How One Thing Leads to Another: Caramelized mushrooms, Kat’s Swiss Chard, Moroccan Chicken, Brussels Sprouts with Almonds

We were talking the other day about surprise combinations in recipes. The subject came up because we picked up some baby Swiss chard at the Farmer’s Market and Kat shared her secret Swiss chard recipe that combines chard, bacon, garlic and (drum roll, please) raisins. Marge Ann mentioned her favorite surprise combination, which is diced lemon rind (the whole rind, but not the meat) in a tossed salad. Her cousin Arlene, whom we invite to visit because she’s such an extraordinary cook, puts blueberries or strawberries and Gorgonzola cheese in tossed salads. Neither of them uses carrots in a salad, though, so what do they know? Marge Ann also taught me to squeeze the juice of a whole lemon over a pound of sliced fresh mushrooms and sauté them in butter until caramelized. Yummy over steak.

I decided that surprise combinations would be a good topic for this week’s column, so let’s start with Kat’s Swiss chard. It’s a side dish.

Kat’s Swiss Chard
(Serves 2-3)
1 small bunch Swiss chard or two bunches of baby Swiss chard
2 slices of thick bacon, fried crisp, drained and crumbled
1 green onion, chopped fine
1 tsp. olive oil if needed
1 tbsp. water
2 tablespoons raisins
6 kalamata or black olives, pitted and sliced

Cut stems from Swiss chard leaves (unless you’re using baby chard. Then you can use the whole thing).

In a 9-inch heavy skillet cook up the bacon and drain off the fat. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened. Add a little olive oil only if needed. Add water and raisins and cook, covered, over moderately low heat while you clean the chard. Add chard and olives, and cook, uncovered, over moderate heat until leaves are wilted and water evaporates, about 3 minutes.

Kat mentioned that she sometimes shakes a little cinnamon into the dish. Well, that reminded me of a dish we discovered in a Moroccan cookbook I bought when I went to North Africa a few years ago.

You could probably make it without the turmeric if that’s not something you have in your spice rack, but I’ve never tried it that way. What the turmeric does is turn the dish yellow. It’s a component of curry powder, and tastes a little like ginger though it’s not very strong. Me, I’m lucky to have more turmeric in my spice rack than I probably will ever use; my friend, Helene, a bellydancer, recently went to Morocco to study and brought back a baggie full of it. Wonder what U.S. Customs said?

Moroccan Chicken
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves or 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tbsp. flour
1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup pitted whole dates, sliced
1/3 cup whole almonds

Combine 1 tablespoon of the flour with the cinnamon, seasoned salt, cumin, and turmeric. Sprinkle over chicken and coat well. My mom would have put it in a paper bag and shaken it. I trust to luck.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Sauté chicken about 5 minutes per side.
Mix remaining 1 tablespoon of flour and broth with a whisk and add to skillet. This makes a nice sauce.
Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir in dates and almonds and simmer, covered, about 7-10 minutes, or until chicken is done.

So thinking about the almonds in the Moroccan Chicken recipe make me think of walnuts with Brussels sprouts. This may not be a way to get the guys at the firehouse to eat them, but their loss is my gain. Actually, I’ve never needed any kind of lure to eat anything, except maybe borscht, but that’s another story and has to do with my trip to Alaska. Someday I’ll tell you that one.

Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts
1 lb. Brussels sprouts
¼ tsp. garlic powder
¼ c. chopped walnuts
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp. lemon zest, fresh grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Steam the sprouts until they’re al dente. I’m pretty adamant about this: Get yourself a steamer basket if you don’t have one, and quit boiling vegetables until they’re mushy. Brussels sprouts in particular absorb the water if they’re boiled and get everything on your plate all wet.
Drain the sprouts and put them into a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss carefully until evenly coated and they’re ready to serve.

Next week you get to read all about the Carmel River Steelhead Project’s annual game barbecue at Los Laureles Lodge and the incredible dishes they served.

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