Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce

I don't even like red peppers that much so I have no idea why I was craving them today (No - I am NOT pregnant!). Tonight I made a roasted red pepper cream sauce with shells. I would have preferred penne, but Jon is very particular about his pasta shapes so we had to compromise... For just experimenting, it was good, but could use a little more of a punch so next time I'd add more garlic and red pepper flakes, and maybe some more cayenne. This may also be good with broccoli rabe in it.

Here is what I started with:
- 2 store bought roasted red peppers, drained (got them on the olive bar, but prefer Jon's homemade roasted red peppers)
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 8 basil leaves from my herb garden
- dash of cayenne and red pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup half and half
- salt and pepper
- About 2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese
- 2 tablespoons butter

Then -
Chop the red peppers and cook in oil for with the garlic and chopped basil for 10 minutes.
Put in a blender and puree until you reach your desired consistency.
Return it to the pan and bring to a steady bubble.
Stir in the half and half and cheese; add salt and pepper to taste.
Once the cheese melts, add the butter and stir until melted.
Toss with pasta.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Spicy Cream Cheese Chicken

I found a recipe for Chicken with Cream Cheese Sauce on allrecipes about a year ago. I made it a few times, changed it up a bit, and we both really enjoy it. Tonight I was looking to do something like it, but spicier. This was inspired by my trip to the Mexican market where I picked up a few jalapenos and a dried poblano (next time I'll be picking up more spices - they had so many neat things there!).

1 package thin sliced chicken breasts
1/2 of a small can of chicken broth
1 jalapeno, chopped, keep the seeds
1/4 of a dried poblano, chopped, keep the seeds
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 can of low sodium chicken broth
1/3 of a block of cream cheese
Red pepper flakes, about 1/2 tsp
Chili powder, about 1 tsp

Cook chicken about halfway in a pan with olive oil. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, chili powder, peppers (including all seeds), and broth. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 10 min (longer for thicker chicken breasts) until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken to a covered dish and set aside. Add the softened cream cheese to the broth. Whisk while on high heat until all lumps are gone. Turn heat to low and let it simmer for a few minutes. Pour most of the sauce over the chicken. The rest of the sauce is great over rice!!

It was good, but we love spicy things and could have taken it a little spicier. This one goes on the "make again" list.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Asparagus Risotto and Shrimp

After going to see my dad in the Memorial Day Parade, it was a good day for getting things done around the yard and in the house. That included grocery shopping and cooking. Jon was in the mood for shrimp tonight, and since I won't touch the stuff, I decided to make risotto to go along with it.

I made the same risotto that I made the other night with just a few additions:

- I roasted bite sized pieces of asparagus tossed in olive oil for about 12 minutes on 400 degrees, and added them to the risotto at the end.
- I also roasted a bulb of garlic this afternoon, chopped up every clove, and added it to the risotto about 3-4 minutes before it was done.

Jon makes the most delicious looking shrimp - I wish I ate it! They smelled great and looked beautiful. The best part is that he sings while he's cooking it!! Sometimes it is "shrimpy shrimp shrimp shrimp" and other times it is "Cockroach of the sea" in a very deep voice. He cracks me up.

He took 3/4 of a pound of 26-30 count clean, raw shrimp and sauteed them in a pan with olive oil, 3 cloves crushed garlic, oregano, coriander, dried basil, freshly ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes. They only took about 4 minutes to cook, and at the end he added some dried parsley. Look how beautiful they are!!

I also made some fresh tomato bruschetta (bruschetta is actually a bread with a topping - a lot of people call the tomato mixture bruschetta, but that is not correct). I took 3 vine ripened tomatoes, about 1/4 of a small onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, 5 leaves of fresh basil from my herb garden, about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and mixed them all together. When we were ready to eat, I toasted 6 slices of toasted baguette rubbed with garlic in the oven for just a few minutes. So good and fresh!!!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy Hour!!

Is it really Memorial Day weekend already? I don't know where the time goes anymore. I wish everyone a great weekend to kick off your summer. And don't forget to thank a Vet!

Thank you, Dad.

To kick off our weekend, we had a few friends over for drinks. I was so excited to have the opportunity to try a few new appetizers. I made chicken skewers with a cilantro cream dipping sauce and tortilla pinwheels. Jon is the master of marinades and he created a new one for the chicken. He's so creative with combining different flavors - things I wouldn't even think of. I'm not sure how much of each item he used, but it was enough for 3 pounds of boneless chicken breast strips.
He combined the juice of two limes, some cumin, a bunch of chili powder, white pepper, black pepper, a tiny bit of Tabasco, some cayenne pepper, a few cloves of garlic, a bit of soy sauce, and a few splashes of Johnny Walker Red (gotta save the JW Black, Blue, and Gold for drinking :) I can't even describe how good it smelled when he was putting it together. And adding the JW at the end was the missing ingredient that completed it! Here are the skewers:

For the dipping sauce, I combined about 2 hand fulls of fresh chopped cilantro with 1 container of sour cream. Easy, refreshing, and the perfect dipping sauce to balance out the heat and spice of the chicken.

Tortilla Pinwheels - these were also really easy and looked very festive. I took 2 packages of softened cream cheese and mixed them with 1 package of dry ranch dressing mix and about 2 tablespoons of salsa. I spread a thin layer of the mixture onto a tortilla shell, topped it with some tiny pieces of chopped red pepper, green pepper, and celery. Roll it up and refrigerate overnight. I was able to make 6 tortillas with these ingredients. Just before serving, I sliced them into 1 inch pieces. How pretty are they? They tasted great too. I think for a winter appetizer I'd make these with rolled out crescent rolls and bake. Yum.

I also made a signature drink. Well, sort of. Strawberry Daiquiri Popsicles!!

- 1/2 cup triple sec
- 1/4 cup rum (I used a little more) ** Use tequila if you want strawberry margarita pops.
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup lime juice
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 pint of strawberries, quartered
You'll also need 8 ice-pop molds.

To prep your popsicle, put one piece of strawberry on the end of each popsicle stick. Then blend all ingredients, except the leftover strawberries, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strawberries and blend. Pour the drink into the molds and freeze overnight. You end up with a sweet adult popsicle with a drunken strawberry surprise in the middle. You could get really drunk on too many of these!
Now we're headed to Atlantic City for the night. Hope everyone has a good one!

Homemade Take-Out

We are convinced that there aren't any good Chinese restaurants in this area. We've tried at least 5 and none have impressed us. I wish we could order from The Lotus, our favorite Chinese spot outside Portland, Maine, but I doubt they'd deliver 400 miles away!

My solution to this dilemma? Make it myself, of course! Tonight was Beef with Broccoli over rice. It's so easy and tastes pretty authentic, but without the MSG. I've also made vegetable lo mein, pepper steak over rice, various stir fry dishes, and even homemade dumplings (I need more practice to perfect the dumplings!).

Here is my Beef with Broccoli recipe:

- 1 pound of steak sliced into strips (I buy the steak that is already sliced into "stir-fry" strips)
- 1 large head of broccoli, chopped into florets
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 small onion chopped
- 1 package dry gravy mix, mixed with 1 cup of water
- soy sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- red pepper flakes

How to:
- A few hours before cooking, marinate your steak in some soy sauce and Worcestershire
- Cook steak halfway through in a large saute pan; drain off just a little of the excess fat
- Add garlic (minced), onion, red pepper flakes, and a little more soy sauce (the amounts are totally up to you - I don't measure what I do, I just throw it in until it smells and tastes good!)
- Add broccoli. Cover and let cook about 3-4 minutes.
- Add gravy. Cover, lower heat, and let simmer for 10 minutes or so. The sauce will thicken.
- Serve over rice

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Food, Wine, and Friends

So by now I think it's obvious that I love cooking - I love experimenting with new things and tasting my creations. But my absolute favorite thing about cooking is being able to share all of that with others.

Last night, my good friend Beth came over for wine, risotto, American Idol, and LOST - doesn't that sound like the perfect evening? We were talking and cannot believe that we have known each other for over 10 years! She reminisces about our food quirks and experiences in her blog, and my favorite still has to be the story from Denver. That was my first trip with Beth, only my second for the company, and is definitely the one I'll never forget. I learned so much that week - most importantly that the buckles on your luggage can also be used to open beer bottles in a pinch!

Ok, back to the food. Beth and I both love risotto and keep talking about going to Risotteria in NYC, but for tonight my homemade risotto would have to do. I made my garlic-parmesan risotto with black truffle oil, but I am determined to one day buy a real black truffle and shave it on top of the risotto!

- 1 shallot, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons of butter or 2 tbsp olive oil or 1 tbsp each
- 4-5 cups of chicken broth (vegetable broth for vegetarians)
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup arborio rice
- freshly grated parmesan cheese
- freshly chopped parsley (about 3 tbsp)
- black truffle oil (optional)

Cooking risotto requires constant attention and stirring.
- To start, heat your chicken broth in a large pot. Keep warm
- Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and saute
- Add the rice and toss to coat
- Add the white wine and stir until all of the liquid is absorbed
- Add the chicken broth (1 ladle) and stir until all of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this until you have used almost all of the broth - it should take about 17-25 minutes.
- When you add the last ladle of broth, also add the parsley, but only let the broth absorb halfway and then add your cheeses. Optional: Top with 1-2 tablespoons of black truffle oil.

That last step is something I've played with and is my key to a creamier risotto. Also, I love drinking the wine that I used in the risotto. Last night it was a bottle of Clos du Bois Chardonnay.

We were so caught up in the food and wine and the fact that American Idol was starting that I forgot to take a picture, so the picture I posted is of leftovers. You can be sure that I'll be heating them up for lunch soon!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Take me back to Cabo...

Jon and I spent a few days in Cabo back in February, and of course one of our favorite things to do, besides drinking cerveza, was to eat the local food. Forget the Americanized, fancier restaurants. We'd rather go into town and venture off the beaten path in search of the best little shacks or dive bars. The food is cheap and authentic, the locals love talking to you, and of course the beers are always buy two, get two. In Cabo, we found a few great spots, and we always find ourselves dreaming of them whenever we're craving Mexican food.

I haven't tried to recreate the tortilla soup from the Love Shack yet (I will someday), but I think I have mastered the fresh, chunky salsa. I finally figured out the right mix of heat from the jalapenos, sweetness from the tomatoes and onions, and flavor from the cilantro.

I just made a batch this morning that might be my best yet. All it took was 9 very ripe, vine ripened tomatoes, 2 jalapenos, 1/2 red onion, a handful of fresh cilantro, and a bunch of salt (I never measure - I go on taste).

You don't want to use any of the tomato seeds or juice, so chop off all four sides and the bottom so you end up with the tomato in this picture. Then, be sure to remove any seeds.

It's time consuming to chop every ingredient into tiny pieces, but the end result is sooo worth it.

The Sol is in the fridge, the limes are cut, and as Jon likes to say, the flavors in the salsa are getting to know each other. In just a few hours I think we'll both be sitting on our deck enjoying some salsa and cerveza while remembering Cabo.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Dinner Out

We don't usually cook on Saturday nights, so tonight we decided to go to a local restaurant in Doylestown, The Freight House. We wanted to go to Earl's but couldn't get reservations at such short notice.

The Freight House is the old train station which was turned into a restaurant several years ago. It feels like a city restaurant in the middle of our little town - funky lighting, red leather seating, creative martinis, a great bar with trendy music, and $$$ paintings for sale by local artists. The food is usually good, and tonight was probably one of the better meals we've had there (it's still nowhere near Earl's though!).

We started out with a glass of Malbec at the bar while watching the Preakness. I don't follow horse racing at all, but it was still exciting to watch the minute-long race while everyone in the bar screamed and clapped, while other groaned and bitched about their bets gone bad.

I started with the puree of asparagus with porcini mushroom foam. It was very smooth, and not too creamy like most pureed soups I've had. The foam added a sweet flavor on top of the salty asparagus puree. I really want to find a recipe like this to try, and I'm still trying to figure out how they make the foam. If anyone reading this has a recipe or knows the technique, please share!

We both had different salads - Jon had the wedge salad and I had the spring greens. Jon said while his salad was good, the dressing tasted a bit like the special sauce on a Big Mac!!! This left us agreeing that Earl's wedge salad is still the best we have had. Then we both had the 8 oz filet with baby vegetables and Yukon gold mashed potatoes. My Bearnaise sauce was amazing, and the horseradish cream sauce that Jon chose was sweet with a spicy kick at the end. The steak was good, but it's still not Earl's! I think we are spoiled from eating at Earl's. Nothing has come close, not even the steak Jon had at Ruth's Chris a few weeks ago.

If anyone is in the area, we'd definitely recommend The Freight House for a good meal in a cool atmosphere. But if you are looking for a GREAT meal, try Earl's.

Tortellini and Spinach with an Asiago Cream Sauce

On Fridays Jon and I don't even have to discuss our plans for that evening - it's just assumed that by 4:30 or 5:00 PM on Friday we'll both be sitting on bar stools at either Jumpin Jacks, The Gardenville Hotel, The Country Tavern, or another "townie" bar in Doylestown or New Hope. It's also our ritual to pick up a pizza on our ride home, but we weren't in the mood for that last night. Instead, I decided to look through what we had in the house and whip something up.

I pulled a few things out of the fridge and pantry -

frozen tortellini
white wine
a few cloves of garlic and a small yellow onion
salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes
fresh spinach
Cheeses - Asiago and Pecorino-Romano
milk and butter

While Jon took a quick (beer-induced?) nap, I made what turned out to be a really good pasta dish!! Even better, the total cooking time, including time to boil that water, was only 25 minutes.

- Cook tortellini
- In the meantime, melt butter (about 2 tbs) in a pan. Add garlic (3 cloves minced) and 1 sm chopped onion. Saute.
- Add 1 tbs flour, stir
- Add dash of white wine, stir
- Add about 1 c of milk (or cream) and spices (salt, pepper, red pepper flakes). Bring to a steady simmer
- Add shredded cheeses (about 1 c total, mostly Asiago) and stir.
- Add 1/2 bag of fresh spinach and the tortellini. Stir until everything is coated and the spinach slightly wilts.

Now that I've made this cream sauce, I'm looking forward to trying it with different pasta shapes, more veggies, and even some chicken.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Not Your Ordinary Mac-n-Cheese

Cheese - my favorite food in the world. Cheese makes everything better! I love cooking with it, eating it plain, melting it over chips, or experimenting with tasting different cheeses with good wine. I love how the flavors change after taking taking a sip of wine - and I love how the wine feels and tastes after the cheese.

I've been buying and trying different types of cheese lately and decided to mix them all together tonight in a fancier version of my homemade mac-n-cheese. Fresh Gruyere, pecorino-romano, Parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, and asiago along with some black truffle oil took this usually ordinary dish to another level.

Here is what I used -
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, minced (I'll use 2 cloves next time)
- 3 tsp butter
- 1 cup of milk
- 8 oz elbow noodles
- 1 tsp flour
- About ½ c each of shredded cheeses: Gruyere, asiago, pecorino-romano, cheddar, Parmesan
- ½ c breadcrumbs. I mixed Italian breadcrumbs with some plain. It would be good with Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs, too
- A few dashes each of salt, freshly ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes
- Black truffle oil

While cooking the macaroni, I melted the butter in pan and then added the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes. I added some flour and stirred to make a roux, and then added the milk and just a touch of cream. After it started to bubble, I added the cheeses, reserving just a little bit for a topping. The salt and pepper went in and then I added the cooked noodles. Once in the baking dish, I topped it with the rest of the cheese and the breadcrumbs. Here is the best part... I drizzled the top with some black truffle oil. It baked covered on 400 for about 15 min, and then I uncovered it and turned on the broiler for just a minute.

Heavenly! The cheeses blended together perfectly, and the black truffle oil gave it a nice, earthy flavor. This turned out to be a very "grown-up" mac-n-cheese. I think I need to treat myself to seconds tonight!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dinner for One

I love to cook with fresh tomatoes whenever Jon isn't going to be home for dinner. Jon hates tomatoes and they are one of my favorite things to eat!

Once again I was in the mood to throw my recipes aside and create something new. Today my inspiration came from the miniature fresh mozzarella balls I bought today. They are tiny, like little pearls.

I cooked some pasta. In the meantime, I sauteed 2 cloves of garlic in oil, added a few shakes of red pepper flakes, and then added a splash of white wine (specifically, RH Phillips Toasted Head Chardonnay). I let that simmer for a few minutes and then added a little less than 1/2 of a can of chicken broth (vegetable broth for vegetarians). After a few minutes I added 1 chopped vine-ripened tomato and let that simmer on low. When the pasta was done, I added it to my tomato-broth mixture and threw in 2 handfuls of fresh baby spinach. As the spinach started to slightly wilt, I finished the dish off with a tiny bit of dried parsley and dried basil, some freshly grated pecorino-romano cheese, a tiny bit of salt, and topped it with capers and the mini mozzarella balls.

For such a simple and quick meal, the results were incredible. There were so many different flavors, yet they all blended very well. This dish was a really nice, light, fresh pasta dish for a warm evening!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Getting Creative with Chicken

For dinner tonight, I wanted to make chicken, but didn't feel like making any of our usuals. Since I'm feeling creative today, I decided to make my own recipe. I started throwing things together and created a recipe that is definitely going on my list of things to make again! This one got an enthusiastic "good job, dear" from Jon (that's a very good review :)

I did have a little cooking disaster in the process... We just opened a new jar of red pepper flakes. The jar we just finished had a twist off cap, so I'm used to just twisting off the cap and adding a few shakes through the holes in the bottle. However our new jar has a pop-top, not a twist off. I wasn't thinking and twisted off the top and started to shake when I realized that I dumped about 1/2 of the container of flakes into my sauce! I was able to get a lot of them out, but this dish was still super spicy! Luckily we like it spicy, but next time I'll only add about a half-teaspoon of flakes!

Creamy Tomato Chicken

4 thin sliced chicken breasts
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp flour
½ c chicken broth
¼ c light or heavy cream
1 oz cream cheese
4 oz tomato sauce (canned is fine)
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp oregano
1 tsp butter
½ c parmesan cheese
1 tsp capers

1. Melt butter in a pan; add chicken and cook until just done; move chicken to a baking dish and cover (keep drippings in the pan)
2. Add flour to the pan and stir until pasty
3. Add chicken broth and red pepper flakes, and minced garlic, simmer 1 min
4. Add cream cheese, cream, tomato sauce, most of the parmesan cheese, and oregano
5. Cook over medium-high heat until thick and bubbly, stirring almost constantly
6. Pour sauce over the chicken; top with capers and the rest of the parmesan cheese
7. Bake on 400 degrees for 10-15 min

May 13, 2007 - New Salad Creation

What I love most about cooking is throwing things together, experimenting with flavors, and tasting what I've created (and of course seeing Jon's reaction!).

Today we went to my parents' house for lunch - burgers on the BBQ. I offered to bring a salad, and wanted to make something different from my usual pasta or potato salad - something light and summery and with lots of veggies. I looked at a few cous cous recipes and made one of my own, which I guess I'll call Cous Cous Vegetable Salad (creative, huh?). Here is the recipe:

1 box cous cous
1 zucchini
2 vine ripened tomatoes
3 green onions
1 handful chopped fresh parsley
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
salt, pepper, garlic powder

1. Cook cous cous according to package directions; move to a large mixing bowl and add olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder (to taste)
2. Chop zucchini, green onions and tomatoes into small pieces. Add to cous cous and toss.
3. Add parsley. Adjust oil and spices if needed
4. Let chill 4 hours before serving

It was really good, but I think I'll make some changes next time - more olive oil, fresh basil, chic peas, and some garlic would complete this salad. Jon wasn't crazy about it, but he's not a cous cous fan. My mom, dad, and sister all loved it, but agreed that more olive oil would make it a lot better.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

My first post

Over the past year or so, I've been trying to make at least one new dish every week. Due to my work situation, I've been able to do more than that and am having so much fun. When Jon isn't on the road for work, I plan a full week of meals and enjoy every minute of preparing them. Some are amazing, some are good, and there have definitely been some disasters. Jon has been so good about trying everything I make, and of course he's very honest with his opinions!

I'm looking forward to sharing what I've tried, what works and what doesn't, what I've learned, my cooking tips, and hope to inspire other cooks out there!

Happy Cooking!