Category Archives: Dinner

Finding Balance & A Family Recipe

Chicken Mornay_Foodie for TwoBalance.  As you may have noticed, few words have filled these pages over the last several months.  Balance.  It’s something that hasn’t been in my life of late.  Sadly, take-out food has been the norm for quick nourishment.  I haven’t had the pleasure of tinkering about in my kitchen, making creations that warm my soul and make me sigh with happiness. Balance. You see, a few months ago I took a new path – more like returned to a well-worn path – and started a new job back in the home building industry.  Before I started my new job, this meal was our Sunday dinner.  Life has changed, all for the better, and I must find a new balance on this path.  It will happen and food is usually what anchors me in a busy and fulfilling work life.  Balance.  This family recipe is a start.

Along with creating soulful food in my kitchen, family recipes offer me a great level of comfort and satisfaction, and they help me foster the continuation of a legacy, a connection through food.  This one is a childhood favorite and has celebrated many occasions.  I am not sure where it came from but what’s important to me is that it’s from our family and my life.  Chicken Mornay is made from tender chicken breasts that are browned and then oven cooked with broccoli, mushrooms and a creamy, cheesy sherry sauce that becomes a thick gravy that begs to be scooped up with every bite.  It’s a classy dish that is easy to prepare and make.  First, I gather all the ingredients, get everything prepped and start with the broccoli.

Par Boiled Broccoli Spears_Foodie for TwoThe broccoli florets are par boiled to speed up the cooking time.  A spider, typically used for fried foods, is a helpful tool to remove the broccoli when done.  Transfer the florets to an ice bath (fill a large bowl with water and a good layer of ice cubes – the cold water stops the cooking process for the broccoli and will help retain the color) and let sit for 2 minutes, remove and drain and transfer to a cooking dish.

Broccoli spears in pan_Foodie for TwoAfter transferring the par-boiled florets to the cooking dish, toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper and arrange the florets around the perimeter of the dish.

Dredging_Flour in Paper Bag_Foodie for TwoThe next step is to brown the chicken.  The chicken cutlets need to be dredged in flour and I find the easiest way to do this is to use a sandwich paper bag (available at your local grocery story or Costco). Add the flour and spices to a bag and gently shake to stir, add one cutlet at a time, shake well to coat, remove with tongs and transfer to a plate.  Repeat with remaining pieces and toss/recycle the bag when you are done.  It makes clean up super simple.

Browned Chicken_Foodie for TwoAfter the chicken is browned, add to the middle of the cooking dish.  Now it’s time to make the star of the recipe, the sauce! 

See all those crunchy bits on the bottom of the pan?  That is pure flavor, so don’t wipe it out. Crunchy Pan Bits_Foodie for Two

The sherry and water are added to the hot pan and brought to a boil, while scraping the bottom of the pan to remove the bits, also called deglazing. 
Flavor note: The original recipe calls for American cheese and I made a substitution with a good quality white American from Boarshead.  It makes a notable flavor difference.

Leftover Mushrooms in Paper Bag_Foodie for TwoHave leftover mushrooms? Here’s a clever idea for storing them:   

Keep them in a small paper sandwich bag and store them in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator.  They will keep for about a week.  For easy identification, I like to handwrite the mushroom type and date on the outside of the bag. 

Another component of the sauce is a roux, which is a great thickening agent to keep for sauces, gravies and soups.  For me, it’s the best, surefire tool (and lump-free method) that makes me look like a pro.  Here is a trick from the culinary world using just two ingredients, butter and flour: 

Roux_Progression_Foodie for Two

When the sauce is finished, it is poured over top of the chicken and broccoli and it all cooks for 20 minutes.  Serve bubbling hot and savor the flavors!

Plated Chicken Mornay1_Foodie for TwoBalance.  It’s always a moving target but at least I know with homemade food I can satisfy and nourish my soul.  As I settle into my new groove, I look forward to sharing my stories more often and reconnecting with food – and you – again.

Eat well and share the love!Logo in Word

Chicken Mornay (print recipe)
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Makes 2 servings
Oven: 375º | Prep Time: 20 minutes  |  Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:
2 cups broccoli florets
Chicken:
1 large chicken breast, cut in thirds lengthwise
Dredging:
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
Sauce:
Roux: 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons flour
½ cup cream sherry
¼ cup water
1 ¾ cup milk (used 1%) – warm for 2 minutes in microwave on full power
6 slices American cheese (used Boarshead brand), plus for topping
8 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
Pinch of fresh nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Directions:
Heat oven to 375º

Broccoli: In a medium soup pot, fill ¾ full with water and bring to a boil.  After water has come to a boil, add a pinch of salt and the broccoli florets; par-boil for 4 minutes.  Transfer to an ice bath (large bowl filled with water and a good layer of ice cubes) and let sit for 2 minutes.  Drain, transfer to an 8” x 8” cooking dish and toss with a small amount of olive oil and some salt and pepper to taste.  Arrange around the perimeter of the cooking dish.

Chicken: Heat a medium skillet to medium-high and add the oil.  While the pan is heating, add the flour and spices to a small paper bag and dredge each piece of chicken, dusting off any excess flour.  Transfer to a plate and continue with the remaining chicken pieces.  When the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes until golden brown, turn over (add a bit more oil if needed) and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.  Transfer chicken pieces to the middle of the cooking dish.

Sauce:  For the roux, add the butter to a ramekin or small glass bowl.  Microwave on 10 second increments until the butter is melted.  Add the flour and stir well, set aside.

Using the same skillet that the chicken was cooked in, turn the heat to medium and add the sherry and water to de-glaze the pan.  Cook for 5 minutes to reduce.  Add the roux and stir well until it is completed incorporated into the liquid.  Add the milk and whisk together; bring to a boil to thicken, about 5 minutes, stirring often.  Add the cheese, mushrooms and spices, and stir well to melt the cheese.

Pour sauce over the chicken and broccoli in the cooking dish and bake uncovered for 20 minutes.  Serve hot.

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In April I couldn’t resist capturing this playful shot of Murphy after he buried his face in the snow.  Thankfully the ground is now covered with green grass and the tree leaves are almost fully grown.Murphy in April 2013_Foodie for Two

A Memorable Evening: Gypsy Kitchen Supper Club

Denver hosted the 2012 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) for 3 days last week (tickets sold out in less than an hour!) and the food, beverage and restaurant community was abuzz with excitement for the artisanal suds.  On Sunday, a local supper club offered a GABF-themed beer pairing dinner that was held at one of my favorite restaurants, Mizuna.  We snagged two seats for the Gypsy Kitchen dinner, excited to sample some of the beers and dine in this top Denver restaurant.  Sommelier Alex Kayir selected her favorite beers from the festival, deftly walking us through each sampling and food course.  I’m told the supper club is a passion project of Mizuna chef, Jon Robbins and it shows.  Each course was superb with crisp, bright and beautifully contrasting flavors.  I was a happy foodie!  The guests seemed to be kindred spirits and we all shared in the food sensory experience – it truly was a magical evening with amazing food and people.

Sommelier Alex Kayir sharing her knowledge with guests

The kitchen, the heart of the supper club: Jon Robbins on right

Have you ever heard of a finger lime? This was the first time I had ever seen one; the tiny pearls were used to further adorn the oyster. It reminded me of tangy lime caviar – loved the texture.

Red Kuri Squash Soup paired with New Belgium La Folie, Sour Brown Ale, Fort Collins CO

Escargots en croûtes, paired with Funkwerks Saison, Belgian Ale, Fort Collins CO

Pan Seared Diver Scallops with Ginger Carrot “Risotto”, paired with Prost Weisbier, Denver CO
(Can you tell this is the course I was most looking forward to devouring? After 3 or 4 blissful bites I realized I hadn’t taken a photo – whoops. Check out that crispy sear!)

Linguine with Little Neck Clams, Spicy Tomato Buido & Linguiça, paired with Avery Kaiser, Oktoberfest Lager, Boulder CO

Roasted Australian Lamb Chop with Apricot-Almond Tagine and Cous Cous, paired with Dry Dock Apricot Blonde, Aurora CO

Spiced Pumpkin Croquembouche, paired with Upslope Brewing Pumpkin Ale, Boulder CO
(I snapped the photo before the delicious pepita brittle was sprinkled on top tableside.)

Cardamom-Chocolate Torte, paired with Shmaltz Brewing Coney Island Barrel Aged Imperial Bock, NY

And the beer pairings – all excellent!

Something always fun to share with friends and loved ones, especially at Gypsy Kitchen, or Mizuna!

Eat well and share the love!

Grill Something Different for Labor Day: Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Looking for something different to grill this Labor Day weekend?  Borrow a recipe from the Caribbean and try some Jamaican Jerk Chicken, loaded with tons of spicy, sweet and bright flavors.  Inspired from our stop in Jamaica earlier this summer (lunch after the zip line), I broadened my horizons and tried making Jerk Chicken at home. Thankfully the task was made much easier by a timely article in Cooks Illustrated magazine (July/August 2012) with a well-tested recipe. In the article they explain their trial and errors in getting the flavors just right, include some science behind the food, and share grilling techniques to make the chicken succulent and moist.  As usual, they were spot on with flavors and techniques; you can read the abbreviated article here. We’ve made this recipe numerous times since and always get great results with juicy, flavorful chicken. Even though it may sound spicy, don’t skimp on the habanero peppers because they add a wonderful flavor punch without the extreme heat. To round out the meal, we added jasmine rice with black beans and some watermelon slices.

This menagerie of spices is what makes the jerk chicken so flavorful – 17 ingredients in all, but the blender does the work for you. The chicken and spice paste are added to a Ziploc bag where they marinate from 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours which is what we prefer because the flavors penetrate all through the meat. I modified the recipe for two people with one large chicken breast, 2 thighs and 1 drumstick – all bone-in and with skin on. Their recipe also calls for smoking the chicken using a foil packet with spices and wood chips, an easy way to add delicious smoke flavor, but we never seem to remember this part. With or without this step, the recipe is still delicious and easy to put together.

If you want more visuals, Cooks Illustrated created a video for this recipe that quickly steps you through making the marinade and grilling with indirect heat, the secret for juicy chicken – including how to make that simple tin foil smoker packet.

Did you know?  
In closing, here are some Labor Day tidbits from the U.S. Department of Labor’s website: 
“The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union.”

“In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.”

“The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”

Whatever plans you may have for Labor Day, celebrate your day as an American worker.  And make sure you enjoy some scrumptious food with loved ones and friends!

Eat well and share the love!

Jamaican Jerk Chicken (print recipe)
Recipe: Adapted from Cooks Illustrated magazine, July/August 2012 issue, page 8
Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies, 4 pieces of chicken

Ingredients:
2 lbs. chicken (bone-in, skin on), about 1 breast, 2 thighs, 1 drumstick
Marinade
2 teaspoons whole allspice berries
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
2 habanero chiles, cut into thirds (stems & seeds removed, discard)
6 scallions, cut into large dice (remove & discard ends)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons plus 1½ teaspoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon lime zest (about 2 limes)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dried yellow mustard
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons dried basil
¼ teaspoon dried rosemary
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions:
Add the chicken pieces to a gallon Ziploc or freezer bag; place the bag in a large, shallow bowl.

Marinade: Add the whole allspice berries, coriander seeds and peppercorns to the blender and replace the lid. Pulse on highest speed (“ice” if available) until coarsely ground.
Note
: You can also use your mortar & pestle or spice grinder to grind these spices, transfer spices to the blender.

To the blender, add the remaining ingredients and process until a smooth paste forms. Transfer the mixture to the bag with chicken, seal well, making sure all the air is removed. From the outside of the bag, massage the paste into both sides of the chicken pieces. Store the bag of marinated chicken in the bowl and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, up to 24 hours.

Grill (using gas grill): Turn all burners to high, cover and heat grill until hot, 15 to 25 minutes. Turn primary burner to medium and turn off all other burner(s).

Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken, with marinade clinging and skin side up, as far away as possible, with thighs closest to fire and breast furthest away. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.

Move chicken, skin side down, to hotter side of grill; cook until browned and skin renders, 3 to 6 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken pieces and cook until browned on second side and breast register 160 degrees and thighs/drumsticks register 175 degrees, 5 to 12 minutes longer.

Transfer chicken to serving platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with lime wedges.

  • Don’t forget the gloves when working with habanero chiles

An exhibit at the Denver Art Museum

Dad’s Wontons Become Lettuce Wraps

My parents often cooked when we were kids, and they sometimes made recipes that exposed us to different cuisines.  Some we never cared to repeat and some became family favorites, with each sibling putting their own mark or twist on it.  Dad’s fried wontons served with a garlicky, ginger soy dipping sauce were a favorite because they tasted like real grown up food, highlighting vibrant flavors and crunchy textures.  He picked up the recipe while enrolled in culinary school in Texas and it was often a menu item for their backyard parties.  Ground beef, carrots, raisins and onions make up the filling and with Dad’s version it gets rolled into an eggroll wrapper (we still called them a wonton) and fried to a crispy golden brown.  With the soy dipping sauce drizzled on every bite, it was the ultimate savory and sweet combination. My deconstructed version has a crisp crunch from the butter lettuce, with all the flavor memories intact. Ground chicken or turkey can easily be substituted for the meat, just be sure to add extra seasoning.

A soy dipping sauce pulls all the flavors together and enhances the taste of this meal.  The salty tang of soy sauce is combined with spicy ginger root, rich garlic, oniony scallions and bright cilantro for a superbly delicious sauce! A spoonful for every bite is certainly warranted.

Here’s where the crispy wonton part comes into play. Instead of frying the whole meal as an eggroll, I thinly cut a few wonton (or eggroll, whichever you can find) wrappers into thin strips and fried them up in a small amount of oil. They provide the perfect crunch on top and remind me of the wonton taste. For those of you who aren’t familiar with butter lettuce, also known as Bibb or Boston lettuce, it has a slightly sweet, buttery flavor with thick leaves – perfect for lettuce wraps. I like to buy mine live (living greens) with the root ball attached and packed in a large clam shell, pictured below. It lasts for 2 to 3 weeks in the refrigerator if the root ball is kept moist.

If you are yearning for something fried as I often do, here’s how to enjoy Dad’s original wontons: Simply heat your oil (about 2 ½ to 3 inches deep in a medium sauce pan with tall sides) to 350º and assemble the wontons: Add about 1/3 cup filling to the bottom half of an eggroll wrapper (a generous tablespoon for wonton wrapper), roll up like a burrito (for wonton: arrange wrapper with corner at top, place filling in the middle and fold in half) and seal the last edges well with a fingertip dipped in water, repeat process. Fry in small batches until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Let drain and cool slightly on a plate lined with paper towels. Serve hot with the soy dipping sauce.

Eat well and share the love!

Dad’s Wonton Lettuce Wraps (print recipe)
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies, makes 5 to 6 wraps

Ingredients:
Soy Dipping Sauce
½ cup soy sauce (low-sodium if available)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated ginger, skin removed
1 tablespoon sliced scallions
1 clove garlic, mashed whole
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Fried Wonton Strips
Vegetable oil
5 to 6 wonton wrappers or 2 to 3 eggrolls wrappers, sliced into thin strips
Filling
¼ medium yellow onion, diced (about ½ cup)
1 large carrot peeled and grated (about ¾ cup)
½ cup golden raisins
½ pound lean ground meat (or chicken, turkey)
2 to 3 tablespoons of dipping sauce
1 tablespoon cilantro, rough chopped
1 small clove garlic, finely minced/grated
¼ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/8 teaspoon lime zest
Olive oil or vegetable oil
Salt
Pepper
Family Style Platter – Serve
4 to 5 whole leaves of butter lettuce
Wonton filling (keep hot until ready to serve)
Small bowl of Soy Dipping Sauce with spoon
Fresh cilantro leaves, from 4 to 5 sprigs of cilantro
Fried wonton strips

Directions:
Soy Dipping Sauce:  To a small bowl or glass measuring cup, add the soy sauce, ginger, scallions, garlic, cilantro and rice wine vinegar – mix well with a fork. Let the dipping sauce sit for at least an hour before serving to allow the flavors to develop. Can be made one day ahead, cover & refrigerate. (Sauce will keep in refrigerator for 3 or 4 days.)

Fry the wonton strips Add oil to a small sauce pan with tall sides, enough so oil is about 1 inch deep and heat to 350º over medium-high heat (do not leave pan unattended).  Cut the wontons into very thin strips and gently run your fingers through them to loosen.  Fry in small batches until lightly golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Let drain and cool on a plate lined with paper towels; season with salt and pepper while still hot.

Filling: In a medium skillet over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon oil and the onions.  Sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the grated carrots along with a few drizzles of oil and continue sauteéing for another 3-4 minutes, until carrots are almost tender.  Mix in raisins and transfer to a medium bowl.

In the same skillet over medium heat, add a few drizzles of oil and the ground meat, break up with the back of a spoon.  Season with ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper, mix together and continue to crumble meat as it cooks. When meat is done (no longer pink in the center), add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Add the grated ginger, cilantro and lime zest, stir well and mix in the onion carrot mixture, stir together until well combined and keep hot.

Family Style Platter – Assemble the Lettuce Wraps:
Using a large plate or medium platter, arrange the wonton lettuce wrap ingredients for serving.  To assemble a lettuce wrap, add some filling to the middle of the lettuce leaf, drizzle some soy dipping sauce, add a few cilantro leaves and top with wonton strips.  Finish with a bit more of the soy dipping sauce.  Fold the lettuce leaves down and over each other, and eat with your hands.

A recent summer sunset from our front deck!

A Riff on a Masterpiece…….Sandwich

Downtown Denver has so many great places to eat and there is a deli that has enamored my taste buds for several years.  I don’t get to Masterpiece Deli  that often – maybe once or twice a year – and that’s why it’s such a treat when I do.  This is my riff on a sandwich that they have perfected, the Seared Ahi Tuna sandwich.  They make it with fresh, seared Ahi tuna slices that are piled on an English muffin with wasabi mayonnaise and Asian slaw made with green cabbage.  It’s a simple combination that delivers with tons of flavor.  The English muffin adds a slightly sweet and soft bite, the coleslaw gives some crunchy texture and the wasabi mayonnaise ties it all together with a spicy zing.

Here’s how I changed things up for my version:  I love red cabbage and always use it for my coleslaw – it has great flavor, fun eye appeal and lots of nutrients. The coleslaw also has carrots, rice wine vinegar, cilantro, mayonnaise and scallions.  To recreate the wasabi mayonnaise, I used some of David’s homemade horseradish because we always have it on hand and it has the same flavor zing without any dyes – stir a dollop into some store-bought mayonnaise and you have an instant spicy spread.

When buying tuna, get the freshest available, from a reputable source and buy it the day of your meal; I bought mine from my local grocery store.  You only need 8 ounces (half a pound) of meat for two sandwiches, and the trick is a smoking-hot pan to sear just the outside, with a rare inside.  After the tuna cools use a serrated knife to make slicing easier.  Don’t worry if some of the meat falls apart, it will get covered up with the other ingredients on the sandwich.

If you are strolling through the Denver Lower Highlands (LoHi) neighborhood and near the Highland pedestrian bridge, be sure to stop by Masterpiece Deli to enjoy their delicious, creative spin on sandwiches.  And then stop by another one of my favorites, Little Man Ice Cream  for a scoop (or two) or the best hand-made ice cream.

Eat well and share the love!

Seared Ahi Tuna Sandwich (print recipe)
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Prep Time: 15 minutes/Cooking time: 13 minutes/Total cooking time: about 30 minutes

Ingredients:
Coleslaw
¼ cup mayonnaise
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/16 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 scallion, thinly sliced (both green and white part)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2¼ cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1 carrot, peeled and grated
Horseradish Mayonnaise
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon horseradish sauce
Seared Tuna
8 oz. filet of Ahi tuna
Olive oil
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Sandwich
2 English muffins, split and toasted

Directions:
ColeslawAdd the mayonnaise, salt, pepper, rice wine vinegar, scallion and cilantro to a medium bowl and mix well.  Add the cabbage and carrots and mix together with a fork until the mayonnaise mixture and cabbage are well incorporated. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble sandwiches. The coleslaw tastes best if allowed to sit for at least 15 minutes for the flavors to develop and cabbage to soften.

Horseradish Mayonnaise:  Add the mayonnaise and horseradish to a small bowl and mix well.

Seared TunaAdd 1 teaspoon of olive oil to a medium skillet and heat to medium high heat. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on the tuna steak and season with salt and pepper. Turn steak over and repeat with the olive oil and seasoning.

When the oil in the pan starts to develop slight ripples – about 3 or 4 minutes – it is hot enough: the pan should be very hot to get a good sear on the tuna. Place the tuna steak in the pan and don’t move it. Let cook for about 2 minutes and turn steak over. Let cook for another 1½ to 2 minutes for rare doneness and remove from heat. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool completely, about 5 minutes. When cool, slice the meat into thin slices using a serrated knife.

Assemble SandwichesToast the English muffins until they are just golden brown and add some mayonnaise to both sides.  Add half the tuna slices to the bottom piece of each English muffin and top with about ½ cup of coleslaw.  Place the top on sandwich and serve with your favorite potato chips or fruit.

  • Cover and refrigerate and leftover coleslaw for up to 2 days