Thursday, March 19, 2009

Romaine Salad with Chicken, Cheddar, Apple, and Spiced Pecans

These were Abram's words after eating this salad: "When I walked in I thought, 'Ugh, not a salad!' but I take it back, this was great."  Poor Abram gets forced to eat more dinner salads than he would like, but I'm glad one finally crossed over that we can both enjoy.  Again, props go to The 30-Minute Recipe.

Store-bought spiced pecans taste fine in this salad, but if you have a few extra minutes you can make your own.  Recipe below. 

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and ground black pepper
1T vegetable oil
1/2 c water
1 recipe Dried Cranberry Vinaigrette, below
1 large head romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces (10 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and sliced thin
1 cup store-bought spiced pecans
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
1/2 c dried cranberries

While the chicken cooks, make the vinaigrette.
1.  Brown Chicken: Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Add chicken and cook until browned on one side, about 3 minutes. 
2.  Poach Chicken and Prepare Vinaigrette:  Flip chicken over, add water, and cover.  Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook until thickest part of chicken registers 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 5 to 7 minutes longer.  Transfer to carving board and cool slightly.  (While chicken cooks, make vinaigrette).
3.  Dress and Assemble Salad: Toss lettuce, cheddar, apple, pecans, onion, and dried cranberries with 3/4 cup of vinaigrette.  Divide salad among individual plates.  Slice chicken on bias and arrange over greens.  Spoon remaining vinaigrette over chicken, or pass separately.  

Dried Cranberry Vinaigrette
Raspberry vinegar gives this dressing a distinct fruity flavor; however, red wine vinegar can be substituted.  If you don't have cranberry juice on hand, water can be used instead.  If the dressing seems too thick, thin it out with additional cranberry juice or water.

1/4 cranberry juice
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/4 c raspberry vinegar 
1 shallot, peeled
1 small garlic clove, peeled
2 t fresh thyme
2 t Dijon mustard
Salt and ground black pepper 
3/4 c extra-virgin olive oil

1. Rehydrate Cranberries: Combine cranberry juice and dried cranberries in microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high power until hot, about 1 minute.  
2. Blend Vinaigrette: Process hot cranberry mixture, vinegar, shallot, garlic, thyme, mustard, 1/2 t salt, and 1/2 t pepper in blender until shallot and garlic are finely chopped, about 15 seconds.  With blender running, add oil and continue to process until smooth and emulsified, about 15 seconds.  

Quick Spiced Pecans
These nuts can be stored in a zip-lock bag at room temperature for up to 1 week.  If adding to a salad, be sure to shake off any extra sugar first. 

2 T unsalted butter
Salt and ground black pepper
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/8 t ground cloves
1/8 t ground allspice
2 c pecan halves
1 T sugar

Melt butter in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.  Stir in 1/2 t salt, 1/4 t pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and all-spice, then stir in pecans.  Toast nuts, stirring often, until color of nuts deepens slightly, 6 to 8 minutes.  Transfer to bowl, toss with sugar, then spread out on plate to cool.   

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lazy Morning Breakfast

This is one of my very favorite breakfasts.  Sometimes I make meals that call for ricotta cheese just so that I can have leftovers to make Lemon Ricotta Pancakes that week.  We love to make these on weekend mornings when we don't have something to rush out for.  They taste great with fresh berries, so even if you don't want to add the Romanoff sauce, throw a few berries on your plate anyway to make it look pretty.  

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes

Abram's Aunt Jeanene is the genius behind these pancakes.  Aunt Jeanene is one of those people I trust implicitly when it comes to food.  If she gives me a recipe, I have no doubt it is going to be top rate.  She has been living in China and Thailand for the past few years and I couldn't be happier that she's back.  I'm ready to start inviting myself over for breakfast.  

3/4 c flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
3 T sugar
2 eggs
1/3 c milk
1/3 c canola oil
1 c ricotta cheese
juice and zest of 1 lemon

Combine dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl combine the wet ingredients, and then mix with the dry ingredients.  Add lemon juice and zest.  Pour approximately 1/4 c batter on grill or skillet (400 degrees).  Cook until golden brown.  Flip once.  Arrange on a plate and dust with confectioner's sugar.  

Strawberries Romanoff

My sister Shauri took engagement photos for Abram and I.  She told me that the key would be getting out early enough for good lighting.  I told her that the key would be making sure we got a good breakfast.  We took some before and some after we ate at La Madeleine.  We are decidedly happier in the post-breakfast pictures.  These strawberries were part of the reason.  

I should mention these berries make a great dessert too. 

1/2 c sour cream
3 T brown sugar
1 T Cognac (I omit this ingredient and it still tastes great)
1/2 c heavy cream
3 T granulated sugar
4 c (2 pints) fresh strawberries

Mix the sour cream, brown sugar and Cognac together in a medium bowl. 
In a separate bowl, whip the cream with a whisk or an electric mixer until it starts to thicken.  Add the granulated sugar and whip until thick. 
Using a rubber spatula, fold the cream carefully into the sour cream mixture until well blended. 
Just before serving, rinse the berries and trim off the green stems with a sharp paring knife.  
Put the berries into stemmed wineglasses and top with the Romanoff sauce.


Let's talk about bacon.  There are three ways I cook it.  
  1. If I'm cooking it to crumble it up for  something, I lay a paper towel on a microwave safe flat dish, place 6 pieces on it, and cover it with another paper towel.  6 minutes (depending on your microwave) on high power and it's done. 
  2. If I'm cooking just a few slices for something I fry it up in a pan. 
  3. If I'm making a lot to feed a group for breakfast, I cook it in the oven.  This is my favorite method by far.  I think it tastes the best. My brother-in-law taught me this little trick a few years back.  You put them on top of a rack in a baking sheet so that the grease drips down off the bacon.  Set the temperature to 400 degrees and cook it for 20 minutes.  You have to keep your eye on it though because the time really depends on your oven.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Terra Cotta Oven

How cool would this be?  Minus the $2,000 price tag of course.  

Monday, March 9, 2009

Quick Cheesy Ravioli Bake

Here's another Best 30-Minute Recipe.  I'm telling you, I'm loving this stuff.

To complete this recipe in 30 minutes, boil the water for the ravioli and preheat the oven before gathering your ingredients.  We prefer fresh ravioli here; however, 1 lb of frozen cheese ravioli can be substituted.

1 lb sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
1 T olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T tomato paste
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
3 T minced fresh basil
1/4 heavy cream
salt and ground black pepper
2 (9 ounce) packages fresh cheese ravioli
1 c shredded mozzarella cheese

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees.  Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. 

Cook sausage in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking meat up with wooden spoon until lightly browned and no longer pink, about 5 minutes.  Drain meat and set aside. 

Add oil, garlic, and tomato paste to skillet and return to medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in tomatoes and reserved sausage and cook until slightly thickened, 8 to 10 minutes.  Stir in basil and cream and continue to simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat, cover, and set aside. 

Add 1 T salt and ravioli to boiling water and cook, stirring often, until tender.  Drain ravioli and return to pot. 

Stir sauce into ravioli and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Spread mixture into 13 by 9-inch baking dish and sprinkle evenly with mozzarella.  Bake until cheese is melted and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Serve. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

St. Patty, Eat Your Heart Out

Here is this week's menu.  I thought about a Saint Patrick's Day menu, and I hate to insult my ancestors, but Irish food?  Yuck.  Sorry.  Please don't send hate mail.  Instead, enjoy this 3rd generation Irish American meal.  


Becky's Spinach Salad

I made sure my mom got this recipe from our friend Becky Mullin when I tasted it at their New Year's Eve party.  At that same party Becky's husband was the first one to guess that I was pregnant with Max.  Maybe I was a little too eager with that salad. 

I love how the mushrooms and onions marinate in the dressing.  Enjoy!  

1 bunch spinach washed, stemmed and broken into pieces
1 head lettuce broken into pieces
1 cup Swiss cheese, grated
5 strips bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
2 hard cooked eggs, chopped
1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts

1 cup oil
1/2 cup vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1 t salt
1/2 t dry mustard
1 t poppy seed
sliced 6 fresh mushrooms
1 red onion sliced

Mix dressing ingredients and let marinate.  Toss dressing with salad just before serving.  

Goat Cheese Chicken Breasts

Marinade Chicken breasts in any Honey Dijon Marinade (I use Lawrys).  Grill, bake, broil, whatever you like really.

Put goat cheese, roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts on the chicken and serve.

Whipped Sweet Potatoes

From The Common Grill Cookbook

4 sweet potatoes, peeled, cut in 1" pieces
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced fine
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c butter
2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Put sweet potatoes in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil.  Cook until tender. 

In a saucepan combine apple, cream, butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup.  Bring to a simmer.

Drain potatoes and transfer to mixer and whip with wisk.  Gradually add cream mixture and whip.  Add salt and pepper.

Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower

You should really make this.  Really.  Even if you don't want to make a fancy dinner, just roast some potatoes, make some broccoli and whip this recipe up for dinner one night.  It won't kill your family to have a night of just veggies.  And I promise, you will love this cauliflower.  

I got the recipe from The Barefoot Contessa at Home, but I've already returned it to the library so you get my less impressive directions.

1 head of cauliflower
3 T olive oil
Kosher salt
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 cup gruyere cheese, shredded  

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the cauliflower into florets and then lay them on a baking sheet.  Drizzle the olive oil over the cauliflower and add plenty of salt and pepper.  Toss and then put in the oven for 30 minutes.   About halfway through toss again to keep from burning.  

Once the cauliflower is roasted, add the cheese on top and put it back in the oven for another two minutes.  

Lemon Yogurt Cake and Lemon Curd

As you may have noticed if you follow my blog, I'm not always on the lookout for the next best healthy recipe.  My sister gives me a lot of flack about that, so when I came across the Barefoot Contessa's Lemon Yogurt Cake (no butter) I decided to make her day.  

So I made the cake (minus the glaze), spread lemon curd (for which I'm sure you can find a recipe, but I just picked some up at the store) on each piece, and topped it with freshly whipped cream and boysenberries.  It was delish. 

Monday, March 2, 2009

Kung Pao-Style Chicken

I adapted this recipe from The Best 30-Minute Recipe.  It originally called for shrimp, but since I'm not a shrimp girl... you get chicken.  Also, the original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes - which I loved, but my children did not.  The second time I made it I cut down to 1/4 teaspoon, which was perfect for them (but I really missed the kick).

3 T vegetable oil
1 lb chicken
1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced thin
1/2 c roasted unsalted peanuts
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 T grated fresh ginger
1 t red pepper flakes (1/4t if you're cooking for kids)
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 (3-ounce) packages ramen noodles, seasoning packets discarded
2 T hoisin sauce
1 T rice vinegar
2 t toasted sesame oil
4 scallions, sliced thin

Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat 2 T of oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking.    Add chicken and cook until done.  Transfer to a clean bowl. 

Add remaining T oil to skillet and return to medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add bell pepper and peanuts and cook until pepper is softened, 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer to bowl with chicken.

Add garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes to oil left in skillet and return to medium-high heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in broth.  Break bricks of ramen into small chunks and add to skillet.  Bring to simmer and cook, tossing ramen constantly with tongs to separate, until ramen is just tender but there is still liquid in pan, about 2 minutes.

Stir in hoisin, vinegar, and sesame oil and continue to simmer until sauce is thickened, about 1 minute.  Stir in chicken, peppers, and peanuts.  Sprinkle with scallions before serving.  

The Best 30-Minute Recipe

For the past few weeks I've been making dinners from The Best 30-Minute Recipe.  I've been shocked really at how consistently good every recipe has been.  I checked my copy out from the library and it's due today.  I like it so much though that I just ordered my own copy on Amazon.  

I've probably made about 10 recipes, each one of which turned out well, and 4 of which I'm already planning on making again.  So look forward to posts on Kung Pao Chicken, Cheesy Ravioli Bake, and Cranberry Apple Chicken Salad.