¡Una Fiesta Para Mi!

My birthday was rapidly approaching (okay it was two months away), and I was craving a fiesta complete with a piñata, taco bar, Coronas with lime wedges, and a margarita station. So I made it happen.

The piñata, Smiley the Duck, didn’t start to break until the 14th person in the line-up gouged his abdomen with a blow of the broom handle. It took three more people, unblindfolded, hitting on him to get all the candy and treats to fly out for the kids and adults alike to scramble after.

Back inside, kids compared treats, and we continued to enjoy the taco bar and drinks. For the taco bar, I had three types of tortillas (flour, corn, and soy), MexiCali avocados shipped in from my parents’ yard in California, lettuce, tomato, sliced green onions, shredded Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese, nonfat Greek yogurt to serve as sour cream, and two types of homemade taco meat included beef and chicken.

Guests loved the chili-seasoned shredded beef and the roasted chicken with southwest spices and asked several times how I made them. This is the first time I’ve made the shredded beef but the chicken is one of my trusted standards for a dinner party, easy, inexpensive, and delicious. In face, every time I’ve made my southwest-seasoned roasted chicken, guests want the recipe. So I’m going to share with you the technique and recipe for The Zin Diva’s Roasted Chicken.

This delicious, moist chicken uses two “secret” techniques that increase the flavor intensity and retain moistness, including in the notoriously dry breast meat. First, we’ll rub seasoning directly on the chicken meat not just the skin. To do that, we’ll loosen the chicken’s skin and spread our seasoning paste over the chicken’s breasts, legs, thighs, and possibly back and wings. Second, we’ll turn the chicken over twice while roasting to allow the juices to flow into the breast meat yet finish with a browned crust of skin.

Also, I do not truss my bird as many recipes direct. I find that the bird has a beautiful shape without the time and effort required to tie it up.

The Zin Diva’s Roasted Chicken

Tools: Roasting pan w/ rack or broiler pan, tongs or other device to turn the chicken
Time: 15 minutes to prep, 60-70 minutes to roast, 10 minutes to rest
Oven: 400 F 

Ingredients

1 Whole Fryer or Broiler Chicken, giblets removed, rinsed and patted thoroughly dry w/ paper towels
3-4 Tbsp. Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming Seasoning
2-4 cloves Fresh garlic, minced (optional)
Olive oil
Kosher Salt

1. Loosen the chicken skin from the meat using your fingers for the breast, legs, thighs, and back and wing areas if desired. Try not to tear the skin in the process. Place the bird on the top of grates of the broiler pan or on the rack of a roasting pan.

2. Mix together the Arizona Dreaming seasoning, the minced garlic if using, and enough olive oil to form a loose paste.

3. Using your fingers, spread the paste directly on the chicken’s meat, under the loosened skin, turning the chicken as needed. After the paste is gone, remove excess paste from fingers by rubbing them on the bird’s skin.

4. Rub the outside of the bird with olive oil. Sprinkle kosher salt on the bird. Sprinkle with Arizona Dreaming seasoning. Pat the salt and seasoning onto the bird to help it adhere.

5. Place the bird breast side up on the rack and roast for 30 min in the preheated oven. Remove pan from oven. Flip the bird over using tongs and a spatula/wooden spoon. Roast back side up for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and flip the bird over to be breast side up. Roast another 5 to 15 minutes until done as tested with a meat thermometer inserted in the breast. The breast should be moist but no longer pink.

6. Allow the bird to sit on the rack for 10-15 minutes to allow juices to settle.

7. Carve as desired and serve.

Variation 1: Replace the Arizona Dreaming seasoning with another southwest seasoning that you like or create your own version with ancho and chipotle chile powders, cumin, oregano, paprika, etc.

Variation 2: Go Mediterranean in style instead. Replace the Arizona Dreaming seasoning with fresh or dried rosemary leaves (cut up) and/or thyme, red pepper flakes, fresh lemon zest. Be sure to use the minced garlic in this version. In step 4, don’t sprinkle with the Mediterranean seasoning as it will scorch.

¡Es una fiesta en la boca!

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Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelets

So here’s another recipe from Easter Brunch that was a huge hit: Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelettes. People could not believe their taste buds and ears when I told them this recipe was completely diet-friendly! I was thrilled with how many compliments people gave these omelets. One person said, if this is diet food, I need to be on this diet. 🙂

So here’s what I did to turn a moderately healthy but high calorie recipe into an “Eat Clean” recipe that was both healthy and moderate in the calorie count (~150 cal if divided into 8 servings). I modified a Gordon Ramsay recipe to increase the number of servings, increase the nutritional value including more lean protein and veggies, and decrease the fat per serving while keeping all the flavor. To do that, I kept the number of whole eggs the same at 4 but added a carton of egg whites, equal to 10 egg whites. I increased the baby spinach from 2 oz. to 6 oz. I eliminated the 2 tsp. butter and decreased the olive oil from 2 Tbsp. to 4 tsp. I kept the amount of goat cheese the same at 4 oz. but increased the amount of Parmesan Reggiano from 2 Tbsp. to 3 Tbsp. and upped the quantities of sea salt and black pepper. Overall, this upped the number of proposed servings from two to between four to eight depending on whether this is the only main course or served in a buffet as we did.

Spinach and Goat Cheese Omelets for a Crowd


Special Equipment: Broiler, broiler-safe skillet, large sauté pan
Serves 4 as a main dish or 8 as a side dish

Ingredients

6 oz. baby spinach
1 tsp. olive oil
4 whole eggs
1 container egg whites, equivalent to 10 egg whites
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Sea salt to taste (I prefer red Hawaiian sea salt)
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
4 oz. goat cheese
3 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan Reggiano

  1. Preheat the broiler. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. When skillet is hot, add 1 tsp. olive oil and tilt the pan to coat the bottom in the film of oil. Add the baby spinach to the pan. Stir and toss with a wooden spoon until the spinach is lightly wilted. Remove the spinach from the heat and place on paper towels. Tease the spinach leaves apart with a fork. Set aside.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and the egg whites. Do not add salt and pepper.
  3. Heat the broiler-safe skillet over medium-high heat (medium for cast-iron). When you feel a good heat rising, add 1 Tbsp. olive oil and tilt the pan to coat.
  4. Pour the whisked eggs into the skillet. Using a metal fork, continuously stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to ensure the eggs do not stick. When eggs are 2/3 set, stop stirring, making sure the eggs are evenly distributed prior to the next step.
  5. Add the spinach leaves, spreading them evenly over the surface of the eggs. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Pinch the goat cheese into small pieces, spreading over the top of the spinach. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the omelet. Turn off the stove burner.
  6. Place skillet under the broiler until the cheese is lightly browned but not burnt, about 1-4 minutes depending on your broiler and pan. Serve in the pan at the table or at the buffet.

Whole-Grain Waffles for Sunday Brunch

This past Sunday, my husband and I hosted 25 friends for Easter brunch in our condo. As the RSVP numbers grew from 12 to 18 to 25, we knew we’d have to get creative with the menu, the serving method, and the seating plan. As usual, we had a coordinated potluck with guests bringing items that we had mutually agreed to. Instead of eating family style with china and fine linens, we had a buffet for most of the food and a self-serve waffle station equipped with three waffle makers and the waffle fixings.

As brunch progressed, more and more people came up to me and asked about the waffles, wondering what they were and what was in them. They repeatedly praised the waffles, their texture, and their depth of flavor compared with regular white flour waffles.

What I did was swap out some of the white flour for almond flour, flaxseed meal and whole wheat flour. This upped the fiber content, the nutritional value, and the flavor. I also substituted olive oil for butter so that we’d have a more heart-healthy fat. Then for an extra kick of fun I added Mexican Vanilla and Ceylon Cinnamon. (Another week I added Almond Extract and that was a hit too!)

The below recipe is a “double recipe” suitable for larger brunches. If you a serving a small group, I recommend either halving the recipe or cooking all the batter and freezing the leftover waffles, wrapped separately. Reheat the waffles in the toaster oven for a quick breakfast.

Whole-Grain Buttermilk Waffles


Special Equipment: Waffle Maker
Serves 12

Ingredients

½ cup almond flour
½ cup flaxseed meal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1.5 cup white flour
2 Tbsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Penzeys Ceylon Cinnamon
6 large eggs, well beaten
6 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups low fat buttermilk
1 Tbsp. Penzeys Mexican Vanilla Extract

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix well. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the wet ingredients and whisk til well-combined.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the well of the dry mixture. Using a wooden spoon, mix using long, swift strokes until combined but mixture still has a pebbly look to it. Do not over-mix or waffles will be tough. Do not severely under-mix or you will have surprise pockets of flour.
  4. Using a preheated waffle iron, add the batter to the center of the waffle iron and smooth out gently with the back of a measuring cup or with the wooden spoon. Close the lid. The amount of batter will depend on your waffle maker. I have waffle makers that take from ½ cup to 1 cup for a full waffle. Experiment with your waffle maker to determine the amount, then use that size measuring cup to scoop the batter.
  5. Waffle is done when the steam stops escaping from the sides of the waffle maker and the waffle is golden brown. Waffle can be cooked slightly longer if a browner crust is desired.
  6. Serve hot with pure maple syrup, butter, powdered sugar, and fresh fruit.

Variation 1: Instead of vanilla extract, add 1 Tbsp. almond extract to the wet ingredients. Cinnamon is optional.

Sweet and Spicy broccoli for snack or light lunch!

I tried out this combination last night for dinner and was surprised how good the cooked broccoli could taste with a sweet and spicy blend. I cooked the broccoli in the microwave then added Trader Joe’s Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Penzeys Aleppo Pepper (Turkey), red Hawaiian sea salt, and fresh ground black pepper. I tossed with a fork and it was done!

Sweet and Spicy Broccoli

Prep Time: 1 min
Cook time: 5 min
Special Equipment: Pampered Chef veggie steamer for microwave OR bowl w/ Cling Wrap

Ingredients:
10 oz. broccoli, e.g., Bird’s Eye box of broccoli
1/2 Tbsp. Trader Joe’s Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Sprinkle to taste of Penzeys Aleppo Pepper (Turkey)
Pinch of red Hawaiian Sea Salt to taste
2-3 grinds of black pepper

1. Cook broccoli according to package instructions, about 5 minutes.
2. When cooked, drain off the water.
3. Sprinkle the remaining ingredients over the broccoli.
4. Toss, serve, and enjoy!

Roasted Eggplant Fries


Have you ever just had a feeling that you should try something new in the kitchen? That the flavor combination or cooking method will just work out for you even though you haven’t done any research? That’s how I felt last week when I made what I’m calling “Roasted Eggplant Fries.”

At girls’ night last week, Rafah had purchased a couple of eggplants that she didn’t plan to use for our dinner of Stuffed Grape Leaves. I had an idea. What about cutting up the eggplant into steak fries, lightly coating with olive oil and a bit of kosher salt, and roasting in the oven for about 30 minutes? I tried it and it worked. Not only did it work, but Katie and I nearly polished off the two eggplants by the time Rafah and Erika even got to try the fries. At Rafah’s suggestion, we dipped the roasted eggplant strips in my homemade hummus. Oh my goodness! Talk about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts!

I love these eggplant fries so much that I have made them two more times this past week–once for a dinner party and once for a girls’ hangout night. Still a hit! So I have to tell you all how to make them. Trust me–this one’s easy.

Roasted Eggplant Fries


Special Equipment: Oven, baking sheet or roasting pan (nonstick is preferable), knife, cutting board

Prep Time: 10 min; Cooking Time: 15-30 min
Preheat Oven to 425º

Ingredients
4 eggplants
4 tsp. olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Hummus, to serve (optional)

1. Rinse and dry whole eggplants.

2. Cut eggplants into about 3/4 inch strips. If eggplant is longer than 5 inches or so, cut the eggplant strips in half.

3. Apply 1 tsp. olive oil to the baking sheet, spreading with your hands to coat. Sprinkle kosher salt on the baking sheet to taste.

4. With the oil still on your hands, rub the eggplant pieces. Pour another 1/2 to 1 tsp. olive oil to your palms and rub your palms lightly to coat. Rub a set of eggplant pieces lightly to transfer olive oil to each piece while minimizing oil use. Place the lightly oiled eggplant pieces on the baking sheet, skin side up where applicable. Repeat until all pieces are lightly coated.

5. Sprinkle the eggplant pieces with kosher salt to taste. Drizzle another tsp. of olive oil over the eggplant pieces if desired.

6. Roast at 425º for about 15-25 minutes until the bottoms are nicely browned. Flip the pieces over and roast another 5 minutes or until eggplant in nicely browned but not burnt. (The eggplant fries will not be crisp.) UPDATE: I found the roasting time varies greatly depending on the packing of the eggplant fries, the thickness of the fries, and the oven in use. Also, while flipping gives the best results for appearance and texture, I have neglected to flip my eggplant fries several times and they still taste great. 🙂

7. While still warm, serve with hummus. Serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer.

Super Quick and Flavorful Meat

So I took a step outside my normal comfort zone and did some very simple stovetop cooking with meat last night. I had thin cutlets of pork and thin pieces of “hangar beef” that I bought at Grand Mart, the nearby ethnic supermarket. I was in a hurry, so I just sprinkled a variety of spice blends on each and rubbed it in with my fingers. My favorite pork seasoning was the Penzeys Sweet Curry Powder. My favorite beef seasoning was Arizona Dreaming from, you guessed it, Penzeys!

The key to having these thin cuts of meat taste good is to have a high temperature in the pan so that the outside sears/browns quickly but the inside is moist not dry. I had the pan over a medium-high heat and it was so hot that the 1 tsp. olive oil immediately began to smoke. I cooked the pork first, about 1-2 minutes per side just until each side had browned a little and the meat had stiffened slightly but not completely. I did the same with the beef. I had to cook each set of meat in batches so the pan wasn’t overcrowded–the key is to brown the meat, not steam the meat. 🙂

So after I cooked a pound of beef and a pound of pork, I sat down to try each. I have to admit that I was skeptical that a thin cut of meat could actually taste good. I cut into the curry pork cutlet with trepidation but happy that it didn’t have the characteristic ultra-white color inside of overcooked pork. I put it into my mouth and tasted it. Huh. It was actually good! Then to try the Arizona Dreaming Beef. Same thing (except not too brown inside instead of not too white)!

So now I have protein for my lunches for the week set to go!