Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Easy Creamed Chicken

This casserole is bland. Sometimes, a little bland is exactly what you need: A touchy tummy; a blinding, stumbling hangover; a raging headache. When you need bland, this is what to serve.

My mother made exactly this chicken when I was a child. It was my favorite dish! I was thrilled (I really was!) to find the recipe after all these years: Strike Up the Bland! 

I’ve written about my mother before: “My mother had absolutely no interest in cooking - zip! The kitchen tool she valued most was a can opener. When she wasn’t caressing the keyboard to play Chopin, she pounded a mean boogie-woogie on the piano - all day, every day.” 

My mother certainly wasn’t the world’s best cook, but she more than made up for it with her brilliant classical piano recitals and yes, her boogie-woogie. 

Easy Creamed Chicken:

One 10-oz. (284 mL) can condensed cream of mushroom soup 1-1/3 c. (329 mL) water 

3/4 c. (180 mL) long-grain white rice, uncooked 

1-1/4 lb. (565 g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chunked 

Salt and pepper, to taste 

1/4 tsp. (1.2 mL) paprika, as a garnish 

Parsley, chopped fine, as a garnish 

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly greased a 11 x 8x 2-in. (28 x 20 x 5 cm) baking dish. Combine soup and water and rice in dish, seasoning to taste. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place chicken over the rice mixture. 

Bake 45 min. in covered baking dish or until chicken is cooked through and rice is tender. Let stand, still covered, 10 min. Gently stir rice to distribute sauce. Serve dusted with paprika, topped with a little parsley.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Salmon Tacos

Do you ever serve tacos? They’re just about the easiest meal ever ... Find some fixings and go to it! These salmon tacos are a quick meal for 2 or 3. To start, prepare this ...

Simple Salsa:

½ tsp. (2.5 mL) olive oil

½ small onion, chopped fine

1 mild red jalapeño pepper, chopped fine, seeds left in

½ c. (125 mL) mango chutney (the store-bought kind)

1 tbsp. (15 mL) lime juice

¼ c.  (60 mL) chopped fresh cilantro (See Note) 

½ tsp. (2.5 mL) dried basil (or 2 tsp./10 mL chopped fresh)

In small skillet, heat olive oil on medium-low. Stir in onion and pepper until softened, about 5 min. Lower heat. Stir in remaining ingredients, just to warm and combine. This keeps a couple of days in the fridge. I generally freeze it in small, 1/4 c. (60 mL) plastic containers, for use as needed. 

Note: Did you know that cilantro and coriander come from the same plant? To heck with botany ... Use finely sliced chives and everything will be fine.

To prepare your taco, use one small can of salmon (drained of fish juice) and combined with about a teaspoon of lemon juice. Set aside in a small bowl. 

On a plate or tray, set out a pitted, sliced avocado (if you have one; if not, don’t give it a second thought); some shredded lettuce; some shredded cheese; a couple of chopped green onions; a couple of diced tomatoes (not too juicy) and whatever else takes your fancy. 

Before you fill and roll them, microwave each tortilla for perhaps 10 seconds to make it pliable and soft. 

Place your ingredients down the center of the tortilla, with a ribbon of salsa over them. Be careful not to take these ingredients to the top of bottom of the tortilla, lest it all squirt out as you eat. Rolling a tortilla is an art:

It all starts with a single tortilla ... 

We didn’t take photos as we chowed them down because ... Well ... We were otherwise occupied eating! PS: A grapefruit knife is the easiest-ever way to remove the insides of an avocado.

Monday, May 22, 2023

One Click: Pesto

We love pesto! Searching One Click: Pesto is the simplest way to find what’s available in this blog. Or search Pesto: See One Click. One quick click will simplify your search. 

• Basilica Torta … A large appetizer

Crab and Corn Chowder ... Guess!

• Crab Mini-Bagel Bites ... A medium-sized appetizer

• Pesto Crostini A small appetizer

• Pesto Italiano … How to make pesto: An illustrated post 

• Pesto-Mayo Salad Dressing The name says it all

• Seafood Pesto Pizza … Once again, the name says it all

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Pesto-Mayo Salad Dressing

The vegetables husband Ron grows in his new veggie garden include an old favorite: Basil, basil, basil everywhere! He grows it in large pots in a hidden corner of the garden that gets lots of sun. Easily and inexpensively grown from seed, basil is a staple in many of our favorite recipes - especially Ron’s step-by-step pesto-making lessons headed Pesto Italiano.

Today, theres a new kid on the block! Truly delicious, this easy salad dressing is just in time for warm-weather salad season.

Pesto-Mayo Salad Dressing:

3 tbsp. (45 mL) mayonnaise

2 tsp. (10 mL) Dijon-style mustard

4 tsp. (20 mL) apple cider vinegar

1/4 tsp. (1.25 mL) granulated sugar

2 tbsp. (30 mL) basil pesto

Salt and pepper, to taste

Shake together in small, lidded jar (Being the rebellious type, I stirred - didn’t shake - this dressing in an unlidded jar). Pour as needed over mixed greens for four. Done!

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Seafood Pasta Bake

This yummy pasta dish isn’t as expensive as you might think, with “seafood” in the title. Two small cans of salmon or tuna are enough for 4-to-6 servings.  

Each ingredient in this excellent recipe adds to the blend of complex flavors that make this dish as special as one you’d praise in a restaurant. 

If you don’t have shell-shaped pasta in the pantry, I strongly recommend you buy some. Using shell-shaped pasta compliments the texture and “mouth feel” of this layered, cheese-topped casserole. This dish can be prepared one day in advance. See Make-Ahead Note. 

Seafood Pasta Bake:

To Prepare the Bottom Layer:

Into a 12 x 7 x 2-in. (30 x 17.5 x 5 cm) spray-greased, oven-proof casserole, pour one 7 oz. (213 mL) can tomato sauce, spreading evenly over bottom. Cover and set aside.

To Prepare the Center Layer:

4 c. (1 L) medium-to-small shell pasta

4 c. (1 L) fresh spinach leaves, stemmed; or two 10-½ oz. (300 g) packages frozen spinach

Two 7-1/2 oz. (213 g) cans salmon or tuna, drained (see Seafood Note

1/2 c. (250 mL) finely chopped onion

3/4 c. (185 mL) fresh mushrooms, preferably fresh (see Mushroom Note)

1/4 c. (60 mL) finely grated Parmesan cheese (I like a combination of fresh and commercially powdered shake-on Parmesan)

1/4 tsp. (1.25 mL) garlic powder

1/4 tsp. (1.25 mL) black pepper

1 tsp. (5 mL) oregano (if using fresh, chopped fine)

Preheat oven to 375 deg. F. Assemble and measure ingredients before starting. 

Cook pasta according to package directions in a large amount of boiling, salted water about 10 min. or until barely tender but not fully cooked, Rinse, drain, and set aside, occasionally tossing with small amount of cold water, to keep pasta from drying out. 

As pasta cooks, chop and stem fresh spinach leaves; if using frozen spinach, drain well. Over high heat, add just enough water to skillet or steamer pot to steam fresh spinach leaves 3 min., or until wilted or to fully thaw frozen spinach. Remove from heat, draining well. Set aside. 

Flake tinned seafood into small chunks, reserving, freezing, and labeling fish juice for making fish stock. 

 In small bowl, combine garlic powder, black pepper, and oregano. 

To large bowl, add prepared pasta shells, spinach, seafood, onion, mushrooms, and combined seasonings, mixing well but without damaging pasta shells. Spoon over tomato sauce in casserole, carefully spreading to edges of dish.

Cover casserole lightly with foil as you prepare the Cheese Sauce Topping.

To Prepare the Cheese Sauce Topping:

1/3 c. (80 mL) butter or margarine

1/3 c. (80 mL) flour

1-3/4 c. (425 mL) milk

Pepper, as desired

3/4 c. (175 mL) grated Parmesan cheese (again, I like a combination of fresh and commercially powdered shake-on Parmesan)

3 tbsp. (45 mL) finely chopped fresh parsley, as garnish 

Additional grated Parmesan, as garnish

In medium saucepan over low medium heat, melt butter, gradually stirring in flour. Slowly add milk, continuing to stir until thickened and smooth. Add pepper, cheese, and parsley. Pour sauce over casserole, covering right to the edge. 

Cover tightly with foil. Bake 35 min., removing foil for final 15 min. Serve immediately.

Seafood Note: Small cans of seafood come in different measurements in different places. Chances are, what was once a standard size is now smaller, with its price, higher. Use an amount that feels “right” for you - but don’t overdo it. Keeping the amount of seafood small will allow the other flavors in this dish to strut their stuff. Fresh or frozen fish is also fine, but I prefer the convenience and stronger flavor of canned fish for this recipe. 

Mushroom Note: In a pinch, I’ll hold my nose and use canned mushrooms, but what I generally do is buy large, fresh mushrooms in quantity when they go on sale. To save time, I section mushrooms with an egg slicer. Lightly sautéing them in butter or margarine, I pack 1/2 c. (125 mL) buttered, prepared mushrooms into small, lidded, labeled containers bound for the freezer. Don’t waste the butter: Include it when you add prepared mushrooms to recipes that require cooking. Ultimately, batch-prepping like this is a great time-saver. 

Make-Ahead Note: Covered with foil, the unbaked casserole may be refrigerated to be baked the next day.If so, increase total baking time to 45 min., removing foil for final 15 min.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Basilica Torta

I sometimes make a showy, layered appetizer using sun-dried tomatoes, cream cheese, and basil pesto. The combination of colors and flavors is like a party in your mouth! Whenever I make this great spread, my guests want the recipe. It originates with Canadian cookbook author Susan Mendelson. 

Always a crowd pleaser!

Basilica Torta isn’t as difficult as it sounds, and it makes a large quantity - enough to serve 16-to-20 people. It’s a show-stopping, delicious, make-ahead party dish that needs overnight mellowing. It keeps well for a couple of weeks, covered in the fridge.

Tip: To make sure the layering is visible when the Torta is unmolded, spread pesto and sun-dried tomato layers right to the edge of the bowl. I cover and freeze each layer for a few minutes before adding another layer. This prevents the layers from “sloshing around” and makes a more attractive finished product. 

Basilica Torta: 

2-½ (625 mL) c. soft, spreadable cream cheese, at room temperature (see Substitutes Note)
½ c. (125 mL) basil pesto, well drained of oil, divided
1 c. (250 mL) drained sun-dried or oven-dried tomatoes (packed in oil),  divided, blotted dry and chopped
½ c. + 2 tbsp. (140 mL) toasted pine nuts, divided (see Note)
Fresh basil leaves, as garnish
Sliced baguette 

Line a 6-cup (1.5 L) bowl with pieces of plastic wrap large enough to extend over edge of bowl. In separate bowl, beat cream cheese until soft. Spread ½ c. (125 mL) of cream cheese in bottom of plastic-wrap-lined bowl to make an even layer. Cover briefly with cello wrap. Smooth and flatten cream cheese with back of spoon. Remove cello.

Spread ¼ c. (60 mL) pesto over cream cheese. Top with ½ c. (125 mL) cream cheese, spreading to make an even layer. Sprinkle evenly with ⅓ c. (80 mL) sun-dried tomatoes, then ¼ c. (60 mL) pine nuts. Repeat layering once. Top with remaining cream cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight to allow flavors to blend and mellow.

Uncover top of cheese, turn bowl upside-down, and unmold onto serving dish or pedestal plate. Remove remaining plastic. Sprinkle top with remaining ⅓ c. (80 mL) sun-dried tomatoes and 2 tbsp. (25 mL) pine nuts. Let stand about 1 hr. before serving. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve with sliced baguette. Serves 12-to-16 generously.

Substitutes Note: No soft cream cheese? Beat together brick cream cheese with a little full-fat commercial sour cream, as needed, until the brick cream cheese is smooth and spreadable.

Note: It goes without saying - but I’ll say it, anyway - that although the proportions remain the same, the size of bowl you use will affect the measurements of your ingredients. For the record, I used a bowl with a 8 in. (20 cm) diameter and a base just shy of 3 in. (8 cm) I used most of a 2 lb. (900 g) tub of cream cheese to make this - and a little more of everything than the recipe calls for. As I’ve previously noted, if you have only brick cream cheese, beating it together with sour cream will make it spreadable. 

Also: Drain as much oil as you can from sun-dried tomatoes and pesto before using them in this spread.

Further Note: See How to Toast Nuts and Seeds. See also How to Oven-Dry Tomatoes. 

Line your bowl with cello wrap: Pack in cream cheese.

Add a layer of pesto.

Add more cream cheese.

Next come chopped sun-dried (or oven-dried) tomatoes.

Repeat layering as recipe directs.

Toast pine nuts to bring out the flavor.

Sprinkle on pine nuts. Top with extra nuts and tomatoes.