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!”)