Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pasta, Chicken, and the Internet

I love chicken. It is probably my favorite protein. I love pasta. Who doesn't? And, you guessed it, I love the internet.

The internet is today's virtual cookbook. With just a few keystrokes you can have the cooking world at your beck and call. Don't get me wrong, I love my cookbooks, and there is nothing that will ever replace them, but the convenience of internet recipe searches does have a certain appeal.

I have a wonderful network of chef friends who amaze me with their foods. Through them I have honed skills and discovered new recipes that my family and clients love. Like me, they follow various food blogs. Often they will share a link to one that has a particularly wonderful recipe. Such is the case for the Lemon Chicken Pasta with peas that I served at home last night. The recipe is below but be sure to check out the link it came from, Life's A Feast. It is a great blog with a wealth of recipes and resources.

And here's a bonus...not only was is incredible tasting, it was super simple.  The resident taste tester gave it two thumbs up and said it's a keeper.

Lemon Chicken Pasta with peas

For 2 – 3 people

12 – 14 oz  raw chicken tenders  or skinless breast
3 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbs olive oil
1 medium to large-sized garlic clove, peeled and minced or crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

9 – 10 ½ oz  fresh linguine, pappardelle or your favorite pasta
A few tablespoons flour seasoned with salt and pepper for dusting the chicken
Olive oil for browning
3 medium shallots, chopped (I know this may sound like a lot of shallots, but it isn't in the end.)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
Juice of 1 lemon, about 3 – 4 Tbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup fresh or frozen peas, optional

A few tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves or flat-leaf parsley

Begin this dish early in the day if preparing for dinner or the night before if preparing for lunch. Clean, rinse and pat dry the chicken and cut into very large chunks  Place all the chicken in a bowl just big enough to hold them all. Pour the 3 tablespoons lemon juice, the 1 tablespoon olive oil and the minced garlic over the chicken. Salt and pepper , stir so all the chicken is coated in the liquid, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate all day, overnight or at least for several hours. The chicken marinated like this will not only be infused with lemon flavor but once cooked it will be tender and moist.

Once the chicken has marinated, take the bowl out of the fridge and remove the chicken pieces from the marinade. Start a pot with water for the pasta. Salt the water once it comes to a boil.

Heat up about 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Toss the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour to coat then shake off the excess flour. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken (you may need to do this in batches as you do no want to crowd them) and allow to cook until the pan side is golden brown and crispy. Turn the pieces over to brown on the other side. Add more olive oil to the pan as needed. As the chicken pieces turn golden brown all over, remove them to a plate.

Cook your pasta in the salted boiling water as you prepare the chicken and sauce. Keep watch over it and drain it when it is done. Place it in a large serving bowl.

Once all of the chicken is browned, quickly and very carefully wipe out the skillet with paper towels then add a couple more tablespoons of olive oil to the hot skillet. Add the chopped shallots and garlic and, tossing and stirring, cook them until they are wilted, tender and caramelizing around the edges, about 2 or 3 minutes. Carefully pour the chicken stock and juice of one lemon over the cooked shallots and garlic. Salt and pepper. Add the peas and lower the heat to allow the broth to simmer for a few minutes until the peas are cooked and tender and the broth and juice are reduced to about half. Carefully add the chicken pieces to the broth just to heat through.

Pour the sauce with the peas and chicken over the cooked pasta and toss gently so the pasta is sauced and the chicken and peas are evenly distributed. Sprinkle the chopped fresh coriander or parsley over the top to toss as you serve.

Source: Life's a Feast Blog, October 2010

My chef friend that provided this link shared that she used tilapia instead of chicken and it was equally as delicious. I see possibilities...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The French Macaron Massacre

I instruct for the Viking Cooking School in Atlanta and when I am assigned a class that I have not taught before, especially if it's a sweets and dessert class, I like to practice so I can look like I've been doing the class all my life.

Such is the case for the sold out class that I will be teaching tomorrow morning, Macarons and Whoopie Pies. 

I read the recipes and felt confident with the whoopie pies but decided that even though the macarons seemed super simple, I would make them anyway. And all I can say is thank goodness I did, because I totally massacred those babies!  These certainly would not have made a very good impression on my class!  Here's what happened while they were resting prior to baking.
Despite piping the meringue in the guides that I marked on my Silpat, they ran and ran and ran! And yes, I tinted the meringue yellow, as if you couldn't have figured it out.

I baked them anyway, but there is no way to separate baked meringues without breaking them. I was able to get a few off and I pitched the others.  I didn't bother to fill them but ate them naked and they tasted pretty good.

Today I got out all of the ingredients again and set about making them a second time, paying really close attention to consistency and time.  This time they turned out much, much better.  Here's today's batch resting.
Don't they look pretty?

Here they are after they baked.
Notice the foot around the macaron? Yep, it's supposed to be there.

I did not make the buttercream filling for them but instead filled them with Nutella.
The resident taste tester popped one in his mouth and declared them perfect.

I'll go into the class tomorrow and share my story of the massacred French macarons. Hopefully what I learned in my practice runs will help the class make a perfect French macaron the first time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Chocolate anyone?

I admit I do love chocolate. It doesn't even have to be a good piece of chocolate either. I'm happy with a handful of Nestle semi-sweets when the craving hits me. I also love other flavors mixed with chocolate, like peanut butter or toffee, so you can imagine my shear delight when I found a recipe in the October issue of bon appetit for Halloween Peanut Butter and Toffee Candy Bark! Here's every thing that goes into to candy.
Can it get any better than this? I mean, it's a chocolate lover's paradise!

The recipe is simple and quick. Melt the chocolate chips, break up the rest of the candy, spread the melted chocolate on a sheet pan, sprinkle with candies and nuts, drizzle with melted white chocolate and top with more candy. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes and then break into pieces. See, easy as pie!
I love candy recipes that are easy and quick and this one fills the bill, and tastes pretty darn good too! While I would love to hide the finished product and keep it all to myself, I won't. Today is the birthday of my good friend Dale so in the spirit of our friendship I delivered a box of this wonderful candy to him yesterday. Happy Birthday Dale!

Any one else want a piece? I'll share!

Halloween Peanut Butter and Toffee Candy Bark
Makes about 2 pounds

1 pound bittersweet chocolate chips
3 2.1-ounce Butterfinger candy bars, cut into irregular1-inch pieces
3 1.4-ounce Skor or Heath toffee candy bars, cut into irregular 3/4-inch pieces
8 0.55-ounce peanut butter cups, each cut into 8 wedges
1/4 cup honey-roasted peanuts
3 ounces high-quality white chocolate, chopped
   Reese's Pieces and/or yellow and orange peanut M&M's

Line baking sheet with foil (I used a Silpat.) Stir chocolate chips in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and warm (not hot) to touch. Pour chocolate onto foil; spread to 1/4-inch thickness (about 12x10 rectangle), using an offset spatula or back of a spoon.

Sprinkle with Butterfinger candy, toffee, peanut butter cups, and nuts, making sure all pieces touch melted chocolate to adhere.

Melt white chocolate in heavy small saucepan. Stir constantly over very low heat until chocolate is melted and warm. Remove from heat. Dip the tines of a fork into chocolate; wave from side to side over bark creating zigzag line. Scatter Reese's Pieces and M&M's over, making sure candy touched melted chocolate.

Chill bark until firm, 30 minutes. Slide foil with candy onto work surface; peel off foil. Cut bark into irregular pieces (I found it easier to break into pieces rather than cut.)

Source: bon appetite Magazine, October 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010'll just be our secret!

I have a dirty little secret to share with you. I hate to menu plan. Okay let me clarify this statement. I love to plan for others, just not for my family. I know. Crazy isn't it? It's just the two of us these days so really, how hard can planning a menu that doesn't have to leave out foods like eggplant and artichokes be?

Over the years I have used many "tools" to keep track of weekly menus, from a spiral notebook to a computerized spreadsheet. Each helped me for a while, but I would always find myself sliding back into the 'open the freezer and hope that something would jump out for dinner' method.  Recently I found a link for a neat website $5 Dinners and it has ideas and nifty little printouts that are meant to help in planning and shopping. So I thought I'd give a couple of these a try and see how I do. 

Here's what my desk looked like on Sunday afternoon  as I was making out my weekly menu.
After not more than 15 minutes, I had my menu planned.
I know that it looks like we didn't eat last week, but we did, honestly. We were away until Sunday and I just didn't have time on Monday to plan. The old open the freezer trick worked pretty well last week. 

You can see that I don't cook every night. I cook only three or four nights and we have leftovers the rest of the week. So seriously, how hard could planning three or four days menus be?

Sometimes I am teaching at Viking and it's just my hubby for dinner so unless I want him to eat a bowl of cereal for supper, I always like to have a quick left over for him to heat up. And I do pack his lunch with leftovers too.

Of course even when I have a menu planned, it may not make it to the table. Sometimes life happens. Last night however, we did have what I planned, Sesame Chicken with Sugar Snaps. It was yummy! I added left over steamed rice and mini-egg rolls and we had a wonderful supper.

Here's the recipe.

Sesame Chicken with Sugar Snaps

Serves 4

5 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons honey
1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into3/4-inch chunks
6 teaspoons canola oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon grated peeled ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoon sugar
3 to 4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon chili paste
4 cups sugar snaps
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Cooked rice, optional

1. Whisk 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sesame oil and honey in a bowl. Toss in chicken and marinate for 20 minutes.

2.  Remove the chicken from the marinade using a slotted spoon. Heat 2 teaspoons canola oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken in 2 batches, turning once or twice, until browned, 3-5 minutes (add 2 more teaspoons canola oil between batches). Transfer the chicken to a plate and wipe out skillet.

3.  Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons canola oil in the skillet. Add the scallions, reserving some of the green parts for topping. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk the broth, sugar, cornstarch, vinegar, chili paste, and the remaining 2 tablespoon soy sauce in a bowl; add to the skillet and cook, stirring, until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 teaspoons sesame oil.

4.  Meanwhile, cook the sugar snaps in a steamer basket or in microwave, for 2 to 3 minutes.

5.  Return the chicken to the skillet with sauce and heat until chicken in completely cooked, about 7-10 minutes. Serve the chicken and sugar snaps over rice, If desired. Top with sesame seeds and reserved scallion greens.

Source: food network Magazine, October 2010

And's pork and mushroom stew over mashed potatoes...we'll see!

Got any secrets you want to share?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Variety Cookie of My Own

I am in awe of people who can take a recipe, make changes to it, and call it their own. Flavor profiles and what goes best with what are areas of culinary knowledge that I am "less than knowledgeable" about.  I do understand the very basics of the process, but that's about it.

I'm a pretty good cookie baker, according to my resident taster, so yesterday I decided that I would attempt to make a cookie that I could really say was mine. I dug out my recipe box that an aunt lovingly made and gave to me as a wedding present and found my mother's recipe for 'Variety Cookies."
Mother's recipe is similar to a sugar cookie but not quite as sweet. The "variety" part is that you could add cocoa to it and make a delicious chocolate sugar cookie. This is one of my favorite recipes. I decided that I'd use this recipe for my first real foray into recipe building.

As you can see, the recipe is very basic.

I thought about the spices I enjoy, cardamon, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. I knew that using all of these spices be overpowering so I settled on cardamon and nutmeg.

The recipe uses shortening so I substituted half of the amount for butter. This gave it a richer flavor. Instead of milk I used half and half.

This recipe makes great dough for cut out cookies, but I rolled them in a small balls, flattened them with a sugared glass, and then pressed in sliced almonds. 

One of my neighbor's dropped by as the first pan was coming out of the oven and I enlisted her as my taste tester. Her critique gave them high marks for presentation, tenderness and flavor. Coming from her, this is high praise!

I am very pleased with the outcome of my little cooking experiment. I do believe that I now have a "variety cookie of my own".

Sugar and Spice Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen

3 tablespoons shortening
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar, plus additional sugar for pressing cookies
2 tablespoons half and half
1 egg
1/2  teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg (I used freshly grated nutmeg.)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Cream shortening, butter, and sugar. Add egg, half and half, and vanilla.

Sift flour, cardamon, nutmeg, salt, and baking powder together and add to creamed mixture. Mix well.

Roll into balls, using a tablespoon for measurement. Place on a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat or parchment paper. Wet the bottom of a flat bottomed glass, dip bottom in sugar, and press cookie dough ball to the size of a silver dollar. Press sliced almonds into top of cookie dough.

Bake in a 350 F preheated oven for 10 minutes. Let cookies cook for 2 to 3 minutes on cookie sheet and them transfer to cooling rack to finish cooling.

Store in a cookie jar or other air tight container. Freezes well.


Monday, October 11, 2010

When In The Big Easy...

Just returned from wonderful weekend in New Orleans. We met several of my hubby's academy classmates and their wives for the Army/Tulane football game. I am thrilled to say that Army won! Go Army!

Of course, one doesn't come to New Orleans without sampling some of the foods that the city and the region are famous for.   Arriving on Friday before lunchtime, we strolled through the French Quarter and made our way to the French Market. I always enjoy walking up and down the isles looking at what the vendors are selling. There was a great deal of silver jewelry, handbags, t-shirts and alligator jaws. One vendor was selling Mardi Gras masks and boas and there was an artisan who makes unique pins with a New Orleans flavor. He has been there for years and I have several of his pins, even a hot pink crayfish! Sadly, over the many years that I have been visiting the market, I have seen a real change, and in many regards decline, in the merchandise sold. But it never fails to be an experience!

After our walk through the market, we ventured up Decatur street to find a place to grab a quick bowl or red beans and rice. We ended up at the Bootlegger's Bar and Grill at 209 Decatur. The bowl of red beans and rice hit the spot and we were good for the rest of the afternoon.

I spent the afternoon wandering around Jackson Square and the surrounding streets. The Square was pretty quiet as it was a weekday. Many of the regular vendors were not set up. I always enjoy looking at the art work and watching people have their "readings" done by one of the may psychics. I keep saying that I am going to have my told one day but I'm really too chicken!

Friday evening was  for all of us to gather and catch up. We had great pizza by the hotel pool!

Saturday morning had beignets and cafe au lait calling my name! Several of us made our way down Decatur street to Cafe du Monde. When we arrived there were about 25 people ahead of us, but we weren't concerned. We knew that they wouldn't run out of beignets! Within 10 minutes we had a seats and what a location we had scored. We were right at the front looking out onto Jackson Square, and of course, all of the other people waiting in line. We watched balloon artists entertain kids in the line and the jazz trio on the sidewalk kept the adults entertained. One little girl was really into the music and upstaged the musicians with her dance moves! The trumpet player even gave her a dollar for her efforts!
 Our beignets and cafe au lait arrived and we all dug in and tried not to wear the confectioner's sugar all over our black clothes. See Army's colors are black and gold and we had all dressed for the game. Probably not smart on our part.
Once we enjoyed these delectable goodies, we wandered the Square, now filled with artisans, and side streets. What a wonderful morning we had.

The afternoon was spent cheering on the Black Knights in their victory over the Tulane Waves.

After the game we met at the pool for happy hour and then 27 of us descended onto The House of Blues for our evening repast.

House of Blues was a fabulous place. Wooden floors and walls made the HOB feel very warm and inviting. They have a great menu and our group did a fine job of sampling much of it. I had a duo of sausages, boudin and chicken andouille with mashed potatoes topped with a roasted pepper sauce. Perfect!

Others had  crawfish and artichoke risotta and shrimp poor boys.

There are so may places to find great food in New Orleans. From the finest restaurants to the neighborhood bars, The Big Easy has something for every one.

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Flavors in our Lives

This past weekend I catered a birthday party for a new client. We began talking about the event in August so we had plenty of time to perfect the menu. My client, Carolyn, has lived in several cities in the south and thought that foods from each of the places she had lived would be a fun twist on a menu. I agreed.

As you can see from the menu, we were serving beef, pork, and shrimp so we decided to use a "small bite" approach. Each of the menu items, with the exception of the Caramel Pecan Cake, were mini servings.
We had Fresh pico ge gallo and guacamole to top the mini-shredded beef tacos. 
The hit of the evening were the shrimp and grits cakes topped with creamy Remoulade. I could not keep them coming out of the kitchen fast enough! I have to admit that these were also my favorite. I loved the flavors, especially the Remoulade, and they truly were a one-bite (well, okay, one bite for the men) appetizer. I will definitely put these on future client menus.

Shrimp and Grits Cakes

3 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup yellow grits
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound cooked peeled and deveined 31/50 count shrimp
1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning (you can also use Cajun spice seasoning)

Bring water to boil in a heavy-bottomed pot, add salt and reduce flame to medium. Slowly add grits and whisk until smooth and simmering. Reduce heat to very low, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Slowly whisk in cheese and 1 tablespoon of butter. Pour mixture into a jelly roll pan lines with parchment paper or a Silpat and spread to about 3/4-inch thickness. Cool until firm.

In large skillet, add olive oil and heat. Toss shrimp with seasoning and add to pan, heating until shrimp is hot throughout.

Using a 1-inch round cookie cutter, cut grits cakes. Brown cakes in remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy skillet.

To plate, place one shrimp on top of grits cake and dress with a little creamy Remoulade.

Adapted from Whole Foods Market, Recipe 2255

Creamy Remoulade

Yields 1 2/3 cups

1 cup good quality mayonnaise, full fat
1/3 cup Creole or Dijon Mustard  (I used Dijon coarse ground.)
1/3 cup horseradish (not creamy)
1 tablespoon of fresh Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste (I used about 1/2 teaspoon.)

Place all ingredients into a small glass bowl and stir. Cover and refrigerate overnight to blend flavors. Serve with your choice of seafood or fish. This is especially good with crab cakes.

Source -

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It's a Southern Thing!

Low country boil. Creamy cole slaw. Okra hush puppies. Coca-cola cake. Now tell me, can it get more southern than that? This was the menu for Southern Flair, an annual fund raising event I support.

For the last four years I have had the pleasure of preparing food for a charity fundraiser for The Joseph Sams School, a wonderful school for children with disabilities. Along with fellow cook Alan Harp, who cooked up the boil, I prepared the side dishes and dessert.  Cooking over propane tanks outdoors, we dished up food for nearly 75 people.  The okra hush puppies were a big hit. I heard more than once that they were "the best hush puppies I've ever had". I really had to stay on top on my game to make certain we didn't run out of them.

All in all a great event of which I am proud to have been a part of. The evening netted the school over $10,000 dollars that will be used to fund scholarships for the school families. Well done!

Okra Hush Puppies

Serves 8

1 cup self-rising yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1 tsp. Creole seasoning
1/2 cup frozen diced onion, red and green bell pepper, and celery, thawed
1/2 cup frozen cut okra, thawed and chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2/4 cup beer
Canola oil

Stir together the cornmeal, flour, and Creole seasoning in a large bowl until combined.

Add onion mixture and okra to cornmeal mixture. Stir in egg and beer until mixture is moistened. Let stand for 5-7 minutes.

Pour oil to a depth of 4 inches into a Dutch oven; heat to 350 F. Drop batter by level tablespoon into hot oil and fry, turning them in oil, 2 - 3 minutes, or until golden brown.

Drain on a wire rack over paper towels and serve immediately.

Adapted from Shrimp and Okra Hush Puppies recipe, Southern Living Magazine, July 2008.