Saturday, June 23, 2007

Goin' to the fair

It's summer fair time in Connecticut and although Kyle and I don't usually frequent the "fair circuit" until the harvest fairs in September, our church's annual fair is today. In addition to helping to set up tables during the week, I thought I'd pitch in this year and do a little baking. Pies and baked goods were needed and although I'd never actually made a fruit pie before, I figured, what the heck! I've been making apple crisp for years but have always had some strange aversion to putting the apples between two pieces of dough. Well, the aversion is still present because I decided to make an apple pie with crisp topping, rather than dough - more like an apple crumble pie but slightly different. I used Martha Stewart's apple pie recipe and my old-time favorite apple crisp topping that I've modified from my ancient Women's Day cookbooks (both are below). Modifications have *s and are below the recipes. The full Martha recipe can be found through the link above - I've modified it here.

I also made a double batch (4 dozen) of Paula Deen's Double Chocolate Gooey Butter Cakes that have been made and raved about by a number of ladies on the cooking board I frequent. I've made peanut butter version a few months ago which were very good, but I wanted to make something a little more "allergy-safe" since they would be sold at the church fair (I omitted the nuts that the original recipes calls for). The recipe and photos are below the pie.

Apple Crisp Pie
For the Apple Filling:
  • 1/4 cup (spooned and leveled) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough
  • 1 recipe (2 disks) basic pie dough*
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, (from 1 lemon)
  • 4 pounds (8 to 10) apples, such as Empire, Granny Smith, Gala, Cortland, Winesap, or a mix*
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces*
  • 1 egg*
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. with a rack set in second-to-lowest position. Remove first circle of dough from refrigerator and carefully unroll over a 9-inch pie plate. Gently lift edges and lower dough into the pie plate so it hugs bottom and sides. Avoid stretching the dough, which will make it shrink during baking. Refrigerate.
  2. Place lemon juice in a large bowl. Peel, core, and cut apples into 1/4-inch-thick slices; halve crosswise, and add to lemon juice (to keep them from turning brown) as you work. Add sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt; toss to combine.
  3. Remove dough-lined pie plate from refrigerator. Fill with apple mixture, gently packing apples and mounding slightly in center.
  4. With floured fingers, fold overhang under itself to form a thick rim; pinch between thumb and forefinger to form a uniform edge around the rim of the pie plate.
    To crimp edges: With thumb and index finger of one hand, gently press dough against knuckle of other hand (see photo through the Martha link above); continue around pie. (Deep indentations anchor dough on rim and prevent it from sliding down sides of pie plate during baking.)
  5. Place pie plate on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Brush dough edges with eggwash. Bake 20 minutes; reduce heat to 375 degrees. and bake until crust is golden and juices are bubbling, 50 minutes more. If edges brown too quickly, cover with aluminum foil*. Cool completely, at least 6 hours, before serving.
For the Apple Crisp Topping:
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  1. Combine sugars, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl. Cut in butter using a pastry cutter or two knives until butter becomes pea-sized.
  2. Carefully spoon mixture over apples.
  3. Sprinkle topping with a little more cinnamon.
  1. I made two pies so I doubled everything. There was some filling and topping leftover (I didn't want to overfill the pies) and I put them in a separate oven-safe bowl covered with aluminum foil and baked for 30 minutes on 350. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
  2. I used Pillsbury pre-made dough rounds.
  3. The filling recipe calls for 8-10 apples for one pie but because I didn't use a top dough, I reduced the apples to 5 (and still had a little left over - see #1). I used Empire apples.
  4. I didn't add any butter to the filling because there is more than enough in the crisp topping.
  5. Egg is not part of the original recipe - I used it as an egg-wash on the dough edges before baking.
  6. I covered the pies with aluminum foil for the first 30 minutes, then kept the edges covered with foil for the remaining 40 minutes.

Double Chocolate Gooey Butter Cakes

  • Butter, for greasing pan, plus 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter, melted
  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package chocolate cake mix
  • 1 egg, plus 2 eggs
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13 by 9-inch baking pan. In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, 1 egg, and 8 tablespoons (1 stick) melted butter, and stir until well blended. Pat mixture into prepared pan and set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the remaining 2 eggs, and the cocoa powder. Lower the speed of the mixer, and add the powdered sugar. Continue beating until ingredients are well mixed. Slowly add the remaining 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of melted butter, and the vanilla, continuing to beat the mixture until smooth. Spread filling over cake mixture in pan.
  3. Bake for 40 to 43 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the cake; the center should still be a little gooey when finished baking. Let cake partially cool on a wire rack before cutting into pieces.


As mentioned above, I doubled the recipe and used two 13"x9" pans. I cut the cakes into 24 pieces each and put each piece inside a round paper muffin cup for easy transport of individual servings.

This is who I caught pigging out while I was making my pies!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Vegetable-Stuffed Chicken Breast with Roasted Red Pepper Basil Sauce

So I finally made the second dish for my first NTWC Platinum Chef Challenge hosted by Cara and I am so glad I waited to really figure out what I wanted to make before I just threw a few things together and called it a day.

The remainder of my challenge ingredients were basil, tomatoes, and zucchini. Sounds easy enough? Sure. But I made a resolution this year to move away from being tied down to cooking with recipes and start coming up with my own creations. More than creativity, it was about my feeling confident with my abilities to combine ingredients and experiment with flavor. And the result here was so satisfying!! In the vegetable stuffing, I used the zucchini and I used the basil and tomatoes in the sauce that topped the chicken, which sat atop a bed of orzo (my new favorite pasta!). More than I amazed Kyle that this wasn't from a recipe or cookbook (which he did ask me), I amazed myself...and found a great new "go-to" meal both for an easy weeknight dinner and to serve to guests alike.

Vegetable-Stuffed Chicken Breast with Roasted Red Pepper Basil Sauce

  • 1/2 large zucchini, diced small (1/4") and divided
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced and divided
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, split open horizontally to form a pocket
  • 2 oz fontina cubed (small)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 of a roasted red pepper
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces orzo pasta
  • reserved pasta water
  1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium-sized oven-safe saute pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 2 minutes. Add half of the zucchini and cook for 3 minutes. Lower heat to medium then add spinach and half of the garlic and cook until spinach is wilted. Remove from heat and set aside and allow to cool in a separate bowl for a couple of minutes.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Salt and pepper both sides of chicken. Stuff pockets of the chicken breasts with vegetable stuffing, adding fontina far enough into pocket so that it won't fall out while cooking.
  3. In the same saute pan from the vegetables, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Carefully place stuffed chicken breasts into pan and saute for 6 minutes, flipping once. Cover and move to oven. Bake for 15 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked through.
  4. Bring a pot of water to a rapid boil and cook orzo according to package directions. Drain, reserving a little water for the sauce.
  5. While chicken is in the oven, add roasted red pepper, basil, the remaining garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper to a blender or food processor (I used my mini food processor - perfect size for this). Blend until almost smoothe.
  6. In a small sauce pan heated over medium heat, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and add remaining zucchini; cook 3 minutes. Add red pepper mixture and tomato paste; stir until heated through. Turn heat to low and stir in heavy cream. Stir to combine into a sauce, adding pasta water if sauce needs to be thinned out. Add parmesan cheese and cook until sauce thickens and then add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. With pot holders remove pan from oven and serve.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25-30 minutes
Serves: 2

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I've been tagged!

What a great game this was as a kid! And as I sit here writing this, I can't believe that I'm playing a virtual game of tag as an adult. Here's the way this version goes:

Here are the rules since I'm tagging you now! :) Each player starts with seven random facts or habits about himself or herself. A tagged player then writes a blog entry with the seven things, as well as these rules. Then the player tags seven others and lists their names on his or her blog. Remember to leave a comment for your newly tagged players, letting them know they have been tagged and to read your blog!

7 random facts about me:

1. I spent 3 weeks in France when I was 10 on an exchange program that was organized through my school district. All American students were matched based on likes/dislikes, hobbies, etc. with a French student and we stayed with the student and his/her family for the 3 weeks. The following month, the French students came to stay with our families for 3 weeks. There were an odd number of girls and boys and I ended up getting matched with a boy. Staying in an unfamiliar home where the family one spoke limited English was the longest 3 weeks of my life (in the eye's of a 10 year old) but our friendship and our families' friendship is now in its 18th year. We have both visited each other a number of times since our first meeting and I hope to visit again next summer.

2. I would like to start a home delivery/catering baked goods business some day. I'll have to wait until I'm finished having kids to get a better look at our financial situation, but this is really something I'd like to do.

3. I've got 4 brothers - 1 full (younger) and 3 older half brothers. Yes, that's right, I'm my dad's only daughter out of 5 kids!

4. If I could live anywhere in the US, it would be Maine. If I could live anywhere in the world, it would be Paris.

5. I saved a girl's life who was drowning when I was 11. We were on a Girl Scout trip (13 years in GS!) to a dude ranch and she didn't realize she couldn't swim. She jumped in and started flailing and bobbing under. I dragged her to the side where the lifeguard pulled her out of the pool.

6. I met 11 girls through the wedding website, The Knot, and we've all become great friends through [initially] gmail and we get together on a fairly regular basis. Three of them are expecting their first baby and we're in the process of planning our first baby shower for 2 of them. So exciting!

7. I have been friends with my best friend since we were 12 (7th grade) - that's almost 17 years now! She lives in northern Vermont and is looking to start-up a cake decorating business - can you see why we're such good friends? ;)

OK, tag! I am now tagging you - Mary Ellen, Me Likey Food (Jane), Two Novice Chefs One Tiny Kitchen (Julie), Delilah's Corner (mrssisler), Ashleigh's Edibles, Amber's Delectible Delights (Krashed) and Creative Country Cookin' (Erin) :) Have fun ladies!!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Picture this..., no, just kidding - although did that remind you of Sophia from the Golden Girls? Picture this meal because I forgot to take a picture last night! I know...booo!!...but what can ya do when a panini looks so good that you can't wait to dig in to it? Ah well...the next time I make it, I promise to update the blog with a picture.

Kyle and I made the trip down to Long Island for Father's Day on Sunday (an adventure for another time) and made, what has become, my "must-take" trip to the Italian deli in the town where I grew up. For some reason, I haven't yet found a decent Italian deli nearby where I work or live in Connecticut so I take advantage when I visit my parents. We indulged in 2 1/2lbs of fresh mozzarella (that we'll use over 3 days), 1/4lb of prosciutto di Parma that cost $6.75 (yes, that's right $27 per pound!!), and 4 "He-Man"-size sausage links (spicy for Kyle and sweet for me) that we'll make into patties for burgers. All told, we walked out $35 lighter but looking foward to some "unfawgetable" meals. I finally found some Heirloom tomatoes at the grocery store last week so the fresh mozz will have a nice friend now.

So on the way home from work last night, I stopped in a little bakery/cafe/bookstore to pick up a loaf of our favorite ciabatta bread - roasted garlic ciabatta. Between the slices, I added 2 slices of fresh mozz (on the top and bottom of the panini components), sliced Heirloom tomatoes, 2 slices of prosciutto, a few leaves of fresh basil, sprinkled on some olive oil and balsamic vinegar (maybe 1/2 teaspoon of each) and carefully put them on my beloved panini maker for about 5-6 minutes.

And what came off the panini maker? Toasted goodness!!! Everything was well-warmed through (the cheese wasn't melted which worked out perfectly so there wasn't a big melted mozzarella mess) and the flavors of the basil and prosciutto exploded in my mouth. I didn't want the experience to end!! Sadly, because I'm trying to cut down on my calories, I didn't opt for a second...but Kyle did, this one with turkey pepperoni because we ate the last of the prosciutto.

And the moral of this story? I need to find a good Italian deli nearby so that we can have this sandwich more often - store-bought fresh mozzarella DOES NOT compare to real, Italian fresh mozz - no questions asked.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Indescrible Goodness!

Oh sweet divine combination of chocolate and peanut butter! How could anyone not love you?! It's as if the heavens above sent down these two perfect foods for the sole purpose of them being eaten together...

OK, enough drooling from The Cooking Fiend...I came across this recipe while watching the Pillsbury Bake-Off on Food Network over a year ago and HAD to try it out. I've made these pieces of heaven a few times since and every time, I get the same reaction: "OH MY GOD. THESE ARE INCREDIBLE." I know, I know, I think to myself as the treat melts all over my tastebuds. How could they NOT be incredible? They did, afterall, win the original baker $10,000!!

I made these for Father's Day yesterday for my dad and to bring to my brother's house where we were going for dinner. After brunch, my parents' eyes practically rolled back in their heads after tasting them and Kyle was annoyed because I didn't give him one - I was trying to bring as many as possible to dinner later in the day!

The concept is simple: a chocolate chip cookie filled with a layer of melted white chocolate and peanut butter followed by a layer of milk chocolate (or dark or semi-sweet) then topped with whatever you want - toffee crumbles, crumbled crunchy granola bars, or drizzed with more chocolate, like what I did this time around. Overall, the recipe is a wee-bit time consuming, but TOTALLY worth the effort. Below is the original recipe but I've made a number of modifications and notes (see *s) that better suit my tastes and availability of some products. Be sure to read these before you buy the ingredients!

Beware: One you start, it will be hard to stop!

Choco-Peanut Butter Cups

  • 1 (16.5 ounce) roll Pillsbury(R) Create 'n Bake refrigerated peanut butter cookies*
  • 1 cup white vanilla baking chips*
  • 1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips*
  • 4 Nature Valley oats 'n honey crunchy granola bars, crushed*


  1. Break cookie dough into pre-divided pieces, separating them on the back of the wrapper or a piece of parchment paper and allow to come to room temperature.*
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 24 mini muffin cups with cooking spray or shortening. Cut cookie dough into 24 slices.* With floured fingers, press 1 slice in bottom and up side of each mini muffin cup, forming 1/4-inch rim above top of cup.*
  3. Bake 10 to 15* minutes or until edges are deep golden brown. Cool in pans on cooling racks 5 minutes. With tip of handle of wooden spoon, press dough down in center of each cup to make room for 2 tablespoons filling.
  4. Meanwhile, in 2-quart saucepan*, melt vanilla baking chips and 3/4 cup of the peanut butter over low heat, stirring constantly. Divide mixture evenly into cookie cups (about 1 tablespoon each*). Refrigerate 10 minutes.
  5. In same 2-quart saucepan*, melt chocolate chips and remaining 3/4 cup peanut butter over low heat, stirring constantly. Divide chocolate mixture evenly on top of peanut butter mixture in each cup (about 1 tablespoon each*).
  6. Sprinkle crushed granola bars over top of each. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. Remove from muffin cups before serving*.

Modifications and Notes:

  1. I have a tough time finding pre-packaged peanut butter cookie dough so I use break-and-bake chocolate chip cookies (Nestle - 24 per package). I've found that the chocolate chunk do not work as well so I opt for the regular chocolate chip.
  2. Buy the best white chocolate chips you can find; I use Ghiradelli - I've tried Nestle and wasn't at all thrilled with the result. If you can't find white chocolate chips, find a good quality white chocolate bar and break it up (i.e., Ghiradelli, Lintz, etc).
  3. Ditto for the chocolate chips. I subbed out the semi-sweet chips for milk chocolate and am very happy that I did so.
  4. The recipe calls for crushed crunchy granola bars to sprinkle on top before the top layer sets. I had trouble crushing them up so small so I don't use them anymore. I've used Heath toffee bits and have drizzled chocolate and might consider some chopped fresh strawberries next time I make them.
  5. Number 1 of the directions is my addition. Since I use the break-and-bake cookies, I've found that breaking the dough into its pre-determined pieces and allowing them to soften to room temperature really helps getting them into the muffin cups. When they are soft enough, flatten them down into a circle then place them into a very well-greased mini-muffin pan (one 24 cup or two 12 cup). Grease the cups and the top. You won't need to make a 1/4 inch rim with the dough because it will rise enough on its own; just make sure the dough comes to the top of the muffin cups.
  6. Cooking them for 10-12 minutes will suffice - more than 12 minutes will overcook the cookies.
  7. Use a double boiler or a heat-safe bowl over a couple inches of boiling water to melt the chocolate. Don't attempt to melt in the microwave - I've learned that the hard way. There will probably be leftover white chocolate mixture - either save it or ditch it. Then repeat the process with the chocolate chips and peanut butter.
  8. One tablespoon of each filling is too much. A heaping teaspoon (use an actual teaspoon - what you would use to stir your coffee with - not a measuring spoon) of each filling is plenty. When you're finished filling the 2nd layer, you'll know if you need to add a little more.
  9. Refrigerate for 15 minutes, then remove from mini-muffin tin to avoid sticking (been there, done that). Place them in a sealed container, and return them to the fridge. Store in fridge for up to 2 days, but I doubt they will last that long. :)

Active prep time: 35 minutes

Inactive prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 10-12 minutes

Serves: 24


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Foodie Blogroll

I'm excited to say that I've joined my first blogroll - The Foodie Blogroll, hosted by The Leftover Queen. You'll see a scrolling list on the side of my page where you can access a plethera of different foodie blogs. If you have a foodie blog, you can join it too!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Giada does it again!

Why has it taken me 28 years to try orzo??? I don't ever remember having it as a kid and know I've never tried it as an adult...why IS this?? Maybe because I'm not a huge fan of rice and thought that because this PASTA looked like rice, it tasted like it too? I don't know...but anyhow, I was perusing though one of Giada's cookbooks a couple of weeks ago and came upon a delicious-sounding (there wasn't a pic in the book of the dish) meal that I figured would be quick and easy for a weeknight dinner, and would also go over well with Kyle. The recipe is designed to be a main course but I knew another main course without meat wouldn't fly in my house so I halved the recipe and coupled it with grilled chicken rubbed with herbes de provence, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Good move. :) The two complement each other perfectly and Kyle didn't have enough good things to say about the meal. This one will make frequent reappearances on our weekly menu.

Creamy Orzo served with Herb-Rubbed Grilled Chicken

  • 1 pound orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced*
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, juices drained
  • 1 1/4 cups whipping cream*
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed*
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • reserved pasta water
  • 2 tsp herbes de provence
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2"

Bring a heavy large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the orzo and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring often, about 10-11 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Season pounded chicken on both sides with herbes de provence (1 tsp per breast), salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium heat and pre-heat the grill to medium-high heat. Add the shallot and garlic, and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Put chicken on grill, turning after 4-5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until they are tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the cream and peas*. Add the orzo and toss to coat. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the Parmesan to the pasta mixture and toss to coat. Stir the pasta mixture until the sauce coats the pasta thickly, adding enough reserved cooking liquid to maintain a creamy consistency. Season the orzo generously with salt and pepper, and serve.

* Modifications:
  1. Even when halving the recipe, use a 1-2 cloves minced garlic.
  2. I used 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh broccoli florets rather than peas (personal preference). After the tomatoes have cooked for 6 minutes, add the broccoli. Cook for 2 minutes, turn the heat to medium-low and then add the cream.
  3. You might need a little extra cream if the orzo soaks up too much liquid after you add it to the pan.
  4. I halved this recipe and cooked two chicken breasts. The whole orzo recipe will serve 6-8.

Prep time: 10-15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Serves: 6-8

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Peanut Butter and "Jelly" Cupcakes

Well, this one took a bit of tweaking to get right but overall, I think the recipe came out pretty good and I'm so excited that I was able to pull an idea from my head and turn it into a great tasting dessert.

These cupcakes are the first of my two recipes for the Now That's What's Cooking blog's WC Platinum Chef Challenge. This challenge requires the use of basil, tomatoes, strawberries, nuts, and zucchini (in any form) and all ingredients must be used in either 1 or 2 dishes.

I was going for something unique here - I didn't want to top a dessert with strawberries, but rather challenge my creativity. (Although there is nothing wrong topping a dessert with strawberries!!) I have been craving cupcakes for months and decided to improve an already great sweet treat with something you can never go wrong with: peanut butter! And since it might prove difficult to use strawberries in a dish with basil, tomatoes, and zucchini, I decided to incorporate them into the peanut butter cupcakes...and the result was strawberry whipped cream to top the cupcake rather than traditional frosting or icing. What a treat this was!!

Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Strawberry Whipped Cream Frosting

For the cupcakes:

  • 1 box moist white cake mix
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
Pre-heat oven according to directions on box and place muffin papers in two 12 cup muffin tins. Add all ingredients to a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on low for 30 seconds, then turn mixer to medium and beat for an additional 2 minutes, occasionally scraping down the sides with a rubber spatula.

Using a large cookie scoop, fill muffin papers about 3/4 of the way full with batter. When finished, tap the muffin tins on the countertop to release bubbles in batter. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. (Cook time in my oven took 22 minutes after careful checking during the last 5 minutes and they were cooked perfectly)

Remove tins from oven, allow to cool on cooking racks for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from tins and allow to cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

For the Strawberry Whipped Cream
  • 1/2 cup whipping or heavy cream (cold)
  • 1/4 cup pureed strawberries (I used frozen strawberries that I thawed and drained)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • sugar (to taste)

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, pour cream into a cold mixing bowl and begin to beat on medium-high. Gradually add pureed strawberries, vanilla, and sugar. Add enough sugar to your taste; it should be a few tablespoons. Turn mixer to high and beat until soft peaks form in the cream. Spread whipped cream using a knife or using a pastry bag, pipe whipped cream onto cupcakes. Refridgerate 20 minutes before serving.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20-22 minutes

Makes about 15 cupcakes

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A New Favorite

Have I said before that I am in love with my panini maker? Probably not, but it's difficult to describe the feelings I have for a kitchen appliance without making my Kitchenaid mixer feel bad about itself.

I bought the long-sought-after panini maker a few months ago and only recently came up with the perfect specimen for a new sandwich (and it's my own recipe!!). Since Kyle has realized that cilantro is one of the most incredible herbs out there, he has begged me to make this sandwich...err...panini on a weekly basis. No problems with that here!!!
Cilantro-Garlic-Lime Chicken Panini

Step 1
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2" thick
  • 2 limes
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Squeeze the juice of the limes into a large Ziploc bag and add cilantro, garlic, honey, and olive oil. Close the bag and squeeze contents to incorporate. Add the chicken and refridgerate for 8 hours.

Step 2

  • 6 oz Monterey jack cheese, sliced and divided in half
  • 1/2 roasted red pepper, cut into 1/2" strips
  • 1/2 loaf ciabatta bread (or other artisan or thick-sliced sourdough bread)
  • mayonnaise
  • chipotle chili powder
  • olive oil

Pre-heat grill and panini maker. Slice the bread into two equal pieces then slice open through the soft part of the bread. Drizzle some olive oil on to each piece of bread, place oil-side down on the panini maker, and close the lid. Grill chicken while bread is warming.

When chicken is cooked and bread is slightly browned (but not toasted), spread some mayo (to preference) on all slices of bread (the soft side only) and sprinkle with a minimal amount of chipotle chili powder (a little goes a long way!). Place a couple pieces of cheese on the bottom slices of bread, add a few strips of roasted red peppers, then top with chicken. Add more peppers, cheese, then top with the other sides of the bread.

Carefully put sandwiches back on panini maker and close the lid, pressing down slightly. Try to evenly distribute the weight of the lid over the sandwiches so that they aren't squishing out on one side. Remove sandwiches when cheese is starting to melt down the sides of the sandwich (takes about 3-5 minutes).

Prep time: Step 1 - 10 minutes; Step 2 - 10 minutes

Inactive prep time: 8 hours

Cook time: 12 minutes

Serves: 2

A Long-Time Favorite

Although this dish is not in it's traditional soup form, this is my parent's recipe. It has been one of my favorites since I was a kid (my brother and I used to shout, "YES!!" when my mom told us she was making pasta fagioli for dinner) and it has become one of Kyle's favorites (in his Top 3!). Its a great way to use leftover spaghetti sauce and bacon, and can be a real inexpensive meal to throw together if you have a few of the ingredients on hand already. We usually make the recipe with a pound of pasta so that there is always leftovers :) but you can easily half the recipe.

Pasta e Fagioli
  • 2 tablespoons EVOO
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 strips bacon (uncooked and cut into 1/2 inch pieces)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups jarred or homemade spaghetti sauce
  • 1 (15oz) can cannellini beans (rinsed and drained)
  • 2 tablespoons grated pecorino-romano cheese, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • salt and pepper (pinches to taste)
  • 1 lb ditalini pasta or other small tubular pasta (i.e., elbows)
In a deep stockpot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat then saute onions for 3 minutes. Add bacon and a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes, occasionally stirring to keep the bacon from burning. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Turn heat to medium-low, add sauce, beans, 2 tbsp pecorino-romano cheese, garlic powder, oregano, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to combine well and cook for 15 min. While sauce mixture is cooking, cook pasta until tender and drain well. Add pasta to sauce mixture and combine well. Turn heat to low and allow pasta and sauce flavors to "mingle" for 5 minutes. Serve with grated cheese and crusty bread, if desired.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25-30 minutes

Serves: 6-8

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sunday Night Seafood

Kyle and I tried out two new recipes this weekend (I forgot to take pics of the other one) and this one was so worth waiting for a little extra time on the weekend to really enjoy preparing it together. We don't get a lot of time during the week to cook together but when we have the chance, we work like "2 peas in a pod," as my gramma likes to dub the two of us in the kitchen. Cooking with Kyle is one of the activities I really enjoy most that we do as a couple. Anyhow...we tested another Giada recipe tonight, this one from her relatively new Everyday Pasta cookbook. A winner!

A few tweaks from the chefs:

  1. we halved the recipe but still used 3 cloves of garlic (you can never go wrong with extra garlic!) and 2 shallots
  2. we defrosted some frozen shrimp (cooked, peeled, and deveined) we bought in bulk and added them to the hot mixture (just before adding the spaghetti) to heat them up
  3. we substitued the sun-dried tomatoes for roasted red peppers and it was delicious (Kyle doesn't care for sun-dried tomatoes)
  4. instead of whole clams (with shells), we used a can of chopped clams and some of the juice
  5. the arugula was a wee bit overpowering and next time we'll substitute fresh spinach
  6. we added some freshly grated parmesan cheese before serving for a little extra tasty touch
Spaghetti with Pinot Grigio and Seafood
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups Pinot Grigio (or other dry white wine)
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups arugula, tough stems removed
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and the garlic and cook for 3 minutes, until tender but not brown. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and cook for another minute. Add the wine, shrimp, and clams. Bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the shrimp are pink and the clams have opened, about 7 minutes.
Add the spaghetti to the seafood mixture. Add the salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add the arugula. Stir gently and place on a serving platter. Serve immediately.

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies...Not So Gooey Great...

After having made Paula Deen's Peanut Butter Gooey Butter Cakes a few weeks ago, I came across this recipe recently that I had printed over a year ago (I'm assuming it got lost in the shuffle, which is why I hadn't made them sooner.) and i figured that since the PBGBC came out SOOO incredible, that these cookies must be a "shoo-in" as well. Well...they were a big fat disappointment, which I suppose is better than being a big fat success, which inevitably would mean "unwanted" added calories.

I've added the recipe to the blog in case anyone could figure out a way to make them better. They were not at all sweet enough and I don't want to attempt to make them better by adding a much needed 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar.

Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies

  • 1 (8-ounce) brick cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 stick butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (18-ounce) box moist chocolate cake mix
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Beat in the egg. Then beat in the vanilla extract. Beat in the cake mix. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours to firm up so that you can roll the batter into balls. Roll the chilled batter into tablespoon sized balls and then roll them in confectioner's sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake 12 minutes. The cookies will remain soft and "gooey." Cool completely and sprinkle with more confectioners' sugar, if desired.