Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Panini Perfection

By far, our new kitchen appliance that we have put the most miles on in our few short weeks of marriage is our Panini Press. There is just something magical about a machine that toast bread, melts cheese, and warms the inner ingredients all in one step. In my opinion, a panini is certainly not just another sandwich. Sure, before it goes onto the Panini press it is in actuality just a sandwich, but the transformation that occurs in those 4-6 minutes on the press is amazing. Lucky for us, there are a ton of really creative panini recipes available. We have tried several over the last couple of weeks and although this isn't our favorite - it is the only one we have made since I started blogging. This recipe is really good if you are a mushroom lover. And of course, you have to like goat cheese as well (which we both love, love, love it). I have to admit however that I didn't pick out this recipe because it contained goat cheese or mushrooms. The reason I decided to make this particular panini is because it called for truffle oil. And as some of you may know, truffle oil is ridiculously expensive. I had foolishly purchased it for a recipe a couple of months back and have been trying to find a reason to use it again to justify the cost. Ladies, this is the culinary equivalent of buying a really expensive outlandish pair of shoes that match absolutely nothing in your closet and having to go out and purchase outfits that will go with them (now are you with me?). So I figured this sandwich was a good shot at using more of that truffle oil that has been sitting untouched in my pantry for months.

Don't disregard this recipe if you dont' have a panini maker, I have read about several other ways to make a panini if you don't have an actual panini press (losers - just kidding). So I have listed them below:
  • Use a grill pan and place a brick wrapped in foil (or another pan) on the top of the sandwich to press it.
  • Use a griddle and the same brick technique above (you won't get grill marks on your bread this way , but you will still get the pressed effect)
  • And although I have never read of this technique - before I had a panini machine I used to use my George Foreman grill to prepare panini recipes. This approach usually smooshes the inards of the sandwich out - so it isn't as pretty, but desperate times call for desperate measures. (And if a girl wants a melty gooey sandwich, she will find a way to get it!)
Mushroom, Goat Cheese And Truffle Oil Panini
Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 pound mixed mushrooms, such as button, cremini, shiitake or oyster
1/2 pound fresh goat cheese, or other soft fresh cheese
2 tablespoons truffle oil*, optional
1 small focaccia loaf
1 small bunch arugula
*Can be found at gourmet and specialty food shops.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and 2 tablespoons thyme and cook for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until they are browned and soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let them cool for about 15 minutes. Put the mushrooms into a food processor and pulse a few times until they are finely chopped. (Alternately, you can chop them on a board with a knife.) Scrape them into a bowl. Crumble in the goat cheese and add the remaining thyme. Pour in the truffle oil, if using, and mix well to combine.

Cut the focaccia into 4 pieces, slice them horizontally, and drizzle with some olive oil. On the bottoms place 1/4 of the mushroom mixture and top with some arugula. Put the tops on and gently press each sandwich to flatten it slightly. Drizzle some more olive oil over the tops. (Picture below is before it is placed on the press and it is still "just a sandwich")

Place each sandwich on a preheated panini press and grill until the bread is toasted and the cheese begins to melt, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

FYI - I decided after this recipe that I don't even really like Truffle Oil, so I am chalking up that $12 as a loss and I won't be making any more recipes that require the modern culinary ingredient.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Chicken Vesuvio

Tonight I made a recipe I saw on Giada's DeLaurentiis' Every Day Italian cooking show several months back. I wasn't able to make it when I first watched the show because I didn't have a dutch oven that could withstand the heat of a 450 degree oven. But now I do! So I went to my recipe box on the Food Network's website and printed out the recipe I have been waiting to try. It incorporates another one of my favorite foods (artichokes) so I knew it would be a hit. It also reminded me of when I was younger and my mom would bake chicken with potatoes in the same pot. It is a really easy recipe to make and actually very cheap since it calls for dried herbs instead of fresh and has only a few ingredients. This chicken dish is one that you could turn to in a fix because chances are that you have all the ingredients you need at any given time.

Chicken Vesuvio

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 chicken thighs with skin and bones
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds small red-skinned potatoes, halved
4 large garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
8 ounces frozen artichoke hearts or 1 cup frozen lima beans, thawed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Heat the oil in large ovenproof pot over high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Working in 2 batches if necessary, cook the chicken in the pot until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a bowl. Carefully add the potatoes to the same pot and cook until they are golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pot. Add the broth, oregano, and thyme. Return the chicken to the pot. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Cover and bake in the oven until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. (Picture below is after the chicken baked in the oven.)

Transfer the chicken to a platter. Arrange the potatoes around chicken.

Add the artichoke hearts to the sauce in the pot. Cover and simmer over high heat until the artichokes are tender, stirring often, about 4 minutes.

Turn heat to low. Stir in the butter. Pour the sauce over chicken and potatoes, and serve.

I took the skins off of our chicken thighs before serving and used Benecol (low cholesterol butter for those of you who have the pleasure of not knowing what it is) where it called for butter in order to bring this recipe closer to our healthy recipe standards. After reading the reviews of the recipe on the Food Network's website and discovering that there were a few people who felt that the dish was bland, I generously added fresh ground pepper to the sauce after warming the artichokes for added flavor. The chicken was very tender and the potatoes were perfectly cooked.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"My" Sunday Brunch

When I first moved to DC about a year and a half ago I had the fortune of making a really good friend early upon my arrival to our new city. One of the first interactions I ever had with Sarah was one in which I asked her about good brunch places in the city. She told me about, which is an awesome website that sorts DC brunch places by cuisine, neighborhood, and cost. After she showed me this very helpful website, we decided we would go to brunch together in order to get to know one another better. Ironically enough, we have never made it to brunch in the last 18 months. We have had tons of other very interesting and memorable experiences (even some we tried to remember but couldn't) over the last several months. We have traveled together, worked together and definitely partied together. But none of these experiences have included mimosas, jazz music, or that coveted meal in between breakfast and lunch that normally accompanies these things. I decided this week that our Bruch date was way overdue so I made the decision to cook brunch for my friend who has been so wonderful to me since I moved here.

I wanted to do a little different twist on Brunch and stray from the traditional breakfast type dishes that are often associated with Brunch. Inspired by a recipe sent to me by a friend (thanks Tim!), I decided to make a Crabmeat Cheesecake and serve it with a simple salad. In New Orleans there is a family of restaurateurs named the Brennans. Amongst them they own undoubtedly several of the cities most famous and delicious restaurants. One of their gems is the Palace Cafe on Canal Street (if you ever make it to NOLA try to have at least one meal here - trust me). They serve their Crabmeat Cheesecake as an appetizer on their menu and I planned on having it as my main course. Armed with my new rolling pin, silicon mat, and pastry blender I got to work. This was yet another very involved recipe, but it was perfect for a Sunday since I had the time to devote to getting it right. This savory take on an otherwise sweet classic was lucious and fit the bill perfectly for a brunch entree.

Palace Cafe Crabmeat Cheesecake
Recipe courtesy The Palace Cafe: The Flavor of New Orleans by Dickie Brennan

Pecan Crust:
2 cups pecans
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fine salt
5 tablespoons butter, cold
3 tablespoons ice water

1 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon butter
4 ounces crabmeat
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup Creole cream cheese or sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce (recommended: Crystal brand hot sauce)
Kosher salt and white pepper

Meuniere Sauce:
1 lemon, peeled and quartered
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup hot pepper sauce
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 pound butter, cold, cut into small cubes, and divided
Kosher salt and white pepper

2 cups sliced mixed wild mushrooms
3 tablespoons butter, softened
24 crab claw fingers
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Preparing the Pecan Crust:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Finely grind pecans in a food processor. Add flour and salt. Mix well. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and cut in butter, working butter into flour with 2 knives until dough is in crumbs the size of small peas. Add ice water and evenly incorporate into the mixture, which should remain fairly crumbly. Roll out dough to a 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Press dough into a lightly greased 9-inch tart pan, starting with the sides and then the bottom. Bake crust for 20 minutes, or until golden.

Note: Dough can be made ahead of time. If doing so, wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Allow dough to come to room temperature before rolling out.

Preparing the Filling:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

In a skillet, saute onion in butter until translucent. Add crabmeat and cook just until heated through, then remove from heat. Blend cream cheese until smooth in a mixer fitted with a paddle, or by hand using a wooden spoon. Add Creole cream cheese and mix well. Mix in eggs 1 at a time. Gently fold in the crabmeat mixture. Stir in hot sauce and season, to taste, with salt and white pepper. Spoon filling into prepared crust. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until firm to the touch.

Preparing the Meuniere Sauce and Garnish:

Combine lemon, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce in a heavy saucepot. Reduce over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wire whisk until mixture becomes thick and syrupy. Whisk in heavy whipping cream. Reduce heat to low and slowly blend in butter, 1 cube at a time, adding additional butter only after each cube has been completely incorporated into the sauce. This process is called "mounting the butter." Remove from heat and continue to stir. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Strain through a fine strainer and keep warm.

Saute mushrooms in 2 tablespoons butter until tender and all moisture has cooked off. Excess water from the mushrooms may break your sauce if it isn't cooked off. Stir mushrooms into Meuniere sauce. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a saute pan and warm crab fingers over low heat. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

To serve:
Slice cheesecake and top each piece with warm Meuniere sauce and 3 crab claws.

As you can see, I didn't garnish with crab claws. I wasn't able to find them at the supermarket. I also felt that I didn't roll the dough out thin enough because it seemed it was too thick in the final product. I had trouble when I was making the dough because it was very dry and crumbly (as the recipe says it should be) which made it very difficult to work with.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

First Honorary Guest Blogger

I decided to have guest bloggers in order to keep my readers excited and to give them a break from me (not that anyone has made that specific request - yet!) My first honorary blogger is my older sister, Jessica. While I was out at the shooting range with my husband and our friends (not our typical Saturday in case you were wondering), my sister treated me to a pleasant surprise by creating the following blog entry that chronicled her morning with her son. Enjoy:

All week we had promised our son that if he behaved in school, we would go to the Audobon Zoo's Annual "Zoo-To-Do" on Friday and the Local Art Market on Saturday. We patiently marked off the days that he had no troubles in school with a sticker and counted down until Friday. The Zoo-To-Do went so well, and we retired for the night speaking of the wagon pull to the Art Market when we arose. It was such a disappointment when the day dawned, dreary and rainy. Scout was moody and unhappy about having to spend the entire day inside. Even before noon, his father had put him in time out for the second time when he began screaming in a high pitched scream when his little sister came near his collection of coveted super heroes. I was trying to think of how we could spend the day. I wasn’t excited about him sitting in front of the TV all day watching his “kid movies.” I looked over at him and noticed he had his nose pressed against the window staring out into the rain. "What are you doing, buddy?" I asked him. "I'm looking outside hoping to see a rainbow so we can go to the festival," he replied. I knew I couldn't produce that rainbow outside, but I was inspired by Bizzy's blog to have Scout and I bake one inside. I had remembered seeing a recipe for Rainbow Cupcakes in my baking cook book for kids that my sister had given me. Since “baby girl” was sleeping, and we could not make a trip to the grocery, I was hoping to have all the necessary ingredients for our project. I had all of the ingredients except M&Ms. So, I modified the recipe as follows and yielded 18 of my own Rainbow Cupcake creations. Scout LOVES sweets, and the dreary disappointing day turned into a fun filled morning of tasty goodness. He really liked using the food coloring and pouring sprinkles on the icing. Hope you enjoy!

Rainbow Cupcakes


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large egg whites
Assorted food colorings
1 container (16 ounces) white frosting
Rainbow sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 (2 ¾ inch) muffin cups with paper or foil liners; set aside. In large bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Blend sugar, butter, milk and vanilla; beat about 2 minutes. Add egg whites; beat 2 minutes. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Place 1 drop desired food coloring into each muffin cup. Swirl gently with knife.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean. Cool completely on wire rack. Spread frosting over cupcakes; decorate with rainbow sprinkles.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Do you know what it means?

I spent two weeks at home in New Orleans before my wedding and it wasn't easy to leave my family and my hometown to head back to D.C. I think I must be homesick, because all I can think about is New Orleans food. During the two weeks I was home, I ate my fair share of jambalaya, fried seafood po-boys, boiled crabs and crawfish. So in an effort to recreate a little hometown feel in my own town I decided to cook a traditional New Orleans treat for my husband and I. Luckily for me, Cooking Light magazine gives several "shout-outs" to New Orleans cuisine. Well "shout-out" may be a little street for a healthy cooking magazine, but you get the point - they feature several recipes from New Orleans. So tonight I whipped up a very classic cajun dish with a twist - New Orleans Shrimp Remoulade Po'boys. The twist part of this meal is that Remoulade is a condiment that is usually served cold with boiled shrimp on top of iceberg lettuce as a salad. This recipe calls for the same type of sauce (with a healthy angle, of course) served over grilled shrimp on a po'boy. It was delicious! Forrest mentioned that it was in the top five. He didn't specify top five what (top five best things he has ever eaten, top five shrimp remoulade sauces, top five po'boys, or top five things I have ever cooked), but no matter which am still sure it was a compliment. It was just what I have been craving, a taste of home. So even though New Orleans is where I left my heart, it is comforting to know that I can bring a little piece of it to our home in D.C. through my cooking.

Shrimp Rémoulade Po'boys
Cooking Light July 2007


Rémoulade sauce:
1/3 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped green bell pepper
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon minced fresh basil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small garlic clove, minced

Remaining ingredients:
24 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Cooking spray
4 (3-ounce) French bread loaves, sliced horizontally
1 cup chopped iceberg lettuce
1 cup chopped tomato


To prepare sauce, combine first 11 ingredients in a medium bowl. Chill.

Prepare grill.

Thread shrimp onto 4 (10-inch) skewers. Place skewers on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 2 minutes on each side or until shrimp are done.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Hollow out bread halves, leaving a 1-inch-thick shell. Place bread on a baking sheet; bake at 350° for 5 minutes. Place 1/4 cup lettuce, 1/4 cup tomato, and 6 shrimp in bottom half of each loaf. Spoon 1/4 cup sauce over each sandwich. Cover with top bread halves.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 sandwich)

Nutritional Information

CALORIES 290(17% from fat); FAT 5.4g (sat 1.3g,mono 1.5g,poly 2.2g); PROTEIN 14.1g; CHOLESTEROL 64mg; CALCIUM 91mg; SODIUM 799mg; FIBER 3.2g; IRON 3.5mg; CARBOHYDRATE 46.5g

This dish was super easy to create and so worth it! Even if you don't miss New Orleans - I highly suggest trying it out. I grilled the shrimp using my new Cuisinart Panini maker (a grill pan would work just as well) and I combined the ingredients for the remoulade sauce in my mini food processor in order to get the onions and bell peppers small enough to achieve the right consistency. If you are on a no carb diet or just think bread is the devil like my Daddy does, then you could serve the grilled shrimp and remoulade sauce over iceberg lettuce New Orlean's style.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

So So Potato

So after our weekend of homemade mashed potatoes made with heavy whipping cream, chickens browned in bacon fat, and mini cheesecakes I thought is was high time to return to our regimen of Cooking Light recipes for our weekday meals. Since I had just bought a brand new mandoline over the weekend, I turned to a recipe I had been eyeing since the July 2007 issue of Cooking Light. The recipe was for a Ham and Gruyere Potato Gratin. Ham is one of my favorite foods (and yes Trey, I love corn too) and anything with with cheese and potatoes had to be good. Well let's just say that this particular recipe wasn't worth coveting for 10 whole months. In Cooking Light's defense, most of their recipes are amazing. I often wonder at the flavor and delicious tastes of their healthy recipes. I think the problem with this recipe is that some things are not meant to be scaled back in order to make it into a healthy cooking magazine - and Potatoes Au Gratin (in my opinion) fall into that category. Potatoes Au Gratin are famous for their cheesy creamy goodness and if you skimp on the cheesy and the creamy I don't think you have much of anything as far as the au gratin is concerned. I also think I contributed to the blah-ness of this meal by placing the potatoes in a bowl of water after I cut them in order to keep them from browning. The potatoes soaked up too much water during this step and it cooked off into the dish I used to prepare the gratin. Despite the uneventfulness of this dish, Forrest still brought the leftovers to work and reported back that it was better the second day. I love having a husband who will eat anything - it makes screwing up in the kitchen so much sweeter.

Ham and Gruyere Potato Gratin
Cooking Light July 2007

2 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk
tablespoons all-purpose flour
teaspoon salt
teaspoon black pepper
teaspoons butter
cup finely chopped onion
cup (4 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese, divided
pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices (about 6 1/2 cups)
Cooking spray
ounces less-sodium reduced-fat ham, chopped


Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine first 4 ingredients, stirring with a whisk; set aside.

Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cook 3 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in milk mixture; bring to a boil. Cook for

2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add 1/2 cup cheese, stirring until smooth.

Arrange half of potatoes in an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Pour half of sauce over potatoes; top evenly with ham. Top with remaining potatoes and remaining sauce; sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

Cover with foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender and the cheese is golden brown. Remove from oven; let stand 5 minutes before serving.


8 servings

The Mandoline by the way, works amazingly and is so much fun to use!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Break out the Beret!

I am not sure what possessed me to attempt a classic and somewhat complicated French dish for our dinner party last night. Despite spending 26 years of my life with a very French last name, I have never really felt French. I have always felt more connected to the other very strong Italian side of my ancestry. There is no doubt that I have always identified myself more easily with my Italian heritage because of my dark skin, big nose and my tendency to use my hands so fervently when I talk that I look like I am landing a 747. Maybe I was feeling guilty for not embracing my French lineage while I still had the last name to prove it (circa two weeks ago I now have a very Italian last name), but whatever persuaded me to attempt this French dish took a strong hold of me and I was off.

It is no secret that once I get an idea in my head, I go at it full force and never look back. So there I was, about to cook Classic Coq Au Vin in my new Le Creuset pot for six people I have never cooked for before. Let's just say - it was an adventure. Coq Au Vin, like most braising recipes takes a very long time. This recipe didn't only take a long time during the braising process in the oven, the preparation before the braising lasted for what seemed like an eternity. I like to chop and I like to mince and I like to stir and sautee - but doing these things for almost two hours took a toll on me. I stood over the counter for so long before the dish was even ready to go in the oven that I felt like my knees were locked shut. Ok, so I am a bit dramatic ( I told you I was Italian ), but it was very exhausting. I also probably made this recipe harder on myself than it needed to be in the following ways:
  • I bought whole chickens so I needed to watch a You Tube tutorial video to figure out how to quarter them.
  • I decided to serve the dish with homemade mashed potatoes instead of egg noodles like the recipe suggested. And at about 10am that morning my mother informed me that homemade mashed potatoes are definitely a dish that can be ruined by improper preparation (so nerves were applied to this ordeal).
  • I stopped several times during the preparation to take pictures for my new blog!
  • And I was afraid to turn the heat on the burner too high because the owner's manual to my new French pot indicated this was a bad idea.
So with all the extra pressures applied it was anything but easy. But I am elated to report that the results were astounding. The accomplishment I felt when I tasted the dish was immense. It is always great to know that your hard work was worth the time. My Coq Au Vin (although it isn't the most aesthetically pleasing picture above) was marvelous! The chicken was so tender and aromatic. The sauce coupled beautifully with the mashed potatoes (which I didn't ruin). And the crowd was definitely pleased!

Classic Coq Au Vin
Recipe courtesy Emeril Lagasse, 2003

10 slices bacon, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 chickens, about 3 1/2 to 4 pounds, quartered, rinsed and patted dr
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
20 small pearl onions, peeled

1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large shallots)
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 pound button mushrooms, wiped clean and halved or quartered i
f large (should match size of onions)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons tomato paste
3 cups full-bodied dry red wine, such as Pinot Noir or Cotes-du-Rhone

1 1/2 cups rich chicken stock
6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

In a large, heavy Dutch oven over high heat fry the bacon until crisp and all of the fat is rendered. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the crisp bacon bits to paper towels to drain. Reserve.

Season the chicken pieces with the salt and pepper. Brown the chicken pieces in the hot bacon fat, working in batches, if necessary, and turning to ensure even cooking. Transfer the chicken pieces to a large plate or bowl and set aside.Remove some of the bacon fat, leaving about 4 tablespoons in the Dutch oven. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the chopped onion, pearl onions, shallots and garlic cloves to the Dutch oven and cook until soft, about 4 minutes.
Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes longer, or until they've released most of their liquid and have begun to brown.

Add the flour and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly add the wine and stock, stirring constantly. Add the thyme, bay leaf, reserved bacon and chicken. Bring liquid to a boil. (Below is a picture of what the dish looks like before it goes in the oven)

Cover the pot, place in the oven and cook for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the chicken is very tender. (Below is a picture before I took the chicken out to thicken the sauce and right when it came out of the oven. The chicken is so tender at this point that special care needs to be taken when moving the chicken around.)

Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish and cover loosely to keep warm. Return pot to medium-low heat. Skim any fat from the surface of the cooking liquid and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until the sauce has thickened slightly and coats the back of a spoon, about 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Return the chicken to the Dutch oven and cook for a few minutes to heat through, then serve.

Serve with egg noodles and braised leeks. Garnish with the chopped parsley.

*This dish may be prepared 1 or 2 days in advance and then reheated slowly just before serving.

Below is a picture of my table setting. I folded the napkins into Fleur di Lis shapes - another nod to my French theme and also a way to pay homage to my home town (New Orleans)!

It was a very successful night despite the long day of preparation that proceeded it. It was all worth while, we had a great time with some friends we hadn't had over for dinner before and I was able to use a ton of new wedding gifts in the process. We put the two new Le Creuset pots, glass salad bowl, Lenox Balloon Red wine glasses, silverware, flatware chest, place mats, napkins, potato masher and water pitcher to use all in one night. Viva la France!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mini Cheesecakes

For four years during college I waited tables at Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro. It was an exact knock-off of the Cheesecake Factory - huge menus, thousands of menu items, gaudy decor, and thick delicious cheesecakes in any flavor you could hope for. Fortunately for my waist line, I didn't eat cheesecake when I worked at the Cheesecake Bistro. I can't really explain it, but I just didn't like it. I worked there 5 times a week for four years and can honestly say that I never ate one single piece of their prize product. I didn't want to taste it, I didn't want to sneak a bite, and I didn't think about it when it wasn't around. Sadly, today I can't say the same. Somewhere between college graduation and the present my feelings for the creamy, cheesy sweetness changed. I still don't have much of a sweet tooth but I LOVE cheesecake. Well just like everything else I love to eat, I had to attempt to recreate it in my own kitchen. I have made homemade cheesecake before from scratch with my sister where we utilized the spring form pan, food processed graham cracker crust, ground nutmeg and a warm water bath. And although it was extremely delicious, it was also very time consuming and expensive. I recently stumbled upon the best recipe that takes no time at all and will provide me with a quick cheesecake fix when I am craving the splendid dessert.

Individual Cheesecakes
Recipe courtesy of Gourmet Magazine

1 package Vanilla Wafers
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Line a 24 cavity mini muffin tin with mini cup cake liners.

Place 1 Vanilla Wafer in the bottom of each cup cake liner.

Cream together the cream cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla.
Fill cupcake liners 3/4 of the way up. Bake in a 375 degree
oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on baking
rack, then chill in the refrigerator over night.
Then serve with the toppings of your choice.
(As you can see, I chose blueberries and raspberries this time)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

That's Amore !

According to Dean Martin, "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that's amore". Well in my case when you think whole wheat pitas, turkey pepperoni and 2% mozzarella cheese tastes good - that's amore! It is no secret that I am a junk food junkie, however, eating "bad for you" food isn't an option in my household. My husband is a Type 1 Diabetic, better known as juvenile diabetic. He was diagnosed at age twelve and is insulin dependent. Along with many other daily effects on his life, it is very important that he eat responsibly and make healthy food choices. As the household cook, it is my responsibility to make sure that I help him in his cause. I try to incorporate as many whole grains, fruits, vegetables, non-fat/low-fat dairy and lean meats into my recipes as possible. One of my concoctions that fulfills these requirements are my Whole Wheat Pita Pizza's made with Turkey Pepperoni and 2% mozzarella cheese. This is one of the few things I make that I didn't find in a recipe magazine or on a recipe website - so excuse the informality of the recipe below. I got the idea for this recipe from my sister's father in law and modified it to fit our needs. These pizzas are super simple to make, can be prepared and cooked in less than 20 minutes, and tinkered with to fit anyones taste buds.

Wheat Pita Pizza

Whole Wheat Pita Pockets
Olive Oil
Turkey Pepperonis
2% Mozzerella Cheese
Dried Oregano
Dried Basil
Pre-made Pizza Sauce
Crushed Red Pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Saute mushrooms and garlic in 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Place Pita Pockets on baking sheet. Brush the edges of the pockets with olive oil using a pastry brush. Spread 1 tablespoon of pizza sauce on in the center of the dough. Sprinkle pizza sauce with dried oregano and dried basil. Scatter Mushrooms over the sauce. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of cheese over each pizza. Place Pepperonis on the top of the pizzas over the cheese. At this point, if you aren't trying to achieve an ultra healthy status you can sprinkle more cheese over the top of the pepperonis. {Above is a picture of the pizzas before they are placed into the oven} Bake in the oven for 8 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with crushed red pepper and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese if you so desire.

These pizzas turn out surprisingly delicious and you can change the toppings in order to mix it up. I have made them with red peppers, goat cheese and caramelized onions and proscuitto.
The crust will become crispy during baking and the reduced fat cheese is undetectable. I make these for dinner and they are the perfect personal sized pizzas to serve along side a salad. One could also make several of them with different toppings and cut them up to serve at a party as an appetizer. I really suggest trying this healthy take on a classic junk food and I promise you will be pleased.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Baking Memories

I have no problem admitting that cooking is my most all-time favorite hobby. I could read recipes, plan menus, and cook for hours on end without being exposed to another human being for days and not once feel a hint of loneliness. That being said, nothing is more rewarding than sharing a truly memorable cooking experience with another person. As I thought about experiences in the kitchen that I had growing up, I realized that several people throughout my life have had an impact on me and how I feel about creating dishes for the ones I love. I fast-forwarded in my head and made a silent wish that I would someday change my children and grandchildren's view of cooking the way those before me have. Before I could finish my "someday somehow" dreams, I suddenly remembered a very memorable experience I had already had in the kitchen with someone very special to me. I realized that I didn't need to wait until I had my own children or even longer for my own grandchildren to share experiences in the kitchen with children that I love - I already had. Last summer, after my sister had her second child (my first niece), I spent some time at her home with her son (my godchild) Scout. One of the many activities we did that weekend (on one of our breaks from "Crouching Father, Hidden Toddler" Yoga) was to bake a Red Velvet Cake for his Daddy's Birthday. It was so much fun to have him help in the kitchen. And by help I mean lick the Mixer Attachment as I iced the cake.

We used a recipe I found on the Food Network's website and it turned out pretty delicious. It was my first time making a red velvet cake and I must admit that the amount of food coloring required alarmed me - but it was all good and extra yummy.

Sylvia's Red Velvet Cake
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 ounces red food coloring
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the Frosting:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1 pound box confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (9-inch) cake pans. In a medium bowl or on a piece of waxed paper, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter. Beat in eggs one at a time. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk. Beat in food coloring and vinegar, then add vanilla. Spread the batter evenly in the pans. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack to cool. For the frosting: In a large bowl, cream the cream cheese and butter. Beat in confectioners' sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Stir in pecans. Use frosting to fill and ice cake. (Notice in the first picture - I used a trick I learned for Ina Garten for icing the cake. If you place the cake on pieces of parchment you can ice the whole cake and remove the parchment when you are done and your result is a clean cake plate). Slice and serve on individual plates

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Gumbo Ya-Ya

Since I am from New Orleans and the daughter of an amazing cajun cook, it is only natural that I decided to attempt Gumbo early on in my cooking career. Gumbo is a stew or soup originating in Louisiana, and found across the Gulf Coast of the United States and into the U.S. South. It consists primarily of a strong stock, meat and/or shellfish, a thickener, and the vegetable "holy trinity" of celery, bell peppers, and onion. The soup is traditionally served over rice. One huge problem I encountered early on in my gumbo experience is that I am not confident that I can make a proper roux. A roux is a mixture of wheat flour and fat. It is used as a base for gravy, other sauces, soufflés, soups and stews. My mom uses a roux as a base for almost all of her traditional New Orleans fare. She would be ashamed of my lack of confidence in something she defines as the pulse of a good recipe. However, my mother's cooking style and mine differ in more ways than just the ability to make a roux. My mom, as noted above, is an amazing cook. I like to believe that I am also an amazing cook. But we are two very different cooks - I have never, ever, not even once seen my mom read from a recipe. I, on the other hand, utilize recipes almost daily and take great care to follow them to the utmost detail. So to stay true to my usual approach, I attempted to make Gumbo from a recipe found on the back of (mom, skip to the next sentence) some dark dry roux in a jar that my friend Melanie purchased for me at Target.

All in all, the gumbo turned out pretty well. I found the after taste to be a little chalky, which I am sure can be attributed to the fake roux. Despite the roux issues, the flavor was pretty enjoyable, it looked like a traditional gumbo (although a little thin) and it was a good taste of home away from home (but of course not like Mama's - not that I expected it to be)!

Gumbo (Using Ragin' Cajun famous Fixin Dark Dry Roux)

Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a 5 quart pot. In a separate skillet spray Pam & saute 1/2 cup bel peppers, 1 1/2 cups chopped onions, 4 cloves chopped garlic, & 1/2 cup chopped celery. Remove skillet from fire and add 1 cup of Ragin' Cajun Fixin's Roux (1/2 jar) to vegetables. Add this mixture to the boiling water and cook on medium for one hour. Add your meat or seafood or whatever else you've got and cook until the meat is tender. (Chicken about 1 hour - seafood takes less.) I used Andouille Sausage (that my mother in law purchased from La Place - the Andouille Capitol of the world) and chicken. Add okra for a thicker gumbo and season to taste with your favorite cajun seasoning. Serve over steaming rice. Sprinkle cut green onions on top and file' if your taste buds agree.

You will notice in this picture that we have a family tradition of eating hard boiled eggs in our gumbo. It is a family tradition that I am not willing to let die with me - so I introduced Forrest to it during this meal.