Ropa Vieja (Omelette)

ropa vieja (omelette)

Our typical American cuisine was inspired by the familiar recipes brought over by English, French, Spanish, and Dutch settlers, as well as those of Scotch-Irish and German colonists, who followed these early immigrants; all of this European influence merged with the available Native American foods.

African slaves played a broad part in fashioning our distinctive Southern cookery; the mistresses of these slaves initially taught these, our people, receipts recalled from their individual heritages; then, with the Africans’ natural appreciation of and aptitude for cooking, prized dishes were developed, which were used in the strong social competition among the plantations.  These delicacies, which in large part formed this region’s cuisine, were not initially compiled in books for the public, but rather closely safeguarded within each family, due to the rivalry among these established settlements; thus, there were no Southern cook books until the first quarter of the 19th century.  A few recipes from this geographic area were preserved, however, in some American cook books, mostly those published in and around Philadelphia.

Mrs. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, printed in 1824, in Washington D.C., is an early example of a receipt book specializing in foods from the South.  It also includes some Northern recipes, as well as a few Spanish dishes, of which our Ropa Vieja omelette is one; this promising recipe boasts of only five ingredients-one of which is our garden tomato-and just a few succinct instructions; its simplicity makes it exceptional.

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee explains why this sweet-tart fruit tomato, which is used as a vegetable, has such great appeal.  (Note: any produce with seeds is considered a fruit!)  He attributes this attractiveness to the unique flavor brought about by its low sugar content (3%), as well as the large amount of savory glutamic acid (as much as 0.3% of its weight), and ample quantities of aromatic sulfur compounds.  These two latter ingredients, present in ripe tomatoes, predispose them to complement the flavor of meats; this is because these two substances exist more commonly in animal flesh than fruits; thus, their rich presence in tomatoes allows for added taste to meat dishes.  Savory glutamic acid and sulfur aromas likewise bring out great depth and complexity in sauces and other food combinations; therefore, this particular produce can even replace meat in flavoring vegan dishes.

The tomato originated as a weed in Central American fields of maize and beans; extensive varieties existed there, by the time Hernando Cortez and his 400 Spaniards discovered Mexico in 1519.  Tomatoes were incorporated in American (and later European) cookery in various ways.  At the time of Cortez’ arrival, Mexicans used thin shavings of this green, unripe fruit in many dishes; they also mixed ripe tomatoes with chillis in a sauce to top cooked beans.  Subsequently, the Spaniards in Europe readily adopted them in their cuisine.

When Francisco Pizarro began his bloody attacks in Peru in 1532, this South American land, with all its royal Incan wealth, was eating mostly a vegetarian diet of maize, potatoes (including sweet and manioc potatoes), squash, beans, peanuts, avocados, chillis, and our beloved tomato.

Some time later, the Italians were adding it to broths and soups, as noted by the Quaker merchant Peter Collinson, in 1742.  Tomato sauce for pasta followed several decades hence.

Britain lagged behind Italy, in accepting this item, due to their long-held mistaken viewpoint, which had originated on the Continent, connecting it with a deadly nightingshade, being it was of this same family.   Not until the 20th century did the English acquired a taste for tomatoes, particularly canned tomato soup.

North America was almost equally slow in receiving this fruit, probably due in part to these same European misconceptions; they considered it to be lacking in nourishment and substance, as well as a cause for gout.  During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the U.S began what was to become a wide acceptance of tomatoes, primarily due to the strong influence from the great Italian immigration then.  Nevertheless, their first appearance here was when Thomas Jefferson brought back seedlings from a diplomatic trip to Paris; there the Parisians had just accepted this “love apple”, believed to be an aphrodisiac; their acceptance directly resulted from the affect Italian cooking had on French troops during the French Revolution (see Spicy Sausages with Tomatoes & Turnips, 2017/09/25).

It is interesting to note that our third president had an extensive garden of 170 varieties of fruits and 330 varieties of vegetables and herbs; his grand kitchen utilized most of this produce, even producing tomato ketchup for our epicurean leader, who primarily chose a vegetarian diet.

Be sure to access my other tomato recipes: Parmesan Dover Sole (2017/03/27), Rosemary Eggs (2017/08/21), and Spicy Sausage with Tomatoes and Turnips (2017/09/25).

References:

  1. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), pp. 181-193.
  2. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 329, 330.
  3. On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: The Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 30, 206, 207, 214.
  4. www.nellositaly.com/the-history-of-the-tomato-in-italy.html
  5. www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/historic-gardens

ingredients for ropa vieja

Ropa Vieja (Omelette)  Adapted from an 1824 Southern recipe in Esther B. Aresty’s The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1964).  Yields 2 servings.  Total prep time: 25 min.

2 large firm ripe tomatoes  (Cut these in eighths, removing seeds and juice.)

2/3 cup shredded leftover chicken, ham, or beef

4 large eggs, beaten lightly  (May use 3 duck eggs, which are bigger than chicken eggs; for egg history, see 2017/08/21.)

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp chopped parsley, optional

Salt, to taste  (Real Salt is important for health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

Fresh ground pepper, to taste

  1. cooked tomatoes

    Spay the optional parsley with a safe, inexpensive, effective produce spray-mix 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle; let sit while proceeding to the next step.

  2. Prep the above ingredients.  Cut the tomatoes in eighths, gently scoop out liquid and seeds with a spoon (it not necessary to peel the tomatoes), place in a bowl.  Shred and measure the leftover meat, set aside.  Beat the eggs, only until whites and yolks are lightly blended.  Rinse optional parsley well and chop fine.
  3. Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a non-stick skillet.  Mix in meat, heating for 1 minute; add tomatoes; cook for 6 minutes, or until mixture is hot and tomatoes are somewhat softened, stirring occasionally (see above photo).
  4. Reduce heat to medium/low; sprinkle parsley over cooked tomatoes and meat; pour beaten eggs over this mixture, quickly distributing the meat and tomatoes evenly in eggs, using a spatula.
  5. finished product

    Salt and pepper generously before covering; cover and cook slowly, until eggs are set on top (see photo).

  6. When done, you may remove loose pieces of skin off tomato pieces, showing on top of omelette; fold it over; cut in half to serve two people.

Kale, Leeks, and Chicken

kale, leeks, and chicken

A friend from my church has a very large garden; sharing its bounty is her joy.  Last summer’s series on simplified kale receipts was inspired by her gracious contributions (see 2016/09/07 & 2016/09/19).

My mind creates recipes according to what is in my larder, which usually boasts of provision supplied by church members.  Lately Goldie has been bringing her organic kale again, as well as leeks and celery; this mouth-watering chicken dish resulted.

For a wedding present last year, I gave a marriage supper, complete with a cooking class, to newlyweds in our congregation (see Thai Coconut Lime Flounder, 2016/12/05); my desire was to release the gift of excellent nutrition in them.  Several weeks ago, we celebrated their holy matrimony again, with a new set of instructions and dinner following, rejoicing over God’s goodness in our lives.

Dina exhibited such courage in overcoming her unfamiliarity with food preparation, the first time I coached her; hope, however, grew this recent session, for she has grown exponentially in her eager steadfastness in the kitchen.

This new teaching included my chicken dish using the kale, shallots, and leeks from our church; these steps are straightforward, though they are time-consuming, with the preparation of leeks and kale.  But oh the benefits of health and taste!

Leeks are one of the world’s oldest vegetables, which are more delicate in flavor than either onions or shallots; they are considered highly nutritious, with cancer fighting attributes, as well as antiseptic, laxative, and diuretic properties, among many other health-promoting values.  This vegetable is particularly strong in vitamins K and A (when eaten raw, one 3.5-ounce serving contains 52 % daily requirement of vitamin K and more than 29% that of vitamin A).  Though research on this particular Allium is hitherto limited, it can well be assumed that its health benefits are comparable to those proven in its closely related onion and garlic cousins.  Its notable amount of flavonol kaempferol, in its substantial polyphenol content, thereby combats many health problems related to oxidative stress and chronic low-level inflammation; among these are rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, and type 2 diabetes; thus, this recipe is beneficial to Dina, whose husband is presently overcoming diabetes.  For an additional recipe and more on its history, go to Zucchini Chicken with Leeks and Shallots (2017/09/28).

Enjoy making today’s clear, detailed chicken recipe for leeks, shallots, and kale; my next entry will expound on the colorful history of leeks, with a delectable soup (2017/09/18).  Note: I will be taking this coming week off due to our Women’s Advance-we always advance, we never retreat, at Abundant Life Family Church (alfc.net)!

References:

www.foodfacts.mercola.com/leeks.html

www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=26

www.historic-uk.com/HistoryofWales/TheLeek-National-emblem-of-the-Welsh/

finished product

Kale, Leeks, and Chicken  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr (lengthy, but well worth it with these simple, detailed directions).

1 1/2 pound chicken tenderloins, about 8-10 large pieces  (Natural is best; available reasonably in Trader Joe’s freezer.)

2 large carrots, optional

3 large stalks of celery

1-1 1/2 pounds of kale

chopping leeks

4 leeks, white and light green part, 3/4 pound trimmed  (The best leeks are fresh-not more than a week old-and 1 1/2 inches in diameter.)

5 large cloves of garlic, minced  (3 cubes of frozen garlic from Trader Joe’s is much easier.)

4 tbsp butter

8 tsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic, when heated to high temperatures.)

1-2 tbsp fresh thyme, removed from stems, and coarsely chopped

Salt  (Real Salt is important for your health; available in the natural foods section at your local supermarket.)

Fresh ground pepper

  1. Place chicken in a large bowl of warm water to thaw, set aside.
  2. Spray all vegetables with an inexpensive effective spray, by combining 97% white distilled vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide; let sit 3 minutes; while waiting, if using fresh, mince garlic; rinse sprayed vegetables in a sink full of water several times.
  3. Cut celery diagonally in 1 inch pieces; scrape optional carrots with a sharp knife (this preserves vitamins just under the skin); slice thinly at a diagonal; set aside together in a bowl.
  4. Prepare leeks by first discarding outer leaves; cut off the dark green at the top and root hairs on bottom, leaving the white and light green part.  Cut each leek in half lengthwise; rinse well; then, cut each half in 2 inch pieces, by placing leek cut-side up on board; finally, slice these 2 inch lengths, cut-side up on board,

    cutting ribs out of kale

    into thin strips (see photo above); place pieces in a large container.  For final cleaning, rinse strips well with water, stirring with hand; then, drain in a colander.  This is known as the chiffonade-cut.

  5. Melt butter over medium heat in a sauté pan; as soon as a small piece sizzles in pan, add half the leeks, coating strips well with the hot butter. Reduce heat to low; cook down in pan, to make room for the rest of leeks, distributing oils well with each addition.  When all leeks are in pan, add garlic and slowly cook, covered, over low heat, stirring occasionally.
  6. straight-edge blade of food processor for chopping

    Cut ribs out of kale with a sharp knife (see above photo). May chop by hand, or quickly chop greens mechanically, by using the straight-edge blade of a food processor (see photo); turn processor on and place kale pieces in feeder tube (see photo below); set aside.

  7. Place thawed chicken on paper towel, salt and pepper GENEROUSLY.  Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat; when a small piece of chicken sizzles in oil, add the rest of the tenderloins; cook until light pink inside (do not overcook, as these will cook more later); cut tenderloins in bite-size pieces, removing them to a large bowl.  CAREFULLY SAVE JUICES IN PAN.
  8. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to these juices; mix in half the kale, distributing oils evenly.  Over medium heat, cook this vegetable down until there is room to add more; mix in oils with each addition, until all is in the pan; cook covered, until limp, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  As needed, deglaze pan (scrape fond, cooked-on juices, off bottom with a spatula, after adding 2 or more tablespoons of water).  Remove to bowl of meat when done.
  9. placing kale in feeder tube of processor

    Meanwhile gently peel thyme off stems, chop coarsely with a sharp knife, set aside.

  10. Put last 2 teaspoons of oil in hot pan after kale is removed; add carrots and celery; mix well; cook until tender, stirring every couple of minutes.  Meantime go to next step.
  11. Blend 1-2 tablespoons chopped thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper into leeks; stir in chicken/kale; continue cooking over low heat, until all is hot.  Add this mixture to pan of celery, when tender; adjust seasonings; one final time, scrape bottom to deglaze pan, using the juices from the added leek mixture.  Serve with confidence!

Zucchini Chicken with Leeks and Shallots

zucchini chicken with leeks and shallots

I am still developing recipes for zucchini; my new creation is enhanced with the rich flavors of leeks and shallots, this week’s offerings at church from a faithful member’s garden; these are of the onion family, but very different from each other in appearance, flavor, origin…

Shallots are mainly of two varieties, which are usually reddish-brown, though sometimes purple; these roots are similar in looks to, but larger than, garlic cloves; this plant’s flowers primarily bloom in white or violet.

Leeks are big in comparison, looking like huge green onions, with wide flat leaves.  They are best when their stalk formations-long, relatively hard, bundled sheaths-have grown to about 1 1/2 inches in diameter; ideally these should be fresh-not more than a week old-and stored in loose plastic bags in the refrigerator.

Shallots taste like a mixture of onions and garlic, though they are milder in flavor and more pungent; they bless exceedingly!  Our worthy leeks are even milder yet, with a mild pungency as well.

Shallots, which are European in origin, are especially associated with French cuisine.  Their roots/cloves can be eaten fresh, or cooked in butter; boiling is also possible.  They are usually sautéed whole; though, halving them is best when large; their sweetness is exceptionally delightful!

In the U.S., leeks grow primarily in the northern sections, due to the cooler climates, a requirement wherever they grow worldwide.  They, being so mild, should be simmered slowly, making them ideal for soups and stews; nevertheless, they may be sliced with a chiffonade-cut, as I describe in this recipe, and gently fried in butter, to augment the savor of special food combinations.  This Allium is low in calories and high in nutrients, such as vitamin K, manganese, copper, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, iron, vitamin A, fiber, magnesium, calcium, vitamin E, and omega-3 fats, making it a power-packed food.  For additional leek recipes and history go to Kale, Leeks, and Chicken (2017/09/04) and Leek Soup (2017/09/18).

Arrowroot is my choice for thickening the unequaled juices, resulting from simmering these leeks and shallots.  It is a starch from certain plants of the genera Manihot, Curcuma, and Tacca, as well as the tropical American plant Maranta arundinacea.  Its name consequently materialized from our Native Americans use of this root to absorb poison from arrow wounds.  I decided upon it, because I was serving this meal to a diabetic friend: it adds only seven grams of carbohydrates to the entire six servings, which is about two percent of the daily requirement of this chemical compound, and this divided by six.  For these same health reasons, I also selected the diabetic friendly Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain Pasta.  Our repast was a grand success!

Arrowroot is gluten-free, with twice the thickening power of flour.  It makes smooth sauces, which have remarkable clarity.  Great importance lies in not boiling the liquids you add it to, as this will stop its action.  Unlike a roux made from flour, this thickens very quickly; it is comparable to cornstarch, but lighter and healthier.

The following entrée uses tantalizing rosemary and moist zucchini, of which we have abundance from our gardens right now.  Its accompanying sauce, with the prized leeks and shallots, causes this chicken dish to explode with exciting tastes.  Enjoy!

References:

www.differencebetween.net/objects/comparisons-of-food-items/difference-between-leeks-and-shallots/

www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?name=foodspice&dbid=26

https://www.gurneys.com/Differences_between_Onions_Leeks_and_Shallots

chopping leeks with chiffonade-cut

Zucchini Chicken with Leeks and Shallots  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 1 hr.

1 1/4 pound chicken tenderloins, approximately 7 large pieces, thawed  (Natural is best; available reasonably in Trader Joe’s freezer.)

4 leeks 1 1/2 inches in diameter, white and light green part, 3/4 pound

1/4 pound shallots

1 1/2 pound zucchini

2 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped fine

1/4 cup butter, preferably unsalted

2 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is recommended, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

Salt and fresh ground pepper  (Real Salt is important for health; available in health section at local supermarket.)

1 tbsp arrowroot, dissolved in 1/4 cup cold tap water  (May substitute cornstarch; arrowroot, however, is available inexpensively in bulk, at such upscale grocers as New Seasons; also accessible in spice section at local supermarkets.)

Fettuccine pasta  (Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain Pasta is health-promoting and diabetic friendly.)

  1. rinsing cut leeks

    Start thawing chicken in a bowl of water, set aside.

  2. Clean zucchini with a vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide for an inexpensive effective spray); let sit 3 minutes; and rinse well.  Meanwhile go to next step.
  3. Prepare leeks by discarding outer leaves; cut off green tops and roots; and rinse well.  For chiffonade-cut, slice leeks lengthwise; rinse again; then, divide each half in 2 inch portions; next, cut each 2 inch length in thin strips (see above photo).  Place in a large container, rinse well with water, drain in colander, and set aside (see photo).
  4. Meanwhile cut zucchini in 2-inch-long spears, place in a bowl.
  5. Heat butter in a sauté pan over medium heat, until a small piece of leek in pan sizzles; add half the leeks, stirring in butter.  Reduce heat to low.  Cook down enough to fit other half into pan, distributing oils well; cover and cook, stirring occasionally.
  6. Peel shallots, slice large shallots in half (see photo); add to simmering leeks; let cook slowly over low heat,

    peeling shallots

    stirring occasionally.

  7. Chop rosemary, measure 2 tablespoons, and place in a small container (may use less).
  8. Fill a stock pot 2/3’s full of water; add about 2 tablespoons of oil-any kind will do-but no salt; bring to a boil over medium/high heat.
  9. Meanwhile place tenderloins on paper towel; GENEROUSLY salt and pepper them.  Heat 1 tablespoon of oil-preferably coconut oil-in a large frying pan, over medium heat, until small piece of chicken sizzles; add and cook chicken, until slightly pink in center (do not overcook, as it will cook more later on); cut each tenderloin in thirds with a spatula, removing pieces to a bowl; carefully save juices in pan.
  10. Add last tablespoon of oil to pan of juices; mix in zucchini, distributing oils evenly; cook only until tender, stirring occasionally; watch so it doesn’t get mushy.  While cooking, go to next step.  (Note: may have to add more water to stock pot, so it is 2/3’s full, and boiling.)
  11. Dissolve arrowroot in 1/4 cup cold tap water, set aside.
  12. Place pasta in pan of boiling water; turn down heat to medium; cook for 6-7 minutes, until al dente; do not overcook; drain; set aside.
  13. Meantime stir chicken, rosemary, and 1/2 teaspoon salt into leeks/shallots; cook over medium heat until hot.  Add this mixture to pan of tender zucchini, stir together.
  14. finished product

    Turn down heat under zucchini/leek/chicken to insure the juices are not boiling, but hot; this is important for thickening to occur.  Using a wire whisk, blend in small amounts of dissolved arrowroot to the liquids around edges of pan, tilting pan to bring forth juices; in this way, use all the arrowroot.  Adjust seasonings.

  15. Serve over pasta, this is an exceptional treat!

Spicy Cold Noodles

spicy cold noodles

This is one of my all-time favorite recipes, which I have been making every summer for 35 years.  It first blessed me, when I taught it to my students in Billings, Montana, at one of my plentiful cooking classes.  I don’t exactly remember where I got it, but believe it came in a newspaper clipping sent by my mother, for she was good at supplying me with quaint receipts from the media, during my early catering/teaching career.  Many choice dishes were thus provided, which still grace my table today.  This specific one highly pleases the palate, though it deviates slightly from its authentic roots.

There are both Korean and Chinese spicy cold noodles; both nationalities use sesame and chili oils, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and sugar in their mixes.  The Korean variation includes gochujang, a spicy pepper paste.  The Chinese sauce divers in that it calls for sesame paste and peanut butter, giving it an emulsified effect; it is fiery, tart, and slightly sweet.

My particular 1980’s account is from China, though it is Americanized with red wine vinegar instead of rice vinegar, which wasn’t readily available here in the 80’s; this version doesn’t have the ever-present peanut butter and chili oil, but is still spicy hot with an abundance of garlic.  It is a memorable burst of flavors.

China is a vast land of varying cuisines.  Just before I left Billings, one of my students, a travel agent, was engaging me to teach these regional culinary truths on her tour of a number of China’s leading provinces.  My sudden move to Portland, Oregon, in February of 1986, interrupted those plans to go abroad; nevertheless that early research still rests with me.  One of the provinces which I was studying was Szechuan, or Sichuan, which is the home of this post’s recipe.

Noodles are common throughout this vast country; among the many variations are Chongquing hot noodles, Wuhan hot and dry noodles, Henan stewed noodles, and Beijing style Zhajiang noodles.  The latter dish reaches far beyond the Hebei Province; it is made with pork gravy, which varies greatly from southern to northern China.

The cuisine of Szechuan, alternately known as Chuan, not only produces these spicy cold noodles, but also the famous dandanmian, or dandan noodles; they too have a spicy sauce, but contain preserved vegetables.  Both these dishes are street foods in Sichuan, for they are served ubiquitously, even in small food stands on the street.

I used poetic license, in that I chose pasta that is a complete protein and a natural, low glycemic food; thus, these delicious noodles are diabetic friendly.  Food for Life Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain Pasta contains the six grains and legumes, which are mentioned in this Old Testament scripture.  As published on their box, these half-dozen organic foods are germinated in pure filtered water; therefore, beneficial enzymes are activated, causing sprouting and releasing powerful nutrients, which otherwise would lay dormant.  Diabetics that can’t tolerate carbohydrates are reporting good luck with this pasta in my rich repast.

Join me on a trip to China with this select, health-promoting receipt!

ingredients for spicy cold noodles

Spicy Cold Noodles  Yields: 4-5 servings.  Total prep time: 30 minutes, plus several hours for chilling.  Note: may omit the chicken for a vegan recipe.

1 pound chicken, or 5 tenderloins, thawed  (All natural is best; available reasonably at Trader Joe’s.)

10 ounces dry pasta  (Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain Fettuccine is a complete protein pasta, which is low glycemic, diabetic friendly, and high in fiber; may also use a spaghetti pasta.)

1 1/3 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp garlic, chopped

1/4 cup sesame paste, or tahini  (Trader’s brand makes a good organic one.)

3 tbsp hot brewed tea

3 tbsp soy sauce  (Organic tamari is best for your body.)

3 tbsp rice vinegar  (May also use red wine vinegar.)

2 tsp sugar

Salt to taste  (Real Salt is premium for your health; available in the nutrition center at local supermarket.)

  1. Thaw chicken in a bowl of warm water.  Fill a stock pot with 4 quarts of water; bring to a boil over medium/high heat.
  2. Meanwhile peel enough garlic cloves to generously fill a coffee measure-which is 2 tablespoons-with pieces; see this measure in the above photo.  (This amount gives a lot of

    emulsifying tahini and tea

    bite, may use more or less to taste.)  Place garlic in a food processor and press the pulse button repeatedly, to form a medium/coarse grind; stop and scrape down sides once; set aside.  (May also chop with a sharp knife, if you don’t have a processor.)

  3. Place tenderloins in boiling water; turn down heat to medium; do not add salt.  Cook for about 4 minutes, or until just faintly pink in center; do not overcook.  Remove from water when done and place on a plate in refrigerator.  SAVE BROTH.
  4. Brew tea.  Place sesame butter in a large bowl; add hot tea; stir until emulsified, or smooth and creamy (see photo).  Blend in garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar; set aside.  (If chicken is finished while you are preparing sauce, proceed to step 6, and then come back to sauce.)
  5. Bring broth and 1 tsp of sesame oil to a boil in the stock pot; add pasta; turn down heat to medium; do not add salt, as this toughens the noodles.  Stirring occasionally, cook for approximately 6-7 minutes, or until slightly chewy.  Drain pasta and immediately submerge in cold water to stop cooking process, set aside.
  6. Cut chicken in bite-size pieces, add to sauce, and season with salt.  Toss together with pasta.
  7. Serve chilled.  Yum!

 

Roasted Beet and Balsamic Chicken Salad

roasted beet and balsamic chicken salad

The inspiration for this salad came when I needed one for a ladies tea at my church.  Since then I have used it to bless several large crowds; thus, it is written for ten servings which I in turn multiplied; in this way chefs write their recipes for restaurant use.  You, however, may choose to prepare half this receipt.  Don’t miss its simple pleasure.

The healer Jeanette, from my previous post, emphasizes the importance of color in her life-giving diet.  I kept her instructions in mind as I chose this produce; thus, I included purple beets as opposed to multi-colored ones, which are light in pigment when cooked; bright yellow peppers provided a health-promoting, visual contrast.

Both this salad’s balsamic chicken and the balsamic vinaigrette (2016/08/22) may be made with real balsamic, which originated in Modena, Italy about 900 years ago.  We, however, without knowing it often use a cheaper, imitation version of this.  I will teach you the difference here, so you may shop wisely, if you want to invest in the best.

Wikipedia defines the aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar), guarded by European agencies, as a very dark, concentrated, intensely flavored vinegar made wholly or partially from grape must.  The word aceto balsamico is unregulated, but there are three of these protected balsamic vinegars; it is required that they come from the province of Modena and the wider Emilia region surrounding it.  The two best of these always have the word tradizionale, traditional, in their names: Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia; both are made from reduced grape must and aged for numerous years in a series of wooden barrels.  The third Aceto Balsamico di Modena is also made from grape must, but only partially, as it is blended with wine vinegar, making it less expensive.1

The HuffPost explains how to discern these authentic versions, by looking for their place of origin and the words: grape must, aged grape must, Mosto d’Uva, or DOC in the list of ingredients.  Without one of these words you will be getting imitation wine vinegar with coloring added to it.2

The first two mentioned above, known as balsamico tradizionale, are dark in color and very costly, because they are aged to syrupy perfection for 12-100 years, under rigid restrictions.  Expect to pay up to $400 a bottle.3   This traditional balsamic is not vinegar made from wine, but rather it is made from grape pressings that have never been permitted to ferment into wine.  It begins with boiling down sweet white Trebbiano grape pressings to dark syrup, which is aged in an oaken keg with a vinegar “mother”.  Over the years it graduates to smaller and smaller kegs of different kinds of wood, as moisture evaporates from it, further thickening the vinegar and concentrating the flavor; the varying woods, chestnut, cherry wood, ash, mulberry, and juniper, provide its great character.  The result is extravagant taste.  As with the world’s most expensive spice saffron, a little goes a long way.4

Aceto Balsamico di Modena, the other regulated balsamic, is partially made with grape must and blended with wine vinegar, making it less costly.  Its restrictions are that it has to be from the Modena or Emilia regions and carry a Protected Geographical Indication status, which comes from a different agency than that protecting the balsamico traditzionale.

Like with good wine, price often dictates quality.  Surprises, however, sometimes occur: this authentic blended vinegar, complete with the authorized seal, is available at Trader Joe’s at a very moderate cost, as their excellent buyers shop globally, negotiating low prices, for the large quantities they are obtaining.  This label is good, but even better may be experienced.

Explore the exciting world of vinegars; make this dressing with a high quality aceto balsamico, or get Trader Joe’s Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (aged 10 years at $3.99 for 8.5 ounces), which is also delicious.  As a result, this salad will tantalize your taste buds!

  1. ttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balsamic_vinegar
  2. www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/09/balsamic-vineger-fraud_n_5459425.html
  3.  Ibid.
  4. https://www.thespruce.com/about-balsamic-vinegar-1808088

cooking tenderloins in balsamic vinegar

Roasted Beet and Balsamic Chicken Salad  Yields: 10 servings (may make half this recipe).  Total prep time: 2 days (for sprouting quinoa) plus 1 3/4 hr/  active prep time: 3/4 hr/  baking time: 1 hr.

Note: using my recipes, you may prepare ahead: balsamic vinaigrette (2016/08/22), croutons (2016/08/15), and agave roasted nuts (2016/08/15), for keeping on hand at all times; may also substitute ready-made versions.

1/2 cup quinoa, sprouted 1-2 days in advance  (Directions are below.)

2 large purple beets, or the equivalent thereof

1 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best; olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 pound chicken tenderloins, about 5 pieces

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

3 large cloves of garlic, minced  (Better yet, use 1 cube of frozen garlic from Trader Joe’s.)

1 yellow bell pepper  (Organic is important here, as bell peppers readily absorb pesticides.)

10-12 ounces greens of your choice

8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled  (Do not use pre-crumbled feta, as it is treated with preservatives and not as tasty.)

Agave roasted nuts, made ahead, see Healthy Green Salads (2016/08/15)

Home-made croutons, made ahead, see Healthy Green Salads (2016/08/15)

Balsamic vinaigrette, made ahead (2016/08/22)

  1. Using either a sprouting jar or a bowl, sprout quinoa 2 days in advance, by first soaking it in water for 6-8 hours (may make extra quinoa); then, draining off water well, let it sit for 1-2 days until sprouted, rinsing about every 12 hours.  If finished before using, do the following: when 1/4 inch long legs have grown, without rinsing again, spread prepared quinoa on a tray or large plate, covered with parchment, to let dry for about 12 more hours.  Store in a sealed storage bag or jar and refrigerate, keeps for up to two weeks.  For more detail on sprouting, see Sprouted Three Bean Dip (2017/06/26) and Sprouted Quinoa and Yam Salad (2016/09/05).
  2. If chicken is frozen, thaw in water.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Wash and lightly oil beets; wrap in aluminum foil, leaving closure upright to keep juices from spilling; bake on cookie sheet for 3/4–1 1/4 hours, depending on size of beets.  Open foil and cool in wrap for 10 minutes; peel skin off by rubbing with hands; cut in 1/4 inch julienne slices; set aside.  Meanwhile go to next step.
  4. Heat tablespoon of oil in large skillet; place thawed tenderloins on paper towel, salting and peppering them extra well before cooking; when tiny piece of chicken sizzles in oil, add the rest.  Pour balsamic over meat and add garlic; turn tenderloins over in vinegar.  Let cook for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Starting with the smallest tenderloin, cut each piece in thirds with a spatula; as they are cooked remove pieces to a bowl-the meat will just be turning white inside when done.  Do not overcook.  Pour juice from pan into bowl, which will further marinate meat.
  6. Wash and cut bell pepper in small strips, set aside.
  7. Place greens in a serving bowl; add quinoa, beets, chicken, peppers, feta cheese, and nuts; toss with balsamic vinaigrette; serve with croutons. Delicious!

Curried Chicken/Cheese Ball

curry/chicken/cheese ball

curried chicken/cheese ball

My mother’s best friend, in our small Rocky Mountain village, became my treasured ally. She and her husband moved to East Glacier Park, when he retired as a screenplay writer.  Talbot Jennings was so famous that a prominent New York City television station featured his movies, such as The King and I, for a whole week, before he died.

This illustrious couple traveled the world during the production of these films; thus, Betsy schooled me in her prodigious cosmopolitan ways.  I thoroughly enjoyed sitting under her tutelage, as she prepared me for the lions at Trafalgar Square and exceeding more, prior to my moving to London.  I believe she was even more excited than I, about my valiant relocation to Tokyo half a decade later.

The voluminous New York Times brought the vast outside world to Betsy every weekend.  She was forever clipping articles to prepare me for my numerous sojourns.

With this same spirit, starting in 1982, she helped me to grow as a historical caterer.  My creative mentor was always sending me gifts, which she ordered from the New York Times.  Ingenious gadgets were among a wide array of superlative food items.  Many of these imaginative tools still grace my kitchen today.

While I was doing my early work in Billings, Montana, I journeyed to my hometown each year, where I catered multiple theme dinners per visit. The eight-hour drive across the wide expanse of the Big Sky Country thrilled my tender soul. How I delighted in approaching the backdrop of my beloved mountains, as I gazed across those colossal open prairies.

Once there, I spent many hours drinking in wisdom at Betsy’s feet.  During one of these relished trips, she offered this  delectable cheese ball to me.  I was enamored with it then and still am today.  Then it was a frequent hors d’oeuvre at my gala catered events;  today it is still my constant contribution to every holiday meal, at which I am a guest.

May you make this blessed appetizer a family tradition as well!

Curried Chicken/Cheese Ball  Yields: 2 ½ cups.  Total prep time: 1 hr/ active prep time: 30 minutes/ inactive prep time: 30 min.  Note: you may make this a day ahead.

8 oz cream cheese, softened

1 cup raw whole almonds, chopped in a food processor  (May use slivered almonds and chop with a sharp knife.)

½ cup unsweetened coconut, finely grated  (Available in bulk, at Winco and other stores.)

2 tbsp mayonnaise  (Best Foods excels all other mayonnaise.)

2-3 tbsp Major Grey’s Mango Chutney  (Choose 3 tbsp if you want a full-bodied sweetness.)

1 tbsp curry powder, or to taste

½ tsp salt  (Real Salt is important; available in health section of local supermarket.)

1 chicken breast or 4 frozen tenderloins  (Natural chicken is best; Trader Joe’s works well for quality and cost.)

1-9 oz box Original Wheat Thins

  1. If you are using frozen tenderloins, thaw in cool water.  Cook chicken in salted boiling water. When center is just faintly pink, after inserting a knife, remove chicken from water and cool in refrigerator.
  2. Chop almonds in a food processor, by repeatedly pressing the pulse button. Pulse until nuts are in small chunks.  Some finely ground almond “dust” will be present; you will use this as well.  There will also be some big chunks; cut them, by hand, with a sharp knife.  Set aside.
  3. Mix all the above ingredients except the chicken.  Note: it works best to insert a regular teaspoon in the narrow jar of Major Grey’s Mango Chutney, when measuring it.  Be sure to use well-rounded teaspoons, as each approximates a tablespoon, for which the recipe calls.
  4. Leave this cream cheese mixture out at room temperature, while waiting for the chicken to cool.  When meat is cool, cut it into small pieces. Mix chicken into cream cheese gently, as not to shred it.
  5. Criss-cross two large pieces of plastic wrap.  Place chicken ball in the center of wrap.  Surround ball with this plastic covering.  Refrigerate on a small plate.
  6. Soften ball at room temperature for two hours before serving, to facilitate the spreading.
  7. Surround with crackers on a decorative serving plate.
  8. This is a winner!

Medieval White-Dish

White-dish

white-dish

Here is a bird’s eye view of a 14th century nobleman’s kitchen, as was common during the reign of King Richard II.  It consisted of a large, separate structure with many fireplaces built along the walls, each with its own cooking area.  At least one fireplace was large enough to roast a whole ox.  A raised open hearth was situated in the center of the kitchen.

Bake metes (baked foods) were concocted in an oven, prepared first with a blazing fire, getting its brick walls red hot.  Cooks placed the pies, custards, and pastries in the hot oven, after they swept out the ashes.  These items baked, behind a closed door, until the oven was cool.

Bakers, however, made breads in separate buildings in larger kitchens, such as that of King Richard II.  The stoves in these bake houses were often 14 feet wide.

Our king was extravagant; he daily entertained over a thousand guests.  There is record of a very large shopping list for a banquet he gave on September 23, 1387. His overseer included 14 salted oxen, 2 fresh oxen, 120 sheep, 140 pigs, 120 gallons of milk, and 11,000 eggs, among taxing quantities of other items.

These feasts were held in the castle’s great hall.  Here the king and special guests sat on a raised platform, or high borde.  The lesser guests assembled at tables that paralleled the side walls.  The backless benches, on which they sat, were called banquettes; thus we got the name banquet for such affairs.

Cooks in many of these kitchens prepared white-dish, or blank-mang.  It was a popular dish in England, as well as on the Continent, during the Middle Ages. Chaucer’s chef made this receipt.  Our poet wrote in his “Prologue” to the Canterbury Tales (c.1386):  “For blancmange, that made he with the best.”

I am indebted to Lorna Sass for her documentation of this information in To the King’s Taste (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975).  Below is my version for her delicious, historical recipe.  Its preparation is easy with my introduction of 21st century appliances  Can’t encourage you enough to try this.  It’s a palate pleaser!

Next week I will be making the connection between these medieval foods and our “renaissance” happening right here in Tualatin, Oregon.

White-Dish is adapted from a recipe in Lorna Sass’ To the King’s Taste (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975).  Yields: 4-6 servings.

2 large chicken breasts

2 1/2 cups water

1 1/4 tsp salt  (Real Salt is best, available in health section of local supermarket.)

1/2 cup raw whole almonds

1 cup brown rice  (I like basmati rice, available at Trader Joe’s.)

3 tbsp butter

4 tsp brown sugar, packed down  (Sucanat  evaporated cane juice, may be substituted; this is close to what they used in the Middle Ages.)

3 tbsp anise seed

1/4 cup sliced almonds

  1. In a tightly covered medium-size saucepan, over medium heat, boil chicken in water, to which 1/4 tsp salt is added.   Boil for about 10-15 minutes.  Be careful to not overcook.  Check meat by cutting with a sharp knife; center should be slightly pink.  (Meat will be cooked more later on.) Remove chicken from broth; set aside both broth and meat.
  2. To make the almond milk, grind 1/2 cup whole raw almonds in a 11-cup, or larger, food processor. Pulse repeatedly until almonds are a fine powder.  (A blender or Vitamix will also work; add 2 tbsp of ice water to nuts, before grinding, if using either of these.)
  3. With food processor running, slowly add two cups of broth through the feeder tube on top of the processor.  (You may have to add water to make 2 cups of liquid; if perhaps you have extra broth, be sure to save this.)  Let sit for 10 minutes.  This makes almond milk.
  4. Put almond milk in the saucepan.  Add remaining 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp butter, and sugar.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Add rice, cover,  and reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer gently for about 40 minutes, or until rice is soft.  Watch carefully so rice doesn’t cook dry; gently check bottom of pan with a fork, being careful to not stir rice.  Add more broth, or water, as needed.
  5. Meanwhile dice chicken into 1-inch cubes.  Set aside.
  6. In a small sauté pan, cook almond slices in remaining 2 tbsp of hot butter.  Watch carefully, sautéing only until light brown.  Salt them lightly and set aside.
  7. Crush anise seed using a mortar and pestle.  May also grind in a DRY food processor by pulsing lightly.  Set aside.
  8. Add chicken when rice is soft; stir, and cook about 5 more minutes, or until meat is hot.  Watch moisture in bottom of pan, so rice doesn’t burn, add water or broth as needed.
  9. Serve garnished with buttered almond slices and crushed anise seed.  SO GOOD!