Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A New Take on Coronation Chicken for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee

On the 2nd through the 5th of June of this year, Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate the 60th anniversary of her reign, also known as her Diamond Jubilee.   Normally Diamond Jubilees are celebrated on the 75th year, but seeing that few monarchs make it that long, the time frame was shortened to 60 years during the reign of Queen Victoria.

Depending on how you look at it, the Queen of England has either a very difficult life or an extremely easy one. On the easy side, she has never had to worry about what she wanted to be when she grew up, doing a pile of dirty laundry, paying her light bill, or losing her job. She gets to travel to exotic places; she goes go to great parties, eats gourmet foods and lives in a grand house right in the middle of one of the most expensive cities in the world. Sounds pretty good to me.

On the hard side, at the age of 25 she had to deal with the death of her beloved father, a very big new job, and motherhood all at the same time, while her pretty younger sister drank champagne and danced till dawn. 

She is under constant public scrutiny about how much money the monarchy costs her country. 
Then there was that unfortunate and embarrassing couple of years when the marriages of her children crumbled in front of the public eye much to the delight of the often vicious British tabloid press.

To top it all off, the strained relationship between her and her glamorous and well-loved ex daughter-in-law came to a tragic end in a tunnel in Paris. As the country held its breath she made the unfortunate decision to wait days before making a public statement on Diana’s death. Not only did this earn her much criticism in the press, it was also the subject of a high profile and award winning movie. I’ve made many mistakes, thank goodness there wasn’t a movie made about any one of them.

Of course privacy is something she has never known much of. When in residence at Buckingham Palace, the royal standard is flown on top of the building to let the whole world know that she is home. During public appearances she wears bright colors to stand out in the crowd so everyone can point her out. She can’t even take Christmas Day off since it is a big day for her with her annual address to her subjects. I wonder if she has ever comtemplated taking a break like Audrey Hepburn’s royal character did in Roman Holiday. I wouldn’t blame her a bit if she did.

After her father King George VI's death, Queen Elizabeth’s coronation ceremony was delayed for over a year to allow the royal family and the country time to mourn.  In honor of the long awaited celebration, the founder of Le Cordon Bleu, Rosemary Hume and her partner, high profile florist of the day, Constance Spry, created a chicken dish in her honor and named it poulet reine Elizabeth or coronation chicken.

When this recipe was created in 1953, the country was still under the constraints of post war rationing,  so the creators deliberately scaled back the opulence of the ingredients and the dish itself to make it more accessible to the public.  No doubt that this recipe was inspired by the recipe for jubilee chicken which was developed for the Silver Jubilee celebration of her grandfather, King George V 18 years earlier.  Similar in taste, both were made from chicken and both recipes called for a creamy curry based sauce.  

A totally new version of jubilee chicken called Golden Jubilee chicken was developed for the Queen's Golden Jubilee that has a mayonnaise, lime and ginger base and was described as coronation chicken for the modern day.  The suggestion for this recipe is that it be served with pasta and not used as a sandwich filling.  I'll be trying this recipe soon.  Report to follow.

In the past 59 years coronation chicken has evolved quite a bit, with the present day version now  being more of a flavorful sister to the original.  The original recipe was much milder in flavor using less curry powder and a lighter coating of sauce than its modern counterpart.  Back in 1953 this dish was exclusively served over rice displaying a bit more royal flair than the way it is most often served today, between two slices of bread and stuffed in a triangle shaped cardboard container.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a coronation chicken sandwich, but for this post in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, I’m serving my updated version of this recipe on a mound of rice set atop of a bed of lettuce.  It just seems to fit the occasion a bit better.

In a just a few short days big celebrations will take place all over England in honor of the Queen.  There will be concerts and fireworks and lots and lots of champagne consumed.  On this side of the Atlantic the celebrations won’t be as grand or great in number, but there will still be many of us who will take a break and raise a glass in her honor.    So here's to 60 great years and many more to come!

Coronation Chicken

As usual I had to doctor up this recipe just a bit.  Even though the chutney I used said “hot” there just wasn’t enough of a kick in it for me, so I added just a tiny bit of Serrano pepper to enhance it.  If your taste leans more toward the milder side feel free to leave this ingredient out.   Finally, this recipe is pretty "saucy" so if you are serving it right away you might want to reserve about 1/4 of the dressing and serve it on the side.  If you are serving it the next day, go ahead and add it all as the chicken will absorb some of it and the consistency will be perfect.

1-1/2 pounds boneless chicken meat (I used breast meat for mine, but in 1953 they most certainly used what they had available so please do the same)

Enough chicken broth to cover the meat in a large saucepan (I needed 3 cups)

1 bay leaf

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 ounces plain Greek yoghurt

2 ounces light or regular mayonnaise

3 tablespoons hot mango chutney (This can be found at Indian markets or in the Indian food section of some well stocked markets.  If you can't find it substitute it with apricot or mango jam or preserves) 

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 – 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

1/4 teaspoon grated fresh gingerroot

1 green onion (white and light green parts) finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon finely diced Serrano pepper (optional)

1 lightly packed tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

1 ounce sliced almonds, toasted

Place chicken, chicken broth, bay leaf and garlic in a large saucepan set over medium high heat.  Bring the contents to a boil before lowering the temperature to a simmer; cover and simmer until cooked through. For small chicken breasts the cooking time will be approximately 20 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the broth and cool completely.  Once the chicken is cool, chop into small bite size pieces; cover and set aside until ready to use.

At this point if I am serving my coronation chicken over rice, I strain the broth and use it to cook my rice.  It adds a wonderful savory flavor that is the perfect complement to the sweetness of the chicken.

In a small bowl combine the yoghurt, mayonnaise, chutney, Worcestershire sauce, curry powder and gingerroot.  Whisk well before pouring dressing over the cool chicken.  Sprinkle with the Serrano, cilantro and 2/3 of the almonds.  Gently stir to coat the chicken.  Cover and place in the refrigerator to chill through.

To serve chicken, spoon over room temperature rice or as a sandwich filling.  Garnish by sprinkling the remaining toasted almonds over the top.

Serves 4 – 6

Since I had a little leftover, I just couldn't resist . . .

. . . and not a triangle shaped cardboard box in sight.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

#Baketogether with Abby Dodge: Parmesan and Sundried Tomato Pesto Polenta Muffins

This month’s #baketogether with Abby Dodge features an easy little muffin recipe that I thoroughly enjoyed making and eating.   Abby offered up two versions of this month’s recipe for Cornmeal Buttermilk Muffins, one sweet and one savory.  Since the cornmeal in the recipe (or in my mind, polenta) kept bringing me around to the savory side, I decided on going with an Italian inspired slightly sweet yet savory muffin recipe.

Even though corn is now what comes to mind when I think of polenta it wasn’t always that way in Italian cooking.  During Roman times polenta was made from buckwheat which remained the fashion until maize was brought from the New World with Christopher Columbus during his explorations.  The new crop was a perfect fit for the farmers in Spain and Italy with their long warm summers and lots of sunshine.  It grew well and soon became a staple in the Italian diet.  Well if it’s good enough for the Italians, it is more than good enough for me.

Not wanting to morph this beautifully simple recipe into a big complicated deal, I chose convenience and topped my muffins with a good quality sundried tomato pesto from a jar which worked great.  To the batter I added a big handful of pre-shredded Parmesan cheese, some granulated garlic and a teaspoon of my favorite Italian seasoning.  Since I kind of wanted to give these a rustic feel I lined my muffin tins with homemade liners by cutting 6” x  8” parchment rectangles, fitting them into each section and then spraying them with non-stick spray.  They baked up beautifully and the aroma that filled the house was mouthwatering.

Abby served her savory muffins with a bowl of vegetable soup and I can only imagine how good that would be.  I took Abby's advice and served mine warm with a big salad and loved every bite. Mine came out great but if you'd like to see Abby’s original recipes and what the other participants were inspired to make, please click here.  If you want to join in the #baketogether you are welcome to jump in at any time.  Just prepare Abby's recipe or your version of it and post your link on her site.  The more the merrier!

Parmesan and Sundried Tomato Pesto Polenta Muffins

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1 egg beaten

1/2 cup buttermilk or 1/2 cup milk mixed with 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar and allowed to sit for at least 5 minutes

3 tablespoons vegetable or light olive oil

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 heaping tablespoons sundried tomato pesto

1/3 cup shredded Italian blend cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place paper liners into a 6 count muffin pan.  Spray the liners with non-stick cooking spray and set aside until ready to use.

Stir together flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, sugar and Italian seasoning in a medium size bowl; set aside.

In a small bowl whisk together the egg, buttermilk, oil and mustard before pouring into the flour mixture.  Stir well.  Fold in the Parmesan cheese.  The batter will be thick.

Divide the batter evenly between the sections of the pan.  Spoon slightly heaping teaspoons of the pesto on top of the batter.  Sprinkle each with equal amounts of the Italian blend cheese.

Place into the preheated oven and bake until they are golden brown and when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, approximately 18 to 22 minutes.  Serve warm.

Makes 6 muffins

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Toasting Our Graduate with a Pimm's Royal Cup

This last Saturday was a big day for my family, because it was the day our little girl graduated from college.  It seems like yesterday she was a bright eyed freshman eager to set the world on fire, when she called me crying saying she had made a 24% on her first exam, questioning if she had what it took to make it through college. 

Four years later she is a confident young woman who just graduated magna cum laude with a very promising job in the executive development program of a large retailer.  I don’t know who is happier, her or her dad.  Failing that first exam must have really gotten her attention, because she put that famous stubborn streak of hers to good use and kicked college’s butt.  Well done my love.

Our girl will be moving home to live with us for the next couple of months to give us all one more summer to wake up with her beauty and optimism each day before she moves on into a home of her own.   I can't wait to just hang out with her, do a little cooking and sewing and maybe just a little cocktail drinking.  Personally I think we all deserve a drink, our daughter for all her hard work, and me and her dad for all that check writing. 

One of our favorite summertime cocktails is one that I had served just a couple of times during my bartending and server days, but really hadn't paid much attention to until we lived in England.  Served everywhere in England in the summertime, Pimm's Cup is a light and refreshing drink that kind of reminds me of iced tea. 

Back in 1823 Pimm's No. 1 was originally marketed as a medicinal tonic, but is now described as a gin based liqueur.  Mixed with sliced cucumbers, fruit, mint and lemon lime soda,  Pimm's No. 1 makes a drink that is known as Pimm's Cup, which is perfect for brunches, luncheons, barbeques and front porch soirees.  Substitute the lemon lime soda with champagne and you have a cocktail called a Pimm's Royal Cup which is worthy to serve at any celebration.  I highly recommend it if you are looking for something elegant and simple to wow your guests at your next garden party.

Pimm's Royal Cup

Since we are celebrating such a big accomplishment, I think I'll go with the champagne version.  It isn't as sweet as the Pimm's Cup, but it is really up to personal preference and the occasion as both are delicious yet different.

Fresh sliced fruit such as strawberries, orange, lemon, lime and cucumber (a sliver of fresh gingerroot is great too)

2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1

5 ounces champagne, lemon lime soda or equal quantities of both


Sprig of mint

Place fruit in the bottom of a tall glass.  Add Pimm’s, champagne or lemon lime soda and enough ice to top off the glass.  Stir gently.  Top with a sprig of mint.  Serve.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Happy National Coconut Cream Pie Day: Let's Celebrate with Coconut Cream Fried Pies

Every year when the weather starts warming up and the kids are getting ready to get out of school my mind is flooded with fond memories of being young and free in the summertime.  I started writing this post a few days ago with this in mind, and then this morning I discovered that it is National Coconut Cream Pie Day and I knew it was meant to be. 

When I was a girl growing up in the southeast side of Houston, things were pretty lean for my parents.  We didn’t belong to any country clubs or eat in expensive restaurants, so the simplest things were such a great treat for us.  

When my sister and I were still pretty young we were left to take care of ourselves all day during summer vacation while our parents worked.  In the morning before they left our mother and father would leave a few dollars on the counter and it was up to us as to how we wanted to spend it. 

Our usual schedule would be to hang out at the community pool all morning before wrapping our towels around our wet, sunburned bodies, securing them with a firm tuck under our arms and walking down the street to the Chuc Wagun Drive-In for lunch before heading home.

The Chuc Wagun was one of those iconic, quintessentially American structures that are now only found in photographs.  As I remember it, it was built to look like a covered wagon.  It was brown on bottom with four large replicated spoked wagon wheels.  On the top, its white stucco roof looked like canvas stretched over hooped supports.  If you were tall enough to look inside through the small sliding glass window, you’d see an older scruffy looking man, most certainly named Cookie, busy taking orders, cooking and shooing away flies.

Not usually having enough money for cheeseburger, fries, drink and dessert each, my sister and I would often pool our resources sharing a burger and fries, but never dessert.  Dessert at the Chuc Wagun was the best part of the meal because they not only had great ice cream; they had the best fried pies that I have eaten. 

As I recall each day “Cookie” had a special offering.  I loved most of them, especially the chocolate and cherry, and even though these were delicious, the jewel in the crown was their coconut cream.  How  I loved this creamy yellow custard mixed with plenty of soft angel flake coconut, wrapped in dough, deep fried to a crispy golden brown and lightly glazed while still warm.

When our number was called we would pay our tab, grab our brown paper bag and run home barefoot on pavement so hot you could fry an egg.  Once home we could eat dessert first and watch every kid's favorite soap opera, Dark Shadows.  Life was really good. 

It has been a long time since I have been in our old neighborhood, and I’m sure that the Chuc Wagun is either long gone or worse, turned into a nail salon.  On the upside, I understand that Dark Shadows comes to theaters next week, with Johnny Depp as Barnabas no less.  Yep, this summer is starting to look pretty good.   Oh yeah, by the way, happy National Coconut Cream Pie Day!

Coconut Cream Fried Pies

There was no way for me to get the original recipe for the Chuc Wagun’s fried pies so I had to improvise, finally coming up with this delicious version.  The vodka in the crust makes it super flaky and tender.  These pies would be great for picnics or lunch boxes.

For the pastry:

1/8 cup water

1/8 cup vodka (kudos to America's Test Kitchen for this delicious tip)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter

Oil for frying

Combine the water and vodka in a small container and place in the freezer to chill.

In the bowl of a food processor combine the flour, salt and sugar.  Pulse three times to combine.  Add the chilled butter and process until the mixture looks like cornmeal (about 5 seconds). 

Remove the water and vodka mixture from the freezer once it is cold.  Turn the food processor on and add the water and vodka to the flour mixture while processing.  Process until the mixture comes together to make a soft dough.  Remove from the bowl, form into a 5” disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Place in the refrigerator for 1 hour to chill. 

Divide the chilled dough into 6 equal portions.  Roll each portion into a small ball.  Place each ball on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 5” diameter circle with a lightly floured rolling pin.  Dampen the edges with a small amount of water.  Spoon 2 slightly heaping tablespoons of the Coconut Cream Filling (recipe follows) into the middle of each circle.  Carefully fold the dough in half.  Press edges together with your fingertips.  If desired, press edges with the tines of a fork to decorate.  Repeat with all of the dough and filling; set aside.

Pour enough oil into a medium size frying pan to come up 1/2"up the side.  Heat pan over medium high heat until the oil is hot and shimmering.  Place as many pies as will comfortably fit into the pan without touching.  Fry the pies until they are golden brown, approximately 2 – 3 minutes.  Carefully turn them over and fry on the other side until they are browned.  Remove the pies from the oil with a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain.  Repeat with the remaining pies.  Glaze (recipe follows) while warm.

Coconut Cream Filling:

1 cup coconut milk (not cream of coconut)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup half and half

1 large egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1 tablespoon butter

Place coconut milk, sugar and salt in a medium size non-stick sauce pan that is set over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer.

While the coconut milk and sugar is heating, place the cornstarch in a small bowl.  While whisking, gradually add the half and half.  To this mixture add the egg and vanilla extract; set aside.

Once the coconut milk has come to a boil, gradually add 1/2 of it to the egg mixture while whisking constantly to temper it.  While whisking the coconut milk mixture add the tempered egg and milk mixture back into the saucepan.  While stirring constantly, bring the contents of the saucepan back up to a simmer, stirring until it thickens.  Boil for 1 – 2 minutes before removing from the heat and add the shredded coconut and butter.  Cover and set aside to cool before filling pastry.


2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 – 2 teaspoons half and half

Place powdered sugar into a small bowl.  Add 1 teaspoon of the half and half and stir well.  Mixture should be thick yet still fluid.  If needed add the remaining half and half just a few drops at a time to reach desired consistency.

Makes 6

Friday, May 4, 2012

Mexican Fruit Salad and a Simple Shrimp Salsa for Cinco de Mayo

Mexican Fruit Salad

For some reason I am always taken by surprise by holidays.  They seem to just creep up on me, so when I realized that Cinco de Mayo is tomorrow, I kind of had to put my foot on the gas for this post.  There are actually a couple of Mexican recipes that I’d like to share and I might just get around to it, but I just had to post this one.  When my daughter was a little girl this was her favorite after school snack, so it is a kid pleaser too.  It is simple, refreshing and basically perfect for a celebration meal with a Mexican flair.

6 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 big juicy lime)

3/4 teaspoon chili powder (mild or hot depending on your taste)

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

4 cups of assorted fresh fruit, cut into bite size pieces (I love pineapple, watermelon, orange, strawberries, cantaloupe and cucumber)

Place lime juice, chili powder, salt and cilantro in a small container with a tight fitting lid.   Place fruit in a large bowl.  Pour juice over fruit and toss well.  Serve immediately.  Feel free to sprinkle a little extra chili powder over the top for garnish if you like.

Since I featured one of my daughter's favorites, I thought I'd add one for my husband.  He could eat his weight in this salsa. 

Shrimp Salsa

1 tablespoon oil

8 ounces fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped

1/2 medium red, orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped

2 green onions, chopped

1 large jalapeno, seeded and chopped

1 avocado, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 large garlic clove, crushed

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Juice of two limes (approximately 1/4 cup)

Splash of water (approximately 1 ounce)

Salt and pepper to taste

Place oil into a medium size frying pan over medium high heat.  Add chopped shrimp to the oil once it is hot.  Sauté for approximately 2 minutes or until it is just opaque.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Place the remaining ingredients into a medium size bowl and toss.  Once the shrimp is cooled, add it to the bowl and toss.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate until chilled through.

Serve with tortilla chips or crackers.

Makes approximately 2 cups.