Chinese Chicken Salad

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I know, I know. Chinese chicken salad is about as unauthentic as an ethnic dish can get. Even though it’s been done time and time again, this version that I adapted from Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking has become one of my favorite recipes. It’s healthy, fresh and most importantly, delicious. I usually make a double batch and store the dressing separately so that I can have leftovers the next day. Don’t be deterred by the long ingredient list; it’s actually very straightforward to make.

Chinese Chicken Salad

Ingredients:

1 skinless chicken breast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
1/4 rice vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons plum or hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus more for deep-frying
2 heads romaine lettuce, thinly shredded
2 green onions, thinly sliced
8 wonton wrappers, cut into 1/4-inch wide strips
1 ounce dried bean thread noodles, broken into 2-inch long pieces
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds.

1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Rub the chicken breasts with the salt and five-spice powder. Lay the chicken on a baking sheet and bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Cool the chicken on a rack until cool enough to touch, then shred the meat and set aside.

2. Make the dressing: Whisk the rice vinegar, honey, plum or hoisin sauce, sesame oil, mustard, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, ginger and vegetable oil in a bowl until well blended. Set aside.

3. Pour enough vegetable oil into a wok to come to a depth of 1 inch. Heat over medium-high heat to 350F. Carefully slip a few of the wonton strips into the oil and fry until light golden brown, about 20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining strips.

4. In the same wok, deep-fry the bean thread noodles in small batches, stirring them gently to separate the strands, until they puff and expand, about 10 seconds. Remove and drain on paper towels.

5. Place the lettuce in a large salad bowl and top with the green onions. Scatter the chicken on top, pour the dressing over the salad, and toss together. Scatter the wonton strips, fried bean thread noodles, chopped peanuts, and sesame seeds over the top.

Zucchini ‘Pappardelle’ with Tomatoes and Feta

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Contrary to what the name suggests, this dish does not include any pasta. Instead, thin strips of zucchini are created with a mandoline and then lightly broiled to create translucent, pasta-like sheets. Mixed with tomatoes and feta cheese, result is a healthy melange of vegetables tossed in a light citric dressing. This recipe is adapted from an old issue of Food & Wine, one of my favorite food magazines.

If you don’t own a mandoline, a vegetable peeler will work well to create the thin slices of zucchini. Once out of the oven, handle the slices with care so that they don’t tear.

Zucchini 'Pappardelle' with Tomatoes and Feta

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
salt and pepper
4 1/2 pounds zucchini
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tomatoes, chopped
6 ounces feta cheese, cut into small dice
3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped

1. Preheat the broiler. In a bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the olive oil with the lemon juice, mustard, honey and lemon zest and season the dressing with salt and pepper.

2. Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick “pappardelle,” turning the zucchini and slicing on 4 sides only until the seeds in the central portion are reached.

3. In another bowl, combine the garlic with the thyme, rosemary, crushed red pepper and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Spread the zucchini slices on a large rimmed baking sheet and brush them with the garlic and herb oil. Broil for about 3 minutes, or until the zucchini is browned on top.

4. Spread the tomatoes on another baking sheet and broil for about 1 minute, or until they are lightly browned on top.

5. Add the tomatoes, olives and feta to the zucchini and drizzle with the mustard dressing. Toss the vegetables well and transfer to plates or a platter.

Potato and Porcini Mushroom Gratin

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If there is one ingredient in particular that signifies fall to me, it’s mushrooms. I love them year round, but come October, I start to use more of them in my cooking than usual, especially the dried kind. And no dried mushroom is arguably more flavorful and more prized than porcini mushrooms. Layered between thin slices of potatoes and garlic-flecked cheese, this gratin makes for a decadent side dish to any cold-weather meal.

Potato and Porcini Mushroom Gratin

Ingredients:

2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup whipping cream
3 garlic cloves, chopped
Pinch of grated nutmeg
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 5), peeled, cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices

1. Place porcini and boiling water in medium bowl. Place small plate atop bowl to keep covered and let soak 20 minutes. Drain and coarsely chop mushrooms.

2. Melt butter with oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Whisk 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, mascarpone cheese, whipping cream, garlic and nutmeg in a bowl; season with salt and pepper.

3. Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter wide shallow 2-quart baking dish. Arrange 1/4 of potato slices in bottom of dish. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Scatter 1/4 of mushrooms over. Repeat. Spread half of cheese mixture over, shaking dish to settle. Repeat with remaining potatoes and mushrooms in 2 layers each; spread remaining cheese mixture over. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons Parmesan over. Place gratin dish on rimmed baking sheet.

4. Bake gratin until top is brown and sauce is bubbling at edges, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Let gratin rest 15 minutes before serving.

Brown Rice with Shallots

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Seriously, folks. It doesn’t get any easier than this. Throw a bunch of brown rice, chicken broth and shallots in a pot along with a splash of wine and a knob of butter and viola: the perfect autumn side dish.

The type of rice that you use in this dish is key, though. I’ve always used Trader Joe’s Brown Rice medley because it includes daikon radish seeds and I love their texture. However, any brown or wild rice will do just fine.

Wild Rice with Shallots

Ingredients:
2 cups wild rice, rinsed
3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 thinly sliced shallot
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the rice, chicken broth, butter, wine, shallot, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the rice grains have split open.

2. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Baked Pasta and Cheese with Radicchio, Pancetta and Porcini Mushrooms

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I have four macaroni and cheese recipes that I keep in regular rotation, and this is the most frequently requested of the bunch. It’s also the most labor intensive, so I tend to make it one or twice a year, usually during the holidays. Radicchio is not the most traditional ingredient in baked pasta dishes, but it lends a beautiful light purple hue to the dish and despite all the cheese and other not-so-good-for-you ingredients, you’re getting your vegetables too.

I adapted this dish from a Food and Wine magazine recipe. I use less than half the butter and cream than the original, making it not too unhealthy for a special occasion dish.

Baked Pasta and Cheese with Radicchio, Pancetta and Porcini Mushrooms

Ingredients:

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
Boiling water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces sliced pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 heads of radicchio, each cut into 8 wedges through the core
Salt and ground pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 pound medium shell pasta
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups low-fat milk
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 pound Asiago cheese, grated
5 ounces Fontina cheese, grated
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 3-quart baking dish. In a heatproof bowl, soak the porcini in boiling water until softened, about 15 minutes. Rinse the porcini to dislodge any grit, then drain and chop them. Discard the soaking liquid.

2. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the olive oil. Add the porcini, pancetta and one-third of the garlic and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate.

3. Add the radicchio wedges to the skillet and cook over high heat until wilted and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the radicchio is slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in the porcini mixture and the sage. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

4. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the remaining butter. Add the flour and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until foamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and bring to a boil; cook, whisking until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the sauce to the bowl with the radicchio.

5. Add the pasta to the bowl along with the Asiago and Fontina; toss to combine. Transfer the pasta to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, or until heated through.

6. Preheat the broiler. Broil the pasta for 2 minutes, until the top is golden and bubbling. Let stand for 10 minutes; serve.