Friday, January 28, 2011

chicken fajitas

After last night's stir-fry, I had some chicken thighs and quite a lot of bell pepper I needed to use up. Fajitas sounded like a good plan!

I made a quick marinade for the chicken with some ground cumin, ground coriander, chili powder, garlic powder, a little salt and some cornstarch mixed with some olive oil and water. While the chicken sat in the marinade, I sliced an onion and the bell pepper (I had red, yellow and green) into strips. I heated some olive oil in a pan and stir-fried the veggies until they were crisp-tender, then removed then to a bowl. I dumped the chicken and all the marinade into the hot pan and cooked it, stirring occasionally, until the chicken was cooked through and the sauce was thickened somewhat. I served the chicken and veggies on warm whole wheat tortillas with salsa, shredded colby-jack cheese, some plain yogurt (instead of sour cream), and a nice squeeze of lime juice. Yum!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

chicken cashew stirfry

I had a bunch of chicken thighs I needed to use up tonight, and I needed something quick as it was laundry night. I decided a stir-fry was in order. I was poking around Epicurious and found this recipe, which sounded pretty good, so I gave it a try!

Chicken Cashew Stir-Fry
4 servings

1 bunch scallions
1 lb skinless boneless chicken thighs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup salted roasted cashews

Chop scallions, separating white and green parts. Pat chicken dry, then cut into 3/4-inch pieces and toss with salt and pepper. Heat a wok or 12-inch heavy skillet (not non-stick) over moderately high heat until a drop of water evaporates immediately. Add oil, swirling to coat, then stir-fry chicken until golden in places and just cooked through, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon. Add bell pepper, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and scallion whites to pan and stir-fry until peppers are just tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir together broth, soy sauce, cornstarch, and sugar, then stir into vegetables in pan. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in cashews, scallion greens and chicken along with any accumulated juices.


I omitted the salt to season the chicken with at the beginning, omitted the hot red pepper flakes, and I substituted yellow bell pepper for half of the red bell pepper called for. The finished product tasted awesome, but I have to admit I was skeptical all during cooking because the chicken really stuck to the bottom of the pan and then the garlic and ginger did, too. I think probably I didn't use enough oil (one of these days I'll learn to measure). Happily, nothing that stuck to the pan actually burnt, and when I added the liquid and gave it a good stir it all came up and added a lot of flavor to the sauce.

I'll definitely make this one again. Next time I'll make rice to catch all the lovely sauce as well.

Monday, January 24, 2011

stuffed manicotti with meat sauce

Mmm...toasty baked mozzarella cheese on top of tomato sauce!

I browned some sweet Italian sausage with a chopped onion, a chopped green pepper, and a handful of chopped mushrooms. When the veggies were softened somewhat and the sausage was cooked through, I poured the mixture into a mesh strainer to drain the excess fat. I wiped the pan out and added a 28oz can of tomato puree, a pinch of salt, a bigger pinch of sugar, some garlic powder, oregano and thyme. I mixed the meat and veggie mixture back into the sauce and let it simmer on low while I boiled the manicotti for about 7 minutes. I drained the pasta and let it cool while I mixed the filling: 3.5 cups of ricotta cheese, one egg, a handful of a parmesan and romano cheese blend, some chopped fresh parsley and some dried oregano.

I sprayed a glass baking dish with cooking spray and preheated the oven to 425 degrees. I spooned the filling into a piping bag and carefully filled each pasta shell, lining them up in the baking dish as I went along. When all 12 were filled, I spooned the sauce over the top and covered it with a layer of shredded mozzarella cheese. The manicotti baked for 15 minutes at 425 (everything's already cooked, it's mostly just to warm through and let the flavors combine), then another 5 minutes under the broiler to toast the cheese on top.

The pasta broke up a little as I was spooning it out of the pan, but it still looked good and tasted awesome! Also, look! A GARNISH! Do I get extra points for that? ;)

chicken asparagus linguine

This smelled good, looked good, and the idea of it seemed good...but it was really bland. I took chicken breast tenders and cooked them in some olive oil, white wine, and garlic. I added the asparagus, turned the heat down and covered the pan so that the asparagus would steam. When the asparagus was bright green, I took it and the chicken out of the pan and tossed it with some ricotta cheese and cooked linguine. It's not even that it tasted was just bland, bland, bland. I'm not sure what I was aiming for, but I didn't hit the mark.

tilapia meunière

Meunière refers to both a lemon brown butter sauce and a method of preparation: to prepare something a la meunière is to dredge it in flour before cooking. Trout and sole are both common fish to cook a la meunière, at least in France. I had a bag of frozen tilapia fillets hanging around in my freezer that I decided would work well for this preparation (basically any flat white fish that holds together well), and I was right!

This came out so well, and was incredibly easy to do. Granted, you throw enough butter at anything and it will probably taste good...but still! ;)

Anyway, here's the recipe I used:


4 tilapia fillets, about 4-5oz each
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 2 pieces

Browned butter:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 4 pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

For the fish:

Heat oven to 200 degrees. Set 2 dinner plates on oven rack to keep warm while you make the fish.

Pat fish dry with paper towels and season lightly with salt and pepper. Let stand until fillets are glistening with moisture, about 5 minutes (this is to draw excess moisture out of fish so that it doesn't get soggy and greasy when it cooks).

Spread flour in a wide shallow dish. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and swirl to melt. Coat both sides of the fillets with flour, shake off excess. Carefully place two fillets in the skillet, "bone" side down (there's no bone in the fillet but you can see the line along the flat side of the fillet where the bones were). Immediately reduce heat to medium-high and cook without moving the fish until edges of the fillets are opaque, about 3 minutes.

CAREFULLY flip the fillets (and I do mean carefully...I have a lovely burn to show for the first one I flipped!), then continue to cook on the second side until the thickest part of the fillet easily separates into flakes when a toothpick or fork is inserted, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer each of the fillets to a heated plate in the oven. Wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining tablespoons of oil and butter and the remaining fillets. Transfer cooked fillets to plates in the oven.

For the browned butter:

While the fillets rest in the oven, melt the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook, swirling the skillet constantly, until the butter is golden brown and has a nutty aroma, 2 to 3 minutes. Off the heat, CAREFULLY stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the fillets from the oven, spoon the sauce over each fillet, and sprinkle with minced parsley.

I did steamed green beans for the side-dish, as I love the taste of lemony green beans anyway and so I figured they'd go nicely with the meunière sauce. I just spooned the sauce over the beans and the fish both.

Tilapia is, in my opinion, an entirely tasteless fish and I generally dislike it, but I will definitely make this again. I'd like to try it with trout this summer if I could catch some! :)

roasted cauliflower and pork chops with soy ginger sauce

I found this recipe in an issue of Cooks Illustrated, which is my favorite cooking magazine. I'm always interested in different ways to cook veggies, so I was excited to give this a try. The recipe also gave an alternate sauce option, curry-yogurt, which I'm looking forward to trying as well.

The cauliflower itself was super easy:

Adjust rack to lowest position and heat oven to 475. Trim outer leaves of the cauliflower and cut the stem flush with the bottom. Cut the head into 8 equal wedges so that the core and florets remain intact. Place wedges cut side down on a foil or parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper; gently rub to distribute oil and seasonings evenly. Flip the cauliflower and season the other cut side with another 2 tablespoons of olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. Cover the baking sheet tightly with foil and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to roast until the bottoms of the cauliflower pieces are golden brown, 8-12 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and, using a spatula, carefully flip the wedges. Return sheet to the oven and continue to roast the cauliflower is golden brown all over, 8 to 12 minutes longer. Drizzle with sauce and serve.

The sauce is as follows:

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I use lower-sodium soy sauce)
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 medium scallion, sliced thin

Heat vegetable oil in a small skillet until shimmering. Add garlic and ginger, cook about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium low, add soy, mirin, vinegar and water. Simmer until slightly syrupy, 4 to 6 minutes. Drizzle the sauce and sesame oil over the roasted cauliflower and garnish with the scallion.

In order to fulfill my husband's "it's not a meal unless it has meat" requirements, I pan-fried a couple of thick-cut boneless pork chops for about 2 minutes per side, then removed them from the pan and made the sauce in the pan. I put the pork chops back in the pan with the sauce and spooned it over the chops while it reduced. By the time the sauce was ready, the chops were done. When the cauliflower was done, I put it all together, garnished it with the scallions and it looked like this:

It was pretty good. I didn't actually have the mirin that the recipe called for so I skipped it, and I think it the sauce really needed that little hint of sweetness. The cauliflower itself came out nicely nutty and roasty, and I'm looking forward to trying it with the yogurt curry sauce soon.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

chicken tikka masala

I was flipping through a cookbook this afternoon, trying to plan a list for our grocery run, when I came across a recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala that looked fairly un-daunting and sounded really yummy. I decided that since I had plenty of chicken in the fridge, I'd give it a try.

The first challenge I ran into was finding the pre-made garam masala spice mix that the recipe called for. I had no luck at three different groceries stores, even though I SWEAR I've seen it at one of them several times. I decided that all was not lost, as I knew I had the majority of the spices that usually go into garam masala in my kitchen, anyway. I figured I'd just come home, look up a recipe for garam masala, and be on my merry way.


If you're at all familiar with Indian cooking, you realize the problem with finding a recipe for something like garam masala. There are...a LOT of them. And they're all different. I eventually settled on the one that I had the most components for. The only thing I was missing was cardamom. I happily put on my boots and went back out into the night on a quest to find cardamom.

You probably know by now that I live in Vermont...RURAL Vermont, no less (there isn't really much un-rural Vermont, to be fair). Now, given that I was unable to find garam masala at any of the three grocery stores within a 20 minute drive of my house, I don't know WHAT made me think I'd be able to find cardamom. Undaunted, I traipsed through a snow storm to all three stores and cardamom. I was starting to think my chicken tikka masala might not happen tonight after all.

I got back home from my fruitless cardamom quest and stood there in front of my spice rack, thinking. There's a million bajillion different versions of garam masala out there, so really, one without cardamom would just be like...a custom blend all my own, right? Right? SURE, why not! So, off I went on my Indian cooking adventure.

The recipe called for boneless, skinless chicken breast to be rubbed with a spice-and-salt mixture and then allowed to sit for 30-60 minutes to marinate. This gives the meat time to absorb the flavors, but it also gives the salt time to tenderize the meat a bit.

Once the meat had marinated, it was coated in a mixture of yogurt with some oil, grated ginger, and minced garlic mixed into it, then put into a 500-degree oven. The recipe called for cooking the chicken on a wire rack set into a pan but I don't have a wire rack, so instead what I did was take some tin foil and twist it into three long, thin-ish "sticks". I coated them with a quick blast of cooking spray and then laid them out lengthwise in the pan so that the chicken had something to separate it from the surface of the pan a little.

While the chicken cooked, I made the sauce. I started with a minced yellow onion, and sauteed it in some canola oil until it was golden brown. I added a tablespoon of tomato paste, two minced cloves of garlic, about two teaspoons of grated ginger, and a tablespoon of my newly-made garam masala mixture, which ended up looking like this:

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

The onion-tomato-spice mixture cooked for 3-4 minutes, then I added a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, some sugar and some salt. This simmered for about 15 minutes while the chicken finished cooking. After 15 minutes, I shut the heat off under the sauce and let it cool a little, then added half a cup of heavy cream and mixed it in.

When the chicken was done, I pulled it out of the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes, then cut it up into bite-sized pieces and added it to the sauce. I spooned it over some nice fluffy jasmine rice. It was YUMMY, and aside from the quest for spices I probably didn't even really need, quite easy. I'll definitely make this again.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Nutella cupcakes

At work, we have cake once a month to celebrate everyone's birthday for that month. Since my birthday was this month, I was asked what my vote for the month's cake flavor was. I said chocolate, as always, but then I started thinking about how the chocolate cake we usually get isn't really that great. I like to bake (obviously), so I decided to offer to make the month's cake. I didn't actually think I'd get taken up on my offer, but lo and behold, I was! Then I started thinking about what kind of cake I'd make and realized that I don't have a cake carrier, so trying to get a layer cake to work in one piece with no one to hold it was going to be nigh on impossible. Cupcakes started to seem like the most easily-transportable option. I love to make layer cakes with yummy combinations of fillings, and the idea of filled cupcakes intrigued me. I'd been having a craving for Nutella for a few days at that point, and chocolate cupcakes filled with Nutella seemed like just the thing. I debated between Nutella buttercream and a chocolate ganache topping, and eventually settled on the ganache with a little bit of Nutella buttercream on top. It was an awesome combination.

To fill the cupcakes, I used a paring knife and cut the tops off by inserting the knife at about a 45 degree angle and gently working it around the circumference of the cupcake. This ends up giving you a cone-shaped cap and a cupcake with a cone-shaped pit in it. I cut the tips off the cone-shaped caps (to allow for more room for filling, of course!), and used a piping bag to fill the centers of the cupcakes with Nutella. The caps were fitted back onto the cakes, ganache was spread over the top, and then the cupcakes were topped with a rosette of Nuttela buttercream.

Here's the recipe I used for the cakes themselves, which is actually a somewhat tweaked version of the basic chocolate cake recipe from my old, worn Berry Crocker's cookbook:

2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup + 1 Tbsp baking cocoa
1 1/4 cups water
1 tsp instant coffee granules
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners, or grease and flour them.

Dissolve coffee granules in water. Beat together all ingredients with an electric mixer on low for 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes, scraping bowl occassionally.

Spoon batter into pans - fill each cup about 3/4 full. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate pans and bake for another 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

The ganache I coated the tops of the cakes with was about 2/3 of a cup of whipping cream heated until steaming, then poured over about 8 oz of bittersweet Ghirardelli chocolate chips. I let it sit for 5 minutes or so to let the chocolate melt, then used a whisk to stir it until smooth. The ganache cooled for about half an hour before I spread it on the cupcakes. The Nutella buttercream started out with 6 tbsp of butter, 2/3 of a cup of Nutella, and about a cup of powdered sugar. This yeilded something about the consistency of modeling clay, so I added milk a tablespoon at a time until it became a spreadable consistency.

The finished product, when cut in half, looked like this:

Monday, January 10, 2011

crock-pot pork roast, and bonus chili!

I was given a piece of pork loin roast rather unexpectedly on Sunday evening. It was still about half-frozen when I got it, so I let it sit in the fridge overnight to thaw. This morning, I fired up the crock pot and made a little spice rub for the meat out of paprika, cayenne, cumin, brown sugar, black pepper, oregano, salt, and a little garlic powder. I rubbed the meat with the mixture, then put it in the crock pot fat-side-up and added 1/2 a cup of water and 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar.

When I got home tonight, the smell in the house was amazing. It turned out that the liquid in the crock pot had all but boiled away, so next time I'll use more. I took the meat out and shredded it with forks. Well, I basically just helped it continue to fall apart,'s not like it took much effort to shred.

This is what it looked like:

The darker bits you see there are where the spice rub cooked onto the outside of the roast for hours and hours, and those bits in particular are spicy, slightly sweet, and crunchy / chewy. Oh, and FREAKING AMAZING. The rub created almost a bark akin to real barbecue, and it was super tasty.

After the meat was all shredded, I made a quick batch of chili by added the meat to 2 big cans of chopped tomatoes, a can of shelled beans, a can of white beans, and a little more apple cider vinegar. I let the chili simmer while I mixed up and baked a quick batch of corn muffins to go with it. The finished product looked like this:


steak night

We don't actually eat that much red meat, but sometimes...I just want steak. This was one of those nights. I had a hankering for a nice thick steak with a mess of sauteed mushrooms and onions.

I found a couple of perfectly-sized pieces of sirloin filet at the grocery store. I was a little worried about using sirloin because while it's usually very tender, it's not always that flavorful. I salted and peppered both sides of each steak lightly, then put them in a ripping hot stainless steel frying pan. The steak cooked for 3 minutes on one side, and about 3 minutes on the other, and came out medium-rare. I pulled the steaks out and set them aside on a plate, then deglazed the pan with half a cup or so of chardonnay I had hanging around in the fridge. I know, I know, red wine goes with red meat, blah blah, but trust me on this one. I added a sliced onion and a cup or so of sliced button mushrooms, and turned the heat down a little. I let the onion and mushrooms simmer until the onions were mostly soft, then added a tablespoon of butter and stirred to melt and combine.

I served the steak and onion / mushroom mixture with a side-salad of spring mix and grape tomatoes tossed with vinaigrette. The steaks came out very nicely - tender and juicy, and with pretty decent beef flavor as well. As for the onions and mushrooms - it was quite easily the best batch I've ever had. I could have eaten a whole plate of just those. Writing about them makes me want them all over again!

birthday dinner

My birthday fell on a Wednesday this year, so it wasn't really an ideal occasion to go out to eat. Instead, I made an epic batch of my favorite tomato sauce and we had a celebratory spaghetti feast! Sorry for the blurry picture. It smelled too good to spend much time adjusting the camera!

The pasta sauce is very quick and simple. I cooked up 4 links of Italian sausage, drained most of the fat, then added a chopped onion, a chopped green bell pepper, and some minced garlic. I let the mixture cook until the onions and peppers softened a little, about 3-4 minutes, then added a can of chopped San Marzano tomatoes with their juice. I added a pinch of salt, two pinches of sugar, a couple teaspoons of dried oregano and a teaspoon of dried thyme, and let the sauce simmer while I cooked my pasta. As soon as the pasta was done, I drained it and spooned the sauce over the top. I added a side-salad, a glass of beer, and voila! Birthday feast!

chicken and biscuits

Chicken and biscuits is one of my all-time favorite Sunday meals. I like nice clean flavors, so my version is very simple - just celery, carrots, potatoes, peas, onions, chicken thigh meat and a gravy made of chicken stock, some butter, flour and black pepper. I do sometimes cheat and use Bisquick for my biscuits, but that's just between you and me. ;)