Sunday, March 23, 2014

Iron Chef Cinnamon Recap

We had a full house for Iron Chef Cinnamon this February, either because everyone really likes cinnamon, or because everyone wanted to see our lovely hostess Morgan's new place. Either way, it was a great night with lots of tasty cinnamon dishes first, followed by a lot of wine, gossiping and laughing. Hard to say which part was better. Alright, since there are so many dishes, I'm going to jump right into the recap! 

Cara's drink was first out of the gate and she upped the presentation ante right away with her fancy schmancy apple with a cinnamon star design. The drink was an Apple Cider Champagne and it tasted a little bit like apple pie in a glass! The champagne made it more refreshing and light than a regular apple cider. I would say Cara completely redeemed herself from the Great Ginger Champagne Fiasco last year at Iron Chef Ginger

We had TWO drinks this time which was either a genius idea or a really bad idea. I say genius. Doan brought out her Cinnamon Horchata next. Horchata is a traditional Latin drink made with milk and cinnamon and Doan spiked hers up with some rum. Yay, rum! I'm a huge fan of White Russians and this was a bit like that. Plus, any time you can't taste the alcohol in a drink, you know it's trouble, especially when Doan's involved. 

Now we move into the appetizers. Emily was first with her Chicken, Pear and Goat Cheese Tarts with Cinnamon Bacon. Apparently goat cheese and cinnamon is a common pairing because we had more than a couple dishes that involved both. As a huge goat cheese fan, I was definitely not complaining. I admit to going back to Emily's tray a few times-- it was one of my favorites of the night. Using pear instead of the traditional apple was really smart and unique, and the whole thing made for a really enjoyable bite (or two bites if you have more manners than I do.) 

Jen made a surprise (and very welcome) appearance after we hadn't seen her in awhile. She brought some cinnamon and (I think) walnut crusted goat cheese balls served on a crispy bagel chip. As you can see, it maybe wasn't the prettiest dish of the night, but you can't taste pretty! It actually tasted great. As previously mentioned, I'm a big goat cheese fan so these worked perfectly for me.

We also had a spiced butternut squash, cinnamon apple bisque from Kristy that we ate too quickly to grab a photo of (oops!). The squash and apple were great together and the cinnamon added depth to the flavor of the soup. Slightly sweet and creamy with a lot of autumn flavors, I think it would be a wonderful Thanksgiving appetizer! 

We only had one side, courtesy of Kim, but it was a really good one. She made a cinnamon and goat cheese sweet potato mash that she topped with marinated red grapes. Sweet potatoes are usually too sweet for me, but the goat cheese cut them perfectly, and the tartness of the red grapes helped as well. Again, I think this would be a great addition to your Thanksgiving table as it elegantly improved the classic yam.

Shu was the first main and served cinnamon spiced chicken with cous cous. I think there was cinnamon in the cous cous as well as on the chicken and it had sort of a Moroccan vibe to the whole dish. Since a lot of our dishes were on the sweeter side of savory, it was nice to have a dish that wasn't so sweet. It did have some rehydrated fruits in it (which Shu later told us included prunes) that had a bit of sweetness, but not too much. Eating the chicken and cous cous together in one bite was a really delicious mouthful. 

I had the other main, and after a loooong dry spell I was totally happy and pretty surprised to pull off a win. I made cinnamon fried chicken and waffles with a honey cinnamon sauce. The chicken was oven baked but still was as crispy as deep fried chicken would have been, and even though I froze the waffles and reheated them in the oven, they were nice an crispy as well. The sauce was pretty sweet but worked with the chicken and evidently turned out as tasty as I hoped. It was a complicated dish, but worth it to get a win.

The night's second place dish was our first dessert made by Laura. Cinnamon ice cream over crispy cinnamon chips, drizzled with chocolate sauce. It reminded me a lot of fried ice cream, as far as the flavors go. It had a ton of cinnamon flavor, maybe the most of any other dish of the night, and the creamy ice cream and crispy chips were a really nice contrast. This is the kind of dish you could serve at a party without too much trouble and get a really good response.

We saved our hostess of the evening, Morgan, for last. She made an apple cinnamon crumble that was absolutely classic and delicious, even as stuffed as we all were. Served warm, the way it should be, it was nice and tender. It would have been even better with a spoonful of Laura's cinnamon ice cream! 

Congrats to the winners (thank you, thank you,) and great job cooking, ladies. I'm already looking forward to the next one. Iron Chef Kale, perhaps? 

Seared Scallops over Pancetta Brussels Sprouts

I’ve watched enough food TV to know that scallops are deceptively difficult to cook. You want to get a good crust on the top and bottom, without overcooking the center. So I guess that’s why even though I will order scallops ad nauseam at restaurants, I’ve never ventured to make them at home. And, to be honest, I still can’t say that I did. The Hubs graciously took on the scallop cooking and absolutely nailed it. But I will take credit for the Brussels sprouts and they were also knee-slappingly fantastic. I found this recipe on a blog called In Sock Monkey Slippers and followed it pretty much to the letter, except that we used pre-cubed pancetta. I will say that we almost killed ourselves making the sauce and although it was pretty good, it’s not a sauce I would risk my life for again. I think our problem was that we had oil in the pan when we added wine to it and it was definitely a major hazard to bare arms and open eyes. Don’t do that. 

3oz cubed pancetta
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 sea scallops (we used 10 as ours were on the small side)
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1/2 cup dry white wine (like Sauvignon Blanc)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
3 tablespoons butter

In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook the pancetta about 3-5 minutes until the fat starts to render, and then add in the shallots. Saute another 5 minutes or so. You want the pancetta to be crispy. Add the thinly sliced Brussels sprouts as well as the lemon juice and toss, making sure the sprouts get covered with the pancetta juice. The instructions said to sauté just for 5 minutes, but I like to get my Brussels sprouts with a touch of color on them, so we probably went for more like 7 or 8 minutes. Do as you like. Add salt and pepper to taste (we also added some red pepper flakes) and set aside.

For the scallops, pat dry with a paper towel (essential for getting a crust) and season with a good amount of salt and pepper. This is the only seasoning on your scallop. Heat the grapeseed oil and when it’s very hot, add the scallops, searing on top and bottom for about 3-4 minutes a side. You want to get that nice golden sear. Remove to a plate and reduce the heat to medium.

Here’s where we nearly burned ourselves and the entire house, so be careful. Let the oil cool down, and consider pouring most of it out. I really think the combo of wine and hot oil was our issue. I’m not even sure you need any oil in the pan at all. So, carefully add the wine to the pan. Hopefully you’ve let it cool enough that it doesn’t automatically go crazy and splash all over you like it did for us. You want to simmer the wine until it reduces to about a tablespoon, which should take about five minutes. Add in the thyme and whisk in the butter one tablespoon at a time. Remove it from the heat when the butter is fully melted into the sauce.

Serve the scallops on top of the Brussels sprouts with a little drizzle of the sauce over each scallop. It feels fancy, but it really isn’t all that difficult once you get the hang of it. Good luck with your scallops!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Chicken with Cilantro and Red Thai Curry Peanut Sauce

I eat a lot of chicken. I've posted a ton of chicken recipes. Sometimes I get completely sick of the awesome recipes I've posted. Every now and then it's time to go find another chicken recipe. This was one of those times. I decided to look for a recipe that featured some Asian flavors. So, I headed over to yummly and searched for chicken breast recipes. Well, I came across this particular recipe from Kalyn's Kitchen and thought I would give it a try. In my opinion, coconut milk and peanut butter provides great dimension to a dish. Adding red thai curry paste and cilantro took it to a whole other level. This was really quite flavorful, and I added some red pepper flakes to kick it up another notch. I really think you'll love this recipe, so give it a try and let me know what you think! Enjoy!

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2 inch thick
2 T peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 T chopped fresh garlic
1/2 cup smooth natural peanut butter (without added sugar) at room temperature
1/4 cup rice vinegar (not "seasoned" vinegar which has sugar)
2 T soy sauce
2 T Splenda or sugar (use Splenda for South Beach Diet)
1 tsp. red Thai Curry Paste (I like Thai Kitchen brand)
3 T homemade chicken stock or canned chicken broth
fresh ground black pepper to taste
about 2 T peanut oil (depends on your pan)
1 cup unsweetened lite coconut milk (I use Thai Kitchen Lite Coconut Milk)
4 T finely chopped cilantro (or more), plus more for garnish if desired

Start out by wrapping your chicken breasts in plastic wrap or putting them inside a zip-lock bag. Take out your meat tenderizer, and pound some aggression onto those chicken breasts. You want the chicken to be about 1/2 inch in thickness. Set the chicken aside.

Next, take out your food processor and add the chopped garlic and minced ginger. Then add in the peanut butter, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, chicken stock, and red Thai Curry Paste.Throw in some red chili pepper flakes if you desire. Give it a good couple pulses until well mixed. Set aside.

Take out a large skillet and add in the oil. Turn up the heat to about medium and cook the chicken breasts until they are nicely golden brown and cooked thru. Be careful not to overcook the chicken. It should feel barely firm to the touch. Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Next, add in the coconut milk to the skillet. Stir and scrape off the bottom bits from the pan while you are doing so. Cook for about 2-3 minutes. Then add in the peanut and ginger mixture from your food processor into the skillet. Cooke for another couple minutes. Turn off the heat and add in the cilantro. Stir well. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, and serve immediately. Enjoy.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Soft-Baked Peanut Butter Lover's Cookies

I have a bit of a problem. I can't stop trying recipes from Sally's Baking Addiction. I think she was onto something when she included "Baking Addiction" in the name of her blog. I'm totally addicted to Sally's Baking. Everything I've tried so far as been so darn good. I haven't tried any of her cake or pie recipes, but I have tried a ton of her cookies. And, add this recipe to the list. I'm in love with this Soft Baked Peanut Butter Lover's Cookie. I love the addition of peanut butter chips and Reese's peanut butter cups. I omitted nuts, because I'm just not a fan of nuts in my cookies. But, feel free to add them in yours. These cookies are heavenly and I guarantee if you decide to share them with your friends and family they will love you for it. I can't wait to try another one of Sally's scrumptious cookie recipes. Enjoy!

1/2 cup salted butter, softened to room temperature* (If using Unsalted butter then add a 1/4 tsp salt)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup honey roasted peanuts (I omitted these)
1/2 cup mini peanut butter cups (OR fun size or regular size peanut butter cups, chopped)
1/2 cup peanut butter baking chips

The first thing I do is chop up the peanut butter cups and set aside in a small bowl. I used about half a regular sized mini peanut butter cups bag. Next, take out a medium sized bowl and add the flour, baking soda, and salt if you're using unsalted butter. Set aside. Next, you'll want to cream together the butter and sugar until well mixed. Then add in the peanut butter, egg, and vanilla in that order. Stir well. Carefully, add in the flour mixture a little at a time to avoid flour puffing up all over the place. Be careful not to over-mix the batter. Carefully, fold in the peanuts (if using), peanut butter chips, and peanut butter cups. Place the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
Once you're ready to start baking the cookies; pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Remove the dough from the oven and let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Then, roll up the dough so they stand taller rather than wider, and place on the cookie sheets. Then, gently press down on the dough to slightly flatten them. Bake in the oven for about 8 or 9 minutes or until the edges of the cookies start to look a golden brown. Remove from the oven, and place on a wire rack. I dare you to not eat one right away. So good!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Buttermilk Waffles

Guys, guys, guys. WHY aren’t we eating waffles like, all the time? First of all, we can agree that they are delicious. Tender in the middle, crisp on the outside, with awesome little pockets for butter or syrup or I don’t know, bacon crumbles or cheese. Or anything you want to put on it. And then besides being the most wonderful vehicles for tasty stuff, they are also incredibly simple to make. Just whip up some batter, heat up your waffle iron, and you’re minutes away from enjoying one of these fabulous creations. And wait one second, here’s the really genius part. Make some extra waffles and you can freeze them, then just pop them in the toaster like an Eggo and you have a quick, delicious homemade waffle pretty much any time you want. I mean, this should change your life.

I had some leftover buttermilk from another recipe so I threw these together on a Sunday morning. I usually make eggs on the weekend, and this was actually easier and faster. I followed an easy recipe from AllRecipes, and it was perfect.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/3 cup melted butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

You can do this in separate bowls if you’re a stickler, but you should know by now that I’m not. Whisk buttermilk and butter in a bowl together before whisking in the eggs. Then pour in the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix a little with a spoon on top of the wet mixture before stirring it in. Stir until it’s just combined, then add in the vanilla extract and stir that in. It will be lumpy, don’t worry.

Then make the waffles according to your waffle maker’s instructions. And if you want to freeze some, just let them cool off, then either put them on a non stick pan in a single layer, or layer them on a plate with wax paper between and stick them in your freezer. Once they are completely frozen, you can put them in a plastic bag without worrying that they will stick together. To eat it, break the frozen waffle in half and put one half in each side of the toaster. Depending on the size of your toaster, you may have to flip it upside down and toast the other side a little bit. Or you could also heat it up in the oven for a few minutes. And viola! Waffles anytime. Let’s do this.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Homemade Spaetzle

The Hubs and I have some German heritage (he has more than I do) and in fact, we are planning a trip to Oktoberfest (yes, THE Oktoberfest) later this year. So it should be no big surprise that we wanted to try our hand at some traditional German food. We also recently had a particularly good spaetzle at a local restaurant, Dutch & Co.

Spaetzle (pronounced schpet-zle) is a German noodle or dumpling. We paid about 7 bucks for a spaetzle maker, which is essentially a cup attached to a piece of metal with holes in it. And once you have that, spaetzle is remarkably easy to make. It takes just a few minutes to whip up the dough, and then just a couple more minute to cook. And it’s really good too. It’s a bit like pasta with a little more chew to it, and this recipe also has some good flavor from the pepper. If you ever wanted to make pasta but were intimidated by the time it takes, this is a good first step. We got the recipe from Tyler Florence, but I adjusted it slightly. We actually made this twice, first with a short rib ragu on top (YUM) and secondly with melted cheese (MEH). But there are tons of ways to eat it. I would also caution that this recipe doesn’t make a whole lot of spaetzle. Probably only about two cups max.

1 cup plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup milk

You can do the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls if you like, but I’m super lazy so I try to just use one. Start with the eggs and milk and whisk them together. On top of the wet mixture, add the flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Use a spoon to lightly mix the seasoning into the flour without dipping into the wet mixture at first. Then use a spatula to mix everything together until it’s fully incorporated. Tyler says to let it rest 10-15 minutes, which is just about the time it takes to get some salted water boiling.

Put about a third of the dough into the hopper/cup of your spaetzle maker and run it back and forth over the boiling water until all the dough has gone through into the water. Give it just a minute or two tops and then fish out the floating dumplings with a slotted spoon. We transferred them to a sieve sitting over a bowl, just to get rid of any extra water. Repeat the process until all the dough is used up.

After that, you can eat it right away, or pour sauce over it and eat. But we like to sauté the spaetzle just a touch to get a little color on it. Heat up olive oil or butter and sauté your dumplings until you can’t stand the wait any longer and then eat them! Or add onions or cheese or herbs. Get creative. Mach schnell!! (That means, “Hurry!”)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bertolli Ribollita con Crostini di Pane (Italian Soup with Bread)

My Mom started making this soup back in the nineties. I remember the first time she made it I was very hesitant to try it. I mean look at all the vegetables that are in the recipe. Shudder. But, I have to admit that the vegetables are nice and tender and you really can't tell they're in the soup. Plus, this recipe has a ton of flavor and it's just a nice warming dish to have on a cold and snowy day. The other great thing about this soup is you can add or subtract whatever ingredient you might like or not. If you don't like beans substitute pasta instead. Or, have both! Plus, it goes great with the bread. Enjoy!

1/4 c Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more for serving
1/4 c each chopped and trimmed fennel, celery, onions, and carrots
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp dried thyme
6 c chicken broth
1 can (28oz) Italian Plum Tomatoes, cut up
2 c. peeled & diced russet potatoes
1 can rinsed and drained cannellini beans
1 c. finely shredded Savoy cabbage or Swiss chard
1 c. diced trimmed zucchini
2 tbsp. each chopped fresh parsley and basil
2 cups Pasta (optional
Salt and Freshly ground pepper
8 slices (one per bowl) Italian bread

Combine the olive oil, fennel, celery, onions, carrot, and garlic and thyme in a large heavy saucepan. Cover & cook over medium low heat until the vegetables are very soft, about 15 minutes. Do not brown.
Then, stir in the chicken broth, tomatoes, potato, beans, & cabbage or Swiss chard. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add in the zucchini, parsley, and basil. If using add in the pasta. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into a bowl and serve with a piece of bread.

Snickers Bar Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies

Friday was Valentine's Day. Since I didn't have a Valentine to treat; I decided to bake some cookies for my friends instead. Sally's Baking Addiction is seriously becoming my go-to cookie recipe source. I'm loving all the recipes I made, and this one is no exception. Anyway, I chose this particular cookie recipe, because who doesn't love chocolate chips? And, adding a snickers stuffed in the center just elevates the chocolate chip cookie to the next level. I did try the cookie right out of the oven, and it just tasted like a really good chocolate chip cookie. However, a couple hours later I tried the cookie again, and you could definitely taste the snickers. So, I would recommend waiting a half hour or so before biting into one of these scrumptious cookies. And, my 5 Valentine's definitely approved of this cookie! Enjoy!

2 cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup (1.5 sticks) salted butter, softened (I used unsalted and added 1/2 tsp salt)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla exract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
8 fun-sized Snickers bars, cut into 4 pieces each (you may need more depending on how many cookies you get)

First take out a medium bowl and add in the flour, baking soda, and salt (if using unsalted butter). Stir and set aside. Next, add the butter and sugars to your standing mixer bowl and cream together. Then, add in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Reduce the speed of your standing mixer to low and gradually add in the flour mixture. Then, add in the semi-sweet chocolate chips. Stir well. Place the bowl in the fridge for about 30 minutes up to 24 hours.

Before assembling the cookies, make sure you pre-heat your oven to 325. To assemble the cookies take a small pat of cookie dough and flatten then add the snickers piece. Take another pat of cookie dough and add on top of the snickers portion. Roll together and place on cookie sheet. I got about 30 cookies out of the dough. Bake in the oven for about 10-12 minutes or until the edges of the cookie turn a golden brown. Remove from oven, and place on a cooling rack. I advise waiting about 30 minutes or so before biting into the cookie, but I understand if it's too tempting. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Brussels Sprouts & Prosciutto Farro Risotto

Ah, the dreaded Brussels sprout! This vegetable is single-handedly responsible for billions of children sitting at the table refusing to eat until their parents gave up and sent them to bed. Not even broccoli enjoys such a sordid history of disgust. But Brussels Sprouts are enjoying a mini-revival in the foodie-scene. These tiny cabbages are popping up on menus everywhere, and after tasting this recipe (which I found on Domesticate Me) they will be popping up in my home quite frequently as well. Plus, there’s the added bonus of feeling like this is a pretty nutritious meal. Farro AND Brussels sprouts, come on. (And prosciutto, I know, that kind of hurts my healthy argument). We loved this recipe, and even though it took awhile to make, it was worth it. Creamy, nutty, with the salt from the prosciutto and the great burst of flavor when you get a piece of Brussels sprout, this will be a big hit with your family (yes, even the kids.)

4 Tbsps olive oil, divided
8-1s Brussels sprouts, washed and quartered
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1¼ cups farro
½ cup dry white wine
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
3 ounces prosciutto, diced
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish

We soaked our farrow for about two hours in cold water before we made this. I have no idea if it had any effect but I was afraid not to do it. If you want to go rogue and unsoaked, I’ll keep you in my thoughts.

Start by pouring your chicken stock or broth into a saucepan and bring it to a simmer. You’ll want to keep it at that simmer throughout this process. Go to your Brussels sprouts next. In a skillet, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add in the sprouts. Sprinkle in the salt and red pepper flakes and cook until they are lightly browned and tender. It only took about ten minutes for us. Watch the heat, because although you want them browned, you don’t want to burn them. But definitely make sure they get tender.

You can start the next step while you’re cooking the Brussels sprouts if you are able to multitask. If not, no worries. Some of us like to be methodical and there’s nothing wrong with that! In your Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and add your shallots. Saute for about 3 minutes over medium heat before adding the garlic and cooking that for another minute. Next, stir in the farro and toast for 3 minutes, making sure it gets coated in olive oil and doesn’t burn.

Turn the heat to low before deglazing the pan with your white wine, scraping up any brown bits. Once the wine is completely absorbed, pour in one cup of the warm chicken stock. Keep it simmering and stir occasionally until the farro almost completely absorbs the liquid. This took some time, much longer than it usually takes when we make risotto. But it eventually happened, so have faith and be patient! Continue this process, adding a half-cup of stock at a time until you’ve added it all and the farro is al dente. It has more tooth than a risotto, which I like, but if you want it to be softer, you could try adding more broth (I think: I confess this is just a theory).

Once all the stock is absorbed, add in the Brussels sprouts and most of the prosciutto (if you are saving some for serving). Stir until the sprouts are heated through and then stir in the lemon zest and Parmesan. You shouldn’t need more salt but taste it and add pepper if you want and then serve! I hope you like it as much as we did, and redeem those wonderful Brussels sprouts.