Shish Taouk – Lebanese Chicken Skewers

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Spring is here!  Maybe not officially, but it seems to have finally come.  My favorite time of the year has to be Spring, while Fall is a close second.  I love when the trees and flowers start to blossom around town, and throughout the countryside.  It’s absolutely beautiful, but it wreaks havoc on my seasonal allergies.  But hey, that’s what medications are for 🙂  Here, I go, getting off topic again.  Anyhow, the Spring time offers the perfect weather for outdoor activities, such as cycling, running, hiking, and gardening!  The only problem with spring is that summer is right around the corner, which means hot, dry desert weather.  It can get up to 115 degrees during the hottest part of the day during the summer months.  Blech.  The thought of it is nauseating.  But the great part of spring and summer is the longer days, and the endless time spent grilling anything and everything!

My grill has been on a hiatus since late fall.  I wish I could be an avid griller all year around, but I’m just not hearty enough to grill during the dead of winter.  And plus, it’s too dark to grill outdoors during the winter months.  I suppose I could buy some lighting accessories, but I guess I’m not THAT motivated.  Besides, that’s what the broiler setting is for!  Anyhow, the weather is supposed to be in the upper 60s during the day for the next few weeks.  So it was the perfect time to redo my drip irrigation system around the front and backyard, plant some vegetable seeds and starter vegetable plants, and cleaned the grill!  Yes.  It was a busy day for me.  But I was really excited because I got to fire up the grill to make chicken kabobs as left overs for pita sandwiches, wraps, and as a topping for my lebanese fattoush salad.  Winning.

Shish Taouk – Lebanese Chicken Skewers

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into large cubes
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon paprika
3/4 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, or to taste
Bamboo skewers, soaked in water for at least 30 minutes

In a small bowl, mix the minced garlic, yogurt, tomato paste, olive oil and lemon juice. Add in the dried spices, salt and pepper, and whisk together. Coat the chicken with the marinade and cover bowl. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours up to 8 hours. Any longer and you’ll have mushy chicken because the acidity of the lemon juice and Greek yogurt will “cook” or break down the texture of the chicken.

Thread chicken on skewers and grill or cook under a broiler. Grill the chicken over moderately high to high, or broil for about 5-7 minutes per side, flipping once, until you see visible char marks and the chicken is cooked through.

Makes 2 servings.

Holla!… It’s Chicken Tikka Masala! But you can call me Tikka Masala.

Chicken tikka masala apparently is the most popular dish in British restaurants, and is referred to as Britain’s true national dish.  Interestingly, there is no standardized recipe for chicken tikka masala; then again, there really does not exist standard ways to cook kung pao chicken or chow mein.  But there are common ingredients that can be found such as chicken, and a tomato and coriander sauce.

This was the first dish that I ever tried during my first encounter with Indian food.  And OMG, it was to die for, especially when it was eaten with basmati rice and naan.  Mmmmm, naan.  It was like a party in my mouth.  I ordered Indian take out with chicken tikka masala, rice, and naan two times a week for a straight two months because it was so good.  And also because I have a slight obsessive personality.  I don’t remember venturing out of my comfort zone until I was out having dinner with a friend and tried their chicken korma dish.  And then my chicken korma addiction started thereafter.

Chicken Tikka

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat and cut into large cubes
2 cups plain yogurt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Masala Sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
1 medium onion, diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1 fresh serrano chile, ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced (leave ribs and seeds for a spicier dish)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2/3 cup fat-free half and half (or heavy cream)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

For the chicken:
Combine garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt, tumeric, lemon juice, and yogurt in small bowl. Mix well. Place chicken in bowl and mix. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for four to six hours.

For the sauce:
Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.

While the sauce simmers, adjust the oven rack to the upper-middle position (about 6 inches from heating element) and heat broiler. Using tongs, arrange the chicken on the foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan, and place on wire rack. Discard excess yogurt mixture. Broil chicken until thickest parts register 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer and exterior is lightly charred in spots, 10 to 18 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through cooking. Alternatively, you can also skewer the chicken breasts and cook them on the grill, which is I plan to do as the weather warms up 🙂

Let the chicken rest for about 5 minutes, and then stir into warm sauce (do not simmer chicken in sauce). Stir in cilantro if using, adjust seasoning with salt, and serve.

Makes 2 servings.

(Healthy) Chicken Enchilada Casserole Verdes

In my quest to make healthy, almost authentic, homemade Mexican food, I’ve thought about a few things I wanted to try.  Mostly, I’m hoping to make dishes that will satisfy and satiate my partner’s cravings for Mexican food.  If you haven’t read my two previous posts, my partner’s one vice in life is Mexican food.  I originally thought (or hoping) it was Chinese food, but have learned over the last several years that it’s Mexican food.  She is a glutton for anything Mexican, but mostly nachos, burritos, tacos, beans and rice.  She can eat Mexican food for several days in a row when she gets on her Mexican food kick.  And she’ll try to satisfy these cravings from Mexican restaurants to Taco Bell.  I know.  I know.  Taco Bell.  Sigh.  She eats very healthy majority of the time, but it’s the Taco Bell that drives me crazy.  No.  Actually, it kills me.  Like a slow painful death.  So we struck a deal as of yesterday, and that was if she stops eating Taco Bell, I’d cook her healthy Mexican food more regularly.

So I found a really tasty recipe for homemade chile verdes sauce, and had lots of leftover shredded chicken, and thought chicken enchiladas verdes would be the perfect first Mexican food dish to start off with.

Don’t let the title fool you.  I know that “healthy foods” can sometimes mean lacking flavor; however, this is anything but lacking of flavor.  This recipe beats out the chicken enchiladas verdes that I get at Mexican restaurants.

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

24 Mission Foods’ Extra Thin Corn Tortillas (taco size)
3 chicken breasts, shredded
1 cup Cotija cheese, crumbled
6 cups homemade chili verdes sauce
2 cups shredded low-fat Mexican cheese blend
Greek yogurt (instead of sour cream), optional
Guacamole, optional

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Toss together the shredded chicken, 1/2 cup of chili verde sauce, and 1/3 cup of the Mexican cheese blend.

Spoon a thin layer of the tomatillo sauce on the bottom of the 11×7-inch baking dish.  Place 4 corn tortillas, overlapping as necessary, in the bottom of the baking dish.  Cover with one-third of the meat mixture; top with 2 cups of chili verde sauce; sprinkle with 1/3 of the cotija and shredded cheese.  Repeat layers twice, then top with remaining tortillas.  Pour chili verde sauce over tortillas; sprinkle evenly with cotija and remaining shredded cheese.  Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Makes 3 servings of 2 casserole squares each.

Calories per serving: 400 calories

Perfectly Poached Oeufs

I love a perfectly poached egg with a runny center.  It makes for the perfect topping on hash, breakfast sandwiches, asparagus, and certain salads.  It’s also, of course, much healthier than scrambling or frying eggs in butter and oil.  However, those were my methods of cooking eggs because I was so intimidated with the process of poaching eggs for a very long time.  In fact, I was horrible at poaching eggs.  My eggs would separate as soon as I dropped them in a vat of boiling hot water.  I realized recently that I was doing it all wrong… ditch the big pot of water and don’t crack the eggs into the water!

Prescription on how to make a perfectly poached egg:

Medium-sized skillet (1o-inch diameter) with a lid
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vinegar

Fill the skillet with about 4 inches of water, and put the skillet on high heat.  Cover the skillet with the lid to speed up the boiling time.  Meanwhile, crack the 4 eggs into four small cups or bowls.

When the water boils, remove the lid, and add one tablespoon of plain vinegar and a dash of salt to the water.  The vinegar helps hold the shape of the poached egg.  Without it, I’ve learned that the eggs will become threads of protein tangled up in the water.  The salt helps flavor the eggs, but also raises the temperature of the water.

Swirl the water with a spoon, then tip the bowl or cup containing the egg just above the water and let the eggs flow out.  I don’t know why swirling the water, but it’s just a technique that I’ve come across through several food blogs.  I think the process also helps create/hold the shape of the poached egg.  Immediately return the lid to the pain and turn off the heat.  Set a timer for exactly 3 minutes for medium-firm yolks.  Adjust the time up or down for runnier or firmer yolks.  Remove the cover when the timer goes off.  Remove each poached egg from the water with a slotted spoon, and allow some of the water to drain off the egg.  Gently lay each egg on whatever is the desired end product.

Serving size: 2 eggs per person