Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Month-of-Mediterranean: Moroccan Chicken Tagine

Is it the end of February already? About the middle of the month, each year, I wonder why I am doing this to myself! But, then, as the month nears an end I say, “Slow down! I have more recipes than days left in the month!” I guess that’s the good news. It means that I chose the right category to develop yet again, right? At least I hope I did. What did you think of this year’s recipes?

So about now, I also start thinking about next February? What would you like to see a batch of recipes for? I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear from you about what you’d like to see we tackle.

Also, if you haven’t already done so, go digging around in my “attic” for this blog and explore some of the other February categories in past years. I have been doing this every year since 2012. Nine years of February recipes! Hmm. I should have a really special category for my 10th anniversary next year, right?

Today’s recipe comes from North Africa. I cut the original recipe in half since I no longer feed a horde. DH and I are fine with leftovers; they make an easy, fast dinner another night. But we really, really don’t want LEFTOVERS, if you know what I mean.

Did you know the Crock-Pot goes back to 1940? I remember when I got mine in the early 70’s. It became this busy teacher’s best friend! Why am I bringing this up? Well, Irving Nachumsohn gave a modern spin to a millennials-old cooking method. Our great-greats back to forever ago, slow cooked food in earthenware pots. Nachumsohn wanted the same savory-ness of slow cooking but made easier for people who no longer had open fire cooking. From stews to beans to tenderizing cheap cuts of meat, the Crock-Pot offered some kitchen freedom to home cooks.

Of course, since those early days, many manufacturers have produced slow cookers. I have two, one large and one small, depending upon what I am preparing. And sometimes I am using both if cooking for a crowd. I also use a slow cooker to keep mashed potatoes hot for holiday meals when all the burners are burning!
In Morocco, a tajine or tagine is the name of the earthenware pot used for slow cooking the old-fashion way. This recipe for Moroccan Chicken Tagine translates the old recipe into today’s slow cooker instead. Here’s one type of tagine.

Slow cooker Moroccan Chicken Tagine  (serves 4)

This is delicious with couscous and garlic sautéed spinach! I only made minor changes to the recipe from the “Mediterranean Living” site (like I changed water into wine!).

1 pound chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
½ cup raisins
1 sweet potato, cut into bite-sized pieces (I don’t peel mine)
1 bell pepper, cut into large pieces
1 onion, minced
1 cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons butter, melted
¼ cup white wine
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon turmeric

Add chicken, raisins, sweet potato, bell pepper, onion and chickpeas to the slow cooker.

In a small bowl whisk together olive oil, butter, wine, salt, pepper, cumin, ginger, and turmeric. Pour over chicken ingredients in slow cooker. Stir well to coat.

Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6 hours.

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up
“What do you call this? A stew?” Umm. Maybe. It’s certainly chunky and has little liquid, but the liquid is, well, liquid, not thickened as in stews. “It’s got sweetness and heat. What’s in it?” The sweet potato and raisins give a sweet under-taste that is counterbalanced with the heat from the ginger-cumin-turmeric spices. Really interesting flavors that he liked.

Friday, February 28, 2020

A Month-of-Mediterranean: Lemony Shrimp with Spinach

Who doesn’t love shrimp? And while breaded and deep fried might appeal to some, it’s never been a favorite at our house except with Son One. When I make coconut shrimp, the “breading” is coconut with a bit of egg white and flour, and they are baked. Otherwise, we eat our shrimp “naked” or in a marinade.

I came across this Scampi-like recipe for an easy, lighter. and more healthful shrimp dinner at the “My Recipes” site. Simple and sophisticated at the same time, this is a pretty dish that is company-worthy. And you no doubt have all the ingredients on hand.  

The change I made was to add ¼ cup of white wine and to reduce the broth to ¼ cup. I love scampi with wine! I served it with leftover Zucchini Rice Pilaf. A satisfying dinner all around with a Caesar salad and crusty bread.

Lemony Shrimp and Spinach (serves 4)

1 pound unpeeled, large raw shrimp (31/35 count)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup chicken broth
¼ cup white wine
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
6-ounce package fresh baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
Shaved parmesan, optional

Peel shrimp; de-vein, if desired.

Sauté shrimp and garlic in hot oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat 3 to 4 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink. Remove shrimp from skillet; keep warm.

Add chicken broth and next 4 ingredients to skillet, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of skillet. Cook 4 to 5 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half.

Add spinach, and cook 2 minutes or just until spinach is wilted. Stir in shrimp. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add parmesan if using. Serve immediately.

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up
“This doesn’t take as greasy as your usual shrimp scampi. I like this lighter version better. And the spinach is a nice touch.” “No butter,” I told him. “Only a bit of EVOO, wine, and broth. The spinach and the lemon make for a fresher taste, too.”

Thursday, February 27, 2020

A Month-of-Mediterranean: Zucchini Rice Pilaf

My family has always loved rice pilaf as a side dish with grilled fish or chicken, or as a casserole where I toss leftover veggies, animal protein, and cheese with leftover rice pilaf and bake in the oven with a splash of more broth for a super quick dinner.

I always make enough that I can serve rice pilaf in at least one other meal later in the week. I’ve even put it into soup for a different flavor profile. Very versatile. So cook up a big batch. You won’t regret it!

I like this recipe for Zucchini Rice Pilaf I found on the “Taste of Home” site. Though it’s called Zucchini Rice Pilaf, it is equally delicious with yellow squash or other squash you have on hand. Heck, put in broccoli or asparagus if that’s what you have on hand. Also, to control sodium, I used broth instead of bouillon cubes as in the original recipe.
Zucchini Rice Pilaf (serves 4)

½ teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons butter
2 ½ cups broth
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
½ cup shredded carrot
1 zucchini, halved and thinly sliced
In a large skillet, saute basil in butter for two minutes over medium heat. Add broth and bring to a boil. Add rice and carrots.

Reduce heat. Cover skillet and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add squash and cover again. Simmer another 5 minutes, or until rice is tender.

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up
“This goes really well with the chicken. Lots of flavor and different vegetables.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A Month-of-Mediterranean: Provençale Chicken Dinner

Let’s take a trip to France for this Mediterranean recipe. Since France has such a distinctive cuisine, we don’t typically think of foods from there as Mediterranean. All those delicious sauces! However, as this recipe shows, with the right ingredients, you can eat even French food more healthfully, the Mediterranean Diet way.

And, yeah, I know the picture shows five chicken thighs. The package had five, so I used them all. Plenty of liquid to cook the chicken. Two of the leftovers will be dinner another night, but the other flavor-infused leftover will become a tasty chicken salad for lunch!

Provençale Chicken Dinner (serves 4)

4 chicken thighs
3 teaspoons basil
½ teaspoon salt
½  teaspoon pepper
1 small onion, diced
1 cup diced bell pepper
½ cup mushrooms, rough chopped
1-15 ounce can cannellini beans, undrained
1-14 ounce can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, oregano
Fresh basil sprigs to garnish, optional

Put chicken thighs on the bottom of the slow cooker. Sprinkle on basil, salt, and pepper.

Add onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, beans, and tomatoes.

Cook on low for 8 hours.

When ready to serve, put a chicken thigh in the middle of a bowl and ladle sauce on top and around it.  You’ll need a fork and a spoon to eat the dinner. We both had naan. He had a salad; I had fruit.
There will be leftover broth with veggies. Serve for lunch with toasted cheese sandwiches. YUM!

NOTE: Next time, per DH’s suggestion, I’ll make a batch of couscous, quinoa, or brown rice to put in the bottom of the bowl, under the chicken. That will make an even more substantive meal.

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up Way Up!
“This is really good! Put it in the rotation. But could you add some rice or something next time?” I have learned that when a recipe gets the “rotation designation”, I have fed him a winner!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

A Month-of-Mediterranean: Green Beans with Pork and Potatoes

I found another recipe to try on the “Mediterranean Living” site, this one from Crete. The site shares traditional recipes from Greece, Spain, and other countries that have been updated and are easy to prepare. Take a look.

I was having a leisurely lunch with friends the day I prepared this. It was nice to throw it all together before I left, knowing that dinner would be ready when we were that night. As usual, cutting up the meat and vegetables took the most time. Maybe 15 minutes. Then forget about it.

In this take on pork stew, the pound of pork is shared among six to eight people, so it’s fits the guidelines of limiting meat. I added the seasoning since it sounded too bland to me.
The meat to vegetable ratio gives a clear advantage to the veggies. To the original recipe I added more tomato, a sweet potato and some Greek Seasonin, but leave them out and prepare the original recipe if you’d prefer. 

Since it is a stew, you can serve with naan or pita bread or serve over rice, couscous, or lentils to make it heartier and go further. I served this with chili-cheese cornbread. A nice fresh fruit salad cuts the heaviness.

Green Beans with Pork and Potatoes (serve 6-8)

1-28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons McCormick’s Greek Seasoning
1 pound lean pork, cut into bite-sized cubes
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 carrots, sliced in rounds
2 celery stalks, sliced in chunks
1 pound fresh green beans (can use frozen)
2 medium to large potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 large sweet potato, cut into bite-sized chunks
Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix the Greek Seasoning with the tomatoes and set aside.

Add carrots, celery, green beans, onion, and both kinds of potatoes to slow cooker. Top with pork then tomatoes. Stir to combine.

Cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 hours or until meat is fork-tender. Stir to combine and serve.

DH’s Rating: 3 Tongues Up
“This is different. I like it, but I've liked other dinners better.” Okay. I thought it was better than he did, but this wasn’t my favorite meal either. But, boy, is it nutrient packed and filling!

Monday, February 24, 2020

A Month-of-Mediterranean: Goat Cheese Pasta with Spinach and Artichokes

Two Peas & Their Pod Cookbook is the origin of this interesting recipe. Just the title of it makes you feel healthier, right? And didn’t your saliva glands respond as well?

I made this as written, except I used sea salt instead of kosher salt, and so I’ll share it with you. If you don’t have the cookbook, and want to see the original, you can go to the Pure Wow site to find Goat Cheese Pasta with Spinach and Artichokes. It’s a simple, 30-minute recipe with most ingredients you likely already have. I only made a few changes to the original.

We eat a lot of different kinds of pasta, and I encourage you to branch out from spaghetti and elbow macaroni if you haven’t already done so. Different pastas were created for specific qualities such as a wide flat surface for the sauce to adhere to, stuffed pastas, tubes to stuff, or shells to hide the sauce inside and out. There are also pastas specifically made for soups and specialty shapes for specific dishes.

Read up on pastas to see which ones suit your particular purpose in a dish. As a general principle, thinner sauces go better thin pastas and thicker sauces go better with thicker pastas. The pasta in this recipe, orecchiette, is a small shell-shape.

Goat Cheese Pasta with Spinach and Artichokes (serves 4)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces dried orecchiette (or your favorite short pasta)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallot
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
Grated zest of 1 lemon
6 cups packed fresh spinach leaves
One 14-ounce can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
5 ounces (1 small log) goat cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, optional, for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Reduce the amount of water to cover the pasta about an inch above. [See NOTE] 

Generously salt the water and cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and garlic; cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. 

Add the pepper flakes and zest along with the spinach. Cook until the spinach wilts, about 3 minutes. Stir in the artichoke hearts.

Add the pasta to the spinach and artichoke mixture. Crumble the goat cheese over the top and stir in the lemon juice along with ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water. 

Continue stirring until a creamy sauce coats the pasta. If the pasta isn’t creamy enough, add additional pasta water. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with fresh basil. Serve with a salad and garlic bread. 

NOTE: When a recipe calls for adding pasta water to help make the sauce, cook the pasta in less water than usual. That way the pasta water has a lot more starch in it which helps the formation of a creamier sauce.

DH’s Rating: 4 Tongues Up
While it was cooking: “It smells good. What’s in it?” After he’d eaten dinner: “This was good. Different. But it would be even better with a little chicken.”

It was a different flavor profile. I cook a lot with cheeses, but I don’t use goat or feta cheese much, so we noticed the difference.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

A Month-of-Mediterranean: Quinoa "Fried Rice"

Sometimes you just have a hankering for some Asian tasting food, but delicious as fried rice might be, it’s never listed on a health food menu. But when you use quinoa as a su for rice, you are adding protein and more fiber than rice.

This versatile dish can be a side dish or vegetarian-with-eggs main dish. You can add  more animal protein like shredded chicken or pork for an even heartier main dish. I found this on the website. Lots of good stuff there!

Quinoa “Fried Rice” (serves 4)

1 cup quinoa, rinsed (follow package directions to remove bitter coating)
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 large eggs, whisked
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Green onions, sliced diagonally, for garnish

Cook quinoa with two cups of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes until the water is absorbed. Salt and toss with a fork. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add onion, garlic, carrot, and frozen peas and cook until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add soy sauce and stir until combined. Add in beaten eggs and stir quickly so that they scramble, about 1 minute.

Add cooked quinoa and stir to distribute. Let heat through, about 3 minutes.
Drizzle with sesame oil, top with green onions, and serve immediately.

DH’s Rating: 5 Tongues Up
“This is a really different texture than fried rice. It’s not mushy. I like the flavors, too.”