Stewed Chicken and Mushroom Soft Tacos

For last night’s soft tacos, I wanted to do chicken, but didn’t just want a whole bunch of chicken dumped on lettuce and tomato. That’s nice and all, but I wanted a few other flavours and veggies to give the flavour and texture an extra boost. I’m a big fan of chicken and mushrooms as a combination. Whether it’s pan-roasted mushrooms on a chicken burger or making a mushroom gravy to top a good roast chicken, I could eat that endlessly.

Like I’ve talked about before, I always caramelize my onions before anything to add flavour to any dish. The same applies for mushrooms. I always give them a good pan-roasting to add a deeper, more concentrated flavour. Along with a nice taco seasoning, the extra flavours from caramelized onions and pan-roasted mushrooms add extra flair to any taco night…even if it isn’t Tuesday, like the hashtag tells me when to make tacos 😉

….and speaking of hashtags, feel free to follow my sometimes odd hashtags on Instagram and Twitter. Or, you know, Facebook too, but I don’t hashtag there, I’m old school that way 😉

Stewed Chicken and Mushroom Soft Tacos

200g/7 oz chicken breast, cooked (I usually have a grilled or roasted chicken breast around)

1 tsp oil

2 tsp butter

100g/4 oz mushrooms, quartered

1 medium onion, peeled, chopped and caramelized in 1 tsp oil, 1/2 tsp salt for 20-25 minutes until deeply golden brown)

1 small sweet red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 fresh red chilli (or 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes), finely chopped

Reserved seed and pulp from 4 medium tomatoes, about 1/3 cup in volume (a great place to put tomato pulp if you made Pickled Pico de Gallo)

1 tbsp taco seasoning (I simply blend 2 tbsp chili powder, 2 tbsp garlic powder, 2 tbsp dried oregano, 2 tbsp sweet paprika, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground celery seed and use this. There’ll be leftover for other uses. Or just use your own taco seasoning)

1/3 cup water

8 flatbreads or tortillas (about 15cm/6″ in diameter)

Pickled Pico de Gallo (or your favourite salsa), butter lettuce and sour cream, to serve

   In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, add the oil and butter. When it’s hot and bubbly, add the quartered mushrooms in a single layer (you may need to do this in batches). Leave the mushrooms to brown on one side for about a minute or two. Turn them and brown on the other cut side of the quartered mushrooms. When all the mushrooms are well-browned, add the chicken, bell peppers, and chillis. Sauté to soften the peppers slightly (about 3-4 minutes). Add the taco seasoning and dry roast the spices on the chicken, mushroom and vegetable mixture for a minute. Add the tomato pulp and water. Reduce heat to medium, stirring to combine and simmer for 8-10 minutes until most of the water has reduced and the mixture is very thick.

To serve:

   Spread the bottom of each flatbread with a bit of sour cream, add a few leaves of butter lettuce, a few spoons of Pickled Pico de Gallo and a few spoons of the prepared Stewed Chicken and Mushrooms. Serves 3-4.

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Pickled Pico de Gallo

Soft tacos have become very popular in my house. I’m always making homemade flatbreads, so to fill them is quite easy. And every time, I seem to do one or two things a little different. Last night, I decided to make a pico de gallo, but I didn’t have limes, so I did a little twist on a Hungarian pickled tomato salad. I also used some of my Oven-Dried Tomatoes to add extra flavour and to vary the textures in it.

Pickled Pico de Gallo

4 medium tomatoes (or 20-25 cherry tomatoes), cut into 2cm/1″ pieces, pulp and seeds removed (reserve pulp/seeds for another purpose like fold into mayonnaise or work into a stew or soup)

1/4 cup Oven-Dried Tomatoes (or chopped sun-dried tomatoes if you don’t feel like drying your own)

1 tsp oil

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 fresh red chilli, finely chopped

   In a small pot over medium high heat, add the oil, onions and salt. Stir and sauté for 7-10 minutes until starting to soften and lightly brown. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to stir for another 5-7 minutes. If the onions start to stick too much to the bottom of the pot, add a few tablespoons of water and scrape the bottom of the pot. Keep stirring and sautéeing for another 5-7 minutes, gradually reducing the heat to medium low. When the onions are deeply golden, set them aside to cool.

For the Maple Vinegar Dressing:

1 tbsp maple syrup

2 tbsp vinegar

2 tbsp water

1/2 tsp salt

   For the dressing, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

To assemble:

   Place the tomatoes (both fresh and dried), chillis, cooled caramelized onions and Maple Vinegar Dressing in a medium bowl, Stir together with a spoon or combine with your fingers. Allow to sit and quickly pickle for about 20-30 minutes. Makes about 2 cups/500mL. Enough to serve 3-4 as a condiment to soft tacos or a starter with chips.

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Oven-Dried Tomatoes

I’ve always been very fortunate to live in an environment that was very connected to food. As a kid, my parents would take me to vegetable market gardens to walk through the fields and see how vegetables grew. We also always had a large vegetable garden in our yard.

As I grew older, I carried that awareness with me. Living in a colder climate where there’s months and months of cold winter (usually, this year is a stinker of a winter for a guy who likes winter, but I digress). To get quality vegetables year round, one would have to either rely on long distance shipping from California, Mexico or further. The other option is to find people who grow vegetables in greenhouses. Oftentimes, the produce will be better, have less chemicals used and travels much less which lessens its overall carbon footprint.

For a time, I worked on a mixed use farm that raised turkeys, ducks and cornish game hens. To make use of the heat generated in the barns, the farm also had a greenhouse on top of the barn. The greenhouse usually grew a multitude of mixed salad greens, but also was used to start tomato plants in the late winter so they’d be ready for spring. Here, I learned how to maintain the environmental balance and see how little bees and wasps were used for pollination and pest control. It’s actually easier to maintain your plants this way than to use chemical pesticides so it’s the standard of the greenhouse industry. Even if you don’t know of a greenhouse grower nearby, check for greenhouse grown in the grocery store in winter and it’ll be better tomatoes and cucumbers for sure.

As I looked further in my local area, I found a family who grows many things commercially in greenhouses year-round: tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, sweet peppers, chillis and a few varieties of lettuces. When I hear about their system, it’s always an education. They string the cucumber vines on strings vertically to maximize the space and grow more while maintaining a healthy environment.

While enjoying food in season is best, once I get to the end of February/beginning of March, I’m ready for more than root vegetables. That’s part why greenhouse-grown vegetables make their way into my diet. I can enjoy beautifully grown tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce and chillis year round and it’s better quality than anything in the store. Plus, I know my food’s story and that’s the most important part of all. When we know our food’s story, we know its life and make its life worth living as it sustains us 🙂

A few days ago, I dried some tomatoes in the oven. Yes, it takes some time, but they keep beautifully for weeks in a container with a tight lid at room temperature for a few weeks or canned in oil for months. I usually use smaller cherry tomatoes because they dry quicker, but regular tomatoes dry just the same, they just take longer. They’re great in salads, pasta, puréed into a pesto or folded into focaccia, so make lots.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

35-40 cherry tomatoes, halved (I used three different colours for fun and the fact I had access to multiple colours, but regular red cherry tomatoes are great!)

   Preheat oven to 100C/225F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay the cherry tomato halves, skin-side down on the prepared baking sheet and place in the oven for about 3 hours. Some of the smaller tomatoes may dry a little quicker, so keep an eye on them. Give them a soft poke with the back of a spoon. If it’s still releasing pulp after 3 hours, return it to the oven at 10 minute intervals until soft like a raisin and no longer releasing pulp. Makes about 1 cup of dried tomatoes.

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PB and J Oaty French Toasties

Throughout my whole life, I’ve liked to eat things with my fingers. The usual stuff like sandwiches, sure, but also the unusual like pasta and mashed potatoes, so I’m always looking for a reason to eat with my fingers. It’s that remnant inner child that remains. And I’m incredibly tactile. I just like touching things.

This morning I wanted to make French toast for brunch, but also wanted to eat with my fingers and not make a  goopy maply mess while doing it. I decided on a stuffed French toast idea with a twist. Cut little finger sandwiches and dredge them in rolled oats before frying in butter. Lets just say these are so addictive you’ll be stuffed yourself before realizing you ate a half dozen of them!!

PB and J Oaty French Toasties

8 slices whole wheat sandwich bread

8 tsp peanut butter

16 tsp your favourite jam (I used a locally produced Saskatoon berry jam – similar to a huckleberry/blueberry)

4 large eggs

4 tsp water

1 cup rolled oats

Butter for frying

   Lay the bread out. Spread a thin layer of peanut butter on each slice. Spread the jam liberally on every second slice and enclose with the “un-jammed” slice (Ok, I just told you how to make a PB and J sandwich. Feel free to smack me around!!) 😉

   Cut the crusts off each of the four sandwiches. Cut each sandwich into thirds.

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  Beat the eggs and water together in one medium sized bowl until smooth. Add the rolled oats to another medium bowl.

   Preheat a cast iron pan over medium heat. When hot enough to smoulder, but not smoke, add a tablespoon of butter. Dredge each finger sandwich in the egg mixture, then dredge in the rolled oats, pressing the oats on each sandwich to coat thoroughly.

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Place the oaty French toast into the preheated pan, two fingers at a time. Brown on all sides until deeply golden.

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Remove any oat flakes from the pan that fall away from the French toast. They will brown too quickly and add bitterness to the butter in the pan.

   Repeat with two more finger sandwiches and another tablespoon of butter until all of the prepared sandwiches are done. Serves 2-3 on their own or 5-6 as part of a larger brunch with eggs, sausage, bacon, etc. Serve with maple syrup as a dip or dust with icing/powdered sugar.

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Roasty Toasty Sweet BBQ Sauce

I have one rule when it comes to using onions in a recipe. ANY recipe. Caramelize them first. Making salad? Add caramelized onions to the dressing. Making chili or pasta sauce? Caramelized onions always add a roasted, sweet depth to it.

A few weeks ago, I was developing a drink recipe for a competition and I had to back out at the last minute (part illness at home, part I’m an anxious freak sometimes, part “What the hell am I doing fighting with food/drink??? Food is to be shared not fought over!!!”)….Anyways, I prepared a lot of Fennel and Ginger Syrup. Besides drinking it as a part of my Roasted Barley Fennel Ginger Latte  I decided to make a BBQ sauce. And in any BBQ sauce, onions are involved, so lets make that BBQ sauce a little roasty, toasty and sweet with deeper flavours of caramelized onions, a couple of flavourful syrups and time to fuse the flavours together.

Roasty Toasty Sweet BBQ Sauce

1 tsp oil

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1/2 tsp salt

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1/2 cup Fennel Syrup

1/4 cup Ginger Syrup

1/4 cup vinegar (pickling vinegar for a sharper taste or rice vinegar or a milder taste)

1 tsp salt

   In a medium pot over medium high heat, add the oil, onions and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir to soften for about 5-7 minutes. gradually reduce the heat, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan until the onions brown gradually. Adding a few tablespoons of water periodically throughout the process helps the gradual caramelizing without scorching the onions or the pot itself. It should take about 20-25 minutes total.

   Add the tomato paste and stir over medium heat to toast the tomato paste. Taking the time to toast the tomato paste before adding a liquid component adds another depth of flavour. It’s the equivalent of caramelizing an onion, but with tomato paste. It’s worth the extra 7-10 minutes.

   Add the Fennel and Ginger Syrups, vinegar and salt. Bring to a simmer, partially cover with a lid and simmer, with occasional stirring for 20 minutes, or until thickened to desired consistency.

   I used this as a brushing sauce while making a  BBQ Chicken Cheeseburger. Simply brush the cooled, finished sauce on prepared chicken burgers, grill, brushing both sides as it cooks and melt cheese to finish.

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It’s also a great BBQ sauce for grilled fish or cubed pork skewers. Makes about 1-1/2 cups/375 mL of sauce. Don’t worry it goes quickly enough that you don’t have to worry about spoilage 😉

Perogies – With 3 Filling Varieties

Perhaps some people thought I disappeared as a blogger. Perhaps not. Either way, I’ve still been cooking daily because, firstly, I gotta eat, and secondly, it’s a passion, even if sometimes sharing it isn’t always easy.

I’ve had my moments of doubt when it comes to sharing my recipes. Are they any good? I like them, but when I cook in a vacuum, so to speak, it tends to weigh heavier when I don’t really know. I have moments of confidence, but I have also spent my share of time filled with anxiety. I excuse it as a side effect of all creative people. Van Gogh cut off an ear. Da Vinci worked at night or sporadic hours. Nietzsche spent the last decade of his life in a catatonic stupor. Creativity is its own kind of madness.

During one of my moments of over-thinking, I wanted to occupy my hands in the kitchen in a way that would make me focus on that task and that task only. I decided to make perogies with three different fillings. The repetitive act of roll, cut, stuff, pinch kept my mind occupied for days as it turned out. I made wayyyyyy too much mashed potato base so I was making perogies for three days after it was all said and done.

Sometimes, thinking is good for you to formulate concrete ideas. Sometimes, you just gotta let that inner Baba out and make perogies. Nothing more.

Perogies – With 3 Filling Varieties

For the Perogy Dough:

1 egg

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup milk

1/3 cup water

4 to 4-1/4 cups Park wheat flour (unsifted volume) – (or whole wheat flour)

   In a large bowl, whisk together with a fork, the egg, sour cream, milk and water until smoothly combined. Sift the flour, one cup at a time, into the wet ingredients. Reserve the sifted bran for later. Once 3 cups of flour has been stirred in, it should be firm enough to turn out of the bowl on to a floured counter to knead in the rest of the flour. Once the dough is smooth and only slightly sticky after kneading for about 10 minutes, cover with an inverted bowl on the counter and allow to rest for one hour. This makes enough dough for one of the following filling recipes. If you want to make all three (like I did), either triple this recipe or make three small batches.

For the Turos (Hungarian dry cottage cheese) Filling:

1 Perogy Dough Recipe

2-1/2 to 3 cups prepared Turos cheese (or well drained ricotta if you don’t want to make your own turos)

Reserved sifted wheat bran

   Divide the prepared dough into 4 portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each portion to a thickness of about 1 cm (just shy of 1/2″). Cut out with 5cm/2″ biscuit cutters (or a small drinking glass if you’re an old school Eastern European Baba).

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   Add a little over 1 Tbsp of Turos along one half of each circle of dough.

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Using your finger, brush a bit of water along the edge of half of the circle. Fold the dough over the filling, creating a semi-circle shape. Pinch the enclosed seam closed. Sprinkle some of the reserved wheat bran on a parchment lined baking sheet. Place the enclosed perogy on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Freeze like this and place in freezer bags once frozen. You can also boil them right away until they float or deep fry for 2 minutes on each side in 180C/350F oil and drain on paper towels. Makes about 36 perogies.

For the Cheddar Potato Filling:

750g (1-1/2 lb) potatoes (a soft, starchy potato like Russet or Yukon Gold work great), peeled and roughly chopped

3 Tbsp softened butter

1/2 cup milk

5 cups finely grated cheddar cheese (about 225g or 1/2 lb by weight)

1-2 tsp salt (depending on the saltiness of your cheese, I use an aged/sharp cheddar so I use less salt)

   Place the potatoes in a large pot. Cover the potatoes with water by 2cm/1″ and add a couple of good pinches of salt. Cover, bring to a boil over medium high heat, reduce heat to medium low and cook the potatoes for 12-15 minutes or until fork tender. Drain the water and mash with a potato masher. Add the butter and milk and mash more until a smooth texture is achieved (I like a smooth potato filling, but I’ve had it a little rustic and chunky as well. It’s up to you). Add the grated cheddar and mash to combine completely.

   To fill to perogies, repeat the steps as outlined in the Turos Filling recipe above.

For the Caramelized Onion Potato Filling:

2 medium or 1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped

2 tsp oil

1/2 tsp salt

750g or 1-1/2 lb potatoes (Russet or Yukon Gold), peeled and roughly chopped

3 Tbsp softened butter

1/2 cup milk

   In a medium pot over medium high heat, add the oil, onions and salt. Stir and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes until softened and starting to brown. Reduce heat to medium and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan as the onions dry. Add a few tablespoons of water to aid this process if necessary. Continue this act of sautéeing, scraping, and browning over the course of the next 15-20 minutes until a deep, golden, caramelized onion is achieved. Set aside.

   Prepare the mashed potatoes as outlined in the Cheddar Potato Filling, but instead of adding the cheddar, add the caramelized onions.

   To fill, prepare as outlined in the Turos Filling recipe.

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