Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Baked Pumpkin Slices and Stuffed Chicken Breasts

This weekend was made for cooking comfort foods. I took the twins (3 year olds) to the park where we ate an impromtu breakfast of McD's pancakes in the chilly morning air. Pancakes make the perfect finger foods for food on the go. We walked a bit and kicked up the fallen leaves, watched the brown, gold and red leaves float down the river, and then went to the nature center where the boys were actually pretty well-behaved. They stayed together for the most part, which is good because the center is pretty large with lots of areas they could explore - unfortunately out of my sight. But they were good. The center provided free samples of hot spiced cider and nilla and ginger cookies. We went grocery shopping after that, tasted the free samples, and all in all, I have to say the day was pretty enjoyable.

When we got home, I decided it was time to cut up one of our pumpkins and bake it using a recipe from How to Cook Everything.

Don't those seeds just call out to be roasted? Yeah, they did. But I ditched them. I made roasted seeds, though just on Halloween, and I ended up eating most of them by myself; the boys only had a very small handful, and my husband isn't too crazy about them. But seeing this picture again, just makes wish I would have made them and enjoyed.

Anyway, the baked pumpkin -- Sliced to about 1 inch think and brushed with a mixture of ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, oil and cinnamon.

Bake for 30 minutes, turn, and brush with sauce again, and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes.

It was tasty, but I was hoping the sauce would have formed more of a glaze. The flavors were subtle and warm. I thought, though, if I were to make this again, I would increase the amount of brown sugar and maybe add just a pinch of clove to the mixture. Maybe even put them under the broiler at the end to try to crisp up the edges.

I served the baked pumpkin as a side dish to Bacon Wrapped Chicken Breasts.

Chicken breast halves, salt, pepper, blue cheese crumbles, toasted pecans, scallions, 4 slices of bacon (remember - the recipe calls for only 4 slices, one for each chicken breast half), olive oil, butter, flour, chicken stock, cream and grainy dijon mustard.

I did my best to pound the chicken breasts flat, really, I tried, but have you tried to do that with the flat side of a meat tenderizer. Doesn't really work, does it? I toasted my chopped pecans - TWICE. I got so carried away trying to pound my chicken (sounds obscene, doesn't it?), that I forgot to stir my first batch of pecans. Luckily I had more in the pantry. Came close to burning those, too, just because the pan was still so hot from the first batch. But, I caught them in the nick of time.

So, I mixed the scallions, the darkly toasted pecans and a full cup of blue cheese. This mixture alone would have made a great cracker topper or even something to put on crostini. Yum. I divided it up onto each of my semi-flattened chicken breasts and then tried to roll it all up. Ha! Now, remember, the recipe called for one slice of bacon to help secure each of the chicken breasts. What did I end up doing? Oh, about 3 or 4 slices of bacon for each chicken breast. Yep, I used an entire package of bacon trying to tie them up. Don't get me wrong. I do not consider this a set-back.

I would rank bacon in my top 3 favorite foods of all time. Right up there with crab legs and medium-rare steak. Still, though, I felt a bit the failure for not getting my chicken into a roll-able mode. I was already stomping my foot because of the wasted pecans and then when my chicken kept falling apart, I actually wondered why I try to cook things like this. Cooking is supposed to be enjoyable. An outlet. An escape. Instead I was creating more stress in my life. Well, these thoughts left my head when all was done and served and tasted.

So, after the chicken got all bundled up in its bacon slices, they got fried (causing me to swear again, as the bacon slices started to stick to the pan and began to unravel). After some careful maneuvering with a variety of utensils, I got them beautifully browned, and then into the oven for another 30 minutes. Now, the cooking time was greatly increased from what the recipe dictated, but of course, my chicken was probably 3 times as thick as it was supposed to be.

Meanwhile, I made the mustard gravy. On paper it doesn't sound too great, but it was surprisingly perfect for the chicken. Melted butter mixed with flour (cooked quickly, not quite a roux), add chicken broth, and heavy cream. Add grainy mustard. After seasoning with salt and pepper, it needed more mustard but something else was missing. I had just taken the chicken out of the oven, and saw exactly what the gravy needed. The pan drippings. They were so rich and deep brown, and wonderfully bacon flavored. I strained off as much of the clear fat as I could and added almost 1/4 cup of the brown drippings into the gravy. Oh My God!

The pictures don't do it justice. The blue cheese, even though there was about 1/4 cup in each roll, didn't over-power. It was subtle, but accented the scallions and pecans. The mustard sauce, I don't know how to explain how it drew it all together. Within two bites, Carlo was saying this recipe is a definite keeper and was already asking that I make it again. The fact that my chicken was a little too think didn't hurt the flavors at all. In fact, I think it helped it stay moist and there was enough chicken with every bite that the filling didn't overtake the taste buds. I wasn't disappointed at all. Even my 3 year olds liked it - of course, they love bacon, too, so that helped.

When I make it again, I might even consider just creating pocket in the chicken breast and stuffing that, and seal it with the bacon. I might also reserve some blue cheese crumbles to sprinkle over the top, just as a reminder of what is in the filling, since the flavor was a little subtle after it had melted.

Well, so here it is, my first real entry in far too long. How'd I do?

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Artichoke Pizza with Thyme and Feta

An attractive entry today. Colorful and tasty.

First, a word on the aphrodisiac qualities of artichokes:

I found this amusing quote: "From the Book of Nature, by Dr. Bartolomeo Boldo in 1576, 'it has the virtue of . . . provoking Venus for both men and women; for women making them more desirable, and helping the men who are in these matters rather tardy.'"

And "In the 16th Century eating an artichoke would be a scandalous adventure for any woman. At that time, because the artichoke was considered an aphrodisiac, it was reserved for men only. In fact, the artichoke was denied to women and reserved for men because it was thought to enhance sexual power. "

And: "Artichokes are an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium, but it is their phytonutrient content that really makes them shine."

No matter what the actual reason for believing they are aphrodisiacs, and the fact that there is no science proving their passionate qualities, they are delicious. I grew up eating these yummy buds steamed in water with a little lemon juice added and then served with a bowl of melted butter. It was a definite comfort dish for me.

For this dish from Intercourses:

canned artichokes, premade cheese pizza crust, mayonaise, garlic, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, pepper, feta cheese, olive oil and dried thyme. I also added a shallot and shredded mozzarella, just because I happened to have them on hand.

Slice the peppers, shallots and garlic.

Saute the peppers, shallots and some of the garlic in olive oil.

Puree the artichoke hearts, mayonnaise, remaining garlic and pepper in the food processor until creamy.

Spread the artichoke mix over the pre-made pizza crust.

Then I put the mozzarella over that.

Top with the sauteed veggies.

Then top with the feta and thyme and bake until golden brown.

It was well worth the time spent in making it. But I discovered that when using one of the pre-made pizza crusts, do not, and I stress, do not put it on a pizza pan with holes in it. It diasppointingly hardened the crust way too much. Also, next time, I'll cut back on the artichoke "sauce" by nearly half. It overpowered the peppers and cheese. It was too "wet" on top.

Carlo liked it, hard crust and all. A & J like each individual ingredient while I was prepping it, but they did not like the assembled pizza. They ended up eating peanut butter and jelly.

Is this recipe a keeper? Yes. Did it have any aphrodisiac qualities? No.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Taking the easy way out - Beer Marinated Steak

I'm tired. I haven't had a decent night sleep in over a week. Yes, I'm going to whine and moan now. Last night I was up from 2:30 until 4:30. J woke up and said the air conditioning was "too noisy" in his room. I let him try to sleep in Carlo's and my bed, but he just couldn't get comfortable, and then a thunder and lightening storm rolled through (again) so J just wouldn't settle down. I finally got him back to bed about 3:15. The night before that I was up several times with pain from a rupturing cyst. For the four nights prior to that it was the cyst pain combined with lower back pain. I'm just exhausted.

Yesterday was my birthday, so Carlo took me out to dinner. We went to Mapleside Farm Restaurant. It was good, but not great. I had their Maryland Chicken which was a boneless chicken breast, battered in a buttermilk ... well ... batter. Deep-fried, and topped with thick-cut bacon and a country gravy. It was very bland. Even the bacon didn't have any flavor, and anyone who knows me, knows that bacon is my all-time favorite food. I would have thought that for a restaurant known for their apples, they would have used an applewood-cured bacon. The buttermilk batter didn't have any seasoning in it, and actually, neither did the country pan gravy. I saw specks of pepper, but didn't taste anything. I ended up drowning the poor thing in salt and pepper. Carlo had their Stuffed Chicken Breast which was a breaded chicken breast that was stuffed with ham and cheddar cheese and topped with a chicken gravy. His had a lot more flavor than mine. The loaded baked potatoes were really good, though. They salt crusted the potatoes which left the inside really fluffy. We ordered Apple Fritters for an appetizer, and so we could have some to take home to A & J. They were tasty. Plenty of them, but a bit on the small and overcooked side. A little darker than golden brown. There was also just a small square of chopped apple in each. I was expecting full apple slice fritters. Don't get me wrong. The evening was very nice. My mother watched A & J so Carlo and I really did get to spend some quiet time together. After dinner, we sat on the hill overlooking the Mapleside Orchards and watched the deer run through the trees, the swallows flitting overhead, the occasional burst of fireworks that dotted the surrounding landscape, and then finally, we watched the occasional flash of lightening streak through the sky as the rains approached. Did I remember to bring the camera with me? Of course not.

Because I'm lazy, and also because I left my flash drive at home, I'm posting the dish I made for father's day. Yeah, how many weeks ago was that? Anyway, this is a food blog, right? I have to talk about the food I make, right? This was really very easy. The recipe is from Cooking Pleasures Magazine.

Sirloin steak, lager, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, cider vinegar, hot sauce, ketchup, worcestershire, soy sauce (a great way for me to finally get rid of all those take-out packets I've collected) and the recipe called for dijon mustard. I thought I had some. I had honey mustard, so I used some of that and took whole mustard seed, which I crushed with the mortar and pestal. I think I worked pretty well.
Marinate the steak overnight, turning occasionally. The next day I grilled the steaks to a medium rare.
Then for the side, I got this uber simple recipe for grilled asparagus from The Biggest Book of Grilling. Blanch the asparagus, then marinate in lemon juice, vinegar, herbs of choice and oil for about 15 minutes. Grill in a pan for about 8 minutes; plate and shave some parmesan curls over the top.

The asparagus had a nice zesty flavor to them. The steak was so tender. The flavor went all the way through the meat. I also grilled some fresh mushrooms in butter, olive oil, and a splash of red wine. Then I crumbled some gorganzola over the top.

Carlo was very happy with his father's day dinner.

So, Happy 4th of July to everyone. I hope you enjoy your long weekend. I'm taking Monday off, too, so I'll see you again Tuesday. Peace.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Happy Birthday To Me!!!

Just a little birthday note to myself to have a wonderful day.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fettuccini with Chicken, Asparagus and Gorganzola

If you live in the Cleveland area, did you catch the gorgeous double rainbow Sunday night at 9 p.m.?
This weekend was just chock full of unpredictable weather. One minute sunny, the next tornado warnings, whipping winds and pelting hail.

A & J just had enough time to make it outside to spash in some puddles before the next storm made its way in (hence those omnious clouds in the background).

Another installment from Intercourses. A mighty tasty one, I might add. The book states that asparagus is an aphrodisiac mostly because of its suggestive shape, however, in googling the issue, apparantly, asparagus is very high in Vitamin E which supposedly boosts sex hormones. Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the dish was very good, and a little extra vitamin E never hurt anyone (as far as I know)

Asparagus, gorganzola, paramesan, shallot, butter, heavy cream, red pepper flakes, nutmeg, chicken and fettuccini. The only thing missing from this picture is fresh tarragon, which was in my herb container garden which was getting pelted by hail when I was prepping this dish. I decided to go ahead without it, and hope for a break in the weather so I could harvest some right before the final toss of the pasta.

Blanching the asparagus
Ssauteeing the chicken in the butter
Using the cream to deglaze the pan, with added shallot and nutmeg, to make a thick rich sauce.

Stir in the crumbled gorganzola until creamy. Then make a mad dash between the raindrops to gather my tarragon.

Then mixed everything into the cooked fettucini along with the asparagus and the parmesan
There isn't much I'd change in the dish, except, instead of stirring in the gorganzola until it melted, I would switch it with the parmesan. I'd let the parmesan melt through, and then toss in the gorganzola. I'm a real big fan of blue cheeses and the taste was a little too subtle for me, but really - it was so good.

Did it work as an aphrodisiac? Let's just say, Vitamin E may be one of my new best friends.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Strawberry Pasta

What? That's probably what you're saying when you saw the title of this post. That's certainly what my husband said. When I've described it to people, they sort of cringed. Actually when I saw the finished result of the pasta, I wondered just what it was that I was going to serve my family.

Now that I've talked it "up" sufficiently -- here it goes.
Spaghetti, cream, butter, fresh strawberries and fresh grated parmesan.

Puree and strain the strawberries.
Cook the pasta and mix with the grated cheese. Bring the butter and cream to a simmer. Pour the strained berries over the pasta, followed by the steaming butter cream mixture and toss.

What we had then was Pink Pasta.

It actually didn't look all that good. But the people at Intercourses were on to something, but fell a bit short. The first taste was surprising. Light, summery, fruity. The parmesan added just the right amount of zip. A & J really like it. A actually asked for 3 servings and J asked for a second serving (albeit very small servings, they aren't even 3 years old yet). Hubby took seconds. I stuck with my original serving.

During the entire dinner, I kept thinking of what would have made it better. The best I could come up with were these ideas:

Use angel hair pasta instead of spaghetti.

Instead of cream and butter, perhaps a cream or cream cheese and cottage cheese mixture. Something to make it creamier, yet still retain some texture to it (large curd cottage cheese, so it wouldn't all melt down in the heating.

Maybe adding some chopped strawberries to the final toss. I think that was the biggest problem. There was such a small hint of strawberry; it was a tease; you couldn't help but look for the strawberries.

I also thought, expanding upon my Hubby's comment that the pasta tasted like "dessert," that maybe you could actually create this dish with a small pasta like Farfellini or Cappelletti, cottage cheese, chopped up strawberries and maybe something else like kiwi or banana. It would definitely take some experimenting. I'm not sure I'm up for that, but anyone else is certainly welcome to try it and let me know their results. (hmmm -- guest blog?)

All in all - O.K. More of a surprise than a disappointment. Aphrodisiac qualities? No.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What a Delight -- Honey Almond Delight

Another installment from Intercourses. I loved it. Hubby liked it so much he took some to share with his co-workers at the hospital. A first.

Let me start, however, by asking, is there an easy way to slice almonds? Yes, I could have bought pre-sliced almonds, but at that price? Forget it. I ended up slicing 1 lb. of almonds the best I could, but many of them were just halved. If I tried for a thinner slice, they just sort of splintered or crumbled. And, I don't want to talk about what my index finger and thumb looked like after I was done wielding the knife... So here we go...

Yes, that is an entire pound of butter. Hence, it's deliciousness...

Also, 1 lb. sliced/halved almonds, almond extract, egg, sugar, brown sugar, honey, flour, heavy cream and salt.

The flour, egg, half of the white sugar, half the butter, salt, and almond extract combined to make a crust which was refrigerated for an hour and then blind baked for about 15 minutes. (a little longer than what the book recommends)

Then, simmer the remaining butter and sugars, honey, and cream ...

until it was all beautiful in its bubbly carmelly goodness.

Then mix it into the sliced almonds which was then spread out on top of the baked crust and then baked for another 15 minutes.

It does look like it would be a hard toffee-type mixture. But it wasn't.

After cooling for about 15 or 20 minutes it was still a warm gooey mixture. It was just right. Placed in an airtight container, and it still hasn't gotten hard. This recipe is a definite keeper. Perfect to take to someone's house as a gift. It makes a lot, too. It filled an entire cookie sheet. Cut into triangles, you get about 40 pieces.

Of course, there were issues. But not with the recipe. Just those little glitches that make it difficult to find time to cook. I started this recipe after a day of wandering around the Geauga County Antique Fest at the Fairgrounds. Found two cast iron business card holders, that, if you can believe it, I'm going to use as doorstops for A & J's bedrooms. When they get a little older, I envision them using the card slots to post notices to "keep out" or to write notes to each other. One has horses; the other has bears.

Well, we came home, and A & J would not take a nap -- which I had counted on. So they had to sit and watch Mommy cook. I strapped them in their boosters and gave them lunch.

Then when I started mixing the ingredients for the crust, I blew the circuit. But, after flipping the switch back in the box, I still couldn't get the outlet or the phone for that matter, to work, so I had to transfer everything from the center island to the still cluttered counter next to the oven. Of course, I had to go to the basement to check the circuit box, which promted A & J to ask to play in the basement, but I couldn't let them since I couldn't be down there with them. So we had a little tantrum. I was able to get them to settle down a bit once I got the crust in the fridge for that hour. While they built a castle in the living room, I was able to clean up phase one.

For phase two, the stove top session, the boys tried to be good. But ... they love to watch cooking. They constantly wanted to be picked up so they could watch what was simmering in the pot. Not too bad, but when they both cry to be picked up at the same time, sorry I just can't hold 55 pounds of children and stir a boiling concoction at the same time. So, into the boosters again with a bribe of an oreo cookie. Right into the chairs they went and I was able to finish the Delights and then turn around to discover that A had crushed his oreo as much as humanly possible. Not just crushed, pulverized and then sprinkled on the kitchen floor.

This photo doesn't do the mess justice. I had the boys on the floor with the dust pan and broom, but still, I had to clean that up, along with sticky carmelly bowls and all that other good stuff.

Like I've said before, I love to cook - I hate to clean up. Even when I think I'm done, I turn around and see everything else I haven't done yet.

Stay tuned for Strawberry Pasta!

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

I Know Why I Don't Have Time To Cook

I hate cleaning up. Yes, we have a dishwasher. But I even hate doing dishes with that. Hubby doesn't load it correctly, so I always have to rearrange the dirty dishes that are already in there before I add to it. We both of us also hate emptying the dishwasher when it's done with its cycle. I hate hand washing. I hate drying.

I love to cook. I hate the clean up. Hubby and I tried, a few years ago, to alternate. If I cooked, he cleaned up, and vice versa - before we even had a dishwasher. Being the [smirk] gentleman he is ... he then accused me of using more dishes and utensils than I actually needed, just so he would have to wash more than was necessary. Obviously, this arrangement was short-lived.

I try to clean as I cook. Creating a mise before hand has helped quite a bit. Prepping and then cleaning before actually starting the cooking process does cut down on after dinner clean up, but still not quite enough.
Oh well, this is just me whining...
Stay tuned for Honey Almond Delights!

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Penne with Rosemary Cream Sauce

Another recipe from Intercourses. Penne with Rosemary Cream Sauce. Yes. It was good. No. I won't make it again -- not without some major rewriting. It was easy. That was a definite plus. It was filling and satisfying. But it could have been so much more.

This stage where I'm sauteing the rosemary in the olive oil was my favorite. I should have followed my gut instincts. It was fragrant and earthy. It filled the kitchen with a comforting aroma.

But then,

The tomato paste/puree. Too much. Too overpowering. Too tomato-ey.

I ended up adding more cream to the sauce to try to thin it out so that the sauce wouldn't have a paste consistency. I didn't have enough cream.

It plated well. In case you're wondering, that "thing" next to the pasta was chicken feta and spinach sausage grilled in the grill pan.

A and J liked it. J more so than A. Hubby said he liked it - going for two heaping servings. For me, the tomato was just too much. It overpowered the rosemary. It wasn't creamy enough. It coated the pasta too thickly. What I should have done was, if I were to put tomatoes in it at all, I would add some petite cut tomatoes at the last phase, just to add a little bite to the sauce. I would have focused more on rosemary by adding some minced garlic and whisking in some butter into the hot oil. Perhaps not even adding the cream. Making more of an olio e aglio sauce. Maybe just cut in some rosemary towards the end, instead of infusing the olive oil in the beginning.

Any aphrodisiac qualities? Again, no. I will not give up trying, though.

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