Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fresh Herb Goat Cheese Spread

Here is a fantastic new appetizer spread/dip that is a guaranteed hit with any crowd...I am always asked for the recipe!  It took me a while to make this cause we do not often have the soft goat cheese in our fridge but now that we all enjoy this spread, goat cheese is almost always on-hand.  It is perfect for the upcoming BBQ party season.  This tastes really fresh, nutritional in it's 'rawness' (a lot of calcium in parsley)and hugely versatile IF you have leftovers!

If you do not think you are a 'goat cheese' fan, please do not pass on this.  Tasters have often told me it does not taste like the strong goat cheese they expected which would be due to the yogurt mixed in and the strong herb flavours on top.    The yogurt also helps to create a creamy, smooth cheese that is more spreadable than just goat cheese.  And the mix of herbs is really versatile.  Feel free to mix it up with what you have growing in your own garden to create something unique every time.

Inspiration came from friends Carolyn and Debbi who made this from the Simply Balanced cookbook.  I found a few tweaks of my own made it even more enjoyable for my liking and easier to make.  Let me know what you think!  Be sure to read all the variations and options for using a spread like this in your meals.

Fresh Herb Goat Cheese Spread

1 - 1 1/2 cup fresh cilantro - finely chopped or snipped
1/2 - 1 cup fresh parsley - finely chopped or snipped
1/2 cup additional fresh herbs like basil, thyme, mint, tarragon - optional
150 grams Goat cheese or small cheese log (picture above is a large goat cheese 300 g)
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes - finely chopped
1/4 cup walnuts - finely chopped
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Add the goat cheese and yogurt in a small bowl.  Using a spoon, combine these to create a smooth, spreadable cheese.  Spread this mixture into a 9" pie plate or larger plate making about a 9" circle.  It may not appear to be a thick layer but the cheese has a strong flavour and the amount works with the fresh herb layer.

In a separate bowl, add the parsley, cilantro and any other herbs you are using.  The fastest and
 easiest way to finely chop the herbs is to put the herbs (and stems included) into a bowl and
using a kitchen scissor, start snipping the herbs until all are finely chopped.  No need for a big
cutting board and knife and mess to clean up.  Love this method!!! 

Also, the amount of herbs is not too critical.  I prefer cilantro to parsley hence I use more but feel free to mix it up.  And the overall amount of herbs you want (before finely chopped) is about 2 cups of loosely packed herbs. By the time I am done mincing it, I get about 1 cup of finely chopped herbs.

Add in the garlic, oil, salt and pepper, sun dried tomatoes and walnuts. 

Let the mixture to sit for 15 - 30 minutes, if you have time, to allow the flavours to blend.

Add the fresh herb pesto on top of the goat cheese mixture. 
 It presents nice if you leave goat cheese showing on outer edge.

Serve immediately with your crackers of choice or refrigerate until needed. 

Variation 1 - Lemon
Add the zest of half a lemon to the herb mixture before layering on the goat cheese.
Variation 2 - Balsamic
Drizzle a quality balsamic vinegar over the herb topping or add it into the herb mixture  before adding to the top of the goat cheese.
Variation 3 - Baked
Combine the cheese and herb mixture and using a oven-proof dish, heat the mixture (about 400F for 10 min) and serve warm with crackers.
Variation 4 - Burger/Sandwich spread
Mix the cheese and herbs and add the spread onto burgers, sandwiches or fresh bread.
Variation 5 - Pasta
Add to pasta for a cheesy herb pasta.  Mix in sauteed zucchini and peppers with a side of BBQ meat.
Variation 6 - Pizza
Mix the cheese and herbs together and add to a pizza crust/tortilla.  Top with olives, tomatoes, red onion, zucchinis and bake/broil.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fiesta Chicken

I recently borrowed a cookbook called Gourmet Nutrition from a friend and started to try out several new recipes.  As I flipped through the book and its delicious looking pictures, there was one recipe that immediately caught my eye and I could hardly wait to try.  It was filled with bite-size food and a beautiful mix of colors and it had a Mexican flavour to it.  (My picture below does not have all the toppings yet but shows the colors nicely!) 

When I got cooking in my kitchen, I had fully expected to make the dish as instructed but had a last minute thought (due to a child preference) and tweaked it just a little.  As I stirred the dish, I knew what I made was going to be good based just on how it looked and started taking pictures even though I had no plans to blog it.  Once I finally got to sit down and eat it, I was in love.  We all loved it a great deal.  The sweet and spicy flavours, soft and crunchy foods, the hot food with the cool touch of yogurt - AMAZING!!!  Like a party in your mouth!

Aside from the color and flavours already mentioned, this meal is also a favorite for several reasons:
1.  Very quick to make (with planning)
Since I started meal-planning, it allows me to make extra chicken and roast more veggies (like the sweet potato) ahead with other meals so the bulk of this meal is ready for dicing and heating.
2.  A no-grain meal
In my style of cooking, my natural thinking on this meal would be to serve this over a bed of rice, however, my reading has lead me to reconsider just how much grain is in my diet and look to see where it can be omitted - such as this meal.  The Gourmet Nutrition cookbook really emphasized this.  And really, you do not need it at all.  As for the corn, some do consider that a grain however, in my dish, it is a veggie!!  I like the yellow color it adds and also the crisp bite of sweetness. 
3. A meal with no cheese 
Again, my cooking instincts on Mexican flavoured food requires cheese but this does not need it.  Trust me.   Cheese always tastes good on food but it is not needed here at all and I like that.  Resist the urge and try it 'naked'.  The yogurt topping offers a great creamy texture and flavour contrast in place of the cheese I suppose and fewer calories too!

One last comment that has to be made...the roasted nuts are not optional here.  Really.  It is the surprise ingredient that helps creates the magic in this dish.   Now here is the recipe so that the rest of you can enjoy this delicious meal of beautiful color, textures and flavours.  Happy eating!

Fiesta Chicken

2 chicken breasts - cubed and precooked
1 sweet potato * - roasted and diced
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen green peas
1 cup canned beans (black or red) - rinsed thoroughly
1 fresh tomato - diced
1/2 fresh cilantro - finely chopped
1 Tbsp DIY Taco Seasoning *
1/4 - 1/2 cup water (or more as needed)
1/2 cup almonds - roasted and chopped
1/2 - 1 cup plain yogurt *

In a large skillet, add the cooked chicken, sweet potato cubes, corn, peas, beans, seasoning and water.  Mix thoroughly and heat through.  Add more water if necessary so the food does not stick in the pan.  Add the diced tomato and fresh cilantro and heat for another minute or two.

To serve, top with a dollop of plain yogurt and roasted almonds (they are not optional!)

Cook's Notes:

Roasted Sweet Potato - For this dish, it works fastest to use a pre-cooked sweet potato.  After it is cooked, a cooled potato will chop us easily and hold it's shape better.
The baking process allows the natural sugars to roast and creates a sweeter potato and it is simple.  Just 1. wash the skins and add the potatoes to a baking dish. 
2. Poke them with a fork to allow the steam to escape and prevent explosions.
3. Cover the dish with a lid or foil (I find they bake faster this way)
4. Bake at 350 F for about 30 - 45 min  or until desired for cooking purposes.  Test with a fork to see how firm the potato is.  This amount of time will depend on how big the sweet potatoes are. When using sweet potatoes in pieces for this dish, they can be baked a little less so they remain in shape (hence less baking time).  If using your potatoes for mashed sweet potatoes, then I would bake at least an hour or more.

Roasted almonds - For a recipe like this, it really does not matter if you use raw or roasted almonds but I really prefer the flavour of the roasted and the crisper crunch. 
1. To roast them, I chop the almonds in a food chopper or with a knife on a cutting board to desired size.
2. Using a frying pan on your stove top, heat the pan over med heat and add the chopped nuts.  Add the nuts to a dry pan and stir them until they become golden and smell fragrant.  If you walk away, they are likely to burn - the laws of cooking.

DIY Taco Seasoning - I posted this recipe a few weeks ago on my blog.  Any taco seasoning mix can be used for this recipe but the amount will vary.

Plain Yogurt - My family uses plain yogurt in place of sour cream.  It is a very easy swap to make and prevents me from having both yogurt and sour cream in the fridge.  Plus the yogurt does have healthy bacteria in it that sour cream does not have.  If you don't have plain yogurt, feel free to use sour cream.