Saturday, April 30, 2011

Crispy + Creamy = Arancini

I first discovered arancini last year when we visited Boston (and basically ate our way through the North End). I was immediately in love (with Boston, yes, but with arancini in particular). In fact, I even ranked them #6 on my list of all-time best vacation foods!

I had never heard of arancini before I found them in Boston, and little did I know that my life was not complete. They are fried rice balls filled with ragu and they originated in Sicily. Their name comes from their shape and color ... arancia means orange in Italian. They are absolutely delicious and I might even say they're my favorite Italian food. They're crispy, creamy and saucy all at once!

Arancini were in my recipe wishlist, and given the complex and time-consuming nature of preparing both the risotto and ragu required for them, I knew they'd be a weekend project. Start to finish, dinner took me about two and a half hours to cook tonight (during the down time I was even able to squeeze in a batch of red velvet cookies!). But it was so worth it!

Sicilian Style Arancini
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup Arborio rice
1/4 dry white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup bolognese sauce (recipe follows)
Vegetable oil for frying
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup dry Italian bread crumbs

To make the risotto, in a saucepan bring broth to a simmer. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until transparent, about 4 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, until rice is opaque and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the white wine and cook, stirring until absorbed. While continually stirring with a wooden spoon, begin adding the broth in 1/2-cup increments, allowing the liquid to become completely absorbed by the rice between additions. Cook until the rice is just tender and the risotto is creamy, about 20 minutes. Add the grated cheese, heavy cream, salt and pepper and stir to combine well. Transfer to a mixing bowl and refrigerate until chilled.

When ready to make the arancini, remove the chilled risotto from the refrigerator. Using a small scoop, divide the risotto in about 3-tablespoon sized portions. Form the portions into balls using your hands.

Press a hole into each risotto ball and stuff the center with a heaping teaspoon of the bolognese sauce. Press the opening closed and roll the ball between your hands until it is smooth. Set aside while you prepare the other arancini. Refrigerate 20 minutes to allow balls to set up before coating and drying.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 inches of oil to 360 degrees. Place the flour, egg, and bread crumbs in 3 separate bowls. One by one, lightly dredge each risotto ball in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs, so that each ball is completely coated.

Fry the balls in batches, a few at a time, turning once during cooking so that they are evenly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain briefly before serving. Serve hot on top of remaining bolognese with a sprinkle of parmesan.

Bolognese Sauce
2 slices bacon, diced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1/3 cup celery, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1 tablespoon white wine
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
3/4 cup beef broth
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon frozen peas
1 cup tomato sauce

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, cook bacon until it is crisp and has released almost all of its fat, about 6 minutes. Add the onion, carrots, celery, salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are very soft and lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Add the ground beef and ground pork and cook, stirring to break up any clumps, until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes. Drain fat from pan. Add the wine, garlic, and tomato paste and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the beef broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, 10 to 15 minutes.

Combine the milk and cream in a cup. After the sauce has simmered for 15 minutes, add the milk-cream mixture at even intervals over 20 minutes. At the end of 20 minutes, the milk mixture should be completely incorporated and the sauce should be thick and creamy. Add frozen peas. Remove 1/4 cup sauce for the arancini and place in a small bowl. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Stir in tomato sauce and simmer until ready to serve.

As I told Bill after dinner, it's a good thing these were such a success because I would have been pissed off if the dinner that took me almost 3 hours to cook had been bad! Bill even said they were better than the arancini at Glorioso's, the Italian market on Brady Street. I haven't had Glorioso's arancini so I can't compare, but I can say that I came pretty close to replicating the deliciousness we had in Boston :)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

English Muffin-ish

If you saw my posts on Facebook and Twitter this weekend, you know that I set out to make English Muffins on Saturday. And no, it was not the royal wedding that compelled me to do it. English muffins are on my recipe wishlist, and I've been wanting to try them for quite some time.

As usual, I didn't do my homework before I embarked on this project. So I had no idea what to expect and I had no other recipes to which I could compare the one I chose. I simply spotted it in my Cooking Light cookbook and said "Let's do it!"

Had I done my homework, however, I would have achieved more successful results. It's not that my English muffins weren't good. They were fine. But they were missing an integral element ... they were missing what makes an English muffin an English muffin ... they were missing the nooks and crannies!

Since my foray into English muffin-making, I've done a lot of research. I've learned that Thomas' nooks and crannies are extremely proprietary. I've learned that Alton Brown has a recipe that a lot of bloggers think is perfect. I've learned that the wetter the dough, the airier your muffins. And most importantly, I think, I've learned that griddling is an important step in the process.

Now I vaguely recall seeing a bit about English muffins on an episode of "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." And I remember those muffins being griddled. Why that didn't occur to me when my recipe called for just baking, I don't know. But I wish it had, because I would have looked further than just one book before I set foot in the kitchen.

So my quest for perfect English muffins will continue, but in the meantime, here's my passable recipe:

English Muffins
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3 1/2 cups flour
1 egg, lightly beaten

Cook milk in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat to 180 degrees or until tiny bubbles form around edges (do not boil). Remove from heat. Pour milk into a large bowl. Stir in oil, sugar, and salt. Cool mixture to about 90 degrees.

Dissolve yeast in warm water (100 to 110 degrees); let stand 5 minutes. Add yeast mixture, 3 cups flour, and egg to milk mixture, stirring well. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent the dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel sticky). Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 45 minutes or until dough doubles in size.

Punch dough down, and divide in half. Working with one portion at a time, roll each portion to 1/4-inch thickness. Let dough rest about 5 minutes. Cut with a 4-inch biscuit cutter into 8 muffins. Place muffins on a large baking sheet. Repeat procedure with the remaining dough. Cover and let ride 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 7 minutes. Turn muffins over, and bake an additional 7 minutes or until light and fluffy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Roast Remakes: Pork Fried Rice & Pork Empanadas

So like I said yesterday, I have a lot of leftovers from our slow-roasted pork. Luckily, the possibilities for using them up are endless .. and delicious!

Yesterday's dinner was pork fried rice and today's was pork empanadas. Both were amazing .. so amazing that I'm not even sure I could pick which I liked better. The fried rice recipe was one of the recipes to follow the original in the "One Great Roast, Three Great Meals" chapter in Cooking for Two 2011. The empanadas were in the same chapter, following a slightly different recipe, in the 2010 edition.

I modified both recipes a bit (the empanadas more so than the rice), but at least used the books as guidelines. I suppose you could say I got a bit brave with the rice, swapping out a few ingredients and incorporating a couple different techniques (the steaming of the broccolini, for example). Luckily, my changes worked well - because this rice was SO much better than take-out! I changed the flavor profile of the empanadas by omitting called-for raisins and green olives (which would never fly with Bill), and kicking up the heat with a chipotle chili. I also made a yummy pineapple salsa (my very own recipe!) to accompany it, which cooled it down just enough!

Pork Fried Rice
3 teaspoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup long-grain white rice
1 1/4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 bunch broccolini, stems trimmed, chopped fine
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
4 oz. white mushrooms, chopped
1 shallot, sliced thin
3 scallions, white parts minced, green parts sliced thin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups cooked pork, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in rice and cook until edges of grains begin to turn translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in water and salt, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until all liquid is absorbed, 16 to 18 minutes.

Off heat, uncover saucepan, add broccolini to pan, and place clean kitchen towel folded in half over pan, then replace lid. Let rice and broccolini stand for 10 minutes (the steam will cook the broccolini).

Heat non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add egg and cook, without stirring, until just beginning to set, about 20 seconds, then scramble until egg is cooked through but not browned, about 1 minute longer. Transfer egg to small bowl.

Combine soy sauce and hot sauce in a small bowl. Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in mushrooms and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in scallion whites, shallot, ginger, garlic, and sugar and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in pork and soy sauce mixture and continue to cook until rice is coated in sauce and pork is warmed through, 2 to 4 minutes longer.

Off heat, stir in scallion greens and scrambled egg, season with additional soy sauce to taste, and serve.

Pork Empanadas with Pineapple Salsa
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 chipotle chili in adobo, minced
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
10 oz. cooked pork, chopped fine
Salt and pepper
1 recipe Empanada Dough (recipe follows)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Pineapple salsa (recipe follows)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, chili powder, and chipotle chili, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth and cheese and cook until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in pork and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll each out into a 10-inch round, about 3/8-inch thick, on a lightly floured surface and cut each in half. Spread 1/2 cup filling over half of each piece of dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border along the edge. Gently press the filling to compact it, then brush the edge of the dough with water. Fold the other half of the dough over the filling, press the edges to seal, and crimp with a fork.

Transfer the empanadas to the prepared baking sheet. Brush with egg and bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Empanada Dough
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter, chilled, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup ice water

Process flour, sugar, and salt together in a food processor until combined. Scatter the butter over the top and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the water over the flour mixture and stir it in with a stiff rubber spatula. Stir in remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pressing the dough against the side of the bowl until it sticks together.

Turn the dough out onto a clean, floured surface. Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Shape each one into a ball and flatten into a 5-inch disk; wrap each piece with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Before rolling out the dough, let sit on the counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.

Pineapple Salsa
1/2 of a fresh pineapple, peeled, cored, and chopped fine
1/4 of a red onion, minced
1/2 of a jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, minced
1 galic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
Juice plus zest of 1/2 lime

Combine all ingredients in small bowl. Toss. Chill until ready to serve.

Monday, April 25, 2011

No Ifs, Ands or (Pork) Butts!

Easter sounds like a holiday that calls for a roast, so it was the perfect opportunity to break out my latest copy of Cooking for Two and turn to the "One Big Roast, Three Great Meals" chapter. This time I chose Slow-Roasted Pork with Peach Sauce, which is supposed to be followed by Cuban Sandwiches, Spicy Mexican Pork Stew with Hominy, and Pork Fried Rice. The recipe calls for a roast large enough to accommodate all three of those leftover recipes, but they're not all Bill-friendly. Cuban sandwiches are a big no-no because there are condiments involved, and I highly doubt hominy is on Bill's list of favorites. (The pork fried rice, on the other hand, is on that list.)

Luckily, there are TONS of other Test Kitchen recipes that require pork, so I've already found a few more that will takes the place of the ones Bill won't like. Tomorrow, for example, we'll have pork empanadas. Yum!

Slow Roasted Pork with Peach Sauce
1 (6 to 8 lb.) bone-in pork butt
1/3 cup brown sugar
Kosher salt
1 cup frozen peaches
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
 sprig fresh thyme

Using a sharp knife, cut slits 1 inch across in crosshatch pattern in fat cap of roast, being careful not to cut into meat. Combine brown sugar and 1/3 cup kosher salt, then rub mixture over entire roast and into slits. Wrap roast tightly in double layer of plastic wrap, place on rimmed baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Coat V-rack with cooking spray and set inside large roasting pan. Unwrap roast, brush any extra salt mixture from surface, and season with pepper. Place roast on prepared V-rack and pour 1 quart water into roasting pan.

Cook meat, basting twice during cooking, until meat is extremely tender and registers 190 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 5 to 6 hours. Transfer roast to carving board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 1 hour. Pour liquid from roasting pan into fat separator. Let jus settle for 5 minutes, then pour off and reserve 2 tablespoons defatted jus.

Bring reserved 2 tablespoons defatted jus, peaches, wine, sugar, vinegar, and thyme to simmer in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 3/4 cup, 20 to 30 minutes. Off heat, remove thyme and cover sauce to keep warm.

Using sharp paring knife, cut around inverted T-shaped bone and pull free from roast. Using serrated knife, slice roast. Serve, passing sauce.

This was hands down the BEST roast I've ever made. I'm not sure exactly what it was that made it so delicious, but the meat was moist and tender (I took my 5.6-pound roast out of the oven after a little more than 4 hours), and it formed a perfectly crunchy, salty crust (I love the crusty, burnt bits best). I may have to find more excuses - besides holidays - to make this delicious dish. It's one amazing meal that has endless possibilities to turn into more awesome dinners! Stay tuned for my leftover recipes :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter Cupcakes!

Cake balls used to be something I made only at Christmastime, and rightfully so because they're a lot of work. But they're so cute and everyone likes them so much, I've decided I can't limit them to just one holiday. The themed cake ball possibilities are endless ... you can make them for any occasion! The last time I made them I made footballs for the Super Bowl, so I figured why not try Easter eggs for Easter?
The problem with making cake balls more than once a year is that they're a huge process. I typically take three or four days to complete all the steps in cake ball-making. I won't repeat the recipe because you can find it here in my football cake ball post, but I will walk you through the steps in photos.

This project was made slightly more complex by the fact that I was making my cake balls in order to decorate cupcakes. It was so much work, but so worth it!

Easter Egg Hunt Cupcakes
Step 1 (Day 1): Bake your cake; let cool.

As you'll recall from the football cake ball recipe, cake balls require just one box of cake mix (but they yield dozens of balls). To shave off some time in the ball-making process, I poured half of my prepared cake batter in an 8x8-inch square baking pan, and with the other half of the batter made 6 cupcakes. Given that I was making cupcakes anyway, this seemed like a stroke of genius.

Step 2 (Day 2): Roll your cake balls; let set.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the most painstaking step in the process, especially when you're trying to achieve a specific shape like I was with my Easter eggs. I'm sure that an easier way to do this would be to press the cake-frosting mixture into candy molds. And I fully intended to go to Michael's in search of Easter egg-shaped molds, but I never made it there. That'll be a note for next time.

Step 3 (Day 3): Bake another batch of cupcakes because your husband ate the first batch.

Ok, so I was planning to bake a second batch of cupcakes anyway because the 6 that came out of the first box wouldn't have been enough. But Bill really did eat 5 of those 6 original cupcakes. And it looks like he may have pilfered one of these, too!

Step 4 (Day 3): Dip and decorate your cake balls; let set.

I've always found the dipping of the cake balls to be the most difficult step because it's nearly impossible to get them evenly coated and smooth. So, yes, they look messy. But when I peeled them off the wax paper and nestled them on my cupcakes they looked quite cute. You'll see.

Step 5 (Day 4): Frost and decorate your cupcakes.

My plan was to nestle my Easter egg cake balls in a bed of coconut "grass" on top of my cupcakes. The photo turned out a little yellow, but my coconut actually looked really good! I learned that the secret to evenly coloring coconut is to squeeze a few drops of food coloring into a plastic container, then add the coconut, close it up and shake it vigorously. Never add the food coloring directly to the coconut because the portion that it hits will absorb it immediately, failing the evenly coat the remaining coconut.

I also added green food coloring to my can of vanilla frosting. After frosting all of my cupcakes, I dipped them in the colored coconut, gently rolling them to coat the edges.

Step 6 (Day 4): Finish the cupcakes off with a cake ball on top!

Ta da! Super cute Easter Egg Hunt Cupcakes! To make sure the eggs stayed in place, I dabbed a bit of frosting on the bottom before placing them on the cupcakes. And here's a helpful hint: if you accidentally take a little chunk out of a cake ball in the process of removing some of the excess chocolate around the edges, you can hide that imperfection with frosting!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cucina Chicago: Chicken Vesuvio

Supposedly, Chicken Vesuvio - bone-in chicken and potatoes in a white wine sauce garnished with peas - is a popular dish in Chicago. Since it's only 90 miles away, I've been to Chicago a handful of times (ok, more than a handful), and I'm surprised I've never seen it on a menu. Now that I've made it, I'm determined to find the best Chicken Vesuvio in the city ... because I'm quite sure mine could beat it, throwdown-style!

Chicken Vesuvio
1/4 cup flour
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
5 teaspoons olive oil
12 oz. red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Place flour in a shallow dish. Pat chicken breasts dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay the chicken int he skillet and cook until lightly browned on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes, flipping the breasts halfway through. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Wipe out the skillet with a wad of paper towels. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in the skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic, oregano, rosemary and 1/8 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broth and wine, scraping up any browned bits. Nestle the chicken, along with any accumulated juice, into the potatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the chicken registers 160 to 65 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 12 to 18 minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through.

Transfer the chicken to a platter and tent loosely with foil to keep warm. Increase the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender and the sauce is thickened slightly, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer potatoes to the platter with the chicken. Off the heat, stir in the peas, butter, and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the chicken and potatoes and serve.

Garlicky, lemon-y, wine-y sauces are so delicious with chicken, so this recipe was sure to be a homerun. Plus, the super creamy potatoes and peas were awesome companions to this chicken. But what I like best about this recipe is that you get the main dish and two sides all in one skillet!

BTW, I inadvertantly took a shortcut in this dish by forgetting to lower the heat when I placed the chicken back in the skillet and covered it. When it was finished cooking through, the potatoes were already tender and the sauce had already reduced (luckily nothing burned or stuck to the pan!). So I was able to omit the extra 5 to 7 potato-boiling minutes. Nice!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

And Then There Were Nada ... Enchiladas!

I think one of the first meals I made for Bill (what seems like many, many years ago) was a "Mexican Lasagna" recipe I had seen Rachael Ray prepare. It was super easy, layering flour tortillas, canned enchilada sauce, ground beef and cheese. I remember it being good, but for whatever reason it fell off the Tucker dinner menu a long time ago.

So when I saw this recipe for Beef Enchilada Casserole in one of my America's Test Kitchen cookbooks, I was anxious to try it and compare it against that old recipe. You'll see that this one is a bit more advanced than the Rachael Ray version (most likely because that was on 30 Minute Meals ... and I've learned that if you want a really good meal, it's going to take more than 30 minutes!).

Beef Enchilada Casserole
6 corn tortillas
1 (10 oz.) can Ro-Tel tomatoes
8 oz. ground beef
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, and minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup beef broth
6 oz. Colby-Jack cheese
1 teaspoon hot sauce
Salt and pepper

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

Toast 2 tortillas in a 10-inch non-stick skillet (they will overlap) over medium-high heat until bubbling and spotty brown, about 2 minutes, flipping them halfway through. Transfer to a plate and repeat twice more with remaining 4 tortillas.

Trim the tortillas into 4 1/2-inch squares, reserving the trimmings. Tear the trimmings into small pieces, combine with the Ro-Tel tomatoes and their juice in a food processor, and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Cook the beef in the skillet over medium heat, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the processed tortilla mixture.

Add the oil and onion to the skillet and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, 2 teaspoons of the minced jalapeno, chili powder, and cumin, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato sauce and beef broth and simmer until slightly thickened and reduced to 1 cup, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce mixture, 1/2 cup of the cheese, and hot sauce into the tortilla-beef mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Arrange 3 toasted tortillas in the bottom of the prepared loaf pan. Spread the beef filling evenly in the pan, then top with the remaining 3 tortillas (they may overlap slightly) and the remaining tomato sauce mixture. Bake until the filling bubbles lightly around the edges and the top of the filling begins to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup cheese and remaining minced jalapeno and continue to bake until the casserole is hot throughout and the cheese is browned in spots, about 10 minutes longer. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

This was so much better than my "Mexican Lasagna" and so worth the extra effort! Seven years ago I never would have taken the time to trim the tortillas or process the Ro-Tel tomatoes, or even make my own enchilada sauce. I understand the quick-and-easy concept, but it turns out it's just not my style any more.

On a side note, this recipe made two GIGANTIC portions. Since the recipe claimed to yield two servings, I simply cut it down the middle and dished it up. I was hungry! Bill was convinced my eyes were bigger than my stomach and bet me $20 that I couldn't clean my plate. Well, being the Man vs. Food fan that I am, I gladly accepted that challenge. And in the battle of (wo)man vs. enchilada casserole ... WOMAN WON! (However, I'm still waiting for my $20.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dry Rubbing It In

We all know that Bill is the grill master in this house, but I've been experimenting lately with chicken on my indoor grill (which is necessary when it's snowing in mid-April). My Asian Barbecue Chicken turned out so well the other night that I've been telling Bill I'm going to challenge him to a grilling throwdown, Bobby Flay style. As far as I was concerned, all I needed to do was conquer a dry rub to put a notch in my apron.

I came across this recipe in ... I'll let you guess ... one of my Cooking for Two cookbooks! It actually calls for bone-in (or in-bone if you saw Gary Busey on the Celebrity Apprentice Omaha Steaks task), skin-on chicken breasts, but I saw no reason not to substitute boneless, skinless breasts. I altered the cooking times slightly to compensate for the fact that boneless breasts cook faster, and I brushed them with a bit of oilve oil before applying the second coating of rub (to compensate for the lack of fat from the skin).

Dry-Rubbed Barbecue Chicken Breasts
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Combine sugar, paprika, chili powder, pepper, dry mustard (I don't have dry mustard so I increased the onion powder), onion powder, salt, and cayenne (I also don't have cayenne, but it's on my grocery list) in small bowl. Transfer 1 1/2 tablespoons spice mixture to pie plate; set aside for cooking.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Rub remaining spice mixture all over each breast. Transfer chicken to a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

Clean and oil cooking grate (I used the same indoor grill I used for the Asian Barbecue Chicken). Place chicken on grill. Cook until well-browned and crisp, flipping occasionally, 15 to 20 minutes.

Using tongs, lightly dredge the chicken with reserved spice rub. Continue to cook until rub has melted into glaze and chicken registers 160 to 165 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes longer.

I prefer the sticky sweetness of a sauce, but I was pleased by how well the rub carmelized on these breasts with a light brushing of oil.  This recipe was almost as good as the chicken I made on the grill last week, so I think I'm justified in rubbing Bill's nose in my grill skills :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Soon-to-be-Famous Smothered Pork Chops

I'll always remember this (and you should, too) as the recipe that made America's Test Kitchen start following me on Twitter. That may not be a huge deal, but it's not every day that a nationally-known magazine and cookbook publisher retweets your post and starts following you. Granted, it's because I posted a photo of this dish I made from their latest issue of Cook's Country. And I'm sure they follow all of their fans who tweet pictures to them. But still. This is an amateur foodie blogger breakthrough for me!

I'm sure this is already a famous recipe for the Test Kitchen, but perhaps it'll move me closer to the spotlight, too :)

Smothered Pork Chops
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 bone-in blade-cut pork chops
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon beef broth
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine onion powder, paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and cayenne (I didn't have any cayenne, so I made a chili powder-cumin combo) in small bowl. Pay chops dry with paper towels and rub with spice mixture.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown chops, 3 to 4 minutes per side, and transfer to plate. Melt butter in now empty skillet over medium heat. Cook onions until browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and thyme (I used fresh instead of dried because I had it on hand) and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in 3/4 cup broth and bay leaf, scraping up and browned bits, and bring to a boil. Return chops and any accumulated juices to pan, cover, and transfer to oven. Cook until chops are completely tender, about 1 1/2 hours (I was way too hungry to wait 1 1/2 hours - it was a weeknight! - so I cooked them for more like 40 or 45 minutes. They were still tender, juicy and delicious, but I promise I'll follow the recipe correctly next time).

Transfer chops to platter and tent with foil. Discard bay leaf (I forgot this step and it ended up on my plate - whoops!). Strain contents of skillet through fine mesh strainer into large liquid measuring cup; reserve onions. Let liquid settle, then skim fat (again, we were hunrgy ... so there may have been a little fat left in the liquid). Return 1 1/2 cups defatted pan juices to now empty skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until sauce is redcuced to 1 cup, about 5 minutes.

Whisk remaining broth and cornstarch in bowl until no lumps remain. Whisk cornstarch mixture into sauce and simmer until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in reserved onions and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

So would America's Test Kitchen still have followed me if they had known I took a shortcut with one of their Cook's Country feature recipes? Maybe not, but oh well! I was still super yummy, and a definite make-again. I served it alongside sauteed broccolini, using a recipe from Ina Garten. So easy, but so, so tasty.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fan-fudgin'-tastic Brownies

By BFF Nicole saved the day with a brownie recipe I actually succeeded at after last weekend's huge brownie fail. If you compare the two, they are very different recipes. But I think the key is that these use cocoa powder over actual chocolate, which could have contributed to my brownies' inability to set. These are also much fudgy-er, less cake-y brownies (as you can see by the small amount of flour the recipe calls for). They ended up dense, rich and delicious!

These are definitely a remake, but I'm not completely satisified .. I'm still determined to mast a cake-y brownie. So the testing will continue!

Fudgy Cocoa Brownies
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8-inch baking pan; set aside.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Off the heat, stir in cocoa. Pour butter-cocoa mixture into medium mixing bowl and stir in sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating with a hand mixer after each addition. Add vanilla, flour and salt. Beat until just combined. Do not overbeat!

Pour brownie batter into prepared baking dish and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool and serve.

Now I have to admit, I was super paranoid about getting the bake time right because I was afraid of ending up with gooey middles and charred edges. After 22 minutes in the oven, they weren't set so I put them back in for 3 minutes. After 25 minutes, they might have been set, but I was still worried so I put them back in for 2 minutes. At 27 minutes, my edges were a little browner than I would have liked, but the centers seemed about perfect. In retrospect, I probably should have taken them out at 25 minutes to avoid the crispy edges ... but if you like that sort of thing, maybe 27 minutes will be right for you!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Roast Remake: Quick Texas Chili

My leftover pot roast from Sunday night became a quick and delicious dinner later in the week, thanks to my new America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two cookbook. I LOVE the "One Big Roast, Three Great Meals" chapter (even though my big roast only yielded two great meals!). The three recipes they suggested to use up your leftover pot roast were Quick Texas Chili, Beef Enchiladas, and Beef Hand Pies. All three sounded amazing and it was tough to choose, so I just decided to make my way down the list and cook the chili first.

I already have a favorite chili recipe which, coincidentally, I made the day before I cooked my last pot roast! That recipes calls for ground beef, but occasionally I like a good chunky chili like this one. So now I have two chilis in rotation!

Quick Texas Chili
3 slices bacon, minced
1 small onion, chopped medium
4 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon minced chipotle chili in adobo
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
3/4 cup red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
7 1/2 oz. cooked beef, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper
Grated pepper jack cheese, for topping

Cook bacon in medium saucepan over medium-low heat until crsip and rendered, 5 to 7 minutes. Add onion, chili powder, chipotles, cumin, and oregano and cook until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in broth, tomato sauce, and beans (which I couldn't add because Bill would have freaked out), bring to simmer, and cook until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes. Gently stir in beef and brown sugar and continue to simmer until beef is heated through, about 2 minutes longer. Off heat, stir in lime juice (I skipped this step because after tasting it I didn't think it needed the tartness lime juice would provide), season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve (with pepper jack cheese on top!).

My one and only complaint about this recipe is that it's a bit tomato-y. I think I may have thrown in more tomato sauce than the recipe called for because my can was larger than 8 ounces and I didn't know what to do with the leftovers. I suppose that could explain the too-much tomato, but I also feel like this chili is calling out for some worchestershire or soy sauce, which would make it a bit bolder and less sweet.

Bill didn't really care for this dish (yeah, he's pretty honest about my cooking), but I think I might be able to sway him if I adjust it slightly.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Roast Post Part II

The last time I made pot roast was on a snow day in February. Well Sunday, when I decided to make a roast again, was a decidedly different kind of day. It was 80 degrees and sunny, which doesn't sound like a roast kind of day. Despite that, this meal turned out better!

My new America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two cookbook (which I'm super excited about) has a chapter called "One Big Roast, Three Great Meals." It gives you a roast recipe and three suggested recipes to use the leftovers. My roast ended up being on the small side so I was only able to get two meals out of it, but I definitely want to repeat this because it was tough to choose between the three suggested recipes for leftovers.

Classic Pot Roast with Root Vegetables
1 (3 1/2 to 4 lb.) boneless beef chuck-eye roast, cut into two roasts and trimmed
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped medium
1 celery rib, chopped medium
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup beef broth
1 cup water
8 oz. red potatoes, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3- to 4-inch lengths
2 parsnips, cut into 3- to 4-inch lengths
1/3 cup dry red wine

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Tie 3 pieces of butcher's twine around each piece of beef to prevent them from falling apart (I skipped this step and suffered no disintegrating beef). Pat beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown both roasts on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes; transfer to plate.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, onion, and celery to pot and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, sugar, and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in chicken broth, beef broth, and water, scraping up any browned bits.

Add browned roasts with any accumulated juice to pot and bring to simmer. Cover, transfer pot to oven, and cook for 2 hours, turning roasts over halfway through.

Nestle potatoes, carrots, and parsnips in pot around meat. Continue to cook, covered, until meat and vegetables are very tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours longer.

Remove pot from oven. Transfer vegetables to bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cover to keep warm. Transfer roasts to carving board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest while finishing sauce.

Strain braising liquid through fine-mesh strainer into fat separator (I don't have a fat separator, so I just strained); discard aromatics. Let jus settle for 5 minutes, then pour defatted jus back into pot. Stir in wine and simmer over medium heat until sauce measures 1 cup, 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Remove twine from roasts, cut meat against grain into 1/4-inch thick slices, and serve with vegetables and sauce.

Pick 'n Save didn't have the type of roast I wanted, so I was forced to settle for a rump roast. That leaner cut doesn't have as much flavor and is less moist, so it didn't yield a superior roast but it was still good. The meat literally fell apart, which is just how I like pot roast (vs. sliced). The veggies were awesome ... so awesome that Bill declared he loves parsnips, which I never thought I'd hear!

I made chili with the leftovers, so be on the lookout for that post.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Chef Bill Strikes Again

My BFF Nicole can attest to the fact that Bill's barbecued ribs beat all others. You wouldn't necessarily guess it, but he can grill like no other. Ribs are a summer staple in our house, but with the nice weather we had yesterday, I think Bill's decided there's no turning back: it's griling season whether Mother Nature cooperates from here on out or not.

I can't reveal his secrets because that would be grounds for divorce, but Bill made his famous ribs tonight and they were (as usual) amazing! I wish I could give you the recipe, but I guess you're just going to have to visit us for the Fourth of July instead :)

What I can tell you is Bill's new trick for tasty grilled corn on the cob. I'm not sure how he came up with this concoction, but it was super yummy (and the name is all his). My husband isn't patient enough to measure things, so I approximated:

Thyme-y Grilled Corn on the Cob
2 ears fresh corn, husked and cleaned
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Combine butter, garlic powder, thyme, parmesan, salt and pepper. Mix well. Spread over corn. Place corn on prepared grill and cook 15 to 20 minutes, turning often.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hawaii at Home!

Bill and I have a minor obsession with Hawaii, where we spent our honeymoon. We fantasize about returning just about every day. But alas, a lot more saving has to happen before we're able to go back!

You might recall in my Vacation Food post a few months ago that I declared the teriyaki chicken from the Dole Pineapple Plantation in Honolulu one of my favorite vacation meals of all time (#3 on the list of 10!). I'll never forget how tender, juicy, sweet and spicy that chicken was. And it might have been one of our favorites because it took us the most by surprise. (Seriosuly, who thinks they're going to get an amazing meal at the equivalent of Disney World for pineapple lovers??)

I hadn't attempted to recreate that chicken because I was sure it wouldn't be as good, but I came across a recipe in my Cooking Light cookbook the other day that I decided I had to try. And despite the fact that I wasn't expecting it (or maybe because of that), this chicken totally hit the mark!

You've got some competition now, Dole Plantation!

Mine may not be as pretty, but it was just as good!

Asian Barbecue Chicken
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 chicken thighs, skinned (I used just 5 because that's what was in the package I bought. And they were boneless and skinless.)
Cooking spray

Combine first 6 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; add chicken. (I suppose I should tell you that I made a few substitutions ... and mistakes ... here. I used bottled lime juice because I was too lazy to juice a fresh lime, I went overboard with the crushed red pepper because all of my measuring spoons were in the dishwasher, I didn't have curry powder so I subbed a combination of chili powder and cumin, and I forgot about the garlic completely.) Seal and marinate in refrigerator 4 hours or overnight (whoops, my marinating time was more like 45 minutes!), turning occasionally.

Prepare grill. (And by this I assume they mean an outdoor grill. But yesterday wasn't as nice as today, so I broke out my indoor, electric grill.)

Remove chicken from bag, reserving marinade. Place marinade in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute.

Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 20 minutes or until done (the boneless thighs took a bit less than 15 minutes), turning and basting frequently with cooked marinade.

I'm not kidding when I say this was the best chicken I've had SINCE we were at the Dole Plantation! With the exception of the fact that I overdid it with the red pepper, it was almost an exact replica. And yes, I'm pretty darn proud of myself :)

I served the chicken with the same Broccoli Sesame Rice that I made with Tyler's sesame chicken the other night and buttermilk biscuits, but not the same buttermilk biscuits I usually make. I looove Irene's buttermilk biscuit recipe, but I decided to switch it up last night and use the recipe in the Cooking Light book. It calls for the exact same ingredients except butter instead of shortening and a bit less salt. And I have to say ... I think I liked these buttery biscuits better (sorry, Irene!).

Sweet Redemption!

Last night I redeemed myself on two fronts: I overcame my brownie failure from the night before, and I succeeded with baked doughnuts! I promised Bill I would bake something to make up for my baking disaster on Friday night and while doughnuts may seem like a big risk, they were made much easier by one of my new kitchen accessories.

For my birthday, Tiff gave me a mini doughnut pan (which conveniently had a recipe on the packaging!). Obviously these were cake doughnuts, not yeast doughnuts, but it's a good second step toward making the real thing.

Baked Mini Cake Doughnuts
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray mini doughnut pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, sift together cake flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Add buttermilk, egg, and butter. Stir until just combined. Fill each doughnut cup approximately half full. (This was tricky because the batter is somewhat thick. I filled each cup and then scooped a bit out so they weren't overflowing.)

Bake 4 to 6 minutes (oddly enough, my first batch took 6 minutes, but my second needed 7), or until the top of doughnuts spring back when touched. Note: Top of doughnuts will not be as golden as the bottom half in the pan. Color is not an indication of doneness.

Let cool in pan 4 to 5 minutes before removing. Finish with glaze, confectioners' sugar or sprinkles. Doughnuts are best served fresh.

I have an extreme fondness for cinnamon-sugar coated doughnuts, so I choose to bypass the glaze, confectioners' sugar or sprinkles. Instead, I melted 1 tablespoon butter in a large bowl, tossed the mini doughnuts in the butter to coat, filled a large Zip-loc bag with 1/4 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and shook the buttered doughnuts in the bag. Voila! Delicious, sugar-y sweet mini cake doughnuts!

One important thing to note (aside from the color/doneness note in the recipe) is that your doughnuts are going to look more like mini bundt cakes. Maybe my cups were still a bit too full, but the tops rose well over the rim. But they were still cute. And, most importantly, yummy! Thank you, Tiff!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What Went Wrong with My Brownies?

Every so often, I have a kitchen disaster that really makes me mad. And when that disaster is baking related, it's even worse (hello, Dough-Nots!). Well last night wasn't a good one, because for the first time in a long time, I had a great big baking FAIL.

Bill asked me to bake something for him last night, and of course I was excited to do so. I haven't done a ton of baking over the last couple weeks and there are lots of recipes I wanted to try, one being espresso brownies. Unofrtunately, they didn't go as planned.

After 27 minutes in the oven at 350 degrees, I took them out, inserted a toothpick in the middle, shook the pan to double-check that they were set, and allowed them to cool. When I lifted the foil out of the pan and cut off a corner to taste them, they were still gooey inside. (And not yummy, chocolate-y gooey, just super undercooked gooey.) Thinking I could save them, I turned the oven back on and put them back in. It took almost 20 minutes, with periodic checking, before they seemed to be cooked all the way through and I took them out again.

When they cooled and I tried to serve them, the edges (at least the ones that hadn't burnt) were delicious. But the center still wasn't completely cooked through! The only thing I can imagine went wrong is that I used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter sticks for baking instead of real butter. But I often use I Can't Believe It's Not Butter for baking, and I've never had a problem like this.

If, after looking at the recipe, you have any idea where I might have gone wrong, please, please let me know. Or if you also think it was the butter, maybe I'll just have to try them again (with real butter this time!). This is the second batch of brownies I've ruined (the last was almost a year ago and it was so traumatic that I hadn't attempted brownies since!). I refuse to fail at them again. What good am I if I don't have basic brownies in my repertoire?!

Espresso Brownies
1 cup butter, cut into pieces
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup instant espresso powder
1/4 cup coffee liqueur
2 teaspoons vanilla

Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over the edges of the pan. Grease foil and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, combine butter and chocolate. Cook and stir over low heat until melted. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a alrge bowl, combine eggs, sugar, espresso powder, coffee liqueur, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in cooled chocolate mixture. Add flour mixture, stirring just until combined. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until top appears set and dry. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Using the edges of the foil, lift brownies out of pan. Cut into bars and serve.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Makin' Baked Rigatoni

We've been a little fixated on Tyler Florence this week, but since rediscovering that cookbook I just can't put it down. (Although I did get a new edition of America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two in the mail today, and I have a feeling we'll be talking a lot about that next week!)

Everyone loves baked pasta in all it's gooey, cheesey glory. And I figured Tyler's ultimate version would have to be amazing. I've never had super great luck with baked pasta because I haven't been able to get the crisp, golden, bubbly crust that should be on top. I either don't have the patience and just pull it out of the oven when I think it's heated through, or I forget about it and end up charring it a little. Whoops! Despite the fact that I was starving, I mustered all of my patience to pull this one off right!

Baked Rigatoni with Eggplant and Sausage
Olive oil
3 links Italian sausage
1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large can peeled whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 pound rigatoni
1 pound fresh mozzarella
Black pepper
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Get out a 9x13-inch baking dish. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Heat two turns of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and brown on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes. They'll be nicely browned on the outside, but still rare inside (don't worry, they'll cook off in the oven later). Remove to the baking dish.

Turn the heat down to medium, add another two turns of olive oil to the skillet, and place eggplant in the skillet in a single layer. Sprinkle well with salt. Cook, turning, 7 to 8 minutes, until the eggplant is browned. Remove to the baking dish.

Heat another two turns of olive oil in the skillet. Add onion and garlic and cook 3 to 4 minutes, until translucent. Dump the entire can of tomatoes with their juices into a bowl and crush the tomatoes with your hands to break them up. Add that to the skillet with the basil and cook until thick and pulpy, about 15 minutes.

By this time your pasta water will be boiling. Add the rigatoni and cook 6 to 7 minutes. It will be firm, but will continue cooking in the oven. Ladle 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water into a separate bowl and reserve, then drain the pasta.

Chop the sausages into bite-sized pieces and return to the baking dish. Add the tomato sauce, rigatoni and reserved pasta water. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella over the mixture, season with salt and pepper, and gently mix with a spatula. Spread the mixture in an even layer in the dish and sprinkle remaining mozzarella over the top. Dust with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake 25 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

And golden and bubbling it was! I finally pulled it off perfectly and it was dee-licious! This is definitely going on my "make again" list.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Loca for Saltimbocca Part II

So the last time I made saltimbocca, it was with chicken and I went easy on the sage. I recently found a recipe for pork saltimbocca in my Best of Cooking Light cookbook and decided to just go all in. Turns out that fresh sage leaves aren't as overpowering as I thought they were, and the technique used in Cooking Light totally trumps the technique suggested by America's Test Kitchen (surprising, since they're notorious for testing, re-testing, and testing again).

While the chicken saltimbocca was very good, I strongly suggest this recipe instead. The pairing with the polenta was amazing, and the sauce was so much better!

Pork Saltimbocca with Polenta
2 boneless pork loin chops
2 very thin slices of prosciutto
2 large fresh sage leaves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 tablespoon fresh sage, thinly sliced

To prepare pork, place each chop between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet. Arrange a slice of prosciutto and a sage leaf over each chop. Fold chops in half to sandwich filling. Sprinkle both sides of pork chops with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour.

Heat oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chops and cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove chops from skillet; cover and set aside.

Add wine to pan, scraping up the browned bits. Cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Stir in sliced sage. Reduce heat to medium. Return chops to skillet. Cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

For the Polenta:
1 2/3 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup polenta
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

Add the water, milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly add the polenta while whisking constantly in a circular motion to prevent clumping.

Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring often and vigorously, until the poletna is soft and smooth, about 10 to 15 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the butter and cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve chops over polenta with sauce spooned over.

I thought my chicken saltimbocca was pretty yummy, but this dish FAR exceeded it. I think the secret was pounding the pork super thin and folding it over to sandwich the filling. This enabled me to get a perfect crust on the pork, which was really flavorful. With the chicken saltimbocca recipe, there was no folding involved, so you got a sear on the prosciutto layer as well (and it was kind of tricky because you had to flip it in the pan without separating the prosciutto and sage from the chicken). That approach made the prosciutto more bacon-y (which isn't necessarily bad), but the folding makes it more cordon bleu-y (which is awesome!).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chef Bill

He doesn't do it very often, but Chef Bill made an appearance in my kitchen tonight. I'm sure it's because he has a minor man crush on Tyler Florence and couldn't resist browsing his cookbook after I made the Sesame Chicken Salad the other night.

So Bill chose Tyler's Ultimate Roast Chicken Provencal, which I thought was a pretty daring selection since roasting a chicken isn't exactly entry-level work. But I suppose I should give Bill more credit because he has mastered a few things, like Mario Batali's Basic Tomato Sauce. (Do you notice a trend with Bill and the Food Network chefs?)

Roast Chicken Provencal
Leaves from 1 bunch fresh, flat leaf parsley
Leaves from 1/4 bunch fresh thyme
Leaves from 1 bunch fresh tarragon
4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 whole chicken
1 lemon, halved, plus 1/2 lemon, sliced paper thin
3 tomatoes, cut into wedges
4 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds
1 red onion, thinly sliced
Leaves from 4 fresh thyme sprigs
Olive oil

Pregeat oven to 400 degrees.

Throw the parsley, thyme, tarragon, garlic and olive oil in a blender, season with salt and pepper, and puree to a paste.

Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Set the chicken on a cutting board and season the cavity generously with salt and pepper. Stuff the lemon halves in the cavity. Fold the wing tips under the bird and tie the legs with kitchen string to give it a nice shape while it cooks. Rub the chicken with the herb paste so it's well coated.

Put the chicken in a large roasting pan fitted with a rack and scatter the tomatoes, zucchini, onion, lemon slices and thyme around it. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil, about 1/4 cup, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 1 hour. Chicken is done when an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 160 degrees.

Remove from oven and allow chicken to rest 10 minutes before carving so the juices have a chance redistribute. Serve with the roasted vegetables.

I'll go on record as saying that I thought this was a delicious dinner. Bill on the other hand, with his celebrity chef aspirations, never thinks his meals are good enough. I believe his exact words after his first bite were a crestfallen "Tastes like chicken." I'm not sure what exactly he's expecting (especially since it was chicken), but he's typically (unnecessarily and unreasonably) disappointed. I don't think he's giving himself enough credit. Don't get me wrong, he's definitely had his kitchen missteps ... and I don't have time to recount them all here :) But he's had some real wins - like this one - too.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Open Sesame Chicken!

I've definitely been bitten by the spring cleaning bug. In the past two weeks, I've delivered two huge shopping bags full of stuff to Goodwill. Today's donation included a big stack of cookbooks I've either never opened, or use so rarely that they're not worth space on the shelf. But in the process of eliminating those cookbooks, I came across a few gems I had forgotten about!

One was Tyler's Ultimate, which has a hundred awesome recipes ... none of which I've ever made! So I picked a few out for this week, including Sesame Chicken Salad with Spinach and Cucumber. And to serve alongside it, Broccoli and Sesame Rice, a recipe I found in Real Simple magazine.

Sesame Chicken Salad with Spinach and Cucumber
1/4 cup soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups panko
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
4 cups spinach leaves
1 cucumber, sliced thinly
1 scallion, white and green part, sliced

In a bowl, whisk together soy sauce, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, ginger, sugar and red pepper flakes for the vinaigrette.

Toast 2 tablespoons of the sesame seeds in a small dry skillet until fragrant, a minute or two. Set aside.

Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Put a chicken breast on the cutting board and, holding a large knife parallel to the board, cut through the breast horizontally so that you have 2 thin fillets. Repeat with remaining breasts. Put the chicken on a platter, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette, and toss to coat. Set the rest of the vinaigrette aside. Let the chicken marinate for about 10 minutes.

Combine the panko and the remaining 1/4 cup sesame seeds in a shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper. Mix with your fingers so the seasoning is incorporated. Dredge the chicken in the crumbs, patting gently so the crumbs adhere.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Line a platter with paper towels. Add about half of the chicken to the pan and cook about 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy. Remove the chicken to the towel-lined platter to drain while you cook the remaining chicken.

Put the spinach in a bowl with the cucumber, scallion and a tablespoon of the toasted sesame seeds. Drizzle with vinaigrette and toss to coat. Plate with the chicken and sprinkle with remaining sesame seeds.

Broccoli Sesame Rice
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup long-grain white rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups broccoli, finely chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

Bring water, rice and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, turn heat to low, and allow to simmer for 12 minutes. Spinkle broccoli on top of rice, cover, and continue to cook 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and toss with scallions and sesame seeds. Serve.

All I can say is that Tyler can't miss. Everything he cooks on TV looks so amazing, and if this recipe is any indication, everything in this book is going to be amazing, too. My knife skills aren't stellar, so my chicken "fillets" were a bit uneven. This made getting the cooking time right a little tricky, and a couple of the breasts ended up a bit dry. But the good ones were crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside!

It's been hard to get back in the swing of things since returning from Vegas and we've been eating out way too often. So I promise that this week I'll be posting much more regularly because the restaurant visits have got to stop! I like my own cooking so much better :)