Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sweet and Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad and Beer Can Chicken

I am friends with a chef. I real professional chef who directs and staffs and manages a HUGE professional kitchen. I have no idea how many people they serve everyday, but I do know he works crazy hard, makes amazing food, and he's willing to teach me something new every time we hang out - cheers to you Tom! On top of all of this, he's married to a dear friend of mine who's been adding love and joy to my world for 23 years! Last time we had a weekend together he taught us Beer Can Chicken - this is hands down my favorite way to make a chicken. We've cooked this chicken in our smoker, and baked it in the oven. It's moist, delicious and super easy. 

The second recipe is a great way to use up the extra bits of Beer Can Chicken. I love spicy salads, (Lettuce Wrap Salad and this Mango Chilli Chicken Salad are some favorites!)  and this is a great new one for our rotation. Like a lot of my recipes, I upped the veggies. In this particular recipe I decreased some of the oil used in the dressing.

Beer Can Chicken
Preheat oven to 350
Line a baking dish with tin foil 

1 whole chicken
1/2 can of beer*
1/4 cup rub of choice (we've used dry run and blended herb rubs)
*(we've used micro-brew IPAs, Coors and even a giant Fosters for a turkey. All good! I've heard Near Beer and O'Douls comes in cans. I wonder if root beer would taste?)

Pat dry the chicken, remove the neck and organs and rub it all over with your favorite dry rub. My dear chef friend made ours, it is smoky a little sweet, tangy with a little kick of spice. We are so lucky!! 

Drink half a beer and place the can in the cavity of the chicken. The bird needs to stand up on the beer can. Bend the can a bit if needed. Place the bird and can on the foil lined baking dish. Bake at 350 until the thickest part registers 165 degrees. About an hour and 15 minutes.

We baked this chicken specifically to use shredded. Sunday night we made pizzas and this was part of a BBQ Chicken Pizza. Monday I made a green salad for lunch and topped it with some chicken. Monday night we made the Sweet and Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad with a bit more of this chicken. This salad is SO good! 

Sweet and Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad - adapted from A Cozy Apron
Serves 4 as a light dinner

For the Dressing
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons peanut butter
3 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
Sriracha - to taste. We added ours on top of the salad servings since we were sharing with our toddler.

For the Salad
1/2 pound noodles - I used spaghetti
5 oz chopped chicken - about 1 breast
2 cups shredded red cabbage
1 1/2 cups sliced carrots
3 green onions
1 1/2 cups sliced cucumbers
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped peanuts for garnish

Start a pot of water to boil for the noodles and start in on the dressing. In a very large bowl, whisk all of the dressing ingredients until smooth. We added the Sriracha later to keep the dressing mild so our toddler would eat it.

Next chop all of the veggies. I used a mandolin to thinly slice the cucumbers and carrots. Grating them would be just as easy and just as nice.

When the noodles are done, rinse in very cold water and toss with the dressing. Add in the veggies and toss until everything is nicely coated in dressing and nicely mixed up.

Serve in bowls and top with chopped peanuts, more cilantro and some Sriracha.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red velvet is the new trend in baking.  You can find everything from red velvet cookies to pancakes.  Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised when my best friend’s fiancĂ© asked me to make red velvet cupcakes for her 30th birthday party.  I was thrilled!  I love making people happy through my food J. 

After I stole her cupcake tower and pastry bags with decorating attachments, I got to work lol.  You would think I would have my own stash with all of the cooking and baking I do.  I digress… 

One of the reasons why I love cooking is because I often get to use my scientific mind to figure out why things work the way they do.  (I’m an engineer by trade).  Well, key ingredients in any red velvet baking dish are buttermilk, vinegar, cocoa and red food coloring.  The combination of buttermilk and vinegar bring out the anthocyanins (a fancy word for “pigments”) in the cocoa.   The Dutch processing that occurs with most cocoa nowadays adds alkalinity and therefore, reduces the appearance of the anthocyanins.  Red food coloring is added to overcome this and results in a brighter red color.

2 ½ c cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp cocoa powder
½ c unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ c sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1/8 c water
2 tsp red food coloring
1c buttermilk
1 tsp white vinegar

8oz cream cheese, softened
½ c butter, softened
3c powdered sugar
½ tsp salt
 1 tsp vanilla

Tip: In the winter months, it may take FOREVER for your butter to soften.  A trick I use is to put the stick of butter between two layers of plastic wrap.  Roll out butter using a rolling pin.  Voila!  Perfectly softened butter!

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line 2 cupcake pans with paper liners.  This recipe makes 24 cupcakes.

Sift flour, salt, and cocoa powder into a large bowl and set aside.  Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer over medium speed until fluffy.   

Crack eggs into a separate bowl and add vanilla.  Pour one egg into the butter mixture and mix until creamy.  Pour in the second egg and continue mixing until well combined.

Combine water, food coloring, and buttermilk.  Pour into mixing bowl and mix well.  Combine vinegar and baking soda.  It will foam.  Pour into mixing bowl and mix well.

Option:  You may add more food coloring if you like.  I’m not a fan of dyes in my food so I used as little as possible.  This resulted in a more red-brown color rather than bright red.  Some other recipes call for anywhere up to ¼ c of food coloring.

Slowly add dry ingredients to wet mixture.  Scrape down sides when needed.  Mix until just combined.  Be sure not to over-mix the batter.

Using an ice cream scoop, scoop the batter into the liners and bake at 350F for 13-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.  Note: times may vary based on oven.

Clean out mixing bowl and paddle attachment.  Whip butter and cream cheese until creamed.  In a separate bowl, sift powdered sugar and salt.  Gradually, add the powdered sugar mixture to the cream cheese mixture and scrape down sides as needed.  Mix in vanilla.  Frost cooled cupcakes with the cream cheese frosting.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce

It's a cake! It's a brownie! It's a truffle (the chocolate kind!) It's flourless chocolate cake!! (Please read that in an "It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Super Man!" voice.) This cake is really easy, it does take up a few pans, but the ingredients are minimal, the steps are easy, and the result is delicious and pretty - a great combo, especially as a company worthy dessert. I like this with a super quick raspberry sauce made from frozen (or fresh if it's summer) raspberries and sugar. The sauce looks great and tastes amazing. It's good over ice cream if you happen to run out of cake. 

Flourless Chocolate Cake - I don't know where I got this recipe... it's been years.
Serves 8
Preheat oven to 350

7 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons)
1 cup sugar, divided
4 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons butter - 9 1/2 go into the cake, 1/2 tablespoon greases the cake pan
Optional for decoration...
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

First thing to do is prep the cake pan. Spray the cake pan with oil, and then line with a circle of parchment. Generously butter the parchment paper in the pan and set aside.

Next, melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler or in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Chocolate is easier to melt with butter added to the mix, but don't over heat too quickly or it will turn into this weird drying-glue business and there is not recovering from that. So anyway, heat slowly and stir regularly.

Prep the eggs by separating them - yolks in a large bowl, with 1/2 cup of sugar, vanilla and salt. Whites in a separate bowl and set aside. When chocolate and butter is melted, take it off the heated water bowl to cool a bit and beat eggs and sugar until pale and smooth.

Temper the egg mixture with about a 1/4 cup of melted chocolate and start stirring the mixture together. Quickly stir the chocolate into the egg mixture and set aside.

Next beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Then add 1/2 cup of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

Fold the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture. Fold gently to keep the egg whites frothy.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 for 40 minutes, checking at 35 minutes. A toothpick or knife inserted in the middle should come out clean.

This cake will be puffy with a crispy shell that will start to fall in on itself as it cools. Press a cutting board over the top of the cake pan to smooth the edges.

When the cake is cool, flip onto a cake plate and dust with a mixture of powdered sugar and cocoa powder. It tastes good, it covers up any glitches and it looks so pretty!

Raspberry Sauce
1 cup raspberries - frozen or fresh
1/3 cup sugar

Simmer raspberries and sugar over low heat until the berries are all broken down and the sugar is melted. Keep simmering until the sauce has thickened to like maple syrup - about 5 minutes. 

With a mesh sieve, strain the sauce, pressing all the raspberry goodness out with a rubber spatula. Or, if you like seeds, keep them. In a pinch, heat a nice pre-made jam over low heat until it's saucy. 

Spoons sauce onto a plate and place the cake on the sauce. YUM!!

I had fun taking pictures of this cake. :)

Things made this time last year...
Creamy Polenta with Sausage and Mushroom Ragu - cold evening, 30 minutes, awesome.

Flavored Kale Chips

Chicken and Curry Kebabs and Carrot and Zucchini Fritters

Monday, January 20, 2014

Simple Vegan Pasta

If you’re a regular follower of our blog, then you know that my family participates in the Daniel fast once or twice per year.  It’s an organic, vegan, no sugar diet that encourages an “eat to live” mentality.  You can find other recipes for the Daniel Fast from last year with my Shaved Veggie Salad and Flavored Kale Chips.

Today, I’m introducing my Simple Vegan Pasta.  This year, I’m unable to take part in the Daniel Fast but this pasta dish is one that I enjoy making and eating any time of year.  It uses my favorite veggie medley – sun-dried tomatoes, onions and spinach.  I use this medley with all types of foods: eggs, potatoes, pizza…yum!  It always works!  Trust me, when you’re enjoying this meal, you don’t feel like it’s a sacrifice.

½ lb whole wheat thin spaghetti
1/3 c sundried tomatoes in olive oil
½ large yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4c roughly chopped baby spinach
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp Italian seasoning

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain, rinse, and set aside. 

Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat.  Roughly chop sundried tomatoes in a mini food processor or with a knife.  Add sundried tomatoes and onions to pan.  Cook for 2 mins or until onions begin to soften.  Add garlic.  Cook another 2 minutes.  Add spinach and cook until spinach is wilted and onions are tender.

Kitchen tool: A mini food processor comes in handy for chopping small amounts of vegetables, making pestos and other dips.  Well worth the investment!  I also plan to use it to make baby food in the near future.

Reduce heat to low and add pasta to spinach mixture.  Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper, and Italian seasoning.  Stir well to ensure all ingredients are combined.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Chicken Parmesan with Quick Marinara

Chicken Parm. It's like the Club Sandwich - it's everywhere, it's on every room service menu in the USA, and I never order it. But, I know it like the back of my hand, and I love it. There is nothing wrong with cheese melted into and then on top of chicken. That's like chocolate on chocolate - awesome. 

Recently, Cooking Light had a remake of Chicken Parmesan and basically it was a portion controlled edition of what is generally a huge meal. I made a few tweaks, and a few changes (non-fat cheese and I are divorced) but the great parts are still great and the portions are filling, but not coma inducing. This is a great dinner, quick to get on the table and loved by the whole family, including our toddler. 

A while back, Antoinette made a delicious Chicken Milanese. Chicken Milanese and Chicken Parmesan are quite similar, just a few swapped seasonings and quantities, but the technique is the same. This is just a great way to cook chicken!

So for this recipe, I made the chicken, and I made a very quick and easy marinara sauce to toss over pasta and to spoon over the chicken. I started the sauce first, and it needs to cook longest, so here's that recipe first:

Quick Marinara
1 26 ounce container strained tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of butter
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small sauce pan, combine onion, garlic, butter and tomatoes. Stir in seasonings and set to simmer while you make the rest of the meal. This needs about 30 minutes to soften all of the onions, so I like to start it a few minutes before I even start the chicken.

Here's the recipe for the chicken... 

Chicken Parmesan - adapted from Cooking Light
Makes 6 servings
Preheat oven to broil

1/2 pound spaghetti (1/2 a regular box)
1 pound of thin cut chicken breasts, or about 3 breasts cut in half lengthwise
3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, sliced thin

Start a large pot of salted water to boil. While this bowls, set the chicken breading station - this is a quick assembly line for chicken breading...
Station 1 plate: seasoned flour. Combine flour, garlic powder and salt
Station 2 shallow bowl: beaten eggs
Station 3 plate: Panko crumbs. Combine Panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

First, dip chicken in the seasoned flour, shaking off excess. Then dip chicken in beaten egg. Next toss chicken in bread crumb mixture, pressing the bread crumbs in so they stick well. 

Once all of the chicken is coated in bread crumbs, start a non-stick skillet to medium heat and add 1 teaspoon of olive oil. I was able to cook these in batches of only 2. The chicken needs some room to brown well rather than steaming and getting soggy. Don't worry about it cooling down, it goes back in the oven in just a sec.

OK, so cook chicken in batches, about 4 - 5 minutes on each side or until thoroughly cooked and nicely browned. 

I had three batches of chicken. On batch 3, start the noodles - they'll be nicely cooked by the time all the chicken has been cooked.

Once the chicken is cooked, place on a parchment lined baking sheet and top with a slice of mozzarella. Broil for 2 minutes or until the cheese is melted and browned in places. 

Toss the cooked spaghetti with the tomato sauce - there will be extra sauce. Spoon the sauce over the chicken. We ate this with broccoli and green beans. Delicious!

Things made this time last year...

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Recipe REMAKE...Braised Beef Short Ribs

What is not to love about a piece of beef short rib that falls off the bone and melts in your mouth?  I mean…really!  I decided to modify my Beef Short Ribs over Penne recipe and just make the short ribs for Christmas day.  I was over turkey and ham after Thanksgiving so I wanted to do something different that was sure to please.  And, IT DID!

The slight modifications involved adding veggies.  I added carrots and celery to the braising liquid to add more flavor and substance.  Unlike the other recipe, I did not shred the meat after cooking and did not serve it over pasta.  Actually, I picked all of the spare ribs out of the pot, and spooned the veggie mixture over the short ribs to keep them moist.  Then I added a desired amount of cooking liquid.  These were a great addition to our Christmas meal!  It just goes to show you how one recipe can be used in different ways.  Get creative in the kitchen NPC-ers!

Braised Beef Short Ribs

4lbs beef short ribs
salt and pepper
¼ c olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1c chopped celery
1c chopped carrots
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 whole, peeled, canned San Marzano tomatoes
1c red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
2c beef stock
1 tsp crushed red pepper

Place an oven rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven.  Preheat oven to 350F.

Season ribs generously with salt and pepper.  In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  In batches, add ribs and brown on all sides (about 8-10 mins).  Remove ribs and set aside.  Add the tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, and garlic.  Cook, stirring frequently for 2 mins.  Add the wine and mustard.  Bring mixture to a boil and scrape up brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Return ribs to pan.  Add stock, stir gently, and cover the pan and place in oven for 2 hrs until meat is fork-tender and easily falls off the bone.

Note: I slightly reduced the cooking time from the pasta recipe.  I wanted them to be tender but not quite falling off the bone since the short ribs were not going to be shredded.  Feel free to cook longer if desired.

Remove ribs from the cooking liquid and place in a large serving dish.  Using a slotted spoon, scoop veggies out of cooking liquid and pour over short ribs.  Season with salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste.

Recommendation: Make these with mashed potatoes and pour some of the cooking liquid over the beef and potatoes.  Oh my gosh, YUM!