Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Almond Stuffed Chicken

I originally saw this recipe in Cooking Light magazine.  This publication never fails to provide good quality recipes that need little or no modification.  The same holds true for this Almond Stuffed Chicken.  Since this is featured on the 5-ingridients or less page, you know it makes for an easy weeknight meal.  With lean meat, nuts, fresh herbs, and a light cheese, it also gives you a healthy variety of flavor.  This is one of my go-to weeknight meals. 

For this recipe, I pretty much used the exact same recipe that was published in Cooking Light.  The only slight modification I made was to add a little olive oil to the butter when saut√©ing the chicken because I felt it needed a little more to prevent burning in the pan.  I also sear both sides of the chicken and finish in the oven.   I swear by this method for chicken breasts.  Last but not least, don’t forget to toast the almonds!  I have made it both with toasted and untoasted and the nuttier toasted almonds add so much to the dish.  Enjoy!

1/3 c Boursin light spreadable cheese (I use the garlic and herb flavor)
¼ c slivered, toasted, chopped almonds
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 ½ tsp butter
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper

How to toast almonds: Heat a small skillet over medium heat.  Add almonds to pan.  Stir or use the pan to flip almonds every minute or so.  This will encourage even browning and prevent burning.  Nuts burn easily so watch carefully!

Preheat oven to 375F.

Combine cheese, 3 tbsp almonds, 2 tbsp parsley in small bowl.  Set aside.  Cut a slit through the thickest portion of each breast to form a pocket.  Secure each pocket w/ a wooden toothpick.  Season chicken with salt and pepper.

Heat butter and oil in non-stick, oven-safe skillet over medium heat.  Add chicken and cook 2-3 mins on each side or until browned.  Finish cooking chicken in oven until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest portion of the breast reads 165F (10-15 minutes).  Top chicken w/ remaining almonds and parsley.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Coconut Cookies with Chocolate Ganache

I am cookie challenged. I can bake up a storm, and I have a good handle on pie crust, but when it comes to cookies, I can make a disaster out of few good ingredients. These Twix cookies are a good exception to the rule, but when my son needed Valentine's Day treats, my poor husband ended up at the market close to 9pm as I scraped what looked like chocolate brittle off a baking pan. Anywho, these little gems are perfect and SO easy! Crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside. 5 ingredients and 30 minutes and voila - gorgeous little cookies!

Coconut Cookies with Chocolate Ganache - adapted from Donna Hay
Makes 12 cookies and 1/3 cup chocolate ganache
Preheat oven to 350

For the Cookies
1 7oz bag sweetened flake coconut
1/4 cup of sugar
1 egg white

For the Chocolate Ganache
1/3 cup chocolate chips
2 tablespoons heavy cream

In a medium sized bowl, mix all cookie ingredients. The coconut mixture will be loose and seem kind of dry. Roll a tablespoon at a time in your hands until the coconut sticks together. All of a sudden it will seem much more wet. Place the ball on a parchment or silpat covered baking pan and press the ball to flatten it. 

Bake cookies for 15 minutes and then flip carefully. Bake another 3-5 minutes until golden and toasty all over.

While cookies bake, make the Chocolate Ganache. In a small pan, heat 2 tablespoons of heavy cream until steaming, but not quite boiling. Turn off heat and add in chocolate chips. Let the chips sit in the hot cream for at least two minutes and then stir to melt. Let the chocolate cool until warm.

When the cookies have finished cooking, let them cool on the baking pan and dollop on the chocolate. Let the chocolate cool and enjoy!!

A few things about this recipe...
The original recipe calls these cookies macaroons - but I'm not able to make them thin enough sandwich. 
Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't! Some slivered almonds on top of the chocolate is amazing. 

Things made this time last year...
Pecan Crusted Salmon - oh my goodness this is good!


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sliders

We tend to throw at least one football party per year.  This time, it was for the Big Game – the Super Bowl!  I made tons of food including some of the same recipes from last year’s party.  But one of my new items was my Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sliders.  I topped them with cole slaw and they were equal to or better than any pulled pork you’ve had at any restaurant.  Promise!

I made up this recipe but I did use some pre-made items from Mr. Stubbs who, I think, makes the best BBQ items available commercially.   The BBQ seasoning has a great kick to it and natural smoke flavor.  The BBQ sauce is more tangy than sweet – just how I like it.  Oh, and best of all, it doesn’t have any high fructose corn syrup.  Obviously, you should get whatever BBQ sauce suits your taste.  If you like sweeter sauces, you may want to try something different.  This BBQ sauce is on the thinner side so it doesn’t overpower the pork or drown out the wonderful dry rub ingredients.

2 tbsp Stubbs BBQ seasoning
1 tbsp dry mustard
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp pepper
cooking spray
2-2lb pork shoulders
whole yellow onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
¼ c apple cider vinegar
cole slaw (see recipe)
1 bottle of Stubbs BBQ sauce
slider buns

Combine the BBQ seasoning, dry mustard, brown sugar, salt, and pepper to create a dry rub.  Generously rub spice mixture all over pork shoulders and inside all creases. Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat and spray with cooking spray.  Sear pork shoulders on all sides.

Place onions and garlic in the bowl of a slow cooker.  Place seared pork shoulders on top of onions.  Pour apple cider vinegar over top of pork shoulders.  Set slow cooker to low heat and cook for 8 hours.

While pork is cooking, make cole slaw using this recipe.

Once pork is done, remove shoulders from bowl and shred meat using two forks.  Pour cooking liquid into a sieve to separate out solids.  Add solids back to shredded meat.  Add a little cooking liquid and BBQ sauce to shredded pork.  Stir to combine.  Place pulled pork on a slider bun and top with cole slaw. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Easy Caramel Popcorn

Popcorn is my favorite snack. FAVORITE. Popcorn is why I despise going to the movies - I will eat the entire bucket of popcorn, feel kinda gross and wish I hadn't gone to the movies. My work serves popcorn as a meeting snack option - it's the best option. It's my favorite option. Apparently there used to be a popcorn specialty shop in Ventura, CA and I missed it. WHY?! HOW?! Lame. 

Anyway, I love popcorn. So does my toddler. When he's having a fun day and wants to do something special, he'll ask to build a fort, make popcorn and eat popcorn in the fort. I love him more than popcorn. 

This caramel popcorn is super easy. I don't have a candy thermometer. I've never had a candy thermometer (meat thermometers = germ killing safety. Candy thermometer = $4 I haven't spent at Bed Bath and Beyond.) I've made a lot of peanut brittle and caramel sauces before and I just go by color and smell. It works for me, but the recipe below includes recommended temps if you happen to have a candy thermometer.

Caramel Popcorn - adapted from Ina Garten and Cookies and Cups
Serves 1-12 depending on popcorn obsession levels.
Preheat oven to 300

1/2 cup popcorn kernels (makes about 12 cups popped)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup water
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cashews or other nuts
Sea Salt

Pop popcorn and set aside. In a heavy bottom pan, melt sugars and water over low heat. Don't stir, just give the pot a swirl every once and a while.

When mixture starts to boil, increase the flame to medium and boil for 5 minutes. (I set my kitchen timer and don't go past 5 minutes.) Do not stir, but swirl the pan regularly. 

After 5 minutes on medium heat the sugars will be a deep brown since there is brown sugar in the mix. White sugar alone will be a lighter, chestnut brown. If using a candy thermometer, boil until the sugars reach 350 degrees (5-7 minutes.)

Turn off the heat and carefully add heavy cream and vanilla. The mixture will bubble like crazy. Stir and return to very low flame heat. Stir until mixture is smooth and creamy and beginning to simmer. Voila! Caramel sauce! Let the sauce cool some before adding to the popcorn.

In a very large bowl, stir popcorn and nuts adding 1/4 cups of caramel sauce at a time until about 1 cup of sauce has been stirred into the popcorn. (The sauce recipe makes about 2 1/2 cups, there will be a lot of extra. Do other great things like pour it over ice cream or flourless chocolate cake.)

Line a baking dish with parchment paper and spread popcorn evenly over paper and salt generously. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Let the caramel popcorn cool and then eat. Any leftovers store really well for 2 full days. 

I have an air popper and a very helpful popcorn assistant...

But it's super easy to make popcorn on the stove top with nothing but kernels, a bit of oil and a pot with a lid.

In a pot with a lid, add enough vegetable oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Add enough kernels to be a single layer of kernels over the bottom of the pan. Cover and cook over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently until popping stops. 

Things made this time last year...

Shrimp Scampi over Orzo

Creamy Risotto with Pancetta and Mushrooms - we are totally having this for dinner tonight!! Yippee!!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Black Eyed Pea Salad with Baked Tortilla Chips

Every New Year’s Day, many people start the year off by having black eyed peas.  Why?  Because the superstition is that they are lucky.  Well here’s a dish that will give you luck, help you keep your new year diet, and is very high in nutritional value.  This black eyed pea salad is another dish I learned to make while participating in the Daniel Fast.  The veggies give a nice crunch, the vinegar gives it zing, and the jalapenos give it a kick.  A fantastic combination!

Note: Many canned jalapenos have sugar in them.  If you are making this for the Daniel Fast be sure to check the label!

I like to pair this salad with my homemade baked tortilla chips.  I buy organic whole wheat tortillas from Trader Joe’s.  These are honestly the best tortillas for making chips with.  They crunch up very nicely and have great flavor.  A little olive oil, salt, pepper – and you have homemade chips that go well with anything! 

2 (15oz) cans black eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1/3 red onion, finely chopped
½ large green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
½ large red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
5-6 pickled jalapeno slices, finely chopped
½ c chopped fresh cilantro
¼ c extra virgin olive oil
¼ c balsamic vinegar
splash of jalapeno juice from jar

2 whole wheat tortillas (Trader Joe’s brand preferably)
extra virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, stir together peas, onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, and cilantro.  Add oil, vinegar, jalapeno juice, salt and pepper to taste.  Stir well to combine.  Serve at room temperature or chilled. 

Preheat oven to 375F.  Pour a couple of swirls of oil onto tortillas.  Both sides of tortilla should be lightly coated with oil.  Sprinkle both sides of each tortilla with salt and pepper.  Using a pizza cutter, cut tortillas into triangles.  Spread out tortilla pieces over a baking sheet.  Cook for 7 minutes, flip, and then continue cooking for another 5-7 minutes or until done.  Chips will be lightly browned and crispy.