Recipe: Chicken Flautas with Avocado Side Salad

A few weeks ago, I bought the smallest pack of corn tortillas I could find to make some sort of shrimp tostada dish or something like that (whatever it was, it obviously wasn’t very successful, because I didn’t post it here). Well, “smallest pack” meant “use four for dinner and have upwards of twenty left over,” so I’ve been trying to get creative and use them up. I tried making baked tortilla chips (my boyfriend and I are trying to be smart about what we eat) without much success, then I made some sort of kinda awful tacos (you really can’t eat those tortillas right out of the pack; they are not at all like soft taco shells), but finally, I came across this recipe for flautas while browsing Pinterest food boards and it looked like a winner. I did my usual “look at the recipe, then ignore 85% of it and do it my own way” thing that I like to do and made my own version of these tasty little crispy rolls. Obviously, frying them up in oil makes them not quite as healthy as they could be, but I tried to keep the oil levels to a minimum and balanced the dish out with a fresh side salad of avocado, baby bell peppers, and red onion.
Chicken Flautas with Avocado Side Salad

Serves: 2 (makes 2-3 flautas per person)

Prep. time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

 

Ingredients

  • 1 large chicken breast
  • Chicken stock
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Paprika
  • Ground ancho chile or other ground, dried pepper
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • 1 lime, juiced and zested
  • Sour cream
  • Mayonnaise
  • Cojita cheese, crumbled or shredded
  • 4-6 corn tortillas
  • Vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 avocado, flesh cut into chunks
  • Approx. 6 baby bell peppers, sliced*
  • Approx. 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

*Cut from end to end to get circular slices

 

Directions

Bring a small-to-medium pot of chicken stock to a boil, then add the chicken (liquid should just cover the chicken breast) and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until tender and cooked all the way through. Remove the chicken breast (the leftover broth can be used as stock for another meal or it can be tossed) and set in a bowl. Using a fork, shred the chicken breast by running the fork through the flesh and pulling it apart; shred the chicken into the bowl. In a small bowl, blend together a few tablespoons each of sour cream and mayo, then add approx. 1-2 tsp. each of all of the dry seasonings in the ingredient list, along with a splash of lime juice and some lime zest, then whisk to blend. Toss the mixture with the chicken until fully coated (chicken should not be soaked in this creamy blend but, rather, lightly coated); add more dry seasoning as desired. Add a heaping handful of cojita cheese and toss to combine. Cover and set aside in the fridge.

In a large, deep skillet, heat vegetable oil—about 1.5 to 2 inches deep—over medium high heat. While it’s heating up, lay 4-6 corn tortillas out on a flat surface. Remove the chicken mixture from the the fridge and spoon some of the mixture onto each of the tortillas. Roll each tortilla tightly and pierce each one with a toothpick to keep them shut and form your flautas. When the oil is hot (about 375*F; if you throw a little piece of tortilla in the oil, it should immediately start bubbling), start adding in the flautas. Let them cook for about a minute, then turn, making sure to turn so that each side has a chance to fry; do not overcook them or let them sit in one spot for too long—they brown easily. As they finish, remove them from the pan and set on a paper towel-lined paper plate to drain excess oil.

In the meantime, heat a little oil in a small pan. Add the red onion and peppers, season with a little salt and pepper (and other seasonings, as desired), and cook until crisp-tender. Remove from pan and toss with the avocado, a little more salt and pepper, and fresh lime juice. Serve the flautas on top of the salad, with a dollop of sour cream added, if desired.

 

Cook’s Commentary

This is the best of both worlds: healthy, fresh food and crunchy, fried food combined to make the perfect dinner. The “salad” is fresh and flavorful, with the creamy texture of the avocado blending deliciously with the sweet and spicy flavors of the red onion and peppers. The chicken flautas are crispy on the outside and the chicken mixture within is tender, a little spicy, a little tangy, and oh-so-tasty. I had a little of the “sauce” mixture that I tossed the chicken with left over, so I served that as a dipping sauce, but a spoonful of sour cream or, if you want to splurge, a drizzle of queso, would work as well.

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Recipe: Teriyaki Glazed Salmon with Broccoli and “Yum Yum” Sauce

I always hear about how fish is really good for you and everyone should eat at least one serving of fish a week. I grew up with a British grandma who loved fish-and-chips, a Catholic father who occasionally subscribed to the “Fish on Friday” practice, and cousins who lived just a car ride away from the Maryland shore, but fish was never a big part of my diet. My mother used to make tuna noodle casserole (tuna salad to our family) in the summertime and we’d occasionally dine out at Red Lobster (fine dining as a young child), but fish was always, well, “fishy” to me; I mostly stuck to fried shrimp and the occasional crab cake, but that was about it. After college, while I was living back home in Pennsylvania, I took some culinary arts classes at the local community college and in one of the classes, we focused on different food groups each week. During one of my class periods, we focused on fish and seafood; when we sat down to eat, we had fried catfish, salmon topped with mango salsa, oven baked red snapper, shrimp scampi, and more—it was the perfect opportunity to try food I wouldn’t ordinarily be open to and it was the push I needed to delve into cooking and eating fish.

Last week, smack dab in the middle of our new and ongoing “eating healthy” lifestyle, I decided my boyfriend and I could use a little salmon–some heart healthy Omega-3 fatty acids sounded like the perfect addition to our diet. Salmon is a hit-or-miss fish for me—certain types, like sockeye, are too “fishy” tasting while others seem to be made more for lox, sushi, and other cold dishes. I picked cheap yet tasty-looking salmon filets from my favorite local grocery store, hoping for a subtle flavor, and they were perfect. My boyfriend and I have been on an Asian flavor kick lately, and a quick visit to Pinterest gave me the result “teriyaki salmon” over and over again, so that’s what I aimed for.

Teriyaki Glazed Salmon with Broccoli

Serves: 2

Prep. time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 15-20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

 

Ingredients

  • Approx. 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • Approx. 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • Approx. 1-2 tbsp. honey
  • Garlic powder
  • Approx. 1-2 tbsp. mirin or sherry
  • 2 salmon filets, skin on
  • 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 bunch green onion, finely chopped
  • Vegetable or peanut oil

For Japanese “Yum Yum” dipping sauce:

  • Light mayonnaise
  • Water
  • Approx. 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • Approx. 1/4 tsp. paprika
  • Approx. 1 tsp. sugar
  • Approx. 1 tsp. tomato paste (or ketchup)
  • Approx. 1 tbsp. melted butter

 

Directions

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, brown sugar, honey, mirin, and a pinch of garlic powder. Pour into a bag, add salmon to the bag, seal, and place in the fridge to marinate for 20-30 minutes.

Heat a little oil in a medium pan over medium high heat, then add the broccoli and green onion and cook until the broccoli is just starting to brown and crisp slightly. Reduce the heat, add a splash of soy sauce, a pinch of garlic powder, and a little chicken stock and keep the vegetables warm.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium high heat, then remove the salmon filets from the bag of marinade and place skin side up in the pan; reserve the marinade. When the salmon is browned, flip it over to cook the skin side. In the meantime, pour the marinade into a small pot and bring to a gentle boil. Once bubbling, whisk a little water-and-cornstarch mixture into the liquid and let it thicken to a shiny, semi-thick glaze. Brush some of the glaze on the salmon. The salmon, when done, should feel fairly firm when you press a finger down into it and should be lightly pink in the middle and pull easily away from the skin. Serve the salmon with the broccoli and add a drizzle of teriyaki glaze over the broccoli. If you’d like to add a creamy element to the dish, whisk together the ingredients for “Yum Yum” sauce: Add the dry ingredients to a small bowl, then add melted butter, tomato paste, and a little mayo and whisk together. Add a splash of cold water to thin the sauce, then taste—add more mayo to make more sauce and adjust seasoning as desired. Drizzle on the salmon and broccoli or serve as a dip.

 

Cook’s Commentary

Teriyaki sauce is so simple and so perfect—it’s sweet, it’s salty, and it’s somehow meaty too. When cooked down into a gooey glaze, it adds this lip-smacking quality to the salmon, already flavored with the thinned out marinade version of the sauce, and that deep brown color is just stunning. Broccoli is a great, simple side for this dish, and the green onion adds a little pop of flavor to it. I added a bamboo flavored rice to add a little more volume to the dish, but a side of quinoa or brown rice would work just as well, or keep it light and stick to veggies only. This salmon had a light, fresh flavor that shined through the umami goodness of the teriyaki and made for a healthy, filling meal.

Recipe: Cajun Pasta with Andouille Sausage and Peppers

Serves: 4

Prep. time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15-20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Cajun Pasta with Andouille Sausage and Peppers

Ingredients

  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 2-3 andouille sausage links, casings removed; pulled apart into small/bite-size pieces
  • 1 yellow or white onion, chopped
  • Red, green, and orange bell pepper (half of each), diced
  • 1-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 dried chili peppers, minced, or a dash of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Approx. 1-2 cups chicken stock
  • Approx. 1/2 cup white wine
  • Approx. 1/2 to 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • Cajun seasoning blend
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Dried parsley
  • Cornstarch-and-water mixture, as needed
  • Long, semi-wide pasta, like fettuccine or linguine

Directions

Bring water to a boil for the pasta. In the meantime, heat some butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat, add the andouille and cook until browned on the outside and no longer pink on the inside, then remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Add the diced vegetables and chili pepper/pepper flakes to the pan with a little more butter and olive oil, and cook until crisp-tender, then add in the garlic and cook for another minute. Remove the veggie mixture from the pan, bump the heat up a little bit, then add the chicken stock, wine, and a generous heaping of Cajun seasoning and paprika. Let the mixture gently boil, then slowly whisk in the heavy cream. Season as needed with Cajun seasoning, paprika, parsley, salt, and/or pepper, and thicken with cornstarch-and-water if necessary; don’t be afraid to add more liquid to the sauce if it starts cooking down—you don’t want to end up with soup, but you want enough to generously coat the pasta. While the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta (or start it earlier if you chose a style that will take longer than 3-5 minutes). When the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pot. Add the veggies and sausage back into the thickened sauce, then add the finished pasta in with the sauce and toss to combine. Serve hot, with a sprinkling of Parmesan on top, if desired.

Cook’s Commentary

This dish is hearty and packed with flavor—spicy, creamy, salty, and meaty—it’s perfect on a cold day but bright and flavorful enough for warm weather too. Andouille sausage has a distinct flavor like no other sausage and Cajun seasoning amps up the flavor. Bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes create a confetti of colors that swirl into the warm, orange-red color of the sauce created through the blending of heavy cream, chicken stock, paprika, and Cajun spices. You’ve gotta get a quality brand/blend of Cajun seasoning to make this dish perfect (I used McCormick and it was pretty good, but I saw some specialty brands at Fresh Market that looked even better), and the right one will make this dish fantastic.

Recipe: Pasta Bolognese

Servings: 2-4

Prep. time: 10-15 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients

  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 strips prosciutto, cut into small pieces
  • 6-8 oz. lean ground beef*
  • Approx. 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • White wine (cooking/dry)
  • Marsala wine (cooking/dry)
  • Chicken stock
  • Cinnamon
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 8 oz. pasta**

*I prefer 90-93% lean.

**I used medium shells. Papadelle and other long, wide noodles are great with this sauce, but small pastas, like shells or orchiette, are great too.

Directions

Heat a large, nonstick pan over medium-high heat, then add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove the bacon to a plate covered in paper towels to drain. Add a little butter and olive oil to the bacon fat in the pan and add the onion and carrot, cooking until tender and fragrant, then add the prosciutto and continue to cook. Add the beef and cook, breaking the meat up as it cooks. Add a splash of marsala and splash of white wine and the garlic and continue to cook, letting the wine reduce and the beef continue to brown and cook. Crumble in the bacon strips and add the tomato paste, stirring to combine, then cook for approx. 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, a little more of each wine, and reduce the heat to medium, stirring occasionally. Add in a pinch of cinnamon (a quick whiff of the sauce should let you know it’s there, but don’t add too much; 1-3 tsp. is probably enough) and paprika (1-3 tsp.), as well as some salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, covered. While the sauce is cooking over low heat, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 6-8 minutes, or until al dente, then drain, and add the finished pasta in with the sauce, tossing to coat. The finished sauce should be a brownish-orange color, scented with cinnamon and paprika, and it should be somewhat thickened.

The sauce, as it's cooking

The sauce, as it’s cooking

Pasta Bolognese

Cook’s Commentary

There are many different ways to make a bolognese sauce—some recipes call for plum tomatoes while others call for just tomato paste, some use ground beef and veal while others use ground beef and pork, some suggest pairing it with long pasta noodles while others encourage the use of smaller pastas—I looked at many of these differing recipes and went my own way. Beef is the bulk of the meat in this dish, while the bacon and prosciutto add a little texture and saltiness to the sauce. Cinnamon and paprika add a heat and sweetness that balances the tanginess of the tomato paste and the salty-savory flavors of the meats. Chicken stock and wine create a sort of brothy sauce that soaks deliciously into the pasta noodles. It’s a hearty meal perfect for cold weather, and the sauce is delectable sopped up on a piece of bread at the end of the meal, and absolutely perfect paired with a red zinfandel or other sweet red wine.

Recipe: Romesco Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1, 1 inch thick slice of fresh, crusty bread, toasted and pulled into chunks
  • 1/2 cup whole, unsalted almonds
  • 1 large tomato
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, skins on*
  • 1 to 2 red bell peppers, halved, seeds and cores removed
  • 1 to 2 fresh cayenne peppers, stems removed**
  • Approx. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Splash of sherry or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • Garlic powder, if desired

*Cut of the little bit of root end from the cloves to make it easier to remove the skins later.

**Substitute with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes if desired.

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375*F. Place the almonds on a smaller, ungreased baking sheet and roast for 3-6 minutes, until fragrant, then remove and set aside. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray (like Pam). Place garlic, tomato, bell pepper, and cayenne pepper on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and toss to coat. Roast for approx. 20 minutes, until the skins of the tomato and bell pepper blisters and everything is tender. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, then pull the skins off of the tomato, bell pepper, and garlic cloves and toss the skins. Add the roasted ingredients, bread, olive oil, vinegar, paprika, and salt and pepper to a food processor and blend until smooth. Serve as a dip, spread, or sauce. Sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Makes approx. 1.5-2 cups.

Pasta with Sauteed Shrimp, Mozzarella, Basil, and Romesco Sauce

Pasta with sauteed shrimp, mozzarella, basil, and romesco sauce

Steak sandwich with romesco sauce and arugula

Steak sandwich with romesco sauce and arugula

Cook’s Comments

I am in love with making all kinds of pesto—spinach and walnut, basil and pine nut, mint and pistachio—and this sauce is a lot like a creamy pesto. Roasted almonds give it a nutty flavor and slightly gritty (in a good way) texture. Bell peppers and cayenne peppers add heat, while sweet and tangy tomato help mellow the heat. This sauce is incredibly versatile—perfect with just about any meat, great tossed with pasta or slathered on a piece of crusty bread, and lovely as a sandwich spread. It’s easy to make, absolutely delicious, and one of my all time favorite sauces.