Monday, February 27, 2012

Pistachio and Goat Cheese Grapes

This recipe was a hit at our iron chef nuts. Kim made this for her appetizer and she ended up grabbing second place. I believe this was my first time trying goat cheese and pistachios, and I couldn't believe how much they worked with the red grapes. I loved this so much that I've been making it ever since. I decided to make it today because I had some goat cheese and pistachios. I just needed the grapes, so a quick trip to the Kroger proved fruitful. Heh, heh. Anyway, if you are going to a party this is a delicious option that will prove to be a hit. Enjoy!

4.5 oz goat cheese, chilled
5 oz red seedless grapes
6 oz pistachio nuts, chopped

First, make sure you have clean hands. Now, all you do, is take a piece of goat cheese and kind of pat in your hand. Take a grape and roll it in your hand so that the goat cheese covers the grape. You may have to add some more goat cheese to the grape so that it is completely covered. Then, roll the grape in the chopped pistachios. Once all the grapes are covered with goat cheese and pistachios; place on a plate and chill in the fridge for about an hour. You may serve whole or sliced. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cilantro Pesto Orzo

This is our first pesto. I know that’s hard to believe, and now that I made it I can’t believe that it’s taken this long either. Not only is it incredibly flavorful, it’s also somewhat healthy, and so easy too. You just throw all the ingredients into a blender or food pro and blammo! Instant pesto. I suspect this pesto would be great on any kind of pasta, but it just so happens that this recipe calls for orzo.

Anyway, this is fresh and bright—smells fantastic and has a tiny bit of crunch from pistachios. Plus the little bit of parmesan makes it creamy and delicious. We served it with a fairly simple salmon, and it’s great as a side. On spaghetti it’d make a wonderful main too (and we’ll be trying that as well.) If you’re so inclined I think a little spritz of lemon juice on top would make it even better.

8oz Orzo pasta
1 bunch fresh cilantro
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1 lime, juiced
salt to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chicken stock

I eyeballed all the ingredients, and it turned out great, but those are the measurements from the original recipe, which I got from Lipstick Blogger. To cook the orzo, follow the directions on the package. (Bring water to a boil, add the pasta and let it return to a boil, then cook 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain.)

Meanwhile, get out your food pro or blender (I tend to go for the food pro on things like this. It seems to work better for me.) Throw in all the ingredients through the salt (cilantro, garlic, vinegar, cheese, cayenne, pistachios, lime juice, salt) and blend until it forms a paste. Add the olive oil and blend again. Then add the chicken stock in small amounts (about a tablespoon) until it reaches the desired consistency. The recipe didn’t say what the desired consistency was, but I thought it should be more like a thick sauce.

Warm the pesto in a saucepan over low heat and stir until it begins to simmer. Let it cook a little bit to get some of the edge of the garlic out, then pour it over the pasta, mix it thoroughly, and serve! Splash with a little lemon juice if you feel like it. If you aren’t already a pesto lover, this one will certainly convert you. 

(click here for printable recipe)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Iron Chef Cheese Recap

We’ve been wanting to use cheese as a secret ingredient for awhile now, but for some reason we only just got around to it. But I’m sure glad we did. It was an excellent night of food. Maybe not the healthiest, but since we only have Iron Chef once every two or three months, it’s probably ok. Well, and there was the Just Dance competition that we had after eating that probably burned a few calories.

We started the night out with the dreaded cheese drink. We had been willing to eliminate this category for this ingredient because… well… “cheese drink.” Who wants to try that? Well, Cara took this as a challenge, and I’d say she was surprisingly successful in making a tasty drink with cheese. Her Strawberry Cheesecake smoothie used cream cheese. It was well balanced because even though you could taste the cheese, it didn’t dominate the flavor. This was way better than the dirty cheese martinis we were afraid of. (Sorry about the blurry pic, I had some light issues on this one).

The appetizers were the place to be, since both of our winners of the evening had this course. Chelyen made Caesar Chicken Salad in Parmesan Cups and walked away with her first Iron Chef win! It was a good thing she made seconds. The Parmesan cups were a really creative way to serve the chicken salad and were deliciously crispy even on their own. I think Chelyen was hoping to take some leftovers home, but no dice!

 Our second appetizer was a cheese ball—but not just any cheese ball. Emily made a Parmesan Crusted Goat Cheese Ball with Basil Oil. She served with little toasted pieces of bread and it was a big hit, earning Emily the second place prize. It was the best presentation of the evening (imo) with the white cheese and bright green basil oil. And it tasted great to boot!

We did the sides and mains all together, so I’ll just go through them in no particular order. Morgan’s side was a spicy, Cheesy Cornbread Muffin. I love me some cornbread (we’re in the South, come on) and this was a good rendition. I think it was cheddar and jalapeño, which is a combo I could never be mad at.

 I made the other side, which fell a little short of my expectation. I had a roasted caprese salad once at a restaurant in Chicago and really enjoyed it. This was my attempt, but I think the tomatoes needed to roast a little longer, and it might have tasted better served warm.

Kim made a really flavorful cheese soufflé. I have never made one, but I hear that they are pretty difficult to pull off, so the degree of difficulty was high here. Plus I’m a sucker for the “breakfast for dinner” thing so she got me there. Didn’t really photograph well on those red plates, but it really did taste great!

Jen made “Company Chicken,” a name I really love. Ok, so it is not the most beautiful looking food—but it was really good and homey. Had that “stick-to-your-ribs” feel to it. Definitely the kind of dish you would make to impress guests. 

 Most of us steered away from the cheeses with really strong flavors since they can be polarizing, but Shu went right at it, using a Stilton blue cheese. She paired it on a sandwich with roast beef and red onions. I really appreciated that the flavor of the cheese was truly the star of the dish, and it was a great pairing of flavors as well.

Finally, we had two desserts. First was Doan’s Cream Cheese Brownies, and really, you can’t go wrong with that recipe. They were fudgy and decadent—everything you want in a brownie. And I know that we ate almost the entire pan of them by the end of the night, so you know they were good.

 Laura, our hostess for the evening, had the most creative dish of the night: Goat Cheese Ice Cream with a Raspberry Sauce. It’s not something you would expect, and we were all a little nervous about trying it. But actually, I think the recipe has some potential. The goat cheese gives ice cream a nice tang that adds another dimension. But in this case I think the ratio of goat cheese was a little too much, since that was a dominating flavor. But the point of Iron Chef is to take risks and get creative, and Laura certainly did that.

It was a great night of food, and wonderful to try recipes with such a well-loved secret ingredient. I was really happy with the variety and creativity that everyone showed, and it was good to get together again. The next Iron Chef hasn’t been planned yet, but be on the lookout! And if you have any cool ideas for ingredients, we’d love to hear them.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Braised Lamb Shanks

I know, I know. I owe you guys a recap of Iron Chef Cheese. I’m slacking. But—when Steve and I made this, I just had to drop everything and write up the recipe for you. Because you need drop everything and make it just as soon as you can. I’m going to throw down a major statement and say: this is the best meal we’ve ever made. Yes, EVER. If I ordered this in a restaurant I would talk about it. I would rub the sauce in my beard if I had one. It’s so good that we’ve named a holiday after it: Shanksgiving! And you better believe it makes Thanksgiving look paltry in comparison. Tender, juicy meat that falls off the bone, packed with flavor and a kick at the end.

I picked up this recipe at Saveur and really there’s not much I would change. We halved it (giving you the halved recipe below) and it was plenty for two. And we opted not to seed the jalapeno because we like a little spice, and really thought it was the perfect amount of heat. Oh, and the directions have you toss out half the vegetables which was really unnecessary. Other than that, we mostly just followed the directions to deliciousness.

2 lamb shanks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 ½ tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground coriander seed
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, smashed
2 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs thyme
½ cup balsamic vinegar
3 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp. corn starch

1/4 cup water

While this is a pretty straightforward recipe, there are a lot of steps and long cook times, so it’s definitely a weekend project. We got our lamb shanks at Fresh Market, and I would definitely suggest going there or Whole Foods. Kroger had some sad looking shanks and that won’t do this recipe justice. The easiest way to start is just to prep all the vegetables and the spice mix. That way you have everything all ready to go and can just run through it. Since I knew we’d be tossing out the herbs, I tied them together into a little herb bouquet to make it easier. Some of the leaves fell off but I figured that was ok and didn’t try to fish them all out.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix your chili powder, coriander, cumin and cinnamon in a small dish. Pat the lamb shanks dry and season with salt & pepper, plus about 1 tablespoon of the spice mix.

In a Dutch oven, heat your oil over medium high heat to sear the shanks. Be careful with this step that you don’t get the oil too hot. We did and it ended up burning some of the spices. If that does happen to you, wipe out the pot before cooking the vegetables or everything will have a burned taste. Brown the shanks on all sides, one at a time, which should take about 6 minutes each. Then set them aside.

Pour your vegetables (carrots, celery, onion, jalapenos, garlic) into the pot with your herb bundle and the remainder of the spice mix. It’s best to have the vegetables down as a bed before pouring the spice on top, in my opinion. Scrape any browned bits from the bottom, and stir occasionally until the vegetables have softened. It took about 10 minutes for us. Next, pour in the balsamic vinegar and stir until it’s mostly evaporated, about 10 minutes more. I was kind of worried about the amount of balsamic in this, but it turned out perfectly, so don’t worry!

Add your lamb shanks back into the pot and pour the chicken broth over them. Add a little salt, to taste and then bring to a simmer. Put the lid on and cook in the oven for 2 ½ hours. We turned the lamb halfway through. One tip I read a long time ago about protecting your Dutch oven when cooking—wrap the handle on the top with foil. Apparently after awhile the handle can get brittle and break, and is expensive to replace.

All right, once your lamb is cooked and the house smells fantastic, take the shanks out of the pot (carefully) and place them in separate bowls, or on a serving plate, depending on how you roll. Pour the braising liquid through a strainer to separate out the vegetables. Throw away the herb bouquet and serve the vegetables into the bowls, or on the serving plate around the shanks. Cover them with foil to keep them warm.

Skim some of the fat off the top of the braising liquid (which is easier said than done, I’m afraid). In a small bowl, whisk together the water and cornstarch and then whisk into the braising liquid. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat and cook until a nice gravy forms. We always seem to have trouble getting sauces to thicken, but this was probably the most successful sauce we’ve ever pulled together. Pour the gravy over the shanks and veggies and enjoy! Then pencil in Shanksgiving on your calendar.

(Click here for printable recipe)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Chicken Piccata w/ Sauteed Brussels Sprouts

Tonight I wanted to make something relatively healthy. I knew I wanted to make something involving chicken and brussels sprouts. I had purchased frozen brussels sprouts from Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's is my go to grocery store for frozen vegetables. Their prices are insanely reasonably priced. If you've never been find one in your area and go. Now. Anyway, one of the best blogs on the web for healthy recipes is Gina's Skinny Taste. She tries really hard to make popular recipes healthy. I decided to try her Chicken Piccata. She slimmed down Barefoot Contessa's recipe. And, I have to say it was really good. I did not follow a recipe for brussels sprouts. I just thru some stuff together and it turned out pretty great. Give this recipe a try. Enjoy!

Chicken Piccata Ingredients:
2 (16 oz total) chicken cutlet halves, all fat trimmed
freshly ground black pepper
2 large egg whites
2/3 cup seasoned whole wheat dry bread crumbs
olive oil spray (about 1 tbsp worth)
1 tbs light butter
juice of 1 lemon, lemon halves reserved
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fat free chicken broth
1 tbsp capers
Sliced lemon, for serving
Chopped fresh parsley leaves, for serving
If you have a pretty thick chicken breast. Go ahead and wrap in plastic wrap and pound with a meat tenderizer until the chicken is about a fourth inch in thickness. Remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Now, take a small bowl and pour the egg whites in it. Take a small plate and add the bread crumbs. I used panko bread crumbs sprinkled with italian seasoning. Dredge the chicken in some flour.
Take a sautee pan and spray with cooking spray. Set the heat to medium. Now, dredge the chicken in egg whites and then the crumbs. Spray one side of the chicken with cooking spray and place that side down in the warm pan. Spray the side of the chicken that is facing up with cooking spray. Turn the chicken after a couple minutes. Cook until the chicken is cooked thru. It took about 8 minutes for mine to cook. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Clean the pan. Now, add the butter. Once the butter is melted, add the lemon juice, chicken broth, the lemon, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Once the sauce has reduced by half; pour over the chicken. Add the chopped parsely and capers. Enjoy.

Brussels Sprouts Ingredients:
Light Bacon 2 slices, cooked and crushed
1 light shallot diced
1 minced garlic clove
Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 cup chopped pistachios
1 cup brussels sprouts, sliced in half
salt and pepper

Cook your bacon until crispy. Set aside. Don't throw out the bacon juice, because you will want to add the shallots and garlic to the pan. Cook for a minute over medium heat. Add in the brussels sprouts. Sprinkle the red pepper flakes and a couple squirts of sriracha. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the brussels sprouts. Cook over medium to medium low heat until the brussels sprouts are tender. Taste a brussels sprout to make sure it's seasoned properly. Adjust seasoning as needed. Serve with the crushed bacon and the chopped pistachios. Enjoy.

(Click here for printable recipe)

Iron Chef Cheese: Parmesan Crusted Goat Cheese w/ Basil Oil

One of my favorite food blogs that I love to peruse is Annie's Eats. I've tried several of her recipes and so far I've loved them all. Last year, she posted a recipe for this goat cheese and basil oil, and I thought it looked so pretty in the picture that I bookmarked it to use in an eventual iron chef. Well, the perfect opportunity arose when we had Iron Chef Cheese. I knew I wanted to make this recipe, but I did try this one as well. It was also tasty. However, I decided to go with the goat cheese with basil oil, because I knew it would be a pretty presentation. This is definitely a tasty recipe, and very easy to make. I was right in making this for Iron Chef Cheese; I took home 2nd place for this one! Give this recipe a try at your next party. Your friends won't be disappointed. Trust me! Enjoy!

For the goat cheese:
½ oz. Parmesan cheese
¼ cup panko
Freshly ground pepper
4 oz. semi-firm plain goat cheese
1 clove garlic
¼ tsp. coarse salt, plus more to taste

For the basil oil:
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Baguettes for serving

First thing you do is take your goat cheese and smush it in a medium sized bowl. Sprinkle some ground pepper and the salt into the bowl. Mix together. Take your garlic clove and mince it. Sprinkle salt onto the garlic. Then take a knife and start mashing it until the garlic forms a paste-like consistency. Put this in the cheese bowl, and mix together with your hands. Now, take a food processor and throw in your parmesan and panko crumbs. Pulse until the mixture is nice and fine. Pour this onto a medium size plate. Sprinkle some salt and pepper onto the panko mixture. Now, take your goat cheese and form it into a ball. Roll the goat cheese ball into the panko/parmesan mixture until it is completely covered. Cover with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for a bit.

Next, take a small sauce pan and fill with water. Bring to a boil. Place a bowl filled with ice water next to the sauce pan. Place your basil in the boiling water for about 30 seconds. Immediately remove from the boiling water and dunk it into the ice water. This helps the basil retain it's green color. Dry the basil with a paper towel. Take your food processor (hopefully, you cleaned it from the previous step) and place the garlic and basil in it. Pulse until the basil and garlic is finely minced. Scrape down the sides of the food processor. Start the food processor back up again and this time pour the olive oil down the feed tube in a steady stream. Process until completely combined. It should form a green hue. Stop the food processor and strain the mixture thru a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl. Discard the minced basil. Next, remove your goat cheese from the fridge, and discard the plastic wrap. Place the goat cheese in the center of the bowl that has the basil oil and serve with toasted baguettes slices. Enjoy!!

(Click here for printable recipe)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Peanut Butter Balls

If you know me; you know I have a big-time sweet tooth. I usually find myself wanting something sweet to eat after dinner. But, I want something that is easy and quick to make. I found these peanut butter balls from A Cup of Sugar. I thought they looked awesome. Plus, they sounded pretty easy to make. Well, they were easy to make. However, the texture was a little powdery. I mean they were good, but a tad dry. As a matter of fact, a co-worker bit into one and the powder splattered on his jacket. Lol. So, next time I make these I might add more butter and see if it helps any. They tasted great, though. I hope you give them a try. Enjoy!

2 1/3 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup chunky peanut butter
12 ounces (1 bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cups salted peanuts, finely chopped

When, I made this recipe I halved the ingredients. According to the recipe, this makes 50-60 balls. I thought that was way too many.
First, take a medium-sized bowl and combine the powder sugar and graham cracker crumbs. Stir together. Take the butter and peanut butter and mix together using your hands until combined. As you form the mixture into 1 inch balls, keep pressing into your hands until they form togethe. They will form together. Have patience. Place on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Once you are finish; set aside.

Take a small saucepan and a small bowl. Pour in your chocolate chips into the bowl. Add water to the saucepan and heat till it starts to boil. Place the small bowl into the sauce pan. Keep stirring the chocolate chips until completely melted. While the chocolate melts, chop your peanuts and place on a plate. Set aside. Now, remove the pan from the burner. Once the chocolate has cooled slightly take your balls and roll into the melted chocolate. Then, roll the balls into the peanuts. Set on cookie sheets. Let the peanut butter balls air dry. Enjoy.

(click here for printable recipe)