Showing posts with label improv challenge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label improv challenge. Show all posts

16 March 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Potatoes & Chives

I was really excited about March's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients -- potatoes and chives -- because we'd been having such a mild winter that the chive plants in my sheltered back bed never properly died back and I've had fresh chives on hand all winter! Or ... most of the winter. As soon as I made this potato salad, dark clouds massed on the horizon and BLAM! a foot of snow buried everything. Happily, chive plants are hardy as weeds and I'll be knee-deep in chives in another month or so.

This salad would look really attractive garnished with chive blossoms, but SNOW ...

While Potato salad isn't particularly exciting or adventurous, it is one of my favorite foods and I love to tinker with it, trying new variations of dressings, etc. With this salad, I've tossed the hot potatoes with a mixture of oil, vinegar, and mustard -- the potatoes absorb the mixture as it cools and, I feel, the becomes much more flavorful this way. If you are part of the no-mayonnaise-in-my-potato-salad brigade, you could easily omit the mayo ... although you would be missing out on the marvelous combination that is potato and mayonnaise and I would judge you. I used ready-made garlic mayonnaise in this recipe, but you could make your own by combining crushed garlic or garlic paste with mayonnaise until it tasted garlicky enough for you.

Yes, the mayonnaise was expired. Yes, I took it back to the shopped for an unexpired one.

Tangy Potato & Chive Salad

Yield: 6

Ingredients

  • 1½ lbs red potatoes, halved or quartered into bite-size pieces
  • 4 scallions
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp zippy yellow mustard
  • ¾ cup garlic mayonnaise
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Cook the potatoes in boiling water for about 10 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife.
  2. While potatoes cook, chop all the white and light green parts of the scallions and set aside.
  3. Whisk the oil, vinegar, and mustard together and set aside.
  4. Drain the potatoes. While the potatoes are still hot and steamy, gently toss them with the mustard mixture and the scallions. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  5. Gently fold in the mayonaisse and chives. Chill the salad until ready to serve.
  6. When ready to serve, season with salt and pepper and, if desired, garnish with additional chives and scallions.

Mmm ... potatoes! One of nature's perfect foods.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





16 February 2017

Improv Challenge: Chocolate & Chillies

It'sImprov Challenge Cooking reveal day for February, and this month's theme let us all get really creative with chocolate and chillies (aka chilies or chiles). Yum! I immediately knew I wanted to make some kind of cookie so it was merely a matter of thinking and experimenting until I found the recipe that seemed perfect for the challenge.

These cookies are loosely based on the memories of a bite-size chocolate and chili shortbread cookie I ate last year, but I went big with soft palm-sized drop cookies. I want rich, almost fudge-y, dark chocolate goodness, with just a touch of heat and spice. Something that would pair perfectly with an ice cold glass of milk and leave you feeling like maybe you'd been a little bit naughty. I wanted to flirt with decadence without crossing the line into chocolate overload. I think I mostly succeeded with this.

Chopping chocolate is a recommended stress reliever

Dark Chocolate & Chili Cookies

Yield:About 4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1¼ cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour [King Arthur Flour]
  • ¾ cup baking cocoa [King Arthur Flour Triple Chocolate Blend]
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3.5 oz bar dark chili chocolate, chopped [Lindt Chili Excellence Bar]
  • 3.5 oz bar dark chocolate, chopped [Lindt 85% Cocoa Excellence Bar]
  • Cinnamon sugar, if desired [Lindt Chili Excellence Bar]

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, cayenne, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in chopped chocolate.
  2. Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes, depending on how gooey you like your cookies. Immediately sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if using.
  3. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Let cool completely before eating ... if you have the patience! (The warmer the cookie, the more fragile it will be so handle with care).
  4. Cooled cookies will keep in an airtight container

Don't be surprised if these are gone in a day

The Husband thought these tasted a bit like "Mexican" hot chocolate, because they're very dark with just a hint of heat and spice, and was happy to scarf them down with mugs of tea. However, if you would like a properly spicy cookie, feel free to double the amount of cayenne. Also, these are fairly soft and crumbly cookies. Brilliant to nosh on (very morish -- so if you have a weakness for cookies, be forewarned) but not suitable for dunking in a cup of tea.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





19 January 2017

Improv Challenge: Lemon & Rosemary

January's Improv Challenge Cooking ingredients are the bright, sunny flavors of lemon and rosemary. I decided to keep my dish simple and combined the lemon and rosemary with garlic and fresh breadcrumbs to make a light topping for baked fish. It's not a very adventurous dish, but it's pretty and spring-like. In this dark, bitter January I need everything that is pretty and spring-like.

I used cod in this dish, which is not a fish we eat very often, but I thought it’d be a fun change from the usual tilapia or salmon. Cod is, after all, a very versatile fish as it is mild and sweet-flavored, making it a good fit for many recipes.

I also used "Spanish Roja" garlic bought at last fall's very rainy Connecticut Garlic and Harvest Festival. The flavor is quite pungent, hot, and lingering. If you don't like strong garlic flavor, the plain ol' ordinary grocery store garlic will work just fine in this dish.

We had leftover sandwich/kaiser rolls so I blitzed one of those to make the breadcrumbs, rather than let it get stale, and that yielded about a cup of fresh crumbs. Obviously, you could use any bread or roll you like to make the crumbs. I'm betting that the garlic ciabatta or rosemary focaccia would be lovely.


Lemon & Rosemary Cod

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs certified sustainable cod loin, cut into 4 portions
  • 2 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tbsp minced Spanish rojo garlic
  • 1 leftover sandwich roll
  • Salt and pepper, if desired
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • Lemon wedge, for squeezing

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Blitz the rosemary, lemon zest, garlic, and roll in a food processor until the roll forms fine crumbs. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
  3. Place the butter in a 7x11-inch baking dish. Melt in the preheated oven. Remove dish from oven.
  4. Lay the cod in the baking dish and then flip the fish over to coat. Press the crumb mixture onto the top of each cod portion.
  5. Bake cod for 20 min, uncovered, or until the fish has reached 145°F or is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Remove fish from the oven, squeeze lemon wedge over it, and serve.


For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





15 December 2016

Improv Challenge: Cinnamon & Honey

I know, for many cooks, this time of year is all about baking and December's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients (cinnamon and honey) certainly lend themselves to baking, but I wanted something ... healthy and savory. So I made a salad! Hooray! I know salad in cold, dark December doesn't sound fabulous, but I promise you that this one is totally yum.

There are many versions of carrot and raisin salad in the world, but I strove to be An Original and made up my own. Cinnamon and honey, obviously, go into my salad, but so does cumin because I've been experimenting with "Moroccan" flavors and cinnamon + cumin seemed like a natural combination. Also, black currants instead of raisins, because black currants are brilliant. No mayonnaise, because carrots + mayonnaise = NOPE.

I have used the handful, an entirely unscientific unit of measurement, in my recipe. If you want to be more precise, use a ⅓ or ½ cup. Mostly, it's all about what flavors YOU like and how many currants or almonds YOU want to eat. Me, I love dried currants and almonds + carrots = ❤️ so I was generous with my handfuls. If you hate currants (but WHY?), feel free to use raisins.



Carrot & Currant Salad

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped fine
  • ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Handful of dried currants
  • Handful of sliced almonds
  • Handful of dried parsley
  • Salt and black pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator overnight to allow the flavors to marry. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Best served at room temperature.

Personally, I love this salad. It's bright and sweet and ... carroty. Very aromatic with lots of tongue-pleasing textures. The blackcurrants plump up a bit as they sit overnight and become a like little chewy flavor bombs. While I ate it with salmon, it would also be good with roast or grilled chicken or pork. Or rolled up in rice paper with a bit of cilantro and pickled onion? Hmmm.

For anyone new to my blog, Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.

improv cooking challenge logo (aqua rolling pin, spatula, fork, whisk suspended from rack)



17 November 2016

Improv Challenge: Nuts & Caramel

I really wanted to make something sophisticated with November's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients -- nuts and caramel -- but after I burnt three fingers by pouring hot, burnt caramel over them while trying to clean up from a complete millionaire's bar FAIL, I realized I was going to have to go back to beginner's level caramel.


Folks, I give you "Pretzel Delights." Versions of these treats can be found all over Pinterest and are one of those dishes you don't really need a recipe for, so much as a basic technique:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Arrange as many pretzels as desired on sheet.
  4. Top each pretzel with one unwrapped chocolate-covered caramel candy.
  5. Bake 2½-3 minutes or until candy begins to soften, but not melt (it will start to look shiny).
  6. Remove from oven and top with your preferred nut.
  7. Allow to cool completely or eat slightly warm (the choice is yours).

I tried this technique out with milk chocolate Rolo, dark chocolate and sea salt caramel Dove Promises, and Toffifay (aka Toffifee). I used salted, roasted hazelnuts with the Rolo and unsalted, roasted cashews with the Dove Promises.


While I thought the Dove Promises fit best on the square pretzels I used, I found the ratio of hazelnut to Rolo to be more pleasing and will probably stick with that combination if I make these again.

As for the Toffifay ... Toffifay was a nonstarter. I don't know what's in the caramel that makes the Toffifay's outer shell, but that stuff would not soften -- not even after 5 minutes in the oven -- so I gave up.

I do suggest you go ahead and try this out on your own (or with your kids!). Because you're using ingredients that will keep just fine almost indefinitely, you can limit yourself to a half dozen at a time and make them whenever (however) you like.


For anyone new to my blog, Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.

improv cooking challenge logo (aqua rolling pin, spatula, fork, whisk suspended from rack)



20 October 2016

Improv Challenge: Carrots & Curry

I wanted to make something really fabulous with October's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients (carrots and curry), but I left everything to the last minute (again) and so you're getting a simple salad. It's pretty, easy to assemble, keeps well, and tastes good -- both sweet and tangy with a gently kick from the sweet curry powder -- but I am still not 100% certain it is worthy of the challenge. Especially since I didn't even grate my own carrots, but bought a bag of pre-shredded rainbow carrots.


I used a medley of raisins in this salad -- Jumbo Golden, Crimson, Thompson, Flame, and Golden Flame raisins -- but the yellow ones kind-of disappear into the salad when you're looking at it, so next time I might stick with just dark Thompson and Crimson. Or maybe currants? Hmm.

Soaking the raisins helps them plump up a bit, making them tender and even more delicious than usual. The cider vinegar makes them a bit tangy, yes, but that works well with the honey and sweet curry flavors. Why sweet curry? I wanted something very fragrant and flavorful, but with only a little heat.

Curried Carrot & Raisin Salad

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • ½ cup raisins
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp sweet curry powder [Penzeys Maharajah]
  • 1 tsp honey
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 lb grated carrots
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. In a small mixing bowl bowl, soak raisins in vinegar for 20 minutes. Drain vinegar into another small mixing bowl.
  2. Whisk together vinegar, curry powder, and oil until combined.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine raisins and carrots. Pour vinegar mixture over and toss well. Season with salt and pepper as desired.


For anyone new to my blog, Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.

improv cooking challenge logo (aqua rolling pin, spatula, fork, whisk suspended from rack)




15 September 2016

Improv Challenge: Sausage & Mustard

It's time for September's Improv Cooking Challenge! The ingredients were sausage and mustard and, for all my excited talk of mustard greens on Facebook, I weenied (heh) out and stuck with the condiment ...


When my parents downsized to their "retirement" home a few years ago, I assumed custody of a number of Mom's cookbooks, including two fabulously funky Campbell's Soup cookbooks, Cooking with Soup: 608 Skillet Dishes, Casseroles, Stews, Sauces, Gravies, Dips, Soup Mates and Garnishes and More-For-The-Money Main Dishes. They're loaded with "creative" ways to use tinned soup and frankfurters and sausage crop up unexpectedly in more than one recipe. While it was a toss up between "Frankfurter Skillet Barbecue" and "Southwest Frankfurters" (it's the corn that makes it "Southwest," I guess), I went with "Frankfurter Skillet Barbecue" because "Southwest Frankfurters'" use of relish ... scared me a little. (I'll still try it one of these days, of course).


I did make a few alterations to the original recipe -- I used four Hillshire Farm Polska Kielbasa Links instead of frankfurters and cut them open so they were hinged like a book before browning. I used Gulden's Spicy Brown Mustard as the "prepared mustard" and sriracha instead of Tabasco. I served this dish on slices of hot, buttery toast as if it were a riff on beans on toast, because I simply had a hard time visualizing how else to serve it. On more rice, maybe? Certainly, not on the suggested frankfurter buns ... that just sounded like a disaster waiting to leap down someone's shirtfront. No, this is a definite knife-and-fork dish.


And, bless it, it may look like the dog's breakfast, but it tastes good. Surprisingly good. If you like tomato-based baked beans, I think this might very well be something you would enjoy. It's tomato-y and tangy with just a hint of molasses and heat. If you want it spicier, simply add more sriracha or use spicy frankfurters/kielbasa links. Personally, we enjoyed it just as it was and it's something that will serve well in the deep, dark winter as a quick and comforting supper.


For anyone new to my blog, Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.

improv cooking challenge logo (aqua rolling pin, spatula, fork, whisk suspended from rack)



18 August 2016

Improv Challenge: Garlic & Rosemary

Wow, the summer has flown by! I can't believe it's time for the August Improv Challenge already! While I went sweet in July with peaches and cream, August is all about savory garlic and rosemary.


I thought about baking a red onion, garlic, and rosemary focaccia -- like this -- because I'd like to ease back in to bread baking. And King Arthur Flour's "Garlic-Herb Mac & Cheese sounded pretty delish, too. But, in the end, I decided to take the easy road and roast some chicken breasts.

My first thought was to use split chicken breasts and slip a mixture of garlic, rosemary, and lemon under the skin before roasting, but then I forgot what I was doing at the grocery store and came home with a package of boneless skinless breasts. Whoops!


Since I find boneless skinless breasts need a lot of help, flavor-wise, I scored them each with a crisscross pattern, increasing the surface area available to marinade and more surface area means more flavor. (Also, I think they look prettier/more interesting that way).

So ... how did it taste? Tasty. Succulent. Richly aromatic. A definite repeater.


Garlic & Rosemary Roasted Chicken Breasts

Yield: 3

Ingredients

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1½ Tbsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest
  • Sea salt & freshly cracked pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. Pat the chicken breasts dry and score in a crisscross pattern with a sharp knife. Place in a food-safe storage container.
  2. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over chicken. Use a spatula or spoon to really work it into the crisscross cuts. Cover container and refrigerate overnight.
  3. Remove container from fridge and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  5. Pour chicken out into a baking dish and roast, uncovered for 25-30 minutes or until chicken reaches 165°F.
  6. Remove chicken from oven, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.


For anyone new to my blog, Improv Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Challenge logo below.

improv cooking challenge logo (aqua rolling pin, spatula, fork, whisk suspended from rack)



21 July 2016

Improv Challenge: Peaches & Cream


I didn't plan on participating in July's Improv Challenge. Housebound, easily tired, and increasingly irritated by the tether that is my wound vac ... cooking just hasn't been my thing. But I'm getting bored with myself, you see. Boredboredbored. And so I thought "What the heck! I have dried peaches in the pantry, sour cream in the fridge, and nothing else that needs doing. Why not, at least, try? At worst, I exhaust myself, have a little cry, and need a lie down. At best, I am one step closer to convincing myself I am a Well Person now."

Briefly, I considered tarting up a basic scone recipes with peaches, crystallized ginger, and honey cream. But then I came to my senses and remembered I don't particularly like scones. I know, I know. Scones are something all bookish tea drinking Anglophiles should love. And I do love the idea of them. But I've eaten so many bad scones -- dry, bland, chewy, UGH -- that I've learned to avoid them at bakeries and cafes. And, more importantly, I've not had much luck baking them. So.


Muffins! Glorious, peachy muffins! I've adapted "Naomi's Apricot Nut Muffins" recipe from ApricotKing Orchards to use spelt flour, peaches, ginger, and almonds. I also soaked my peaches in a cup of freshly brewed Salada Green Tea "Immunity" (a blend of green tea, nectarine and peach flavors, spices, and herbs) instead of water, in an attempt to boost the muffins' peachiness. (Feel free to use any peach-flavored tea or just plain ol' hot water).

Peachy Spelt Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup diced dried peaches
  • 1 cup freshly brewed Salada Green Tea Immunity
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups spelt flour [King Arthur Flour]
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp grated orange zest
  • ¼ cup crystallized ginger
  • Sparkling (large grain) sugar, if desired
  • Sliced almonds, if desired

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the lower middle. Line a 12-count muffin pan with baking cups or grease the bottoms and halfway up the sides of the wells.
  2. Place peaches in a bowl, add hot tea, and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain.
  3. Cream together butter, sugar, and sour cream in your stand mixer
  4. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and orange peel in a large bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients to wet, mixing until just until combined. (Careful you don’t over mix as that can result in a tougher muffin). Gently stir in apricots and ginger.
  5. Fill muffin tin or paper cupcake cups. Sprinkle with sugar and almonds.
  6. Bake 18-20 minutes in the 400°F oven (if the almonds get too brown, tent with foil). Muffins are done when the tops are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle-most muffin comes out clean.
  7. Let the muffins cool in the muffin pan for 5 minutes, then immediately remove them from the pan. Let cool on a rack for another 15 minutes before eating.


As you can see, none of my muffins domed and a few have sunken centers. They're not under-baked -- the inside of the muffin in soft, fluffy, and moist-but-not-wet -- and my baking soda was new. While I was careful mixing the batter, it is still possible I over-mixed it. Also, in hindsight, I wonder if there wasn't enough leavening used? Perhaps I should have used used a 1:1 baking soda to flour ratio, even thought the original recipe used 1:2?

Anyway, while they're not as pretty as I would have liked, these muffins are still quite yummy. Nutty, just the right amount of sweet, and peachy. Even The Husband has been eating them! I thought for certain spelt would bet a big ol' NOPE from him, but I have been proven wrong. It happens.



19 May 2016

Improv Challenge: Orange & Ginger

May's Improv Challenge ingredients were orange and ginger. I toyed with the idea of orange and ginger nut cake, but I'm trying not to bake things The Husband won't eat because he seems ... unhappy ... that I seem to be doing more baking for other people than for him. Not that I blame him. I would be pretty cheesed off to wake up in the morning (too many mornings) to delicious smells, only to discover the source of those delicious smells is not meant for me.


So! Savory orange and ginger! Savory? A glaze? Marinade? An orange juice and ginger marinade? With ... honey? And ... red pepper? What about that unloved tin of five-spice powder? Oh! Don't forget the coconut aminos?!

And that's pretty much the entire thought process behind this dish. Throw a bunch of flavors together, taste, adjust flavors, taste again, then add some chicken and see what happens.


Usually found in Chinese cuisine, five-spice is just like it sounds -- a blend of five spices. I used Penzeys "Chinese Five Spice" which is a mix of cinnamon, star anise, aniseed, ginger and cloves. It's probably other manufacturer's use slightly different spices in their blends, so ymmv.

Because I was feeling a bit lazy, I used Gourmet Garden's lightly dried shredded ginger in the marinade. Like five-spice, it's exactly as it sounds -- lightly dried ginger shreddies. The container says one tablespoon of the lightly dried stuff is equivalent to two tablespoons of the freshly shredded stuff, so keep that in mind if you're planning on using fresh. If you want to try the Gourmet Garden ginger, I found it in with the fresh herbs in the produce section of my local Stop & Shop. (It works really well in carrot-raisin muffins, too).

I tested this recipe with drumsticks first, but roasted the drumsticks at too high a temperature so that the connective tissue riddling the drumsticks did not have time to break down much at all, leaving me with the kind of gristly drumsticks I loathe. The flavors were good, though, and the bits of meat that weren't horribly tendinous/cartilaginous/icky were quite tasty -- deep savory soy with a slight hint of sweet and robust ginger and garlic notes -- and I vowed to try again with a different cut of chicken.


The second time around, I marinated boneless skinless chicken breasts overnight and then cooked them in an oiled grill pan. Before marinating the chicken, I scored each breast in a crisscross pattern -- many articles I'd read told me that marinades never penetrate very far below the surface so I figured scoring the chicken would at least increase the surface area the marinade would be exposed to, hopefully creating a more flavorful chicken. Also, it looked rather pretty.

Simple 5-Spice Grilled Chicken Breasts

Yield: 2

Ingredients

  • 5 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 4 Tbsp orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp runny honey
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp lightly dried shredded ginger [Gourmet Garden]
  • ½ tsp Chinese five spice powder [Penzeys]
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes [Penzeys]
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Instructions

  1. Pat the chicken breasts dry and score in a crisscross pattern with a sharp knife. Place in a food-safe storage containger
  2. Whisk together all remaining ingredients and pour over chicken. Leave for 10 mins or refrigerate until needed, if making ahead. (If making ahead of time, try to shake the container occasionally during the day to redistribute the marinade).
  3. Heat your grill pan over medium-high heat. When hot, brush pan with a little neutral oil (like canola).
  4. Add chicken to pan. Cook 6 minutes per side or until meat has reached 165°F.
  5. Remove chicken from heat, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
  6. While chicken is resting, pour marinade into a pot and boil, whisking often, until sauce becomes reduced and syrupy-looking.
  7. Slice chicken, drizzle with reduced marinade, and serve.


I served the boneless breasts over rice with steamed broccoli and it was very good, even if I do say so myself. The chicken was very tender and flavorful -- kind-of like teriyaki chicken but much less sweet or strongly flavored -- and the leftovers went really well on a salad.




21 April 2016

Improv Challenge: Ham & Cheese

This my second attempt at cheesy ham-wrapped chicken for April's Improv Challenge. The first time, I used a soft, spreadable cheese that ran out of the chicken as it baked and was also a little overwhelmed by the sweet, salty, prosciutto. For my second attempt, I turned to a firmer cheese -- Gruyere -- whose sweet, salty, creaminess balanced a little better with the prosciutto. As I've used it in grilled cheese and paninis, I knew it would also melt better.


But it still tried to escape from the chicken! How do you keep the cheese inside the chicken? Should I have frozen the cheese first, the way you can freeze butter for chicken kiev? Seared the chicken to seal it shut? Using less cheese isn't an option, as I'd say that even with an ounce of cheese per breast, there was still not enough cheese!


Ah, well, what is cooking for if not to master new things? Slowly. With many redos!

If you want to skip the cheese and tomatoes altogether and tweak the cooking times, chicken tenders wrapped in strips of prosciutto are delish on a salad.

Why roast tomatoes, anyway? Why not? Roasted grape tomatoes are one of the most delicious things on Earth. The tomatoes roast down to an excellent jam-like state and their bright, sweet-sour tang goes really well with chicken.

Fancy Ham & Cheese Chicken Breasts

Yield: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts [Coleman organic]
  • 2 oz Gruyere, thinly sliced [Boar's Head Blanc Grue]
  • 2 sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 4 thin slices prosciutto de parma [Boar's Head]
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
  • Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
  • Freshly ground black pepper, as needed

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. Cut a deep pocket in each chicken breast, going almost-but-not-quite all the way through.
  3. Stuff each breast with half of the cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, then gently smoosh together to close. Wrap each breast in two slices of prosciutto, tucking the ends underneath like a blanket.
  4. Arrange tomatoes around the chicken. Drizzle both with olive oil and balsamic. Sprinkle with lots of pepper.
  5. Roast for 25-30 mins -- until the chicken has reached 164°F, the prosciutto is golden around the edges, and tomatoes have collapsed in on themselves and look a bit charred.




17 March 2016

Improv Challenge: Lamb & Rice

I really struggled with this month's Improv Challenge ... which is a bit surprisingly, considering how much I love lamb! My problem was that while I could think up many yummy ways to prepare lamb, the rice basically remained a surface to serve it on. It was never lamb and rice, but lamb with rice. I was probably overthinking the whole thing, but I really wanted the lamb and rice to form a stronger partnership ...


So. Here. "Greek Style" slow cooker lamb and rice stuffed peppers. They're mixed together all higgledy-piggledy and stuffed in a pepper. It doesn't get much more "and" than that, does it?

When I made these peppers the first time, I cooked them on High for 4 hours and that was too hot too long as the peppers just disintegrated when I tried to remove them from the slow cooker. They were delicious, yes, but not very nice to look at, so I tried them again on Low for 4 hours and they were, while clearly cooked, firmer. Unfortunately, I only took pictures of the falling apart fail peppers, so you will just have to believe me! And the falling-apart-peppers were delicious -- like very sweet roasted peppers -- just rather messy and unpretty.

Flavor-wise, I use crushed tomatoes, onion, garlic, Greek seasoning blend and cinnamon to try to create a filling that tasted something like the meat-and-rice stuffed dolmades I buy at the local Greek festival. The goat cheese is just there because it seemed like a good idea, but it's not really necessary and can easily be omitted. Or, maybe, just stir the cheese into the meat and rice mixture before you stuff the peppers?

Also, while you certainly could make rice for this dish, I just used brown rice leftover from Chinese takeout. It was a bit clumpy, so I crumbled it between my fingers to break it up as I added it to the skillet.

"Greek Style" Slow Cooker Stuffed Peppers

Yield: 4 peppers

Ingredients

  • 4 large red bell peppers
  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 3 oz minced red onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 14 oz canned crushed tomatoes
  • 8 oz cooked brown rice
  • 1 Tbsp Greek seasoning blend [Penzeys]
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 oz goat cheese crumbles
  • &frac; cup low-sodium fat-free chicken broth

Instructions

  1. Trim tops off bell peppers. Remove ribs and seeds. Set aside.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add lamb and cook until no pink remains.
  3. Remove lamb from skillet to a fine mesh strainer or colander set over a large bowl and let fat drip through.
  4. Meanwhile, add onion and garlic to empty skillet and cook, stirring regularly, until onion softens and garlic is fragrant.
  5. Add drained lamb back to the skillet along with the tomatoes, rice, seasoning blend, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  6. Stuff peppers with lamb mixture and arrange in slow cooker. Pour broth AROUND peppers. Cook on LOW for 4 hrs.
  7. Remove lid. Sprinkle tops of peppers with goat cheese. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes.




21 January 2016

Improv Challenge: Dough & Chocolate

The Husband really loves eclairs and profiteroles ... but only the "proper" kind that are filled with real whipped cream and not with pastry cream or whipped cream that's been stabilized with "something horrible." So when I saw that January's Improv Challenge called for the creative use of dough and chocolate I thought I'd try my hand at pâte à choux (sounds like "pat a shoe") and make the man some profiteroles filled with chocolate whipped cream.


Having watched six seasons of The Great British Bake Off, I'd seen enough cooks make pâte à choux that I was pretty sure I could handle it. I still read many recipes -- both online and in actual printed cookbooks -- before I decided I would be smart to just follow an established recipe rather than attempt my own amalgamation. In the end, I turned to King Arthur Flour's "Easy Mini Puffs" recipe. It worked like a charm and the forty (slightly misshapen) bite-size puffs have kept well, unfilled and ungarnished, in a sealed container on the counter for five days now.


I have been filling the profiteroles as needed with a sweetened chocolate whipped cream I made by combining heavy cream and instant hot cocoa mix in my 1 pint iSi Creative Whip. It's delicious -- light, sweet, and almost gently chocolatey.

Chocolate Whipped Cream Filling

Ingredients

  • ½ pint heavy cream
  • 2 pkts Swiss Miss milk chocolate hot cocoa mix

Instructions

  1. Whisk the heavy cream and cocoa mix together until the powder is completely dissolved.
  2. Pour into a 1 pint iSi Creative Whip. Screw on an N2O whipped cream charger cartridge and shakeshakeSHAKE.
  3. Can immediately be used to fill profiteroles or refrigerated until needed.

The profiteroles are garnished with an easy chocolate sauce I made by combining dark chocolate, whole milk, butter, and sugar. This sauce keeps well in the fridge, although it needs to be warmed a little to get it back to a pourable consistency.

Chocolate Sauce

Ingredients

  • 4 oz whole milk cream
  • 1 oz butter
  • 1 Tbsp white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • 2 oz good-quality dark chocolate (use at least 70% cocoa solids)

Instructions

  1. Heat the cream, butter, and sugar, in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the chocolate, stirring, until it's melted and smooth.
  3. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  4. Drizzle over profiteroles or refrigerate until needed.


Overall, I'm pleased with my first attempts at pâte à choux and profiteroles. Choux pastry is nothing to fear and I'm looking forward to making more (bigger) puffs in the near(ish) future. Thanks, Melody, for suggesting January's Improv Challenge theme!



17 December 2015

Improv Challenge: Cranberry & Orange

The deli near my work occasionally sells this really yummy couscous salad that's studded with cranberries, spinach, and chunks of dried apricots. It's very flavorful and I love the texture so, when I saw December's Improv Challenge ingredients were cranberry and orange, I immediately thought about cloning that deli salad. I know a salad in December might not sound quite like the thing, but we can't live on cookies and cake all month ... can we? I kinda think, given enough cups of tea, I could live on cookies and cake?


While this recipe is good either at room temperature or chilled, I think it works best at room temperature and recommend that's what you serve it at. Obviously, we're a household of two, so there was leftovers -- the following day I just left it on the side for 15 minutes or so to warm a bit while I reheated the rest of my lunch.


I used pearl (sometimes called Israeli) couscous in this recipe, because that's what the deli uses, but you could probably use another small pasta like pastina or acini di pepe. Obviously, you'll need to ignore my preparation instructions and make it according to the packet.

Cranberry-Orange Couscous Salad

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pearl (Israeli) couscous
  • 1¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 3 Tbsp fresh orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp orange zest
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp runny honey
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup diced dried apricots
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Put the spinach in a large serving bowl and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, bring broth to a boil over high heat. Add couscous, and return to a boil. Immediately cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 8-10 minutes or until the couscous has absorbed all of the broth. Fluff couscous and dump over spinach so that the residual heat from the couscous wilts the spinach. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together orange juice, zest, oil, vinegar, mustard, and honey in a small bowl.
  4. Gently mix the almonds, cranberries, apricots, and spinach into the couscous. Pour dressing over couscous mixture and gently toss to coat. Serve immediately for tastiest results.





19 November 2015

Improv Challenge: Squash & Sage

I'm trying to make pizza more often at home (because it's cheaper and we can get all the weird custom flavors -- chicken and sweetcorn for one -- our little hearts desire) and I'd heard that naan bread makes a good crust for quick pizzas. Deciding it would be better to experiment on myself first before springing the naan pizza concept on The Husband, I decided to build myself a pizza out of what was in the fridge.

Fresh sage from my generous coworker's garden!

And then I realized I had the ingredients for November's Improv Challenge -- squash and sage -- on hand! Hooray! For the first time in months, I wouldn't be making the Improv recipe the week it was due! Really, I always start out with the best of intentions and then time just gets away from me and suddenly I'm throwing something together at what feels like the very last minute!

Cubed butternut squash and onion tossed with garlic-infused olive oil.

The only naan I could find at my local Price Chopper was Stonefire brand in either whole grain or garlic. Obviously, I went with garlic! They're smallish naan, but there are two to a package so I figured this recipe would serve two hungry adults. As always, ymmv with serving sizes.

Since I didn't use any gooey cheeses the toppings don't properly stick to the naan making these a little messy to eat. I got around this my folding my pieces in half, making a sort of naan pizza sandwich. More civilized types might want to use a fork and knife.

This tasted all kinds of awesome. Maybe more cheese next time, though ...

Youtube has many nifty how-to videos on frying sage leaves, but I found this one simplest:


While this recipe makes two naan pizzas, you don't necessarily have to make them at the same time. The vegetables can be roasted a day or two in advance and kept in the fridge until wanted. The sage can also be fried and kept at room temperature in a sealed container for a few days. And, obviously, you could double triple the amounts for one big traditional crust pizza.

Butternut Squash & Beet Naan Pizza

Yield: 2 pizza

Ingredients

  • 2 naan (each about 8x7")
  • 4.5 oz butternut squash, diced small
  • 1 oz chopped red onion
  • 2 oz chopped roasted beets [Love Beets]
  • 1½ Tbsp garlic-infused olive oil
  • 1.5 oz crumbled blue cheese [Salemville Amish Blue]
  • 1.5 oz crumbled goat cheese [Alouette]
  • 8 fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 8 fried sage leaves
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Toss squash and onions with 1 Tbsp olive oil and arrange on a quarter sheet pan (13"x9"), trying not to crowd. Bake, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until tender. Remove pan from oven and set aside. Do not turn off oven!
  3. Place naan on a baking sheet; brush with ½ Tbsp oil. Bake at 400°F until naan just begins to crisp and turn light golden color, about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Scatter red onions, squash, beets, cheese and chopped sage leaves across naan. Bake until pizza is heated through and cheeses get all melty and yum, about 5 minutes.
  5. Garnish with fried sage leaves and fresh cracked black pepper.