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!)