Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Moroccan Spiced Chicken Soup

Baby, it's cold outside! Warm up your home and your family with a hot bowl full of healthy vegetables and hearty shredded chicken. Spiced with cumin, curry and paprika, the onions, celery and carrots are simmered along with shredded chicken, chickpeas and chopped zucchini. This Moroccan soup is more likely to be served as a light supper rather than as a first course. These will be leftovers the family will ask for! Reheat  and serve over rice, quinoa or couscous.

This recipe is highly customizable! Use what vegetables your family likes, or what vegetables you have on hand. Here is what I used:

Olive Oil
Dry Sherry
Crushed Tomatoes
Chicken Stock
Chicken Bouillon

I know I didn't list amounts above, that is because you should feel free to use as much or as little of the ingredients as you like. Here is the step by step pictorial of what I did:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Black Forest Cake

If you think you don't have time to make a dessert for the holidays, think again! This Black Forest Cake is so decadent, and extremely simple to pull together. Baking is a thoughtful and delicious way to show others how much they mean to you. They don't have to know this warm and gooey cake was this easy...the best part? I made this in my crock pot, which frees up my oven for other things.

Simple ingredients: Chocolate Cake Mix, Cherry Pie Filling, Butter and if you like nuts you can add that too.

Lucky Leaf provided me with an assortment of their Premium Fruit fillings to sample for myself. I was able to make whatever I wanted with their products, and this entire post is my own opinion - I received no compensation for my written review. The beautiful 43 page Recipe Book they sent along with the products is filled with inspirational photos and easy to follow recipes. Next on my list is the Cherry-Chocolate Macaroon Pie. OMG, it's a recipe that only takes 30 minutes to prep, 22 minutes to bake and serves 8. Can you tell I have a thing for cherry's and chocolate? Read on to find out how you can receive some Lucky Leaf this holiday season.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mint Love Letters with Spicy Lamb Sausage

A few years ago Jim and I took a trip to New York and chose to spend one special dinner at Mario Batali's highly acclaimed restaurant, BabboThis may by my favorite memory from the whole trip.

The restaurant is quaint and service is helpful and friendly. We dined side by side in a romantic atmosphere and just enjoyed each others company and the wonderful food. Oh the food. The food and the wine. The wine and the food. It can make me cry just thinking about how beautiful everything was.

My favorite course by far were these Mint Love Letters with Spicy Lamb Sausage, a signature dish of Mario Batali's. The homemade sheets of pasta were so fresh and dainty. Inside the ravioli was the most unusual combination of mint, sweet peas and salty parmesan. The ravioli's were tossed in a spicy lamb sausage tomato sauce. These are explosive little flavor packages. Notice, you get three for $20.

When I ran across the recipe on Food & Wine, I knew that I just had to make these for Jim so we could recreate that very special evening in New York. The sauce came out perfectly! The first batch of ravioli, although it tasted spot on, were not very pretty. My second batch had a much better presentation - just wait until my next blog post where I show you what I can do with a little practice!

Keep reading for the step by step recipe with pictures...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

Gnocchi is one of my favorite Italian dishes. Like bruschetta, it's an Italian food word that people have some trouble with. Never fear, the Italian pronunciation police are here.

The "gno" makes a "nyo" sound with a silent "g".

The "cch" is pronounced as a hard "k".

The "i" is an "ee" sound as in "tree".

"nyo kee"

Gnocchi is the plural form of the word. The singular is "gnocco." So you might order a plate of gnocchi and savor each delicious gnocco on that plate. The smaller forms are called gnocchetti.
These thick and soft dumplings can be made from a variety of ingredients. You will most commonly find Potato Gnocchi, but they are also made from semolina, ordinary wheat flour, bread crumbs, or ricotta.
After making gnocchi from scratch at home I began to notice the entree listed on the menu at fancy Italian restaurants and it’s SO expensive. This boggles my mind because it is SO inexpensive to make.  It may take a little planning ahead since you need to let the potatoes chill after you bake or boil them...but you can make these in stages and even freeze the gnocchi to eat them whenever you want.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Homemade Pizza Dough from a Bread Machine

Would you say that fancy toppings make a great pizza? I believe a great pizza starts with the pizza crust. The dough should be the most important part and if you get that right, then it will only take a few toppings to get you to that perfect pizza pie. You are aiming for both a crunchy and chewy crust, like a French baguette. It needs to be plastic enough to expand with the increase of gas and elastic enough to hold the expanding gas.

I love homemade pizza dough, but I don’t want to mess with all the fuss of the many steps. My solution is to use my bread machine. Here is the recipe I use for Traditional Pizza Dough (for 2-lb. bread maker):

1-1/4 cups water
1-1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
3-3/4 cups bread flour

The best flour to use is bread flour made specifically for bread machines because it is high in protein which can accommodate more gluten.
1-1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. active dry yeast

Pizza dough gets its rise from the yeast. Active dry yeast is regular yeast that has been dehydrated and broken into granules. When adding it to your bread machine, add it last and don’t let it touch any liquid. I make a small well in the center of the flour (making sure not to punch through to the liquid below).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Homemade Mozzarella

When I read how easy it was to make homemade mozzarella, I had to find myself a kit and give it a go. As you can see by the melty cheese pizza above, my experiment was a great success!
Experiment is a perfect word for this project when you look at what comes in the kit. Citric Acid, Vegetable Rennet Tablets and Calcium Chloride. Making homemade mozzarella is surprisingly economical. The kit, which costs $5.00 comes with enough supplies to make four batches of about 3/4 lbs each. The only thing you need to buy is a gallon of low pasteurized milk.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Five for Friday

For Jim, I love you so much. Here are five for Friday:

  1. My new bag. I love that you helped me pick it out and you were so patient as I tried all of them on.
  2. Waiting to see Moneyball with me.
  3. Staying with me downtown when you really wanted your own bed.
  4. Cleaning the kitchen when I was gone for jury duty.
  5. The biggest one this last week is the way you understand me and back me. Your love and support means the world to me.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fettuccine Pasta from Scratch

Cooking for one doesn't have to mean that I'm stuck eating pb&j sandwiches and bowls of cereal. With Jim traveling for work I thought it was a good time to give homemade pasta making a second try. You can read about my first pasta making experience here, which was actually for my parents...Jim didn't get to try that either. For this meal I tossed homemade fettuccine with slivered Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, parmesan and cream. Dinner took me about an hour and a half to assemble but it was the most fun 90 minutes that I spent with myself in the kitchen.

I did it. I finally broke down and bought myself the KitchenAid 3-piece pasta roller and cutter set.

The adjustable roller lets you work the dough through the press until its so thin it's practically transparent. There is also a spaghetti cutter and a fettuccine cutter in the pasta kit.

There are many recipes for pasta dough - various ratios and all types of flours. For this batch of homemade fettuccine I sifted one cup of all purpose flour into my mixing bowl along with 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
Making a well in the center of the flour, I cracked two eggs.

Using the paddle attachment, turn speed to 2 and mix for 30 seconds.

Next, exchange the paddle for the dough hook.
Mix on speed 2 for two minutes. After kneading for two minutes in the mixer the dough will form a ball around the dough hook.

Remove the dough to a floured surface and knead by hand for 1 - 2 minutes.
The ball of dough will become smoother, wrap in plastic wrap and set under a bowl to rest for 15-30 minutes.
And THIS is the second item I purchased at Williams-Sonoma. It's a 3 QT All-Clad Pan Roaster. I cracked up when I opened the box, and the pan was wrapped in a silk bag. Ha!
Isn't she beautiful?

And what an inaugural meal to break her in with!
I didn't quite use an entire bag of Brussels sprouts, but lopped the bottoms off and removed any outer leaves that were wilted.
Here are my ingredients for my entree: the Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, fresh garlic, butter, chicken bouillon, parmesan cheese, cream and St. Francis chardonnay. Not pictured is a chicken breast seasoned with salt and pepper.
To sliver the Brussels sprouts I used the slicer disk on my cuisinart food processor.
This shreds the small cabbage quickly and uniformly.
Since the caramelized onions were already done, I have all the ingredients prepped and ready to go.
Before I start the next step I go ahead and open the wine. This St. Francis chardonnay will bring the right amount of lemon flavor and acid I need to balance out the creamy sauce for the pasta. If you want to be like me, pour yourself a glass to sip on while you prepare dinner.
Now that the dough has rested for enough time I unwrap it and work on a floured surface.
Because it's impossible to work with a big hunk of dough at one time I cut this in half. If I had made more pasta dough I might have even cut the ball into quarters.
Before I even start pressing it through the machine I flatten it by hand and stretch it into a rectangle shape.
With the pasta roller attached to my KitchenAid and the thickness knob set to the largest setting I start the speed at 2 and feed the dough through the press.

Fold the dough over onto itself and flour as needed to keep the dough from becoming too sticky.
The goal is to work the dough through each setting a couple of times until it is smooth and pliable.
Repeat folding and kneading, reducing the thickness of the pasta roller as you go.
Thinnest! Before I sent this through the cutter I took my chefs knife and cut this into two smaller pieces.

I tried cutting at several speeds and learned that as long as the dough is well floured, it works best at a speed of 2. See Cole there in the background watching me make pasta?
Lay the cut fettuccine on a floured surface. I used my baking sheets for this.
Separate the noodles by hand.

Repeat until all the dough has been pressed and sent through the cutter. Because I was using the pasta right away I just left them on the tray to dry out while I assembled the rest of my dinner.

In my new pan I added a touch of olive oil and a touch of butter, and sauteed a boneless, skinless chicken breast. Because this pan is NOT Teflon, I was able to get a great deal of lovely bits of flavor stuck to the bottom of the pan! Yippee!!

Next I added the onions that were already caramelized and 1/4 cup of chardonnay. The wine steams and bubbles, giving me the perfect opportunity to grab a wooden spoon and scrape the bits of flavor off the bottom of the pan.

I also added 1/2 cup of chicken stock and let the mixture reduce together before removing to a plate.

I simply moved the onions to the plate where my chicken was also resting.

Without cleaning out the pan, I added a pat of butter.

Then threw in the slivered Brussels sprouts in one layer to sear.

I didn't touch the Brussels sprouts for about a minute so they would get dark and crispy on one side. Then I added back the caramelized onions and any juices from the plate.

Because I'm naughty I added about 1/4 cup of cream.

Then I threw in a small handful of parmesan cheese. I turned the heat to low and covered while I cooked the pasta.

Fresh pasta is really something else - in a category all it's own! Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil and drop in the fresh pasta. It will cook in as little as two minutes. It doesn't take long at all.

As soon as pasta is ready, add it to your Brussels sprout mixture.

Toss together to coat the noodles and throw in more parmesan cheese too!

I served the sliced chicken on top of the fettuccine pasta. OMG, caramelized onions, caramelized Brussels sprouts, creamy parmesan! The flavors were explosive.

In other news, Jim comes home TONIGHT and I couldn't be more excited. We found out his request for vacation was granted on Friday so I've been jumping up and down all weekend in anticipation of his return.

This dinner was so heavenly that I will surely make it again for Jim. I know he's missed my home cooking so I will definitely wow him with homemade pasta, there really is nothing like it. I hope you give it a try!