Monday, January 25, 2010

Chicken Pesto Pizza

I love pizza, and while I'll occasionally go for take-out varieties, it's one of my favorite meals to make at home. It's fun to be able to choose my toppings, add extra sauce, use my favorite cheeses, and know that it is so much healthier than the pizzeria stuff. And it is so easy to keep the ingredients on hand and combine them in different ways to produce interesting new meals. I usually opt for red-sauce varieties, but I recently decided to try something different and used pesto as my sauce. What's not to love about pesto? Basil, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and pine nuts, it's perfect on so many things! (Pasta! Sandwiches! Bruschetta! Chicken! Meatballs! I could go on!) Turns out, pesto is also fabulous on pizzas. I couldn't get away from my red sauce entirely, though, and so I used it as a dip. Heaven! Perfect for a weeknight in front of the TV with your honey, favorite shows and a bottle of white, a weeknight never looked so good!

Chicken Pesto Pizza
Tender chicken and fresh vegetables freshen up a classic pizza crust- YUM!

1 large premade pizza crust, such as Boboli
1/2 c. premade pesto
1 chicken breast, cooked and diced
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
1/4 c. red onion, diced
1/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
Black pepper
Pizza sauce, optional, for dipping

Preheat oven according to directions on pizza crust package. Spread pesto evenly over crust. Top with onions and mozzarella cheese. Add chicken, tomatoes and freshly ground black pepper. Top with Parmesan cheese. Bake according to package directions. Serve with pizza sauce for dipping.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chicken Milanese and Latkes

It is always such a treat to be invited to a friend's house for dinner and enjoy a home cooked meal without the planning, shopping and cleaning! This week Kevin and I had dinner at the house of a Jewish couple with whom we've become close friends. I've heard much adieu about Jewish cooking, and I was so excited for my first experience in this cuisine! They made us a meal that they enjoy regularly when their (huge) family gets together- Chicken Milanese and Latkes.

Now I know that Chicken Milanese is not succinctly Jewish, but the recipe has been passed down for generations, and is ingrained into their family traditions. The chicken was coated in panko bread crumbs (a new favorite ingredient) and herbs, and is pan fried to perfection. The recipe is a keeper that can easily be adapted to any cuisine. (I plan to add fresh mozzarella and marinara next time for an Italian version.)

Latkes on the other hand are unarguably Jewish, and I have to say that I am adopting them into my recipe repertoire. More commonly known as potato pancakes in my neck of the woods, these fried bundles of creamy potatoes were crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and purely addicting. Where most midwesterners would add applesauce (and consume them at Friday night fish fries), I followed my hosts with their families' traditional topping- sugar. And let me tell you, sugar on this fried goodness was reminiscent of beignets in New Orleans, and I can't imagine eating them any other way.

Chicken Milanese
Crunchy fried chicken packed with flavor. 
4 servings
4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
2 large eggs
1.5 cups panko breadcrumbs
3 T fresh parsley
3 tsp fresh oregeno
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper 
3 T olive oil
Using meat mallet or rolling pin, flatten chicken between sheets of plastic wrap to thickness of 1/2 inch.  Whisk eggs in medium bowl to blend.  Mix panko, parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper on plate.  Dip chicken in beaten egg, turn to coat.  Dredge in breadcrumb mixture, coating completely.  Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add chicken and saute until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Keep warm in 200 degree oven until ready to serve.

Crispy potato pancakes are a perfect side dish. 
Serves 10

5 large potatoes
1 large onion
3 eggs
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Vegetable or canola oil (for frying)

Cut potatoes and onions into pieces.  Put in food processor or blender.  Blend and strain to remove excess moisture. Add eggs, flour, and seasoning to strained mixture and mix to combine. Heat oil (several inches thick in pan) and fry potato pancakes with oil almost covering them completely. Flip after a couple minutes and remove when golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve with sugar, sour cream or applesauce.

Wine of the Night- Il Moscato
Il Moscato is a gentle sparkling wine that is both dry and fruity. It was absolutely delicious with this meal! It's carbonation cut through the rich food and nicely complemented its flavor and texture. It would also be excellent with spicy food or alone on a warm summer night (so far away!). Remember, you don't need a special occasion to open a bottle of sparkling wine, and when it's this well-priced there is no reason not to!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Texas Caviar

Do you ever have a houseful of people over and wonder, "What in the world am I going to feed them?" When I have a houseful of guests I like to set out food for guests to help themselves. But there aren't many foods you can leave out all day, as most varieties get too weird when left out of the fridge. Enter Texas Caviar, an amazing dip that triples as a side dish and salad, and can easily be left out for hours at a time. In fact, the longer it sits the better it gets! And the best part? It is made from pantry staples and makes a huge amount, making it perfect for football Sundays! And I must warn you, once you make this dip you will not be able to stop eating it. The combination of the salty tortilla chips, sweet dressing, and creamy/crunchy combo of beans and veggies is addicting! But don't worry, it's good for you!

Texas Caviar
Healthy and addictive, the perfect snack! 
Serves 10-20

1 can black beans, drained
1 can blackeyed peas, drained
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can shoepeg corn or regular corn, drained
1 jar red pimentos, drained
1 small red onion, diced
1 cups celery, diced
1 cups green pepper, diced

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 tbsp water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Tortilla Chips, for serving

Combine all dressing ingredients and boil for 2 minutes to dissolve sugar.  Cool to room temperature.
Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. *Remember to drain and rinse all canned items!*
Pour cooled dressing over vegetables and mix well.
Marinate overnight for best flavor distribution.Serve with tortilla chips.

BONUS- Texas Caviar is an excellent topping for salad! As the dressing is made from oil and vinegar, and the bean and veggie toppings are perfect on salad, you can't go wrong with a few scoops of it on top of a bed of lettuce! Want to make it a meal? Add some crushed tortilla chips, chicken, and shredded cheddar cheese.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pork Chops with Chunky Applesauce and Rosemary Smashed Potatoes

Do you ever have one of those days when you can hardly wait for the workday to be done so that you can go home and make a big, delicious dinner? No? Well there may be something wrong with me, but I often have days when I'm hard pressed to think of anything but food and cooking. Nothing releases more stress than coming home from work, pouring a big glass of wine (and breathing it in as I stare at my Italy calendar), and making a delicious dinner for my fiance and me. As we enjoy our meal I struggle to find other things to say besides "Isn't this good? I love how the flavor pops from this ingredient! Have you tasted it?" (Which often elicits the much-loved "All you talk about is food!" comment that I'm so used to!)

When I made these pork chops and potatoes I could talk about little else besides their deliciousness- proof that wow, they must have been good! The chunky applesauce brings the pork chops to life. As I cooked the apples my head was nearly in the pan inhaling the autumn aromas of roasting apples, nutmeg and cinnamon. It was the yummiest facial ever! And the potatoes, OH, the potatoes. They are the easiest side dish you'll ever make- just four ingredients- and they are incredible. Crunchy on the bottom, soft on the top, with explosions of flavor from the sea salt. And the rosemary fills the house with the earthy, woodsy smell of fresh herbs. My fiance later requested two of these little guys with every future meal. And you know what I told him? They're so easy even you can make them! We'll see if that happens... :)

Pork Chops with Chunky Applesauce
Sweet apples wrap boneless chops in delectable flavor. 
Serves 4

4 Golden Delicious apples, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 ounces golden raisins, a handful
1-inch piece fresh ginger root
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 cups apple juice or cider, plus a splash for pan sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 turns of the pan
4 (1-inch) thick center cut boneless pork loin chops, 6 to 8 ounces each
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter

Combine first 8 ingredients in a medium pot placed over medium high heat and cook until a chunky sauce forms, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. If sauce begins to spatter as it bubbles, reduce heat back a little, but it should be allowed to reduce and form quickly. Once apples are soft and sauce forms, remove it from the heat.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add oil to the pan. Season chops on 1 side with salt and pepper. Using a pair of tongs, add chops to hot skillet seasoned side down. Season the opposite side of the chops with salt and pepper. Brown and caramelize the chops 2 minutes on each side, then reduce heat to medium and cook another 5 to 6 minutes, turning occasionally, until juices run clear.

Remove chops from heat and let them rest a couple of minutes for juice to redistribute. Deglaze the pan with a splash of apple juice and 2 tablespoons of butter. Pour pan sauce over chops. Remove ginger from the sauce and top chops with generous portions of warm golden apple sauce.

Recipe courtesy of Rachael Ray

Rosemary Smashed Potatoes
Four ingredients to gourmet! 
Serves 4 (2 potatoes each)

8 whole New Potatoes (or Other Small Round Potatoes)
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Kosher or Sea Salt
Rosemary (or Other Herbs Of Choice)

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add in as many potatoes as you wish to make and cook them until they are fork-tender, about 15-20 minutes.

On a sheet pan, generously drizzle olive oil. Place tender potatoes on the cookie sheet leaving plenty of room between each potato.

With a potato masher, gently press down each potato until it slightly mashes, rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. Brush the tops of each crushed potato generously with more olive oil.

Sprinkle potatoes with sea salt, fresh ground black pepper and fresh chopped rosemary (or chives or thyme or whatever herb you have available.)

Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Recipe Spotlight: Macaroni & Cheese with Bacon & Onions

In the mood for something warm, comforting, and oozing with cheese? Well who isn't?! But wait, it gets better, delicious macaroni and cheese is elevated to soul food with the addition of bacon and onions. Oh my gosh this is one baked pasta that didn't stand a chance in my house! (I had thirds!- see "Wine of the Night" for my excuses). Use any short pasta you have on hand- I used fusilli- and any combination of cheeses, and before you know it you have a childhood favorite turned dinner party-worthy main dish. After all, who doesn't love gooey cheese, smokey bacon, sweet onions and creamy pasta?

Macaroni & Cheese with Bacon & Onions
Creamy, cheesy, sweet, salty... Soul food!
Serves 6

4 cups Fusilli (or any short noodle)
8 Tablespoons Butter
2 whole Medium Onions, Cut In Half And Sliced Thin
10 slices Regular Bacon
1 Tablespoon Bacon Grease (reserved From Bacon Slices)
¼ cups All-purpose Flour
2½ cups Whole  Milk
2 whole Egg Yolks, Beaten
Salt And Pepper, to taste
½ cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese
½ cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
½ cups Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
4 ounces, weight Chevre (soft Goat Cheese)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook macaroni for half the time of the package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Fry bacon until slightly, but not overly, crispy. Drain on a paper towel. Reserve grease. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in the  skillet and then saute onions over medium-low heat for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown and soft. Set aside.

In a separate pot, melt 4 tablespoons butter (and add 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon grease for good measure!). Sprinkle in flour and whisk to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat for 1 minute. Pour in milk and half & half, then cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until thick. Reduce heat to low. Add salt & pepper to taste. (Do not undersalt!)

Beat egg yolks and drizzle 1/4 cup hot mixture into the yolks, stirring constantly. Stir to combine. Pour egg mixture into sauce and cook for another minute.

Add cheeses and stir until melted. Add onions and bacon and stir. Taste for seasonings and add more salt if needed. Add cooked macaroni and stir to coat.

Pour into a baking dish and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until sizzling and hot.

Recipe adapted from Pioneer Woman Cooks!, 


Wine of the Night
Tres Pinos Tierra Roja

Want to know why I ate three *big* servings of pasta? It was the wine. No kidding, this wine tasted SO good with the gooey mac& cheese that I kept eating it only to drink more wine and enjoy that sense of a perfect pairing, what I call umami in my mouth. It's that feeling of taking a yummy bite of food, and then taking a sip of wine and that food is suddenly elevated from yummy to mind-blowing delicious. If you can't find Tres Pinos, a super affordable Pinot Noir from Central California, try this dish with any Pinot or other sweet red wine you can find. Trust me, it makes the meal!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Recipe Spotlight: Monte Cristo Sandwiches

I have always loved Monte Cristos. After all, what's not to like? Made with turkey, ham and Swiss, Monte Cristos are easy to make and ultra satisfying. Last night for dinner I made the BEST Monte Cristo I've ever had, all thanks to an inspired recipe I found online. The recipe calls for two unusual ingredients- maple syrup and cream cheese. Instead of dipping the bread in eggs beaten with milk, you dip it in eggs beaten with maple syrup... And my oh my does it make a difference! I used plan ol' whole wheat Sara Lee bread, and the syrup made it so sweet and flavorful that it could have been the least healthy and highest calorie bread out there! On the inside the ham, turkey and Swiss are a savory and slightly salty filling that perfectly complements the sweet bread. And adding just a little cream cheese to the warm bread makes it even more delicious! Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar before serving and dip the warm sandwiches into your favorite jam- I love blackberry- and it's a real treat. Try this recipe the next time you're in the mood for a sandwich, it's amazing!

Monte Cristos
Sweet bread and a savory, cheesy filling.
Makes 3 sandwiches

2 eggs
1/4 c. maple syrup
6 slices of bread
Cream cheese (I prefer low fat)
6 slices deli ham
6 slices deli turkey
3 slices Swiss cheese
Powdered sugar, optional
Blackberry Jam (or any jam you like- raspberry is also good)

Mix eggs and maple syrup together with a fork and pour in a shallow dish. Dip the bread in the egg (make sure the bread is well-covered with the egg mixture) and cook on a griddle or in a frying pan (as if you were making French toast). Spread a good amount of cream cheese on half of the toasts. On the same toasts, add half of the ham and turkey and a slice of Swiss cheese. Top each sandwich with the remaining toasts. Turn the griddle to a low heat and add the sandwiches. Warm each sandwich until cheese is melted. Remove from heat and sprinkle each sandwich with powdered sugar. Cut into halves or fourths and serve with jam.

Recipe adapted from Favorite Family Recipes

Monday, January 4, 2010

Maxie's Southern Comfort's Fried Chicken and Mac & Cheese!

On Saturday night I had dinner at Maxie's Southern Comfort in Milwaukee, and it was a truly wonderful experience. I knew it must be a popular local eatery when we arrived and there was a 45 minute wait in -5 degree weather. But I have to say, if there is one type of cuisine worth waiting for on a bitter cold Wisconsin night, Southern is it! The food at Maxie's was heart-warming and soul-filling. The atmosphere, wine list and service were all outstanding. To make an amazing meal even better it certainly didn't hurt that I enjoyed it with one of my closest friends and fiance! Here are two of the dishes we enjoyed at Maxie's, and my recommendation for the best recipes to remake them at home! After all, who doesn't need a little soul food in January? You don't have to peel off those layers of clothes for many more months, so enjoy it while you can!

Chicken Fried Chicken with Tasso Gravy, Mashed Potatoes and Broccoli Rabe, Spinach and Carrots. 

This was one heck of a chicken dinner! The chicken was crunchy and moist, and the creamy potatoes soaked up the rich gravy. The veggies were light and flavorful, balancing out the feast!

White Cheddar Mac & Cheese

Best appetizer ever! This creamy mac & cheese oozed with gooey good flavor. The lightly toasted breadcrumbs on top added a nice crunch to this melt-in-your-mouth dish!

Recipe Recreations

Oven Fried Chicken
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Paula Deen

2 cups Panko bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons freshly minced thyme leaves
Kosher salt and pepper
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4 -inch thickness

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place a cooling rack over pan and spray rack with nonstick cooking spray.

In a shallow dish, combine bread crumbs, cheese, 2 tablespoons olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper, to taste. In a separate shallow dish, combine mustard, water, salt and pepper, to taste, and remaining olive oil.

Coat each chicken breast with mustard mixture; dredge each in bread crumb mixture. Place on prepared rack in pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until chicken is golden brown. Serve immediately.

Tasso Gravy
Serves 4-8
Recipe courtesy of Food Network

*Ingredient note: Tasso is a highly seasoned intensely flavored smoked pork. If you can't find it you may substitute bacon or Andouille (Cajun) sausage.*

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sliced tasso, cut into 1-inch strips
1/2 cup flour
4 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Salt and white pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over low heat. Add the tasso. Saute for 1 minute, browning slightly. Make a roux by adding the flour and stirring until well combined.

Continue to cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Stirring frequently until the roux develops a nutty aroma. Turn the heat up to medium and gradually add 2 cups of the chicken broth, stirring vigorously. Keep stirring constantly until the broth begins to thicken and is smooth. Gradually add the remaining 2 cups of broth, stirring constantly until the broth thickens into gravy.

Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes to cook out the starchy flavor. Add the parsley. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and white pepper.

Mashed Potatoes
Serves 4
Recipe Courtesy of Ina Garten

Kosher salt
3 pounds boiling potatoes
1/2 cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot, bring 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut them into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Add them to the boiling water and bring the water back to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes fall apart easily when pierced with a fork.
Meanwhile, heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan, making sure it doesn't boil. Set aside until the potatoes are done.

As soon as the potatoes are tender, drain them in a colander. Place a food mill fitted with a small disk/blade over a heatproof bowl. Pass the potatoes through the food mill, turning the handle back and forth. As soon as the potatoes are mashed, stir in the hot milk mixture with a whisk or rubber spatula. Add enough buttermilk to make the potatoes creamy. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and the pepper, and serve hot. To keep the potatoes warm, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water for up to 30 minutes. You can add a little extra hot milk to keep them creamy.

Broccoli Rabe, Spinach and Carrots
Serves 4

*Ingredient note: Broccoli Rabe is more slender, tender and flavorful than regular broccoli. If you can't find it regular broccoli can be used.*

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
8 cups broccoli rabe
4 cups fresh spinach
2 cups shredded carrots
1 tablespoon rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add sugar and cook 1 minute. Add broccoli rabe and vinegar. Cook 3 minutes. Add spinach and carrots and saute 2 minutes more. Season, to taste, with salt and black pepper.

Macaroni & Cheese
Serves 6-8
Recipe Courtesy of Ina Garten

Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi (see Note)
1 quart milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Note: To make ahead, put the macaroni and cheese in the baking dish, cover, and refrigerate until ready to bake. Put the bread crumbs on top and bake for about 40 to 50 minutes.