Sunday, March 13, 2011

Coq Au Vin Blanc

Coq au vin - chicken with wine - is a traditional French country dish, in which a whole chicken is cut into 8 pieces, marinated in a Burgundy wine, and slowly cooked in bacon fat and vegetables and then accompanied with pearl onions & mushrooms.

Well, I had boneless skinless chicken breasts to get rid of...not a whole chicken. So I have already offended Julia Child immediately. To piss her off even more, I used white wine and I didn't marinate my chicken in it, I just added it to my sauce. I'm not sure that I care too much that she's rolling over in her grave, because my version of the French classic turned out to be delectable. I based this off a recipe by Virginia Willis (Bon Appetit, Y'all), and used the aforementioned variations.  Virginia Willis, by the way, does say that it is perfectly acceptable to use chicken take that JC.

This is a looooooooong recipe. Which is why I chose to make it on a Sunday. It took me about 3 hours to prepare.

Coq Au Vin Blanc (por deux)     
2 boneless skinless chicken breast
6 strips of bacon, cut into lardons
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 crushed clove of garlic, plus 2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup flour
1 quart chicken stock
2 cups white wine
bouquet garni (3 sprigs of thyme, 2 springs of parsley, 1 bay leaf)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
10 button mushrooms, quartered
12 pearl onions, trimmed and peeled
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup white wine
salt & pepper to taste

1. Salt and pepper the chicken breasts. Set aside.
2. Add bacon to Dutch oven and cook over medium heat until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper towel lined plate (important note: you will need the bacon later. In other words - NO BACON SNACKS! It's possible that not all of the bacon made it back into my sauce when I made this recipe. oops!!!)
3. Add chicken breasts to bacon grease and cook until golden, about 5 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and set aside.
4. Add onion, carrot, celery, and crushed garlic to the pan and cook until vegetables start to brown, about 7-8 minutes.
5. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute, and then added the 1/4 cup flour.
6. Stir the mixture constantly until flour begins to brown. Return the chicken to the pan, and cover with chicken broth and 2 cups of white wine.
7. Cover and reduce hit to simmer. Cook for one hour.
8. To cook the mushrooms and pearl onions, heat oil in a skillet and add the tablespoon of butter. Add mushrooms and onions to skillet, cooking until tender, about 10 minutes. Add thyme, bay leaf, and 1/4 cup white wine to deglaze the plan. Add the bacon (if you haven't eaten it all). Cover to keep warm.
9. After an hour has passed, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Ladel the vegetables and broth into a blender or food processor and puree. The sauce should thicken considerably. Return to pan, and cook about 10 minutes over medium high heat. Add the bacon, mushroom, and onion mixture. Return the chicken to the pan and cook for about 10 more minutes to allow the flavors to marry. Serve immediately.

Told you it was long...this ain't 30 Minute Meals.
This is definitely a recipe I'll keep in my back pocket. Yes, it takes a bit of effort and time, but I felt so accomplished once it was done. It's so hearty and filling,'d make a great Crock Pot meal and is definitely comfort food to a T.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Blackened Swordfish and Lemon Saffron Risotto

Swordfish was on sale at Sunflower Market so we bought some and froze it. Swordfish comes in fairly thick sliced steaks, kind of like a tuna steak. I ate a TON of it when I studied abroad in Spain, so I'm fairly familiar with it.
Jon really wanted to blacken it so I let him be in charge of that.

Blackening is a technique commonly used for fish. It's ubiquitous in the South; you'll see blackened catfish on many a Louisiana restaurant menu. First you coat the fish in butter and then you dredge it in a spice rub. I think Jon just used a Cajun seasoning we had, a long with some cayenne pepper and black pepper. You need to get your pan smoking hot (we cooked the fish in butter, too), and when the butter browns, the spices will brown with it creating a black crust on the fish - hence the name blackening.

We wanted to make a risotto but I wasn't sure what kind. Apparently I've gotten more comfortable with the risotto after making it last time. I thought lemon would go well with the fish, so I googled lemon risotto and actually found some recipes - fairly easy across the board, just a simple risotto recipe with lemon added at the end. I also added saffron to give it the yellow color. This is the recipe I came up with:

Lemon Saffron Risotto        
1 qt chicken stock
1 stick butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup butter (1/2 a stick)
juice of 3 lemons
1 pinch saffron threads

1. Empty the container of chicken stock into a medium sized sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and keep covered.
2. While stock is boiling, melt butter and add to it the chopped onions and garlic. Cook until tender.
3. Add the rice, coating with the butter.
4. Add the white wine to deglaze the pain, stir for about 10 minutes until wine is absorbed.
5. Begin to add the chicken stock, half a cup at time, stirring between every addition until absorbed. On the last addition of the stock, add the saffron. The spice will need a bit of extra liquid to absorb.
6. Add the lemon juice to the risotto and mix well. Serve immediately.

*A little note about saffron: the flavor of it is very nondescript. There's not much else that it does taste like, but I think it's a bit bitter. In this recipe, I just used it for the color, and the lemon definitely outweighs the bitterness of the spice. Also, it's incredibly expensive. So if you can't find it, then it can be omitted from this recipe.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Red Beans and Rice

Red beans and rice is a Southern Louisiana staple. It's commonly eaten on Mondays, a tradition that originated in the early days of New Orleans' history, because Monday was laundry day. The beans can simmer all day long, thus making it easy for housewives to do their washing all day, and still have dinner ready by nightfall. Also, the beans are flavored with pork fat, and since Sunday usually meant a big dinner that might involve a ham or some other cut of pork, the bones and leftover meat would be saved for red beans and rice the following day. What makes this din din even more attractive is that dried kidney beans and rice cost next to nothing, PLUS you're using your leftovers from Sunday. Pretty handy, eh?

Nowadays, housewives - or housegirlfriends, I suppose - don't exactly have Monday to hang around and wash their husband's undies and have to go to work. Enter my bff, the Crock Pot.

I can remember my mom making red beans when I was little. I even remember her totally 80s Crock Pot, with its lovely orange color scheme, sitting on the kitchen counter when I came home from school. God, that smelled so good. And that smell brings back so many great memories. It's so comforting to walk into the house after a long day of work/school and smell that...

Disclaimer: If you try to make this on the stove and use canned kidney beans, may God rest your soul. Please don't do that. It's sacrilegious to New Orleanian culture. Cook it low and slow... and you gotta soak the beans first! I usually soak my beans overnight at room temp - I just pour them in bowl, fill with water to the top (need extra water here in CO) and cover in plastic wrap until the morning. I also chopped my sausage and onion before I go to bed the night before so I can just toss it into the crock pot in the a.m. Also- the sausage: any smoked sausage will do. I like to use andouille when I can find it because it adds some spice.

Ham hocks are incredibly hard to find out of the South. I harass the guy at the meat counter all the time. Finally someone at Sunflower Market told me that they even ASK for ham hocks, and have a hard time getting them. If you can't find any, you can chop up a ham steak and just use that. But I promise you, ham hocks make it taste so much better. When I do see them at the store, I buy all of them. Sorry to anyone else in Denver who needs them.

Red Beans & Rice
1 bag of small red kidney beans, soaked overnight    
1 package of smoked sausage, sliced into coins
1 onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 ham hock (or ham steak, chopped)
cayenne pepper to taste
4 servings of cooked rice
Tobasco, for serving

1. Soak red beans overnight.
2. Add chopped onions and sausage to crock pot. Pour beans on top.
3. Fill crock pot to the brim with water and add bay leaves.
4. Add cayenne pepper for some heat (or don't if you don't want it).
5. Cook 8-10 hours on low heat in crock pot.
6. At the end of the day, I take out the ham hock and slice it up and put it back into the beans before serving.
7. Serve over rice. Tobasco is optional.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

When I was home over Christmas, my mom had made butternut squash soup. In fact, it was what she fed me right when I got into town. Butternut squash soups I've had in the past have been flavorless. Maybe because they were store bought. But this soup was thick and creamy and perfectly spiced. To make it even more special, my mom chopped up a Granny Smith apple and added it to my bowl. 

I wanted to replicate her soup, so I asked her how she made it. I took her suggestions into account but I did my usual internet browsing and recipe combining before I decided exactly how to do this.

First things first, I added chicken stock. This took away some of the creaminess, but added flavor that I thought was essential. I also added milk and honey. Instead of chopping up a fresh apple, I sauteed it in butter and brown sugar, but not until it was soft, just enough to bring out the natural juices. The crunch of the apple is what made the soup special, and I didn't want to ruin that.

Butternut Squash Soup
1 medium sized butternut squash
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp all spice
1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup milk
1 qt chicken stock
2 tbs honey
1 Granny smith apple, chopped
4 tbs butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
1. Using a fork, poke several holes in the squash. Heat in microwave for 5 minutes. This will take away the intimidating task of trying to cut through the squash.
2. Chop squash into cubes. Place on cookie sheet topped with a few pads of butter, and roast until squash is soft - about 20 minutes.
3. While squash is roasting, chop the onion and garlic and sauté in olive oil until tender. 
4. Remove squash from oven and combine with onions and garlic.
5. Place squash, onions, and garlic into food processor or blender and puree.
6. Pour mixture back into a sauce pot on the stove. While cooking over medium heat, add spices, half of the brown sugar, and all other ingredients (except apple). Let come to a boil. Reduce hit to simmer.
7. While simmering, chop the apple and saute in butter and brown sugar for about 5 minutes.
8. Ladel soup into bowls, top with apples, and serve immediately. 

I'm tellin' ya...pumpkin pie in a bowl. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Taste of Thailand

I don't know what inspired me to go down this road. I do l-o-v-e LOOOOOOOVE Thai curry, which I was introduced to by coworkers about a year ago. I think coconut milk has some addictive properties, probably because it's high in fat. The addition of Thai spices to coconut milk create this sweet heat comfort food medley that give off this smells-so-good-you-can-tase-it-with-your-nose aroma.

I wasn't really in the mood to make something I'd already eaten. That'd be boring. So I asked my good friend Google for some Thai recipes and found Tom Kha Gai - Thai coconut chicken soup. The ingredients didn't seem to deviate too much from things I'd already heard of, and I thought I'd be able to find all of them (which was almost true).  So this was my winner.

Coconut milk and chicken - that was easy. Thai fish sauce? Keffir Lime leaves? ... Not so much. Sunflower Market landed me coconut milk, cilantro, and straw mushrooms. Their chicken seemed super overprice so I thought that I could get that at King Soopers when I went there to look for lemongrass, Thai chiles, fresh ginger (Sunflower was out), and fish sauce. I saw the price of ginger and walked out ($3.99/lb!!!!) - because I knew I'd be going to H. Mart anyways to find the Thai chiles and the lemongrass. But of course, I got my chicken (and a box of Samoas and Thin Mints from the ever present Girl Scouts at the King Soopers entrance).

H.Mart is interesting. I had no idea that place was like an Asian Super Target! But I found my lemongrass and my ginger ($1.29/lb...take that King Soopers), and not my Thai chiles so I scored a giant bottle of sweet Thai chile sauce for $2. But this took me eons because a lot of the things sold in bottles/cans/boxes at H.Mart are in Chinese, Thai, Korean, or Japanese. Oh, and the lime leaves were just completely not findable. But most internet sources I read said that it wouldn't really kill my soup's flavor.

Honestly, the hardest part of this Thai thing was finding the ingredients. My recipe, an amalgamation of many that I found online, is as follows:

Tom Kha Gai
1 quart chicken stock
1 lb chicken breasts
2 stalks lemongrass (the white part only), cracked
1/4 cup ginger, finely chopped (I used my food processor)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (food processor again)
2 - 13 oz cans coconut milk (what? I love this stuff!)
1 can straw mushrooms
2 tbs Thai fish sauce (Don't fear the fish sauce. Seriously. You can hardly taste it in the soup but it adds flavor!)
2 tbs Thai chile sauce
1 tbs sugar
salt & pepper to taste
cilantro to garnish

1. Cook chicken breasts in broth over high heat. Remove from broth and set aside.
2. Add lemongrass, ginger, and garlic to broth. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 10 minutes so flavors can blend with broth.
3. While broth is simmering, shred the chicken with a fork.
4. Add coconut milk, chicken, and mushrooms. Bring to boil over medium heat.
5. Add fish sauce, chile sauce, sugar, and salt & pepper. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve with garnish of cilantro and/or fresh ginger.

*note: take out the lemongrass before serving!

Also, since Jon is not the biggest fan of mushrooms, I made him some mango chicken.

Thai Mango Chicken
2 chicken breasts
1 ripe mango
2 tbs brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut milk
2 tbs Thai chile sauce

1. Puree mango, coconut milk, brown sugar, and chile sauce in food processor.
2. Place chicken in tupperware or ziplock bag and cover with sauce. Marinate ~1 hour in refrigerator.
3. Pan fry in olive oil until cooked through, about 4 minutes each side.

(this would probably be good grilled, too. But my chicken breasts were very thinly sliced)



Sunday, February 20, 2011

Breaking the Silence

Hello followers!
I know I haven't been writing much. Mainly because I haven't been cooking much. I know, I know. Blasphemous! Travesty! Shame on me! But with Jon out of town for 10 days, Valentine's Day, and Marc's family in town...I haven't found the time and I've been eating out A LOT.

But this past Wednesday, when Jon texted me telling me he bought veal shanks and that he wanted to make osso buco...I was a little scared. First of all, I knew that this dish involves veal shanks but I had no idea what else went into it. Secondly, he wanted me to serve it over risotto. Another thing that I had never, ever made because I'd heard it required patience and strong stirring arms. Neither of which I have.

But off to Sunflower Market we went to collect everything we needed for our Italian feast. Carrots, celery, onions. Tomato paste and beef broth. Kitchen twine to hold the shanks to their bony centers. For the risotto: arborio rice, chicken broth, shitake mushrooms, and parmesan cheese.

For those who don't know, osso buco is a traditional Milanese dish. Literally, osso buco means "bone with a hole", which makes sense because the shank comes from the...well...let's call it the baby cow's forearm...and has a big bone in the center of it. Sorry to those of you who don't agree with eating baby animals...

The shanks are braised sloooowly in a veggie tomato sauce. The vegetables are strained out of the sauce after the braising period to give you a nice smooth sauce to serve over the meat.

Osso Buco
4 veak shanks
olive oil
salt and pepper
flour, for dredging
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, copped
1 large carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 small can tomato paste
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups beef broth
kitchen twine

1. Tie kitchen twine around shanks to hold the meat to the bone. Salt and pepper both sides of the shanks and lightly dredge in flour.
2. Heat olive oil in a large roasting pan or Dutch oven until it smokes. Sear shanks about 5 minutes on each side until browned. Remove shanks and set aside.
3. Add to pan: chopped onions, celery, garlic, and carrots. Cook until veggies are tender.
4. Add tomato paste, simmer for about a minute.
5. Add white wine and simmer for 5 minutes to deglaze the pan.
6.  Return shanks to pan and add beef broth.
7. Cover and braise at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, turning veal every 30 minutes and adding beef broth as necessary.
8. Remove veal from roasting pan and set aside. Strain vegetables from sauce and return sauce and veal to roasting pan. Simmer until bubbly and serve immediately.

Sounds like a lot of work, huh? It's not so bad. Especially since I spent that hour and half making this:

Shitake and Parmesan Risotto
4 cups chicken broth
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
8 tbs (1 stick) butter
1 cup chopped shitake mushrooms

1. Heat chicken broth to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Reduce heat to low and cover to keep warm.
2. Meanwhile, melt 2 tbs of the butter in a large sauce pan. Add onions and garlic to butter.
3. When onions and garlic are tender, add rice and coat with butter.
4. Add 1/2 cup of the hot chicken broth to the rice mixture. Stir constantly until all broth is absorbed. Repeat this, adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time until the broth is gone.
(to make my risotto extra creamy and flavorful, I also added a tbsp or so of the butter when I added chicken broth) :)
5. When chicken broth is gone, add Parmesean cheese and chopped mushrooms. Stir until well blended and cheese has melted. Serve immediately.

*In hindsight, I should have cooked the mushrooms with the onions and garlic to bring out more flavor...but like I said, this was my first time!

I'm pretty proud of the end result. The risotto was incredibly creamy, and the meat fell right off the bone!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Crab & Corn Soup

Once again, my roomie's mom saved the day (and my wallet) with the seafood stash stocked in my freezer.

I had a pound of dungeness crab legs and an arctic blast on the way. Dungeness isn't my usual go-to crustacean. Being a Gulf Coast native, blue crab is what I'm used to. I can remember my dad bringing home a big brown paper bag full of the critters on Fridays during Lent, covering the kitchen table with copies of the Times Picayune, and shelling me crab legs while I waited rather impatiently. Now I can crack my own crabs and suck them down like a Hoover. Batter and fry me up some blue crab legs, and I'll inhale them at an embarrassing rate.

When we lived down South, I was constantly hanging out with my best friend Gia and her twin brother Alex, who lived spitting distance from our house. Their mom, Gina, made this soup recipe that I am going to share with you now. Of course, the crab she probably used was fresh from the Gulf, and the crab that I used here was not nearly as fresh and from the Pacific. I tweaked a few things here and there to change up the flavor a bit - and my quantities might be a little different than hers - but I credit her for the inspiration. The sour cream, lemon juice, and tomato were not originally in this recipe. I added this recipe to a) give the soup a little extra sweetness and tang and b) cut the fat with some acid. Citrus always lightens a meal. This soup can be incredibly heavy otherwise, kind of like a chowder.

Crab and Corn Soup
1/2 stick butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons flour
1 pint half & half
2 cups milk
1/4 cup sour cream
2 cans creamed corn
1 lb crab meat, picked over for shells
1/4 cup Sherry wine
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons Worstechire sauce
tabasco sauce (to taste)
juice of 1 lemon
1 hot house tomato, pulp removed and chopped
handful chopped parsley
salt & pepper to taste

Melt butter and add onions, garlic, and celery. Cook until veggies are tender. Add flour, stirring constantly. Add milk and heavy cream. Stir well, and add in corn and crab. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes.

Considering that Old Man Winter has slapped us in the face in Denver, I've sucked down the whole batch of this soup. I told you, I'm a Hoover when it comes to crab.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Zesty Shrimp Tacos

No one to cook for but myself.
And 3 days from my monthly paycheck. In other words...broke.

So this is when the scavenging starts. Still had some shrimp leftover in the freezer. Had sour cream, too. One might not normally think of those two things together, but when you're on a budget, you work with what you got.

One quick $7 trip to the grocery store scored me shredded cabbage, 2 limes, and corn tacos.

My low budge invention is as follows:

Zesty Shrimp Tacos
(serves one)

For tacos:
8-10 medium sized shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 corn tacos
shredded cabbage
juice of one lime
salt and pepper
1/2 tbsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tbsp cumin
canola oil

For zesty sour cream:
1/4 cup sour cream
juice of one lime
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika

Marinate shrimp in lime juice, salt, pepper, cumin, and cayenne for about 30 minutes in the refrigerator. 

While marinating, combine sour cream, lime juice, cumin and paprika. Mix well. Set aside.

Cook shrimp in frying pan until pink. Reduce heat to low simmer, cover with foil.

Coat the bottom of another frying pain with canola oil. Fry tortillas about 30 seconds on each side, until they puff up.

Arrange tortillas on a plate, top each with a handful of shredded cabbage, top with shrimp, and drizzle with sour cream.

End result: Delish.

Monday, January 17, 2011

My First Ever Cheesecake

Jon dared me. So I did it. And who thinks of making a cheesecake at 10 o' clock at night? But he dared me.

I'd never made a cheesecake before, but with being dared and all, and a three day weekend, and that 650 page behemoth of a desserts cookbook, why not?

First comes the graham cracker crust, which I mixed in my food processor with 5 tbsp cold butter, a tablespoon of sugar, and the crumbs of 9 graham crackers. 25 minutes at 325...voila...beautiful.

There were 5 packets of cream cheese and lots o' eggs involved in the filling. 4 eggs + 1 yolk to be exact. Cup and a half of sugar. Tablespoon of lemon juice. 1 1/2 tsp vanilla. All of that beat well in the KitchenAid.

To make my raspberry puree, I added the juice of one lemon, a pint of raspberries, and sugar to a sauce pan. The thing about raspberries is that once you heat them, the fall apart on their own. So no mashing or food processing was necessary.

I spooned my filling into my spring form pan, and swirled in my puree. An hour and fifteen minutes at 325 and my beautiful cheesecake was done!

It needed to chill overnight of course, but it felt oh-so-good to spend a lazy day in bed, and then to take a bite of something special that I made all by myself. :)

ps. Barbara Fairchild gets no credit for the raspberry puree. That's all me.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Gourmet BBQ

I swear - we've had this slab of ribs in our freezer for an eternity. Every time I go digging into the freezer, I am salivating over those ribs. Finally, there was a day when the boy had enough time to throw them on the smoker. YUMMY.

He used a Kansas City BBQ rub and some applewood chips that I had gotten him for his birthday. I believe that he cooked them for about 3 hours...but I can't take any credit for the ribs, because I was off snuggling baby Sawyer. ;)

Earlier in the day, I had boiled some fingerling potatoes and doused them with white wine vinegar. To make my dressing for my potato salad I used: 3/4 cup mayo, 3/4 cup sour cream, and a tablespoon of dijon mustard. I also added chopped celery, onions, and parsley and let that chill in the fridge all day.

If that's not enough fat for you...I had to fry some asparagus. Yes, you heard me correctly. Blanched asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and then dredged in an egg wash and flour...fried in canola oil. No fat at all, right?

I'm calling this gourmet BBQ because...come on, that potato salad is pretty yuppie. No? And most BBQ joints aren't equipped with prosciutto ham. Or asparagus. So this is a "dressed up" country dinner.

The potato salad was tangy due to the sour cream and the vinegar...and I really liked that difference in taste. The asparagus had a great crisp to them, although they made this meal very filling. The ribs were perfectly meaty and fell right off the bone (once again, I take no credit).

But we couldn't finish this massive meal.

Jon said he was so full afterward that he could have just fallen asleep. And then he proceeded to go straight to the cupboard and pull out of chocolate peanut butter brownie.

"What? Dessert goes to a different compartment in your stomach."

Touche, babe.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chocolate Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting

"So...I noticed that there's no baked goods in the house"

This is how my boyfriend chooses to hint at the fact that its time for me to bake, seeing as it'd be a whole 4 days since I made those pecan chocolate chip cookies.

So, I busted out the ginormous bon appetit Desserts cookbook that Jon got me for Christmas. Emphasis on the ginormousness. It's an encyclopedia of pies, cakes, cookies, brownies, and candies.

The 631 page behemoth didn't just have one brownie recipe, of course. Chocolate Chip Brownies with Pecans and Raisins. Coconut Checkerboard Brownies. Chocolate-Espresso Brownies with Chocolate Glaze. Fudgy Toffee Brownies. Mint Chocolate Brownies. Old-Fashioned Brownies. Raspberry Brownies....just to name a few. But out of all of these fancy schmancy recipes, the one that stood out the most was the Chocolate Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting.

Yes - Chocolate and peanut butter. Peas and carrots. Bread and butter. Perfect pairs. You'd think out of such a plethora of choices it'd be a tough decision, but when I stumbled upon wasn't.
Chocolate Brownies with Peanut Butter Frosting
5 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped.
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3 tbs unsalted butter
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350. Grease 13x9x2 baking dish. 
Combine chocolates with melted butter in saucepan. Stir over low heat until melted. Cool to lukewarm.
Using electric mixer, beat sugar eggs, and vanilla at high speed until mixture is thick and pale yellow (about 5 minutes). Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in flour and salt, then chocolate. Transfer to prepared pan. Bake 20 minutes. Cool on rack.
For frosting, combine peanut butter and butter in a medium bowl. Beat with electric mixer until smooth. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. 

Spread over brownies and refrigerate 1 hour. Cut into squares. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lighten up! (plus a bonus recipe)

It was brought to my attention at my annual physical last week that since last year's physical...I've gained 11 pounds. ELEVEN. That probably doesn't sound like a whole lot, what with the holidays and all this food blogging I do, but for a pint-sized 5 foot 2 inch chica...11 lbs doesn't have a whole lot of places to go. Not wanting to start 2011 with an extra 11 pounds, I've been going to zumba and this crazy class at 24 Hour Fitness called Body Pump. I'm tell you - if you do the combination of those two, you won't even be able to sit down to pee. And after that hard work, you don't really want to scarf down the baked mac n cheese that's leftover in the fridge (fine, you'll get that recipe too).

Ergot, I came home from zumba tonight and made a salad. But not a boring Romaine lettuce, cucumber, and carrot salad. A walnut, pear, and goat cheese salad. I already had some arugula, which I had eaten for lunch over the weekend with some of the salmon that Marc's mom had sent him home with. I already had goat cheese and walnuts, and when I had heard that Sunflower Market was having a 10 for $10 sale on various items I decided that I should clear out their produce section. Hence the pears.

Walnut, Pear and Goat Cheese Salad
(serves 1)

enough arugula to cover the bottom of your plate 
1 Bartlett pear, cubed
handful crumbled goat cheese
handful chopped walnuts

for balsamic vinaigrette:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil 
salt & pepper

Toss all salad ingredients together.
Whisk together oil and vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle dressing over salad and serve.

Fine. You've put up with my salad creation. I'll give you what you really want.

Jon's Baked Mac 'n Cheese
2 lbs elbow macaroni
variety of block cheeses (always use cheddar, but feel free to vary what cheese you add. Last night we used cheddar, havarti, pepperjack, gouda, and mozzarella)
shredded cheddar to top
1 cup Ritz cracker crumbs
1/2 cup milk
2 sticks butter
6 eggs 

1. Boil macaroni in a large stock pot. Meanwhile, chop up your cheeses into cubes.
2. Drain macaroni through a colander and return to pot. 
3. Over low heat: add milk, butter, and beaten eggs.
4. Add cheddar cheese in batches and stir until all the cheese is melted and noodles are coated.
5. Cover the bottom of a greased baking dish with a layer of noodles. Add a mixture of the other cheeses (like you are layering a lasagna). Continue to layer like this until you are out of noodles.
6. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.
7. Uncover, add cracker crumbs, and shredded cheddar. Bake until cheese on top melts.

*you can obviously use less noodles. I just have an amazingly large ceramic baking dish and live with two boys with bottomless stomachs*

Thanks to Jon for showing me how to make this his way. The first time I did it on my own, I melted all of the cheese in the pot with the noodles. First of all, you get a sticky gooey mess when you do that. Secondly, when you layer the cheese and the noodles, the cheeses melt in the over and the noodles stick together like a casserole.

enjoy :)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies

We got a good 5-6 inches of snow today. So I ditched zumba and decided to fill the house with the wonderful smell of freshly baked cookies.

My mom sent me Louisiana pecans, which are so much better than the really expensive ones you can get at the grocery store. And Jon had given me 2 HUGE bars of great quality Belgian white chocolate in my stocking this year, so this recipe was perfect.

Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups chopped pecans
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
8 oz milk chocolate chips
4 oz white chocolate chips (or in my case, coarsely chopped amazing Belgian white chocolate)

1. Mix together flour and baking soda. Set aside.
2. In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars.
3. Add salt, vanilla, and egg while continuing to blend.
4. Blend in flour and baking soda mixture.
5. Fold in chocolates and pecans.
6. Roll into balls and place on flour dusted cookie sheets.
7. Bake at 375 degrees for 13-15 minutes.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Crock Pot French Onion Soup

Yes, I cheat. I use a crock pot. Like I said in my post about the corned beef, it is the greatest kitchen appliance you can own. Honestly, no one in their right mind has the time or energy to make prosciutto wrapped scallops with lemon beurre blanc after an 9 hour work day and Zumba. (you're right. I'm nuts.)

This is a hodge podge of a few different recipes - which is something I do often.  I'll look through cookbooks, or do some Google searches and just combine several recipes that I find. Jon had seen the recipe for French Onion Soup over the weekend, while I was flipping through Bon Appetit, Y'all, and decided that he really, really wanted some. My first thought about this was: I don't care what her recipe says, I'm using my crock pot.

And so I did this my way. I combined that recipe with a few others I found online and came up with this:

Crock Pot French Onion Soup

2 large onions, thinly sliced (by the way, the first recipe I saw called for 6 onions...SIX! seriously??? 
1 leek (the pale green and white parts), thinly sliced into half moons
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 tbs butter
2 tbs brown sugar
1 cup sherry, divided in half
5-6 cups beef stock 
salt and pepper to taste
3 sprigs thyme, divided
1/2 tbs rosemary
1 small baguette, cubed (for croutons)
olive oil
Sliced swiss cheese to serve

1. Night before: Add chopped onions, butter, leeks, garlic, brown sugar, and 1/2 of the sherry to the crock pot. Let cook overnight. (~8 hrs).
2. In the morning: your onions will have caramelized, and greatly reduced (but seriously, I couldn't have fit 6 onions in my crock pot). 
3. Add beef stock, salt, pepper, 2 sprigs thyme, and the other 1/2 of the sherry.
4. If, when you add your beef stock, your crock pot doesn't fill to the brim, add water so that it does. (The liquid will evaporate while it cooks and you will come home to crusty onions instead of soup.) Cook on low 8-10 hours.
5.  Jon did the croutons for me: mix rosemary, thyme, drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Coat bread and bake in 350 degree oven until crispy.
6. To serve: place croutons in the bottom of an ovenproof bowl, ladle soup over croutons, and top with cheese. Bake at 350 until cheese melts.

Dinner is served...and how easy was that!?

Tomorrow night is date night, so I get to eat at my favorite Chinese restaurant and you get nothin' ;)

(and if you haven't noticed, those soup crocks are a Christmas gift from Jon. Love them, love him!)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops with Lemon Beurre Blanc

Special thanks to Marc's (our roommate) mom for sending him home from California with scallops, dungeness crab, salmon, prawns, and king crab legs. I was like a kid in a candy store trying to decide what to do with all that seafood.

I don't know where I thought of wrapping the scallops in prosciutto, but probably because it's almost bacon (and if you don't like bacon, please...stop reading my blog) - and it just wraps around things so well and doesn't really fall apart. After telling Jon of my idea he reminds me that his friend, Foley (whose first name is actually Chris, but we don't call him that) is a cook at NoRTH in Cherry Creek and a graduate of JWU's culinary school AND apparently knew how to make some great lemony butter sauce.

"Something...blanc? Does that sound right?" Yep, beurre blanc - which in French literally means white butter. Add some lemon and it is absolutely perfect for fish. The ingredients: white wine, lemon, heavy cream, BUTTER, shallots, and garlic.

Here's the thing: beurre blanc sounds pretty fancy. I don't do fancy. I'm a cook. I'm not a culinary trained chef. But like I said...we knew someone who was. Enter: Foley. He came over after work, unbeknownst to him that I'd make him do more work. Sorry, dude. But he did give me a good cooking lesson.

Lemon Beurre Blanc
2 lemons
1 orange
white wine
heavy cream
2 stick butter
1 bay leaf

First he reduced the citrus and the wine with the bay leaf, to almost nothing. Then he added the cream and stirred until it thickened and added the butter in small chunks. You aren't supposed to add the butter all at once, because the sauce will break. But honestly, this isn't culinary school and if the sauce breaks it tastes the same - so who gives a @#!$?

In the end, you get this beautiful, yellow creamy sauce that almost looks like a hollandaise. And I'd imagine that it would taste fabulous on any type of fish.

So while he was doing his thing with the sauce (sorry for cheating, guys) - I seared my scallops (which again, I was apparently doing wrong - when I tried to throw my scallops in my sizzling oil - I was told it wasn't hot enough. It has to smoke first.) And the potatoes roasted in the oven with rosemary, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Please don't make fun of my dinky 2 scallops. The thing is, they were so darn good that I ate them all and forgot to take a picture. Since Jon is a skinny little thing (jealous) and not as much of a glutton as I am, he had two left. Well, actually he had 3. I ate one of them.

Did I mention I have to go to Zumba tomorrow?

But before that, I'll be polishing off the rest of this vin blanc.



Saturday, January 1, 2011

Twenty Eleven

Happy 2011!

On New Year's Day, my family eats corned beef and cabbage, and black eyed peas. Since I've never made this myself, I decided it would be nice to carry on the tradition.

Now - for those of you who don't know - a black eyed pea is not a pea.  Rather, it's a legume - or for the sake of keeping it simple: it's a bean. As you can see from this picture, it gets it name from its prominent black spot. So, why do we eat this on New Year's? It's a very common Southern tradition. But where did it originate?

Eating black eyed peas on New Year's is thought to bring good luck and prosperity for the year ahead. The tradition actually dates back to Babylonian times, when those of the Jewish faith ate the so-called "lucky beans"  or rubiya on Rosh Hashanah, accompanied by beets, dates, leeks, and spinach. All of these together were thought to be symbols of good luck. 

The practice of eating black-eyed peas in the South was adopted when the first Jews came to the US in the 1730s and settled in Georgia. The meal was then adapted to include greens (collards, turnip, mustard) and ham or some sort of pork dish. The greens symbolized money, and the pig symbolized moving forward, since pigs always move forward when they forage for food (learn something new everyday right?).

Well, I'm not sure why the corned beef got thrown in there. Or the cabbage. Other than the fact that cabbage is green (money) and that corned beef is a pretty cheap cut of meat. Cabbage is about $1 a head, too. The way I've always heard it: cabbage for money, black eyed peas for luck, and corned beef for health. All great things to eat while kicking off a brand new year, right?

That's all for today's history lesson. Now, here's how you make the stuff.

I wasn't sure what to do with the corned beef brisket. Cook in on the stove or in the oven? What about the crock pot? I swear by my slow cooker. It's the most wonderful electronic appliance you can have in your kitchen, especially if you're a busy person. Just throw it all in there, come back 8 hours later and dinner is served! So crock pot it is.

I was up until about 2am on NYE and decided that if I just soaked that brisket in it's seasoning and water and put my crock pot on "warm", that by morning I'd have a pretty tender piece of meat. (my "low" setting cooks a lot faster than you might think". It was mostly cooked when I woke up on NYD, but I wanted it to be tender so I cranked the heat to high and cooked it for about 5 more hours. 

Meanwhile, I boiled a ham hock.  What? You don't know what a ham hock is? Only the most wonderful, fatty piece of pork ever. It's pretty safe to say that it's the pig's "ankle". (see diagram)

Southern cooks use ham hocks a lot to flavor stews and soups. I love to use them in red beans & rice, and I swear that it just does not taste the same without them. Problem is, they are tough to find, so whenever I see them at the store I buy about 4 of them.

Once the water and my hock came to a boil, I added the black eyed peas which I'd had soaking in water the night before so they could rehydrate. (I used Bayou Magic's brand that comes with a seasoning pack: click here to order some, along with some gumbo or jambalaya mix!) I added in the seasoning pack and a chopped onion and just let them simmer for about an hour. Towards the end, I cut the meat off the ham hock and put it back into the pot. (I think whoever gets tons of fatty meat in their bowl is EXTRA lucky - just because it's so delish)

Remember, that brisket is still slow cookin' in the crock pot. So I got going on my cornbread. Because what kind of hearty, Southern meal doesn't have cornbread?
 I used a recipe from my new cookbook, Bon Appetit Y'all, by Virginia Willis. And I am happy to share...

Buttermilk Cornbread
2 cups white or yellow corn meal
2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp salt
1 large egg, beaten
2 tbs butter, or bacon grease

Preheat oven to 450 and add butter  to baking dish. Let melt in oven 10-15 min.

Mix all of the above together (and if you want to make it even more special, add a can of corn!) and bake  for 25 minutes. I also brushed some honey over the top of the bread when it was done. The butter  (or bacon grease, if you have it) gives the bread a beautiful golden brown color around the edges and on top.


Now, for the cabbage. Don't hate on the cabbage. I know you're thinking of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and his poor old grandparents sitting in that one bed together and eating cabbage soup. Stop it. Cabbage is good.

I took some of the liquid out of the crock pot and put it in a pot on the stove.  I added chopped onions (large pieces, not finely chopped), half a head of cabbage, quartered red potatoes, and baby carrots. I added some more of the liquid on top and let that simmer until all of the veggies were tender. 

We put the brisket into a frying pan to give it a good crust on both sides, and then Jon sliced it up. It was so tender and pretty! 

Another family tradition for New Year's = Chinese New Year Candy. I realize that it's not the CHINESE New Year. But it's still the new year. And it's not really chinese except for one ingredient. Lots of people call these haystacks because of their appearance, but I will always call them Chinese New Year Candy. Here's the recipe.

Chinese New Year Candy
1 bag chocolate chips
1 bag butterscotch chips
1 8oz can of salted peanuts
1 can of Chinese chow mein noodles

1. Melt chocolate and butterscotch in a double boiler or in the microwave. 
2. Once throughly melted, pour over noodles and peanuts. Mix until coated with chocolate/butterscotch.
3. Cover the bottom of a baking dish with wax paper and drop spoonfuls of the mixture, just like you're making drop cookies. 
4. Feel free to lay another sheet of waxed paper over the first layer, and just layer your candies in your baking dish.
I think the salty/sweet combo of these is great!

I'm not so sure what this New Year has in store for me, but I prepare to keep on cookin'. Marc's mom sent him home with dungeness crab, king crab legs, salmon, prawns, and scallops for Jon and me to eat. So prepare to see some seafood creations soon!

Until then....Happy 2011!