One woman's foray into cooking for herself, for her family, and for her friends. It's not always picture-perfect, sometimes a little messy,
but it's always delicious. Join me in exploring new recipes, savoring the "résultats" and learning from the "erreurs".

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I'm "Board", and It's a Good Thing...

I was the surprised, and most fortunate, recipient of one of the cutting boards from Ann of Thibeault's Table. This little board is made of bird's eye maple. The grain is absolutely gorgeous, and since it has a "live edge", it will forever be a one-of-a-kind. As I stood it up to take a photo, I kept thinking it resembled a little teddy bear! I just love it.

Ann has worked out an arrangement with the talented local artisans who make these boards, as well as other items, to make them available to the world! Please visit her Gallery to see what pieces she has to offer, and sign up for her upcoming giveaway - one of the beautiful utensils these artisans have made.

Do you think it would be too greedy of me to sign up for the giveaway, too?? Hmmmm....

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vanilla Bean Butter-Rum Poundcakes

Do you ever just get in the mood for something? Sometimes you want something salty, maybe crunchy, maybe something chewy... Well, today, I wanted something a little gooey. I was visiting a friend, so I knew it would be safe to make a batch of something, because I could give most of it away! I've always loved butter-rum glazes on cakes, but I've never made one myself. Today was the day. Instead of a big cake, I decided to use the bundt muffin pan I had purchased awhile ago but had yet to use. Time to break it in! I integrated several recipes I found online, scraping a vanilla bean into the batter, then infusing the rest of the vanilla pod into the glaze. OOh - THAT'S the way to satisfy a 'gooey' craving!

Vanilla Bean Butter-Rum Poundcakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter
1-1/2 tablespoons water
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons dark rum

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour muffin tin.

Cream butter in bowl of mixer. Slowly add sugar and beat for two minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition of egg. Add vanilla extract. Split vanilla bean and scrape inside into batter. Reserve vanilla bean pod. Beat for approximately two more minutes, until batter is fluffy and creamy.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. At low speed, add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, ending with flour mixture.

Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake for 30 - 35 minutes, or until golden and cake tester comes out clean.

Remove pan to cooling rack set over baking sheet for 5 minutes. Remove cakes from pan to cooling rack. Poke several holes in each cake with thin skewer/ cake tester. Pour glaze slowly over cakes until cakes absorb glaze and glaze is used up. Serve when completely cooled.

Make glaze:
Put sugar, butter, water, vanilla pod, and salt to small saucepan. Stirring constantly, bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in rum. Remove pod when ready to pour over cakes.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Moroccan Chicken Pot Pie

I have a ga-jillion back issues of Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines taking up all kinds of room on shelves, closets, stacked as random reading material on end tables... It's gotten ridiculous. So I have been determined to go through small stacks at a time, pulling pages of recipes I want to try and discarding the rest of the magazine.

In perusing the December 2007 issue of Bon Appetit, I came across an intriguing recipe using the ever-popular-in-my-kitchen chicken: Moroccan Chicken Pot Pie. I had all the ingredients on hand, so I pared down the recipe to make a generous pot pie for myself. Since I'm not really a raisin fan, I used dried cranberries instead. And while the recipe called for store-bought pie crust, I made my own (which took less than 5 minutes using the food processor).

The pot pie was amazing. The different spices mingled well, creating a little party in my mouth! It also didn't dirty every surface in my kitchen - another plus! It was so delicious - I'll definitely be keeping this recipe in my files!

Moroccan Chicken Pot Pie
"Not your typical chicken pot pie. Cumin, cinnamon, and paprika add an aromatic spiciness, which is balanced by briny green olives and sweet golden raisins."
PREP: 30 minutes; TOTAL: 50 minutes

1-1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 lemon
3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup imported green olives, pitted, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 refrigerated pie crust (half of 15-ounce package)

Preheat oven to 425 F. Mix chicken cubes with paprika, cumin, and cinnamon in large bowl to coat. Sprinkle chicken generously with salt and pepper. Cut lemon in half; remove seeds. Using small spoon, scoop out enough pulp and juice from between membranes to measure 2 tablespoons. (I found a grapefruit spoon to be the perfect tool for this task.) Add to chicken mixture; stir to blend.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, olives, and raisins. Saute until onion is almost tender, about 4 minutes. Add chicken mixture and stir 1 minute. Sprinkle flour over; stir 1 minute. Add broth and bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Transfer filling to 9-inch-diameter deep-dish glass pie dish.

Place pie crust over dish and seal dough edges to rim of dish. Using small paring knife, cut several slits in pie crust. Bake pot pie until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling thickly, about 20 minutes.

Serves: 6 to 8

Source: Bon Appetit, December 2007

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tortilla Soup

This is one of the easiest and quickest soups I make. It may be quick, but it's long on flavor. I fry up the corn tortilla strips, but you could use ready-made chips. I also like to up the taste factor by putting a little bit of shredded Monterrey Jack cheese on the fried tortilla strips at the bottom of the bowl before adding the soup. The cheese melts into a nice little gooey 'surprise', adding to the different textures this soup provides. Stir in a little shredded cooked chicken to the soup for even more substance if you like. Garnish with some cubes of avocado. These flavors all work together for a heavenly bowl of soup. The colors, the textures, the flavors... it really can't be beat!!

Tortilla Soup

4 corn tortillas
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (plus more for frying the tortillas)
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper, to taste
small bunch cilantro, chopped
Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
avocado, cubed

Slice tortillas into 1-inch wide strips. Fry in vegetable oil until crisp, and drain on paper towelling.

In soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add onion and garlic and cook until onions are translucent, stirring constantly, for about 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes and chicken stock and simmer 10 minutes until soup is slightly reduced. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add chopped cilantro, reserving small bit to garnish soup.

Place fried tortilla strips in bottom of serving bowls. Place small mound of grated cheese on strips, and ladle soup into bowls. Sprinkle with reserved chopped cilantro and garnish with cubes of avocado.

Serves 4

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Whole Wheat Margherita Pizza

I was hungry for homemade pizza today but wanted to do something a little different than I normally do. I had some tomatoes I needed to use and lots of basil in several pots on the back porch growing like crazy. So Pizza Margherita it was. As I started to make the dough, I had the idea to make a whole wheat crust. So I used half whole wheat flour, half unbleached bread flour. I also normally make my pizzas in pans, especially when I'm making them for a houseful of people. Since it was just me tonight, I decided to bake the pizza directly on my baking stone. I couldn't have been happier with the results!! The crust was crispy yet chewy with a wonderful texture and added flavor due to the whole wheat addition. I need to make pizza this way more often!!

Pizza Dough

1-1/2 cups tepid water
1 packet yeast (2-1/4 teaspoons)
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

Desired toppings

Mix flour, yeast, olive oil, and water. Let dough rest in mixing bowl 10 - 20 minutes. Add salt and mix until well incorporated. Knead dough for about 5 minutes, until dough forms a smooth ball. Place dough in large well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and put bowl in a draft-free area. Let dough rise until doubled, about 1-1/2 hours.

Divide dough into 2 pieces and either place on oiled pizza pans or pat into 2 rounds. Let rest 30 minutes. If baking on pans, place untopped pizzas in 500 F. oven for 10 minutes. Remove from ovens and top with sauce and desired toppings (pepperoni, sausage, sauteed onions, sauteed mushrooms, grilled eggplant, sliced olives are a few of my favorites) and grated mozzarella. Place back in oven for approximately 8 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.

If baking directly on baking stone, form dough into round, place on pizza peel sprinkled with corn meal, top dough with desired toppings, and slide onto baking stone. Bake at 500 F. for approximately 15 minutes, or until dough is sufficiently browned and cheese is melted.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges & Dipping Sauce

I found this recipe several years ago when visiting my cousin Shari in Miami. Finding out how much I love cooking, she pulled out some of her cookbooks, and my favorite turned out to be one called The Quick Recipe Cookbook. One of the surprises of this cookbook was that even though the recipes are considered "quick", with few exceptions, they didn't call for convenience food ingredients but real food. I love that! I've tried a few of the recipes, and have loved all that I've tried so far. This recipe is simple yet delicious. It makes for a wonderful snack or appetizer. Ridiculously easy, ridiculously fantastic flavor. You can't beat that!!

Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges with Dipping Sauce

2 pounds, 4 ounces sweet potatoes, unpeeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
chili powder, to taste (try using chipotle chili powder for a smoky heat)
1-1/4 cups sour cream (I used Stoneyfield Farms' Oikos Greek yogurt instead of sour cream this time - it was wonderful!!)
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Preheat oven to 375 F. Scrub the sweet potatoes well and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the potatoes into 3-4 inch wedges. Place in a bowl with the oil and toss gently to coat.

Place the wedges in a single layer on a large baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with chili powder and salt. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until tender and lightly browned on the edges.

To make the dipping sauce, place the sour cream, sweet chili sauce, green onions and cilantro in a bowl, mix together and season. Cover and refrigerate.

Serve the hot wedges with the dipping sauce.

Source: The Quick Recipe Cookbook, copyright 2000

Chicken with Mushrooms, Oregano, and Marsala served with Braised Chestnuts

It's probably easy to detect from my blog that chicken is one of my favorite go-to dinner proteins. I often buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale and re-package them into individual portions for the freezer when I get home. They thaw much quicker in single portions, whether I'm defrosting one or several. If I have unexpected company (or even expected company!), I can take out as many chicken breasts as I need. It's a system that really suits me.

With all that chicken in my freezer, I'm on the constant search for finding recipes just a little different from the 'norm'. On one of my recent recipe searches, I came across a recipe for Chicken Breasts with Wild Mushrooms, Marjoram, and Marsala at I didn't have a variety of mushrooms on hand but did have plenty of baby bellas (cremini), nor did I have fresh marjoram but fresh oregano is growing bountifully on my back porch! So with a couple of minor substitutions I made this dish. And it was... divine. Follow the recipe's methodology, and you will have no problems preparing this dish. It's definitely good enough for company, but easy enough for a mid-week dinner for the family. I would recommend doubling the sauce - it's delicious, but rather scanty once cooked down.

Noting the can of whole chestnuts I'd had stored in the pantry for several months, I also decided to do something with them. I found a website of chestnut recipes, and stumbled upon Braised Chestnuts. They're cooked in a liquid containing port for about an hour, until the chestnuts soak up the braising liquid. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill side dish, and really delicious. I'll be doing this again when I find fresh chestnuts in the stores. A really lovely autumnal dish!

Chicken Breasts with Wild Mushrooms, Marjoram, and Marsala
Yield: Makes 4 servings

4 large skinless boneless chicken breast halves
6 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram, divided
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
12 ounces assorted wild mushrooms (such as oyster, stemmed shiitake, and baby bella), thickly sliced
1 cup sliced shallots (about 5)

3/4 cup low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons dry Marsala

Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then 2 teaspoons marjoram. Melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to skillet and sauté until just cooked through, about 7 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate; tent with foil to keep warm. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter with1 tablespoon oil in same skillet. Add mushrooms, shallots, and 2 teaspoons marjoram. Sauté until mushrooms are brown and tender, about 6 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl.

Combine broth, cream, Marsala, and remaining 2 teaspoons marjoram in same skillet; boil until thickened and reduced to 1/2 cup, about 5 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Divide mushrooms among 4 plates. Top mushrooms with chicken. Spoon sauce over and serve.



Braised Chestnuts

2 pounds Delmarvelous chestnuts - whole shelled
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped (you can use any onion, vidalia is a good choice)
1 cup port wine (use a good port)
thyme (use fresh or fresh dried--not ground - I used about 4 sprigs)
3 cups chicken stock (canned is ok--homemade is better)
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat heavy saucepan.
2. Add the oil, butter and chopped onions. When onions turn slightly brown, deglaze with port wine. Add thyme, chestnuts, chicken stock and a little salt and pepper. Cover and cook until chestnuts are tender and the chestnuts have absorbed most of the liquid. This will take an hour or so. Serve as whole-braised chestnuts or pass through a ricer to make a wonderful chestnut puree.

"What a wonderful side dish...very seasonal...This is an outstanding way to introduce friends to the great taste of chestnuts. Delmarvelous chestnuts will peel whole, using the microwave method. Simmer very gently to avoid breaking the chestnuts into pieces. Enjoy!"


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chicken with Lemon Sauce

Knowing I'm always on the lookout for quick and delicious dinners, my mom called me about a month or so ago with a recipe for lemon sauce she'd tried and fell in love with. She usually cuts up chicken into chunks, sautes it and some celery and other vegetables, then makes the lemon sauce to pour over all of it. It sounded like my kind of recipe. But instead of cutting up the chicken, I decided to make a quick tempura batter (1 cup flour, 1 cup cold water, & 1 egg), dip flattened pieces of chicken breast into the batter, and fry them in a skillet. The sauce was delicious over the chicken. So easy and so quick. Mom was right - isn't she always?!!

Chicken with Lemon Sauce

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin
1 cup flour
1 cup water
1 egg

2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated fresh gingerroot
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Mix flour, water, and egg. Dip chicken in tempura batter and fry in peanut oil.

Mix water and cornstarch, and set aside.

Meanwhile, in saucepan, heat 1 chicken stock, sugar, ginger, soy sauce, and salt to simmering. Add lemon juice. Add cornstarch mixture, and simmer until thickened, stirring frequently. Serve over chicken.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Roasted Tomatoes

I love tomatoes. They are my favorite part of summer. A fresh, juicy tomato picked fresh from the garden, lightly salted, still emitting it's sunshine-y warmth... what could be better? Well, truthfully, not much. But if you want to change things up a little bit, try oven-roasting them. Different from oven-drying, these little treasures are still juicy, but their flavor is concentrated into a lightly smoky sweetness. They can be eaten as is (delicious!), or try this little number I came up with: Roasted Tomato Crostini. A savory little toast, spread with seasoned ricotta, and layered with a roasted tomato. Heaven!

Roasted Tomatoes

12 tomatoes (Romas are my favorite, but any variety would be wonderful)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 cloves garlic, grated (a Microplane works perfectly for this step)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped basil (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise and place in bowl. Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil, and add salt, garlic, pepper and optional basil. Stir tomatoes, making sure all tomatoes are seasoned. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle remaining juices and seasonings from bottom of bowl evenly over tomatoes. Bake for 2-1/2 to 3 hours, until tomatoes are roasted as desired.

Roasted Tomato Crostini

12 slices of French bread, 1/4-inch thick
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta
salt & freshly ground black pepper
roasted tomato halves

Preheat broiler. Drizzle bread with olive oil and place on baking sheet. Broil 3 - 4 minutes, until crostini is lightly toasted

Mix ricotta with salt and pepper to taste. Spread crostini with ricotta and place 1 or 2 roasted tomato(es) on top.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Lettuce wraps are one of my favorite dishes at PF Changs, a wonderful Asian food restaurant chain. I've never made them at home, but after seeing Ann's Asian Lettuce Cups at Thibeault's Table, I was inspired to give them a try myself. I used Ann's recipe as a starting point, adding Sambel Oelek chili paste, soy sauce, and a little sesame oil to season the filling mixture. They were wonderful! Chopped shiitake mushrooms would be a great addition to these. I'll add them next time. They were quick and easy to make. Yum!

Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Serves 4

2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece of fresh gingerroot, grated
1/4 cup chopped water chestnuts
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoons sambal oelek chili paste
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

iceburg lettuce leaves

fresh bean sprouts, garnish
fresh lime, garnish

Dipping sauce (recipe follows)

In a skillet, heat oil. Add onions and saute until onions are translucent.

Place the chicken in a food processor, and pulse at least 10 times until chicken is minced but not paste. Add minced chicken to onions in skillet along with garlic and gingerroot. Cook until chicken is cooked through, stirring frequently to break up chicken.

Add water chestnuts to skillet and incorporate into mixture. Season chicken mixture with soy sauce, sambal oelek, and sesame oil, and cook an additional 1 minute.

Place spoonful of chicken mixture in lettuce leaf and garnish with bean sprouts and squeeze of lime.

Dipping Sauce:
2 tablespoons sambal oelek chili paste
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Chinese mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Mix ingredients and serve with lettuce wraps.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I'm BAAA-ack...

...and ready to start cooking!

First order of business: stock up on stock. Nothing beats homemade chicken stock, and since I had depleted my stash, I got out my 21-quart "cauldron". I use Ina Garten's (Barefoot Contessa's) recipe. I found 10-pound bags of chicken leg quarters for only $7.90, so two bags of the leg quarters went into the stockpot. I followed the rest of the recipe pretty much as written, though I simmered the stock a little longer. When it was done cooking, I let it rest for a while, and then skimmed the stock, strained it, and chilled it overnight, which allowed the fat to solidify on top - much easier to remove that way! My efforts resulted in 8 quarts of stock. Liquid gold!

I decided to immediately take advantage of some of the stock by making one of my favorite soups: Butternut Squash Soup with Port. It's creamy and rich with no cream (though I did use a few drops to garnish the soup - purely optional, of course!) I even left out the 2 tablespoons of butter that was to be stirred into the soup just before serving. I didn't even miss it. At all. It's been rainy and the temperatures have dropped a little bit - it's starting to feel like autumn and this soup was perfect for an autumn evening. A little crostini to go with, and I can almost see the leaves changing colors before my eyes -

Chicken Stock

3 (5-pound) roasting chickens
3 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
6 carrots, unpeeled and halved
4 stalks celery with leaves, cut into thirds
4 parsnips, unpeeled and cut in half, optional
20 sprigs fresh parsley
15 sprigs fresh thyme
20 sprigs fresh dill
1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in 1/2 crosswise
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

Place the chickens, onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, parsley, thyme, dill, garlic, and seasonings in a 16 to 20-quart stockpot. Add 7 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours. Strain the entire contents of the pot through a colander and discard the solids. Chill the stock overnight. The next day, remove the surface fat. Use immediately or pack in containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

Source: Copyright, 2002, Barefoot Contessa Family Style

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