Creole Okra with Chicken and Tomatoes

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I don’t really know that much about southern food except that I like it a lot, and whenever I’m down south (I’m talking the southern US states here) I eat as much of it as I can. This dish started because I found okra at a good price at the grocery store and is more Creole-inspired than actually authentic (because again I don’t know much). It is adapted from something I found on The Kitchn. I doubled the amounts, prepared half this recipe in the pan and then chucked half of it in the freezer for later, like the clever person that I am†. Not that this recipe isn’t dead simple. I’m just lazy.

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I accompanied this one-dish meal with another dish: steamed beet greens.

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Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Zest 1 lemon.

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Gather your spices. Creole spice blends tend to run to mixtures of the following, so make one to suit your own taste (this one is about 1 teaspoon of each): onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, parsley, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne. The recipe I was looking at didn’t use creole spices; instead it called for a bit of cumin and coriander. So I just used everything. Set that aside for a few minutes.

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Start with your okra, about 1lb, and slice the tops off before cutting it in half lengthwise. Apparently people either love or hate okra, because it’s a bit slimy. I am ambivalent so far.

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Lay that on your baking sheet and sprinkle with about 1 cup (canned/drained/rinsed) black-eyed peas.

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Next, slice up a small white onion.

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Sprinkle that onto the pan, together with a few cloves crushed or minced garlic.

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Give that a good drizzle with some nice olive oil.

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Now here’s where I kind of diverged from the recipe. This dish is a good meal all in itself as a vegetarian option, but I feed boys (boys who are not vegetarians) so I had to chuck some meat in here somehow. In a large bowl, I threw 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs together with a 14oz can of diced tomatoes and your lemon zest.

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Then I chucked in all those lovely spices and gave it a good mixing.

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Spread the chicken and tomatoes evenly across the top of your peas and okra and shove it in the oven for about an hour. Give it a stir once or twice to make sure everything is browning evenly.

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We served ours over rice with the beet greens and it was pretty good. The Pie thought the okra was a little slimy (#1 reason why many people dislike it) but I thought it was pretty good!

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If you plan to freeze this recipe for later, I would recommend freezing it in two parts: in one bag goes the okra, peas, garlic, rice, and oil, and in the second bag goes the tomatoes, chicken, and spices. It just seems like a logical thing to do to tenderize the meat and prevent the peas and okra from getting too soggy.

Fast Tip Friday: Fancy Dip, Freaking Fast!

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You want the best dip ever, and you want to make it fast? Well have I got a solution for you! Granted, its speed is based on the fact that you have a herb garden handy, as well as some frozen pucks of puréed garlic. But if you have been visiting Ali Does It for a while then I expect that you would have both of those things already.

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So go out and grab a bunch of your herbs. Like, a BUNCH. I have some basil, parsley, lemon thyme, sage, and a million chives and garlic chives. Mince those into a bowl with your thawed garlic puck, and add a little salt and pepper to taste. Tip in a 500mL container of plain Greek Yogurt. Stir. That’s it!

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Herb Cheese Palmiers

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The second-to-last installment of all the stuff I made for my parents’ wedding anniversary party. The best piece of advice I can give you when planning a big shindig with lots of food is that time management is KEY. Anything that can be made ahead of time and frozen should be done wayyy in advance so that you have time on the day of to do the little things that absolutely cannot be done until that day. These little puff pastry dreams are one of those things that must be done on the day of, but they’re easy peasy and I promise you’ll enjoy them. I modified the original Martha Stewart recipe to be less salty and to make these a little thicker. I also totally forgot the egg wash at the end. I always forget the egg wash. But fortunately it’s not crucial.

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You’ll need some frozen puff pastry. I bought the stuff that comes pre-rolled into two square sheets because I am that lazy. Defrost that overnight in your fridge. Then go out into your garden and grab some fresh herbs, enough so you’ll have about 6 tablespoons of fresh herbs once they’re de-stemmed and chopped. I have here, from left to right, oregano, lemon thyme, and summer savoury.

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And these are chives.

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Chop those finely and set them in a little bowl. Gather as well about 6 tablespoons parmesan cheese, and grate up about 1/2 cup nice sharp cheddar.

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Now you can go ahead and preheat your oven to 375°F. Put your racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Lay out your puff pastry sheets and brush the surface of each with about 1 tablespoon olive oil.

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Sprinkle them evenly with the parmesan, the cheddar,

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and finally the herbs.

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Fold one third of each pastry sheet over,

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and then fold the other third over that, like you’re sending a letter. This would be goopy to send in the mail. You probably shouldn’t mail this.

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Then fold that in half so the two folded edges are touching each other. Jam that in the freezer for about 10 minutes until it’s had a chance to firm up a bit.

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I suppose if you let these get really firm you could slice them thinner, but the best I could do was about 3/4″ slices and even that was pushing it. Place the slices on their flat sides on the baking sheets.

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Bake for about 20 minutes, rotating your baking sheets halfway through, until the pastry is fully puffed and a nice golden brown. Let cool slightly and then serve!

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Greek Baked Eggs

Baked Eggs 14My brother and I take turns hosting a family brunch every second Sunday, and because both of our families are on tight schedules on Sundays (us with getting Gren exercised and tired prior to the brunch, and them with getting the General up and ready to go in time), it makes sense to prepare dishes that can be made ahead of time, or that can be cooked all at once, and also dishes that don’t require constant presence in the kitchen when we should be paying attention to the interactions between corgi and toddler. This one from Salted and Styled requires some focus and prior preparation but it’s very quick so you’re not in the kitchen for very long. The original recipe worked for 5 servings, but I upped mine to 8 so the measurements are approximate. Go with what looks good to you. Baked Eggs 2

Start by cracking however many eggs you want into individual bowls. You’ll need to pour these quickly later so that’s why you’re doing this. Grab as well some fresh herbs from the garden: parsley, thyme, and oregano. I bet some sage would be tasty as well, and if you wanted to alter the flavour a little then you could maybe do a sage-savoury-chives combo or something like that. Chop up the herbs and set them aside for a minute. Grab a few handfuls of feta cheese and crumble that up as well.

Baked Eggs 4Grab as well a handful of Kalamata olives, and chop those up (after removing the pits). Mix that with a little bit of minced garlic and some salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt though, as the olives and the feta are both pretty salty in their own right.Baked Eggs 5

Now preheat your broiler and grab a large cast-iron skillet or wide, shallow baking dish. Dollop some butter in there as well as a few drops of heavy cream.

Baked Eggs 6Heat the butter and cream either under the broiler or on the stovetop until bubbly. Baked Eggs 7

Then working very quickly, slide in all your eggs.

Baked Eggs 8Sprinkle with your herbs and olives. Baked Eggs 9

Top with feta.

Baked Eggs 10Shove that under the broiler until the eggs are cooked to your satisfaction (runny or hard, it’s up to you) – probably less than 5 minutes. Baked Eggs 13

Serve straight from the pan with some buttered toast as a plate or for sopping up your yolks. Mmm!

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Cheesy Cauliflower and Broccoli

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Oh Jamie Oliver, you rarely let me down. Today is no exception. This recipe takes your standard cauliflower with cheese sauce to the next (actually, the highest) level with very little effort. Plus it involves SO MUCH VEGETABLE. A great source of good food in these final days of winter. I like to buy the flash-frozen vegetables at the supermarket, especially in the winter, because I know that they were at their freshest when they were frozen and haven’t spent days or weeks rattling around in a truck to get to me before they rot.

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Start by preheating your oven to 350°F. Grab 1kg cauliflower florets (A WHOLE KILOGRAM) and dump that in a large baking dish. I used half frozen florets on the bottom …

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… and half fresh ones on top.

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Scoop up a decently medium-sized pot and dump in about 4 tablespoons butter and the equivalent of 2 cloves of garlic (you can peel and slice it, but I used it from a jar here and I’m not sorry). Heat that on medium until the butter is melted and the garlic is sizzling.

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Sprinkle in about 4-5 tablespoons flour and stir that until it forms a gummy paste, like in the picture.

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Now, drizzle in, a little bit at a time, 2 cups milk. Whisk it all the while as you add so you don’t get lumps.

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Tip in 500g broccoli florets (fresh or frozen). Let those simmer away until they’re pretty much mushy.

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When they’re nice and mushy, you should mash ’em. I found the potato masher didn’t quite cut it so I used my immersion blender.

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Glorious.

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Now add in like 1/2 cup grated cheddar (or any cheese of your preference). Turn down the heat a bit and let that melt.

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Now pour your green creamy mixture on top of the cauliflower.

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Dig the cauliflower up a little bit to make sure the sauce gets into the middle.

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In a food processor, whaz together about 2 slices stale bread, 2 sprigs fresh thyme, and about 2-3 tablespoons flaked almonds and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Bread crumb topping!

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Sprinkle another 1/2 cup grated cheese over top of the cauliflower, then top with the bread crumb mixture.

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Bake the whole thing for an hour, until the crumbs are golden and everything is bubbly. I found that it was best to cover the crumb topping with foil so it didn’t burn.

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Sooooo good!

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Roasted Chicken and Red Pepper Alfredo

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This was a bit of comfort food I kind of winged and kind of cheated on (who has time to make Alfredo sauce from scratch?). It was also a great recipe for what I like to call “cooking in spurts” – when I only have a few minutes here and there in the kitchen so I do little tasks throughout the day.

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First I roasted 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. I set them in a glass baking dish and stuffed fresh sage and thyme under the skin. I dusted the tops with salt and pepper. Then I baked them at 350°F for about 45 minutes, until the skin was crispy and the juices ran clear.

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Then I turned on the broiler and roasted 2 whole red peppers, turning them every 5 minutes or so, for about 20 minutes, until the skin was blackened. I let that cool for a while.

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Then I came back and pulled the skin off and discarded the seeds and stem. Then I went away again.

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Coming back in, I sliced up half a package of white mushrooms and sautéed them in butter and olive oil on medium heat until brown and starting to crisp. I removed them from the heat and went away again. I’m a busy person.

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Then I decided to actually get on with the business of cooking dinner. So I diced up a sweet onion and chucked that in a large frying pan with some butter and olive oil.

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I sautéed that on medium heat until the little onion pieces turned translucent, then I chucked in a few teaspoons minced garlic, as well as some salt and pepper.

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While that was going on, I pulled apart the chicken thighs and shredded the meat with a fork. I saved some of the nice fatty juices that came out of them, to add flavour to the sauce. I also saved the little bits of herb I’d roasted under the skin.

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As well, I diced the roasted peppers.

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And brought a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. I used a four-cheese tortellini here, because I like how filling it is.

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While the water was starting to get its boil on, I chucked the chicken (and reserved juices/herbs), peppers, and mushrooms into the pan with the onions and garlic.

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Then I dumped in a jar of pre-made alfredo sauce. I always add a little bit of water to the empty jar and give it a swish to get everything left.

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I stirred that for about 5 minutes at medium heat until everything started to bubble and smell amazing.

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I reduced the heat to low while I cooked the pasta according to the package directions. I drained the pasta and dumped it into the pan with the sauce.

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And then we ATE THE WHOLE THING. That’s a lie. We didn’t. Not all in one sitting, are you crazy? But I had seconds.

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Pollo in Chianti

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My mother and I used to make this for fancy dinner parties all the time when I was a kid.  I DO have the recipe written down somewhere, but that somewhere is likely in the bottom of a sealed box in my storage unit.  Fortunately for me, this recipe is pretty easy to remember, as it only has five ingredients (including the string).

As recipes go, it is a little time-consuming to make, but it’s totally worth it.  Think of it as sort of a fancy chicken tournedo — in reverse.

Start with some boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  As many as you want — I used 24 thighs for this.

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You’ll need a corresponding amount of prosciutto, which is a thinly sliced ham-like substance.  I usually use half a slice for each piece of chicken, though it’s so thinly sliced it tends to fall to pieces when I pull it apart so it’s hard to say how much I really use.

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Gren thinks he needs prosciutto.  Gren is wrong.

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And you’ll need a big bunch of fresh thyme.

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Then you’re going to need some butcher’s twine or kitchen string.  It’s helpful if you’ve already got it pre-cut into the number of pieces you need.  You’ll need about 8″-10″ pieces to wrap around each piece of chicken.

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First you’re going to need to strip all the wee leaves off your thyme.  This is annoying and takes a while.

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Then you’ll need to cut off all the excess fat on your chicken thighs.

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Open up the thigh so the cut side is up (this is where the bone used to be).  Line this side with a piece or two of prosciutto.

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Sprinkle on some of your thyme (yes, I know that I didn’t succeed in getting it all off the stem).  I like to also garnish it with some pepper.  These pink peppercorns make a nice contrast.

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Then roll the thigh back up and hold it closed.  Get your string ready.  The reason you want your string to be pre-cut is you don’t want to have chicken fingers all over your ball of twine.  That is gross.

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Wrap the string around the thigh two or three times and tie the ends into a simple but loose knot.

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I showed you the steps for one thigh but usually I approach this with a Fordist mentality and do it all in an assembly line.  Doing all of each step at once helps me to budget my use of thyme — otherwise I end up running out at the end.

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I actually prepped these the day before I cooked them and kept them in a sealed container in the fridge.  It saved me precious time during the day of the dinner party.

Your final ingredient will be a nice bottle of Chianti, an Italian red wine.  Any red wine will do, but Chianti is in the name of the recipe so it makes sense to use it.  I picked up the cheapest bottle I could find at the LCBO and I think it was about $13.  You’re going to be cooking with it, so it doesn’t have to be excellent or anything.  For 24 thighs I used the whole bottle, so you’ll probably only use half that if you’re making less.

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I also purchased especially for this day a new electric skillet.  We’d always used an electric skillet before to make this dish, simply because it was large and we could put it elsewhere and save room on the stovetop.  I got a good deal on this Hamilton Beach one from Home Outfitters.  You can easily make this in one or two skillets on your stove top.  Don’t feel you need to buy a new appliance if you’re not going to use it often. I am going to use this a bunch, which is why I bought it, and I made sure to read many reviews before I did!

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Anyway, heat your skillet to medium-high and plop in your chicken.  This skillet fits EXACTLY 24 rolled chicken thighs, which is an added bonus.

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Let those cook, rotating occasionally with a pair of tongs, until they are nicely browned on all sides, about 8-10 minutes.

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Lower the heat to medium and pour in the Chianti.

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The liquid level should come to about 1/2 to 2/3 the height of the chicken.

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Cover and let that simmer for about 20 minutes, until the wine is reduced somewhat.  Rotate the thighs halfway through so that the colouring will be even (the wine will dye the chicken purple).

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I used an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the thighs, which will be done when they read at 165°F.

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Use a pair of scissors to cut the string on all the thighs and serve them on rice or noodles.  So decadently simple!

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