Pistachio Crusted Chicken with Strawberry Salsa

Strawberry season has arrived. Finally.

Previously, I lived just north of Santa Maria on the Coast of Central California. When you drove down Highway 101 this time of year, the smells permeate and strawberry stands are all around. Typically, I would buy a large crate at a time, eat half and share half. I love combining strawberries with savory dishes and here is one of my classic dishes.

The Strawberry Salsa could technically go on top of simply prepared fish or chicken, but I love pairing it with this Pistachio Crusted Chicken. One little secret to this dish is just a touch of ground rosemary powder. It gives a pine-y earthiness that balances nicely with the sweet berry salsa. A hint o' mint & zest of lime, give not only a lovely contrasting color to the salsa but a harmony of flavor.

This is truly is a dish I cherish. We patiently wait until baskets of strawberries are everywhere and then we can finally enjoy it as often as we choose.

Start with the salsa so the flavors have a chance to meld and mingle.

Strawberry Salsa
Just toss together the following:
1 pound strawberries, clean, remove stems and chop small, into little salsa size bits
2 tablespoons finely minced red onion
1 handful fresh mint (or basil), chopped up
1 lime, zest and juice
1 splash balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

The salsa is even better the next day, but will last up to a week if stored properly. Also, if your strawberries are not quite ripe enough add a pinch of sugar, honey, or agave until it is your desired sweetness.

Pistachio Crusted Chicken
If you do not have a blender/food processor available, chop the nuts by hand until fine.
2 servings

2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast Cutlets (about 5-6 ounces each)
¾ cup pistachios, finely chopped up in a blender or food processor or mince up by hand
tiny pinch of salt (omit if nuts are salted)
½ tbls ground rosemary powder or dried rosemary, chopped fine
1 egg lightly beaten
olive oil in a spray can (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425. Prepare the chicken by pounding it to an even thickness. This can be achieved with a mallet, but if you do not have one a heavy frying pan will work. The chicken will still be fairly thick about ¾ inch or slightly more, the goal is to have it be an even thickness, not paper-thin.

Toss the pistachios on a plate with the salt and rosemary. Dip each breast into the beaten eggs and then lay on top of the nuts. Turn over and gently push the nuts into the chicken. Place the breasts on a baking sheet lined with foil/parchment paper and place in the fridge for 10-30 minutes. This will dry the nuts onto the chicken. If you don’t have time, feel free to skip this step.

Remove the chicken from the oven and gently spritz each side with the Olive Oil mister. This will give the nut-coating a bit more golden color when baked without the need to fry it. Place in the oven for 15 minutes. Turn over the chicken, spritz again if desired and continue baking for 10 minutes. Check the chicken for done-ness by pressing gently on the center of the breast. It should basically be firm but not a rock when ready. If you are still not sure, cut it in the middle to see if it has cooked through and is no longer pink in the center.


Crispy Crunchy Baked Fish with Lemon Caper Sauce

Recently we were at Breckenridge Brewery and I saw some oversized, shiny fish sticks resting on a pile of crispy fries walk by. Suddenly, I remembered my Pescatarian days when I opted for Fish Sticks at places where a Vegetarian menu was a foreign term. Not exactly healthy, but typically wipe-the-grease-off-your-chin tasty.

Now, I was craving the crispy coating around the moist fluffy white fish. However, my lack of desire to have a deep fryer and the obvious amount of fat oozing around an otherwise healthy piece of fish were preventing me from ordering a plate full. So, I worked out my own crispy dish o’ fish.

This recipe is inspired by a recipe in a Cuisine at Home magazine from a couple years ago. While Panko breadcrumbs are fabulous for any breading I wanted a bit more crispiness and dare I say greasiness. A small bag of potato chips did the trick. I used the unsalted Kettle Chips so I could better control the salt. Mustard gives a bit more flavor and while I usually have a nice relish on hand for a quick tarter sauce all I could find were capers… and my Lemon-Caper Sauce was created to be the final touch!

I also have an obsession with Kale and noticed that it is a common decoration in the Seafood Department (what a waste!) so I quickly sautéed a pile of kale to balance out my crispy seafood feast.

Crisp-Crusty Fish
½ cup low-sodium potato chips, crushed into pieces
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tbls grated parmesan cheese
1 tbls Italian seasonings
2 tbls mustard
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 lb tilapia, cut into pieces that are even sizes, typically I cut through the center to create two long pieces
olive oil in a mister can

On a plate, toss together the potato chips, pankos, parmesan, and seasonings. Whisk together the mustard and beaten eggs in shallow bowl. Dip the tilapia pieces into the mustard egg mixture. Shake off the excess and place in the crumb mixture. Adhere the crumbs, pressing in slightly.

Preheat the oven to 475. Place the fish on a baking sheet lined with foil. As the oven heats up it will give the coating a few minutes to “dry” itself onto the fish. Just before placing in the oven, spray the fish with the olive oil spray. Flip over the fish pieces, spray again lightly with the olive oil. Roast for 5-8 minutes. Flip over the fish and bake for 4-6 more minutes until the fish is golden and flaky when broken. Or slightly firm when you touch it in the center.

Sauteed Kale
1 bunch Kale, washed and torn into pieces
1/2 teaspoon olive oil or a quick spray from the mister
1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste

Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Drizzle in the olive oil and toss in the kale pieces. Quickly saute tossing the leaves until they crisp in some places and wilt in others.

Lemon Caper Sauce
1/4 cup mayonnaise or vegenaise
1/2 lemon juiced, about 1-2 tablespoons
1 heaping tablespoon capers
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together the mayo with the lemon juice. Make it as tangy as you like it. Stir in the capers. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve alongside the Crispy Crunchy Baked Fish.


Pashka & Kulich

For my family, Easter is much better with the egg-y dense Russian Bread, Kulich, along with its best friend the creamy-sweetened spread Pashka.
Last year, I spent Easter with my brother and sister in San Francisco and asked if there were any food requests for the big day. Pashka and Kulich- hands down.

I contacted my Mom -who has not made it in years- and she sent me a Recipe from a 1974 Sunset Magazine along with our Oma’s recipe for the Pashka. In reading the Kulich recipe it instructed 45 minutes to knead. My Mother had a great response typed within the recipe she emailed me-- “Good Grief”. A Kitchen Aide Mixer seemed the only solution, but neither my bro nor sis had one. Fortunately, we found a lovely Russian bakery in San Francisco, I ordered, my brother paid and my sister picked it up- successful group effort. This year for my pre-Easter feast with friends I was determined to finally make the family classic myself.

My Oma passed away when I was just 6 years old and while I have memories of her there are just not enough of them. Several of her recipes are so classically a part of my family that it keeps us all connected to her. I blissfully spent the morning thinking of her and the many times she must have made this in her own kitchen.

In the end, using my Kitchen Aide mixer the Kulich seemed to only need about 5 minutes of kneading with the dough hook. I am a slightly nervous baker and had many anxious moments during the making of the Kulich. Give yourself at least 5 hours from the time you are planning to serve it. Mostly because of the rising time, I was a bit rushed and cut a few of the rises short. Plan to make the Pashka the night before as it drains & sets overnight.

Also, please note I am not Russian. My Oma is not Russian. Apparently, just a big fan of Russian sweets. I did not have a coffee tin to bake it in- where do you get those anymore without purchasing dried up old coffee? I bought a couple of paper Panettone Moulds , which did the trick but caused them to be “squattier” than normal as you see in the pictures. Usually they are at least 8 inches high. Next year, I will find better paper moulds.

Despite, the shortness I swear they tasted better than I remember… maybe because of the 8 egg yolks or the fact that they were fresh out of the oven. Either way, I am so happy to add this to my list of recipes and I hope you will try it out too.

Start the night before with….
My Oma' Paskha
2/3 c. butter, room temperature
2/3 c. sugar
1 egg
2/3 c. sour creaam
28 ounces Ricotta (or 2 lbs dry curd cheese as the original recipe suggests)
1/3 c. raisins –chopped (actually I forgot to chop them- no need)
Zest of 1 orange or 1 T. finely cut citrus peel
1/4 lb. finely chopped blanched almonds or slivered almonds
1 tsp. vanilla
3- 8 oz. pk. cream cheese, room temperature
Optional Decorations: Edible Flowers, Sliced Almonds, Currants, Raisins or other dried fruit

Special Equipment:
Cheesecloth, Strainer, and an Electric Mixer is helpful.

In a Mixer or large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Over medium heat, whisk together the sour cream and egg until well combined and just hot. Remove from heat to cool, continue to whisk until it has cooled slightly.

Add the ricotta through the soft cream cheese. Beat until well combined. Line a strainer with cheesecloth and place in a bowl. Fill with the Pashka (ours was overfilled) and drain overnight.

The next day, place a plate on top of the Pashka, flip over and peel away the cheesecloth. Decorate the Pashka with various décor, we used sliced almonds to create a flower design.

*Please note, the recipe originally had 2 egg yolks in it. My Mom suggested omitting as they are raw and don’t change the quality of the Pashka dramatically. If you are a raw egg fan or a Pashka purist, feel free to add them when you cream the butter and sugar and let me know how it goes.

Russian Easter Bread
Slightly adapted from Sunset Magazine 1974

1/4 cup milk
1 cup butter -room temperature
3 1/2 c. flour
1 egg
1 envelope yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean
1 Tablespoon vodka or brandy
1/32 tsp. ground saffron or a pinch of threads
1 orange zested with a microplane or ¼ cup of candied orange peel chopped up
½ cup currants
½ cup slivered almonds

1 c. powdered sugar
1 T. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. water or more lemon juice

The initial step was a bit odd for me, but apparently worked well overall.

Combine 1/4 c. milk, 2 T. butter and bring up to boil, stirring constantly. At once dump in 1/4 c. flour. Off the stove stir vigorously until mixture is smooth and paste like. Add the egg and beat well to incorporate. Set aside to cool down and mellow out a bit.

Add the yeast to warm water and stir in 1 teaspoon sugar in a Medium size bowl. Let stand 5 minutes until the yeast has had a tasty snack and is bubbling up and ready to go. If it doesn’t bubble, start over with new yeast, warm water and sugar (yeast may have been too old, water to hot/cold, or maybe the sugar was not tasty enough for those little guys?)

Once the paste-cooked mixture is lukewarm add in the yeast mixture, stir, cover with a lid or towel and let rise for 30 min.

In a Mixer with a whisk attachment, beat remaining butter and sugar with the salt . Slowly add in each egg yolk and combine each well.

Meanwhile, split the vanilla bean and scrap seeds into a bowl, pour in the vodka and saffron. Allow to rest for a few minutes until the saffron has dissolved and released its color. Stir in the orange peel.

Add the Vodka-Vanilla-Saffron into the butter mixture.

Slowly add in the remaining flour about ½ cup at a time until fully incorporated. Add in the yeast mixture. Exchange the whisk attachment for the dough hook and turn it on to about medium-high speed until the dough begins to pull away from the bowl. At this point, toss in the currants and almonds and incorporate.

If not using a mixer, follow the original directions and knead 45 minutes. To quote my Mom—“Good grief.”

Place in a warm place, loosely covered with a moist towel and allow to raise for 2 ½ hours.** Once raised, knead slightly and divide into two.

Place each in the paper molds or in 2 coffee cans lined with parchment and well buttered.
Raise in a warm place for 1 ½ hours.**

Preheat oven to 325. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 300 and bake for 45 more minutes. Cool in the papers or remove from the cans and cool.

Make the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, lemon juice and water. Drizzle on top of the breads, using a fork to make thin streaks on top. Often you will see Kulich adorned with flowers or other such décor.

**Please note, I was anticipating my lovely golden dough was going to double in size. It did not and it still turned out great. Please do not panic as I did because it tasted delicious regardless of not raising outside of the oven and doubled once it was in the oven. Go figure!


Chocolate Covered Oreos

Easter memories are some of my happiest. More often than not I would be wearing a dress made by my Grandmother with a white matching hat and we would dash around with a basket clanking filled with pretty hard-boiled eggs. Eventually we would find the basket- one for each of us- filled with precious treats, tasty goodies and chocolate tucked in the paper grass. For me Dark Chocolate of some shape or coating is an Easter day requirement and as an adult the one processed food I still maintain a weakness for are Oreos.

Although, I am often more partially to Newmans or Joes O’s or some other *faux* brand where I can feel a touch less guilty, but in this case we had the naught ones- the originals. Of course, since a plain old Oreo dipped in milk is perfectly delish why not dress it up and call it your own, by dipping them in chocolate instead (milk is perfectly legit and recommended after the chocolate has dried on). Next time, I plain to add a touch of coconut oil as I feel they will have less of a melt-in-your-finger-texture since coconut oil stays fairly solid at room temperature. Let me know if you try it with coconut oil.

These days I may not be into wearing an Easter bonnet, but I refuse to say good-bye to any Easter item dipped in Dark Bittersweet Chocolate.

1 cup chocolate chips or your favorite dark chocolate chopped
12 Oreos

Set a metal bowl on top of a small-medium sized saucepan 2/3rds full of water. Bring water up to a boil.
Once the bowl is hot, add in the chocolate chips. Slowly stir and fold the chips against the hot bowl.
Once the chocolate has melted, drop in one Oreo at a time. With two forks, gently flip them over until they are fully coated.

Place them on wax paper and allow to cool.

At this point, dip in milk or just eat as many as your tummy can handle in wild abandonment!


Cocoa Mint Roasted Lamb with Orange Roasted Asparagus

Lamb is my favorite Easter dish. It represents so much of spring and I adore serving it with Mint Sauce. I originally created this Cocoa Mint Rub when I found a small rack of Lamb in our freezer that we had managed to ignore for over a year. I knew they would need a strong rub in case the freezer had an effect on the flavor. While the main taste is Cocoa there is a bit of coffee in there to intensify the overall experience. We were all instantly hooked to the richness of the Cocoa with the lightness of the Mint against the tender lamb. This rub is now my favorite accompaniment to Lamb… and something about putting Chocolate and Mint on the main dish rather than in the Easter basket just charms me.

Of course, this Easter Lamb needs buddies and asparagus grabbed my attention- especially since it has been a long winter with out those sprigs of goodness. I prefer them roasted with an almost caramelized essence and orange seemed a great way to tie together the Cocoa, Mint and Lamb. And to officially bring them altogether I made an Orange Mint-Basil Sauce, which would be incredible drizzled on roasted vegetables, chicken or even as salad dressing.

Cocoa Mint Roasted Lamb

Cocoa Mint Rub
2 tbls raw sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ cup mint, washed, dried, torn into pieces
1 clove garlic minced fine
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 tbls ground coffee

3-4 lb Lamb Shoulder or Leg, Boneless

Preheat oven to 450. Combine the Rub ingredients and pound with a mortar and pestle. Alternatively, it could be blended in a mini-food processor or blender.

Lay the lamb on a cutting board. If the butcher wrapped it in strings to hold it together, leave the strings on. Sprinkle and press the rub onto the lamb until it is well coated with the rub. Place a wire rack inside of a roasting pan. When I don’t have a wire rack handy I will place long sticks of celery along the bottom of a baking dish. This allows the meat to be slightly elevated and circulate the heat.

No need for a lid or any moisture. Roast the lamb for 20 minutes at 450.
Reduce heat to 325. Stick a thermometer into the center. When the thermometer reaches 135 the lamb will be rare after resting and when it reaches 145 it will be medium after resting.

Remove the lamb, cover with foil or a lid and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes. Cut off the strings if necessary. Slice the meat about ¼-1/2 inch thick.

Serve with the Orange Mint-Basil Sauce and Orange-Roasted Asparagus

Orange Roasted Asparagus

1 lb asparagus
1 tbls olive oil
½ tsp kosher or sea salt
1 small orange

Preheat the oven to 425. Gently break off the tough ends of the asparagus by bending it about 2-3 inches from the bottom until it snaps. Toss the asparagus with the olive oil and a pinch of the salt.

Slice the Orange into ¼ inch thick slices. Remove seeds if necessary. Toss onto the asparagus. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Roast for 8-12 minutes until the asparagus is tender and slightly golden.

Orange Mint-Basil Sauce
Greatly influenced by http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Basil-Mint-and-Orange-Vinaigrette-12081

½ cup mint, washed and dried
½ cup basil, washed and dried
1 orange, zest and juice
2-4 tablespoons of orange juice (depending on the juice in the orange)
1 clove garlic
1 tsp orange vinegar or white-wine vinegar
1 pinch of salt and pepper
½ cup olive oil

Place everything except the oil in a blender and blend until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until emulsified.