Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Iron Chef Basil: Chocolate Cake with Basil Buttercream

We had Iron Chef Basil about a month ago now, and I’m just getting around to posting my recipe. I like to choose the course that seems the most disparate with the ingredient. So for basil, that was of course dessert! I found a lot of strawberry-basil desserts but that seemed pretty classic and I wanted to challenge myself. When I found this recipe for chocolate cake with basil buttercream on The Vanilla Bean Blog, I knew I had to try it. Besides, the photos were gorgeous, and we all know that presentation is half the battle at our Iron Chef competitions. I had a lot of trouble getting the buttercream to set up, but in the end I think it tasted great. It didn’t have a lot of basil flavor that first night (darn it!) but it got stronger and stronger every day. In fact, by the fourth day, it might have been a little too strong, so you’ll want to eat it fast! This recipe is definitely kind of a process and reminds me why I don’t back layer cakes all that often, but for a special occasion (or a competition) it’s worth it. You need to start the night before to get the buttercream ready, so be prepared!

Cake Ingredients
1 3/4 cup flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

This is Ina Garten’s chocolate cake recipe, and it’s very good. Mine was a bit dense because I may have overmixed it, so be careful! I think the recipe was a little hard to follow because it was written for someone with a stand mixer and surprise!—not everyone has one of those.

Start by preheating the oven to 350 and butter or spray two 8 inch round cake pans. I had non-stick pans but had a panicked moment when the cakes wouldn’t come out, so even if you do still butter. You could also put a round of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan.

Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. I’m not a big sifter generally, but I would do it for this cake because of the cocoa powder. For some reason that always tends to clump up on me. Stir the ingredients together until they are well combined.

In another bowl, mix together the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla until combined. Then slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry while mixing on low (it helps to have an extra set of hands for this). Next add the coffee and stir (with a spatula not the mixer) just enough to combine, scraping the bottom. I can’t stress enough not to overmix this. It will be super duper liquidy. I was nervous, but don’t be. Pour the batter into the two pans and bake 35-40 minutes until your toothpick comes out clean. Then remove from the oven and cool in the pans for 30 minutes before turning them out on to a cooling rack to finish cooling completely. Now, to make the buttercream.

Buttercream Ingredients
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (three sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

The night before stir milk, heavy cream and basil in a saucepan. I tore the basil leaves in half, thinking that it might let them seep out more basil flavor (who knows?). Heat on low until just barely simmering and then remove from heat. Let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight. When you’re ready to make the buttercream, remove the basil leaves from the cream, making sure to squeeze out the leaves.

Whisk sugar and flour together in your saucepan before adding the basil cream mixture. Cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture boils and thickens. Then move the mixture to a bowl and beat on high speed until it is cool, about 7-9 minutes. I know it’s a pain to mix that long if you don’t have a stand mixer, but don’t skimp. If the sauce is too hot your buttercream won’t set.

You want your butter to be soft but cold. What I did was let it soften at room temperature, but then put it back in the fridge 10-15 minutes before I needed it. Reduce your mixing speed to low and add the butter, mixing until it’s fully incorporated. Then turn your mixer up to medium high speed and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy and frosting like! Should only take a couple minutes. Add the vanilla and mix until it’s combined.

Now you need to check the consistency. If your frosting is too soft (mine was) put it in the fridge to chill and then beat again until it’s right. If it’s too hard, you can set the bowl over hot water (simmering at most) and beat until it softens a little. Hopefully you won’t have to do either!

You should know how to frost a layer cake but just in case… start by topping one layer with frosting, then put the second layer on top. Now you’re ready to frost the rest of the cake, and decorate with a few basil leaves on top. We didn’t eat the leaves with the cake though! It’s a strange flavor combination but it definitely works, and I think the cake recipe will definitely become a staple of mine. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Chipotle shrimp tacos

I called Jon today and said, "I have five words for you. Are you ready? Homemade. Plaza Azteca. Shrimp. Tacos." He drooled onto the phone.

We love us some Plaza Azteca. For those who don't know, it's a chain (but small and seemingly localish) of Mexican restaurants. While I will eat some Combination Dinner #1 without complaint at other places, Plaza Azteca goes above and beyond that sort of menu. Lobster enchiladas, y'all. And shrimp tacos.They're simple, three soft tortillas wrapped around smoky bites of shrimp with some cheese (but not too much) and a pico de gallo topping of onion, tomato, cilantro and jalapeno.

That, at least, was my assumption about the ingredients when I started envisioning our copycat recipe. And I was so right, that we literally ate these things an hour ago and I'm already blogging it. It was that good.

We figure this makes about eight tacos.

You'll need:
A pound of shrimp, de-shelled and de-tailed, deveined, peeled and cut in half (31-40 count)
1 chipotle pepper in adobo (minced)
2-3 teaspoons adobo sauce
Most of a large Vidalia onion (or sweet onion), diced; you'll use the rest for the pico
Two to three Roma tomatoes, diced (we saved out a bit for the pico)
One-half medium bunch cilantro (we used only the leaves) chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped (and deseeded)
One tablespoon olive oil
About a tablespoon of lime juice
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
Salt to taste (maybe a quarter teaspoon)
Ground black pepper
Pinch sugar
1 "fat" tablespoon of cumin.
Flour tortillas
Queso quesadilla cheese (we used Cacicque brand).

For pico de gallo:
Two to three tablespoons (or to taste; we like a lot) cilantro (we used only the leaves) chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped (and deseeded)
Onion and tomato as mentioned above

So from this list, you can see that Jon was left unattended to season the shrimp mixture. Only he would describe a measurement as "fat." In fact he eyeballed most of the spices, and this is his guess about how much of the dry seasonings he put in. Whatever he did, it worked.

Dice the onion -- we did about 3/4 in the shrimp itself, and reserved 1/4 for the topping, which I diced more finely. Dice the tomato (and if you like tomato, you may want the third for the pico topping, but we  don't much like raw tomato so put most of it in with the shrimp mixture). Mince one chipotle pepper.

Chop the jalapeno and pluck as much cilantro if you want (stems are fine to use, we just don't). Mix in a bowl with the 1/4 finely diced onion and some tomato. I splashed a little lime juice in at this point. Set aside.

Chop or grate a small bowl of cheese, depending on how much you like cheese.

Heat the oil in the skillet and add the onion, tomato, chipotle, adobo sauce, the dried spices, and lime juice. Cook about four minutes on medium heat, or until onions start to get translucent. Add shrimp and cook about another four minutes on high heat. or until cooked through.

And that's it. We heated flour tortillas and scattered some cheese on first -- in the restaurant version, the cheese is melty, but while I was lobbying to heat each tortilla and cheese in a skillet, Jon convinced me that would take too long. So we just warmed up the tortilla, added cheese and the shrimp mixture and the pico topping, and stuffed our faces.

It was our first time cooking with a chipotle pepper, but it was the key to making this dish taste similar to the restaurant version we were copying. It wasn't exactly the same perhaps, but it was damn similar (and good!), so we were pretty proud.

Spaghetti all’Amatriciana

There are some great Italian restaurants in the Richmond area. When asked to pick favorites, most Richmonders say Mama Zu’s or Edo’s Squid—two classics and fantastic, to be sure. But my favorite has to be Maldini’s in Forest Hill. I may be a tad biased because I lived in that neighborhood previously, and frequently ate in or had it delivered. Just thinking about it now is making me hungry. One of the dishes that my husband frequently ordered was the Spaghetti all’Amatriciana. So when I saw a recipe for it on Saveur, I thought it might be a good weekend project. Well, my husband definitely liked it. It was a little too intense for me, but I am more of a white sauce person myself. It had a lot of flavor, definitely was not a subtle dish. But don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself!

12 oz. thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into ¼" strips
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig sage
2 tbsp. red wine
1 (28-oz). can crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb. dried spaghetti
Finely grated Parmesan

Start by getting out your trusty Dutch oven. I swear, that is one kitchen piece that gets almost as much work as our chef’s pan. Cook the bacon over medium heat until it’s good and crispy, about 15 minutes or so. Scoop out the bacon (but leave the grease) and put it on some paper towels for later. Next you want to melt the butter with the bacon grease and then toss in the carrots and onion. Season with a little salt and cook about 6 minutes so the veggies are soft. Add half of the garlic, plus the rosemary and sage and cook about 2 minutes. You may want to tie your herbs together with kitchen string. We didn’t, and they were hard to scoop out later (which I think added to the intensity of the flavor). Next pour in your wine and deglaze the pan. Cook until the wine evaporates, about 5 minutes or so, and then add in the tomatoes. Bring this to a boil, and then turn the heat down to medium low. Now comes the part where you put down the spoon and walk away. Cook partially covered and cook about 2 hours until thickened, stirring every once in awhile.

Your next step is to take out the herbs and throw them away. Ours fell apart and there were rosemary leaves everywhere, so hopefully it holds together a little better for you. You’ll want to get as much of it out as possible. If you want a smooth sauce, you can blend it (much easier if you have an immersion blender!) but we didn’t. Seemed like an unnecessary step to me. The recipe also said to only use 3/4ths of the bacon to add back to the sauce, but we threw it all back in. I mean, it’s bacon. Add the rest of the garlic and oil, pepper and red pepper flakes and let it sit (still keeping it warm) while you get the noodles ready.

We made fresh pasta for this, so that’s why our noodles aren’t exactly spaghetti, if you’re paying attention at home. Once your pasta is ready, mix it into the sauce and toss to coat, then serve with a little Parmesan grated on top! It should be slightly spicy with a strong tomato flavor. It wasn’t my favorite, but my husband gobbled it down, so try it out and see what you think!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Chocolate Swirl Buns

So, I probably have more dessert recipes on this blog than anything else. But, there's nothing wrong with that, right? I mean a girl has to have her sweets. And, boy do I have my sweets. It's probably one of the things I love the most about being in the kitchen: baking. I love to make dough, cookies, brownies, ice cream, popsicles, cakes, etc. I love the smells and taking that first bite. It's just heaven to me. So, yesterday I decided to bake. It was cloudy. It was raining. And, I wanted something sweet. So, I decided to make these buns from smitten kitchen. The only bummer thing is that I ended up over-baking them a bit. Sigh. They're still good, though. I highly recommend this recipe. It is really easy and scrumptious. Enjoy.

Made 16 buns for me, but recipe says 12.
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk, preferably whole
1/4 cup (50 grams) plus a pinch of granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons (5 grams) active dry yeast
1 large egg, brought to room temperature
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional for bowl and muffin tins
3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 pound (225 grams) semisweet chocolate
Pinch of salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
Egg wash (optional)
1 egg
2 teaspoons (10 ml) heavy cream or milk

To make the dough, take a small bowl and add in the warm milk (110 to 115 degrees) and a pinch of sugar. Sprinkle in the yeast and let sit for about 5 minutes until the yeast foams. While the yeast is dissolving, take a medium sized bowl and whisk the eggs and 1/4 cup sugar. Slowly, whisk in the yeast mixture. Next, take the bowl from you standing mixture and stir the flour and salt with the paddle attachment. While mixture is on low, slowly add in the egg mixture. Mix well. Then, add in the butter. Mix well. Change out the paddle attachment to the dough hook. Let knead for about 10 minutes on low speed. Prepare a large bowl by spraying with cooking spray. The dough will be very sticky and stringy. That's okay. Form into a ball and place in the large bowl. Wrap with plastic wrap and place the bowl in a warm draft-free place (I prefer my oven set at 85 degrees) for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size. My dough took about 2 hours to rise.

While the dough is rising, get your filling ready. I used semi-sweet chocolate chips so I didn't have to do any chopping. Throw your chocolate, salt, sugar, and cinnamon into a food processor. Process until relatively fine. Add in the butter and process until well incorporated. Set aside. Now, remove the dough from the oven (or wherever you had it) and punch it down. Turn out onto a floured surface and let rest for about 5 minutes. Then, roll out to about 11 inches wide and 20 inches long. Sprinkle the chocolate mixture all over the dough. Tightly roll into a log starting at the shorter end of the dough. It will form into a long log. Carefully slice the dough using a sharp serrated knife into 1 inch pieces. Place swirl side up into your greased muffin sheets. I had to use 2 muffin sheets because I ended up 16 buns. Place back in your draft-free/warm environment for another 30 minutes. I placed a towel over the buns. Remove the buns from the oven and set to 350 degrees. Once the oven is ready; add the buns and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes. Deb (from smitten kitchen) said the dough should register 185 to 190 degrees when they're ready. I think my thermometer might be off, because mine got up to 180 degrees and I placed them back in the oven for a couple minutes. At that point, I should have just left them out because I ended up overbaking them. Bleh. Lesson learned. Cool on a wire rack. enjoy!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shrimp Scampi Pasta

I didn't like shrimp growing up. Or maybe, I just didn't have the occasion to like it. My mom is very allergic, so we understandably never ate it at home. And when we went to restaurants, I guess I just didn't want to try it. But in the last few years I've been cooking it more and more, and in many different ways. It's so versatile, soaks up flavors like a sponge, and is relatively healthy, so shrimp is finding it's way to my dinner table more often than not. This Shrimp Scampi Pasta dish isn't the most healthy of the shrimp meals I've made (6 tablespoons of butter will do that) but it is very flavorful. Lots of lemony brightness, a touch of heat, and garlicky, buttery shrimpy deliciousness makes this a new favorite pasta dish. The recipe is from Ina, and I only changed it a smidge. She used linguine, but my husband and I are angel hair people. Use whatever pasta you like! 

1.5 pounds angel hair pasta (or pasta of your choice)
6 Tbsps unsalted butter
5 Tbsps olive oil
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt & pepper
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Zest from one lemon
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Get your pasta going first. Oil, salt, water, you know the drill. Cook according to the directions. In the meantime, start melting your butter and oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic and cook for just a minute, making sure not to burn the garlic. If you want, you could actually remove it from the heat and let the garlic and butter do a mind meld for awhile to increase the garlic flavor. Or just keep going through if you're hungry-- it's still going to be plenty garlicky. Add the shrimp, 1 tbsp salt and about a half teaspoon of pepper and cook about five minutes, until the shrimp just turns a little pink. Then remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley and red pepper flakes. Add a little more of the red pepper flakes if you like it spicy (you know I do!). Make sure it's well combined and then add your drained pasta into the pot, tossing and stirring to coat every noodle. You could serve it with a sliced lemon if your guest wants even more lemon flavor, or put a few sliced lemons on top for prettiness. Hope you love it as much as we did! 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Braised Short Ribs

When you’re looking over a menu and see the word “braised” you know you’re going to get something really good. Cooking something low and slow for a long time means the flavors have a chance to really develop and the meat turns into something that just melts in your mouth. So any time I find myself with a free weekend and an appetite, I get down my trusty Dutch Oven, get some great meat, and start braisin'! 

Beef Short Ribs are a great choice for braising. They're much meatier than most ribs, and not too fatty. I got this recipe from The Pioneer Woman, who always had delicious, though not super healthy, recipes. But when you're braising meat, I think you should put health out of your mind and just enjoy! We got our ribs at Fresh Market, which is a nice place for high quality ingredients. We can't always find cuts like Short Ribs at Kroger. 

8 whole Beef Short Ribs
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
4 oz diced pancetta
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
2 shallots, minced
2 cups red wine
2 cups beef broth
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary

First you want to season your meat with salt and pepper (both sides!) and then dredge them in flour and set them aside. After that, cook your pancetta in the Dutch Oven over medium heat, making sure to get it very crispy and render all the fat. The recipe says to remove the pancetta, keeping the grease but we thought it'd be very silly to just waste all that meaty goodness, so we left it in. Totally up to you what you want to do.

Add the olive oil and brown the ribs on all sides on high heat. It shouldn't take too long, about 45 seconds a side. You're not trying to cook the ribs, just brown them. Be careful about burning here, you don't want to have to throw away that flavorful oil, so if things start to get black, turn down the heat.

Once the ribs have been browned, turn down the heat to medium and cook the diced onions, carrots and shallots for two minutes. Pour in your wine and deglaze the pan (scrape the tasty browny bits off the bottom). Bring this to a boil and cook for another couple minutes before adding the broth, 1 teaspoon salt and lots of fresh ground pepper. Gather up your browned ribs and submerge them into the liquid and add the whole thyme and rosemary sprigs. I like to tie my sprigs together with string. Seems to help them stay together and not let all the leaves fall off into the broth. 

Cook in the oven with the lid on at 350 degrees for two hours. Remember to cover your Dutch Oven's top knob with foil, to prevent it from drying out and cracking over time. After two hours, reduce heat to 325 degrees and cook for another 30-45 minutes until the ribs are tender and falling off the bone. Remove from the oven and let sit with the lid on for 20 minutes. She says to skim fat off the top of the liquid. This has always been difficult for me to accomplish, so I skipped it, but you can totally try if you are game.

We served the ribs with some brown sugar glazed carrots (yum!) but you could serve with mashed potatoes for a hearty meal. You could also add a little flour or cornstarch to the broth and thicken it over heat if you wanted more of a gravy. Anyway you do it, the ribs themselves will be very flavorful, tender and braised to perfection!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chocolate Ice Cream with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

So, today is National Ice Cream Day. I don't know who needs an actual excuse to eat ice cream, but if you do there you go. I just gave you an excuse. Now, if you want an excuse to eat ice cream every day then here you go; July is National Ice Cream Month!!! I made David Lebowitz's Chocolate Ice Cream and added chopped Reese's peanut butter cups. The result turned out deelicious. The chocolate ice cream came out super smooth and very chocolaty. I'm seriously loving David Lebowitz The Perfect Scoop cookbook. It has such great recipes, and so far all the ones that I've tried have turned out wonderfully. So, here's to National Ice Cream Day and National Ice Cream Month. Now, go eat some ice cream! Enjoy!

2 c. heavy cream
3 tbsp. unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used 3/4c. semi-sweet chocolate chips)
1 c. whole milk
3/4 c. sugar
Pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups chopped Reese's peanut butter cups (optional)

First, take a medium sauce-pan and warm the cream along with the cocoa powder, whisking thoroughly to blend the cocoa. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer at low for about 30 seconds, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate. Stir until smooth. Then, stir in the remaining cream. Pour the mixture into a large bowl, and place a mesh strainer on top of the bowl. Set aside.

Clean out your saucepan, and then warm the milk, sugar, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Then, scrape the egg mixture back into the saucepan. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat, scraping the bottom as you stir. The mixture should thicken and eventually coat your spatula or wooden spoon. It literally took me 30 minutes of standing there stirring. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the chocolate mixture until smooth. Then stir in the vanilla. Stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the fridge. Once chilled, freeze it in your ice cream maker. My mixture came out pretty thick, so I had to whisk it vigorously to thin it out before adding it to my ice cream maker. Once the ice cream has formed; add in the chopped Reese's peanut butter cups. Pour into your air-tight container and freeze. Enjoy!

Grilled Asian Pork Tenderloin with Peanut Sauce

I'm pretty bummed that I couldn't find a favorite recipe of mine. I went to a cookout many years ago, and a friend made these asian pork tenderloins. The marinade was super delicious. Unfortunately, I can't remember who the friend was nor can I find the recipe. Friend, if you are out there and have an inkling of what I'm referring to please hit me up. I tried googling asian pork tenderloin marinade but didn't have a whole lot of luck. But, I did come across this peanut marinade from Fine Cooking. This recipe is a keeper, y'all. It kept the pork super moist and the peanut sauce packed a ton of flavor. I did add some red pepper flakes at the advice of some of the commenters and I added a tablespoon of sesame oil. I still hope to find my original asian marinade recipe, but I will be making this one many more times. Enjoy!

1 cup light coconut milk
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a natural variety
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 Tbs. fresh lime juice
3 Tbs. dark brown sugar
2 large cloves garlic, minced (2-1/2 tsp.)
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
1 Tbs. dark sesame oil (optional)
2 small pork tenderloins (about 2 lb. total)
Vegetable oil for the grill

Take your medium sized bowl and add in the coconut milk thru the sesame oil. Stir well. Pour into a large zip-lock bag and place the pork tenderloin in the bag. Coat the pork tenderloin with the marinade. Marinate for an hour or more for better flavor. Once your ready to grill pour the marinade into a small saucepan and set to medium heat. Place the pork tenderloin on a well-oiled grill. Grill for about 10 minutes on both sides. Remove pork from grill. Set on a plate and let rest for 5 minutes.  I had to put my pork back on the grill because it was a bit too pink for me. I served my pork with white rice. Pour some of the peanut sauce on the pork tenderloin and even your rice. Enjoy!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Iron Chef Basil: Lemon Basil Ice Cream

I have found that the simpler the recipe the higher the likelihood of success at our Iron Chef competitions.   It's like they say on Iron Chef - execution is everything.   This is a really interesting recipe that is a perfect for cleansing your palate after a good meal.

2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup packed basil leaves
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar

Most important and often overlooked, make sure to freeze your ice cream maker drum 24 hours in advance.

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, heavy cream along with zest, basil and salt. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil then remove from heat and let the flavors infuse.  Let it sit while stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes or until its not longer hot, just warm.  Then using a food processor, blend the basil and milk mixture until smooth.

Whisk together egg yolks and sugar until it's light and fluffy, the color should be pale yellow.  Add the blended basil and milk mixture slowly to the yolks.  Add about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly.  Return the mixture to the medium saucepan on low heat until it thickens.  Stir regularly.  You will know it's thick enough when you can leave a distinguishable track mark with your finger on the back of the spoon.   Let it cool for 15 minutes.  I was in a hurry so I opted for a quick 5 minute cool in an ice bath.  Put the mixture in your ice cream maker and run for about 20 - 30 minutes. 

Spicy Corn Salad

Side dishes are the orphaned children of the kitchen. The supporting cast that never gets acknowledged. The main is the star, and usually gets all of our focus. By the time we get around to thinking about what to serve alongside the lead act, it’s too late, or we’re too tired to do more than put a bag of frozen veggies in the microwave, or heat up a packet of chicken-flavored rice. Side dishes totally get the shaft, and so lately I’ve been trying to do them a little more justice. This Spicy Corn Salad is a variation of a recipe I found on Macaroni and Cheesecake (blech! Sorry, but that’s an unappetizing name for a food blog. Just sayin’.). I added red onion and a chili pepper, and it really added to the flavors. We liked it so much that we even saved the leftovers and ate them again! I know that’s what leftovers are for, but we don’t always go back for them. It’s great when it’s warm, and I also enjoyed it cold the next day. Spicy, fresh and full of great corn flavor, it definitely takes center stage.

4 ears of corn
1 ½ Tbsp olive oil
Salt & Pepper
2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1/2 Tbsp mayo
1 Tbsp sour cream
Juice of 1/2 lime
3 Tbsp shredded Parmesan
¼ Tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 Chili pepper, minced

First, cut your corn off the cob carefully. Don’t get any cob in there. Don’t get any finger in there either. Also try to get as much silk off the corn as possible, because it won’t be pleasant to eat later. Put the corn in a small bowl and add olive oil, salt & pepper and stir. Spread the corn out on a baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees. It’ll be nice and golden and corny.

When it’s done, add the corn to a medium bowl and then just throw all the other ingredients in there and stir! I used a habanero because that’s what I had laying around. I also felt the pain of habanero oil on my fingers for like, a day and a half. So be careful when you cut your chili. I also didn’t have sour cream. I think that would have added a little extra bit of goodness.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Iron Chef Basil: Chicken in Basil Cream Sauce

Yes, I'm a competitive person. Yes, I like to win. Yes, I'm disappointed.  I really thought I had a chance with this Iron Chef, because this dish is really delicious. I also really love basil, so I was very excited to try some recipes. Eh. I didn't win. I think it was partly because everyone was very full with all the courses that came prior to mine. Maybe if the dishes weren't so filling I might have had a better chance. But, with a refreshing dessert and a drink that started out everything; I didn't have a chance. No matter. I will continue to make this recipe. I love the combination of sun-dried tomatoes, cream, and basil. I'm glad I found The Girl Who Ate Everything's blog, because I've tried other recipes of hers and they've all been great. Here's to the next Iron Chef. Enjoy.

1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup dried Italian bread crumbs
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic (1/2 teaspoon minced)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Grab a shallow bowl and pour in the milk. Then, take a medium-sized plate and pour the bread crumbs onto it. If your chicken breasts aren't thin; wrap them in plastic wrap and pound with a meat tenderizer till they are about 1/4 inch thick. Take the chicken and dunk both sides in the milk and then cover the chicken with the bread crumbs. Take your skillet and add in the butter. Set the stove to medium. Cook the chicken on both sides until the juices run clear. I believe it took my chicken 8 to 10 minutes to cook. Set aside the chicken and keep warm. I cleaned out my skillet a bit with a paper towel. Add another tablespoon of butter and cook the garlic for a minute. Add in the chicken broth and stir. Bring to a boil and stir any of the browned bits that may reside in the pan. Next, stir in the heavy cream and the sun-dried tomatoes. Boil and stir for a couple minutes. Reduce heat and add in the basil, Parmesan, and pepper. If you want a thicker sauce cook a bit longer; say 5 minutes. Pour sauce over the chicken and serve. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Iron Chef Basil

Iron Chef Basil was held on a hot and stormy night, after a hot and stormy week, so we were all looking forward to some nice light and summery basil dishes. What we got instead were really delicious, but uncomfortably filling dishes. By the end of the night we were each miserably full. Luckily, the company kept our spirits light, even if our scales begged to differ. 

Our evening started out with visual fireworks courtesy of Jen. She brought her typical level of presentation craftiness, which is somewhere between over-the-top and miraculous, and earned herself a second place finish. Not an easy feat for a drink, but this one was pretty amazing. Jen dyed her own sugar (I mean, come on!) to rim the glasses and even made ice cubes with basil leaves nestled inside. The drink itself was a strawberry basil concoction with citrus vodka and the sugar rim helped cut the slight tartness. Plus, it looked gorgeous! Jen also brought a delicious dipping oil for bread that most of us blame for our fullness later on in the night. 

Kim was up next with the sole appetizer of the evening. She made a crostini with goat cheese and a strawberry basil topping. We tried it with and without a basil leaf on top and the consensus was that it was best with the leaf. The strawberries made it a little sweet but the basil and the goat cheese brought it back to savory.  Probably the only dish of the night that was actually a good portion for an Iron Chef event, so of course we ate multiples. 

The first entree of the night was from an Iron Chef newbie, Jess. She fixed a really tasty tomato basil soup, and a grilled cheese panini with basil and tomato. This one was a meal in itself, but it was so good we couldn't help cleaning our plates. I predict that Jess will be some tough culinary competition in future Iron Chefs. 

Chelyen's dish was technically a side but could certainly have passed for an entree, and again it was so tasty that we stuffed ourselves on it. With basil as our secret ingredient I was hopeful someone would do a Thai dish and Chelyen delivered. Her Thai Basil Macaroni and Cheese was creamy and delicious with a kick of heat from Thai chiles and a crispy Panko topping. This is me officially begging for the recipe!

Time for another main dish! Picture us all grabbing our full bellies and groaning. Poor Emily made a really fantastic breaded chicken cutlet with a basil and sundried tomato cream sauce, but we were all so full that no one could finish it. The chicken was cooked perfectly, nice and crispy and it would definitely be a great meal on a night when you're not eating lots of other things. I'm sure Emily will be posting the recipe, so be on the lookout! 

I think this might be the first Iron Chef when we've had a duplicate, but it was bound to happen. Shu, our wonderful hostess for the evening, also made a tomato basil soup. The flavor profile was different though, and went in the creamier direction of a bisque. She also made her own bread (with basil of course!) to go with it. So even though it was another soup it felt very different. Another really delicious offering, which made the judging even more difficult than normal. 

You know how people say, "There's always room for dessert?" There's not. There's really not. But we all had to loosen our belts and try. I served my chocolate cake with basil buttercream next. I wasn't sure how it was going to taste because basil buttercream sounds awfully strange, but it turned out pretty tasty. Probably not enough basil flavor for Iron Chef but it did get stronger over time. 

Last but definitely not least. In fact, Cara's Lemon Basil Ice Cream was the Iron Chef Basil winner! It was a refreshing end to the evening, light and citrusy with great basil flavor, like summer in a cute little dish. I never thought I'd like basil ice cream, but this one was really good! Cara definitely redeemed herself from her last ice cream (at Iron Chef Spicy). Pairing it with blueberries was also an interesting, but yummy, choice.

And at this point we were all happy that the food portion of the evening was over and we could get to the digesting and gossiping portion. Even though we practically rolled home at the end of the night, Iron Chef Basil turned out to be full of flavorful, delicious food and, as always, good company. Thanks again to our hostess Shu, and congrats Cara and Jen on your wins!