. Add a bit at a time, you may not use all of it, I didn't.
  • The heat from the pasta and the pasta water are what cooks the eggs, creating a custard like sauce that just coats each strand of pasta. This is a less saucy pasta. It is important that everything is ready to go and it gets mixed as soon as the pasta is drained, so that the heat isn't lost. Biting into a mouthful of uncooked egg is not a pleasant thing.
  • If you want a creamier sauce, add a bit of hot whipping cream with the eggs.
  • Capers, chopped fresh chives or dill, or lemon zest would add an extra zing to the sauce.
  • If you don't have salmon, use cooked, chopped bacon or even ham.
  • Fresh or frozen green peas will add colour as well as a good boost of fibre and Vitamin A.
  • Thinly slice fresh spinach and place a handful on top of each portion. The heat will wilt the spinach, giving you another vegetable option and boosting your Vitamins A and C.
  • This sauce gives you the same creaminess of Alfredo sauce, without all the calories and richness.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Spiced Chickpea Dip with Roasted Red Peppers

Appetizers and wine with the neighbours, I decided to make this easy but tasty dip, served with toasted naan bread sticks.

Start by dry roasting the spices. Measure the following into a pan:

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

Cook over a low heat, stirring often, until the spices are fragrant, and start to darken slightly. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Drain a can of chick peas, and rinse well.

Place the chick peas into a food processor or large jug, if you are using a hand blender (which I do).


2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of olive oil
the roasted spices

Blend the chickpeas, spices, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil until smooth.

Roughly chop one roasted red pepper.

Add half to the chick pea mixture.

Blend to combine. The peppers will still be slightly chunky.

Add the remaining chopped red pepper, as well as 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley. Stir to combine.

Taste and adjust seasoning, with salt and pepper, and more lemon juice if it's needed.

   Brush naan bread with olive oil and cut into strips. Bake at 350F until crispy. Serve with the dip.

  • This can also be served with fresh vegetables, or crackers.
  • The dip can be made a couple of days ahead, and kept well covered in the fridge.
  • Adjust the chili flakes and white pepper according to your taste.
  • If you prefer a chunkier dip, puree 2/3 of the chickpeas and fold the rest on whole with the red peppers and parsley at the end.
  • Instead of parsley use chopped fresh cilantro to add a bright, fresh taste.
  • Use black beans instead of chickpeas, add garlic, cilantro, lime juice, cumin, olive oil, salt and pepper and you have a Mexican style dip. Serve with tortillas or taco chips.
  • White beans pureed with olive oil, garlic, chopped fresh rosemary, lemon juice, salt and pepper and you have a Mediterranean style dip.
  • Experiment with different herbs and spices, you'll be surprised at what you end up with. Serve with fresh vegetables, bread, crackers, or chips.
  • This makes a tasty appetizer, quick and easy snack or lunch or side dish as part of a meal.
  • The recipe can easily be doubles, or halved. If you have extra chick peas or beans, they can be frozen for another use.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Herbed Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Warm Peach Chutney

Fresh herbs and fresh peaches, two of the things I always miss when summer ends. Why not put them together in one meal?

I decided to stuff some chicken breasts with herbed goat cheese, and to use the peaches to make a warm chutney, nice and light with just enough sweetness and spice to complement the creamy tartness of the goat cheese.

Dice 1 large fresh peach, that has been peeled and pitted.

Mince 1 shallot and grate 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger.

I threw in a piece of star anise and a cinnamon stick.

 In a small amount of olive oil, cook the shallots until they soften.

Add the ginger and cook for a minute or two to bring out the flavour and aroma.

Add the peaches, spices, about 2 slightly heaped tablespoons of brown sugar and about 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.

Cook over a low heat, until the peaches are soft, but still retain some shape, and the liquid is thickened and almost reduced away.

Taste, and season with salt and pepper. At this point you can adjust the sweetness and tartness to your liking by adding more sugar or vinegar.

I found it was perfect like this, but my husband felt a bit less vinegar would have been better.

This will be served warm.

For the goat cheese stuffing, mix together approximately 1 - 2 tablespoons of soft goat cheese with chopped herbs, salt and black pepper.

I used chives, basil and thyme, finely chopping about 1 tablespoon of each.

Using a small sharp knife, make a slit neat the fat end of the chicken breast. Carefully ease the knife into the breast to form a pocket.

Try not to cut through to the top or bottom of the meat.

Using a finger, carefully ease the pocket open so that you can stuff the chicken.

Divide the goat cheese stuffing by the number of chicken breasts you have and carefully push it into the pocket you have formed.

It gets messy!

Close the opening of the pocket with a toothpick. If your stuffing does squeeze through the front or back of the chicken breast, close that up with a toothpick as well.

Season the breasts with salt and pepper.

Cook the chicken breasts on a hot, well oiled grill, until cooked through.

The cheese does tend to ooze out a bit as it gets hot, especially when you are a bit too generous with the amount you put into each breast, as I was!!

Easy fix...transfer the chicken breasts to an ovenproof pan and continue to cook on the grill.
This way you can still use the cheese that oozes out.

 Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before serving.

I served this with panfried potatoes and corn, and grilled vegetables. I cut the chicken in half before plating.

  • Chutney relies on a combination of sweetness, spiciness and acidity. Sweetness can come from the fruit itself as well the addition of a sweetener such as brown sugar, maple syrup or honey. The spiciness is a blend of flavourful spices such as cinnamon, ginger, fennel or anise and hot spices such as chili flakes or cayenne pepper. The acidity often comes from the addition of vinegar, but other acids such as lemon or lime juice, or tamarind paste can be used as well. Start with less of everything, and add more to suit your taste.
  • A quick chutney such as this one will keep for a few days in the refrigerator, since it has not been properly canned.
  • Store bought chutney will work as a time saver, but nothing beats the freshness of a homemade chutney.
  • Stuff your chicken breasts with cream cheese, brie or a soft blue cheese instead of goats cheese.
  • Instead of just herbs add other flavours and textures such as finely chopped sundried tomatoes, olives, green onion, roasted or fresh red peppers, cooked mushrooms, roasted garlic or caramelized onions.
  • The chicken breasts can be stuffed ahead of time, and kept well wrapped in the refrigerator, or even frozen. Defrost before cooking.
  • These chicken breasts can be panfried, or seared in a hot pan and then placed in the oven to finish cooking. This allows you to use the pan to make a sauce or gravy.
  • Pork tenderloin can be stuff the same way. Cut it into individual serving sized pieces, then make a cavity starting from one end, making sure not to go the whole way through. Dried apricots, soaked in hot water, then pushed into the cavity give a beautiful sweetness to the pork, and when you slice through the tenderloin, the presentation often sparks quite the conversation!