Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Chayote Squash Chicken and Rice

When I went to the grocery store yesterday to pick up a few things, I was trying to come up with something for dinner that would include yellow summer squash. My mind was swirling around Mexican food. I was thinking about something with chipotle peppers, maybe coating the squash with chipotle pepper paste and roasting it.

My eyes fell onto some chayote squash, so I grabbed a couple. I had worked with one before but it was years ago. Chayote is pronounced [chah-YOH-teh] and resembles a green pear in appearance, taste and texture. It is sometimes called a vegetable pear.

I had picked up a rotisserie chicken as well as some dried chorizo sausage (I love chorizo!). When I make chicken tacos or enchiladas I start with some shredded rotisserie chicken, so I grabbed the chicken and went to work. I used a fork to shred the chicken this time and it worked great. I hate shredding it with my fingers even though it is very effective. I will use the fork from now on. I still had no idea of what exactly I was making. I had no taco shells and no tortillas, so I would not be making tacos or enchiladas.

I added some extra virgin olive oil and minced garlic and put it in a non-stick pan on low heat. I decided I wanted to add the chayote to the chicken mixture, so I sliced and diced it. There was somewhat of a seed pocket at the very center. It was very easy to work around and discard.

Well, here's the recipe with my usual nonmeasurement:

Chayote Squash Chicken and Rice

1 pack yellow rice (I use Vigo brand)
Extra virgin olive oil
Minced garlic (about a tablespoon)
1 bay leaf
Ground cumin (about a tablespoon)
Smoked paprika (small sprinkling)
Dried oregano (1-2 teaspoons)
Freshly ground black pepper (1-2 teaspoons)
Chorizo (I used one small dried sausage,sliced, but ground chorizo would work too)
1 chayote squash, diced
Shredded rotisserie chicken (1 to 1 1/2 cups)
Chicken broth (about 1 cup)
Salt to taste
Sprinkling of shredded cheese (I had mozzarella on hand)
Fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)

Get yellow rice cooking according to package directions. Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in non-stick pan over very low heat. Add seasonings to oil (garlic thru black pepper). I shredded my chicken and sliced and diced my chorizo and chayote squash while the pan and seasonings were heating up.

Raise heat of pan to medium and stir seasonings and oil. When they start to sizzle a little, add the chorizo and chayote and stir to coat. Heat for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add chicken and stir to coat. Add chicken broth, a little salt if needed, and simmer over medium heat until liquid reduces.

After most of the liquid has reduced, top with a sprinkling of cheese and toss the mixture. Serve over rice with a garnish of fresh cilantro.

This was very flavorful. I was a little too heavy-handed with the salt, but other than that it was fantastic. I will definitely make this again. It would be a great enchilada or taco filling.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Blackberry and Baby Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese

Blackberries are one of the highlights of summer for me. Sure they taste good, but they also remind me of my childhood. My dad's parents owned a farm, which is still in our family, and we would go there almost every weekend.

Every June my mother, my grandmother and I would pick blackberries from around the fishpond and off the fence that separated a field of cotton from a dirt road. I would sit in the kitchen nibbling on the fresh berries as the two of them made blackberry jelly, which they would then "put up" into numerous jars. I would wait in anticipation the rest of the afternoon for dinnertime to come around so I could eat some of my grandmother's blackberry cobbler. It is still the best blackberry cobbler I have ever tasted. It is one of the few recipes of my grandmother's that I have. My Aunt Jimmy gave me a copy of the recipe at my bridal shower along with a recipe cardholder. One of these days I'll attempt to make it.

I got some blackberries from the farmer's market Saturday and last night I tried something a little different...a spinach salad with blackberries...and it was delicious. Lee really liked it also.

Blackberry and Baby Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese

Baby spinach
Plain goat cheese
Fresh blackberries

For the dressing:
Balsamic vinegar
Balsamic glaze (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

I rarely measure when I whip up a salad dressing, especially when I make it up as I go along. I just eyeball it to make sure I have enough for the amount of salad I'm making.

The basic formula is the same, though. Mix your acid (in this case the balsamic vinegar) and seasonings. And then, as you whisk that mixture, slowly drizzle in the oil. You have vinaigrette. Don't be scared of it. Just get in the kitchen and bang together some dressing.

I really wanted a sweet dressing, which this was before I even added any honey because the balsamic glaze is on the sweet side. If you don't have balsamic glaze, just use more honey. I think the sweet balances nicely with the spinach. Overall the dish was nicely balanced. The slight sweet tanginess of the berries and the lush, creaminess of the goat cheese was perfect. Yum.

I had another salad with goat cheese and fruit a few weeks ago, and it was equally delicious. There will be a lot more fruit, salad greens, and goat cheese in my future. It is a great summertime combination.

I had some romaine lettuce from the farmer's market and a few dried apricots left from another cooking adventure. I couldn't look at the apricots without thinking of the peaches and creme fraiche I had during my 2007 visit to Chez Panisse. So that led me to apricots and the creamy goat cheese.

Apricot and Goat Cheese Salad

Romaine lettuce, chopped coarsely
Dried apricots (rehydrated in water for about 30 minutes) or fresh apricots
Fresh goat cheese

For the dressing:

Apricot preserves
Dijon mustard or spicy brown mustard (just a little)
Red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil