Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Creamy Chipotle Cheddar Chicken. Enter the Ring of Fire.

Chipotles may be a little five minutes ago as far as culinary trends go, but I'm very comfortable with being uncool. Chipotle chiles, found packed in cans of adobo sauce, are just plain old jalapenos that have been allowed to stay on the vine until they develop a deep red color, then are removed and smoke-dried over fire until most of the moisture is evaporated. What you get is an intense smokey flavor unlike anything on earth. It's absolutely addictive, especially in dishes like this with cilantro and sharp cheese which LOVE them some smoke.

The only catch is, chipotles are roasted with seeds and all which is why this dish lives up to its other title - Ring of Fire Chicken. So unless you really, really like a kick I advise making this with two chipotle chiles the first go around to see how much you like eating and sweating at the same time. It also helps to serve it over a mellow flavored rice with something sweet in it like peas or corn (I've included my recipe below) to round everything out. But if you're a heat freak, you could always mince up another chipotle and add it to the rice as well. And in that case my hat goes off to you. As Sissy says in the movie Urban Cowboy, "You're a real cowboy, ain't you?"

As for Kris and I, we were dying laughing while eating this, watching each others' faces get redder and redder. The phrase of the meal was, "It hurts a little but man - it's SO good!"

Creamy Chipotle Cheddar Chicken (aka Ring of Fire Chicken)
Serves 4.
* The chipotle sauce would be good for lots of different things, especially steak.
* Kris wanted me to tell you that this chicken would also be great in warm tortillas, just in case the rice wasn't enough carbs for you...

4 chicken breast cutlets (boneless and skinless)
1/2 cup milk (whole or low fat is fine - skim is a no no)
3 chipotle chiles, from a can of chipotle in adobo (use 2 for less heat), finely chopped
1/3 cup cottage cheese (regular/full fat will give better texture and flavor but you could use 2%)
1/2 cup sour cream
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons half and half
1 tablespoon cornstarch

3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar (I used Cracker Barrel 2% sharp cheddar)
handful of chopped green onions, for garnish
handful of cilantro leaves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a glass or ceramic baking dish (large enough to hold the 4 cutlets) with nonstick spray. Add the chicken (it's okay if they overlap a little but they should have the majority of space to themselves to cook evenly) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Once the oven is preheated, put the chicken in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes, just until the edges of the cutlets begin to turn white.

Meanwhile, get on with the sauce. Add the milk, chiles, cottage cheese, sour cream, garlic, onion powder, cumin and salt to a medium sauce pan and bring over high heat, stirring every few minutes to keep the bottom from burning. (If you want a smooth, pretty sauce, blend the milk, chiles, garlic, and cottage cheese in a blender on high until smooth before adding them to the pan with the rest of the ingredients. Since the whole thing gets covered in cheese anyway, I save myself extra cleaning and skip this step, but to each their own.)

While you wait for the mixture to boil, mix the half and half and cornstarch in a small cup until the cornstarch is well incorporated and set aside. Once the milk mixture is boiling, add the half and half/cornstarch to the pan and stir in. Continue to boil the entire mess for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, or just until the mixture thickens. Reduce the heat so that it's just simmering and not violently boiling, and let it continue to thicken - another 2 minutes or so. Take off the heat and cover while you wait for the chicken.

Once the chicken's had its first go in the oven, remove it and carefully add the chipotle sauce to the pan, covering every bit of the chicken and making sure any extra is evenly distributed around the dish. Evenly scatter over the shredded cheddar and return the dish, uncovered, to the oven for 20 minutes. Increase the heat to 450 (if you have a fancy oven, switch it to 'top' or broiler mode) and cook the chicken an additional 2 minutes, JUST until some of the cheese begins to brown in spots.

Remove and let set up for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with additional chopped green onions and cilantro leaves.

Scallion Cilantro Rice
Serves 4.

1 tablespoon butter
1 large shallot, minced
salt and pepper
1 cup jasmine or other long grain rice
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
3/4 cup thawed frozen peas OR corn if you're not a pea person
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds

In a medium pot, heat the butter over medium heat just until melted. Add the shallot, seasoning with salt and pepper and saute until translucent - about 3 minutes. Stir in the rice, toasting for 1 minute. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir well, reduce heat to low and put the lid on. Cook until the rice has absorbed all the liquid - anywhere from 12-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork (also checking to make sure the bottom rice hasn't burned.) Gently stir in the peas and paprika, put the cover back on and let sit off the heat another 5 minutes.

Stir in the green onions, cilantro, and almonds and serve, topping each serving with a chicken breast, sauce, and additional scallions/cilantro if desired.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Seared Duck Breast with Earl Gray, Honey, and Orange Sauce

This is one of those recipes I bookmarked from Epicurious years ago and just recently got around to making. I liked it but am betting the sauce would be even better on chicken or pork as I think its subtle sweetness would compliment a less in-your-face meat. I subbed lavender honey for regular honey, and didn't bother using a sieve to make the sauce smooth. As I've said before, I'm a texture gal, and if I'm going through the trouble to saute onions for half an hour, I'd like the pleasure of eating them in the end. Also, by using tea bags instead of loose tea, you eliminate the need for straining the sauce anyway.

Finally - I normally brag that you can cook anything you love at home just as well as at a restaurant. This is equally true for duck but if you don't have a good hood vent/fan - don't bother. No one likes to smell like duck fat the following day... Restaurants, it seems, will always have a purpose.

I served this with baby brussels and baby yukon golds that were soaked in water for 30 minutes, drained and dried, and roasted in the oven (doused in 3 tablespoons of olive oil, sea salt, and pepper) for 20 minutes per side. After they came out I tossed them with lemon zest and freshly minced parsley.

Seared Duck Breast with Orange, Earl Gray and Honey Sauce
* Adapted from Bon Appétit via Epicurious
* Serves 3-4, as long as you have ample sides.

2 boneless Muscovy duck breast halves (about 1 3/4 pounds total)

3/4 cup chopped shallots or sweet onion
sea salt and pepper, for seasoning
2 1/4 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
1 1/2 cups orange juice
5 Earl Grey tea bags, strings left on with just the end tags removed
1 tablespoon lavender honey
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Minced flat leaf parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F. Pierce skin of duck breasts all over with fork. Sprinkle duck with salt and pepper. Heat heavy large skillet over high heat. Add duck breasts, skin side down, to skillet. Reduce to medium heat and cook until skin is well browned, about 6 minutes. Turn duck breasts over; cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Set rack in roasting pan. Transfer duck breasts to rack (reserve drippings in skillet). Roast duck to desired doneness, about 12-15 minutes for medium-rare. (I wouldn't go beyond 20 minutes or you'll have tough duck which might as well be tough shoe leather.) Remove from the oven and let rest, tented with foil, for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat drippings in skillet over medium heat. Add shallots, season with a tiny pinch of salt and pepper and sauté until beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Tilt skillet; push shallots to higher end of skillet, allowing drippings to flow to lower end. Spoon off drippings and discard. Add broth, orange juice and tea bags to skillet. Boil until mixture is reduced to 1 1/4 cups, about 17 minutes. Remove and discard tea bags, pressing against the sides of the pan beforehand to release any juice. Add honey to the pan; bring to simmer. Whisk in butter until melted. Taste the sauce for balance and make any adjustments necessary with salt and pepper.

Thinly slice duck breasts crosswise. Fan slices on each of 4 plates, dividing equally. Spoon sauce around duck. Garnish with minced parsley, if desired.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My Stiletto Award Nominees.

There are so many wonderful blogs to choose from, this was actually more daunting than I thought it would be. But so many of my favorites (and yours) are uber famous and therefore were automatically out. Can you imagine - "Hi HomesickTexan- here's a stilleto award! Add that to your shelf of trophies including The Top 50 Food Blogs in the World."

Or - "Oh hey there PioneerWoman - I know your book was a #1 New York Times bestseller and all and your entire life may soon become a Reese Witherspoon movie, but here you go..." The same goes for NoblePig and OnePerfectBite, other blogs I wish mine could grow up to be like one day.

Therefore, I chose to focus my nominees on great little blogs that could use a few more eyeballs. Ones you may not have heard of but are very worthy of your attention. SO. My nominees are:

Velva at TomatoesOnTheVine
Velva is a self proclaimed food geek in the best sense of the word. She loves to talk about food and cooking and enjoys everything about preparing a recipe down to the tiniest of details. This sense of devotion comes across beautifully in her recipes which vary from sweet to savory to naughty Friday afternoon cocktails.

Reeni at CinnamonSpiceandEverythingNice
Actually, Reeni's blog is pretty famous in my opinion with nearly 1,000 loyal followers. And here's why - everything Reeni posts is a treat. From recipes you might have forgotten about (but shouldn't have) to new and inventive ones (chipotle corn and potato soup, anyone?) Her passion for food and cooking is infectious and if that doesn't pull you in, her kitchen companion, Moon, will. If you thought dogs were a cook's best friend - think again!

Meg at TheHungryRoach
Don't let the name fool you. Meg's last name is Roach and she writes about real everyday eating out in NYC. Her restaurant reviews are thorough and relevant and contain none of the random code speak you might come across in Zaggat. If you're visiting the city anytime soon or if you live here and find yourself stumped by the overwhelming options, just pop over to Meg's blog and she'll steer you somewhere delicious. And she's not too city-bound to venture to other boroughs like Williamsburg which is a nice bonus.

Mystery Blogger at SinfulSouthernSweets
I adore this blog. It's where I go when I'm feeling hormonal or in need of a dessert recipe and am too lazy to dig out my baking books. You'll want to lick your screen. This lovely lady (whose name I STILL don't know - help) isn't afraid of giving you a sugar rush. And that's just why I like her.

Congrats nominees! Your blogs are an inspiration to me every day! Now I hate to award with baggage but there are a few musts for receiving this... First off, follow this link to learn more about it (which is specifically for women bloggers, sorry fellas...)

Second, have a look at the "Rules":
1. Display the Stiletto badge of honor.
2. Brag about it - post a link to the page to highlight what the award is about
3. Say thanks! Include a link to the friend who nominated you.
4. Share the love-nominate 5-10 more blogs. Leave links to their blogs and leave them a comment so they know they won!
5. Do what you do! Keep at it and keep inspiring others!

Finally, thank you so much again Jenn at JennsFoodJourney for nominating me. It means the world;)

PS - Blogger and I are not getting along right now but I hope to have the Stiletto Award icon back up on here very soon.

My First Award! And Jenn's Creamy Ranch Enchiladas...

Woo hoo! Jenn over at Jenn's Food Journey - bestowed me with a Stiletto Award!

Jenn is a lovely blogger whose recipes always make me hungry. You know how you look at different food blogs for different reasons? Well for me, Jenn's has everything going for it. Great pictures, great writing, and most important, inventive recipes that I actually want to get into the kitchen and make - somehow nostalgic and new all at the same time (see above pic of her enchiladas.) I'd give you the recipe, but I want you to take a trip to her blog:

Thank you Jenn for nominating me! I am truly honored. Stay tuned for my Stiletto nominees as well as a week's worth of recipes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

In memory of a horse named Socks.

At the age of 9, most kids are obsessing over a new bike or the latest video game. I was on a mission to find a horse. To be fair, the mission had begun in infancy when I'd first laid eyes on one. I drew them, talked about them, took meticulous care of a stable of imaginary ones that fit nicely in our backyard in Houston while my parents waited patiently (and desperately) for the phase to pass.

It didn't. The obsession grew and the fantasies were getting a little eccentric which led to the purchase of two pygmy goats in a bold move on my parents part in the never ending game of parent/child negotiation. 'Once she learns how difficult raising a goat can be, she'll forget all about wanting a horse,' was no doubt the logic. I carried the goats, Dr. Pepper and Willy Joe, around like infants and bottle fed them with a hidden agenda of my own. As soon as they were full grown, I tried to ride them, fashioning a bridle out of a stick and some shoe leather.

If the 12 seconds on the back of a goat taught me anything, it was that 12 seconds on a horse must really be something. The obsession was gaining momentum. I wrote essays on horse management. I groomed Midnight, my Barbie horse, until the plastic lost its shine. And I begged to the point where even my loving parents were embarrassed by my lack of dignity. But it worked.

Either the planets aligned or I wore them down or I caught them on a margarita night, because the 13,474th time I asked if I could get a horse - the word 'no' didn't immediately follow. I opened the Houston classifieds and read a short but efficient ad for a pony - something to the effect of 'golden colored and loves kids.'

I didn't want to seem overzealous or anything, but could there be more of a sign? I mean I was a kid and my hair could be considered golden colored. The next evening we were on our way to the suburbs to look at this miraculous creature. We got lost and by the time we arrived, it was dark. No matter, the pony's shiny coat practically glowed under the front porch lights. (It was too dark to notice how the whites around her eyes hinted at a demon trapped inside trying to get out.) My mom and I looked at the pony's hair - then at my own. It matched! I mean, what more could you possibly want in a pony? Besides, the 5 minute test ride which the gentleman led me on went swimmingly. At this rate, I'd be in the Olympics by summer.

We bought the pony, Bess, and then the real test came. Bess was anything but the perfect pony, though in an ironic way she was a Godsend. Bess didn't like to be saddled, much less ridden, and she had a funny quirk of cow kicking you when you weren't looking. "A horse can kick sideways?" we marveled, until she got me in the butt when I was bending over to retrieve a brush knocking me down. Ah the tenacity of childhood - if that happened to me now, I'd have sent the pony packing and taken up knitting. But I was 8. I simply picked up a 2x4 and hit her back. She and I had a few rounds of this game until she decided it was far less work to just stand there while being brushed.

Fast forward another year. Bess had taught me how to stay on no matter how badly the animal underneath you didn't want you to. She'd taught me to be patient. And then in an unplanned lesson, she taught me to jump. We'd go flying over fallen trees, old railroad ties - anything you put in front of us. And with my legs getting longer everyday, I began instigating 'project upgrade.' Don't ask me why, but begging for the second horse was much easier, and before I knew it, my parents and I were scouring the entire span of central Texas for horse number two. And we were no green city folk this time around - nope. On these scouting trips, we made sure we saw the horses in daylight.

No shorter than 34 or so failed horse shopping trips later (the subject of another book, I mean post) we pulled up to yet another barn in the outskirts of town. It was a Sunday. Valentine's Day. And Lord Heaven all mighty there he was.

The most striking gelding I'd ever laid eyes on - so brown he looked black when a cloud passed by but under the full wattage of the sun, the color of a chocolate-dipped espresso bean with a white blaze and four white socks. His mane and tail were the stuff of dreams, so long and full he made my exaggerated Barbie horse look homely.

Gail, the nice woman who owned him, was selling him because she wanted a new barrel horse. I got on him, pointed him to the nearest field, and off we went. It was like riding a feather he moved so smoothly, only a feather in a hurry. This horse liked to go. I was three quarters head over heels in love, one quarter terrified as we headed back to my parents. I kept the terrified part to myself - I wasn't about to blow the chance of owning the most magnificent horse in the world.

We chatted some more as Gail showed us how Socks automatically lifted his feet to be picked without even having to touch them and said that of all the horses she'd had over the years, Socks had the best ground manners by far. She was right. When we asked how old he was (something else we'd learned to cover in our meticulous sleuthing), Gail replied about 8. He wasn't registered so she couldn't be 100% accurate, but that was definitely the ballpark given how long she'd owned him.

It was all settled. This gleaming, proud-necked half Morgan half mystery was to be mine. And then a couple of days later, my mom got a phone call from a crying Gail. She felt so badly, but her husband just couldn't let Gail part with Socks. He was his favorite horse. Gail may have shed a few tears but I created my own tsunami. I'd already written 'Socks' on everything I owned and even things I didn't (my school desk) and the news was devastating. We truly had looked at dozens of frogs to find this prince and now he was gone.

My tears finally stopped and we kept looking. Oh did we look. There was 'Morlaugh' the Arabian who sat down when you tried to saddle him, a show pony who broke off its lunge line, jumped a fence and disappeared into a suburb, and a pair of Tennessee Walkers that ate wood the way other horses eat grass.

Then, on Easter Sunday, a miracle. Gail called to ask if we'd found another horse yet. Apparently she'd found her a barrel horse, and in some crafty negotiating of her own, she'd convinced her husband to sell Socks. To this day I'll never forget that phone call. As a writer I should be able to capture that feeling for you but I'm sorry I just can't.

Socks was transferred from one Houston suburb to another where I took lessons on him twice a week. He was the reason I got up every morning. But despite how wonderful I thought he was, my trainer, a lovely woman by the name of Cathy Strobel, probably felt differently though she never said so. Being half Morgan, Socks was what they call 'gaited' and moved in an amble so smooth, you could put an egg on his back and it wouldn't fall off. Which was fantastic, only I'd made the decision to show in hunter/jumper classes where gaiting was not allowed (see what I mean about us getting savvier all the time?)

Instead of telling us it would never work, Cathy began teaching Socks via me, how to erase a natural, God given way of movement he'd had his whole life. Talk about teaching an old dog new tricks. And in the interim, we learned we were dealing with an older dog than we realized. On a vaccination visit, the vet looked at Socks' teeth and said, 'He looks pretty good for a middle aged gent.'

'Middle aged?' we retorted? 'What are you talking about - he's 8!' Nope, by the angle and length of his teeth, he was at least 13 the vet said. Teeth don't lie. Of course we don't think Gail lied either, but when a horse isn't registered and you haven't owned it all of your life it can be hard to keep track.

Anyway, Cathy and I worked and worked and worked and one day, Socks broke out of that smooth amble into a bumpy, two-beat gait. I think the whole stable cheered. From there we went to our first show where we won reserve grand champion. That feeling I can describe - one part Janis Joplin and two parts strawberry ice cream.

But it wasn't all perfect. One time while warming up on the race track behind the stables, Socks took the bit in his mouth and ran away with me, circling the whole track at a hundred miles an hour before breaking for the tiny opening in the fence between the track and the stables, nearly snapping my legs off. To this day I've never been so scared, and as soon as I realized where I was (right in front of his stall - where else do horse's want to go?) I jumped off him, grabbed a riding crop, and went to town on him until somebody stopped me.

And God love him, he truly hated to jump and sent me over many a fence, often times right in front of the judging box.

But for the most part, he was a gentleman. And kind. And patient. He was the only horse that would stay clean in his stall before a competition. He didn't even like to use the restroom at a show! And on trail rides, he was the fastest thing on wheels in a short pasture. Nobody could touch me - not even horses twice his size or leggy Thoroughbreds.

I eventually got other horses, got into high school, and started riding less and less. After college, a career in advertising took me far away from home for far too many years. Socks stayed back with my dad, still trucking along even though his thick black mane eventually faded and thinned to a few dull wisps. Age isn't kind to any of us.

But as long as he was there, back home, I was happy. We had gotten Socks when I was 9 years old. And as I got older and older, the horse who was supposed to be my age who turned out to be much older just kept on living despite what the vets predicted. By now I was now in my thirties and had come to think that maybe he'd never die. I kind of had this little thing in my head where as long as he was there, back home, then a part of me must be too. And maybe, just maybe I hadn't really grown up after all despite all evidence to the contrary.

Socks passed away on Christmas Eve. I guess that means I'm all grown up now.

I have had some wonderful horses in my life and some out right nightmares, but Socks was in his own league. He learned how to trot after a lifetime of not trotting. He learned how to jump when he'd rather have done anything else, probably even barrel race. He became the leader of his own herd after years as a city horse. And as an old man, he led my young nephews around with the patience of a saint. And now he's gone.

I wish so badly that I could give him a treat right now and pet his longer than logical forelock one last time. But I can't. Instead, I'll make this bread for him in remembrance. Socks had a sweet tooth and a policy of eating anything you put in front of him out of politeness. He would have loved it.

Zucchini Oatmeal Bread, for Socks

2 cups wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup cooking oats
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon plus 1/4 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon allspice

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce plus 2 tablespoons
1/4 cup oil
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons vanilla
zest of 1 orange
3 cups shredded zucchini
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 (325 if using convection.) Grease two loaf pans with nonstick spray then dust with flour. Set onto a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

Meanwhile put all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl or stand mixer. Mix until well blended, then form a little well in the center and pour in the applesauce, oil, buttermilk, honey, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix until just blended, scraping the bottom with a spatula if using a stand mixture to be sure nothing's holding out on you. Add in the zucchini stirring just until mixed, then the eggs one by one, again stirring until just incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and bake for 45-50 minutes, until golden and cooked through (knife or dried spaghetti should come out clean when inserted.)

Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes before carefully inverting onto a baking rack to cool all the way down.

Slice, slather in salted butter, and eat warm while remembering someone you love.

* By the way, Cathy is still teaching in the Houston area. You can find her at:

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rotini with Ground Beef, Zuchinni, and Feta

This time change is killing me. Between that, the rain, and not being at SXSW, I'm not a happy camper. Good thing I made a boatload of this pasta last night. It'll cure what ails you. Seriously, this is worth getting into a bad mood for just so you have an excuse to make it.

What kind of food gets you through a rough patch?

Rotini with Ground Beef, Tomato Paste, Zuchinni, and Feta
Serves a small army.

1 tablespoon olive oil, or just enough to coat the bottom of your dutch oven
1 large shallot or small onion, minced
2 fat cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
2 medium zuchinni, diced
2 lbs ground sirloin, preferably grass fed
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
good grating fresh nutmeg
1 (6 oz) can of tomato paste (Muir Glen is my favorite)
final pinch kosher salt
additional grating of fresh nutmeg

1 (1 lb) box rotini pasta
handful of kosher or sea salt for the pasta water
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
ladle or 2 of the pasta water
5 oz feta cheese, crumbled plus 1 oz extra for garnish
3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley, plus extra for garnish
additional red pepper flakes, optional

Put a large pot of water over high heat to boil. Once boiling, add a handful of kosher or sea salt.

At the same time in a separate medium-to-large dutch oven, add the olive oil and put over medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and a good grating of fresh cracked pepper. Cook until the veggies begin to sweat, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally and lowering the heat if the garlic begins to brown too quickly. Add in the zuchinni and cook until it begins to soften - about 5 to 7 minutes. Add in the beef along with the additional salt, red pepper, oregano and nutmeg. Break the meat up with your spoon and cook, stirring occasionally, until just browned - about 12-15 minutes.

Once browned, add in the tomato paste, stirring well to incorporate. Season with an additional pinch of salt and a little more nutmeg. Cook on medium 2 more minutes, letting everything thicken. Turn the heat to low just to keep the mixture warm, stirring occasionally to make sure the bottom isn't burning/sticking. At this point, add the pasta to the boiling, salted water. Cook until JUST al dente - about 6 minutes.

Use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the pasta, piling it over the meat sauce. Add the parmesan over the top and a ladle or two of the pasta water. Gently stir to combine then add in the feta and flat leaf parsley stirring well. Taste for salt/pepper making any adjustments necessary.

Serve hot, with additional feta and parsley sprinkled over each serving, and red pepper flakes if desired.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Something to Brunch On

A nice little egg dish for brunch (or dinner) that won't leave you doing the walk of shame afterwards. Because as it turns out, winter might actually leave us, and I cancelled my gym membership in February... Of course you can go whole hog and use egg whites, but the entire reason I make this is to be able to stab those round, yellow yolks and watch their buttery ribbons ooze into the veggies. It's better than popping bubble wrap.

Sunnies over Sauteed Asparagus, Mushrooms, and Peppers with Parmesan and Chives
* Serves 2.

1/2 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 portabello mushrooms, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper for seasoning
good grating of fresh nutmeg
pinch red pepper flakes, optional

1/2 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon of olive oil
4 eggs
sea salt
fresh cracked pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan, or to taste
1/4 cup freshly chopped green onions or chives

Heat 1/2 tablespoon of butter along with 2 teaspoons olive oil in your largest saute pan, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Add the portabellos, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the asparagus and diced pepper along with another small pinch of salt. Cook the veggies to your liking - I like mine to get a little carmelized but not to the point of being mushy which usually takes about 7 minutes. Season with a good grating of freshly ground nutmeg and red pepper flakes if you like the addition of heat. Leave on low heat while you cook your eggs (or even better - start the eggs in another pan when you add in the asparagus for perfect timing.)

In another medium skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat until the bottom of the pan is coated. Carefully crack the eggs and add them spacing them out evenly in the pan. Cook for about 7 minutes for sunny side up, or longer to your liking, watching the heat so that you can turn it down if the edges brown too quickly. If you like yours really cooked - you can run the pan under a hot broiler afterwards. Season lightly with sea or kosher salt and pepper.

To plate, divide the veggies between two wide-rimmed bowls. Put two eggs over each pile, then sprinkle the Parmesan and chives over and around the eggs. Serve hot.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Carne Asada Fajitas with Two Day Marinade

Today's foodie lesson comes from Wikipedia, which had this to say about carne asada:

"Carne asada is a roasted beef dish, literally meaning "roasted meat." The dish mainly consists of pieces or thin cuts of beef (e.g. flank steak, skirt steak), sometimes marinated, sometimes lightly salted or rubbed with salt, pepper and/or spices, and then grilled. It can be eaten alone, with side dishes, chopped and eaten as tacos, or chopped and used as filler for tortas, burritos, etc. It is commonly accompanied with guacamole, salsa, beans, and grilled scallions and tortillas."

Thank you Wikipedia. That was fascinating. Now...let's eat.

Carne Asada Fajitas with Cilantro and Shredded Cheddar
Serves 2.
* I prefer to let the meat marinate for 2 days. Nothing beats the flavor. In a pinch, overnight will do, but I'm not sure I'd bother with this recipe if I was shorter on time than that.
* You can sub the fennel seeds and oregano for ground coriander and paprika or any other spice you prefer or even toss in a small sprig of fresh rosemary.


3 tablespoons double concentrated tomato paste from a tube (like Amore brand)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (feel free to double this, you daredevil you)
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1 lb flank or skirt steak

To serve:
Fresh cilantro
1/2 a white onion, minced (optional)
shredded cheddar, feta or queso bianco

Mix all the marinade ingredients together well in a large ziploc. Add in the steak and flip it over in the marinade several times to make sure it's well-coated, then seal and refrigerate them preferably for TWO days (at least one, but really - make it two.)

Wrap a good mess of tortillas well in aluminum foil and place in a 225 oven to warm through while you grill the meat.

Remove the steak from the fridge 30 minutes before grilling.

Spray a stovetop grill pan with nonstick spray or rub with a paper towel dipped in peanut or vegetable oil, and put the pan on a burner over medium heat for two minutes or until the pan is hot (you shouldn't be able to hold your palm within an inch of it for more than 2 seconds.)

Remove the steaks from the marinade, removing excess marinade by holding the bag from the outside to scrape it off against the inside of the bag as you pull the steak out. Place them on the preheated pan and lower the heat slightly (you want your meat to cook through versus just branding it - or at least I do.) Sprinkle the exposed side of meat lightly with fresh cracked pepper and let cook for 5-7 minutes then carefully flip to the other side and cook another 5-7 minutes (5 on each if you want it on the rare side - up to 8 per side if you like it well done, though this can dry out a cut like skirt steak, so proceed with caution.)

Remove from the grill and let the steak rest for a good 5 minutes before slicing. Remember to cut them in slices against the grain - it produces a more tender final product.

Serve in warm tortillas with cilantro, cheese, and/or onion or whatever suits your fancy. Other good toppings could include sour cream, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes - etc.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Creamy Eggplant and Arugula Pasta with Pine Nuts and Cream Cheese

Whole wheat pasta and I are becoming friends. It's all very high school - I hated it on first site but over time think we actually might be bffs. At the very least I've figured out I don't mind the texture when paired with cream sauces and sauteed vegetables - in fact I think its slight chewy bite enhances these ingredients (tomato sauce, not so much. Takes me back to my first impression - cardboard.)

Kris humored me in eating this even though he's not an eggplant fan. What is it with men and eggplant and butternut squash? Or rather - what is it with women and these two vegetables? Every girl I know adores them while every man I know is One boy friend had this explanation to offer - "Butternut squash is like eating baby food. It's boring." This really ramped up the debate, but that's for another post.

Back to the pasta, DO NOT toss out your pasta water after you strain the pasta from it. It's crucial to breaking up the cream cheese and making a nice velvety sauce. And just remember, you don't have to salt baby or 'Chinese' eggplant before cooking but it does take a while to saute and become cooperative. Do yourself a favor and put a pot of water over a boil the same time you begin cooking the eggplant, then wait 20 minutes before adding your pasta to the water as the eggplant needs that much of a head start. If the water begins boiling way before the 20 minute mark, it's okay. Just let it go quietly on a back burner until you're ready to put it to work.

Creamy Eggplant and Arugula Pasta with Pine Nuts and Cream Cheese
Serves 6-8.

13.25 oz box whole wheat short pasta, such as ziti or spirals
handful salt
4 oz reduced fat cream cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra
6 baby (or Chinese) eggplant, roughly 5 inches in length, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
kosher salt, for seasoning
fresh black pepper, for seasoning
good grating fresh nutmeg
good pinch red pepper flakes
2 cups shredded parmesan

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, toasted in a 325 oven for 6-8 minutes until light golden
1 package arugula

Put your largest pot filled with water over high heat for the pasta. Wait 20 minutes after you get the eggplant going (should be boiling by now, of course) before salting with a handful of salt and adding the pasta. Cook for 6-7 minutes or JUST until al dente at which point you should be ready to strain and transfer to your eggplant mixture.

For the eggplant mixture, add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large, rimmed, nonstick skillet and put over medium heat (you may need to add another dash or so as it cooks - just keep an eye out to see if the bottom of the pan dries out too badly during cooking.) Once warm (give it 30 seconds or so), add the eggplant, salting well and seasoning with pepper. Cook, stirring every so often, for about 20 minutes (at this point you can add the pasta to the boiling water.) Continue sauteeing the eggplant, and season with a good grating of fresh nutmeg and a hefty pinch of red pepper flakes. The eggplant should be nice and tender after few more minutes at which point you can stir in the cream cheese, breaking it up with your fingers to help it melt in. Once smooth, add in the parmesan, killing the heat. Add in the drained pasta, along with a ladle or two of the pasta water to help create the sauce. Once blended, add in the arugula and pine nuts, tossing lightly. I like for the arugula to retain its punch and not wilt down too much, but it's just a personal preference. Taste for seasoning (I alway like a little more of the red pepper flakes) and serve.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sweet Cornbread Casserole

After being seduced by Food and Wine Magazine, I went out and bought another cookbook - Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights. Sophie Dahl is the granddaughter of my favorite childhood (and adult) writer - Roald Dahl. My mom must have read me every one of his books growing up and I plan to repeat this tradition if and when it applies. Anyway, if you like books you might recognize Sophie through her literary heritage and/or own literary career. Or if you like fashion, you might recognize her wide, doe like eyes and porcelain skin from magazines. Sophie was a model for several years, gracing the likes of Vogue and Elle in all of her 5' 11" voluptuousness. And even though she was applauded for her size, she still struggled behind the lens with comparisons to all those coat hangers she had to share the limelight with.

She documents some of this, hilariously, in her new cookbook. She also imparts a down to earth, common sense approach to cooking and eating healthfully. The recipes are simple, fresh, and light on meat. Shortly after reading it cover to cover, I vowed to give up evil, processed food and ingredients as much as possible.

I felt empowered. I felt healthier. And then PMS happened and brought along with it visions of cornbread. Worse than cornbread actually, cornbread casserole, which if you haven't had it is something you have to make this instant or at least put on your holiday buffet next year. And while, to be fair, I did add a secret ingredient that let me cut out half the butter with none the wiser (don't ask! don't tell! It's a....banana!!), this is still not something you want to make often if you like closing your jeans. It's a sugar bomb - a genius cross between a side dish and dessert - neither bread nor pudding but some ethereal mix of the two. It's truly heaven on earth. And it's lethal.

"Hello police? Please come right away - I've just killed another batch of cornbread casserole..."

Sweet Cornbread Casserole
* This casserole was made for the sweet/savory hedonistic festival we call a BBQ. Put it next to a big plate of ribs, coleslaw, and deviled eggs.
* You want to cook this until the whole dish has puffed and turned an even golden brown over the top, the edges just getting a little dark - usually about 50 minutes. Let it set up/cool for five minutes before cutting. It will be just a little soft and squishy on the inside but that's the beauty of it. Of course if this bothers you, cover the top and put back in the oven another 10 minutes until completely solid.

1 banana, well mashed
1/4 cup melted butter
good grating fresh nutmeg
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup light sour cream
1 (8 ounce) box Jiffy cornbread mix
1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (15 ounce) can creamed corn (not drained)

Preheat the oven to 350.

Grease a 9x9 ceramic or glass baking dish and set over a large rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.

In a large bowl, thoroughly mash a ripe (but not brown) banana with a fork or whisk until slightly pureed. Mix in the butter, nutmeg, sugar, salt and sour cream. Make a well in the center and pour in the jiffy mix. Stir just until blended, then add in the corn kernels (don't forget to drain) and the entire can of creamed corn (don't drain) just until smooth.

Pour into the greased baking dish and bake for 50-55 minutes, until puffed evenly all over, and golden brown. Let set up for 5 minutes before serving with a big spoon.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lime Chicken with Apple, Feta and Cucumber Salsa

Hi my darlings! Sorry for the brief pause in posting... I'm back and will update everyday this week. In the meantime, how about those Oscars???

Lime Chicken Marinade:
juice and zest of 1 lime
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon worchestershire sauce
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, smashed
fresh cracked pepper
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
3/4 teaspoon honey

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Combine the marinade ingredients and pour into a large ziploc. Add in the chicken breasts, smush around to make sure they're all well greased, close up the bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours but no more than 4, or the acid will make the chicken mushy. Remove 30 minutes before cooking to let come to room temp.

To cook, preheat oven to 350.

Using a paper towel, lightly grease a stovetop grill pan with peanut oil or vegetable oil. Put the pan over medium high heat for 2 minutes. In the meantime, remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry (they'll never become 'dry' at this point, but just do your best.) Season one side lightly with kosher salt and add to the grill pan lowering the heat to low/medium. Cook for 4 minutes or just until the first side has been branded with nice grill marks, then turn and cook another 3 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Remove, top with the salsa, and serve.

Apple, Feta and Cucumber Salsa

1 granny smith apple, chopped
1/2 cucumber, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded, deveined and finely chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded, deveined and chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
juice of 1/2 lime
handful of fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons crumpled feta
optional: 1 small avocado, minced

Mix the apple through the salt ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, then just before serving, mix in the feta and avocado.