: Moroccan Grilled Chicken and Cous Cous Stuffed Peppers

grilled moraccan chickenRecently, a loved one had a serious health scare. Eating healthier is one of the changes she will have to make for a better quality of life.

We all want to be here to enjoy our loved ones as long as we possibly can.

Changing the way we eat is often intimidating and overwhelming. I think it’s because we have tried and true favorite foods that make us feel happy and satisfied. For me it’s chocolate and mashed potatoes with gravy (not all together).  There is nothing wrong with either now and then, but it doesn’t have to be my go to comfort food.

I, like my loved one, just have to find other tasty foods that please our taste buds but are also good for our heart.

You don’t need chicken baked in it’s skin to get moist, juicy chicken. Yogurt and spice marinade can result in amazingly delicious chicken!

Using smaller amounts of carbs, like cous cous, to stuff into colorful veggies is a good way to cut back, yet add nutrition and fibre. That’s healthier than a mountain of mashed potatoes on your plate.  And less boring.

So this recipe is for her. And me.

Though I made enough for my family, I’ve broken the recipe down to 2 servings. That way she can store half away to eat the next day.

The chicken can be grilled on an indoor grill or BBQ.

Indoor grilling tips: before placing breasts in marinade make sure they are pounded to around 3/4 inch. Do not place chilled breast directly on the heated grill, take it out of fridge and let come to room temp before grilling (about 15 minutes prior to grilling). It takes 12-15 minutes to grill a chicken breast on an indoor grill between 375-400 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on thickness of breast).

BBQ grilling tips: It is crucial to even out the thickness of the breast so it cooks consistently. Pound it out to around 3/4 inch. Have the grill clean and rubbed with oil. Grill at around 400 degree Fahrenheit, a few minutes on each side until golden.

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Chicken Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/8 cup chopped scallions (white part only)

1/8 cup fresh parsley

1/8 cup fresh cilantro

1 clove crushed and minced garlic

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 tsp each cumin, paprika

1/4 tsp turmeric

Pinch cayenne

Method:

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl, except chicken. Place chicken breasts in a medium Ziploc bag and spoon in the yogurt marinade. Seal bag and squish marinade all around the chicken. Chill in fridge for 2-4 hours before cooking. Take out of the fridge and let stand until it is near room temperature. Grill using the “grilling tips” above. * Discard any marinade left in bag.

Stuffed Pepper Ingredients:

2 bell peppers, halved and seeds scraped out.

1/2 chili pepper, seeds scraped, minced (optional)

1 small shallot, diced

Half a box of prepared cous cous (or enough for 2 people)

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzle

shallots and peppers

Method:

Clean and dry peppers. Drizzle with olive oil and grill face down in 375 degree oven. It will take 20 minutes for peppers to cook. Meanwhile, you can make cous cous and begin grilling the chicken.

In a small pot, sautee shallot and chili until soft. Then, prepare cous cous in same pot (make sure you fluff with a fork once it is done). Set aside, covered, to keep warm.

Remove peppers when they are soft. Flip over carefully with tongs and fill each with a quarter of the cous cous mix. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley.

Serve 2 pepper halves with each grilled breast.

cous cous stuffed bell peppers

morroccan chicken breast

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: Italian Wedding Soup & Olive Garden Knock-Off Breadsticks

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This soup was so yummy! It is adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe.

The main components of Italian Wedding Soup are the greens and the meat. Ina had a whopping 12 ounces of spinach in her soup. I ended up using 8 ounces as I wanted my soup a bit brothier.

Traditionally wedding soup has beef and pork in the meatballs. In this, I use ground turkey instead.  It is preference, but it is lighter and healthier. For healthier yet, you can use lean ground chicken, which is what Ina uses.

To pair with Italian soup, of course, I wanted breadsticks…the kind they serve at Olive Garden. This was my first attempt at breadsticks. I have always been intimidated making bread, but now I can’t wait to do it again! My daughters even got in on the fun and made their own.

Ingredients for meatballs:

3/4 pound ground turkey

1/2  pound turkey sausage, casings removed

2/3 cup white bread crumbs

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan

3 tablespoons milk

1 large egg, beaten

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Ingredients for soup:

2 tbsp olive oil

10 cups chicken broth

1 cup diced carrots (1/4”)

1 cup diced celery (1/4”)

1 cup minced onion

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup small pasta or 2 cups farfalle (bow-tie) pasta

8 oz baby spinach, trimmed

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

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For the meatballs, place the ground chicken, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Parmesan, milk, egg,  and ½ teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork. Roll into 1” balls and place onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper (You should have about 40 meatballs). Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

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For the soup, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil.

Add the farfalle pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 8 minutes (less time if using tiny pasta-adjust accordingly), then add the fresh dill and meatballs to the soup. Simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper.

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Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan cheese. This will serve a dozen people.

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                                                           Olive Garden Knock-Off Bread Sticks

*Make these ahead of the soup, and warm before serving.

Ingredients:

1 package active dry yeast

4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour,plus more for dusting

2 tablespoons butter,softened

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 tsp fine salt

warm water to make dough (see below)

Ingredients for Butter-Herb topping:

3 tablespoons butter,melted * some of this is for brushing the buns before baking (see below)

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 tsp dried oregano

Method:

Make the dough: Place 1/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a mixer; sprinkle in the yeast and set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the flour, butter, sugar, fine salt and 1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons warm water; mix with the paddle attachment until a slightly sticky dough forms. This takes about 5 minutes.

Knead the dough by hand until very smooth and soft, 3 minutes. Roll into a 2-foot-long log; cut into sixteen  1 1/2-inch-long pieces. Knead each piece slightly and shape into a 7-inch-long breadstick; arrange 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheets. Cover with a cloth; let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Make the topping: Brush the breadsticks with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter and bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt with the garlic powder and oregano. Brush the warm breadsticks with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter and sprinkle with the garlic flavored salt.

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: Singapore satay

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If someone needed a simple explanation of satay I would hesitate to say, “meat on a stick”. That’s a start, but it is so much more than that. Satay in Singapore can be of different varieties, however, mainly you have Javanese (Indonesian) and Malay styles. My Father-in-law, who I sadly did not get the chance to meet, was of Javanese heritage. It is this style I attempted to achieve today. It is the taste my husband and our family are used to.

This is my first time making satay entirely by scratch. In the past I have used commercially prepared mixes. This is a dish you don’t want to screw up, because it has a very distinct flavour. Coriander, chili, and lemongrass are the dominant flavours, and it is necessary to get this right. If not, I guess it would just taste like meat on a stick…but when my husband had his first bite it was nice to hear, ” yeaaahhthis is it! 

I also wanted to do this dish justice because it is part of my husband and children’s cultural tapestry. Satay has a very old tradition in Singapore. When my husband was a little boy he seen a Javanese satay cook (wak satay) on one or two occasions. My Singaporean brother- in- law remembers when they were a common presence in Singapore. These cooks were a one-man operation, carrying baskets and cooking grills balanced on a bamboo pole which they carried on their shoulders. Families, friends, and young couples would perch on little stools, waiting eagerly as these humble men cooked them a feast. Magically, out of materials kept in a couple of baskets! These men and their wares disappeared over the years, as they were replaced by regulated hawker centers.

satay in the 50s Singapore, courtesy of Singapore Archives

satay in the 50s Singapore, courtesy of Singapore Archives

Today, satay grills are still very popular and crowded evening hang-outs. We had the pleasure of being treated to one on our last visit to Singapore. Our niece and her husband took us to Telok Ayer Market, where it was buzzing with locals and expats. We sampled a few dishes, but the satay was why we were there, and the satay was the highlight of our food order.

Telok Ayer Market

Telok Ayer Market

Sharing satay with Daddy

Sharing satay with Daddy

When I mentioned to my brother- in- law that I wanted to post on satay, he had a recipe link for me within moments! Singaporeans are passionate about food and they will rush to your aid if you have questions (and my bro-in-law is also a wonderful person!).  Upon reading it through, my husband and I noticed some key ingredients were missing, such as lemongrass and chili. In all fairness, the recipe had rave reviews, but It seemed it was a simplified recipe altered for the Western pallet. This prompted me to keep looking for a recipe that was a bit more authentic. We think we have found it. This is the recipe from the blog of a Singaporean gentleman, now living abroad. This was his wife’s passed down, family recipe. His blog post on chicken satay is well worth reading.

I have slightly altered his wife’s recipe, as it called for 15 dried chilies between the meat and sauce. That’s a bit too hot for my liking. So I have endevored to find a middle  ground…somewhere between what my husband likes and what an average person can tolerate without calling 911. That being said, the satay itself is not very hot. The peanut sauce is hot. But the richness and sweetness balance the heat nicely.

You will notice the recipe calls for hot chili powder. Chances are you won’t find this without going to a specialty shop. It is not the generic chili powder found in grocery stores that every Nova Scotian has in their cupboard. Not the kind you make your bean chilli with. This is the potent 100% ground hot chilies. If you have it, I’m impressed. I got mine in Singapore, and it’s past it’s best date. It’s losing it’s potency and bright red colour. For that reason, I have added a substitute of fresh Thai chili pepper.

This was a practice run for me, as I have promised my cousin a satay feast one day soon…I was really pleased with the results and with the help I got from my husband and daughter. It wasn’t hard getting help when everyone started smelling the spices.

Gather every ingredient before beginning

Gather every ingredient before beginning

Ingredients for satay (marinade):

2 lbs skinless chicken breast, cut in thin strips

*Thumb-size piece of ginger, sliced (see note below)

3 shallots, sliced

1 stalk lemongrass, bruised and sliced (you use only the bulb end and small portion of stalk), or 1 tbsp lemongrass paste

3 cloves garlic, sliced

1 Thai red chili, seeds scraped out and discarded

2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp cumin

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp **thick tamarind juice

3 tbsp vegetable oil

* some may be scratching their head and asking what I mean by a “thumb size” amount of ginger. This is how my sis-in-laws taught me to measure root spices. They would specify the amount using thumb, baby finger, or finger tip size. Many Asian cook books use the same unit of measure. Just imagine how much ginger would take up your thumb. Do not worry about being very precise.

** In specialty stores, and in some imported food aisles at the grocery store, you can find tamarind pulp. Its sold in pressed blocks. Break off a piece about the size of a chestnut. Soak in about a 1/4 cup hot water for several minute. With your fingers, squeeze out the pulpy juice, removing any seeds. Take your thick juice from this liquid and don’t throw out the extra. You will need it again for the peanut sauce. 

Method:

First, using a mortar and pestle or bullet/processor, grind garlic, shallot, chili, ginger, and lemongrass until smooth. Add in all the dry spices and grind them as well.

grinding ingredients, old school

grinding ingredients, old school

after chili and dry spices are added

after chili and dry spices are added

It does not have to be completely smooth, there will be bits of the coriander seeds. That is ok and preferable. Scrape and scoop this all into a small bowl and stir in the tamarind juice, oil, and brown sugar.Mix well.

Take your sliced chicken and divide in half. Put half in a medium ziploc bag, and the other half in another bag. Likewise, divide half the marinade and add each to the bags of chicken. Seal and squish together to coat all pieces of chicken.

my lil' squishy doing the squishing

my lil’ squishy doing the squishing

Place in fridge and chill at least 6 hours. Mean while, make the peanut dipping sauce:

ingredients for peanut sauce

ingredients for peanut sauce

Ingredients (sauce):

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tbsp fennel seed

1 tsp HOT chili powder or 1/2 fresh Thai red chili (seeds too)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cumin powder

1 cup roasted, *unsalted, peanuts

4 shallots, sliced

2 cloves garlic, sliced

4 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp lemongrass paste or 1 lemongrass bulb, sliced

1 tsp belecan paste (fermented shrimp paste) *optional

1 tbsp thick tamarind juice

1 1/2 cups coconut milk (one full can)

Method:

First, grind or process dry spices and peanuts. If peanuts have salt, omit the tsp of salt in the recipe. After processing, peanuts should be a bit chunky, not too fine. Set aside in a bowl.

Grind or process the garlic, lemon grass, shallots, chili, until smooth. Set aside in small bowl.

In a small pot heat oil. Fry the dry ground ingredients until fragrant. Add the wet ground ingredients, fry also until fragrant. Add tamarind and belecan. Add brown sugar, and stir quickly to avoid burning.

Turn heat down to low and add coconut milk. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally for about 45-60 minutes until it has thickened a bit and oil rises to the surface. Don’t remove any thin skin that forms at the surface. Just stir it back into the sauce or you would lose some of the spices. Reheat before serving the satay.

peanut sauce, in the beginning stage

peanut sauce, in the beginning stage

just about ready, see the oil separating?

just about ready, see the oil separating?

To assemble & cook satay:

After marinading for several hours, thread the chicken onto bamboo skewers that have been soaked in water for at least 15 minutes. Oil your grill and cook on medium-high heat for 10 minutes or until you are confident they are done. This made about 35 ‘kebab-sized’ skewers, if you are making this as part of a main dish. You can get double the amount if you are making them as party appetizers. Just use shorter skewers.

Nice accompaniments are mango salad (recipe post to follow), and steamed basmati rice. A traditional side served with satay is cucumbers and red onion. A simple pickle, which I served with mine, is chopped cucumber and onion mixed with a tbsp of rice wine vinegar and a tsp of sugar.

You may want to wear your loose pants…

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simple cuke and onion pickle

simple cuke and onion pickle

: chicken shawarma

schawarma

I fell in love with Lebanese food not on a vacation, but in a mall food court. Whenever we are in the city we make a stop at the Mic Mac Mall, sometimes just for a takeaway plate from Villa Madina’s.

My favorite is their chicken shawarma platter, with all trimmings…like the hot pickled peppers, turnip pickles, and the creamy garlic toum sauce. This was my first taste of dishes combining so much lemon, garlic, and meditteranean spices like sumac and za’atar. I was smitten and I was determined to learn how to make a passable imitation. But usually, I ended up disappointed with the results.

Until now!

I owe it all to ‘Mama’ of mamaslebanesekitchen.com. This lady’s children have lovingly collected their mother’s recipes to share with the world. All to honour Mama and the family cuisine . This site houses a plethora of not just recipes, but detailed instructions. After reading them, I feel like I have accumulated several credits in Lebanese Cooking 101. I was so grateful to stumble on her chicken shawarma recipe/tutorial! spices ingredients As Mama points out, without roasting it slowly on a spit, you can’t achieve authentic shawarma. But this is really really close. And you can achieve this by using an indoor grill. I have made some minor changes to the recipe, partly because of what I had and didn’t have on hand. Also I added sumac because I love it. As you are mixing the marinade, you may gasp and ask, “a whole head of garlic??”…yes, and please don’t skimp! marinade before The marinade needs to be blended really well. I suggest using a bullet or immersion blender. It should look creamy when done. bullet schawarma marinade Ingredients:

3 lbs of skinless/boneless chicken breast and thigh, sliced 1 inch thick (too thin and it will dry out).

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tbsp tomato sauce (not paste)

1/2  cup plain Greek yogurt

3 tbsp white vinegar

1 head of garlic, crushed

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

1 tsp each dried thyme and oregano

2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp sumac

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Method:

Slice the chicken and set aside

Mix all other ingredients in a bowl. This becomes the marinade.

Blend the marinade until it is well mixed and looks creamy. In a large Ziploc bag, place the chicken and pour in the marinade. Seal the bag and give it a little squishing to coat all the chicken.

Place the sealed bag flat, in a shallow dish, and chill in fridge overnight, until ready for use. If you don’t want to wait overnight, you must still marinade at least 6 hours.

Cook in a closed grill, medium heat, for about 15 minutes. This can also be grilled on a BBQ, taking care not to overcook it.

This feeds a dinner party of 6.lebanese chicken pita Suggestions for accompaniments: pita bread, hummus, sliced cucumber, tomato, red onion, and Greek yogurt. But this is also great on it’s own with pilaf or salad.

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: Mini Indian Pizzas

mini Indian pizzas...awesome good!

mini Indian pizzas…awesome good!

Years ago, when Presidents choice came out with their line of prepared Indian food, they had a really good butter chicken pizza made on a slab of naan bread. Me and my husband loved it. For some insane reason they discontinued it. But they still have lovely jarred korma and butter chicken sauces AND recently, I noticed they now make small rounds of naan. If you are not familiar with naan,  it is an indian bread perfect for dipping in curries.

naan

With the mini version, President’s Choice suggests using it for sandwiches or burgers. But I had another idea…

I wanted to recreate that Indian pizza!

ready for the oven..oh the anticipation!

ready for the oven..oh the anticipation!

I must say it is pretty darn close to my recollection. And these are a hit with my kids too. They are spicy, but not hot. And a very unique pizza.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp oil

12 mini rounds of naan

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, chopped in small pieces

2 shallots, diced

½ tsp *garam masala

½ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp paprika

¼ tsp garlic powder

1 cup butter chicken sauce

½ cup plain tomato sauce

113 grams of soft, crumbled feta

1 cup torn spinach

½ small zucchini sliced very thin

1 small red onion sliced thin

¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1 package small grape tomatoes, quartered

*Garam Masala…no worries if you don’t have this indian spice mix. Essentially it is a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, pepper, nutmeg, and ground cardamom. Go ahead and add a small pinch of each.

Method:

In a small sauce pan, empty the pizza sauce, butter chicken sauce, and spinach. Cook until spinach starts to soften then turn off heat and set aside in a bowl.

In a frying pan, heat oil and then add spices. Heat until fragrant (it’s important to wait until fragrant as  the flavour is fully released into the oil) . Then add chicken. Gently keep turning and stirring chicken so all pieces are coated with the spices in the pan. Cook well over medium-high heat, for 3 minutes or until all pieces are no longer pink. Then turn off heat and set aside in a bowl.

Prepare naan rounds on a lined baking sheet by sprinkling them with water from your finger tips. Slather on the sauce. Top with chicken, zucchini, red onion, tomatoes, and lastly feta.

Bake at 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro before serving.

If you like Indian food you will love this pizza. If this is the first time trying so many spices in one dish, I hope you will give it a shot and become a fan of these spices. This is spicy but not “chili hot” spicy. Indian spices “heat” the body and stimulate your digestion and immune system. Aside from those benefits, the richness of the sauce is paired nicely with the sharpness of the feta!

This feeds serves 4- 6 people (2 or 3 mini pizzas each).

I gathered the recollected ingredients...

I gathered the recollected ingredients…

releasing the spices

releasing the spices

the chicken is spicy but not

the chicken is spicy but not “hot”

yummm...try it and let me know what you think ;)

yummm…try it and let me know what you think 😉