Archive for February, 2009

Pot Roast Pot Pie

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

This beef pot pie is my favorite way to use up leftovers from a roast. The process is the same as the Chicken Pot Pie, and the results are just as good. I made this with the leftovers from the Company Pot Roast, which added a tangy flavor to the pot pie (from the red wine in the sauce) that wasn’t there when I made this dish with a more traditional pot roast.

Pot Roast Pot Pie

For the filling

  • 1/2 to 1 lb leftover pot roast, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 can of beef gravy
  • 1 can of mixed vegetables (like Veg-All) or if you prefer, a can of peas and carrots
  • 1 can of sliced new potatoes
  • 1 small can of mushrooms (optional–if you’re a regular around here, you know that we always skip the mushrooms, but they’d be good!)

For the crust:

  • 1 box 9-inch ready-made refrigerated pie crust (such as Pillsbury; you’ll need both crusts in the box for a bottom and top crust) at room temperature.
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp water
  • 1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place one half of pie crust in the bottom of a thick pie plate (we have this awesome stoneware one) or an oven-safe skillet. You just want it to be deep enough to hold all of the filling. Dock the pie crust by poking it several times with a fork and bake for about 10 minutes, until light brown. This helps to keep the bottom crust crispy.

2. While the crust is baking, heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, until it the surface begins to shimmer. Add the pot roast pieces and cook until heated through, about 3-4 minutes. The edges should begin to brown.

3. Once the pot roast is heated all the way through, add the gravy, vegetables, and mushrooms and continue to cook over medium heat until the mixture begins to bubble at the edges. Pour into the prepared bottom pie crust. Carefully cover with the second pie crust to form the top.

4. Tuck the edges of the pie crust so that the bottom and top crust meet, and cut four slits in the top to allow steam to escape as the pie cooks.

5. Brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Bake the pie for 30-40 minutes, or until crust is crisp and golden brown. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting into the pie.

Note: I have made this before using only canned gravy, and it turns out well. In this case, I had a delicious gravy from the Company Pot Roast recipe, so I used half a can of gravy and half a cup of the Pot Roast sauce. As I said, it was very good. Plus, I love being able to use leftovers in a second meal. It makes the second meal extra easy to prepare, and nothing goes to waste!

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Patty Cake

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

I found this recipe on the Food Network website about a year or so ago. I made this for David last winter (maybe around his birthday?) and I knew that we’d be having this again someday. When I was trying to think up a dessert for our big family dinner last weekend, it came to mind again and I thought I’d give it a try. For a cake from scratch, I think it’s very forgiving. This was the first “from scratch” cake I ever made, and I didn’t have any problems at all. I did cheat a little bit when it comes to the garnish, but I don’t think anyone really noticed.

This cake is rich and dark. The texture is heavy like a brownie (not that that’s a bad thing!). If you like York peppermint patties or Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, I promise, you will not be disappointed by this cake. It even looks like a giant Thin Mint cookie!

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Patty Cake

Serve with whipped cream, cocoa fudge sauce, and a drizzle of mint syrup.

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 14 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli)
  • 16 tablespoons (8 ounces) butter
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cream
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup (6 ounces) small-diced peppermint patty candies (I used York mini patties, cut into sixths).

Ganache Topping:

  • 1 cup cream
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • Whipped cream, for serving

To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter a 9 1/2 to 10-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper, and flour the pan, tapping out the excess flour.

Melt the chocolate with the butter and cream in the top of a double boiler. Reserve.

In the bowl of a mixer with a whip, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very thick and light (about 5 minutes). Add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg yolks and mix until just blended. Add the flour, salt, and vanilla and mix until combined, scraping the bowl once or twice. Transfer the batter to a large mixing bowl and stir in the Peppermint Pattie pieces. The mixture will be quite thick.

In a clean mixing bowl, with a clean whip, beat the egg whites to medium soft peaks. Lighten the batter by stirring in about one-third of the egg whites. Fold in the remaining whites and the place batter in the prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 45 to 50 minutes. The top of the cake will feel set and very fine hairline cracks will just start to form around the edges. Remove and cool in the pan on a rack.

To make the ganache topping: Heat the cream in a heavy bottomed saucepan to just under a boil. Add the chopped chocolate and, over very low heat, constantly stirring, cook the mixture until it is completely smooth. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until thickened and spreadable. This can take several hours. You can make the topping up to 3 days ahead, refrigerate it, and allow it to come to room temperature for several hours before using. You can also hasten the cooling process by placing the melted ganache over an ice bath and gently stirring it till thickened; however, the resulting texture may not be quite as smooth and creamy.

Place the cooled cake upside down on a cardboard cake circle or a service plate. Remove the sides and bottom of the springform pan. Remove the parchment liner. Using an offset spatula, decoratively spread the ganache over what is now the top of the cake, drawing the ganache all the way out to the edges of the cake. Using the offset spatula, level the edges to give the cake a finished look. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream and a drizzle of mint hot fudge sauce.

Note: The original recipe calls for making your own cocoa fudge sauce and mint syrup to drizzle over the cake when serving. I cheated both times. When I made it for David the first time, I used a store-bought mint chocolate flavored hot fudge, which worked well. This time, I made my own mint-flavored hot fudge by adding a teaspoon of peppermint extract to a jar of store-bought hot fudge. It was delicious, and hard to imagine that all the extra work of creating my own sauces would be worth it. Maybe I’ll try it someday though. Of course, homemade whipped cream is best, but I skipped that too. I didn’t want to make my guests wait around all day while I whipped cream for the cake. I think David got real whipped cream the first time though.

Company Pot Roast

Monday, February 16th, 2009

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, we had a big family dinner at our place a couple of weekends ago. The centerpiece of that meal was Ina Garten’s Company Pot Roast from the Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics cookbook. I am obsessed with this cookbook. I want to make everything I see–it just can’t be helped. The pictures are literally mouth-watering, and everything I’ve made so far has turned out picture perfect and delicious. (Well, except the fish, but that was our fault. We don’t like fish. The fish eater among us liked it a lot).

This pot roast recipe was more of the same. A tasty, elegant spin on a classic dish, with simple instructions and awesome results. The only change I made was that I used my slow-cooker, instead of hogging my oven all day. What can I say? I had cakes to bake, and rolls to make, and I needed my oven. The slow cooker worked well, and I don’t think it took anything away from the dish.

Company Pot Roast
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics cookbook.

  • 1 (4- to 5-pound) boneless beef chuck roast, tied
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • All-purpose flour
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
  • 2 cups chopped celery (4 stalks)
  • 2 cups chopped leeks (2 to 4 leeks)
  • 5 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 cups good red wine, such as Burgundy (I used 1 1/2 cups of Cotes de Rhone and 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar)
  • 2 T. Cognac or brandy
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes in puree
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 3 branches fresh thyme
  • 2 branches fresh rosemary
  • 1 T. butter, room temp.

Pat beef dry and season all over with 1 T. salt and 1 1/2 tsp. pepper. Dredge entire roast in flour, including ends. In large, deep skillet (or dutch oven), heat 2 T. olive oil over medium heat. Add roast and sear for 4-5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and sear other side and then sear the ends. This should take 4-5 minutes for each side. Remove roast to large plate.

Add 2 T. olive oil to the skillet. Add carrots, onions, celery, leeks, garlic, 1 T. salt and 1 1/2 tsp. pepper and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned. Add the wine and Cognac and bring to a boil. Add tomatoes, chicken stock, bouillon cube, 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. Tie thyme and rosemary together with kitchen string and add to pot. Put roast back into pot, bring to boil and cover. Transfer to slow cooker on high for 4-6 hours until meat is fork tender or about 160 degrees internally.

Remove roast to cutting board. Remove the herb bundle and discard. Skim off as much fat as possible from the sauce. Transfer half the sauce and vegetables to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. (I used my immersion blender). Pour the puree back into the pot, place on stove top over low heat, and return to a simmer. Place 2 T. flour and the butter in a small bowl and mash them together with a fork. Stir into sauce and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring until thickened. Taste for seasonings. Remove strings from roast and slice meat. Serve warm with the sauce spooned over it.

Note: One of the best things about doing this in the slow cooker (aside from freeing up my oven for other ventures) was that I was also able to make the sauce ahead of time. We made the sauce as listed above, and then put the roast and the sauce back into the crockpot until it was time for dinner. Gravy/Sauce making is always a little bit stressful, and at Thanksgiving, was the part that everyone ended up waiting for, so I was glad to have that task done and out of the way. I served this pot roast with mashed potatoes, using the tasty sauce as gravy. It would probably be just as good served over noodles–just comes down to personal preference, I think.

Distraction: A Hypothetical Valentine’s Day Dinner

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

For at least 2 weeks now, I’ve been telling David that he should send me flowers for Valentine’s Day. In part, because I like flowers. In part, because I think Valentine’s Day  is adorable, and I like celebrating it. In part, because everyone says he’s going to stop doing those kinds of things now that we’re married, and even though that could be true, I hope that it isn’t.

So Thursday night, David starts talking to me online at about 4:50.

4:52 PM David: so what do you want to do for dinner saturday?
4:56 PM me: I don’t know
what do you want to do?
4:57 PM David: some sort of dinner
what do you want to make?
me: yeah, that’s a good idea
I don’t know
we should talk about it later
David: why not now?
me: it’s time to go home now 🙂
4:58 PM David: I love you
me: I love you too
David: you should pick dinner right now
me: why right now?
David: because I said so
me: hmm
like later?
David: what?
4:59 PM me: picking later
David: no
me: is there a reason, or are you just bugging me?
David: maybe
me: maybe a reason, or maybe just bugging me?
David: maybe a reason
me: really?
because I don’t have any idea
5:00 PM maybe…steak?
because we never have that
David: that might be good
what would you want to go with that?
me: I’d probably find a new potato or mac & cheese recipe
David: which do you want more?
5:01 PM me: um…
mac & cheese
and since it’s fancy pants day, there should be dessert and maybe salad
David: do you want to try making the caramel cashew ice cream?
me: yes
5:02 PM David: what kind of salad?
me: um…
either caesar
5:03 PM or maybe wedges with blue cheese and bacon
like at morton’s
those are yummy
David: hmm, there is a bunch of blue cheese around
me: yeah…and maybe a blue cheese sauce/blue cheese butter for the steaks or something
David: that could be good
me: steaks stand up to blue cheese better than toothpicks 😛
David: yes they do
5:04 PM fancy dinner friend
are you going to make an appetizer too?
me: should I?
5:05 PM David: I don’t know, maybe, what would you make?
me: bruschetta?
or…
David: tomatoes aren’t very in season right now though
me: yeah
well, if we’re going to be fancy, maybe a cheese plate
5:06 PM like in california
David: that could be good
me: a couple of kinds of cheese, some fancy crackers, some grapes, some honey
David: what kinds of cheese?
5:07 PM me: um, I’d want to study up a little bit to know for sure
but the camembert that I sampled once at whole foods was really good for a soft cheese
5:08 PM David: I think I’ve had that one before, maybe T had it, it was pretty good
me: maybe a nice new kind of cheddar or something we know
and then…I don’t know what comes in between
maybe ask the cheesemongers
David: you can get a monster cheese
5:09 PM me: sure
David: or maybe another smoked gouda, we liked that
5:10 PM me: yup
David: what else do you think would be good?
me: cheese-wise?
David: sure
me: I really don’t know
I don’t think you’re supposed to do more than 3 or 4
5:11 PM David: I guess, then it would be like having cheese for dinner
me: right
5:12 PM David: there anything else you want to do?
me: that sounds like enough, doesn’t it?!
David: sure
5:13 PM me: can I go home yet? 😛
David: um.. I guess
it’s not my fault though
me: what’s not your fault?
David: well I can’t tell you, it would ruin the surprise
me: okay
5:14 PM David: but I tried
me: you tried what?
David: I didn’t say
me: I’m confused
David: if you leave you should call me when you get to your car
Then, I get to my car, call him, and he asks me “What do you see?”
Me: “In my car?”
David: “No, around your car.”
Me: “Um, I don’t know…trees, buildings, a mailbox.”
David: “No, what do you see that’s moving?”
Me: “Um, nothing. Maybe. I don’t know. A van. Two vans.”
David: “What kind of vans?”
Me: “For the cable company! I’m driving home now, okay?”
David: “I guess…”
Me: “What am I supposed to be looking for—-Wait. A FedEx truck just pulled onto our street. Is THAT what I’m supposed to be                       looking for?”
David: “Yes.”
Me: “Okay, I’ll go back. I’ll call you.”
The FedEx guy was of course delivering Valentine’s Day flowers from my husband. Why it took so long, I don’t know, but poor David was watching them be “Out for Delivery” all day and waiting and waiting for me to get them. In the end, I did get them: beautiful roses, and a small box of chocolates, too! What a sweetheart!
I also got a start on planning our Valentine’s Dinner. We skipped the cheese plate (like we were really going to eat all of that!) but otherwise had an amazing dinner: Lettuce Wedges with Bacon, Tomatoes, and Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing, New York Strip Steaks with a Blue Cheese Butter Crust (a la Wildfire), and Au Gratin Potatoes. I also made that Cashew ice cream, and though it’s still in the freezer, I’m pretty sure it turned out well. You’ll be hearing more about all of this things in the next week or so, I promise.

Garlic-Herb Dinner Rolls

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

For a couple of years now, my family has had a tradition of getting together for dinner on Saturday or Sunday afternoon every other weekend. It’s been really nice, since all of my grandparents come, and we don’t get to see them as often as we would like. Ever since the wedding though, we’ve somehow fallen out of the habit of getting together. David and I are still willing to go, so I don’t think it’s just because of our wedding. Whatever the reason, we haven’t been having our dinners every other week. Because it had been a while, David and I decided to have everyone over last weekend.

Of course, I cooked too much, and dinner ended up being a feast! Pot Roast and Garlic-Herb Rolls and Mashed Potatoes and Gravy and Meatloaf and Risotto and Garlicky Green Beans and Birthday Cake and Mint Chocolate Cake…I cooked all day long, but it was totally worth it. You’ll be seeing recipes for most of these things, starting with the Garlic-Herb Dinner Rolls.

In some ways, this isn’t much of a recipe. I threw these together at the last minute, but they turned out to be a big hit. And when I told my grandmothers the secret, they almost didn’t believe that was “all” I’d done. I swear, it’s true. The rolls came from a package. I just doctored them up a little.

garlic-herb-dinner-rolls

Garlic Herb Dinner Rolls
Makes 2 dozen rolls

  1. Coat a pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place frozen dough in pan, and cover with plastic wrap coated with cooking spray to keep it from sticking to dough while rising.
  2. Let rolls rise for 3 to 4 hours, until double in size. Actual time depends on the temperature of your kitchen. Carefully remove the plastic wrap.
  3. Follow the directions on the package for cloverleaf rolls. (In short, break each risen roll into three pieces, roll each in your hand, and place three balls of dough in each cup of a greased muffin pan).
  4. Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake rolls 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.
  5. While rolls are baking, combine melted butter, garlic, and Italian seasoning.
  6. Remove the rolls from pan at once and place on a wire rack to cool. Brush each roll with garlic butter mixture and let cool.

I didn’t happen to take pictures of these, so I guess you’ll have to wait until I make them again to see how they turned out. My grandma and Granny were fighting over the leftovers though, so it must’ve been good.

Top Chef Rundown: February 12, 2009

Friday, February 13th, 2009

This week’s episode of Top Chef had our cheftestants star-struck once again. Famous chefs were everywhere you looked. Everywhere.

The quickfire challenge, to make breakfast for a breakfast loving molecular gastronomist, turned out pretty much as I expected. I thought that Stefan’s dish was actually pretty clever, and it was odd that Fabio’s similar dish didn’t quite make the cut. I do think it’s a shame when the top chef’s try to out-wit the science guys. I don’t know why they think the molecular gastronomists are going to be impressed with the little bit of molecular gastronomy they can pull of. Richard Blaise had this problem–even Marcel made this mistake. The guys who invented the tricks aren’t all that impressed wth your take on them.

The surprise in the quickfire was that Carla won, by keeping it simple and clean, if a little bit whimsical. Her green eggs and ham looked kind of cool and was one of the few dishes that you could actually imagine eating for breakfast. I think she read the guest judge well and gave him exactly what he was looking for. All in all, a very smart move.

top-chef-last-supper

The elimination challenge, to cook “last suppers” for famous chefs, wasn’t really all that difficult. Like Hosea said, your death-bed meal isn’t really the fanciest meal, or the ultimate meal of your life. Even the most famous chefs asked for classic comfort foods that everyone should have been able to make. Maybe even with one hand tied behind their back…

Speaking of Fabio…I was impressed with his ability to get everything done with a broken hand. He really just put his head down and plowed through, and didn’t let the food suffer. I worried a bit about his chopping skills (and his other hand!), but he managed to finish the roasted chicken, and finish well.

Once again, Carla kept things basic, and it worked for her. I don’t know how peas could be something so amazing, but she sure did win over the entire panel of guest judges with them.

Leah…should have been able to make eggs benedict. She’s shown some strength at egg dishes this season, and I really thought she’d be able to pull that off. I think I could probably pull that off, though I have no interest in eating eggs benedict, so I don’t see me making it anytime soon. I’ve tried it, and it’s not for me. Her eggs weren’t cooked properly, and she messed up the sauce, which was a pretty terrible mistake.

Hosea’s shrimp scampi was uninspired and forgettable. And apparently, not quite correct. The tomatoes looked like they were thrown together, and scampi can never have too much garlic, so clearly he went wrong. Like just about everything on the menu this week, shrimp scampi is a basic dish, one he should’ve been able to pull off. Especially the seafood guy. Maybe they don’t serve eel in his restaurant, but I’m certain they serve shrimp!

Finally, we come to Stefan. His salmon was overcooked. I could see it from my couch. It looked like “dead” food baked under restaurant heat lamps. I don’t know what the deal was with the spinach two ways, but ugh. Of course, I’d never choose spinach as part of my last meal. Or really much of any meal. If the judges couldn’t tell that the spinach was cooked two ways, I think it’s safe to say that Stefan missed the mark.

Judge’s Table, then, was a bit of a surprise for me. As much as it pains me to say it, as much as I hated Leah…I really think Stefan deserved to go home last night. Nothing about his dish was good, and the judges at least seemed to be split on Leah’s dish. I think overall, Stefan is a better chef, and on those merits deserves to be in the final four, but that’s not how this game is played. If they’re going to judge on that night’s performance and only that night’s performance, then that’s what they should do. Maybe it was just editing, but it sure didn’t look like Stefan deserve to make it through based on that night’s performance.

Fabio deserved his win, though, no contest. At least all his pain and suffering paid off. And look, he can do it with one hand tied behind his back!

New Orleans should be a fun finale location, so I’m looking forward to next week’s show. I think Carla and Hosea are wildcards, and the top two chefs here are clearly Stefan and Fabio (Team Europe). Stefan is more of a technician, and Fabio’s got all the heart, so if it comes down to those two, I don’t know which one will win. I guess we’ll find out.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

I’ve really enjoyed having my ice cream freezer, as you might be able to tell. After the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream, I took a poll to see what flavor I should make next. Right up until the poll, everyone had been all excited about Butter Pecan. It was all anyone wanted. Then, out of nowhere, after one silly little poll, Butter Pecan came in second. It took a backseat to sexier, flashier Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch ice cream. Until now.

This recipe also comes from the Ben & Jerry’s cookbook, and while I’m not sure I’m ready to blame the cookbook, I have to say: this was the first Ben & Jerry’s recipe that I was slightly disappointed with.

I’m not sure what went wrong here. Maybe it was technique, or maybe it was the fault of the recipe. Maybe the pecans were cooked too much. Maybe not enough. Maybe the bowl wasn’t chilled enough. Maybe the mixing didn’t happen fast enough. Maybe the pecans were too warm.

What I do know is that we lost the perfect texture that I’d worked out during the previous trials. This ice cream had crystals that you could taste, and wasn’t the velvety smooth base that I’ve come to crave.

David thought that he might have over-toasted the pecans, and while I did taste that once or twice, I don’t think that was really the problem. For me, the real problem was another texture issue–ultimately, the finish on this ice cream smacked of butter. There were even little tiny chunks of butter in the mixture. As Alton Brown would say, that’s not good eats.

On the plus side: the flavor was amazing. My issues here were all textural, and those can be fixed, I think. Of course, maybe I’ll just look for a different recipe next time. I’ve had butter pecan ice cream many times, and I’ve even made butter pecan ice cream before. But I’ve never actually eaten BUTTER in my pecan ice cream.

Butter Pecan Ice Cream
Adapted from the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream & Dessert Cookbook

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • 2 large or extra large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

1.  Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over a low heat. Add the pecans and salt and saute, stirring constantly, until the pecans start to turn brown. Drain the butter into a small bowl and transfer the pecans to another bowl and let cool.

2. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, then continue whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend. Add the melted butter and blend again.

3. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker. Add while the mixer is on the low setting, then turn it up to high.

4. Once the ice cream is almost finished (about2 minutes before it is done) add the pecans and continue freezing the mixture until the ice cream is ready.

When it’s done in the ice cream machine, the ice cream will be the consistency of soft-serve. Freeze for at least two hours for a solid, scoopable ice cream.

Note: I don’t want to point fingers, but I can honestly say that the reason I’m not entirely sure what went wrong with this batch of ice cream is in large part because I had David make it while I worked on the rest of dinner. I’m not saying he did it wrong, I’m just saying I don’t know what was different. I do know that he forgot to add the salt. I don’t think that was the source of the troubles though. As I said, I might try this again, and make sure we’re a little more cautious, but maybe it’s just time to look for another recipe.

Chicken Parmesan with Tomato Basil Gnocchi

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Chicken Parmesan doesn’t need much explanation. You all know what I’m talking about. Crunchy chicken breast, tomato sauce, cheese. Usually with pasta. This recipe is a little different from how I usually make Chicken Parmesan–adapted from the Pesto Stuffed Chicken Breasts that I’d made earlier in the week. I topped these chicken breasts with provolone cheese for a change from the more mild mozzarella.

If you’ve never tried gnocchi before, they’re Italian potato dumplings–like little nuggets of pasta. I like the ones stocked by Trader Joe’s, but you can usually find them in the pasta aisle of your regular grocery store.

Chicken Parmesan with Tomato Basil Gnocchi
Adapted from EatingWell Magazine

  • 4 slices provolone or mozzarella cheese
  • 1 jar of spaghetti sauce, divided
  • 3 tablespoons basil pesto (store-bought or homemade)
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (1-1 1/4 pounds total)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning blend
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 package gnocchi (Italian potato dumplings)
  • 1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Lightly beat egg white with a fork in a medium bowl. Place both kinds of breadcrumbs in a shallow glass dish. Stir in Italian seasoning and garlic powder. Dip each chicken breast in the egg white, then dredge in the breadcrumbs. (Discard leftovers.)

3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken breasts; cook until browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Place the chicken, browned-side up, on the prepared baking sheet. Top each chicken breast with 3 Tablespoons of spaghetti sauce and one slice of cheese. Bake until the chicken is no longer pink in the center or until an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F, about 20 minutes.

4. While the chicken bakes, boil gnocchi according to package directions. Drain. In a medium sauce pan, stir cooked gnocchi, remaining spaghetti sauce, and pesto together and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, alongside chicken.

Italian Stuffed Peppers

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Bell peppers are not my favorite vegetable. I’ve gone most of my life avoiding them completely. No peppers, no onions was a kind of motto of mine.

Then, while visiting David’s family in Wisconsin, I was tricked (TRICKED!!!) into eating bell peppers on a salad. They were red peppers, and they were diced like tomatoes, and I didn’t realize my mistake until it was too late. Only…I kind of liked them! Go figure.

Roasted red peppers followed, first in a dish at the Olive Garden, then in the form of hummus. And once in this roasted red pepper aioli I made, but I guess that’s another story. Even though I’ve eaten Pepper Steak for a long time, I’ve picked around the peppers themselves for as long as I can remember. But as it turns out, David likes peppers a lot, and sometimes, you learn to like things for someone you love. I guess.

Stuffed Peppers seemed like something David would really like, and that’s ultimately why I started making them. I mean, I’m happy with the insides, and when it’s a whole pepper, it’s easy enough to pick around the pepper. Even Leah, who shares my general dislike of all things pepper has become a fan of these. I find myself liking the peppers a little more each time, though, so I suppose eventually, I’ll eat the pepper themselves, instead of treating them like a bowl or wrapper. Probably not just yet, though.

Italian Stuffed Peppers

  • 4 large bell peppers, cleaned, with the tops cut off and the seed pod removed. (We usually use green, but red was on sale this time around)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup of rice, prepared according to package directions (Brown rice is what I prefer, but use what you like, even if that’s instant)
  • 1 lb of ground beef
  • 1 jar of spaghetti sauce
  • 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 6-8 ounces of cheese, either shredded or thinly sliced (think white, Italian, and melty, like provolone, mozzarella, or fontina. Again, use what you like.)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add sugar and bell peppers and cook until peppers soften at the very edges but are still firm and crisp throughout, about 3 minutes. Remove from water and place into a baking dish with deep sides.

2. In a large skillet, brown ground beef over medium high heat. Drain beef and return to skillet. Add spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, italian seasoning, and garlic, and cook over medium heat until mixture begins to bubble.

3. Turn heat to low and add prepared rice. Stir to combine. Scoop the beef & rice mixture into the bell peppers, filling them completely. When we have extra of the filling, I put it into the baking dish around the stuffed peppers, but the amount left over depends on the size of the peppers I use.

4. Once in the baking dish, cover the peppers and any remaining filling with the cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes, until the filling is hot all the way through.

Note: I like the cheese to get crispy, but if you don’t, you can bake the peppers without cheese, and add the cheese for just the last 10 minutes. If you want to go crazy with the cheese, you can sprinkle parmesan over the top as well. I call these Italian Stuffed Peppers, because those are clearly the flavors I use, but I’ve heard of Stuffed Peppers being made more like meatloaf (think breadcrumbs and ketchup) or with cheddar cheese. All I can say is I like them this way, and so do David and Leah. If you like green peppers on your pizza, I’m sure you’d like this dish as well.

Cheesy Pesto Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Monday, February 9th, 2009

I’m always on the lookout for healthy recipes that don’t look like healthy recipes. Partly because I’m not generally a fan of HEALTHY healthy food. Partly because I don’t care for very many vegetables. Partly because I like cooking too much to give up all the tasty things I love to make. Partly because if I want to eat healthy, I’ve got to find a way to make sure my “test kitchen” wants to eat it also.

This recipe sounded promising from the start. Cream cheese? Pesto? Crunchy chicken breast? Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Hardly sounds healthy at all, really. Except that the cheese is low-fat cream cheese, the pesto is made with heart-healthy olive oil, the breading is egg whites and super-crunchy panko and the chicken is briefly pan-fried before being finished in the oven–giving it all the crunch of a fattening fried chicken breast, with much less oil.

Cheesy Pesto Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Adapted from EatingWell Magazine

  • 2 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese (neufchâtel cheese)
  • 1 tablespoon basil pesto (store-bought or homemade)
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (1-1 1/4 pounds total)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning blend
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Combine cream cheese, pesto and pepper in a small bowl with a fork.

3. Cut a horizontal slit along the thin, long edge of a chicken breast half, nearly through to the opposite side. Open up each breast and place one-fourth of the filling in the center. Close the breast over the filling, pressing the edges firmly together to seal. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts and filling.

4. Lightly beat egg white with a fork in a medium bowl. Place both kinds of breadcrumbs in a shallow glass dish. Stir in italian seasoning and garlic powder. Hold each chicken breast half together and dip in the egg white, then dredge in the breadcrumbs. (Discard leftovers.)

5. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken breasts; cook until browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Place the chicken, browned-side up, on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until the chicken is no longer pink in the center or until an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F, about 20 minutes.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per chicken breast: 233 calories; 7 g fat; 71 mg cholesterol; 11 g carbohydrate; 30 g protein; 1 g fiber; 231 mg sodium.

Note: This is one of the most decadent healthy recipes I’ve come across in a long time. If you’ve never used neufchâtel cheese you’ll be pleasantly surprised; it’s like cream cheese, but has 1/3 less fat than traditional cream cheese, without any of the aftertaste or texture problems of “low fat,” “reduced fat,” or “fat free” cream cheese. Look for the “1/3 less fat than cream cheese” in the product name, and you’ll know you’re buying the right one. I did use a small container of storebought pesto, only because my basil crop wasn’t quite ripe for picking. I served this with Pesto Mashed Potatoes, which is code for leftover mashed potatoes with pesto in them (about 1 Tbsp of pesto for every cup of mashed potatoes). The whole dinner was delicious.