Icicle Art – Winter 2015

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When Mother Nature hands you lemons, in this case frigid temps, 5+ feet of snow, and a severe case of cabin fever, you make lemonade – i.e. get creative. These images were taken from the warm comfort of my kitchen, looking out my kitchen window. These icicles seemed to appear over night, and then they just continued to grow. Over the course of a couple weeks they morphed into various shapes and lengths before finally melting away.

 

Mar 10

Creamy Bacon Pesto Chicken

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Creamy Bacon Pesto Chicken

This is a recipe that I just threw together and wrote down as I went along. My original idea was a creamy, bacon, chicken dish to serve over pasta. As soon as I thought about pasta, my mind immediately went to pesto. I love pesto on pasta – say that three times fast! So I added pesto to the mental list of ingredients, and continued thinking about the flavors. I started thinking about the creamy base sauce. Bacon is salty, and when I make homemade pesto I add a lot of parmesan cheese which can be salty as well. I’m out of my pesto, so I would be using a store bought pesto that I had never used before. I guessed there would be a good amount of salt in it as well, so I really had to think about how I could make a creamy sauce that still had a lot of flavor, without adding salt or any other strong flavors that would compete or overpower the  fragrant, basily pesto flavor that I love. Cream cheese came to mind. Perfect. But cream cheese and pesto seemed a little ho-hum. I wanted to fill the taste out a bit. Make it a little more complex. I wanted some punches of flavor that wouldn’t overwhelm the overall dish, but would add bites of brightness. Savory dishes with bacon….Hmmm… Then it came to me. Another favorite of mine, and the reason I originally cooked all the bacon in the first place was to make a BLT&A sandwich, which was sublime I might add. To get the maximum tomato flavor I decided on sun-dried tomatoes.  I also decided more vegetable sounded like a great idea, so I lined my baking dish with a bed of fresh spinach, which I already had on hand, and before baking, topped the chicken with  fresh asparagus – again, because I had it on hand.

*** Things to consider BEFORE you start cooking:

Ingredient substitutions. In this recipe, the one substitution that could really affect the taste is the type of garlic you use. I used ready-to-use minced garlic from a jar. In my opinion, this type of garlic does not pack the same punch as freshly minced garlic does, so I used a lot. If I were to chop fresh garlic, I might only use about half, in this case, maybe only a tablespoon. If I were using garlic powder, I would only use 1 -2 teaspoons. In instances of substitution, I recommend adding a little and tasting as you go. The same goes for the pesto.  When making this recipe, I had not used this brand of pesto before, so I added and tasted until I got the flavor I was looking for, which equaled 2 heaping tablespoons. If I used fresh, or another brand, I might have to adjust this.

 

Creamy Bacon Pesto Chicken

3 – 4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into hearty slices (I sliced mine into 1″ to 1.5″ pieces)

1 8oz pkg of neufchatel or cream cheese

1/2 c sour cream

3 T. milk

2 T. pesto  (I used 2 very generous tablespoons)

2 T. ready-to-use minced garlic (pls see note *** above if substituting)

1/2 c. frozen chopped spinach, thawed, excess water squeezed out

1/2 c. chopped sun-dried tomatoes reconstituted in warm water and drained

1/2 c. cooked bacon, crumbled

12 oz of sliced mushrooms (I used portobello) sauteed in 1 T of butter

Directions:

Chop sun-dried tomatoes and soak in warm water to soften. Drain and set aside.

Saute mushrooms and set aside.

Spray a large covered baking dish with cooking spray. Line bottom of dish with chicken pieces.

In a bowl, combine cream cheese, sour cream, milk, pesto and garlic. Mix to combine. Stir in spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and bacon.

Spread mixture over chicken pieces. Cover and bake at 350°F for an hour. Serve over pasta or rice.

After the Dish Notes:

The chicken was fantastic! It delivered just the right amount of pesto flavor and tomato punch that I was looking for. The bacon flavor was present, but not overwhelming. It provided enough salt to bring out the flavors of the other ingredients.

When making it again, however, there are a couple of things that I would change. Please note that I did not add  the following to the recipe above, but they are in the blog entry, so I will mention them. First, I would skip the bed of spinach. For me, it served a purpose since I had it on hand and needed to use it up, but it really didn’t add anything to the dish. There is already spinach in the sauce, and unless you pack the fresh spinach into the bottom of the dish, it basically disappears. The next time, if I want additional vegetables, I’ll try thick slices of lightly sauteed zucchini. I say lightly sauteed because I’d want to sweat out some of the moisture of the squash before adding it, but not cook it so much that it would be overly mushy in the completed dish. This brings me to the second thing I would change. I would not add asparagus. The flavor of the asparagus worked beautifully with the other flavors, but for me, they got a little over cooked. Next time I would either serve a lightly sauteed asparagus on the side, or not add them until about halfway through the cooking time. Lesson learned.

Mar 04

The Versatile Chinese Pork Dumpling

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I’ve had a lot of indoor time on my hands this winter. With back to back snowstorms in the Northeast burying us in 5+ ft of snow, accompanied by bitter, bitter cold (do I sound bitter – lol?), my time outside this season has been mainly dedicated to two activities – snow blow, shovel, repeat. Over and over and over… To combat “cabin fever” I’ve started several creative projects like photographing the development of icicles outside my kitchen window, and cooking. This week’s project is a favorite of mine – Chinese pork dumplings.

I love these because they are very versatile – they can be served as a soup, an appetizer or even as part of a meal. They’re a little labor intensive, but so worth it! A single batch will produce five to six dozen, double it, and you’ll have dumplings through Spring!

Pork Potsticker / Dumpling

Pork Potsticker / Dumpling

Versatile Chinese Pork Dumplings

Makes approximately 6 dozen

1 ½ lbs of ground pork

1 bunch of green onions, thinly sliced

1 c. of cooked white rice

½ c. finely chopped Napa cabbage (optional)

1 t. garlic powder

½ t. ground ginger

½ t. white pepper

2 t. cornstarch

3 T. sesame oil

3 T. soy sauce

3 T. rice or white vinegar

 

Wonton wrappers

¼ c. water

2 t. cornstarch

Directions:

Combine first 11 ingredients, except wonton wrappers. Mix thoroughly. See below for tips on how to fill wonton wrappers.

Stages of wrapping dumplings

Stages of wrapping dumplings

Tips for filling the wrappers: In a small shallow bowl combine 1/4c. water and cornstarch. Once you open the package of wonton wrappers, keep them covered with a damp cloth until ready to use. You don’t want them to dry out, or they’ll crack when you try to fold them. Below are the steps to fold them as shown in the picture:

  1. Lay out 5 to 6 wrappers at a time, and I set them up with a corner of the wrapper pointing towards the top of the work space.
  2. Using your finger, wet all four sides with the cornstarch water.
  3. Using two teaspoons, drop approximately a half a teaspoon of the pork mixture onto the center of the wrapper.
  4. Fold the wrapper by pulling the top corner down to bottom corner.
  5. Pick up triangle, point side up and hold with both hands using thumbs and forefingers. Start with one open edge, and pinch to close, pushing in around pork ball to get any air pockets out. Pinch other side closed.
  6. Moisten pinched edges with cornstarch water and fold over edge and pinch for an extra seal.
  7. Bend corners on long flat side back and pinch to seal.

See below for cooking instructions. For later use, freeze dumplings on a cookie sheet and then transfer to freezer bags for storage.

Directions for dumplings: Bring a pot of water to boil. Add dumplings and boil 6 to 8* minutes until dumplings look a little translucent.

Directions for Pot Stickers: Coat the bottom of a skillet with enough oil to cover the bottom. Heat skillet. Add dumplings and cook until bottoms begin to brown. Add water until bottom of pan is covered and water level is half way up the side of the dumpling. Partially cover the skillet allowing a little steam to escape and cook until water is evaporated, approximately 5* minutes. Once water evaporates, continue to cook, uncovered,  for an additional minute so that the dumpling bottoms crisp up again.

Directions for dumpling soup: Use chicken broth instead of water, and add your favorite seasonings like garlic, soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, red chili flakes. Add favorite vegetables such as carrot shreds, spinach, Napa cabbage or Bok Choy, peapods, green onion, sliced water chesnuts.

*Extra time may be needed if cooking frozen dumplings.

Dipping Sauce:

1 c. soy sauce

1 T. thinly sliced scallions

2 T. minced garlic

3 T. sesame oil

¾ c. rice or white vinegar

Optional – red chili flakes or chili sauce to taste

Can be refrigerated for later use for approximately a week.