Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nigella's Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Muffins

I'm on a Nigella kick and may be for a while. She rarely lets you down in the kitchen (we just won't mention her plastic lime phase, okay?) And with all the cooking I'm doing this time of year, I like to pretend she's actually in the kitchen with me. I suppose you could say it's my culinary version of singing in the shower, though possibly weirder and more disturbing. Hopefully none of my readers are psychologists.

Anyway my sweet mother in law is coming for a visit today so I made these to have on hand for an easy breakfast or snack. If there are any more diehard chocoholics out there than she and my husband, I'd like to meet them and possibly have them studied for scientific purposes. The funny thing about chocolate is, even as a person who often thinks it's over-rated and over-hyped, I usually end up being the one to finish up the last piece of chocolate cake, or in this case, muffin.

Wow, in just one post I've revealed that I'm not only somewhat delusional but that I sometimes cook with imaginary friends. I'll stop writing now.

Nigella's Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Muffins

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 large egg
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips plus more for sprinkling on top
1 cup milk (whole or 2%)
1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray (or fill with paper cups.) Set aside.

Measure the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well with a whisk. Measure the wet ingredients into a large measuring cup or medium bowl, whisking or stirring well to break up the egg. Make a well in the dry ingredient bowl, then add about half the wet mixing with a spatula or spoon just until blended (don't over mix or you'll have chocolate bricks instead of muffins.)

Add the rest of the wet and mix again, JUST until mixed. Divide the batter evenly between the cups and sprinkle over the additional chocolate chips.

Bake for 16-20 minutes until the muffins have risen and become firm and springy. Let sit in the tins for a few minutes to finish setting before removing to a wire rack (though to be honest I often forget to remove them for a couple of hours and all ends well.)

Store in an air tight container for up to 3 days or freeze.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Spaghetti with Black Pepper, Pecorino and Butter

Why oh why did I not know about this recipe when I was just starting out in the kitchen? You literally dump everything into a bowl and stir and minutes later you have what I think is one of the best pastas on earth. I added nutmeg and toasted walnuts for texture and crossed my fingers and toes while my husband took a bite hoping he wouldn't notice it was the third night in a row there was no meat on the table (he didn't.)

This recipe is perfect for this time of year when we're so busy making food for holiday feasts and parties that we sometimes forget to feed ourselves. I particularly love the fact that it has greens in it - no need for a salad!

Spaghetti with Butter, Pecorino, Black Pepper, and Arugula
* Adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis (Spagaeeeeeetti Queen)
* You can use all arugula or flip the arugula to basil ratio to basil if you like

Sea Salt or Kosher salt
1 box (13.25 oz) thin whole wheat spaghetti (I used Barilla)
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups very finely grated Pecorino Romano
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Pinch fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
1 cup coarsely chopped arugula
1/2 cup basil leaves (tear any large ones in half)
1/4 cup toasted walnut pieces
Olive oil for drizzling over just before serving

Fill your biggest pot with water and put it over high heat with the lid on. Once boiling add a handful of sea or kosher salt. Let return to a boil then add your pasta, stirring in with a wooden spoon. Cook for about 8 minutes - just until al dente. Be sure to reserve at least 1/2 cup of pasta water before you drain it. Meanwhile, add the softened butter to a large pasta bowl. Stir in the Pecorino, pepper, and nutmeg until well blended. Add the drained pasta to the butter mixture and stir. Slowly stir in the reserved pasta water - a little at a time until it the consistency is to your liking. Stir in the arugula, basil, and walnuts. Taste for salt, adding more if necessary. Serve warm with a drizzle of olive oil over each serving.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Creamy Mustard Pork Chops with Hard Cider or better yet - Viva Nigella!

What is it about Nigella? Her soothing-as-Ambien English accent? Her endearing way of phrasing things (just 'bung' it into a pan...)? Or let's face it - her gorgeous, gorgeous face? I say all of those are just icing on an already perfect cake.

For me it's her recipes. Sooner or later you'll make one that changes you as a cook. And in one fail swoop you've crossed a bridge there's no turning back from. You have arrived in the kitchen and Nigella is there with open arms and a cocktail.

I should caveat that while I love the below recipe - it's not the Nigella recipe that altered my cooking life. For me that was her Chocolate Pudding and Cherry Trifle, adapted here. Holly Hell!

Mustard Pork Chops
Adapted from 'Nigella Express' Cookbook...
* Serves 3.
* I used to hold a prejudice against recipes that called for heavy cream, believing it was a form of culinary cheating as anything with heavy cream is bound to be good. Well, I was dumb. That said I sometimes use mostly half and half in place of the cream with just a healthy splash at the end to meet the measurement. No one will notice - this recipe is chock full of flavor.

3 bone in, yet thin pork chops, already pounded by the butcher to 1/4 inch
garlic powder
sea salt or kosher salt
black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup hard cider (alcoholic fizzy apple cider)
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1/3 cup heavy cream
Chopped flat leaf parsley, for garnish

Season the chops on both sides with garlic powder, salt and pepper and set aside. Meanwhile add the olive oil to a medium sized rimmed skillet and bring to medium heat. Let the oil heat through for a minute or two until hot, then add the chops. Cook on the first side for 4 minutes or until they release easily when you try and turn them (making sure they have SOME hint of a golden crust before turning - if they look anemic - leave them be until some color appears.) Flip over and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove and place on a plate covering with foil as you get on with the sauce.

Without killing the heat, add the hard cider to the pan, gently scraping the browned bits from the bottom and swirling into the cider as it gently bubbles away - about 4 minutes. Gently stir in the mustard then raise the heavy cream (or half and half.)

Stir gently while you let everything bubble at a leisurely pace to thicken slightly (if there's no bubble whatsoever - raise the heat a bit.) After about 2 minutes, return the chops and any collected juice, nestling them in among the liquid. Let finish cooking over medium heat (or just get to know each other) being careful not to let come to a boil, for about 5 minutes before serving.

Serve spooning extra sauce over each chop and garnish with flat leaf parsley and serve with roasted potatoes and Caesar salad (or that's what I do;)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pepperoni Wheels - Make Them Now, Freeze Them, And Arm Yourself for the Holidays

I realizing I'm not telling you anything new here when I say that pepperoni, cheese, and pizza dough were meant to be together. But hopefully I am telling you something new when I say that you can make these little babies, freeze them, and pull them out and reheat whenever you need a quick snack or appetizer.

This is a major comfort to me this time of year. I don't know about you but I am slightly blindsided by the fact the holidays are upon us. Driving home from my mom's the other morning I saw a sign that said 'Less Than Eight Weeks Until Christmas!' I almost veered off the road. This is exactly why I had to share these little gems with you - they might help you remain sane this holiday season.

Believe it or not I already have a freezer full of them due to plans for a Halloween party/surprise birthday party for my dear sister going disastrously awry (you'll notice I had to skip out on my annual Halloween recipe series - it's been a tough last couple of weeks.) But God works in mysterious ways and in this particular case he stocked me up with pepperoni wheels. If cousin Eddie should drop by (then again don't we all have our own 'Cousin Eddie'?) - I'll know what to feed him.

What's your favorite go to holiday appetizer?

Pepperoni Wheels
* Makes 45 'wheels'
* Inspired by the delectable pepperoni rolls at Double Daves Pizza. The most delicious cellulite-maker I've ever eaten.

1 pkg refrigerated pizza dough (such as Pillsbury)
Dijon mustard
8 oz shredded cheddar
8 oz shredded Parmesan
8 oz pepperoni slices
4 oz (or more) sliced salami (or you can go with all pepperoni - up to you)
an egg wash - 1 egg whisked with some half and half or cream or water
Flour for dusting board

Marinara or mustard for serving

Preheat oven to 350 (325 if your oven runs hot - you do not want to burn these.)
Spread some flour out lightly on a clean counter or cutting board. Unroll your dough, flour a rolling pin, and begin to roll it out just getting it to behave and flatten a little so you can cut it into fours. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into four even squares. Set 3 aside (or back in the fridge if your kitchen is warm) and use your pin (adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking) to smooth and flatten out as much as possible but before it gets so thin that holes appear, trying to keep it as 'square-ish' as possible.

Using a pastry brush or the back of a wide spoon, lightly brush the dough with dijon mustard, leaving one edge clear and dry by about an inch long margin. Sprinkle with a nice layer of Parmesan and cheddar cheese - don't be shy with it - but keep the layer even so you can roll it, again keeping the one end free and clear. Add slices of pepperoni on top, overlapping them, and repeat with the salami. Using a pastry brush, brush the clean edge with your egg wash.

Then, starting from the opposite end from the 'clean' edge, carefully but determinedly begin rolling it up using the tips of your fingers to squish and keep in the filling as you do. Remember dough isn't all that different from a horse - the minute you show fear, you're finished. Once you have it all rolled up, make sure that the egg brushed edge is the side that is facing down (I give it an extra little press to be sure it's sealed.)

Carefully transfer to an aluminum lined, non stick sprayed baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes while you finish the rest of the rolls.

Once ready to bake (have oven preheated to 350) remove the rolls from the fridge and carefully but quickly cut with a sharp knife into wheels (about 1/4 inch thick.) Place the wheels about an inch apart and bake for 12-15 minutes. The only hitch with these is that it's very hard to tell when they're done because the tops will not get golden. If you wait until the tops are golden, chances are the bottoms are already black - so remove them to check for doneness sooner than later to check them lifting one up with a spatula. Let cool on the pan for 1 minute then transfer to a cookie rack to cool all the way or serve immediately. Serve them with marinara for dipping or even mustard or both.

If not serving right away, let cool completely before placing in a freezer bag and freezing.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Table for One - Hoisin Marinated Chicken over Roasted Green Onions and Peppers

Eating alone can be tricky. Sometimes I use it as an opportunity to cook and eat the things only I like, basking in the selfish indulgence of it all. For me that's angel hair pasta (Kris hates), roasted fennel (he really hates) and butternut squash pizza (he's insane - I love him but I'm sorry there's nothing better especially when bacon joins the party.) Other times it seems like too much work to even heat up a pan for just one person. The only problem is I still want a good meal...

Good thing I discovered this little number. A simple roast chicken dish with barely any work and zero cleanup. The chicken marinates in Hoisin, cilantro, lime, and sesame oil then roasts in the oven (on aluminum foil for easy clean up) while the veggies roast on another aluminum-lined tray so I can just throw away all that shiny paper afterwards and put my pans up as if nothing ever happened.

I expected a satisfactory meal but was surprised by a delicious one, proof that every once in a while it pays to be both lazy and selfish.

Hoisin Marinated Chicken over Roasted Green Onions and Peppers
* This is enough marinade for 1 large chicken breast cutlet or 2 small.
* Hoisin is such an incredible flavor booster - a confidant leader on the dance floor of marinading to the point that you could practically chuck in whatever you have on hand to enhance it - fresh ground ginger, a smashed garlic clove, etc. So don't panic if you don't have all the ingredients below. A sprinkle of garlic powder for example will work perfectly well in place of a garlic clove, etc.

1/3 cup Hoisin
good pinch fresh cracked pepper
good pinch sea or kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
handful of fresh chopped green onions
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
juice of 1/2 lime (I chuck the whole thing in)
1 garlic clove, smashed
Fresh chopped green onions for garnish

1-2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, or double recipe if cooking more

Mix all ingredients together and place in a ziploc along with the your chicken breasts. Marinate in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight. Remove from the fridge half an hour before cooking, preheating your oven to 375. Take chicken out of the marinade gently shaking off excess cilantro/herbs/garlic but letting marinade remain. Place on a greased baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and lightly sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 25 minutes then lower heat to 325 and bake another 5-7 minutes until cooked through. Serve over roast veggies and garnish with green onions.

Roast Veggies - Add a sliced bell pepper (1/4" thick slices) and 3-4 green onions (cut into 3-4" sections) to an aluminum-lined baking sheet. Toss with vegetable oil (or canola oil or plain olive oil) and salt and pepper. Roast in the oven along with the chicken - about 30 minutes. I love this because the thin parts of the green onions get crispy and almost chip-like and the thicker sections become soft and meaty.