Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Anise Anxiety

Just this weekend, I was ranting and raving (well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration) about how much I hate anise. For as long as I can remember, I've been completely grossed out by black licorice and, therefore, the anise that flavors it. It's my mom's favorite candy, so you can imagine how much I was tortured by it as a child. Traumatizing. For sure.

We were on the subject this weekend because Bill brought home some pizzelle cookies from the Italian deli. I immediately recognized the anise flavor in the first bite and you would have thought he'd poisoned me. That's one way to keep me away from a package of cookies.

Bill made Stephanie and Tiff try them, and they're clearly not as opposed to anise as I am. Which is why it will probably be funny to them that I found myself completely delighted by the unrecognizable fragrance wafting from my oven this evening. (There's something else about this recipe Steph and Tiff will find amusing ... so keep reading to the end, guys.)

I could not get over how good this chicken smelled while it was cooking. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but there was something deliciously sweet about it. And when I took my first bite I could tell the tarragon had a very distinct taste ... but when I finally looked it up I discovered that tarragon has an aroma remniscent of anise. And I couldn't believe it. Even though I'm crinkling my nose at the thought of it now, I have to admit it was delightful.

The chicken was a modified version of a recipe I found in an old issue of Cook's Country and the asparagus was inspired by a recipe I glimpsed in Bobby Flay's new cookbook while we were at Barnes & Noble the other day.

Spinach and Tarragon Stuffed Chicken
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 big handfuls baby spinach leaves
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon mayonaise
2 tablespoons bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add spinach, tarragon, and garlic to skillet and season with salt and pepper. Toss until spinach is wilted. Remove to small bowl, stir in feta, and set aside.

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Cut a horizontal slit in each chicken breast and stuff with spinach mixture. Brush each breast with mayonaise on both sides. Sprinkle each breast with breadcrumbs, patting them in to adhere.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and breadcrumbs are golden.

Roasted Asparagus with Feta
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Spread asparagus on rimmed baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine vinegar and red pepper flakes in small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until mixture comes to a slow boil. Cook until reduced by half.

Remove asparagus from oven, drizzle with reduced vinegar, and sprinkle with feta cheese.

Both of these dishes were clear winners. Bill said, "Damn, that asparagus is good. Why is it so good?" I couldn't explain it, but I have a feeling it had something to do with the balsamic reduction, with which you can never, ever go wrong. Bill didn't recognize anise in the chicken either, but he isn't as strongly opposed to it as I am (shocking, I know!), so it wouldn't bother him. It was so, so good, however, that this may have helped me overcome my anise anxiety.

So the other hilarious thing about this recipe is that tarragon is commonly referred to as "dragon herb." And if you're wondering why that's so funny, well ... I guess you had to be there. A few weeks ago when we went to Medieval Times to celebrate Stephanie's birthday, we were highly amused by the dragon blood ("tomato soup"), dragon legs ("chicken") and dragon eggs ("potatoes"). When they decide on a theme, they stick to it. And now I've finally found my own dragon part!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cookie Cups

I came across this recipe in an email from Taste of Home this week and thought it would be the perfect way to top of our Memorial Day barbecue. What could be cuter (or more delicious!) than vanilla frozen custard topped with strawberries and blueberries served in cookie cups!?

Well, as you can see from the picture, it didn't quite go as planned. I upheld my end of the bargain ... making the cookie cups, cutting the strawberries, and having the blueberries ready to go. But when I sent Bill to Kopp's for the custard, he came back to Kona Coco Mac instead of vanilla ... but it was so delicious, I could only half-heartedly complain. So we just scrapped the patriotic idea and had yummy coffee-coconut-macadamia nut frozen custard in a cookie cups instead

That actually made a delcious combination with the almond-y, toffee-y goodness of the cookie cups. They were somewhat tricky to make, but invovle super simple ingredients and were well worth the effort.

Almond Toffee Cookie Cups
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup almonds, finely ground in the food processor
3 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan over low heat, combine butter, brown sugar, and corn starch. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Off the heat, stir in almonds, flour, and vanilla.

Scoop tablespoonfuls of batter about 3 inches apart onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 1 minute. Peel cookies from sheets and immediately drape over the bottom of pint glasses, shaping into bowls. (Note: You really have to have teflon fingers for this. The cookies need to be hot enough or else they won't be shape-able.)

Allow to cool completely before serving.

Another thing to take into consideration with these cookies is storing them. I made them on Saturday night, so I allowed them to cool overnight. On Sunday morning, I stacked them in a bowl and put them aside in the kitchen. I had a minor problem pulling them apart come serving time, and it's a good thing it wasn't any warmer because they would have just become a sticky mess. Either store these in a very well air conditioned spot or in the fridge until you're ready to use them!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What a Jerk! Steak Tacos

Bill was out this evening, but that didn't stop me from cooking a delicious dinner. I took a mental inventory of the freezer and fridge during my drive home, and came up with a couple steaks we never got around to eating, some leftover corn tortillas, and a mango Bill had bought with the intent of making more mango salsa. Sounded like a good night for tacos!

I had to defrost the steak in a sinkful of cold water, which wasn't ideal ... I like to stock my freezer and don't mind pulling something out the day I plan to make it, I just like to give it enough time to defrost properly in the refrigerator. But at least the wait time gave me a chance to get to work on my salsa. Turns out cutting a mango is tough. I thought I knew what I was doing, and in the end it all worked out, but it's not easy getting around the large pit. Perhaps I should have done some mango-cutting research. I consulted the mango salsa recipe Bill used last week (because it was delicious!), but instead of following it exactly I just threw together what I had in the fridge. (I apologize for the approximation of the ingredients!) It's hard to say whose was better ... we might have to have a salsa throwdown :)

Jerk Steak Tacos with Mango Salsa
2 (4-5 oz.) sirloin steaks
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons jerk seasoning
4 corn tortillas
Mango salsa (recipe follows)

Pat steaks dry with paper towels; season with salt and pepper on both sides. Rub each steak liberally with jerk seasoning. Prick both sides all over with a fork.

Heat grill pan over medium heat. Spray with cooking spray. Place steaks in pan and cook to desired doneness, flipping once (ok, I flipped twice), about 7 to 10 minutes for medium-rare (I like mine medium-well and they were perfect after about 15 minutes). Remove steaks from pan, tent with foil, and allow to rest 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place tortillas on a microwave-safe plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave 45 seconds to 1 minute, until tortillas are warm and pliable.

Slice steaks against the grain. Fill each tortilla with a few slices of steak and a couple spoonfuls of salsa.

Mango Salsa
1 mango, finely chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeds removed, finely chopped
1 small handful cilantro, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Toss to combine.

All I can say is that Bill really missed out tonight. My steaks (which I was a little nervous about, having pulled them from the freezer when I got home) turned out perfectly. The jerk seasoning was awesome and the salsa cooled it down just right.

Turns out Bill went to Glorioso's while he was out and had arancini there. I almost felt guilty for eating such an amazing meal without him ... until I learned that. Luckily, he redeemed himself twofold when he got home. He told me my arancini are better and he brought me a napoleon for dessert :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Eenie, Meenie, Scaloppini

I found this super easy Pork Scaloppini recipe in an old issue of Cook's Country this weekend, and it sounded like a good, quick weeknight dinner. And of course, with my abundance of Costco spinach leaves, I had to have a salad to go with it! The honey-lemon vinaigrette I concocted tonight was inspired partly by Tyler Florence's warm spinach salad and partly by the lemon vinaigrette I made yesterday.

Pork Scaloppini
4 Pork cutlets (1/4-inch thick)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Dried parsley

Pat cutlets dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large skillet over medium heat. Cook cutlets (in batches to avoid crowding pan, if necessary) until golden brown and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to platter and tent with foil.

Add garlic and additional 1 tablespoon butter to empty skillet and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth, lemon juice, sugar, and any accumulated juices and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes (I also added a teaspoon of cornstarch to speed up the thickening process). Off heat, whisk in parsley. Pour sauce over cutlets. Serve over egg noodles or rice.

Spinach Salad with Honey-Lemon Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 large handfuls baby spinach leaves
Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add honey, vinegar, and lemon juice, and continue cooking until onions have caramelized, about another 5 to 7 minutes. Add spinach to skillet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss until just wilted, about 1 minute.

To tell you the truth, while this was a perfectly delicious dinner, I wasn't really wowed by it. I've had some huge hits lately, and this was just a little underwhelming. I don't think I got a good enough sear on the pork cutlets and the sauce was sort of bland. Plus, I remember absolutely loving egg noodles as a kid, but I don't think I like them anymore!

On a positive note, Bill cleared his plate in record time. So at least I made someone happy!

Monday, May 23, 2011

It's All Greek (Salad) to Me

We made a trip to Costco yesterday and I bought a giant tub of baby spinach leaves. I suppose I was inspired by that delicious spinach and bacon salad I made last week. But seriously, we have a LOT of spinach in the fridge so you can look forward to quite a few spinach-y recipes this week!

I served this alongside (cue laughter) sloppy joes tonight. Maybe we were in a nostalgic mood (because I don't think I've had a sloppy joe since elementary school), but they just sounded yummy. And they were! I won't post the recipe now, but I most likely will later this week. You know, on the off chance that one of my dozen loyal followers is also looking for a blast from the past!

Greek Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
2 big, loose handfuls baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup cucumber, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup red onion, sliced thin
Small handful grape tomatoes
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Layer spinach, cucumber, onion, tomatoes and feta in a medium bowl. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Toss to combine. Serve.

Lemon Vinaigrette
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Small handful fresh cilantro leaves
Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until well-blended.

I apologize for being kind of loose-y goose-y with my salad measurements, but it really is that simple to just toss this together. Even the vinaigrette only takes a few seconds to make, and there's no tiresome whisking involved! The lemon vinaigrette is a recipe I found from Giada and it was AWESOME! I'm totally bringing the (non-tossed) leftovers to work tomorrow ... which is a good plan given how much spinach I have to use.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

So Good You'll Cry: Stuffed Onions

Bill and I teamed up to make an amazing dinner tonight: grilled filets and skillet stuffed onions. I leave the charcoal grilling completely to Bill, so I can't give you his steak recipe, but I will tell you how to make these awesome stuffed onions. I can't imagine a more perfect side dish for a big, juicy steak! And trust me, they are well worth the tears you'll shed when cutting them.

Skillet Stuffed Onions
3 slices white sandwich bread (I used sourdough), torn into pieces
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 large white onions (I used Vidalias)
3/4 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Adjust oven rack to middle position. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread in food processor and pulse until coarsley ground, 6 or 7 pulses. Bake on rimmed baking sheet, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

To prepare the onions, trim 1/2 inch from both the stem and root ends and peel. Halve each onion through the equator and pop out the center of each half, leaving the outermost 3 rings. Finely chop onion centers to measure 1/2 cup.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chopped onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Off heat, add 1/4 cup chicken stock, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/4 cup parmesan, lemon zest, and parsely to the skillet. Transfer to the bowl with the bread crumbs and toss to combine. Set aside.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle onion halves with sugar, salt and pepper. Place wide side down in skillet and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Flip onions over, add remaining chicken stock to pan, and simmer, covered, until liquid evaporates and onions are softened, about 5 minutes.

Heat broiler. Fill onion halves with breadcrumb mixture and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Broil until stuffing is golden brown and heated through, about 5 minutes.

I love, love, love the smell of onions cooking in butter or olive oil, and this dish had Bill drooling every time he came in from the backyard. I think I made the right choice in picking super sweet Vidalia onions, too. They ended up being really rich, with just the right amount of zip from the sourdough breadcrumbs and lemon zest. YUM!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I Wanna Rocky Road All Night!

Bill and I joined a bunch of my co-workers at the Brewers game last night. And for our tailgate, I (naturally) volunteered to provide dessert. I thought about making baseball cake balls, but just wasn't up for all the work. So instead, I gave Bill a choice of cookies or bars. He chose bars, so I broke out my 9x13: The Pan That Can cookbook.

I haven't had great success with this cookbook (in fact, it's where I found my failure espresso brownies), but it has such a huge bar selection that I decided to give it another shot. When I saw these Rocky Road Brownies, they sounded too good not to try! So with great trepidation, I got to work.

I've concluded that I really need to research the perfect brownie recipe because it must require great balance in ingredients. When I've tried baking dense brownies, I've never gotten them to set. Nicole sent me her favorite recipe, and they were more like fudge. I've tried to find the right recipe for cake brownies, and haven't come across it. These are probably technically classified as cake brownies, but they were way more cake than brownie. Still seriously delicious, but just not the perfect brownie balance.

I actually think this rocky road topping would be a-ma-zing on top of Nicole's Fan-fudgin'-tastic Brownies! Somebody try it and let me know how it goes!

Rocky Road Brownies
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1 cup water
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup nuts (The recipe called for peanuts. I used almonds because I had them on hand, but I would have preferred walnuts!)
3 cups marshmallows (They're supposed to be tiny marshmallows, but I only had jumbo so I chopped them.)
1 recipe Chocolate Drizzle (recipe follows)

Line a 9x13-inch baking dish with foil, extending the foil over the edges. Grease the foil. Set dish aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the butter, water and cocoa powder. Heat until just boiling, stirring almost constantly. Remove from heat immediately. Add the chocolate mixture to the flour mixture. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well-combined. Add eggs, buttermilk (see below for a tip if you don't have buttermilk on hand) and vanilla. Beat for 1 minute more (batter will be thin ... which should have been my clue they'd be like cake). Spread batter evenly in prepared dish.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center (or in about a dozen various other spots, if you're brownie-paranoid like I am) comes out clean.

Remove from oven and immedaitely sprinkle marshmallows and nuts over top of brownies. (I also added a handful of white chocolate chips for good measure!) Drizzle chocolate drizzle over the top. Cool completely on wire rack. Cut into bars (see below for a tip on cutting gooey brownies).

Chocolate Drizzle
6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat over very low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth.

Note: This Chocolate Drizzle recipe makes way more drizzle than you need for these brownies ... but it turns out the leftovers are an amazing fondue! And Chocolate Fondue just so happened to be on my recipe wishlist, so I ended up crossing it off without even meaning to! I wish I'd had strawberries on hand for dipping, but instead I used graham crackers. Oh so good!

Jen's Kitchen Clues
Making Buttermilk
In the past when a recipe called for buttermilk, I'd shrug my shoulders and just use milk, figuring it didn't make a huge difference. It wasn't until I actually bought buttermilk and used it in my favorite banana bread (as the recipe had called for all along) that I discovered how much of a difference it can make! Now, if I don't have it on hand and a recipe calls for it, I don't have to worry:

To make a 1/2 cup of buttermilk, place 1 1/2 teaspoons of white vinegar in a measuring cup and add milk to reach the 1/2 cup line. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes before using. Easy!

Slicing Brownies
Slicing brownies can be tricky when they're sticky, as these were because of the marshmallows on top! To slice them cleanly (and keep from pulling the topping off), just spray a serrated knife with a little cooking spray on both sides. It's typically tasteless, and will slide right through gooey stuff like marshmallows. I even did this to chop the jumbo marshmallows I used into smaller pieces.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Great Scrape: Chicken Gratin

Before this week, I couldn't have defined "gratin" except to tell you it was something baked in a casserole dish. But while looking for a recipe to use up the rest of my rotisserie chicken after making enchiladas, I came across a turkey gratin recipe in the "One Big Roast, Three Great Meals" chapter of one of my Cooking for Two cookbooks.

It sounded delicious, but I still needed to know exactly how a gratin was defined. I did a little research and discovered that it's a typically French technique in which a dish is topped with a browned crust (using breadcrumbs, cheese, egg or butter). It's often heated under a broiler and served in its baking dish. Sounds like a pretty broad definition, but it satisfied my curiosity!

As I kept reading, I learned that "gratin" is from the French language in which the word "gratter" means "to scrape" as of the "scrapings" of bread or cheese. Being a words gal, the origin of the word interested me ... and made this dish that much more understandable! After making it, though, I've decided "gratin" must actually be French for "pot pie." Take a look at the recipe and that will be obvious!

Chicken Gratin
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 celery rib, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 tablespoons flour
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
1/2 cup frozen peas
Salt and pepper
2 cups French or Italian bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 garlic clove, minced

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrot, and celery, and cook until vegetables are softened and well-browned, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the rosemary and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir int he flour and cook for 1 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup broth (you can also use white wine, but I was out), scraping up any browned bits, and simmer until almost evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Whisk in the remaining broth and cream, bring to a simmer, and cook until liquid has thickened slightly and measures about 2 cups, about 5 minutes. Off the heat, stir int he chicken and peas and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer the chicken mixture to an 8-inch square baking dish. Toss the bread with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, then sprinkle over the top. Bake until the filling is bubbling and the bread topping is toasted and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

So as you can see in the picture, I scorched the bread a bit ... which is sad because the bread WAS the gratin! But I didn't toss it well enough to actually coat the bread in the olive oil. Had I done that, I'm pretty sure I would have avoided the random burnt crusts.

Scorching aside, this was so delicious I was actually angry at Bill for eating the leftovers. It truly was like a crust-less chicken pot pie ... with chunks of garlic bread sprinkled on top! It was creamy and savory and so, so yummy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Twirled Tour: Skillet Carbonara

I realize that I make a lot of pasta, but that's exactly why this Twirled Tour food truck is a genius idea. I have so many interesting and delicious varieties that the menu would never get stale!

I'd been tempted to make this particular recipe since the first time I flipped through my latest Cooking for Two book. I love, love, love pasta carbonara, but the egg involved has always made me nervous. Worse than undercooking it, I was worried about scrambling it. Once again, America's Test Kitchen made it easy for me with a fool-proof recipe!

This pasta was rich and creamy, there was just the right amount of bacon-y flavor, and the yummy homemade breadcrumb topping was the perfect finishing touch. I could eat this again, and again, and again. Plus, since I had the bacon out and an unopened bag of spinach in the fridge, I decided to give a warm bacon-spinach salad a go. And am I glad I did!

I broke out Tyler's Ultimate cookbook and flipped to The Ultimate Spinach Salad with Bacon, Black Pepper and Honey. Bill (surprisingly) really likes spinach ... usually raw, not cooked, but apparently also wilted. And he discovered that he loves spinach salad with warm bacon dressing the last time we visited the Capital Grille. Tyler's recipe beats that.

Skillet Carbonara Casserole
4 slices bacon, chopped fine
1 slice white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
1 1/4 cups Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
Salt and Pepper
1 large egg
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup white wine
2 1/4 cups water
1 3/4 cups penne (or whatever type of pasta you have on hand)

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat broiler. Cook bacon in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until browned and crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate. Pour off fat left in pan and reserve 1 tablespoon.

Pulse 1 tablespoon cooked bacon, 2 teaspoons reserved fat, bread (I used sourdough and I highly recommend it!), 2 tablespoons cheese, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in food processor until coarsely ground, about 6 pulses; set aside. In medium bowl, whisk remaining cheese, egg, milk, and broth together.

Add remaining 1 teaspoon reserved fat to skillet and return to medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in wine and cook until reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 3 minutes. Add water, pasta, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and bring to rapid simmer. Cover and simmer vigorously, stirring often, until pasta is al dente and most of liquid is abosorbed, 10 to 15 minutes (this took about 9 minutes for my cavatappi).

Off heat, add egg mixture and remaining cooked bacon to pasta and toss to combine. Top with bacon-bread mixture, transfer to oven, and broil until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Let pasta cool for 5 minutes before serving.

The Ultimate Spinach Salad with Bacon, Black Pepper and Honey
1 large egg
1 slice bacon
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 lb. baby spinach leaves
Salt and pepper

Place the egg in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, turn the heat off, and let sit for 12 minutes. List the egg out of the pan and cool; peel and coarsely chop the egg.

Place the bacon in a skillet and cook 3 to 4 minutes (I like my bacon super crisp, so I cooked mine a bit longer) over medium heat to render the fat. Place the bacon on a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the fat in the pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook 5 to 6 minutes, until soft. Add the honey and vinegar and continue cooking until the onion has caramelized, about 5 more minutes. Toss the spinach into the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss with tongs until just wilted, about 30 seconds. Place the spinach in a bowl and onions in a bowl, crumble cooked bacon over salad, and sprinkle with egg.

Salad: Amazing. Carbonara: Amazing. I don't know what else to say.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Enchiladas, Take Three

I must really love enchiladas. I can't come up with any other excuse for why I've posted three different enchilada recipes in as many months. A few weeks ago you got my Beef Enchilada Casserole recipe, and before that was the Enchiladas Suizas Stacked Casserole recipe. Well this time I went the more traditional route and made actual enchiladas as opposed to a casserole. And I have to say, it may have been my favorite enchilada recipe yet!

I'm pretty sure my love for enchiladas started a long (long) time ago when I was in high school. It was one of a handful of dishes I made on the rare occasion that I cooked. Those enchiladas were decidedly simpler ... just ground beef, a packet of taco seasoning, flour tortillas, canned sauce and cheese ... maybe a little diced onion inside if I got adventurous. They were yummy, but I've come a long way culinary-wise. So here's a slightly more advanced, and way more delicious, enchilada recipe:

Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/4 cup canned or frozen corn
1 (10 oz.) can enchilada sauce
1 (4 oz.) can chopped green chiles, drained
6 corn tortillas

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly coat an 8-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

Stack tortillas on a plate, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and microwave 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from microwave, cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside until ready to assemble enchiladas.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, and chili powder, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, stir in the chicken, 3/4 cup cheese, corn, 1/4 cup enchilada sauce, and chiles.

Spread the tortillas on a clean counter. Spoon 1/2 cup of the filling down the center of each tortilla. Toightly roll the tortillas around the filling and lay them, seam-side down, in the prepared baking dish.

Pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the top of enchiladas. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake until the enchiladas are heated through, about 10 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the cheese is completely melted, about 5 minutes longer.

So, as usual, this is a recipe I took from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two. And it happened to come from my favorite "One Big Roast, Three Great Meals" chapter. These enchiladas were actually meant to be made with leftover turkey, but since I haven't made a big roast lately, I bought a rotisserie chicken instead.

I think that rotisserie chickens are one of the greatest shortcuts EVER. Any recipe that calls for shredded or diced chicken should begin with a rotisserie chicken. I used one for my Enchiladas Suizas Casserole, I used one for my Quick Chicken and Cheese Tamales, and I always use one for making chicken salad (which I now have a huge craving for ... the leftovers from this chicken might become lunch later this week!).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Steph's Surprise Cupcakes

So it was my good friend Stephanie's birthday on Thursday and yesterday we celebrated with a trip to Medieval Times. That trip has absolutely nothing to do with these cupcakes, but everything to do with Steph's sense of adventure. Which can be directly translated to my kitchen experimentation on Friday night.

I toyed with the idea of making turkey leg cupcakes for this little fete, because I was certain there would be turkey legs involved in last night's meal. (Incidentally, there were no turkey legs to be found ... just lots of dragon blood, dragon legs, dragon eggs and other dragon delicacies.) Unfortunately, turkey leg cupcakes happen to involve a lot of work. And ingredients I didn't have on hand. Like doughnut holes and cornflake crumbs.

So instead, I decided to pay homage to Stephanie with a cupcake interpretation of some amazing poppy seed cookies she makes. (And Steph, I forgot to tell you that Bill asked me, "Do you think Stephanie made me cookies for her birthday?") My take on those treats: Lemon Cupcakes with Poppy Seed Cream Cheese Frosting.

Lemon Cupcakes
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 eggs
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Poppy Seed Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with paper liners.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and lemon juice. Beat until well blended. Add flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Mix until just combined.

Spoon batter into each cupcake cup, about half full. Bake until golden, about 17 to 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Poppy Seed Cream Cheese Frosting
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch salt
3 to 4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds

Beat cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt with an electric mixer until smooth. Slowly add confectioners' sugar, beating well between additions, until you reach desired consistency. (I have to admit that I have absolutely no idea how much confectioners' sugar I used because I just kept dumping it in until my frosting was thick and smooth and delicious. I estimate it was somewhere around 3 cups, but I highly recommend eyeballing it rather than pre-measuring.) Fold in poppy seeds. Frost cupcakes.

I'm happy to report that these cupcakes were oustanding. Perhaps the best I've made in quite a while. I believe I've finally uncovered the secret to super moist cupcakes: use a half a carton of eggs! I don't think I've ever baked cupcakes that called for 6 eggs, and I was hesitant as I was adding them, but it turns out that makes a moist, delicious (if not cholesterol-friendly) cake.

As a side note, I actually adapted this recipe from a Food Network version called Lemon Cream Cupcakes. That recipe had a lemon cream cheese filling in place of frosting (and no poppy seeds involved). That sounds like another worthy candidate for baking, but I'll save it for a different day. Oh, and it also claimed to make 12 cupcakes ... and perhaps with the addition of the filling (and enormous cupcake tins) it would have. But I ended up with 12 regular-sized cupcakes and 18 mini cupcakes. Which is just fine by me because I don't feel nearly as guilty popping baby cupcakes into my mouth as I do chomping on giant cupcakes!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Twirled Tour: Baked Ziti with Sausage

As usual, I had a hard time getting back into the swing of things after our long weekend trip. That meant I was too exhausted to cook ... and I hadn't been grocery shopping!

When either of those two factors come into play, I always turn to the freezer and pantry. And when I discover what's inside, I hunt for a recipe to use it. Pasta is a great go-to dish when you're running short on time (or ingredients).  Inevitably, there's pasta in our pantry (usually quite a variety of half-used boxes, as evidence by the combination you'll read about below!). And I almost always have Italian sausage in the freezer. So this Baked Ziti with Sausage seemed like a no brainer ... and a perfect opportunity to continue our Twirled Tour!).

Baked Ziti with Sausage
1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes
4 oz. ziti or whatever other pasta you have on hand (about 1 1/4 cups)
6 oz. Italian sausage
1/4 cup jarred roasted red peppers, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Pulse tomatoes with their juice in food processor until coarsely chopped and no large pieces remain, 6 to 8 pulses.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add pasta (I used a combination of mostaccioli and cavatappi because I happened to have small amounts of each on hand!) and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Drain pasta.

Add sausage to pot and cook over medium-high heat, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until fat begins to render, about 2 minutes. Stir in roasted red peppers (the recipe actually called for half of a fresh red bell pepper, but I had a jar of roasted in the fridge so I subbed!) and cook until sausage is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, red pepper flakes, basil and sugar and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in processed tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer gently until tomatoes no longer taste raw and sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes.

Add sauce to pasta and toss to combine. Pour into 9x11-inch baking dish. Sprinkle cheese over the top.

Bake until cheese has melted and browned and pasta has heated through, 10 to 15 minutes. Let pasta cool for 5 minutes before serving.

This was good, but not as good as the Baked Rigatoni with Eggplant and Sausage that I made from Tyler's cookbook a few weeks back. I actually had to doctor this sauce (with the addition of sugar and tomato paste) because it just wasn't very exciting. I think the difference between this and Tyler's baked pasta was the hearty chunkiness that he had going on - the tomatoes were still sort of lumpy because you crushed them with your hands, the sausage was cut into big bite-sized pieces, and the eggplant was sliced and tossed with the whole concoction. This was just pasta tossed with sauce and sprinkled with cheese. Very good, just not outstanding.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Granola on the Go

So before we left for our Derby adventure, I stocked up on snacks for the road. We packed sandwiches, sodas, Sobe Life Waters, chips, Gardetto snacks, yogurt-covered pretzels, Swedish Fish, Snickers ... the works. Had we been stranded somewhere on 294, we would have been set for a while. But it turns out the drive wasn't as long as we originally anticipated (and we didn't end up stranded), so I didn't need such a complete stock. As usual, I went overboard.

We could have done without a lot of the stuff I packed, but one of the snacks I would not have given up was my homemade granola bars. I came across this recipe hidden in a pile of pages I had pulled from magazines, and I was super excited to make it. It made a huge pan that I've been munching from for more than a week now.

Granola-to-Go Bars
3 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup chopped almonds
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup sunflower kernels
1/4 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Combine oats and almonds in a 15x10x1-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until toasted, stirring occasionally.

In a large bowl, combine the egg, butter, honey and vanilla. Stir in the sunflower kernels, coconut, raisins, cranberries, brown sugar and cinnamon. Stir in oat mixture.

Press into same baking dish you used to toast the oats and almonds (coated again with cooking spray). Bake at 350 for 13-18 minutes or until set and edges are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Store in an airtight container.

I have to admit that I ended up re-baking these because I pulled them out of the oven too soon the first time. The edges were browning quickly, and I assumed they were set in the middle. But I should have known better (considering my huge failures in judging when brownies are set in the middle).

Luckily, I had no problem once I put them back in the oven (on the top rack to prevent the bottom from burning). They're a bit tough to cut into bars because they end up crumbling, but they still taste amazing. And the chewy chunks of granola that you pick out of the bottom of the pan are way better than any bar anyway!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Derby Dish

So I'm back from my Derby Hiatus and I had a fantastic weekend. I got my fill of Indianapolis (which is where you stay when the rooms in Louisville are sold out), witnessed the "Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" and spent far too much time in the car. Oh, and I picked the winning horse :)

My very first mint julep ... at the place that made 'em famous!

But despite the fabulous weekend we had, I have to admit that I'm terribly disappointed. As you probably know, our sightseeing primarily revolves around food. We visit lots of places we see on the Food Network or Man vs. Food. We always seek out famous local or regional dishes. We try to avoid chains at all costs. And this tactic usually results in some favorite, memorable meals!

 We've had kalbi barbecue in Honolulu, we've had Juicy Lucys in Minneapolis, we've had cannoli in Boston ... and now I can say I've had a mint julep in Louisville. But that's about all I had this weekend that was notable. We were sorely disappointed in the food in both Indianapolis and Louisville (well, specifically at Churchill Downs, since that was all we saw of Louisville).

We had a pretty average meal in downtown Indianapolis on Thursday night. On Friday we made our way to a place called Edward's Drive In, which we saw featured on Man vs. Food. Here, Adam ate what has to be the world's largest pork tenderloin sandwich. It was fine, but nothing to write home about. It was packed, though, so at least the locals seem to love it.

Yes, that's a pork tenderloin the size of your head. And I nearly polished it off.
At the Derby on Saturday our options were hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn and soft pretzels. Thank goodness there were mint juleps to make up for the lack of edibles. I expected more from the most revered racetrack on Earth. I can only hope that the rich and famous enjoy some pretty superior catering, especially with the likes of Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay there. Oh, Adam Richman was there, too, but as we've learned (see Edward's Drive In, above) he's not too picky.

The "Big Ugly," which Bill was way too weak to finish!
Before we headed home on Sunday we visited another Man vs. Food stop, Bub's Burgers in Carmel. This is where Adam encounted "The Big Ugly," a 1-pound burger. If you finish it, you get your picture on the wall. Bill ordered it and didn't even come close. I polished off my half-pounder, no problem, but Bill was left with more than half his burger on his plate. Turns out a burger that big can't be juicy and delicious (as Adam so often claims of giant slabs of meat). On a positive note, Carmel is a super cute little town!

So while the food was lacking, I'm glad to say that I crossed two more Man vs. Food stops off the list AND I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience at the Kentucky Derby. It was well worth a few not-so-good meals :)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Twirled Tour: Rigatoni with Hearty Meat Sauce

If I had a food truck, I would call it "Twirled Tour" and I'd serve pasta. (And that is proprietary information, so don't go giving away my genius idea.) Since I don't see a food truck in my near future, I figured the next best thing would be to take my blog readers on a Twirled Tour with a variety of pasta recipes (but funny enough, my first recipe doesn't actually twirl!).

In my quest to use ALL of the leftovers from our Easter pork roast, I was on the hunt last week for as many unique pork recipes as I could find. This one was in another of my Cooking for Two books, also in a "One Big Roast, Three Great Meals" chapter. I was mildly skeptical because the pork I was working with started out kind of sweet (what with the sugar-salt brine and all), but it ended up being surprisingly delicious! I'm assuming the acidity of the red wine served to balance the sweetness, and it had just the right amount of richness. I told Bill I'm dying to make another pork roast just to cook up the leftovers again!

So enjoy your first stop on the tour with my rigatoni and hearty meat sauce.

Rigatoni with Hearty Meat Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/2 cup red wine
1 (15 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 cup chicken broth
10 oz. (about 2 cups) cooked pork, shredded
Salt and pepper
1/2 lb. (about 2 1/2 cups) rigatoni, cooked
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and oregano, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the wine and cook until it has nearly evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, and pork, and simmer until thickened, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook pasta. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. (FYI, I forgot this step, but it turns out the reserved cooking water wasn't necessary.)

Add the sauce to the pasta and toss to combine, adjusting the sauce consistency with the reserved cooking water as desired. Serve with parmesan.

I made this dish on Friday night and if I remember correctly, I made a couple additions ... although I also made a ragu for my arancini, so I may not be remembering correctly and those additions went into that dish! Whatever the case, if I was evaluating this recipe based solely on the listed ingredients, I'd say it needed a pinch of red pepper flakes and a teaspoon or two of sugar. So I may or may not have added those ingredients ... you can taste as you go and decide for yourself :)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Red Velvet ... Cookies!

I can't account for the growing popularity of red velvet. For whatever reason, it's turning up everywhere. But while you most often see it in the form of cakes or cupcakes (and even cake balls!), I have yet to see a red velvet cookie!

This genius idea is all thanks to my BFF Nicole. She claimed to have eaten a red velvet cookie somewhere in Denver and wanted to recreate them. So I did a little research and found a lot of red velvet whoopie pies ... not what I was looking for. Whoopie pies are essentially disassembled cupcakes and, at least in my point of view, don't fall into the cookie category. But after a little digging, I finally came across something that sounded like what I was looking for. And with just a couple minor modifications, it became my PERFECT vision of what a red velvet cookie should be!

Red Velvet Cookies
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon red food coloring (plus or minus a couple drops)
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (which is more like 350 for my oven). Spray two cookie sheets with cooking spray.

Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugars until smooth. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa together. Add to butter mixture in even increments, mixing well between each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add food coloring, adjusting amount to achieve the redness you desire, and mix until dough is evenly colored. Stir in chips.

Using a medium dough scoop, scoop cookies onto prepared cookie sheets, spacing them evenly apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes (mine were perfect after 10 minutes and 30 seconds!), rotating sheets halfway through cooking time. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks.

These cookies are soft, chewy, buttery, cocoa-y and delicious! The original recipe I found actually called for milk chocolate chips, which I thought was odd ... white chocolate chips just seemed like a natural addition. They mimic the traditional cream cheese frosting associated with red velvet cake, so the cookies look like a deconstructed version of the real thing and taste almost just like it (especially when they're warm from the oven and the chips are still a little melted ... mmm!).