Oven Roasted Chicken & Avocado Sandwich w/ Sundried Tomato Spread

I LOVE sandwiches; I love them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  What I love about them is there are no rules.  Unlike most pastries and traditional cuisines, sandwiches can be made however you want, with whatever you want, as long as something is sandwiched between two pieces of something or laying on a piece of something … preferably freshly baked or toasted bread.  Think of all the possibilities!  Growing up in my parents’ household, sandwiches were a staple.  In Lebanon, my breakfast and lunch would consist of labneh, or some sort of cheese, or even za’atar sandwiches with tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, and olives, all wrapped in pita bread (Lebanese style).  I remember my dad ‘s AMAZING sandwiches that he continues to make on a daily basis.  He uses all kinds of Lebanese, Greek, Italian, and French cheeses and cured meats with all kinds of vegetables, herbs, pickles, and extra virgin olive oil or European butter, depending on the ingredients of the sandwich, and places each layer delicately in freshly baked and lightly toasted small French baguettes.  DELICIOUS!!

For this recipe,  I had leftover marinated chicken breasts from a dinner party I hosted the night before.  So, I decided to oven roast them, and use them as the main protein in a sandwich or two.  The marinade consisted of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, orange juice, orange zest, little turmeric, coriander, fresh thyme, salt, and freshly ground pepper.  I baked the chicken breasts in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 35 – 45 minutes.  I let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes, before I did anything else with it.

OVEN ROASTED CHICKEN AND AVOCADO SANDWICH WITH SUNDRIED TOMATO SPREAD

THE SANDWICH

2 Baguettes or loaves of Ciabatta Bread
2 marinated and oven roasted Chicken Breasts
2 Kumato Tomatoes
2 cups Baby Spinach – loosely packed
2 Avocados
1 Lemon
1/4 cup Cilantro leaves
1/2 – 1 cup Sundried Tomato spread – recipe below
Sea Salt
Freshly ground Black Pepper

SUNDRIED TOMATO SPREAD

3/4 cup Sundried Tomatoes* – packed in oil preferrably
1/3 cup Olive Oil Mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 clove Garlic
2/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Pinch of Sea Salt
10 grinds fresh Black Pepper

*If you choose to use loosely packed sundried tomatoes, make sure you rehydrate them first, by placing them in VERY hot water for a few minutes, before you drain them and blend them with the rest of the ingredients. 

Start with the sundried tomato spread by placing all the ingredients in a good blender, and blend them well.   I like my spread to have little tiny bits of sundried tomatoes left in it for a little bit of texture.  Remove the sundried tomato spread from the blender into a bowl, cover, and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes for the flavors to adequately integrate.

Slice the chicken breasts, tomatoes, and avocados into medium slices, and place them to the side.  Slice the baguettes or ciabatta loaves lengthwise, and spread the sundried tomato spread on one or both sides of the bread.   Start by layering the spinach, followed by the chicken, tomatoes, and avocado slices on each loaf.  Top the sandwiches with salt, pepper, and cilantro leaves.  Finish with a generous squeeze of lemon juice for extra freshness, and to keep the avocado slices from oxidizing and turning brown.  Slice each sandwich down the middle, and serve with Salt and Vinegar chips (my favorite) or a side salad, if you so choose.  Again, since there are no rules for sandwiches, you may omit, replace, or add anything you prefer to this edible creation.  I just hope you enjoy your sandwich!


Goat Cheese, Tomato & Herb Tarts

Puff pastry … what can I say about its buttery and flaky goodness?  It is delicious!  I realize that it is not the healthiest of treats, but it is a treat nonetheless.  Even though I have blogged about it many times, I eat it and feed it to my family sparingly.  Recently, I have been on a hunt to find “healthier” puff pastry, if there is such a thing; one that does not have any chemicals, preservatives, and hydrogenated oils in it.  And one that I do not have to make myself.  After all, it stays in the freezer until it is used; so, why does it need to have chemicals or preservatives of any kind?  The wonderful thing is I finally found one that has butter, flour, water, salt, and lemon juice ONLY!  So exciting!  Granted it is more expensive than the regular puff pastry that is easily found at the grocery store, but it is definitely worth it.  Oh, and this is a really good dish to serve to a group of brunch guests.

GOAT CHEESE, TOMATO, AND HERB TARTS

Serves 8

12 oz Goat cheese – room temperature
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil – plus more to drizzle
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
2 sheets Puff Pastry
4 Kumato* Tomatoes
8 Thyme sprigs
4 Oregano sprigs
12 – 24 sweet Basil leaves – garnish
1 – 2 tablespoons organic Butter – to grease ramekins

Egg Wash

1 organic Egg
1 tablespoon water

*Kumato tomatoes are European-bred tomatoes that are becoming popular and available in the US.  They range in color, but the ones I am using are dark green and dark red.  Their flavor is deep, rich, and sweet.  They are much more flavorful than vine ripe, Roma, or beefsteak tomatoes found at the store.

Thaw the puff pastry at room temperature for 40 minutes or leave in the refrigerator for 3 hours, until you are able to work with it.  You can always follow the directions on the box.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease 8 ramekins with butter, while you tend to the goat cheese.  In a bowl, mix the goat cheese with the extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Flour a clean area on your cutting board or counter, and spread the puff pastry.  The pastry needs to still be very cold to be fluffy; it just needs to be manageable.  Roll it out a few times, and cut each sheet into four equal pieces.  Place each square of puff pastry into the buttered ramekins.  Spoon about 1 to 1 1/2 ounces of goat cheese onto each puff pastry tart.  Drizzle each tart with a little bit of olive oil.  Brush the sides with egg wash, and place in the oven for about 12 – 15 minutes, or until the desired golden brown puff pastry crust is achieved.

Slice each Kumato tomato into four slice, and place two slices on each tart.  You may use any tomato you would like, but the flavor of the Kumato tomatoes is wonderful with the goat cheese.  Remove all the thyme leave and oregano leaves from the sprigs, and chop them.  Sprinkle the chopped thyme and oregano liberally over all the tarts.  Sprinkle a final touch of salt and pepper.  Garnish with a few sweet basil leaves and serve.  I hope you like it, as much as I do.


Breakfast Egg, Ham & Havarti Cheese Tart

If there is one meal that I adore more than any other, it is brunch.  I look forward to it every week and weekend.  It is my favorite time to host family and friends, as it is casual and fun.  We sit around the table drinking mimosas, eating various delicious dishes, and chatting for hours with music playing in the background.  When you’re with good company, it is very nice to have good food and drink to keep the festivities going.  Eggs, ham, and cheese are somewhat of a classic breakfast and brunch combination.  Making an egg tart with some olive oil and herb roasted potatoes* and a simple arugula salad* on the side make for a very delicious brunch.  Oh, and don’t forget the mimosas.

*Both the Olive Oil and Herb Roasted Potatoes and the simple Arugula Salad will be featured in later posts.

BREAKFAST EGG, HAM, AND HAVARTI CHEESE TART

Serves 4

1 sheet Puff Pastry
4 organic Eggs
4 oz Goat Cheese – room temperature
4 oz creamy Havarti Cheese
4 oz Ham – preferably nitrate and nitrite free
4 sprigs fresh Oregano
Salt
Pepper – freshly ground

EGG WASH
1 organic Egg
1 tablespoon Water

Begin by taking out the frozen puff pastry and leaving it at room temperature for about 40 minutes, or leaving it in the refrigerator for about 3 hours.  Once you are able to easily unfold the pastry, lightly flour your board and place the pastry on it to roll it out a little bit more.  The pastry must still be very cold, as the cold butter will make it flakey.  

Cut the pastry sheet into quarters.  You may want to dot the pastry with a fork.  Spread the goat cheese evenly on each quarter, then lightly salt and pepper them.  Place a 1 oz slice of Havarti cheese on each tart, followed by one slice of ham.  In this case, I often buy already sliced Havarti cheese; each slice is 1 oz.  The slices are easy to use and melt evenly.  

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Fold all four edges of each tart to form a high enough border to hold an egg in the center.  Now crack an egg in a small bowl, then very gently place it in the middle of the tart.  Salt and pepper the egg.  With a spatula, VERY GENTLY move each individual tart, and place it on a lightly greased baking sheet.  This is not an easy task, as the eggs have a tendency to want to wander around the tarts and the baking sheet.  Please make your border high enough.  However, you may want to avoid dealing with the transport of the egg filled tarts altogether by placing the eggless tarts on the greased baking sheet first, then placing the egg very gently on each tart.

In a very small bowl, crack an egg and add the water to it to make the egg wash.  Whisk it.  With a pastry brush, apply the egg wash to the exposed borders of the tart.  Place in the oven and bake for about 10 – 15 minutes, depending on your oven and how you like your eggs to be cooked.  If you like your yolk runny, then bake the tarts for less time (10 – 12 mins); if you like your yolk hard, then bake the tarts longer (13 – 15 mins).  If an egg or more become(s) loose during the baking process, don’t worry.  When the tarts are done baking, gently remove the cooked runaway eggs from the baking sheet and place them on each tart.  

Remove the tarts from the oven and allow to sit at room temperature for a couple of minutes.  With a spatula, remove the tarts from the baking sheet and plate.  Roughly chop the fresh oregano and sprinkle over the tarts as a very tasty garnish.  The butteriness of the crust, the tanginess of the goat cheese, the creaminess of the Havarti cheese, the saltiness of the ham, and the fresh herbaceous flavor of the oregano go very well with these delicious eggs.  Enjoy!


Mushroom, Shallot & Thyme Tart

My family loves mushrooms, all kinds of mushrooms cooked in all sorts of ways.  And to be truthful, I love making things with mushrooms, as my family can tell you.  When we host our friends or family for brunch, I love to make mushroom and shallot tart with thyme.  It can also serve as an appetizer, but I prefer it as part of a brunch.

MUSHROOM, SHALLOT, AND THYME TART

8 Cremini Mushrooms
2 1/2 tablespoons organic Butter – unsalted
1/4 cup Spanish Sherry – medium
1 Shallot – sliced
1 cup Pecorino Romano – grated
1 teaspoon fresh Thyme
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Pepper – freshly ground
1 sheet Puff Pastry

Allow the puff pastry to thaw at room temperature for about 40 to 45 minutes, or follow the directions on the box.

Begin by cleaning the mushrooms with a brush or a damp paper towel.  Slice the mushrooms as thick or thin as you like them; I prefer a thicker slice in this particular case, as the mushrooms need to stand out.  In a sauté pan, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, and sauté the mushrooms until they caramelize.  Pour in the medium Spanish Sherry, and let cook out.  After that you may salt and pepper them.  Immediately, remove the mushrooms from the heat and place in a bowl.  Allow them to cool down.

*It is very important to NOT salt the mushrooms, until they caramelize.  If you salt them before, they will yield much water and end up steaming, instead of caramelizing.*  

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the same pan, melt the rest of the butter on medium heat, then add the sliced shallots.  Allow them to caramelize, then remove them from the heat to cool.  Since I am using Pecorino Romano, which is a salty sheep’s milk cheese, I will not salt the shallots.

Lightly flour your board and open up the folded and thawed pastry.  Use a rolling pin to roll it out a little more. Using a fork, you may want to prick the dough to keep it from bubbling up.  Start by placing the grated Pecorino Romano evenly on the pastry, followed by the caramelized shallots, sherry mushrooms, and topped with fresh thyme.  Place on a baking sheet with a little non-stick spray and in the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes before cutting it up into squares.

Cut the mushroom tart into 9 squares and place on a serving plate.  Again, you may use it as part of a brunch spread or an appetizer before your main meal.  I hope you like it as much as my family and I do.  Enjoy!


Spinach, Mushroom & Goat Cheese Frittata

When I am hosting a brunch, I want to make delicious food that does not require me to spend the entire meal in the kitchen.  I, like most people, love socializing with my friends.  So, when they come for a weekend meal, I do my best to cook wisely.  And since it is a brunch, I have to make eggs.  An Italian frittata is perfect for such occasions.  You may use many kinds of herbs, vegetables, meat, and cheeses.  I like my frittatas filled vegetables, herbs, and a cheese or two.

SPINACH, MUSHROOM, AND GOAT CHEESE FRITTATA

Serves 8 people

12 large organic Eggs
1/4 cup organic Cream
4 tablespoons organic unsalted Butter2 tablespoons Salt
1 tablespoon black Pepper – freshly ground
2 Shallots
12 cremini Mushrooms
2 cups baby Spinach
1/2 cup Peas
1 Zucchini
4 Thyme sprigs
1/4 cup Italian Parsley – finely chopped
8 ounces Goat cheese – room temperature
1 cup grated Asiago cheese

Start by finely chopping the shallots, thyme, and parsley, then slice the mushrooms and zucchini.  In a sauté pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat, then add the mushrooms,  shallots, thyme, half the parsley, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper.  When they become translucent and a bit caramelized, take off the heat and place in a bowl to cool down to room temperature.  In the same sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter, and sauté the zucchini.  Salt and pepper them, as you want to season every layer.  When you are done sautéing the zucchini, place on a paper towel to remove all the excess moisture, as they cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, crack 12 large eggs, add the cream, 1 tablespoon or salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper, and whisk lightly.  Add the Asiago cheese to the egg mixture.  Now that you are ready to make the frittata, melt the remainder of the butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Though I am an advocate for stainless steel cookware, when it comes to cooking eggs and pancakes, I will always recommend you use a non-stick pan.  Add the sautéed room temperature mushrooms, shallots, and peas.  If you are using frozen peas, as I did, make sure they are defrosted and at room temperature before adding them to egg mixture.  When the butter is fully melted, add the spinach to the pan, and IMMEDIATELY add the egg mixture to the spinach.  You do not want the spinach to cook, as it will yield a copious amount of liquid, leaving your frittata in horrible shape.  Use a wooden or silicone spatula to very gently stir the mixture.

Now, add small dollops of goat cheese sporadically all over the frittata, then layer the zucchini all around it.  Remove the pan from the stove, and put it straight in the 350 degree oven.  Let the frittata cook for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the oven and the thickness of the frittata.  Do not over bake; it should be set like a custard.  Once it’s done, remove it from the over, and slide onto a serving plate.  Sprinkle the rest of the parsley all over it for garnish.  Buon Appetito!


Dark Chocolate Pancakes w/ Dark Cherry Rum Compote & Toasted Walnuts

My daughter Amanda’s favorite breakfast on the weekends is pancakes.  She loves their simple flavor.  She eats them topped with powdered sugar and strawberries, no syrup needed.  When we have friends over for brunch, making them simple pancakes is just not something I would do.  So, I decided to make dark chocolate pancakes topped with a dark cherry rum compote and toasted walnuts.  I know it is a gamble, as I have never made these elaborate pancakes before, but I thought they would taste very much like a forêt noire or a black forest cake.  What gave me this idea was delicious black forest cake I made for my husband Kevin’s birthday a few weeks before.  Well, as you might have guessed, I made the pancakes, and they were a hit!

Dark Chocolate Pancakes with Dark Cherry Rum Compote and Toasted Walnuts

2 cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup Sugar
2 tablespoons Baking Powder
pinch of Salt
1 1/2 cups organic Whole Milk
2 large organic Eggs
2 tablespoons of Pure Vanilla Extract2 tablespoons of organic unsalted Butter – melted
1/2 cup Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate – your choice
1 cup Walnuts – toasted
1/4 cup powdered Sugar

Dark Cherry & Rum Compote

12 ounces dark cherries – pitted
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Rum

In a small sauce pan, place the pitted cherries over medium heat for about 20-30 minutes, or heat them and let them simmer for about 10 minutes.  Add the sugar and allow them to break down further.   If you choose to use the canned variety of dark cherries, use their liquid as well and omit the sugar, as they will already be sweet enough.  After about 10 minutes, add the rum and let reduce to a syrup like consistency.  Basically, the resulting cherry compote should easily coat the back of a spoon.

Place a small sauce pan filled with about 2 to 3 inches of water on the stove and over medium low heat.  Take the chocolate and place it in a bowl on top of the sauce pan to create a double boiler.  Make sure the bowl is not touching the water.  As the water simmers, the resulting steam will gently heat the bowl and slowly melt the chocolate.

In a much larger bowl, add the flour, salt, and baking powder and stir.  In baking, you must mix the wet ingredients separately from the dry, then you combine.  Even for silly pancakes, we will follow the rules.  In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, and vanilla together.  After which whisk in the milk.  Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and fold them together to mix well.  Try not to over mix the batter.  Let the pancake batter sit for a few minutes.  Your pancakes will be very fluffy as a result.

In the meantime, toast the walnuts in a wide and shallow pan over medium low heat.  Be careful not to burn them.  Now that everything is practically ready, heat up a non-stick skillet on medium heat.  Melt a small amount of butter (or use non-stick spray), and add a ladle full of pancake batter to the pan.  When you see bubbles all over the top, flip the pancake and let cook for another minute or two.  Once you have made your pancakes, stack the desired amount on a plate.  Spoon the dark cherry compote over the pancakes.  Roughly chop the toasted walnuts, and sprinkle on top.  Finish off with some powdered sugar … et voilà, my ode to the forêt noire gâteau.