Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Chicken, Leek and Asiago Strudel

There were 5 sheets left in the package of filo pastry that I had bought to make canapes for New Years Eve, and I did not want to waste them. Once the package has been opened the sheets tend to dry out very quickly, no matter how well it is wrapped.

I had some cooked chicken in the freezer, 1/4 of a large leek, half of a roasted red pepper, half a container of ricotta cheese and a small piece of asiago  in the fridge. Strudel it would be!

The thin, crispy layers of pastry and the warm, cheesy filling were delicious! This was also very easy to make, so go ahead, give it a try!

In a pan, with a bit of olive oil, cook:

1/4 leek, thinly sliced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup zucchini, diced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper

In a large bowl, place the diced, cooked chicken.

I had about 3 cups.

To the chicken, add:

the cooked vegetables
1/2 roasted red pepper, diced
1 cup ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated asiago cheese

Mix well to combine.

Whisk 2 eggs, and then add them to the filling, making sure that everything is well combined.

Heat the oven to 375F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt 1/4 cup of butter with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Place 1 sheet of filo pastry on the counter and brush lightly with the butter-oil mixture. Place a second sheet on top.

Repeat until all 5 sheets have been layered, ending with butter-oil.

Place the filling in the centre of the pastry, forming it into a log. Sprinkle a bit more asiago along the top.

Fold the short ends of the pastry in, as shown.

Fold one long end over the filling, then brush the top lightly with the butter-oil mixture.

Fold the other side over, totally enclosing the filling.

Place the strudel onto the baking sheet, and brush the top with some of the butter-oil.

Bake the strudel in the pre-heated oven until it is crispy and golden, about 45 minutes.

Allow the strudel to rest for 5 - 10 minutes; this makes it easier to cut. Use a serrated knife to slice it into  thick slices, and serve.

  • Filo pastry is not that difficult to work with, as long as you have everything you need ready to go before opening the package. Keep the sheets of pastry covered with a slightly damp tea towel (clean, of course!) while you are working to prevent it drying out and cracking. For something like this strudel, which doesn't take too long to put together, this is not really an issue. However, if you are assembling canapes, which take longer, then it is important to keep the filo pastry covered.
  • The butter-oil helps the pastry sheets stick together, but also helps to give that crispy, layered texture. You do not need to drench the sheets in butter, just a light coating, paying more attention to the edges than anything.
  • You can omit the butter, and just use olive oil if you would prefer.
  • The strudel can be assembled ahead of time and refrigerated, or even frozen.
  • Individual strudels can also be made, by layering 3 half sheets together and then placing the filling in the centre.
  • If you do not have filo pastry, use puff pastry. Both can be found in most grocery stores, for a fairly reasonable price. They are usually in the freezer section. Some stores have puff pastry that is already rolled out before freezing, so all you have to do is defrost, assemble the strudel and bake it.
  • I usually roast any red peppers that start losing their crispness before they get used. This extends the life of the pepper, and is the reason I always seem to have roasted red peppers to use up! Any vegetables can be used in the strudel; it's a great way to use up leftovers or bits and pieces.
  • Instead of chicken, try some of these ideas: cooked fish, chopped cooked spinach, onions and mashed potato; pork tenderloin that has been seared on all sides, fruit chutney and goat cheese (add curry powder to the butter before brushing it onto the filo); mushrooms cooked with thyme and garlic, cream cheese and caramelized onions; leftover cooked chicken with pesto, ricotta, cooked spinach and feta cheese; cooked lamb, raisins, garlic and onion and toasted almonds.
  • To add extra crunch, and flavour, to the filo layers, sprinkle each sheet with ground nuts or toasted breadcrumbs. Spices such as cinnamon, ground ginger, turmeric or curry powder can also be sprinkled into the layers, or added to the melted butter.
  • Sweet versions of the strudel can be made using cooked fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, rhubarb along with nuts or dried fruit, sweet spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg, and cream cheese or mascarpone cheese to add richness.

Friday, 26 December 2014

2 Vegetables: Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts


Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower

Brussels Sprouts Sauteed with Almonds

I am sharing another 2 vegetable dishes with you; I am trying new ways of cooking vegetables that not everyone is too fond of, in the hopes that we start eating something new and/or different.

Cauliflower is a vegetable that we all enjoy with cheese sauce, but we don't always want something that rich. So I roasted it, and added a bit of Parmesan on the top for the last few minutes. It was delicious.

Brussels sprouts, in my opinion, are an acquired taste...one which I have yet to acquire. I opted for thinly slicing them, sauteing them with almonds and garlic, and what do you know? I actually enjoyed them!

So, if you are up to trying something new, give these a try. Both are quick and easy, and can be prepared ahead of time.

Cut one head of cauliflower into florets, and cook in boiling, salted water for about 3 minutes.

Drain and cool.

Heat the oven to 400F.

Put the cauliflower into an ovenproof dish, with:

Salt, pepper and paprika
Olive oil
5 - 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half

Roast until the cauliflower is tender when the stalks are pricked with a fork, and starting to crisp along the edges, about 45 minutes.

Sprinkle the cauliflower with grated Parmesan and put back into the oven to melt and crisp the cheese.

For the brussels sprouts, buy fresh, not frozen. Cut the stalk end off, and peel off any outer leaves that are wilted or shabby looking.

Cut each Brussels sprout in half lengthwise, and then thinly slice them (the same way you would do with cabbage if you were making coleslaw). I had about 2 cups of shaved sprouts.

Thinly slice 3 green onions, and add these to the Brussels sprouts.

In a non-stick pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil, until the butter melts and starts to sizzle.


1/2 cup roughly chopped almonds
2 cloves garlic, minced

Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring.

Add the Brussels sprouts and green onions, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium high heat until the sprouts start to soften.

Add a bit of honey, to taste...I used about 2 teaspoons. Cook for another minute, check seasoning and serve.

Some other ways to try these 2 vegetables:

  • Toss the cauliflower florets with orange juice, honey and butter and season well with black pepper and cumin; roast it with hazelnuts, butter, garlic and add blue cheese at the end; toss with curry powder, thinly sliced shallots, garlic and olive oil and roast.
  • Instead of only Parmesan, sprinkle the roasted cauliflower with a mixture of Parmesan, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and olive oil to give a cheesy, crunchy topping.
  • Boil the cauliflower then pan fry with oil or butter, minced garlic and fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme or rosemary. Add a drizzle of maple syrup or honey to finish it off at the end.
  • Roast the cauliflower florets and add to pasta dishes.
  • Boil cauliflower florets with potatoes and mash them together, adding milk, butter, salt and pepper and some roasted garlic at the end.
  • Slice the cauliflower into 1/4" thick slices and layer with onions and sliced potatoes, cover with whipping cream and/or milk, salt and pepper and bake until the potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes. Top with grated cheese for the last 10 minutes.
  • Brussels sprouts can be thinly sliced and used in a salad, like you would do with cabbage in coleslaw.
  • Saute the thinly sliced Brussels sprouts in butter, adding dried cranberries instead of nuts.
  • Cut the Brussels sprouts in half, toss with olive oil, apple juice, salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Place in an ovenproof dish with peeled and quartered apples, and roast until the sprouts are tender and the apples are caramelized and saucy.
  • Cut the Brussels sprouts in half and place them cut side down into a hot pan, with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Allow the cut side to start to caramelize, then add in a bit of apple juice and serve when it has reduced to a syrupy consistency.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Hummus Inspired Baked Chicken Breasts

I had a craving for hummus, but decided to translate it into some baked chicken breasts with chickpeas. It turned out to be one of the easiest and tastiest meals, paired with some roasted red potatoes that I topped with crumbled feta cheese for the last few minutes of roasting time.

There was also a bonus of leftover chickpeas, that I am adding to some turkey soup tonight...using leftover turkey breast from the freezer. The chick peas will add some of the hummus flavour to the soup, can't wait!

I put the potatoes into the oven first, at 400F, so that they were cooked at the same time as the chicken. I cut baby red potatoes in half, tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper and added 4 cloves of crushed garlic.

Make a wet rub for the chicken breasts, by combining the following on a plate:

Zest of half a lemon
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper
Juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil

Add 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts to the plate, and coat them well with the rub.

In a large pan, over medium high heat, brown both sides of the chicken breasts. There is no need to add oil to the pan, as there is enough oil in the rub.

Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.

Add a can of drained and rinsed chick peas to the pan, stirring them around to coat them with the spices that are on the bottom.

Add 3/4 cup of chicken stock to the chick peas, then place the chicken breasts back into the pan.

Place the pan into the oven, turning the temperature down to 375F and bake until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve the chicken breasts with a generous spoonful of the chick peas, some crunchy potatoes with melting feta cheese and steamed asparagus...yum!

  • The chick peas absorb the chicken stock during baking, and start to go slightly crunchy on the outside, but are still soft on the inside. The amount of stock can be adjusted to your liking...add more if you prefer the chick peas to be soft right through.
  • I considered mashing the chick peas a bit, creating a chunky hummus effect, but we all agreed that they were nice whole.
  • Add thinly sliced onion and red peppers to the pan before adding the chick peas. Add fresh baby spinach leaves to the chick peas just before serving, allowing them to wilt with the residual heat.
  • Stuff the chicken breasts with feta cheese and spinach before browning and baking.
  • Leftover chicken and peas can be turned into soup, used as a pie filling (consider using filo pastry) or added to salads or wraps for lunch.
  • Consider grilling the chicken and slicing it over a salad, along with the chick peas, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and feta or goat cheese.
  • Why not slice the chicken and stuff it into warm pita pockets, along with shredded lettuce, the mashed chick peas, chopped tomatoes and avocado? Add some plain yoghurt, with salt, pepper and chopped fresh mint.
  • If you decide to try this with fish, make sure to use a thicker piece of firm fleshed fish.
  • The feta can be crumbled over the chicken breasts if you are not serving potatoes on the side.
  • Substitute pork tenderloin or chops, whole roast chicken, or lamb...meatballs, rack of lamb or leg of lamb.
  • The amount of cumin and cayenne pepper in the rub can be increased, you can also add in fresh herbs such as oregano or basil.
  • Prepare extra  for the freezer...coat the chicken with the rub, wrap well and freeze for cooking at a later date.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Chicken Breasts with Pomegranate Glaze, Feta Cheese and Vegetable Couscous

I love couscous, it is so adaptable to whatever you choose to serve or cook with it, and it only takes 5 minutes to cook...or steam! I did a fridge clean out over the weekend, and used up a lot of bits and pieces. One of the things to be used up were the seeds from 3/4 of a pomegranate. No one seemed to be eating them, so I decided to turn it into a glaze for chicken breasts.

I added the chicken stock, fresh parsley and red pepper that were also in there, and came up with this...

Put the seeds into a blender and puree them. Then strain the juice, pushing on the pulp to extract as much juice as you can.

Put the juice into a small saucepan, and cook at a slow boil until it reduces about half, and starts to become syrupy.

I had about 1/4 cup of juice to begin with, and ended up with about 2 tablespoons.

Cool the juice and then add in 1 - 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar...do this to taste, some balsamic vinegars are sweeter than others.

Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt, pepper and ground cumin.

Heat the oven to 375F.

Using olive oil, sear both sides of the breasts in a hot pan.

Using a pastry brush, baste the top of the chicken with the pomegranate juice and place into the oven to cook.

Continue to baste the breasts occasionally, until they are fully cooked.

When the chicken breasts are fully cooked, remove them from the pan, and place in an ovenproof dish. Save the pan.

Put crumbled feta cheese on top of the breasts and put them under the broiler to melt and brown the cheese.

Place the reserved pan with the pan juices onto the stove.

Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock and reduce it down slightly, to make a thin but tasty sauce.

Make the couscous while the chicken breasts are in the oven.

In a pan large enough to hold at least 4 cups of liquid, cook:

1/2 red pepper, diced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper

When the peppers and green onions start to soften, add:

3 cups chicken stock

When the stock comes to a full rolling boil, stir in:

1/2 zucchini, grated
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups couscous

Stir with a fork to combine, then turn off the heat and cover. Leave for 5 - 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, and gently fluff the couscous with a fork, and it is ready to serve! Slice the chicken and serve it on top of the couscous, drizzled with a bit of the sauce, and sprinkled with chopped pistachios. Yum!

  • You can buy pomegranate juice in some supermarkets and specialty stores. You can also use any juice instead.
  • If you want a stickier glaze, add about 1 tablespoon of honey to the juice and vinegar.
  • These breasts can be grilled (brush it on kebabs), or cooked completely in the frying pan.
  • I was using up chicken stock, but if you don't have any, or don't have enough, for the couscous, plain water, a combination of water and stock or apple juice can be used.
  • Leftover couscous and chicken went to work and school today in the form of a salad. Add in more chopped vegetables, such as cucumber, cherry tomatoes, olives and fresh red pepper and dress it with lime juice and olive oil.
  • I used soft goat cheese for two of the breasts, as not everyone likes feta cheese. 
  • Dried fruit can be added to the couscous while it cooks...chopped apricots, raisins, dates.
  • Toasted chopped almonds can be used as a garnish. If you think ahead and save some pomegranate seeds, they really brighten up the plate and add crunch.
  • Try the glaze on pork tenderloin, firm white fish or prawns.
  • Stuff the chicken breasts with the cheese. Add in some cooked spinach, roasted red peppers, chopped artichokes or whatever you have available. The cheese will be softer and gooier than if it is broiled on top.
  • Leftover cooked chicken can be used to top a salad, or shredded and put into a wrap, along with feta cheese, lettuce or spinach and hummus.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Homemade Maple, Pecan and Cocoa Nib Granola

Homemade granola is something I like to have on hand for breakfast or as a snack. It's also my way to use up bits of nuts and seeds, as well as dried fruit.

The sweetness can be adjusted to suit your taste, and the granola keeps well for a few weeks in a tightly sealed container.

Heat the oven to 325F and have a baking sheet ready for the granola.

In a small saucepan melt:

2 ounces butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients:

4 cups oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup pecans
3/4 cup almonds
2 tablespoons cocoa

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well to combine, making sure to break up any clumps of brown sugar that might form.

Spread the granola evenly onto the baking sheet.

Bake until golden and crispy, stirring every 10 minutes, as the edges colour and crisp first.

This takes between 25 - 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Place the cooled granola back into the large bowl and add in dried fruit. I used:

1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup cocoa nibs

Mix well to combine.

We like to eat the granola for breakast, along with fresh summer fruit and Greek yoghurt. It can also be eaten as a cereal, with milk, or dry as a snack.

  • The wet ingredients can be altered by using honey or golden syrup instead of maple syrup; lemon zest instead of orange; almond extract instead of vanilla. Vegetable, nut oil or coconut oil can be used instead of butter.
  • Oatmeal and brown sugar are the base of the dry ingredients; everything else can be changed to fit what is available at the time you make the granola. The brown sugar can be adjusted to increase or decrease the sweetness.
  • Cinnamon is a sweet spice, but it is not essential to the recipe. It can be omitted or changed to another spice such as ground ginger (you could also use grated fresh ginger in the wet ingredients for a more peppery ginger taste), nutmeg or aniseed.
  • As far as the nuts go, I like to use a combination of pecans and almonds. I have also used hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios and macadamia nuts.
  • Any nut that you have in house, or really love, can be added to the granola. I like to chop larger nuts into smaller pieces, as it's easier to eat something the size of a flaked almond than a half pecan or whole brazilnut.
  • If I have sunflower, pumpkin or flax seeds in the house, I add a few as well. You can also add other seeds such as sesame seeds, poppy seeds, hemp seeds or chia seeds.
  • Dried fruit is again, a personal choice. Try cranberries, raisins (dark or golden), sultanas, apricots, blueberries, dates, dried banana or mango, or dried figs.
  • Granola can also be sprinkled over rice pudding to add some crunch.