Sunday, August 26, 2012

Caprese Pasta Salad with Chicken

Here's another one that I made MONTHS ago, and am just now getting around to sharing.

I pulled out this recipe in mid-May for my then-boyfriend (now-fiance!) on his birthday. I swear, he could eat this every day of the week, and twice on Sunday. I would like to pretend that I waited to post it until tomatoes were in season, but to be perfectly honest, I've just been too caught up in the excitement of getting engaged to worry about blogging. Regardless, I'm posting this at precisely the right time of year for you to try it yourselves :-)

My fiance prefers it straight out of the fridge -- the colder, the better. Personally, I prefer it at room temperature, but it's yummy no matter what. With so much fresh basil, mozzerella, and tomatoes, how can you go wrong, right?

Caprese Pasta Salad with Chicken
(adapted from The Cooking Photographer, who got the idea here and added a vinagrette from here)

Lemon Vinaigrette:

2 teaspoons finely grated lemons zest
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed to wet pasta

Blend the lemon zest and juice, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper in a blender. With the machine running gradually blend in the oil. Season the vinaigrette to taste with more salt and pepper.

Pasta:1 pound pasta (whatever fun shape you like)
2 skinless boneless chicken breast halves (about 9 ounces total)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound diced ripe tomatoes
16 ounce tub fresh mozzarella pearls, drained
Lemon vinaigrette
Lots of fresh basil, chopped (I don't think it's possible to use too much)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon oil reserved from tomatoes in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to skillet and sauté until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate and cool; do not clean skillet. Cut chicken into 1/2-inch pieces.

Cook the pasta according to the directions, drain, and rinse with cold water. Move the pasta to a large serving bowl and toss together with the rest of the ingredients.

Key Lime Pie with an "Almond-Spiked" Crust

Wow. It has been a LONG time since I've posted. So long that as I perused the pictures that have been piling up on Picasa, I couldn't remember what half of them were!  Clearly, I have not stopped cooking or baking in the months that Chez Smokey has been dormant -- I have just been lazy about posting!

As a "welcome back," I present to you a recipe for key lime pie that I baked back in May, but remember like it was yesterday. This was such an incredible pie, the pictures simply do not do it justice. The filling-to-crust ratio is beautifully high, and it is just a tart and creamy as you can imagine. The almonds in the crust, while not overpowering, certainly "take it up a notch," and set this creation apart from any I have made in the past. (I have this vivid memory of using a pre-packaged graham cracker crust for my first key lime pie however many years ago. It's hard to believe that I ever thought such a short-cut was necessary!)

Just remembering this pie is making my mouth water -- and making me slap myself (metaphorically) for not making it again this summer! Of course, summer isn't over yet, so there is still time to whip out another one. Anyone want to come over for pie???

Key Lime Pie with an "Almond-Spiked" Crust
(from Gourmet via Epicurious; adapted from Town Hall Restaurant in San Francisco)

yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings
active time: 25 min
total time: 10 hr (includes chilling)

For crust:
  • 7 (5-by 2 1/2-inch) graham crackers, broken into small pieces
  • 3/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
For filling:
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
  • Grated zest of 2 Key limes (I used regular limes, and it worked out fine)
  • 1 cup Key lime juice (the recipe calls for you to make it fresh, from about 2 pounds fresh Key limes, but I think bottled is just as good)
  • 4 large egg yolks

Make crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter a 9-inch pie plate.
Pulse together graham crackers, almonds, and sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl and stir in butter. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of pie plate. Bake until lightly.

Make filling and bake pie:
Gently whisk together filling ingredients in a medium bowl until smooth and pour into crust. Bake until just set in center, 15 to 20 minutes.
Cool completely (filling will set as it cools). Chill pie, loosely covered, at least 8 hours.
Top with sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Rigatoni with Chicken Sausage, Tomatoes and Cream

Trader Joe's sells a Sicilian chicken sausage that in the words of Mary Poppins, is practically perfect in every way. I try to keep some in the freezer at all times for a quick weeknight meal. My go-to preparation is to sautee it with some onions and red peppers, mix in a jar of spaghetti sauce, doctor it with whatever herbs I'm in the mood for, and voila' -- dinner!
 Every once in awhile, however, I get bored with that old standby, and decide to branch out. Enter my good friend, the Epicurious app. A quick search yielded this 4-fork, blue-ribbon recipe, which I can now add to the weeknight rotation. It's simple. It uses ingredients I tend to have on hand. And it's absolutely delicious.

For my first attempt, I made as written, heavy cream and all. Next time, I'll try lightening it up with some haf-and-half. I have a feeling it will be just as good.

Rigatoni with Chicken Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cream
(adapted slightly from Epicurous)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound Italian chicken sausage, casings removed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with added puree
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 pound rigatoni (or your favorite pasta)
  • 1/2 cup (packed) chopped fresh basil
  • Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage and crushed red pepper. Sauté until sausage is no longer pink, breaking up with back of fork, about 5 minutes. Add onion and garlic; sauté until onion is tender and sausage is browned, about 3 minutes longer. Add tomatoes and cream. Reduce heat to low and simmer until sausage mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Return pasta to same pot. Add sausage mixture and toss over medium-low heat until sauce coats pasta, adding reserved cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if mixture is dry. Transfer pasta to serving dish. Sprinkle with basil. Serve, passing cheese separately.

S'mores Cookies

I don't know why, but I did not expect to like these cookies. I had seen this recipe dozens of times over the past year or so, and for some reason, barely gave it a second glance. Maybe it's because I associate s'mores with sticky. Maybe it's because I'm not a huge fan of milk chocolate Hershey's bars. Whatever the case, I never bookmarked the recipe, and I never expected to try it.

Well, never say never.  One day, the stars aligned. I had a box of graham crackers and half a bag of marshmallows in the pantry, and I was jonesing to bake something I had not tried before. Suddenly, this recipe popped into my head, and like an "earworm," I simply could not get it out. I did not have any Hershey's bars, but I figured dark chocolate Ghiradelli bars would make a fine substitute. I was absolutely right.

I don't think words can truly express how happy these cookies made me. Seriously. I was giddy. I couldn't wait to share them, and I had an absolute ball watching faces light up as they gazed upon these (non-sticky!) bites of nostalgic marshmallowy goodness. And the taste! My favorite part is the graham cracker crumbs mixed right into the batter. It's such a subtle, but delicious addition -- one that I just might use again and again.

I simply don't think it's possible not to have fun with these cookies. Just. Not. Possible.

S'mores Cookies
(from Make and Bake
  • 3/4 cup softened butter (1 1/2 sticks)1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows (I used slightly more than a cup)
  • 2 chocolate bars, chopped up  (Hershey's are recommended, but I used Ghiradelli and LOVED it)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a stand mixer, ccombine the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Mix in egg and vanilla until combined. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, graham crackers, salt, and baking soda, and then gradually add to the butter-sugar mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop by the rounded tablesppon onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 8 minutes, and remove from the oven. Push 3-4 marshmallows and a few pieces of chocolate bar into each cookie. Return to oven and bake for an additional 3-4 minutes until fully cooked. Cool cookies on a wire rack.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mini Crab Cakes

It's hard to find the silver lining when two of your very best friends announce that they're moving 3,000 miles away in 2 weeks time... but when their destination is Maryland and the hosts of their going away party ask guests to bring their best Maryland-inspired dish, the opportunity to bake these adorable little crab cakes certainly does bring a modicum of happiness to an otherwise tear-filled occasion.

I'd actually had this recipe bookmarked for some time, just waiting for the perfect time to whip it out. It was every bit as fun and delicious as I'd hoped. I doubled the recipe just to make sure I had enough, and I am so thrilled that I did. Usually, when there are leftovers at the end of a potluck, I leave them for the host. In this case, however, I unapologetically took the remaining bites right back home with me -- and enjoyed them with a salad for dinner the next night!

Re: the recipe, I decided to trick myself into thinking these wer healthy (and thereby giving myself permission to eat more) by subbing reduced-fat cream cheese and reduced-fat sour cream for the regular stuff. Do I realize that I'm fooling myself? Yes. Did it damage the final results to cut a few calories and fat grams? No. So, why not?

John and Kate, I will miss you terribly. In fact, I miss you already. I am dedicating this blog post to your beautiful family, and can't wait to visit you soon! In the meantime, I'm adding these crab cakes to my appetizer repertoire, and every time I make them, I will think of you!

Mini Crab Cakes
(barely adapted from Annie's Eats)
  • 8oz. cream cheese (regular or reduced-fat), at room temperature
  • ¾ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup sour cream (regular or reduced fat)
  • ½ tsp. lemon zest
  • 3 tbsp. minced fresh chives, divided + additional for garnish
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 8 oz. fresh lump crabmeat, patted dry and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, ¼ cup of the Parmesan, and the egg; beat with an electric mixer to blend.  Beat in the sour cream, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of the chives, salt and cayenne pepper.  Gently fold in the crabmeat.  (This mixture can be made up to 1 day in advance.)

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Spray a 24-well mini muffin pan with cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, combine the panko, remaining ½ cup of the Parmesan, and 2 tablespoons of the minced chives.  Drizzle the melted butter over the mixture and toss with a fork until evenly blended and moistened.  Place 1 tablespoon of the panko mixture in each muffin well and press down to form a crust.  Spoon 1 generous tablespoon of the crab mixture over the crumb mixture in each well.  Sprinkle a rounded teaspoon of the panko mixture over the top of each.  

Bake until golden and set, about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.  Allow to cool in the pans 5 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of each cake and gently lift it out of the pan.  (These can be baked 2 hours in advance.  Rewarm at 350˚for 6-8 minutes* just before serving.)  Garnish with additional fresh chives.

*The afternoon of the party was a scorcher, and no one wanted to put the oven on for rewarming. Since the boys were already grilling outside, they offered to put the muffin pan directly on the grill for a few minutes. It worked great.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Chicken Marsala Risotto

It seems to me that risotto gets a bad rap. Before I ever tried my hand at it, I lived under the assumption (perpetuated by the various home chefs I've met) that risotto is pain in the you-know-what. Now, I hardly consider myself an expert in the kitchen, but I just don't see what all the fuss is about. Sure, you can't just leave it on the stove while you play "Words With Friends" (or whatever your distraction of choice), but it seems pretty fool-proofed to me.

I have a number of go-to risotto recipes, but I do think this is my favorite. I've had it shelved for awhile, as my significant other declared our home a mushroom-free zone for a month or so to test a hypothesis that he is allergic to the little buggers. Given that I LOVE mushrooms, I've never been so happy for a theory to be proven wrong!  To celebrate, I whipped up this dish, compliments of one of my favorite blogs, Pink Parsley.

The only major change I made was the addition of chicken, 'cause at my house, dinner just isn't dinner without a little meat.

Chicken Marsala Risotto
(adapted fom Pink Parsley)
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 cup Marsala wine, divided
  • 3-4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced (cremini are recommended, but I used baby bella with good results)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus a little more to sprink on top
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh basil, minced, plus a little more to sprinkle on top
  • kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Season chicken cubes with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, and sautee the chicken until no longer pink in the middle. Remove from heat, and tent with foil to keep warm.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until foaming subsides. Add shallots and saute until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cook until fragrant, 1 minute.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a medium saucepan until simmering.

Add the Arborio rice and toast until opaque around the edges, 3-5 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of the Marsala wine and cook, stirring often, until absorbed, 5 minutes or so.

Stir in 1 cup of the chicken broth, and stir occasionally until almost absorbed, 8-12 minutes. Working 1 ladle of broth at at time, continue to add broth, stirring constantly. Add the next ladle when the broth is almost completely absorbed.

After you have been cooking the risotto for 10 minutes, stir in the mushrooms. Continue to cook risotto, stirring constantly, until it is al dente, for a total of 20-25 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in the chicken cubes, the remaining 1/4 cup of Marsala wine, Parmesan cheese, basil, and remaining butter. Add salt and pepper if necessary and season to taste.

Serve immediately, with a little extra basil and parmesan on top (if desired).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bacon, Cheddar, and Green Onion Scones

What do you bring to a pot-luck brunch when: (a) you don't want to wake up early to cook; (b) you want to stop at the gym for an hour or two on the way to the party; and (c) you don't want to cop out with some store-bought concoction?

Why, savory scones, of course!

These little gems solved all my dilemmas. I could make them the night before. They weren't going to go bad in the back of my car during my spinning class. They did not require me to fight for the oven. And (most importantly), they were quite tasty.

That said, I didn't love these as much as I'd hoped. They were just a little dense for my taste, I guess. I am going to give the recipe the benefit of the doubt, and assume that I just overworked the dough, or should have more carefully adjusted baking time when I chose to make smaller scones. Next time (and yes, I think they are worth a next time), I'll stick with a simple 8 wedges and see whether that makes a difference. In the meantime, if anyone has any experience with this, let me know!

Bacon, Cheddar, and Green Onion Scones
(from Confections of a Foodie Bride)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper (cut back to 1 tsp, if you're not a pepper lover like me)
  • 1 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 10 slices bacon, cooked and chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 3/4 to 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • heavy cream, optional (I didn't use it, but you can substitute for half the buttermilk, if you like)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp water
Preheat oven to 400.

Grab your peppermill and start grinding - use a full tablespoon for a wonderfully peppery background or reduce by 1 tsp for less pepper flavor.

Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and black pepper in a large bowl on low speed.

With mixer running, gradually add cubes of butter until the mixture is crumbly and studded with flour - butter bits about the size of small peas.

Add grated cheese and mix just until blended. (This can also be done by hand: In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Gradually cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles small peas. Stir in cheese.)

Add green onions, bacon and 3/4 cup of the buttermilk to flour and cheese mixture. Mix by hand just until all ingredients are incorporated. If dough is too dry to hold together, use remaining buttermilk, adding 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough is pliable and can be formed into a ball.

Stir as lightly and as little as possible to ensure a lighter-textured scone. (This is likely where I messed up.)

Remove dough from bowl and place it on a lightly floured flat surface. Pat dough into a ball. Using a well-floured rolling pin, flatten dough into a circle or rectangle about 1/2 inch thick (the circle might be anywhere from 8-10 inches wide).

Cut dough into 8 wedges, if your dough is a circle. To make smaller scones, divide a rectangle or dough into squares and cut along the diagonal to make little triangles. 

Whisk egg and water in a small mixing bowl to combine.

Brush each wedge with egg wash.

Place scones on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown and no longer sticky in the middle. Serve warm. To freeze: Allow to cool completely and store in an airtight freezer bag (and reheat in the microwave for about 2 minutes on medium power).

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pasta with Chicken, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Gorgonzola, and Pine Nuts

At my house, this is what we call "Vintage Smokey." It is, after all, the first meal that I cooked for my boyfriend after we met. And nearly 4 years later, it remains his single most frequent request.

It's another goodie from Epicurious. But at this point, I don't rely very heavily on the recipe. I know I add more of just about everything. More cheese. More prociutto. More sun-dried tomatoes. Who needs measuring cups, right? I just eye-ball it.

As for pasta, the recipe calls for shells or gnocchi, but really, you can use whatever you want. These pictures depict a version using orechiette, which in my opinion, is basically just a more sophisticated version of shells.

The only other change I make is to cut the chicken before I cook it. I am under the illusion that it shortens cooking time, though to be honest, I've never checked.

Pasta with Chicken, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Gorgonzola, and Pine Nuts
(adapted from Epicurious)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (2 tablespoons oil reserved)
  • 2 skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 9 ounces total)
  • 1 pound gnocchi pasta or medium shell pasta
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/3(-ish) cup canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1/3(-ish) cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • 1/4 to1/2 cup chopped prosciutto
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Heat 1 tablespoon oil reserved from tomatoes in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to skillet and sauté until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate and cool; do not clean skillet.
Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain pasta; transfer to large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon tomato oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic; sauté until tender, about 1 minute. Add sun-dried tomatoes, chicken, basil, broth, cheese and prosciutto to skillet and bring to boil.

Add sauce to pasta and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with pine nuts and serve.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Golden Rum Cake

I generally stay away from cake mix cakes. Not because I don't enjoy them, but because I like to challenge myself when I bake, and it just seems like a cop-out to start with a box of Betty Crocker.

When time is short, however, and outcome important (e.g., when you have only an hour or two to put together something for a girls' get-together 45 miles away), nothing beats a short cut. Combine that with a hearty helping of booze, and you have what I like to call "magic."

For this particular occasion, I turned to Allrecipes, typed "rum cake" into the search field, and sorted by rating. This one came out squarely on top, with a perfect 5-star rating and 866 reviews. I figured, 866 can't be wrong, right?

The reviews around the dinner table are in, and I can officially add my rave to the mix. Easy, moist, rummy and delicious. What could be better than that?

Golden Bundt Cake
(adapted a tiny bit from Allrecipes)

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
  • 1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark rum

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan. Sprinkle chopped nuts evenly over the bottom of the pan.

    In a large bowl, combine cake mix and pudding mix. Mix in the eggs, 1/2 cup water, oil and 1/2 cup rum. Blend well. Pour batter over chopped nuts in the pan.

    Bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let sit for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto serving plate.

    While cake sits, make the glaze by combining butter, 14 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and continue to boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup rum.

    Pour half the glaze into the bundt pan. Reisert cake. Using a meat fork, a skewer, or a chopstick, poke holes in the bottom of the cake. Carefully pour the rest of the glaze over the cake, and let sit for at least an hour.

    Beef with Spicy Cocoa Gravy

    Ok. I get it. Beef, noodles, and gravy do not exactly equal Spring cuisine. In my defense, however, the past few weeks has brought more rain and chilly weather than we saw in January and February combined. San Francisco is just like that, I guess. Living here means throwing out all rules for "seasonal" wardrobe and cuisine!

    This dish is comfort food at its finest. A cross between beef burgundy and a mole sauce, it boasts a complex array of flavors and a hugely satisfying aroma. Don't be put off by the long ingredient list. While you might end up having to purchase (or substitute) a few spices, it's a breeze to prepare. Basically, you just mix the spices, toss in some cubed meat, brown it, add your liquids, cover, and try to stay patient while the beef becomes melt-in-your-mouth tender.

    Re: the wine, I used a Barbera from Robledo Family Winery, one of our favorite stops when we're in Sonoma. It worked beautifully, both as an ingredient and as an accompaniment. Yum!

    Beef with Spicy Cocoa Gravy

    • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
    • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chile powder
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
    • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1 1/2 pounds trimmed top round steak, cut into 1" cubes
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
    • 1/2 cup chopped onion
    • 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
    • 1/2 cup dry red wine
    • 14.5 ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
    • 2 cups beef broth
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa, coriander, ancho powder, cumin, garlic, oregano, paprika and cinnamon. Add beef and toss to coat. Remove beef and set aside. Stir in flour to the remaining spices and return beef - toss well to evenly coat the pieces.
    In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add half of the beef mixture to pan and sauté until brown on all sides - about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove beef from pan and add remaining oil. Repeat browning with the remaining beef mixture - remove when browned.
    Add onions and bell pepper into the Dutch oven and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes tender. Pour in wine and tomatoes - cook 3 minutes. Mix in beef broth, salt and black pepper. Add the browned beef back into the pan - cover, reduce heat and simmer until the beef is tender - about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

    Sunday, March 18, 2012

    Chicken with Mustard Cream Sauce

    I love me a good pan sauce. Especially one with not one, but two types of mustard. And brandy. And cream.

    Need I say more?

    This dish is going in the rotation immediately. It's easy. It uses ingredients I tend to have on hand. And it makes GREAT leftovers. My co-workers are jealous.

    I served it with couscous. This in and of itself is not newsworthy, as I serve just about everything with couscous, but it's used to great effect here. It really sops up the yummy sauce, and is not the least bit heavy. The cream takes care of that :-)

    Chicken with Mustard Cream Sauce
    (adapted VERY slightly from The Pioneer Woman Cooks)

    • 4 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

    • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
    • 2 Tablespoons Butter
    • 3 whole Garlic Cloves, Minced
    • 1 cup Brandy
    • 1 Tablespoon (heaping) Dijon Mustard
    • 1 Tablespoon (heaping) Grainy Mustard
    • 1/4 cup Heavy Cream
    • 1/4 cup Chicken Broth
    • Salt And Pepper, to taste
    Cut the chicken breasts in half lengthwise so that you have eight smaller, thinner chicken cutlets. Salt and pepper both sides.

    Heat oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook cutlets on both sides until nice and golden brown and cooked through. Remove chicken from the skillet and keep on a plate. (No need to keep warm)

    Reduce the heat to medium. Add the garlic to the pan and saute it for a minute, stirring to make sure it won't burn. Next pour in the brandy being careful if cooking over an open flame.

    Then just let the booze bubble up and cook until it's reduced by half.

    Throw in the mustards and stir to combine, then pour in the cream. Stir in chicken broth, adding more if the sauce seems too thick. Taste sauce and adjust whatever you think it needs. Add chicken breasts back to the pan, nestling them into the sauce. Allow sauce to cook for another few minutes, shaking the pan if needed to move things around.

    Serve chicken with couscous, spooning the sauce over the top.

    Chocolate Chip Thin Mint Cookies

    I have a confession to make. I was never a Girl Scout. I never made it past Brownies.

    I did, however, sell Girl Scout cookies. Back in the day, Samoas were my favorite, closely followed by Tagalongs. I couldn't understand why we couldn't get them year round. No matter how many boxes my parents bought, it was never enough to last through the year...

    Fast forward 25(-ish) years, and both the times and my tastes have changes. Now I'm a sucker for Thin Mints, preferably straight from the freezer. And pre-ordering is a thing of the past. Now, we can simply walk down the street any day in March and pick up a box or two from the corner Girl Scout.

    This innovation in delivery is what makes cookies like this possible. In the past, I would be too afraid of wasting precious Thin Mints to bake them into cookies. Now, I feel assured that if I use them up, I can buy more.

    That deserves a big HUZZAH.

    As for these cookies, I can see them becoming a yearly tradition. Consistency-wise, they remind me a LOT of the Mexican Chocolate Chip Cookies already on this blog -- soft, delicate, and buttery. I had to omit the peppermint extract, as I accidentally dumped my last bottle in a batch of ginger shortbread (oops!), but I didn't miss it a bit. The Thin Mints added plenty of mint all on their own.

    Chocolate Chip Thin Mint Cookies
    (from Sweet Pea's Kitchen)

    ¼ cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract (or sub an extra 1/4 teaspoon vanilla)
  • 11 broken pieces Thin Mint Cookies
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

    In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

    In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, and sugars until combined. Reduce speed to low and add egg, vanilla (and peppermint extract, if using); mix until combined. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips and Thin Mint Cookies until just combined.

    Drop by rounded tablespoons of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets spacing 1 1/2-inches between each. Bake cookies until edges have just begun to set but centers are still very soft, 8-10 minutes.

    Let cool on baking sheet for 3 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

    Sunday, March 11, 2012

    Lemon-Garlic Pasta with Marscapone and Shrimp

    It's not very often that I find myself with an extra tub of mascapone in the fridge, but that's exactly the (random) situation that inspired me to try this dish... And I am SO glad I did.

    Healthy, it's not, but oh, so delicious!

    I cannot recommend this highly enough. It is easy enough for a weeknight, but fancy enough for guests. I used a a bag of "argentian" shrimp from Trader Joe's -- a variety that claimed to taste like lobster -- and it proved to be a perfect choice. So succulent they melted in your mouth!

    I have to thank Jose at Pink Parsley for the recipe. I followed it to a T, except that I subbed penne for liguini (due to my boyfriend's aversion to long pasta).

    It makes me proud to pass it on. enjoy!

    Lemon-Garlic Pasta with Mascapone and Shrimp
    (from Pink Parsley)
    • kosher salt
    • 8 oz dried pasta
    • 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
    • juice of 1 lemon
    • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
    • freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 Tbs butter
    • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
    • 1 small shallot, thinly sliced into rings
    • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
    • 1/4 cup dry white wine
    • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
    • 2 Tbs minced fresh chives
    • lemon slices, for serving
    Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil.  Add the linguine and cook until just al dente, 7 to 8 minutes.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta wat

    Meanwhile, pat the shrimp dry and toss with half the lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.

    In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, melt the butter until the foaming subsides.  Add the shallot, garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring continuously, until the garlic is just turning brown, about 1 minute.  Add the shrimp and cook about 90 seconds on one side.  Turn the shrimp, reduce the heat to medium, and add the white wine and half the lemon juice.

    Bring to a boil and cook about 1 minute.  Add the mascarpone, reserved pasta water, and linguine, and toss to coat.  Cook an addtional 1-2 minutes, or until the pasta is well coated and the sauce has thickened.  Mix in the remaining lemon zest and juice, and the chives.  Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary, and serve immediately with lemon slices.

    Sunday, February 26, 2012

    Mexican Chocolate Mousse with Burnt Rum

     Ah, chocolate and booze. Two of my favorite things, together again. A perfect -- PERFECT -- conclusion to an extremely satisfying Valentine's Day dinner.

    The recipe, an Epicurious 4-forker, was fun and surprisingly, easier than I expected. Imean, is there anything more exciting than playing with fire in the kitchen? Or any better excuse for getting a man to help you?

    I think not.

    As I look at this picture, I realize that I probably should have placed the goblet in front of a bottle of rum, but c'est la vie. It's a nice commemoration of a truly special chardonnay, from one of my favorite wineries to visit in Sonoma. If you're ever in the area, it's THE place to plan a picnic lunch.

    Just sayin'.

    Mexican Chocolate Mousse with Burnt Rum
    (from Epicurious)
    • 1 18.6-ounce box Mexican chocolate,* chopped
    • 1/2 cup whole milk
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt
    • 3/4 cup white rum
    • 4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided

    Stir chocolate, milk, and salt in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until chocolate melts. Stir constantly until all sugar in chocolate is dissolved, about 13 minutes. Add rum to chocolate; using long match, immediately ignite rum. Carefully stir chocolate mixture with long spoon until flames subside.

    Transfer chocolate to large bowl. Cool to room temperature.

    Using electric mixer, beat 3 cups cream in large bowl until peaks form.* Working in 2 batches, fold whipped cream into chocolate mixture.

    Divide chocolate mousse among 12 glasses, about 3/4 cup for each. Chill mousse until set, at least 3 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)

    If desired, beat remaining 1 cup cream until peaks form. Place dollop of whipped cream atop mousse in each glass.

    Serve with Cinammon Almond Cookies (recipe to follow).

    *I highly recommend chilling both the bowl and the beaters before whipping the cream. It makes the process a breeze.

    Monday, February 20, 2012

    Shredded Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta and Garlic

    I have a confession to make. I'm not much of a vegetable eater. In fact, there are a number of veggies that I won't touch with a 10-foot spoon. And unless ketchup and tomato sauce count as vegetables, I pretty much never get my recommended servings.

    My significant other, however, is the exact opposite. He could likely subsist on greens alone and be perfectly content.  I know his veggie consumption has decreased considerably since I moved in, so for Valentine's Day, I wanted to do something nice and make something nutritious. Or at least, nutritious-ish.

    Amazingly, I actually happen to like brussels sprouts -- at least when they're shredded and carmelized with some tasty pork fat. This marks the first time I've ever tried to make them on my own, and I'm happy to report thaelf that t my attempt was a marked success.

    There are dozens of recipes out there on the blogosphere, and I imagine that most, if not all, will produce similarly fabulous results. All else being equal, I went with a version on Skinnytaste, so I could convince myself that the calories in the oil and pancetta don't count. The brussels sprouts cancel those out, right?


    Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Garlic
    (from Skinnytaste)
  • 2 oz pancetta, minced
  • 2 lb brussels sprouts (weight after outer leaves and stems removed)
  • 1.5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or sliced thin
  • kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

  • With a large sharp knife, finely shred the brussels sprouts after thoroughly washing.

    In a deep heavy saute pan, sauté pancetta on medium-low heat until fat melts and pancetta becomes golden, about 5 minutes. Add olive oil and garlic and sauté until golden. Add shredded brussels sprouts, salt and pepper to taste and sauté on medium-low heat for about 4-5 minutes until tender and crisp.

    Sunday, February 12, 2012

    Crispy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

     Notice a theme here?

    Yes, after purchasing an entire box of Rice Krispies to supply the small amount required for the Crispy Bacon-Cheese Puffs, I was left with a LOT of leftovers. Not being a huge-fan of either Rice Kripies in a bowl or those marshmallowy Rice Krispies treats, I was faced with the challenge of finding something tasty to do with them. Something "out-of-the-box, if you will.

    The recipe, courtesy of Joy of Baking, fit the bill PERFECTLY, and has earned a permanent spot in my recipe book. I didn't change a thing and ended up with  an incredibly satisfying batch of cookies. I loved that they were simultaneously familiar, yet unique; comforting, yet exciting. Best part -- they stayed unbelievably fresh when stored in an air-tight container for at least 5 day. Not that it was easy to make them last that long...

    Crispy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

    • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted buttter, room temperature
    • 1 cup granulated white sugar
    • 3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla  extract
    • 2 cups all purpose flour 
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
    • 2 cups crisp rice cereal
    • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

    In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugars until smooth and creamy (about 2 - 3 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

    In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat until incorporated. Stir in the oats, and then gently stir in the rice cereal and chocolate chips. 

    Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the  prepared baking sheets, and bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned. For chewy cookies, slightly under bake. For crunchy cookies, bake a few minutes longer. Remove from oven and let the cookies cool a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

    Makes about 60 cookies.

    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    Crispy Bacon-Cheese Puffs

    Ah, nastalgia!  My mother used to make these fun little puffs every once in awhile when I was a kid, and although I don't know that they've touched my lips in 20 years, I've never quite forgotten them...the sharp cheddar cheese, the crunchy bacon, the rice crispies, all rolled up into buttery balls... They were like cheese straws, only better. In my 10-year-old brain, they nothing short of legendary.
    This is why, when Super Bowl time came around and the challenge of creating a crowd-pleasing appetizer came up, all I could think of was these cheese thingies. It is also why, when a nasty cold crept up right before the Big Game and side-lined my party attendance, I had to make these snacks anyway  Even if I was the only one to enjoy them.
    Thankfully, my mother still had the recipe on an old 3x5 index card, and thankfully, save for the bizarre name ("Cheese Pastry Snacks," which sounds like something from a Chinese bakery), they were EXACTLY as I remember them.

    The process is simple.  You just dump a bunch of delicious ingredients into a bowl... Mix them up.... Roll them into little balls, sprinkled with paprika...   Nuke 'em... AND PLAY!
    What can I say? These little puffs bring out the kid in me :-)

    Crispy Bacon-Cheese Puffs(source unknown)

    • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
    • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 cup coarse crushed rice crispies
    • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
    • 1/2 tsp. garlic salt
    • 1/3 cup butter, softenend
    • 6 strips crisp cooked bacon, crumbled
    • 2 tblsp. cold water
    Drop 7 level tblsp fulls in a circle onto each of 3 lightly buttered plates. (Butter plates only around deges, where dough will be placed.)
    Sprinkle with paprika, Microwave 1 plate at a time.
    Microwave at High 2 3/4 to 3 1/4 minutes, rotating dish after 1 1/2 min.  Dough will be slightly puffed when done and will crisp on drying.  Remove immediately from plate.  Serve hot or cold.


    Monday, January 30, 2012

    Tuna Noodle Casserole, Redux

     I really can't explain why, but the moment I saw this recipe, I couldn't stop thinking about it. You might think that I grew up eating tuna noodle casserole, and that nostalgia was at work -- but that's not it. There was just something about the combination of flavors -- shitake and portabello mushrooms, a rich roux, dry sherry, and crispy panko breadcrumbs -- that had me obsessed.

    I knew that trying to sell my boyfriend on this for Sunday dinner would be tough, so I took advantage of his being away on a business trip to whip it up. Good thing, too, because I think I dirtied just about every pan in the kitchen, and he would have had a heart attack thinking that he would have to clean it all up.

    I suppose that making tuna casserole the old fashioned way (i.e., with cream of mushroom soup and canned mushrooms) would have been simpler -- and not quite as messy. Nonetheless, after tasting this baby, I know that I can never go back. It's just so darned satisfying. Comfort food at its finest.

    And because I'm by myself this week (and nursing a nasty head cold), it's all for me!

     Tuna Noodle Casserole, Redux
    (from food52)

    • 5 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
    • 1 cup sliced shitake mushrooms
    • I cup diced portabello mushrooms 
    • 1 small yellow onion, diced
    • 1 shallot, diced
    • 1 celery stalk, diced
    • 1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
    • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, miced
    • 1 tablespoon chives, miced
    • 1/4 cup dry sherry
    • 1/4 cup flour
    • 1 cup whole milk
    • 1/2 cup chicken stock
    • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
    • 1 cans packed tuna, drained
    • 8 ounces egg noodles, cooked al dente and drained
    • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
    Preheat your oven to 350F. In a large sautee pan, heat 1 Tbs. of butter over medium-high until foaming. Stir in mushrooms and cook until mushrooms have given off all of their liquid and cooked through (10 or so minutes). Season lightly with salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
    Add another 1/2 Tbs. butter to the frying pan, then cook onion, shallot and celery together for about 5 minutes, until softened. Stir in the chopped herbs and the sherry and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir the mushrooms into this mixture, then set this aside.
    In a saucepan, heat 3 Tbs. of butter over medium-high until foaming. Stir in the flour to make a roux and cook for about 2 minutes. Then whisk in the milk and chicken stock, bit by bit, to make a smooth sauce. Cook, stirring, until just slightly thickened (another minute or two). Then add the lemon zest and season with salt and pepper to taste.
    Flake the tuna and combine the tuna, the white sauce, the mushroom-onion mixture, and the noodles all together. Grease and 8X8 inch baking pan and transfer the casserole mixture into it.
    In a small pan, melt the last Tbs. of butter. Stir in the minced garlic and the panko breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until the panko is golden brown. Sprinkle this all over the casserole. Put the casserole in the oven and bake until it is bubbly, about 30 minutes.