Saturday, May 21, 2011

Homemade Fast Food is Healthier!

When my sons were little, I wasn’t much of a cook. Not that when I did cook it was terrible but between being a Realtor to support my political habit added to family activities like Boy Scout meetings, piano lessons and soccer, we didn’t have much time to cook at home, even on weekends.  I hate to admit it but we downed more than our fair share of not so healthy fast food. 

Then I discovered quesadillas in a Tex-Mex cook booklet at the grocery store check-out magazine rack... they sounded easy and lots healthier than B-K or Mickey D’s.  That was 25 years ago, before Chili’s and Chi-chis, On the Border and even Friendly’s came along and made Mexican favorites that rivaled Chinese take-out in popularity. We’ve tried them all but we actually prefer homemade. Easy, fast and always tastes fresher!
1/2 pound thin slices uncooked chicken breast cutlets
1 tablespoon lime juice
dash fresh ground salt and pepper 
1/8 teaspoon crushed dried thyme
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro leaves
4 large flour tortillas
1 cup Jack cheese, finely grated
2 tablespoons olive oil or grapeseed oil
Optional add-ins:
sauteed peppers and onions
sliced mushrooms
sliced black olives
diced fresh tomatoes
thin sliced fresh avocado
chopped lettuce
sour cream
Flatten chicken breast cutlets with a meat pounder to about 1/2 inch thickness. Sprinkle lime juice evenly over tops and bottom. Add one or two turns worth of fresh ground salt and pepper on both sides and sprinkle with thyme. Heat a large cast iron or heavy all-clad stainless frying pan to medium heat. Add a small amount of oil (about 1/2 teaspoon) and spread it around the bottom of the pan with a spatula (you could use butter as well but it adds cholesterol). Cook cutlets 2-3 minutes on each side. Slice warm cooked chicken into small pieces and set aside on a plate. Remove pan from heat and wipe clean with paper towel.
Add a little more oil to the pan and spread it around on medium heat. Place one flour tortilla in the pan. Flip the tortilla over a few times, 5-10 seconds between flips. Air pockets should begin to form within the tortilla.
When pockets of air begin to form, take a handful of grated cheese, sprinkle over the top of the tortilla, making sure that the cheese does not land on the pan itself. Add an even layer of diced cooked chicken and and whatever additional ingredients you choose - sauteed veggies, sliced fresh mushrooms, olives, tomatoes, etc. Take care not to layer on the ingredients to thickly - a thick quesadilla is hard to handle.
Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. The pan should be hot enough by now to have plenty of residual heat to melt the cheese and brown the tortilla. If the quesadilla begins to smoke too much, remove from the heat. After a minute, check to see if the cheese is melted. If not, return the cover and check every 10-20 seconds until the cheese is melted. As soon as the cheese in melted, lightly sprinkle fresh cilantro leaves then use a spatula to lift up one side of the quesadilla and flip over the other side, as if you were making an omelette. The tortilla should be browned and slightly crusty. Remove from pan and cut into wedges. 
Serve with your choice of accompaniments. Makes four generous servings.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Florentine Cookies ala Massachusetts' Cranberries

Nobody seems to have nailed down who came up with the idea of lacy nutty fruity crisps, sometimes coated on one side with chocolate. They are a favorite of Austrian bakers but considered a Tuscan specialty. With or without the chocolate candy glaze they are delish!

It was a tough call to give creative credit until I tasted my version of the the yummy little discs (pictured here both with and without the chocolate) with a luscious Tuscan Vin Santo for dessert. As far as I'm concerned that sealed the historical origin ... Italy wins!

2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup raw sugar (white sugar works too)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (or low cholesterol margarine suitable for cooking)
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon finely chopped dried cranberries 
1 teaspoon finely chopped dried apricots
1/2 teaspoon zest of lime
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips to melt (optional)

In a small saucepan, combine cream, sugar and butter. Cook on medium heat until it boils. Remove from heat. Stir in ground almonds, sliced almonds, lime zest and flour. Add vanilla, cranberries, apricots and zest. Set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.  Drop batter by rounded teaspoons onto baking sheet two to three inches apart. (Batter will spread as it bakes.) Bake about 10 minutes until edges are slightly browned (centers will remain bubbly). Allow cookies to cool 1-2 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 18 two inch cookies.

Melt chocolate in a pyrex ramekin one minute on high in microwave.  Remove and stir until chocolate is smooth (You can melt your chocolate over hot water in a metal bowl in the traditional way if you prefer). Use a small spatula or butter knife to coat the back of each cookie with melted chocolate. Drop chocolate side down on clean parchment or waxed paper on a flat surface. Let cool for several hours until chocolate hardens. Wrapped with waxed paper, these cookies can be stored for up to ten days -- but it's doubtful they'll last that long!