Monday, August 30, 2010

Chimichurri Beef-less Tips & Zucchini Basil Pancakes

One of my favorite ways to use cilantro is to make a Chimichurri style sauce. There are many variations on this South American condiment, which traditionally showcases parsley. I happen to be very particular about it, and prefer to make it like the one at my favorite Cuban restaurant, Cafecito

Most cooks use parsley, and what I consider to be too much vinegar. I'm not sure how Cafecito makes their Chimichurri, but what makes my mouth water for it is the thick puree of cilantro. It's tangy, salty and garlicky, served alongside Churrasco char-grilled skirt steak and pickled onions.

My vegetarian husband has never known the joy of eating a charred piece of meat with this cilantro sauce. So I decided to give it a try with some Gardein beef-less tips, since they're the closest vegetarian thing to a steak. It wasn't as mind-blowing as the original inspiration, since there's no real seared texture, or fat element to contrast the vinegar. But it was tasty, and different. Variety is important for us.

For a side dish, I tried out a recipe for corn & basil cakes from Eating Well that I came across today. I switched out the corn and used bright yellow zucchini instead (which kind of looked like corn when it was chopped up). I only had about half the amount of filling called for in the recipe, so they were a little bland. We ended up piling the "meat" chunks and sauce on the cakes with a bit of lime juice. The best part was that I thought about pancakes in a different way. This could be a new and interesting addition to dinner, with any number of fillings. Like I said, variety is important!

Cilantro Chimichurri Sauce

Fresh cilantro (including stems), rinsed very well
Clove of Garlic, smashed
Olive Oil
White Wine Vinegar
Kosher Salt

In a food processor, pour olive oil & vinegar - start with a 2-1 ratio of oil to vinegar (ex. 2T oil, 1T vinegar). Add the whole garlic clove, 1/2C cilantro and a dash of salt.  
*Measurements are not exact, since the amounts depend on the size of the processor or chopper bowl. I use the small food chopper because it's easy to make a small amount of sauce.

Pulse a few times and scrape the leaves down from the sides and repeat. If the cilantro won't blend, add a little more oil and vinegar. The consistency should be fairly thick. Depending on thickness and taste add more oil, vinegar or salt. Pulse or blend until everything is incorporated, and you're happy with the flavor.

Gardein Beef-less Tips preparation:
Heat 1T Olive Oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the frozen tips and saute with salt, lots of pepper, red pepper flakes and adobo seasoning. 

After 4 minutes, add a couple teaspoons of vegetable stock or water to deglaze the pan. Continue to cook until heated through. 

Eating Well recipe for Corn & Basil Cakes
To substitute with zucchini:
Dice zucchini: cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/4"w strips. Cut across the several strips at once to create small pieces.

With a teaspoon of oil, saute zucchini over medium heat about 5 minutes. Half-way through, add a teaspoon of water to help the cooking along. Season with salt & pepper. Set aside, and substitute for corn in the cake batter.

*For Vegan: Substitute with rice milk.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I Made Tapenade. I Have No Bread. Now What?

Kalamata Tapenade
Two weeks ago, I bought pitted Kalamata olives. I had visions of creating sandwiches of sliced mozzarella, fresh basil, tomatoes and tapenade, and eating them for lunch at work. I also pictured myself hard-cooking some eggs to bring for breakfast, instead of paying 95 cents each for them at the deli. Oh, what dreams were these? I have yet to evolve beyond microwaveable containers of leftovers in the bag-lunch game.

I skipped Bikram yoga today. I had cocktail time while my husband slept on the couch after work. And then I decided to finally make that tapenade.

Usually tapenade gets spread all over some toasty sliced baguette. Now I do have some bread around, but not the kind you'd toast and spread with olives. I have various kinds of naan, sliced white and wheat, everything bagels, kaiser rolls, and waffles. Breakfast bread, lunch bread and dinner-scooping bread. But no appetizer - 6pm - happy - hour type bread. So I put it on crackers and tried to think of ways to make it more interesting. 
Tapenade and goat cheese on a cracker: creaminess balancing the salty and crunch.

 Thick cut tomato, topped with basil, tapenade and Parmigiano Reggiano: this one didn't work so well, the parm is too salty and firm, and there was no crunch.

 Cracker beneath basil, thin sliced tomato, tapenade and pine nuts: tomato and basil balance the salt and crunch, pine nuts add another element of crunch. Add goat cheese to this one and it's the winner.

Kalamata Olive Tapenade

3/4C Kalamata Olives, pitted
1/4C Olive Oil
1 T fresh Oregano leaves
1 clove garlic (about the same size as an olive)
1/8 tsp kosher salt (optional)
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes

Place all ingredients in a small food chopper, or the small bowl attachment of a regular food processor. Pulse a few times until garlic is fully chopped. It should look like a chunky paste.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Creamy Asiago Noodles

 Last week, I had one of those classic office-debates with the ladies: boxed vs. homemade mac & cheese. Funny enough, despite all my cooking skills, I can (very guiltily) admit that I prefer neon orange macaroni and cheese from a box. So does my husband. One thing the ladies could agree on in our little debate, is that mac & cheese preference has a lot to do with childhood experiences.

When I was young, I hated homemade mac & cheese. I actually didn't like many things at all. I think I survived for at least a year on bologna cold-cuts and buttered pasta elbows. I was one of those kids who assumed I didn't like most things, and wouldn't try them.  One bad mac & cheese tasting, and I turned my cheek on it forever for a powdered mix. I remember having dinner at a friend's house, when I was maybe 6 or 7 years old, and thinking how incredibly fancy it was that her mom threw chunks of hot dog in with the box mix mac. To me, this was the ideal mac & cheese.

Now older and wiser, I am a bit more open minded. I revisit old food enemies and try to mold them to my liking. I haven't perfected homemade mac & cheese, but the process has taught me how to make various kinds of creamy cheese sauce. Friday night, I decided to dress some egg noodles in cheese sauce to go with some chicken-apple sausages. On the plate together, they reminded me of the hot dog mac & cheese. So simple, yet just a little bit fancier than usual.

I used mild flavored Asiago and Parmigiano in the sauce, thinking it would pair well with the sausage. I threw in tomatoes for color and texture, but I think it would have been awesome with green apple chunks. Italian sausage or chicken meatballs probably would have gone better with this tomato-topped version. Anywho, it was pretty wonderful, and the leftovers made a nice lunch too!

Creamy Asiago Noodles
4 servings (as a side dish)
10-15 minutes

Broad Egg Noodles (about 2-3 C dry)
1 T Butter 
1 T Flour
1 C Milk
3/4 C Shredded Asiago
1/4 C Shredded Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Fresh whole Nutmeg, optional (do not substitute with ground nutmeg)
Salt, Pepper, Paprika
Chopped Tomatoes, lightly salted (or Green Apple)

1.  Bring water to a boil for egg noodles. Add egg noodles to boiling water and boil for 7-8 minutes.

2. In another saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Sprinkle in an equal amount of flour and stir until it dissolves together (to form a roux). 

3. Stir in (or whisk) milk and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently to avoid burning it down.

4. Add cheeses and stir frequently until melted, about 5 minutes. 

5. Take a fresh piece of nutmeg and grate it on a microplane into the pan. Just 3-5 times across the microplane should be plenty - maybe just 1/16 of a teaspoon at best.

6. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a small sprinkle of paprika. 

7. Drain the noodles and return them to their pot (no heat). Toss in the tomatoes and cheese sauce and mix together.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Adobo Lime Rubbed Chicken, Cayenne-Corn and Pea Mashed Potatoes

I'm not sure if I'm cooking out of loneliness or freedom. Either way, I looked forward to cooking myself a good old fashioned chicken dinner tonight. As I baked the chicken, the apartment smelled amazing - very comforting for my loneliness. I also busied myself cooking some simple, but fancy looking, sides. Being able to enjoy crispy chicken skin and juicy meat was freedom. No worries about protein values, sauce-making or fake meat today. Just a classic 3-piece dinner.

Overwhelmed by the freedom and choices ahead of me, I began to search for the perfect recipe for my freedom chicken. That lasted about 5 hungry minutes, and I decided to go the simple classic route and just toss on some seasoning and bake it. I thought about tying in some leftover black beans, which lead me to the jar of adobo seasoning. It's my favorite thing in my spice drawer - just simple, flavor-enhancing and easy to use. Since chicken and citrus marry well, and adobo and lime the same, I decided to give the breasts a good douse of lime juice.

I planned to try mashing the black beans with potatoes, but unfortunately as the potatoes boiled, I found the beans smelled pretty garbage-y and threw them out. I threw in some frozen peas instead, trying to avoid an all whitish-yellow dinner. I hate one color plates.

Fresh corn on the cob was on sale this week, but I'm getting sick of eating it straight from the cob. So messy. I cut it from the cob and sautéed it up with some sweet purple onion (again, for color). With my other two dishes mildly flavored, I seasoned the corn with cayenne for some kick.

The adobo and lime created a crispy skin on the chicken that was well worth the extra calories. I baked it over lime slices and fresh oregano, which gave the meat just a delicate hint of the flavors. The corn was crunchy and sweet with a that spicy kick complimenting the lime from the chicken. The mashed potatoes provided a flavor break in between, but were interesting with the peas popping in each bite. This really made up for my wierd pizza disaster last night. Unfortunately I have completely overeaten.
Adobo Lime Rubbed Chicken Breasts
4 servings, 45 minutes

4 Split Chicken Breast Halves with skin
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Adobo Seasoning powder
Black Pepper
2 Limes, sliced or wedged
8 whole sprigs (stems) of fresh Italian Oregano

1. Preheat oven to 425F and drizzle olive oil in a baking dish. 

2. Wash and pat dry each breast half. Place in baking dish, skin side up and drizzle with a little olive oil.

3. Sprinkle salt, a dusting of adobo and a few grinds of pepper over the chicken. Using your hands, rub the mixture into the chicken skin. Poke your fingers under the skin and gently loosen it from the chicken, but keeping it attached. Get the rub right in there up under the skin. 

4. Squeeze the lime wedges over the chicken and under the skin also. Place squeezed out slices under each breast, along with 2 whole sprigs of oregano under each.

5. Bake at 425F for about 40 minutes, checking as early as 30 minutes depending on the size of the breasts. Poke with a fork, and check that the juices are clear, not pink. Or, using a meat thermometer, check that the temperature deep in the fattest part is at least 165F.  

Cayenne Spiced Corn
4 servings, 10 minutes

Corn cut from 3 large cobs (about 2-1/2 to 3 Cups)
3/4 C Purple Onion, diced
1 T Olive Oil
1 tsp Unsalted Butter
1/2 C Vegetable or Chicken stock (or water)
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp Cayenne powder
1/8 tsp ground Coriander
Paprika for garnish

1.  Heat oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.

2. Add onions and cook 1 minute, stirring. Mix in corn, and then stock or water. 

3. Continue to stir and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, and then add seasonings and cook for another minute or two. Fresh corn will turn from pastel to bright yellow when it's cooked, but still crunchy. Remove from heat. 

4. Serve in small bowls or ramekins - this will keep the corn nice and hot. Add a dash of paprika to each serving.

Green Pea Mashed Potatoes
4 servings, 15 minutes

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (Russet or Yukon Gold will work)
1 C  Frozen Green Peas
1/4 C Lowfat Milk
Salt, Pepper and Butter to taste

1. Add potatoes to a pot of cold water and bring to a boil.

2. Cooking time depends on how small you cut the potatoes, 1-1/2" cubes cook in about 10-15 minutes. Check at 10 minutes boiling, by poking a fork or knife into the potatoes. If it goes in pretty easy, you're ready to add the peas.

3. Add 1 C of peas and boil for 3 more minutes. 

4. Empty the pot through a strainer and put everything back in the pot. Mash roughly with a potato masher and add milk, salt, pepper and butter.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Toasted Gnocchi with Eggplant, White Beans and Plum Tomatoes

Today my husband leaves for his vacation with the guys. Last night was his last chance to revel in the comforts of home-cooking before "Yo soy vegetariano, no carne por favor" becomes his mantra for the next few days. I felt like I should cook something hearty and delicious for dinner.

After making curry last week I had half of an eggplant to use, which I found keeps quite well if you cover the cut side tightly with tinfoil. I also have a big basket of mother-in-law's plum tomatoes that are about to become too ripe. So I threw both together, along with some white beans for protein, to create some kind of hearty stew-like sauce to top off some gnocchi. 

You may prefer to boil gnocchi, but I tried browning them in the pan this time. They get kind of toasty and crisp on the outside and firm and chewy on the inside. The stewed eggplant topping was deliciously sweet, salty and spicy - which went well on top of the buttery gnocchi. Fresh herbs are key for getting that clean, bright flavor throughout the sauce without overpowering the sweetness of the tomatoes.

Toasted Gnocchi with Eggplant, White Beans and Plum Tomatoes
4 servings
45 minutes

2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Large clove Garlic, crushed
1 C Purple Onion, diced
3 C Italian Eggplant, peeled, cubed and salted (about half a regular sized eggplant)
3 C (8 Small) Plum Tomatoes, cut into eighths
1 C Great Northern Beans (Half of a 15oz can) – rinsed and drained
1/2C Dry White Wine
1-1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
10 grinds Black Pepper
Crushed Red Pepper to taste (for flakes, start with ½ tsp and add)
1 T fresh Italian Oregano, finely chopped
1 T fresh Basil, finely chopped

1 - 17.6 oz pkg Potato Gnocchi (dry, vacuum sealed, such as Fornari Italia brand from Trader Joe's)
1 T Unsalted Butter
2 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 T fresh Basil, chiffonade
Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese – grated or shaved for topping
Black Pepper / Crushed Red Pepper to taste

1.    Prepare all the sauce ingredients, starting with the eggplant. Peel it and cut 1/2” cubes. Sprinkle with a little salt and let it rest until needed. Peel and mince the garlic, sprinkle with a little kosher salt and use the side of a chef’s knife to mash the salt and garlic together. This brings out the oils in the garlic.

2.    Place 2T oil, ½ tsp red pepper, and garlic in a deep skillet. Set heat to medium and cook for about 3-5 minutes, stirring. It should sizzle just a little bit, quietly. Keep the heat low enough so that the garlic does not brown.

3.    Add onions to the pan and continue to cook and stir over medium heat for another 5 minutes, again careful not to brown it.

4.    Add eggplant to the pan, cooking 5 minutes until it starts to soften. Mix in the tomatoes, beans and wine. Simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes.

5.    Prepare the gnocchi. Heat butter and oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the gnocchi and cook and stir until toasted on all sides. This takes about 5-8 minutes. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

6.    To season the sauce, sitr in the salt, black pepper, oregano and basil and cook another 5 minutes. Taste and add more red pepper or salt if needed. Make sure to cook the sauce until the flavor of the wine disappears. If it is too thin, or tastes at all bitter, cook a little longer.

7.    Take a quarter of the gnocchi for each serving, and pile on a generous amount of the chunky sauce. Top with the shredded basil and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Creamy Gardein Chick'n & Fakin' Bake

I just can't get rid of this stupid cold. It just keeps getting worse and worse. Somehow, I still have quite an appetite. Plus, since it feels like winter inside my body, I find myself wanting very rich, warm, comfort foods. One night, I tried to figure out what kind of food we could get delivered, but all of the good options are Asian. What I really wanted was a steak and french fries, but those don't really stand up to a 15 minute bike-ride while steaming in a tinfoil container.

We're kind of in a grocery dead-zone, so there's no place easy to run out to get something besides spaghetti-o's or a can of soup. So I decided to make due with things we have around that would take almost no effort to make into a hearty meal. 

There's a recipe in my family, not sure where it came from - probably a soup can, that involves chicken, cream of mushroom condensed soup, and bacon. Mushroom soup would have been better, but I only had a can of cream of celery on hand, that I usually use for green bean casserole. On the side I simply boiled fresh green beans and russet potato chunks. 

Creamy Chick'n & Fakin' Bake
2 servings, 20 minutes 
(40 minutes if you use real chicken)

1 package (4 fillets) Gardein Chick'n fillets 
OR: 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves -but you can use up to 4 breast halves per can of soup)

1 can Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup (or Cream of Celery)
1/2 C Lowfat Milk
Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder
4 Vegetarian Bacon Strips (or 4 real bacon strips, uncooked)

1. Preheat oven to 425F. 

2. In a shallow glass baking dish or casserole dish, mix condensed soup and milk together. Season with salt, pepper and about an 1/8 tsp of garlic powder.

3. If using Gardein chick'n: Nestle the 4 fillets into the soup, evenly spaced apart. Spoon a bit of sauce over each one.

If using real chicken: rinse and pat dry each breast. Place in pan on soup and sprinkle with a little salt, pepper and garlic powder to season. Spoon a bit of sauce over each breast.

4. Tear each strip of bacon in half and place the halves on each fillet or breast. Fake bacon is kept in the freezer, so just peel the strips from the frozen package and place directly on the chick'n. 

For real bacon, place uncooked strips directly onto the raw chicken.

5. Bake at 425F - 20 minutes, or until bacon crisps on the Gardein Chick'n. 

Real Chicken will take at least 40 minutes. Check if chicken is cooked - the best way is by using a meat thermometer, which should read 165-170F. But, you can always just cut into it and make sure it's not pink.

6. Serve with something to soak up the sauce, such as garlic bread, potatoes or egg noodles - and of course, a vegetable.

Monday, August 9, 2010

After Work Snack: Warm Guava Dip

I came home to relax after work today, but ended up in a cleaning frenzy. When the bathroom and wood floors were within acceptable form, the only thing left to do was reward myself with a snack. And then it was, that I had a snack epiphany.

Guava paste layered with cream cheese is a favorite snack I learned from my friend Mike, who learned it from a Cuban girl in Miami. I can never find the right crackers here, so we've been substituting with Trader Joe's Pita Bite Crackers. Unfortunately, the bag of crackers was beat to pieces. How the heck was I to spread cream cheese and cubes of sticky guava paste to little tiny cracker orphans? Divine inspiration hit me. Mash the toppings together to make a gooey dip that would stick to cracker shards!

After microwaving the guava and cheese to get it more workable, the dip looks a little like spicy tuna sushi. Yet, it's so creamy and sweet. I bet you could chill it and spread it on a bagel! I'm trying so hard not to eat it all before my husband comes home, because he's really going to like this one.

Warm Guava Dip

1. Place equal amounts of Guava Paste and cream cheese in a microwave safe bowl. 

2. Microwave for 15 seconds on high, or more for larger amounts. The cream cheese should be heated, but not melted. 

3. Mash together with a fork.

Get Better in a Curry - I Mean Hurry!

I don't know what's up with my immune system lately. My stomach has had good days and bad days over the past month, and now I'm stuck with a winter-style head cold. WTF?

Wednesday I went to Bikram yoga to work out the stomach issues. Thursday I was achy, and I thought it was from yoga. Or my lack of eating, due to said stomach ills. Friday I had a sore throat, and that totally didn't make sense - maybe the air conditioning? Nope. By Friday night I was all aches, and Saturday I woke up all spacey and stuffed up. Seriously, WTF!?

Saturday afternoon I pushed myself to Bikram class again, which really did help open my sinuses up. It was actually a pretty good class, possibly because I wasn't distracted by the usual wandering thoughts. There wasn't much room for thoughts in my head,  since my cold is eating my brain.

Last night, in further efforts to get well, and minimize time spent standing in the kitchen, I decided to throw a bunch of stuff in the slow cooker. I thought a spice-rich coconut curry might be just what we needed. The coconut, lime and mint make it refreshing for a hot day, and I had plenty of fresh summer vegetables to throw in. I'm feeling so much better today - and looking forward to lunching on my leftovers!

Curry ingredients actually have a boatload of health benefits:
-Turmeric: Healing & Antiseptic
-Coriander: Relieves Anxiety & Insomnia
-Black Pepper: Antibacterial & Antioxidant (to name only a couple benefits)
-Allspice: Relief of headaches and Digestive problems
-Chili Peppers: contain multiple Vitamins that boost the immune system
-Cumin: Boosts immune system, good for asthma
-Cinnamon: Antioxidant
-Onions: Antibacterial, among many other benefits
-Coconut: Kills influenza and other viruses and bacteria
-Cashews & Eggplant: both Antioxidants

Slow Cooker Coconut Eggplant Curry
(6-8 servings)
1 C Green Beans, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces
1 Large Carrot, peeled and sliced
1 Medium White or Yellow Onion, chopped
1 Small or 1/2 Large Italian Eggplant, cut into 1” cubes
2 C Vegetable Stock
1T to 2T Curry Powder
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
1/8 tsp Cayenne powder
1 Cinnamon stick

1 C Raw Cashews + more for serving
1 14oz can Coconut Milk
2 T fresh Lime Juice + wedges for serving
1 tsp fresh chopped Mint (spearmint) per serving

Brown Jasmine Rice, cooked following package directions (allow 1 hour for cooking)

1. Add first 10 ingredients to crock pot or slow cooker (do not preheat). Set to Low and leave for 4 hours. Stir occasionally to cook evenly.

2.  Soak 1C cashews in coconut milk while the vegetables cook.

3. After about 2 hours, remove the cinnamon stick so it does not overpower the flavor.
*By 4 hours, the eggplant should be broken down - this is OK - it will become part of the sauce.

4. After at least 4 hours cooking, puree the cashews and coconut milk in a blender. Remember to cook the rice.
*You may need to heat the coconut mixture gently to in the microwave if you've refrigerated it.

5. Add the cashew coconut milk to the cooker and mix together. Check seasoning and add more curry powder, salt or cayenne if needed. Add the cinnamon stick back in if desired.

6. Return the curry to a simmer by increasing the slow cooker temperature. This may take from 10 minute to 30 depending on the cooker. When the curry is heated through, add lime juice to taste.

7. Serve topped with chopped fresh mint, lime wedges, a pinch of cayenne if desired, and rice.

*I always add nuts to coconut curries - but I found a Tyler Florence recipe where he blended them in. I've been making cashew cream lately for vegan recipes, and thought this would be a great way to add protein and texture to this curry. It worked out great.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Win $50: "Picture of Health" Photo Contest

Want an extra 50 bucks in your pocket? Who doesn't?

I've been asked by to invite you to participate in their "Picture of Health" photo contest. The winning photos will be those that capture the ideas of living naturally, healthily and happily. This is open to interpretation, and could be anything from food photos to action shots or something more symbolic. The contest ends August 20th, when 50 pictures will be chosen to win $50 each.

I wouldn't just offer you, my loyal and talented friends, just any contest. Veria is no joke - it's actually a part of media superpower Zee TV / Asia TV USA (I know some of you are quite familiar with these channels). Chairman Subhash Chandra founded Veria as a means of sharing the concept of approaching health and happiness holistically.

--------------------------------------------------------------------- ‘Picture of Health’ Photo Contest
(Hit us with your best shot.)

Snap & send any photo that shows what it means to you to live naturally.
50 pix win 50 bucks!

Click here:
Enter to win!

P.S. You’re a regular at LibraLoves, so increase your chance to win by entering the code LIBRA in the promo field when you submit your photo!


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gardein Chicken Parmesan

Gardein chick'n filets have opened up a whole new world of meal possibilities in my household. They're neither chicken, nor filets, but the name certainly implies hundreds of uses for them.

For those of us who do eat meat, chicken is the go-to staple. I know many meat-eaters who've grown sick of chicken popping up too often on the menu, but none that dislike it. When in doubt, make chicken.

You can do anything with chicken, especially a filet.  It's neutral flavor graciously accepts any sauce. It's resiliency make it fit for any cooking method. It's easily preserved in it's left-over state for re-use. There have not been any good contenders for these roles in the vegetarian world.

I can't say that the Gardein chick'n filets have replaced chicken, or that they even taste just like chicken. But they do work in many of the same recipes, like no other meat-substitute will. 

Recently, my husband asked if we could have Gardein Chicken Piccata once per week. I was like, "Really? We're going to get very sick of it." But told me to remember that this is a whole new world of cuisine for him. But I insist on at least trying a few more classic Italian chicken recipes before I'll eat Piccata every week. This week he got to try Chicken Parmesan for the first time. It beats the heck out of a crumbly veggie meatball!

Gardein Chicken Parm
1. Dredge Gardein Chik'n Filets in flour, salt & pepper
2. Saute in olive oil
3. In a glass baking dish, place filets and top with marinara sauce, mozzarella and dried oregano.
4. Bake at 450F for 10-12 minutes until cheese bubbles.
5. Meanwhile, saute chopped Vidalia Onion and sliced garlic with olive oil. When cooked through, add at least 2 Cups of marinara sauce, and heat through.
6. Serve garnished with shredded parmesan and basil, along with cooked pasta topped with the onion sauce.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Summer Squash and Plum Tomato Gratin

A browned, cheesy, crumb-topped gratin is a great way to cook up summer vegetables. We have a basket of tomatoes we are still trying to utilize from the in-laws garden, but there's no room for more sauce in the freezer right now. I also had a bag full of sliced yellow zucchini I forgot to serve at last weekend's party. 

Tomato and zucchini gratin has been a huge hit for me at dinner parties, but it's actually easy enough to make quickly on a weeknight, as well. The key to a good zucchini gratin is a shallow layer of vegetables on a large sheet pan, and a properly preheated oven at 450F.

Tomato Zucchini Gratin
2 Small Yellow Zucchini (Summer Squash), sliced thin
6-8 Plum Tomatoes, sliced
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Garlic Powder
1 tsp Fresh Oregano, chopped (or 1/8 tsp dried)
1 T Fresh Basil, chopped (or 1/8 tsp dried)
1/4 - 1/3C Cheddar Cheese, shredded
2-3 T Panko or Italian Bread Crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 450F, and spray a sheet pan with non-stick spray.

2. Arrange zucchini and tomato slices in a single layer, alternating the slices. 

3. Drizzle lightly with oil and season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Toss herbs over the top.

4. Sprinkle with shredded cheese, not too heavily. Using a spoon, shake bread crumbs over the top.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until zucchini loses it's opacity, and bread crumbs start to brown. With an electric oven, turn the heat up to broil for the last 2 minutes. If using gas, and the pan fits under the broiler - don't turn heat up, but place the pan in the broiler for about 30 seconds to crisp the crumbs. (Do not put a glass pan in the broiler, only metal).

Monday, August 2, 2010

Party Food, Food Party!

 Vegetarian Cheesy Bacon Stuffed Jalapeños

I didn't leave the apartment all weekend, except to hit a matinee show at BAM on Sunday afternoon. I let the entertainment come to me, instead. We invited a bunch of people over, and almost all of them were game for a night in Brooklyn.

I basically planned to make a bunch of appetizer foods, some fun cocktails, and asked people to bring whatever. I figured we'd just order pizza if we needed to supplement the food supply. 

The Mango Caipirinhas were a hit, and we ended up with plenty of food. Everyone kind of showed up at once, buzzing through the kitchen assembling food and slicing pepperoni and cheeses before settling at the counter to snack. In the whirlwind of hello-kisses, refrigerator ice-maker lessons and plate-finding, I actually forgot to put out a few things I had prepared!

The night's conglomerated food menu ended up looking like this:
Cantaloupe with Prosciutto
Crackers, Cheeses, Pepperoni
Pita Crackers w/ Guava paste and Cream Cheese
Spinach and Strawberry Salad
Baked Chicken Wings
Baked Stuffed Jalapeños
Home-made Pizzelle cookies 

Steamed Dumplings
Crudités and Dressing
BBQ Gardein Skewers

... not really sure how my husband made it through, since I forgot most of the vegetarian stuff...

From the above the clear winners were the chicken wings and stuffed jalapeños. Both were brand new creations, and everyone was asking how I made them.

Jalapeõs, pre-breading stage

Vegetarian Cheesy Bacon Stuffed Jalapeños
4oz Fat Free Cream Cheese
1/2 C Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
4 strips Vegetarian Bacon (Morningstar farms)
10 Jalapeño peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs & seeds removed
1/2 C Panko bread crumbs

Heat oven to 450F.
1. Cook bacon strips according to package directions, until crispy. Chop or crumble into small pieces.

2. Bring cream cheese to room temperature, and mix together with jack cheese and bacon bits.

3. Using a spoon, fill each
jalapeño with cheese mixture. The filling should be about even with the cut edges.

4. Spread panko on a plate. Press each
jalapeño into the panko, cheese side down, to coat with crumbs.

5. Arrange (crumbs up) on a cooking sheet and place in 450F oven for 20-30 minutes. Remove when crumbs turn golden brown and the pepper
s start to wrinkle.

*This recipe was inspired by a post I found at Gonna Want Seconds blog. I love that these were simple to assemble, and baked instead of fried. I decided to use fat free cream cheese and vegetarian bacon, as well as add another layer of gooey spiciness with the jack cheese.

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Baked Wings
3lbs (about 28) Chicken Party Wings (Split Wings)
2T Canola oil
1T Baking Powder (please, please don't use Baking Soda by mistake!!)
1T Kosher Salt
2T Flour
1/2 tsp seasoning salt (or garlic powder)
Black Pepper

1. Rinse and pat dry the wings. Place in a a large bowl and drizzle with oil, tossing to coat.

2. In a small bowl, combine dry ingredients. Sprinkle half over the chicken and toss together by hand. Add a little flour mix at a time while tossing to coat evenly.

3. Place wings in a sealed plastic bag and refrigerate until ready to use. (Mine rested for about 5 hours).

4. Preheat oven to 450F.

5. Spray foil-lined baking sheets with nonstick spray, and arrange the chicken (skin-side up, if not completely skin-covered) in a single layer.

6. Place in middle of oven and bake for 30-45 minutes depending on size of wings. Larger wings or un-split wings may take an hour - be sure to check at 25 minutes and then every 10 minutes after. Wings are done when the meat is almost falling off the bone.

7. Serve plain or with your favorite hot sauce.

*This recipe was a combination of two Serious Eats recipes: "Really Good Oven-Fried Buffalo Wings" and "Baked 'Buffalo' Hot Wings". I first tried the Baked Buffalo wings a few months ago after reading the Serious Eats article that compared different methods of wing-baking.

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