Technique: Prepping a Chicken Breast for Skewers/Kebabs

There’s nothing like the flavour of these slightly charred hunks of chicken breast from the barbecue. And making them ourselves is something we can all do, with a little effort.

I’ve often seen skewers of seasoned chicken breast threaded with peppers and onions in the display cases of delis, butcher shops and grocery store meat counters. Usually at some outrageous price. Anyone can make these at home for a LOT less money, especially when chicken breasts are on sale.

Whether you buy bone-in or boneless, skinless breasts, once you’ve removed the skin and bone and trimmed off the excess fat, you’re left with THIS lovely piece of meat. (Note that, the tenderloin has already been separated from the underside of the breast, the strip of tendon in the middle removed, and it’s been cut into 2 pieces.)

DON’T BE INTIMIDATED!!!

You can butterfly it, cut it into strips for chicken fingers, OR, as below, cut it into roughly 1 inch sized cubes.

I like to start with diagonal cuts from the outside of the breast spacing them evenly (about 1 inch apart) to get 4 strips. Each strip is cut into 3 pieces, except for the one on the far left which is cut into 2 pieces.

These 9 pieces, plus the 2 from the tenderloin, will give you 11 cubes per breast to marinate as desired and thread onto skewers.

For the last bbq, I marinated the chicken in tikka masala paste (2 tbsp paste plus 2 tbsp yogurt for 2 breasts) and threaded them onto metal skewers but you can use wooden/bamboo skewers that have been soaked in warm water for about 30 minutes.

Skewers ready for the barbecue – from 2 breasts, I was able to make 3 skewers. Enough for 3 generous servings as a main course. As an appetizer, you can get twice that many portions. With onions and peppers, souvlaki style, you’ll get 4 servings as a main course to wrap in a pita bread or serve over rice.

If you’ve got a hankering for a Middle Eastern flavour, try the Tawook (Chicken) Skewers with Sweet Potato Couscous recipe here or the Chicken Souvlaki here. I had run out of peppers in the latter so you’ll have to use your imagination and picture cubes of red, yellow, orange or green peppers on the skewers. I love the puffy pocketless pita breads used to wrap these which don’t dry out as much as the thin kind with the pocket. More carbs = more flavour. :)

Weekday BBQ: Steaks, Chicken Tikka Skewers etc. (Peach Crumble Bars for Dessert)

Years ago, my parents gave me a full sized propane bbq as a housewarming gift.

That may not sound like a practical gift for a single person … but with some planning, you get some great tasting meals, at a good price, for very little effort, especially if you fill up the grill. Personally, I find hot dogs bland and boring but, throw them on a grill, and you’ve got a taste treat that you can pair with chili, throw into a pot of baked beans or even serve over pasta in a marinara sauce.

The star of today’s bbq was this pair of sirloin steaks. A bit pricey at $18.60 for the two, but after bbq’ing them and cutting each steak into 3 or 4 portions, the results were much more economical.

Blackberry/raspberry lemonade with a splash of club soda. Cause you need something cold and refreshing while you’re standing over a hot bbq grill wielding your tongs.

I didn’t have any sour cream for the baked potato so I spooned on some tzatziki sauce. Yummy.

The BBQ – Sirloin steaks, package of hot dogs and 2 chicken breasts marinaded in tikka masala paste and yogurt then threaded on metal skewers.

And ended up with

Steaks

Hot Dogs – Normally, I forget these little guys and they get charred but this time, I got them JUST RIGHT.

Chicken Tikka Skewers and Baked Potatoes – au jus (for the sirloin steak) in the background

Throwing meat on the barbecue somehow seems like cheating. It’s not really cooking the way I do it. I ‘sometimes’ marinate the meat but more often I just salt and pepper it. So, I try to do a little extra for the sides or the dessert. I put back the 3 packages of blueberries I bought this rainy Saturday morning and instead bagged 9 peaches so I could make a tray of peach crumble bars.

The peaches were BEAUTIFUL even if not as sweet and juicy as I would have liked.

I’ve used this crumble recipe before with cherries, nectarines and, of course, peaches. You can use berries or mangoes, if you want. This Peach Melba (raspberries and peaches) variation was delicious. The juiciness of the fruit really makes the crumble special. That’s why I don’t think apples or pears would work as well, but, since I haven’t tried them, I may be wrong. If you try those fruit, let me know.

I had some extra filling so I used it to fill a frozen mini pie shell from the pastry I made a couple of weeks ago. I stole some of the crumb topping from the bars in place of a top crust.

Mini Pavlovas with Blood Orange Curd and Fresh Berries

This is a great make ahead recipe with only a few last minute steps to turn a simple (and inexpensive) meringue into an elegant dessert to serve to company. The Raspberry Eton Mess I made a while ago is another creative and delicious way of using meringues.

The addition of cornstarch and vinegar to the meringue mixture really makes a difference. The resulting ‘pav’ puffs up and is glossy and crisp on the outside and creamy/chewy on the inside.

The combination of whipped cream and curd (blood orange, this time) really takes this dessert to another level.

I chose to make mini pavlovas rather than a single, large pavlova as I was eating by myself and the finished dessert does NOT hold.

Pavlova with Blood Orange Curd and Fresh Berries – makes 8-10 servings

For the pavlova:

4 large egg whites, room temperature
a pinch of salt
1 cup regular white sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp vanilla sugar or extract

For the assembly:

1 cup of blood orange curd, made with 4 egg yolks
1 cup cold whipping cream
1 tbsp regular white sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla sugar or extract
1 1/2 cups fresh berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, or sliced strawberries

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and arrange a rack in the middle.

Preparing the baking sheet:

Using a 9-inch round cake pan, trace a circle onto a piece of parchment paper with a pen, pencil or marker. Flip the paper over and place it on a baking sheet (the traced circle should be visible); set aside.

Making the pavlovas:

Place the egg whites and salt in a clean, dry metal or glass bowl. Using a whisk attachment and a hand or stand beater, beat on medium speed until the whites begin to lighten in color and only small bubbles remain, about 2 minutes.

Increase the speed to high and add the sugar a tablespoon at a time or pour in gradually in a stream. (If using vanilla sugar, add it to the white sugar at this point.) Whisk until firm, shiny peaks form, resembling marshmallow cream, about 3 minutes.

Sift the cornstarch through a fine-mesh strainer into the meringue.

Drizzle the vinegar and vanilla extract (if using this form) over the top and fold them into the meringue with a rubber or silicone spatula until no streaks of vanilla remain, being careful not to deflate the egg whites.

Using the spatula, pile the meringue into the center of the circle drawn on the parchment paper and smooth it to the edges of the circle to form a rough, even disk about 1 inch tall.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and turn the heat down to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake until the meringue is firm to the touch but slightly soft in the middle, about 60 minutes. Remove from the oven, place the baking sheet on a wire rack, and let cool completely. Run a thin metal spatula under the meringue to loosen.

Carefully slide it onto a serving platter or cake stand. Set aside while beating the whipping cream.

The assembly:

Place the cream, sugar, and vanilla in a clean, dry metal or glass bowl. Beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Remove the bowl and, using a rubber spatula, fold the chilled blood orange curd into the whipped cream, leaving big streaks of curd and whipped cream.

Pile the mixture into the center of the baked meringue and spread it to the edges.

Top with the fresh berries and serve the pavlova immediately.

For 8 mini pavlovas:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll need TWO baking sheets. Center two shelves in the oven.  Line each sheet with parchment paper. On each paper, draw 4 x 4 inch circles. Divide the meringue evenly among the circles, make a bit of a hollow in the middle. ( I only used 3 egg whites so I managed to squeeze 6 pavs on a single baking sheet)

Place in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 30 minutes then turn the heat off and leave the meringues in the oven for another 30 minutes, in the turned off oven, to cool. Then cool the baking sheets on cooling racks until they come to room temperature.

Assemble as for full sized pavlova.

I had some of the cream and curd left over and poured it into a pretty glass … a great dessert all by itself.

Next time, I’ll make some wonton cups as I did in this earlier post cause the blood orange curd is REALLY really good. :)

Classic Waffles

I’ve finally got the hang of my waffle iron.

After a period of seasoning, the generous application of vegetable oil to the preheated iron before each batch … and a recipe that includes more butter/oil than a pancake recipe, I’ve finally managed a full batch. If I fill the grids with batter, I get 4 rectangular waffles, while if I add about 1/3 of a cup of batter to each side, I get 2 round-ish waffles … enough for one generous serving.

Classic Waffles – makes 5 servings (of 4 rectangles or 2 rounds each)

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla sugar or extract
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, shortening or vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups milk, warmed slightly
2 eggs, slightly beaten

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In a second bowl, mix together melted butter and warmed milk. Add beaten eggs.

Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix.

Pour into waffle iron, sprinkle fresh berries or chocolate chips over the top of the batter, close the lid and cook until done. My waffle iron takes 3-3 1/2 minutes to cook the waffles perfectly. (I listen for the hissing sound to stop.)

Fresh raspberries were added to the waffles in the center while the ones at the top right of the picture had chocolate chips sprinkled over the batter. The other waffles were left plain.

Serve with butter, maple syrup, fruit sauce or however you prefer.

I wonder if I can do something savoury with some of the waffles. Do YOU have any ideas?

Basic Curd: Blood Orange Curd

You can make a curd using various fruits and berries, as long as you remember to still use 1/3-1/4 of the lemon juice in the basic lemon curd recipe. In the ‘sort of’ Meyer lemon curd I used a combination of lemon and orange juice, and equal amounts of zest, for a tasty substitute for REAL Meyer lemon juice using this principle.

I used 2 tbsp of lemon juice and enough blood orange juice to make up 1/2 cup juice in total when making this blood orange curd. And 2 tbsp of blood orange zest. It tasted delicious, but, unfortunately, the resulting curd lost the vibrant red colour of the juice when mixed with the yolks and cooked.

The Incredible, Edible Egg (Revisited)

Is your cupboard a little bare? The paycheque not quite stretching to the end of the month?

The egg is a great ingredient around which to plan a meal and the price can’t be beat.

1. Boiled, fried or scrambled

Egg and cheese Caesar salad

Fried eggs, bacon, cheese on a sesame seed bun

2. Italian Frittata or Spanish Tortilla

Tortilla a la Espanola – This potato omelette is a classic on the tapas menu with a glass of sherry

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3. Omelette – scrambled egg sandwich

4. Quiche/Tartsasparagus and creme fraiche quiche, ham and broccoli quiche, crustless ham, spinach and cheese quiche and pear and blue cheese tart

5. Soufflegoat cheese souffle  or salmon souffle

Gardening: Starting Herbs/Seeds in an Egg Carton

CAUTION: THIS IS NOT a gardening post, just information/tips that may inspire you to give growing herbs yourself a try.

If you’ve always wanted to start your own herbs, but didn’t want to spend a lot of money, an egg carton, a packet of seeds, a bag of potting soil and some plastic wrap are all you need.

Cut the top off the egg carton with a large pair of scissors or kitchen shears and save it for a bottom. Line the ‘bottom’ with a large sheet of plastic wrap. Cut off the ‘hinge’ at the front and discard it.

Use the egg carton part for a planter by filling it with potting soil  up to the bridges between the cells. Sprinkle seeds on top of the soil and then sift some more potting soil on top just to cover the seeds. For larger seeds, place them directly in the bottom of the cells and cover with the potting soil. Then water well.

Place the carton half with the seeds on top of the plastic wrapped ‘bottom’. The wrap will protect the base from excess water and provide extra stability and support for the carton with the seeds especially when it’s been watered.

Label your planted trays since you’ll end up rotating them, back to front, and switching the trays around to catch the sun so you’ll probably loose track of what’s where.

DAY 0

You’ll want to cover your planted seeds with a second sheet of plastic wrap so that the potting soil won’t dry out during the germination period.

Place the carton in a warm, sunny location and wait … 3, 4, 5 days … watering lightly every couple of days.

When you see the seedlings break through, you’ll want to remove the plastic wrap so that the seedlings have room to grow tall and sturdy. You may want to water more often at this point. Use your judgement. You don’t want the soil to dry out but you don’t want to flood your little cups either.

DAY 5

These larger seedlings are basil … sweet basil in the top 2 cells and you can JUST catch sight of a Thai basil seedling at the bottom of the picture.

These tiny seedlings are thyme

When your seeds have sprouted, cut the cells apart and plant directly in the garden or a planter. The carton material will break down, retain moisture and keep the soil loose and aerated. For smaller plants and herbs, you might want to prick holes in the bottom or even cut it out to help the tender roots break through.

Basic Pie Crust: Kentucky Derby Pie and Raisin Butter Tarts Revisited

I’ve baked butter tarts before but it’s been SO long that you may not remember these wonderful little Canadian treats. You can bake them plain or add raisins or nuts. You can even add chocolate chips to the filling. But they ALL start with a basic pie crust.

So that’s why today’s post is titled as it is.

A pie crust is the start of many great dishes, sweet OR savoury. And I’m not talking a fancy French ‘pate sucree’, like Martha Stewart whips up. I’m talking about a plain and simple, tender crust with REAL LARD!! Not butter. I used the recipe on the Tenderflake lard box, this time, but I added a teaspoon of baking powder to the basic recipe.

Why you may ask?

Cause that’s what Edna Staebler does. She’s the author of the cookbook, “Food That Really Schmecks”, among others, based on Mennonite cooking as it is practiced in the Waterloo, Ontario region. I own 4 of her cookbooks and thought that I should really start cooking out of my cookbooks more, rather than depending strictly on the internet for recipes.

Of course, I’ve said that I’d start doing that ages ago. Good intentions and all that.

The only drawback is that SOMETIMES, the cookbooks, leave out important information. Like how big you should cut out your pastry circles when making tarts and how many tarts the filling will FILL. :)

Tenderflake Pie Crust – makes enough pastry for  6 x 9 inch pie shell bottoms or 3 x 9 inch double crust pies

1 1 lb package of lard, roughly cut into 8-16 pieces
6 cups pastry flour or 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder (optional)
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
cold water as needed (~7/8 cup)

Stir the flour, baking powder and salt together.

Cut in the lard with a pastry blender or 2 knives until the shortening is in pea sized pieces. (They don’t all have to be the same size.)

In a measuring cup, combine the egg and vinegar. Add enough cold water to make one cup.

Stir the liquid into the flour mixture, adding just enough to make the dough cling together. Then gather the dough into a ball, and separate into 6 portions.

Wrap each portion in food wrap (Saran Wrap) snuggly and pat lightly into a disc.

Refrigerate for one hour or overnight. Before rolling the dough out, leave it at room temp for 15 mins.

Lightly flour surface and roll into circles, then pat the dough into pie pans, following pie recipes. Be careful not to stretch the dough.

Kentucky Derby Tarts

Inside the Derby tart

Kentucky Derby Pie or Tarts – makes enough filling for 1 x 9 inch pie or 18 large tarts, pie serves 6-8

1 unbaked 9 inch pie crust
1 cup white sugar (or half white and half brown or yellow)
1/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
3 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract or sugar
2 tbsp Bourbon, dark rum or rye (I used 2 tbsp plus 1 tsp of my rye whiskey vanilla extract in place of the vanilla and Bourbon)
1/2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecan, coarsely chopped (I used walnuts cause that’s all I had)

Preheat the oven to 375 deg Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the beaten eggs, corn syrup, salt, vanilla and the liquor and whisk together so it’s well mixed.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips and the pecan pies over the base of the unbaked pie crust.

Pour the filling carefully over the chocolate chips and nuts.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until the top is set and the edges of the pastry is a golden brown. There will be almost no jiggle in the center of the pie.

Let cool to room temperature before serving.

A scoop of ice cream or a tbsp of sweetened whipped cream is a great addition to this already decadent dessert.

Tart Variation:

For making the tarts, you’ll need enough pastry to make TWO 9 inch pie shells.

Spray the inside of the muffin tins lightly with PAM or other cooking spray to help in removing the tarts from the tins.

Roll out the pastry 1/8 inch thick and cut 4 inch circles. Lay inside large muffin tins and gently press into shape.

Sprinkle ~1 tbsp each, chocolate chips and chopped nuts in bottom of every muffin tin.

Fill each muffin tin with ~2 tbsp of the pie filling and place in the preheated oven. IMMEDIATELY reduce the oven temperature to 350 deg F and bake for 20-25 minutes until the filling is set and the underside of the tarts have browned.

NOTE: Bake the tarts in the bottom third of the oven so that the bottom of the tarts will cook through and brown.

Let the tarts cool to room temperature in the muffin tins before running a butter knife around the edge of the tins and removing.

Raisin Butter Tarts – baked as a pie

I apologize for the sloppy cut picture above. I was also making 2 large pizzas and by the time I had kneaded the dough and done all the rolling etc for the tarts, I was too tired to do more than snap a quick shot.

Picspam: End of April Odds and Ends

My dad’s flowers are still coming up bravely year after year. I put together a small vase of daffodils, narcissus and grape hyacinths so I could enjoy them in the house. When they’re gone, weeds will take over until the fall when the Naked Ladies bloom.

In the meantime, I’m thinking of starting some herbs from seeds this weekend.

Other things to do this weekend … bake. I’m thinking butter tarts, or a lemon meringue pie. Maybe I’ll just make some lemon curd and use it to make another pan of limoncello tiramisu with the last of the mascarpone in my freezer. We’ll see.

Closeup

With some flowers on your kitchen table, even a tuna sandwich and a glass of milk can look elegant.

Breakfast or lunch … I made a sandwich out of one of the leftover sweet potato biscuits I made to go with the soup, a couple of home made breakfast sausage patties and a slice of American cheese and paired it with fried diced potatoes and sunny side up fried eggs. Better than any breakfast you could order at McD’s.

I’m still trying to get some consistent waffles out of my ancient waffle iron. I’m almost there.

I had thought I’d make a raspberry pastry cream tart with the berries above but got too tired to do so, so I turned 2 cups of fresh raspberries into a sauce to spoon over the last of the vanilla ice cream in my freezer. Or, I can put some on my next batch of waffles or crepes

Supper

Pan fried boneless pork loin chop lightly coated in bread crumbs, kale salad, corn and stuffing

Jerk boneless pork loin chop, kale salad, baked beans and peas

Basic Quiche: Ham, (Mushroom) and Broccoli

I’ve made quiches with at least three different pie crust bases (Zsuzsa’s pie crust, Allison’s Vinegar pie crust and Ann’s No-fail pie crust, which I used here and posted below). I’ve even made a crustless version. But whatever the base, and whatever the filling you are using, quiche is a tasty, relatively inexpensive dish to make ahead, freeze and serve at your convenience. Or, pre-bake a few pie shells and freeze them away for when inspiration strikes.

ETA: I was sure I had made a salmon quiche but I couldn’t find the post. Guess that’s something I should remedy soon.

The quiche below is a simple version with leftover ham (and crispy bacon) from yesterday’s ham and potato soup, broccoli florettes and Canadian Swiss cheese. At $12.99 a pound, it’s cheaper than its imported cousin, Gruyere ($21.99 per pound), but nowhere near the sale price of cheddar ($4.99 a pound). Use whatever you like or what your budget allows for. I didn’t have any mushrooms in the house so I just increased the amount of broccoli I used a bit.

Basic Ham, Mushroom and Broccoli Quiche – fills a 9 inch pre-baked pie shell

3 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup cheese, grated (cheddar & monterey jack mix; swiss cheese; gruyere)
1 cup broccoli (cut into florets and pre-cooked)
4 oz cubed ham (or 5-6 strips cooked diced bacon)
1/2 cup sliced white mushrooms
dash tabasco (optional)
salt (~ 1 tsp) and pepper (~ 1/2 tsp) to taste
1 9-inch Pre-baked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place the baking dish with the pre-baked shell on a baking sheet, in case of overflow.

Mise en place for quiche

In a large bowl, whisk (or beat with a fork) together the eggs. Stir in the flour, mixing well, and then add the milk and nutmeg. Add salt and pepper to taste remembering that the ham, bacon and cheese already have some salt in them. Add as much tabasco or hot sauce as desired.

Pre-baked quiche shell

Layer the cooked broccoli, mushrooms and ham into the pre-baked pie shell.

Sprinkle about 3/4 cup of the cheese over the vegetables and meat.

Pour the milk and egg mixture carefully over the ingredients. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.

Bake at 350 deg F for 45-50 min.  Let stand another 10 min before cutting.

Ann’s No-fail Pie Crust – enough for a 8-9 inch top and bottom or 2 bottoms

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup shortening or unsalted butter (or half of each)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 egg
water as needed (~1/4 cup)

Sift dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender.

In a 2 cup measuring cup beat together the egg and sour cream and add enough cold water to make a total of 3/4 cup liquid. Stir the liquid into the dough using a fork. If a hand full of dough holds together when squeezed, the dough is wet enough, otherwise, fork in an additional tablespoon of water and try again. Repeat.

Wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate until needed or roll to 1/4″ thickness.

I was a bit hasty in throwing together the dough for the pie plate … I should probably have re-rolled it. :)

For an empty shell, bake 12-15 min in a 400 deg F oven. For a filled shell, bake 15 min at 400 F, then reduce temperature to 350 deg F and bake an additional 25-30 min or until the contents are set.

If the edges get too brown, cover them with a strip of aluminum foil.

Remove the baked pie from the oven to a cooling rack and let cool for about 3 hrs before serving.