Monday, November 22, 2010

Maque Choux

It's officially feeling like November. We haven't had any snow yet, but I'm sure it is coming. I just hope it holds off until after I get to go home for Thanksgiving. At work we've been gearing up for Black Friday- it will be my first Black Friday actually stepping foot in a mall or doing any shopping. I usually avoid the craziness of that shopping day, but it cannot be helped this year.

At home we did some winterizing this afternoon. It hasn't been too cold yet, but I'm sure when old man winter comes knocking we'll be glad. We have had some blustery days and I noticed the vertical blinds swaying after a few of the strong gusts in our living room. Needless to say, our windows are old and very drafty.  So now we have a cozy home and are in need of something to warm our tummies.

Enter Maque Choux. Not only is this dish stomach warming and filling, the colors of the ingredients and cajun flavors warm everything right up.

Maque Choux with chicken and hot Italian sausage
6 ears corn (I used a package of frozen corn instead)
3 lbs chicken thighs with skin and excess fat trimmed
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 lb hot italian sausage links, cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 medium onions, chopped
1 orange or red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 large celery rib, sliced
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 pound cherry tomatoes (1 1/2 pints) halved
1/4 c chopped fresh basil

1. If using fresh corn, cut kernels off cobs and, working over a large bowl, scrape cobs with knife to extract all juices. Discard cobs.

2. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy 8 qt pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown sausage, transferring to a plate. Brown chicken in batches, transferring to another plate.

3. Pour off all but 1 tbs fat from pot, then saute onions, bell peppers, celery, thyme, cayenne and salt to taste over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, 4 minutes. Add corn with juices and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and sausage.

4. Nestle chicken into mixture and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes. If the maque choux is soupier than you like, simmer uncovered until juices are reduced. Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper. Serve with sliced bread to soak up the liquids.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Best Brownies

After the seriously decadent Viennese cake I made last month, I still had a bag of dutch process cocoa in the cupboard. It was only in there so long because I was a little hesitant to use it in a recipe that wasn't going to live up to the amazingness of DUTCH PROCESS cocoa. Seriously, that stuff is almost sinful. The craving for brownies hit last weekend so I searched for a recipe that would do the cocoa justice. I found that a lot of people look down on baking with cocoa. What?! Perhaps I just don't know, perhaps people are basing this opinion on lower grade cocoa, but whatever. I'll admit I wouldn't use it for all purposes, but seriously, brownies? 

I finally found one from Alton Brown that I felt would do the trick. The brownies that resulted are, I must admit, among the best I've ever had. Now, these are a little bit gooey, so if you like your brownies to have a more cake-like consistency, these are not for you. I'm personally a big fan of fudgy brownies, so they were right up my alley. Now, a word on the cocoa (another?! I know.... I'm sort of obsessed), it made these brownies extremely dark and rich. Rich enough that a glass of milk is not simply advised, it is absolutely mandatory. The only improvement I can think of for these brownies is the addition of walnuts. They were spectacular without, so maybe it should just be called a variation rather than an improvement.

As a funny addition: the recipe on the food network site has a bit of a typo that makes it look as though the recipe calls for 11/4 cup of cocoa. Now, most people would look at that and realize that it means a full cup plus a quarter, but some of the reviewers made the brownies with 11 quarter cups of cocoa. And got on the website to complain. Obviously, the recipe didn't work so well in those cases. Gotta love those concrete thinkers! 

Brownies (made with cocoa)

Soft butter, for greasing the pan
Flour, for dusting the buttered pan
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar, sifted
1 cup brown sugar, sifted
8 ounces melted butter
1 1/4 cups cocoa, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.
2. With a mixer, beat the eggs at medium speed until fluffy and light yellow. Add both sugars. Add remaining ingredients, and mix to combine.
3. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8-inch square pan and bake for 45 minutes (I used a 9x13 rectangular pan just because we don't have a square one, thinner brownies, but still yummmy!). Check for doneness with the tried-and-true toothpick method: a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean. When it's done, remove to a rack to cool. Resist the temptation to cut into it until it's mostly cool (the toughest part of the recipe!)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Potato Soup & Bread bowls

I'll admit, this recipe is basically word for word from Southern Living via , but it presented some challenges that I had to remedy on my own. First of all- I was certain that a KitchenAid was going to be on my wedding registry, but I'm doubly sure of it now. I can remember making breads with my grandmother (who had a KitchenAid herself) and doing tons of kneading, which was a fun "old-fashioned" experience for me. But I found my little hand mixer just wouldn't get all 7 cups of flour into the dough and ended up doing a lot of it by hand. Also, the bread bowls seemed really small. I may just be used to Panera's gigantic sourdough bread bowls, but it didn't seem like you could get a whole serving of soup in there.

Luckily the soup was pretty low maintenance. Just throw a bunch of stuff in the crockpot, set the timer and forget about it. I think the recipe is a good basic potato soup but I think it could be much better if you played around with different ingredients and maybe some additional spices. Overall, a good recipe for a fall day.

Italian Bread Bowls
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 (1/4 oz) envelopes active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
7 cups all- purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water

1. Stir together 2 1/2 cups water and yeast in a large bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in salt and oil.

2. Add flour gradually, beating at medium speed with an electric mixer until soft dough forms.

3. Turn dough out onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic (4-6 minutes). Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 35 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

4. Punch dough down and divide into 8 equal portions. Shape each portion into a 4 inch round loaf. Place loaves on lightly greased baking sheets sprinkled with cornmeal.

5. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 35 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

6. Stir together egg white and 1 tablespoon water, brush over loaves.

7. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Brush with remaining egg mixture, and bake 10-15 minutes more or until golden. Cool on wire racks. Freeze up to 1 month if desired.

8. Cut a 1/2 inch thick slice from top of each loaf; scoop out centers, leaving 3/4 inch thick shells. Reserve centers for other uses. Fill bread bowls with hot soup and serve immediately.

Potato Soup
6 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 medium onions, diced
2 carrots thinly sliced
2 celery ribs thinly sliced
2 (14 1/2 oz) cans reduced sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup half and half

1. Combine first 8 ingredients in 4 1/2 quart slow cooker.

2. Cook, covered at HIGH for 3 hours or until vegetables are tender.

3. Stir together flour and half and half; stir into soup. Cover and cook 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Serve in bread bowls.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rapide Coq Au Vin

Although I have more time than I'd like currently, Sunday was one of the only days in this past week that I got to spend some time with the fiance. It's been a busy couple weeks and most of our time has been spent at work (opposite schedules, always, ugh!). He did have two gigs, one his usual Sunday morning gig, and another benefit this afternoon, but I finally get to spend time with him this evening. I did NOT want to spend a majority of that time stuck in front of the stove, so I found a recipe for Coq Au Vin that cheats a bit. I'm totally fine with this, having sworn to myself that I will make the real thing ASAP.

Again, I've been thinking about wanting to make this for quite a while. There's a scene in the movie "The Namesake" (fantastic movie, by the way, and an even better book by Jhumpa Lahiri) where one of the characters tries to make this. Ever since I saw that, I've really wanted to make this myself. Also, the wine. Any dish that is just a vehicle for a good wine is fine by me. I picked up a Burgundy I love (cheap, but trustworthy) to use in this recipe.

The end result was me saying "I'm going to be dreaming of this food tonight!" and it being marked as a definite "make again" recipe. The chicken was melt in your mouth tender, the vegetables were flavorful, and the whole thing just was a symphony of yum! The next time I have a craving for this, I do plan on making the full out traditional recipe, but in a situation with less time, this is definitely an amazing dish on its own!

Rapide Coq Au Vin
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 (4 ounce) skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups quartered cremini mushrooms
2 cups (1/4 inch thick) slices carrot
1/3 cup (1/4 inch thick) slices canadian bacon
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup fat-free, less sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste

1. Combine flour, thyme and salt in a ziploc plastic bag; add chicken. Seal and shake to coat. Remove chicken from bag, shaking off excess flour.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 9 minutes or until browned, turning frequently. Remove chicken from pan.

3. Add mushrooms, carrot and bacon to pan; saute 2 minutes. Stir in wine, broth and tomato paste. Cook for 9 minutes. Return chicken to pan; cook 8 minutes or until chicken is done.

Monday, October 25, 2010

White Sweet Potato Fries

Today has been a rainy, gloomy cold day. Luckily, I love weather like this (in moderation, of course) and had the day off to enjoy said weather from inside the house. I would almost say that Fall is my favorite season, but then I start thinking about the beginning of winter when snow is still something I love rather than something I dread shuffling through and shoveling. I think I just love the fact that there are four distinct seasons here and each one has its own charm.

We've had white sweet potatoes sitting around since my dad came to visit. He brought some up from home where they are called "New Jersey sweet potatoes" at the store (can someone explain that one? I can't figure out why they'd be called this.) I had already bought some sweet potatoes to bake with the chicken, so these have gone untouched for a while. It's about time to find something do with them!  These are not quite as sweet as regular sweet potatoes, but have a lighter texture.

The final verdict? I loved these! They won a "we have to do this again" vote from the fiance. Luckily I still have two more white sweet potatoes! I think an interesting twist may be trying different spice combinations- these would be great with a little bit more of a kick to them too! I think the sweet would balance out the spice really nicely.

White Sweet Potato Fries (can also be made with regular sweet potatoes)
1-1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
2. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into  1/2 inch wide strips.
3. Place sweet potatoes into a plastic bag. Add oil, salt, paprika and cinnamon. Seal the bag and shake well to coat fries. Spread the potatoes onto a single layer on baking sheet .
4. Cook for 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes, until slightly browned and crispy. Transfer immediately to a paper towel lined plate and serve warm.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Apple Chips

Okay, one more apple recipe. Last one, I promise!! (I can say that for sure because I used the last of the orchard apples in this recipe)

I was at work at 6am this morning. Yes, you read that right, 6 am. Which means that my alarm was set for 4:50 (since I also had to look as though I could be selling expensive clothes at 6am while changing around the whole store set- new holiday clothes though, YAY), and I spent the whole night terrified I wouldn't wake up on time to go to work, so I woke up every few minutes. Anyway, I'm exhausted. So my rule for the day was: stay out of the kitchen unless it doesn't involve sharp knives (oops, broke that rule), or won't take longer than 5 minutes to prep.

We had these last few apples lying around still and I was trying to figure out how to put them to good use before they got all shriveled and no good for anything but compost. On the way to work yesterday I had a sudden yearning for these apple chips I used to snack on in college. I figured it would be easy enough to slice up some apples, dust them with cinnamon and sugar, and bake until they're chips! Even though my tiredness level is pretty high, I managed to wield the knife without any mishaps. Eating apple chips while sitting on the couch with a good book and a cup of tea on a fall day is my idea of relaxing!

Apple Chips
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
4 apples sliced crosswise into 1/8 inch thick rounds

1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Mix sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Arrange apple slices on 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 1 hour; peel apples parchment and return to paper. Continue baking until apples are golden and crisp (about 30 minutes more).

These will store in an airtight container for up to 5 days (if they last that long that is!) My biggest tip for these is make sure you slice 'em thin. Too thick and they'll bake, but be chewy instead of crispy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tarte Tatin

I'm absolutely loving the apple harvest this fall! We went to an orchard last weekend, and then while my dad was visiting he and I went to another. I made an apple crisp to go with our mushroom stuffed beef roast dinner, and an apple pie for this weekend when we are going on a hike in a state park. I decided that it was far too cruel (to myself as well as to the fiance) to bake a pie and have to wait to break into it, so the idea came up for a tarte tatin.

I've been lusting after this tart for quite a while, the page in my french cookbook has been marked for at least a year, if not longer. Anything carmelized is sure to be delicious, and french pastries are unmatched in my book. This is not for those worried about calories, fat, or cholesterol, but you only live once afterall!

Tarte Tatin
1 1/2 pounds (5-6) apples (preferably pippins, Granny Smiths or Jonathans)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, plus butter for greasing pan
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon removed with lemon zester or grater
1/2 cup water
whipped cream, sweetened lightly (optional)

Pate Brisee
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut in 8 pieces
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons water

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Core apples and cut each into 6 slices.

2. In a large skillet over moderate heat, melt butter. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add apple slices and stir to coat with butter. Cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. In a small, heavy saucepan, combine remaining sugar and the water. Cook over medium heat without stirring, until sugar turns golden brown. Immediately pour caramel into a greased 9 inch cake pan. Swirl cake pan quickly to coat bottom with caramel.

4. Arrange apple slices in neat concentric circles on top of caramel. Any remaining apple slices can be piled randomly on top. Reduce liquid remaining in skillet to 1/4 cup and spoon over apples. On a lightly floured surface, roll Pate Brisee into a circle large enough to cover pie plate and about 1/8 inch thick. Cover apples with pastry. Bake until crust is golden brown (about 25 minutes). Cool pie on a rack 15 minutes. Unmold onto a serving dish. Serve in wedges with cream (if desired).

Pate Brisee
1. To make in food processor: Combine flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest in work bowl. Process 2 seconds. Add butter and process until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. In a separate bowl combine egg yolk and the water. With motor running, add egg mixture through feed tube and process until dough almost forms a ball. Remove from work bowl and gather into a ball with lightly floured hands.
To make by hand: Stir together flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Combine egg yolk and the water. Add to mixture, tossing gently with a fork to blend. With lightly floured hands, knead mixture just until it forms a ball.

2. Pat dough into a 5 inch disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month. Remove from refrigerator 10 minutes before rolling.

Roast Chicken

My father was visiting last week. He loves to cook. No, wait, let me clarify. He loves to try new outlandish recipes with  surprising ingredients. I think I inherited a bit of this, minus the penchant for every dish to include salmon or lamb and always cranberries. In light of his visit, I wanted to find something that I could make that would serve as a tip of the hat to my father's adventurousness in the kitchen, as well as serve as a great meal.

We actually didn't end up having this while he was here- time just got away from us & we ended up going out instead. It worked out well anyway because  Friday night is one of the only nights the fiance and I get to eat dinner together, so this was a good one for him to come home to!

Everything went pretty smoothly in the making, it's a lovely recipe for putting it in the oven, setting the timer for the glazings, and picking up a good book. Overall, a success! It's definitely going in the "try again" file.

I'm caught! No, I didn't tie the legs or twist the wings, oops!
Roast Chicken with Maple Pepper Glaze
2 lbs sweet potatoes (about 3) peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 chicken (3- 3 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
6 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1. Heat the oven to 425. In a large roasting pan, toss the sweet potatoes with 1 tablespoon of the oil, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Push them to the edges of the pan, leaving room in the middle of the pan for the chicken.

2. Rub the cavity of the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Twist the wings behind the back and tie the legs together. Put the chicken, breast side up, in the center of the roasting pan. coat the chicken with the remaining tablespoon of oil, sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and dot with the butter. Roast for 30 minutes. 

3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the maple syrup and the remaining 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and stir potatoes. Brush the chicken with about 2 tablespoons of the glaze. Return the pan to the oven and cook, stirring the potatoes and brushing the chicken with the remaining glaze 2 more times, until chicken and potatoes are just done, about 30 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate and keep warm for 10 minutes. 

4. Meanwhile, pour off the fat from the roasting pan. Add any accumulated juices from the chicken to the liquid in the pan. Serve chicken with pan juices and sweet potatoes. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mushroom Stuffed Beef Roast

While preparing the grocery list for this coming week, I noticed a theme, ROAST. Upcoming dishes include roast chicken, a pork roast in the crockpot for pulled-pork sandwiches, and this fantastic beef roast. It may be the weather turning cooler, it may be the ease of putting a bunch of ingredients in a dish and forgetting it in the oven for an hour or more, whatever the reason, we're giving the oven a work out this coming week. 

The roast before cooking
This roast is my go-to non-traditional roast. I've served it to quite a few visiting friends and it's always gotten great reviews. Neither I nor the fiance enjoy gravies, so while the original recipe to this roast includes a sauce, I don't think it needs it. The roast has always come out juicy and flavorful even without the sauce. 

2 pound beef eye of round roast
1/4 cup dry white wine
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, finely chopped (3 cups)
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon dillweed, crushed
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onion
1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1. Trim excess fat from roast. Then, cut 8 evenly spaced crosswise slits in roast, making each 3 inches deep. Place roast in a plastic bag set in a deep bowl. Pour wine over roast and seal bag. Marinate in the fridge for 6-24 hours, turning bag occasionally. 

2. For filling, in medium saucepan combine mushrooms, water, dillweed, and salt. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for 15 minutes or till liquid is evaporated. Let cool. Stir in onion and mayonnaise. 

3. Remove roast from bag, discarding marinade. Spoon filling into pockets in roast. Place roast in a shallow roasting pan. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or till meat thermometer reads 140. 

To serve, slice meat between filled pockets.

(If you really want to try the sauce, I'll include the recipe, but like I said, I have never made this!)
For sauce, in a small saucepan  stir together 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Stir in 1/2 cup beef broth. Cook and stir over medium heat till thickened and bubbly. Then cook and stir for 1 minute more. Serve with roast. 

Viennese Cake

You KNOW if these are the ingredients, it's going to be a good one! 
We've been going to various cake tastings lately, trying to choose our bakery for the wedding. At our second tasting, we had this cake that I knew my fiance wouldn't like, but I LOVED.  The description alone left me in a haze of chocolate overdose amazingness- "Four layers of dark chocolate cake with red raspberry preserves, belgian dark chocolate ganache, delicate chocolate mousse, chocolate buttercream and finally enrobed in belgian dark chocolate ganache".  The actual cake was even better than you can imagine, I actually couldn't finish the thin slice on my plate at the tasting (keep in mind, we were also trying a cake with two chocolate cake layers with a layer of raspberry preserves and CHEESECAKE between). 

Ever since then I've been looking for a similar recipe to try to recreate it at home. This is my tweaked version of a Viennese chocolate cake recipe (for a 6 inch cake pan because, two people do not need a whole cake to tempt them all week). We had this as a dessert after the manicotti. It was a perfect ending to the meal, although we were all stuffed and this cake is quite decadent, so small slices were plenty. We had enough left over for a few more days of enjoyment.

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cake flour
3 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder
3 large eggs, separated plus 1 large white, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 6 inch cake pan. 

2. Sift the flour and cocoa into a bowl. Whisk the egg yolks with 1/3 cup of the sugar until they are light and frothy. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, adding the rest of the sugar halfway through the process. 

3. Melt the butter and cool slightly. Gently fold in a third of the egg whites to the beaten egg mixture with a rubber spatula. Then add the melted butter and the flour mixture. Finally, fold in the rest of the egg whites. 

4. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake springs back when pressed. Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack. 

5. When cool, slice the cake horizontally into 3 layers of equal thickness.

Chocolate Ganache
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced and softened

1. Melt the chocolate in a microwave or in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (the bowl must not touch the water). 

2. Bring the cream to a boil, and pour the cream onto the melted chocolate. Whisk until smooth, then add the butter, one piece at a time, whisking well until smooth.

3. Refrigerate until the ganache is as thick as pudding.

To assemble the cake:
- Spread each of the three cake layers with a thin layer of warmed raspberry jam. Spread a third of the chocolate ganache over the jam on each layer, up to the edges, but not over. 
- Stack the layers into a single cake. Cut a strip of parchment paper to the depth of the cake by the circumference of the cake, plus an inch or two. Wrap the strip around the cake, fastening the overlap with a piece of tape to hold the layers firmly in place while chilling. 
- Chill in the refrigerator at least 5 hours. 

Chocolate Icing
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons glycerine
3/4 cup sifted confectioners' sugar, as needed

1. Melt the chocolate with the water, beat in the glycerine and sufficient sugar to achieve a coating consistency. 

2. Cool until pourable, but not too runny, or it will not adhere well to the sides of the cake.

3. Remove the paper strip on the cake. Place on serving plate. Smooth the icing over the top and sides of the cake with a metal spatula, and return to the refrigerator to set. Before serving, allow to come to room temperature for best flavor. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stuffed Manicotti

We recently had friends over for dinner at our new place (finally)! We've lived here a month or so now, and we finally have things set up enough to do some entertaining.

You've got to love this wine, just from the label!
This meal started with the wine.  We discovered Da Vinci Chianti last year by accident and it has quickly become one of our favorites. It's a reasonably priced wine that has some wonderfully fruity notes but isn't too sweet. So, the idea was to find a dish to go with a great Italian wine. Where else to look but the wonderful world of Italian food?

We decided on a manicotti, so then the search was on for something that wouldn't totally over-do it calorically. (you have to save room for the wine and salad and garlic bread- plus the surprise coming for dessert!)

10 uncooked manicotti
cooking spray
1 lb sweet Italian sausage (I used turkey sausage to help make this healthier)
1 1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cup (6 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups tomato-basil pasta sauce
1/4 cup grated fresh parmesan cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
A little bit of "Il tricolore" (would be more so with red meat, I know)
2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Remove casings from sausage. Add to pan, cook for 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Add onion and bell pepper and saute for 5 minutes or until tender.
3. Melt butter in medium sauce pan over medium heat. Stir in flour, cook 2 minutes stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat, gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk. Return pan to heat, bring to a boil. Cook 6 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat, stir in black pepper. Add 1/2 cup of milk mixture to sausage mixture; stir well.
4. Preheat oven to 350.
Note the "tears" in the pasta- ugh!! stuffed pastas!
5. Spoon about 1/3 cup sausage mixture into each manicotti; arrange manicotti in a single layer in a 13x9 inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle mozzarella over manicotti; spread remaining milk mixture evenly over mozzarella. Top milk mixture with pasta sauce, spreading to cover. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes or until bubbly.

I did this recipe in stages, and it can even be frozen after it is put together then baked at a later time. My very Italian fiance has asked that next time we do a "traditional" manicotti- no sausage, no onion, no green pepper, just lots of cheese. He must like me in pants with elastic waistbands. He said he liked this recipe, but next time we must do it "right".

Friday, October 1, 2010


Aaaand... I'm back!

I'm looking forward to doing a lot of cooking now that the weather is starting to get cooler.. there is just something about fall that makes you want to begin the hibernation with a homemade soup or stomach-warming dish and a tasty dessert of the season like apple crisp. I was talking to a friend today and she brought up apple crisp and I swear I started salivating from just hearing the words "apple crisp"!

Tonight I'm easing myself back into the kitchen with a simple but tasty stir-fry and my first crack at egg drop soup. I've been wanting to try making my own egg drop soup for a long time, so I'm pretty excited about tonight's dinner. When we went grocery shopping today I was also on the look out for the little crispy "noodles" that you'll often get as a topping in a Chinese restaurant when you order the egg drop soup. I'm not talking about the chow mein noodles that come in a can that my grandpa always used to tell me were worms that he was putting on his salad. These are sort of like the Chinese restaurant version of tortilla strips. If anyone knows what you call them, let me know.

I started thinking about the noodles, and I vaguely remember them being similar to the part of crab rangoon that doesn't have the crab in it. HMMM.... I'm trying out frying little rectangles of wonton dough tonight to see if I can replicate the restaurant soup even further.

Egg Drop Soup with the crunchy noodles!
Egg Drop Soup
4 cups chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons chopped chives (I omitted these because the chives at the store looked a little wilty and old- spring project: herb garden!)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 eggs
1 egg yolk

1. Reserve 3/4 cup chicken broth, pour the rest into a large sauce pan. Stir the salt, ginger and chives into saucepan, bring to a rolling boil. In a cup or small bowl stir together remaining broth and cornstarch until smooth. Add cornstarch mixture gradually until soup is at the desired consistency (careful here, or as a friend warned me, you'll end up with "Egg Drop Gravy")

2. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and yolk using a fork. Drizzle egg a little at a time from fork into boiling broth mixture. The egg should cook immediately. Stir in clockwise motion to mix soup together.

This soup can be frozen and reheated if you want to make a big batch and just have some on reserve for an easy meal later!

I find that the best stir-frys (stir-fries?)really come down to the sauce. You can use any vegetables you like- we're big fans of red peppers and mushrooms- and any meat you like, but the sauce makes the dish. Tonight I'm using one of my favorites that works well with shrimp or chicken stir-frys.

Dinner tonight!
Sauce Ingredients:
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon cooking oil
2 cloves garlic, minced

1. Cut desired meat up into bite sized chunks. In a small bowl combine water, soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch and sugar; set aside.

2. Heat oil in a wok over medium-high heat. (Add more oil as necessary during cooking.) Cook and stir the garlic in the hot oil for 15 seconds. Add vegetables of your choosing; cook and stir for 5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. (Add firmer vegetables first, if using mushrooms add after about 3 minutes.) Remove vegetables from wok with a slotted spoon. Add meat to wok; cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until no longer pink. Push meat from the center of the wok. Stir soy sauce mixture; add to center of wok. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly.

3. Return cooked vegetables to wok. Cook and stir about 1 minute more, or until heated through. Serve with hot cooked rice.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


So between now and my last post, I've gone for a bazillion job interviews, gotten a job working for an upscale ladies' clothing store, gone on a hunt for a new apartment, moved to said new apartment, and just in general not had time or energy for cooking. As soon as we decided we were moving, I basically stopped cooking. With all the packing and general messiness of a house on the verge of moving, I just didn't have the willpower to get in there and cook. We had a lot of frozen pizzas. And tuna sandwiches.

Now that we've moved (by the way, I do NOT advise both parties involved in a move to start new jobs the same week as the move), I haven't really spent a lot of time in the kitchen either. I have plans to, but the fiance is getting back into his school year schedule, which means he's never home at dinner time. Other than muffins on moving day for the men doing the heavy lifting (from a box mix! I know!), today's Tater Tot Casserole was the first cooking endeavor in the new, huge kitchen. That being said, I don't really think a recipe for Tater Tot Casserole is the type of thing I want to share on here.

So, I will be posting again sometime, things just have to quiet down and assume some sort of regularity for this to happen.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Chicken with Tarragon...

or "We've got chicken and I don't know what to do with it, so, hey what else is in the fridge?!"

I've been really enjoying the last few months in the kitchen. I've enjoyed planning the meals, making the grocery lists, and cooking. It's not that I didn't cook before, I did, but there's just something so difficult about cooking for one. Especially since I hate leftovers. Today, though, I took chicken out of the freezer without knowing what I was going to do with it. I just ended up throwing it together with some herbs, etc, and some steamed vegetables, but it was a really tasty conglomeration.

I had the fiancé pound the chicken breasts with the meat mallet first. They were still a little frozen, so they weren't quite as pliable as I wished, but it turned out nicely. We were going for a thickness of around 1/4 inch, didn't quite get it that thin, but hey, it still tasted amazing. After he finished with this, I sprinkled some sea salt over the chicken.

I made a sauce for the chicken and then pan fried it. Simple, but delicious.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon
1/8 teaspoon salt

Whisk all ingredients for the sauce together in a small bowl. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Add 2 teaspoons of the sauce to the pan, spreading evenly over the bottom of pan with a spatula. Add chicken, cook 2 minutes. Drizzle chicken with 2 teaspoons of the sauce mixture. Turn chicken over, cook 2 minutes. Drizzle remaining sauce over chicken; reduce heat to low. Cover and cook 2 minutes or until done. Transfer chicken to a serving platter. Pour pan drippings over chicken and serve immediately.

You'll notice I only did two pieces of chicken, but the sauce would easily cover 4 chicken breasts.
Such an easy recipe, with a gorgeous finished product. The chicken had a nice golden color and was moist and very tasty. Definitely something you could throw together in a matter of minutes and still have an impressive dish. 

Pound Cake

I woke up this morning feeling a little sad that I didn't have a reason to bake this weekend. After the marathon of pie-cake-and banana bread baking day I took a week or so off, but then made a cheesecake for my dad's birthday. Who doesn't love cheesecake? But I haven't been able to think of another reason to bake- until inspiration hit while making the grocery list this week. 

While looking at the ad for this week's sales at the grocery store, I saw that strawberries were on sale. So, the baking muse whispered in my ear and said "pound cake, fresh strawberries, and whipped cream". Of course, I had to oblige. 

Last summer, when the relationship with the fiancé was fairly new,  we were supposed to go to his parents' for dinner (and a first meeting). I thought I'd make a great first impression and bake something to take along for dessert. Well, the only issue here was that the knobs on the stove in the fiancé's apartment had all the numbers and wording rubbed off.... so I was guessing on where "bake" was and the temperature too. After twice the amount of time called for in the recipe, I came to the realization that only the top burner had been going the whole time, hence my burned on top and still batter on the bottom pound cakes... well, let's just say I wouldn't advise broiling your pound cake. We've since had the knobs replaced and baking has been much easier since. 

So, about a year later, I got up the guts to try the pound cake recipe again, this time with the stove securely set to "bake".  

Pound Cake
1/2 lb butter
1/2 cup shortening
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter and shortening together. Add sugar, a little at a time. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

2. Stir dry ingredients together, add to mix alternately with milk. Begin adding with flour, end with flour. 

3. Mix in vanilla. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 9 inch bread pans. Bake 1- 1.5 hours, until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then take out and let cool completely.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Birthday... Pie?

As I mentioned before the fiancé prefers pie to cake. So, for our joint birthday celebration last weekend, I made a birthday cake for myself, and a birthday pie for him. I gave him free reign over what kind of birthday pie he wanted, and after looking through a ton of recipes, he decided to try a variation on a pecan pie. I'd never made a pecan pie before, always played it safe with fruit pies, so this was a fun little adventure for me too.

I was a little nervous, though, since this was going to be served at a birthday party with his family, and you never want to bring a poorly made pie to a party, much less a party with your future family-in-law. Everything worked out fairly well even though it was ridiculously hot in the kitchen, again, and I did quite a lot of raging after the pie crust refused to transfer easily from the table to the pie dish. I managed to get everything to work eventually, though, and it was DEFINITELY worth the headache.

English Toffee Pecan Pie

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
3-4 tablespoons ice water

1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Using a pastry cutter, cut in shortening and butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about the size of peas. Sprinkle with water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix lightly with a fork after each addition, until mixture is moistened. Turn out dough onto a clean work surface and shape into a flattened disk. Wrap in plastic; transfer to refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.

2. Lightly flour a pastry cloth (which I didn't have, but if I'm making lots of pies in the future, I definitely will be looking into getting some!) and roll out dough on cloth, using a covered rolling pin, to a 12 inch round, about 1/8 inch thick. With a dry pastry brush, sweep off excess flour, fit dough into a 9 inch glass pie plate. Trim to a 1/2 inch overhang all around. Fold under and trim edges.

3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (make sure it's ONLY 1/2 teaspoon, or even slightly less, this stuff can easily overpower the other flavors)
1 cup toffee bits (you can buy Heath brand already chopped up in the baking aisle)
1 cup chopped pecans
22+ pecan halves, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 375 (rack in lower third of oven). In a large bowl, mix together eggs, corn syrup, brown sugar, butter, salt, vanilla, almond extract, toffee bits and chopped pecans.

2. Pour filling into pie crust. Top with pecans by evenly spacing 14 around outer edge of pie filling. Make a second row by evenly spacing 7 pecans in a smaller circle in the center. Place 1 pecan in center. (I ended up using more pecans in my two outer circles, I just placed them closer together)

3. Transfer pie to oven; bake for 20 minutes. Cover with parchment paper-lined aluminum foil and continue baking until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 20-30 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Unfortunately, I only have one photo of the pie, since after we cut it I didn't have a chance to take more. Also pictured is my chocolate cake and a loaf of banana bread I just happened to make the same day. It was a very busy, but very very fun day in the kitchen, even with the heat.

Peanut Butter Popcorn

Anyone who spent time at my house while I was growing up is probably familiar with my mother's peanut butter popcorn. It is the stuff of legends, something you'll just all of a sudden have a craving for that NOTHING can sate, other than the real thing. The first time my fiancé had it, he immediately looked at my mom and said "Dana knows how to make this too, right?". It is addictive, to say the least.

My mom usually makes a huge turkey roaster full of the stuff, but when it's just me and the fiancé, it's safer to make a smaller batch. He and I are trying to eat more "real foods" so this is a difficult recipe to justify- it does involve high-fructose corn syrup- but it's totally worth breaking our "real food" rule.

You need to make a ton of popcorn for this, 3-4 bags if you're using microwave, or that many batches if you make it the old fashioned way on the stove. It's important to make sure you sift through each batch of popcorn to get all the un-popped seeds out before adding the peanut butter sauce.

In a medium sauce pan, melt 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup light corn syrup. You need to be stirring this pretty constantly so the bottom doesn't burn. When it's pretty well mixed and liquid-ish, add a touch of vanilla extract. Stir for about one minute after adding vanilla, make sure to get all the edges so it doesn't scorch. Pour peanut butter mixture over popcorn. Mix the popcorn and melted peanut butter well.

Eat while still warm... and after cooled.... and if there's any left the next day, well you should eat it then too.


Ages ago, before our landlord decided to tear up the back yard to build a garage (tearing up was done two months ago and there is yet to be any progress on the actual building...), the fiancé and I had visions of summer grilling and get togethers with friends. It was going to work out perfectly, the fiancé has a birthday at the end of June and he was going to get a real grill. Well, we had to give up that little dream as we watched the once perfect for summer get togethers backyard turn into a mud and gravel heap.

Not ones to be discouraged, my parents found this neat little Coleman traveling grill that has more cooking space than a table-top grill and a reasonable number of BTU's. To be honest, I don't know what BTU's mean, but my dad says this one is pretty good. We've taken it to a park nearby a couple times, but always with brats. This time, I wanted to do something a little more adventurous.

We made pork kebabs with a cucumber tzatziki. I had to do a little research to find out that a tzatziki is a traditional Greek/Turkish appetizer or dip. It was a really simple recipe, and the kebabs were good, but the tzatziki totally stole the show. Definitely a recipe worth repeating.

Grilled Pork Kebabs with Cucumber Tzatziki
4 burrito-size tortillas, halved
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil.
salt and pepper
1 lb pork loin, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
2 onions, cut lengthwise into 8 wedges each
1 tsp dried oregano
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 c plain greek-style yogurt
1/2 cucumber, grated

1. Preheat the grill to medium-high. Brush the tortillas with 1 1/2 tbs olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Toast on grill until browned, about 5 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, toss the pork and onions with 1 1/2 tbs olive oil and season with the oregano, salt and pepper.- I did this about an hour before hand since we were traveling, I don't know if the extra marinating time helped, but it can't hurt!- Thread onto 4 skewers.

3. Meanwhile, on a cutting board, using the flat side of a knife, mash the garlic and 1/2 tsp salt into a paste. Transfer to a small bowl and whisk in the yogurt, remaining 1 tbs olive oil and 1/4 tsp pepper. Press the cucumber in a sieve to remove excess liquid, then stir the cucumber into the yogurt mixture.

4. Grill the skewers, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve with the tzatziki and tortillas.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mango-Lime Black Bean Salsa

This is a fantastic, simple recipe that is my go-to for work potlucks or picnics, or really any occasion that calls for snacking. Plus, the array of bright colors in the salsa brighten up any event!

When I lived in a small town, it was a little more difficult to make spur-of the moment since mangos were not typically available at the small town grocery store. I'm still searching for canned mangoes (so much easier than cutting up fresh, although, if you have the right tool, I hear that's not too hard either) here in the city, but you take what you can get, I guess.

15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
15 oz can mangos, drained and sliced into small chunks (or tackle slicing a fresh mango!)
11 oz canned corn with peppers (look for "Mexicorn" at the store)
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 Tablespoons lime juice (or juice a fresh lime- yum!)
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, make sure you stir well to get all the spices and juices mixed evenly. The salsa tastes great right after you make it, but if you can resist, wait until the next day and you will find that it is heavenly after everything has time to "cure"!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lemon chicken pt. 2

So, after the hot, hot day of making tortellini, I was looking forward to actually getting to eat this meal. The fiance works over dinner on Monday and Tuesday, so I wanted to wait until today so we could actually eat it together.

After my interesting adventure on Monday with the wonton wrappers basically melting into the table while I tried to fold everything up, I was a little trepidatious about the actual cooking of them. I was worried they'd be too doughy (they were), and skeptical about how well they'd cook through. I'm sure the issue with an excess of dough I experienced was due, at least in part, to my not getting the dough thin enough. But also, the ratio of filling produced versus the amount of dough produced with these recipes seemed a little out of whack. So, if I do try this again I may make smaller dough squares, or up the amount of filling in each tortellini.

The chicken, though. Oh so simple to make, and I found it absolutely delicious. It had the perfect ratio of moist meat to crispy, salty, lemony skin (I know, this in itself seems horrible to some people, but it really is one of life's wonderfully guilty pleasures). For the record- the fiance commented on the skin being sort of blah tasting, while I found it to have quite a bit of flavor. I don't know if this is simply a difference in our palates, or if I missed his piece of chicken when seasoning. I somehow doubt it being the latter.

So without further ado: the rest of the recipe!

Lemon Chicken
1 lemon, 1/2 thinly sliced crosswise, 1/2 squeezed into juice
4 chicken leg quarters
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange the lemon slices in a single layer down the center of a roasting pan. Rub the chicken with the oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken skin side up on the lemon slices and bake for 35 minutes. Transfer to the broiler and cook until the skin is crisp, about 3 minutes. Drizzle the chicken with the lemon juice.

2. Divide the chicken and roasted lemon slices among 4 plates and top with the pan juices. Sprinkle with the remaining tarragon.

So. Simple. And delicious. Win on the chicken end, needs improvement on the tortellini end.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lemon Chicken and Sweet Pea Tortellini

It's been about a month since I totally uprooted myself and experienced some huge life changes. I've moved 450 miles to an entirely different state, from a tiny little town to an actual city. I've gotten engaged and jumped into the whole whirlwind of wedding planning (in a new and unfamiliar place no less!).

Since my day job was being a music teacher I've had a lot of time since the move to do... nothing. My awesome future mother-in-law handed me a big stack of magazines the last time I saw her, I think to help combat the threat of constant boredom. I now have a stack of great magazines to check out AND a bunch of meal ideas for the fiance and myself.

The current recipe I'm trying out: Lemon Chicken and Sweet Pea Tortellini. It looks simple enough: roast herbed chicken on slices of lemon in the oven, and make a tortellini filling to be put in wonton wrappers. During our trip to the grocery store yesterday, the fiance and I searched everywhere for wonton wrappers- with no luck. So, I figured, how hard can it be to make little squares of pasta? Technically not difficult, but when you don't have air conditioning, making any kind of dough in the summer is brutal. (Must remember this for later in the week when I'm making a pie crust for the fiance's birthday pie! Midnight cooking, anyone?) Needless to say, the tortellini that in the magazine looks like a cute little pasta envelope looked more like dumplings in my hot kitchen. I'll just have to try this recipe again when the inside temp isn't 82 degrees if I want them to look better.

As a way to make the project of this meal last longer, I decided to make the tortellini today and freeze them until Wednesday when I'll make the final dish. Thank goodness, I did. Due to the heat this has turned into quite a time consuming project!

Wonton wrapper recipe:
1 egg
3/4 tsp salt
2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3-1/2 cup water
extra flour as needed

1. Lightly beat the egg with the salt. Add 1/4 cup water

2. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the egg and water mixture. Mix in with the flour. Add as much of the remaining water as necessary to form a dough (add more than called for if recipe is too dry).

3. Form the dough into a ball and knead for about 5 minutes, or until it forms a smooth, workable dough. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out until very thin and cut into 3 1/2 inch squares. Store in a plastic bag in freezer until ready to use.

Makes: 24 wonton wrappers

Tortellini filling recipe:
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Using a food processor, mix together the peas, ricotta, 1/2 tsp tarragon and 1/4 tsp salt.

2. On a work surface, working with 2 wonton wrappers at a time, spoon a teaspoon of pea mixture onto the center of each wrapper. Moisten the edges with water and fold the wrapper in half diagonally to form a triangle, pushing out any air bubbles and pressing the edges firmly to seal. With the long side of the triangle facing you, fold the top point back toward you, then fold the right and left points to meet it and press all three points together securing them with more water.

3. IF COOKING RIGHT AWAY: In a large pot of boiling water, cook the tortellini until they float to the top, about 5 minutes. Use slotted spoon to remove from water.

IF FREEZING: Uncooked tortellini can be frozen on a baking sheet until solid, then transferred to a resealable freezer bag. Cook frozen tortellini in boiling water for about 6 minutes.

Makes: 24 tortellini

I'll post the rest of the recipe after Wednesday's experiment with cooking the tortellini and the chicken. Also, look for a slew of recipes toward the weekend- The fiance and I are having our birthday celebration with his family on Sunday and I'm making my grandma's secret recipe potato salad, mango salsa, a birthday pie for the fiance (who prefers pie so much, he's asked for wedding pie instead of cake....), and a lovely chocolate cake borrowed from my good friend at The Gingered Whisk (I'll just link to that one, she's got it posted, and everyone should know about her fabulous blog!)