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Mobile meals perfect for autumn forays

Autumn in Oregon is the ultimate tonic for those who are drawn to the outdoor world. From drives through wine country to day hikes and expeditions along rivers and foothills, to a simple football tailgating affair, excuses abound to get outside in this gorgeous state during an exquisite time of year.

And for those with a culinary bent, those good times can also be had at farmers' markets, u-pick fields, roadside vegetable stands and the colorful produce sections in most supermarkets.

Right now the Northwest fields are continuing to feed our souls: Tender carrots; big, juicy, new-crop garlic and onions; robust leeks; and dozens of fresh herbs and salad greens. Bringing this bounty to the table is easy. It's there for the picking. But keeping the offerings unique can be something else again — just ask a squash grower

Ideally, autumn meals should be varied, simple-yet-elegant, colorful and delicious. They can also be a bit on the hearty side, since temperatures are cooler than just a few weeks ago.

One way to get all that is with sliders, pockets and wraps. Snazzier than a traditional sandwich — but with the same convenience and versatility. I’ve culled through my recipes and gathered some of my favorites that are designed for optimum delight with a minimum of effort. Tried-and-true offerings that have fortified the spirits of all who've shared the road (or trail!) to adventure with me in this wonderful place we call Oregon.

Of course, even if you’re simply sharing the view from your back deck, you’ll discover it’s not the distance these meals have traveled that make them memorable, but rather the company they keep. So gather up a few friends and enjoy a taste of autumn while it’s still in the air.

Huli Huli Chicken Sliders

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 pounds boneless/skinless chicken thighs, halved or quartered

1 pound boneless/skinless chicken breast, cut into 1- or 2-inch chunks

½ cup diced yellow onion

2 cups chicken broth (canned is okay)

2 cups pineapple juice

¼ cup brown sugar

⅓ cup peeled and shredded fresh ginger

8 to 12 small buns, sliced and lightly toasted

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and saute until the pieces are browned on all sides. Add the onion and saute until softened, about 2 minutes.

Deglaze the pot with the chicken broth, stirring and scraping up all the cooked-on bits of food. Add the pineapple juice, soy sauce, brown sugar and ginger.

Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover and simmer gently until the chicken is very tender, about 60 to 90 minutes.

When ready to serve, transfer the chicken to a warm bowl and serve, alongside a platter of the toasted buns so folks can fix their own slider.

Serves 4 to 6.

Jan’s Golden Quesadillas

A quick and tasty meal that comes with a great boost of flavor thanks to the baked-on, toasted cheese that browns right in the skillet underneath the tortilla. When you flip the tortilla — voila! — a golden-cheesy surface on which to build a simple, hand-held meal.

For each quesadilla, you will need:

A non-stick skillet large enough to accommodate the width of your flour tortillas

About ⅓ cup of shredded sharp cheddar (or Monterey jack, or medium-sharp cheddar)

1 8- or 10-inch flour tortilla

Desired fillings, (see recipes that follow, or simply assemble an array of the traditional fillings, such as diced tomato, salsa, guacamole, cooked chicken or ground meat, chopped flank steak or sliced skirt steak, sour cream, taco sauce)

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it becomes very warm to the touch. Sprinkle the shredded cheese directly onto the surface of the pan, spreading it out to cover the approximate diameter of the tortilla. Lay the tortilla on top of the cheese and press it gently into the melting cheese (this helps the cheese adhere to the tortilla). Let the tortilla sit, undisturbed, in the pan for about 30 seconds, to give the cheese a chance to brown, then gently test it around the edges by sliding your spatula under the tortilla and lifting slightly to see if the cheese has turned golden and is adhering to the tortilla. Once this has happened, then go ahead and slide your spatula completely underneath the tortilla and flip it over to brown the plain side of the tortilla, then slide the tortilla onto a plate.

Arrange the desired fillings down one side (if you only want to fold the tortilla in half), or down the middle (if you’re planning on a burrito-style wrap.

For feeding several folks, it’s a good idea to have two pans going at the same time.

Savory Mushroom Quesadilla filling

½ pound sliced mushrooms

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon butter

½ sweet onion, chopped

¼ cup dry white wine (Chardonnay)

1½ tablespoons black bean garlic sauce

1 tablespoon chile garlic sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

4 Golden Quesadillas (see recipe)

In skillet, saute the mushrooms in the oil and butter over medium heat until the mushrooms soften and begin to release their moisture. In small cup, whisk together the wine, black bean garlic sauce, chile garlic sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Stir this mixture into the mushrooms, then add the onions and continue to saute, turning the vegetables (tossing the skillet), to brown the mushrooms on both sides and cook down the sauce.

Spoon a generous portion of the mushroom mixture onto half of the prepared Golden Quesadilla, then fold the other half over onto the vegetables and slide the tortilla from the pan.

Repeat with additional tortillas and filling. This recipe makes enough mushroom filling for 4 large tortillas.

Sesame Chicken Pockets

6 boneless/skinless chicken breast halves, cut in ½-inch chunks

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1½ tablespoons sesame seeds

2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon each: soy sauce, granulated sugar, ketchup

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon red chile flakes

1 small jalapeno, seeded and finely minced

1 medium-sized cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped

2 or 3 medium tomatoes, cored and diced

1 cup chopped sweet onion or red onion

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

4 to 6 pocket breads, halved

2 to 3 cups shredded lettuce

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack or pepper jack cheese

½ pint sour cream

Saute the chicken in skillet with the olive and sesame oils over medium-high heat until lightly golden. While the chicken is browning, make a well in the center of the pan and add the sesame seeds, gently stirring them occasionally until browned. Add vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, ketchup, Worcestershire, chile flakes, and about half of the jalapeno (add more later if you want to add zip). Either pack the hot filling into a Thermos or refrigerate for up to 24 hours and reheat before packing into Thermos for transport.

Prior to picnic, combine the cucumber, tomatoes, onions and rosemary in a portable food container or recloseable plastic bag. To serve, diners fill the pocket halves with the chicken and tomatoes mixtures, lettuce and cheese, then garnish with sour cream.

Makes 6 servings.

Grilled Teriyaki Beef Sliders with Fresh Avocado Relish

1½ pounds flank steak, cut into 1-inch wide strips (cut across the grain, on a slant for the most tender eating experience)

2 medium-sized onions, cut in approximately 1-inch wedges or chunks

2 green (or red, or yellow) bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 cup Ponzu Sauce (a lemon-based soy sauce made by Kikkoman; if unavailable, use soy sauce)

½ cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil

4 large cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

4 French rolls, split and toasted over coals if possible


Avocado Relish (recipe follows)

Shredded lettuce and tomato slices for garnish

Place the flank steak strips, onion chunks, and bell pepper chunks in a large resealable plastic bag, or in a shallow glass pan. Combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, olive oil, sesame oil, garlic and ginger and pour over the meat and vegetables. Refrigerate mixture for at least 6 hours or overnight. To assemble, remove beef strips from the marinade and thread onto bamboo skewers, accordion-fashion, alternating with the onion and pepper chunks. Grill over hot coals or gas grill, turning several times, for about 8 minutes or until meat reaches desired degree of doneness. Brush occasionally with the marinade while cooking.

The meat and veggies can be cooked ahead, or grilled right before serving. To assemble sandwiches, spread each roll with some of the mayonnaise, if desired, then add some of the beef strips and grilled vegetables. Top with the avocado relish and some shredded lettuce.

Avocado Relish: Combine 2 peeled, seeded and diced avocados, 1 peeled and finely chopped tomato, ¼ cup finely chopped green onion, ½ cup finely chopped bell pepper, ½ cup finely chopped peeled and seeded cucumber, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon Ponzu Sauce or soy sauce, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. May be made up to 3 or 4 hours ahead (much longer than that and the avocado won’t look very appetizing).

Makes 4 servings.

Lemon Dill Chicken Wraps with Grated Carrots

½ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons sour cream

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, grilled

4 large (10-inch) spinach flour tortillas

1 cup grated carrots

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

To prepare the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, dill, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl; set aside in the refrigerator until ready to use (may be prepared several days ahead)

To prepare the chicken, cut each breast across the grain into very thin slices. Place the chicken in a bowl and add the dressing. Toss and stir to coat all of the slices.

To assemble the wraps, lay the tortillas in a single layer on a cutting board. Evenly divide the chicken mixture, and then the carrots and Parmesan cheese over three-quarters of each tortilla, leaving one-quarter of the tortilla empty at the top. Roll up each tortilla jelly-roll fashion. Trim off any uneven ends if you want or leave them as they are. Cut the rolls into equal pieces, each about 1-inch thick. Arrange cut sides up, on a platter. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 10-inch wraps

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a cookbook author and columnist in Corvallis. Reach her at janrd@proaxis.com.