Friday, September 30, 2011

Lemon and Sundried Tomato Chicken w/ Goat Cheese

Last weekend one of my long time friends got married!  I've known her since she was in 6th or 7th grade (same as my younger brother).  It was surreal watching her walk down the aisle to marry the man of her dreams and celebrate their little family coming together (they have the most beautiful 10 month old daughter!) 

Last February when I was babysitting for them, I happened to come across their menu. I couldn't stop myself from reading through it.  Immediately I knew it was from a pick and choose menu, but the selection sounded really good so I didn't jump to any conclusions.  And I am glad I didn't judge, because the food was seriously delicious!  They used A Dream Come True.  The menu selection is a little overwhelming, but they have some unique offerings in addition to the classic prime rib stand-bys (in every price range!).  If all of their food is as great as last Saturday, I would not hesitate suggesting you use them.

In addition to the fabulous dessert display (which my dad could have devoured by himself), the stand out dish was the "Lemon Dream Chicken".  Perfectly portioned airline breasts in a creamy lemon sauce with sundried tomatoes and goat cheese.  The only thing I wasn't crazy about was that the skin was left on and it hadn't been crisped, so it was rubbery and soggy.  I seemed to be the only person bothered by it though.  I had to recreate this dish, and my result was just as delicious (and probably less fattening.)  I'm telling you this sauce is amazing over the chicken, over vegetables, on a spoon....
w/ Basil Quinoa and Squash Baked in Tomato Sauce

Lemon and Sundried Tomato Chicken w/ Goat Cheese
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
1 C low sodium chicken broth
1/2 C low fat milk
1/4 C chopped sundried tomatoes in oil (+ 1 tsp of the oil)
2 Tbsp low fat cream cheese
1 tsp lemon zest + juice of one lemon
3 oz goat cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper

   Roast chicken that has been liberally salt and peppered at 375 deg F for 20 minutes.
   Melt butter with tomato oil in a sauce pan over med heat.  Whisk in flour so it is smooth. 
   Combine broth, milk, and lemon juice (it is best if it is room temp.)  Whisk liquid slowly into pot so there are no lumps and lemon juice does not curdle the milk.  Whisk in cream cheese.  Add sun dried tomatoes and lemon zest.  (It shouldn't need any salt, but adjust seasoning to taste.)
   Pull chicken out of oven and remove skin.  Spread a little bit of the sauce on chicken.  Return to 375 deg F oven for 15-20 minutes until chicken in cooked through.
   Serve chicken on the bone or slice off the bone.  Spoon more sauce over and top with goat cheese.
   Serves 4.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Clay Pit

I have an Indian restaurant near me again!  Maybe a little too near.  It is only about 3 minutes from house.  I've been getting food from the Clay Pit for years (when I lived in Murfreesboro before,) but I was a good, solid 10 minutes away so that prevented me from overdosing on vindaloo.  In the last month and half I think we've gotten food from there three times.  That is rather unheard of for us (unless we are talking about Blue Coast Burrito).

I should probably explain why we always get take out from the Clay Pit and don't actually dine-in.  The place is clean but with the old tables, old chairs, and odd red tube lighting gives the impression that everything is coated is a thin film of grease.  (NOT true though!)  It is the red lighting that really gets me.  At night, it casts a rather off-putting hue over the dining room.  Also, we don't often treat ourselves to take out and it is so close, so why not relax at home with a delicious curry?

Let's start with my absolute favorite dish on the menu:  chicken vindaloo.  This is the best vindaloo I've had.  It is the perfect balance of spice, acidity, and tomato-y sweetness with tender chunks of meat.
The samosa chaat is probably the hubs' favorite thing.  It is the traditional Indian savory pastry filled with spiced potatoes and sweet green peas smothered in a spicy chick pea sauce and cool yogurt.
The last time, we tried the alu palak.  The potatoes are simmered in a mild, smooth, spinach sauce.  From what I can tell, palak is essentially the same as saag (saagwala).  The differences are minor regional variations in technique and spices.  (If someone knows better than me, I would love to know!)

And don't forget the naan.  The garlic naan is fantastic!  Soft, chewy, slightly crusty from the tandoori.  Oh, did I mention that The Clay Pit uses authentic tandoori ovens?  Smack in the middle of the open kitchen.  Seeing those and the aromatic smell of cumin and garlic lingering in the air, I knew the food was going to be delicious the first time I set foot in the place.

1813 Memorial Blvd.
Murfreesboro, TN 37129
(Buffet-Dine in-Carry out-Catering)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday Redirection

As you know, I've been working on a collaborative project called Save the Artist for the last few months.  Things are really taking steam over there!  We are about to kick off with a bunch of fun stuff for fall.  Wednesdays here will probably redirect you to my latest post for STA.  Seeing as I am babysitting a very alert and rambunctious little 10 month old girl right now, it seems appropriate to begin this redirection today!


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Garlic Spinach Mashed Potatoes

I don't know about you, but I love spinach mixed up in mashed potatoes.  You've probably seen Rachael Ray slinging the two together.  There is a reason she keeps including the combo into her menus.  It seriously is delicious.  Also, it is a great (and easy) way to include more dark greens into you diet.  Or if you have a picky eater at the table, they will be hard pressed to say no to these, especially if you throw a little cheese into them.  I know only one person who doesn't love mashed potatoes and that is because she is weird.

And it may seem strange to mix in fresh basil to mashed potatoes, but that herby hint of flavor is so good.  You don't have to do it.  I do suggest you give it a try, though.

Garlic Spinach Mashed Potatoes
4 med potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs)
2 med cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
5 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and most of water squeezed out
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil (optional)
1/4-1/3 C milk
1 Tbsp butter or extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

   Cut potatoes into large chunks.  (Leave skin on or peel it off, whatever you like.  I leave it on.)  Cover with water in a large pot, add the garlic,  and liberally salt.  Bring to a boil.  Boil for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are tender.  Drain off water.  Return to pot (with garlic cloves.)
   Add butter (or oil), some milk and the spinach.  Mash with a potato masher to desired texture adding more milk if needed.  Fold in herbs.  Salt and pepper to taste.
   Serves 4.
Perfect with pork and zucchini  


Monday, September 26, 2011

Lemon Oregano Pork and Zucchini

I can't fully explain how much I love this cooler weather!  In my opinion, it is perfect grilling weather.  Alright, I think most weather is grilling weather, but this is the best.  You don't dread the extra heat billowing from the grill.  You can just sit outside and relax while your dinner cooks.

Last week we threw together this rub for some pork and zucchini with things we had lying around.  It was delicious on both.  Likewise, it would be great on poultry, meaty seafood like halibut or shrimp, mushrooms... really, just about anything.  I love when a seasoning blend is so versatile.

Lemon Oregano Rub
3/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp rosemary
1/4 tsp pepper

   Combine ingredients.
   Serves 4.  Enough for 4 3/4-inch pork loin chops (a medium sized piece of meat, ~6 oz) or 4 large zucchini.
   Lightly rub whatever you are cooking with oil then spread rub on both sides.  Cook as desired.  Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon (2008)

My friend got me a bottle of Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon as a house warming gift.  I had never heard of the winery before.  No surprise considering the liquor stores I've lived near lately are stocked to the brim with Alice White and Arbor Mist.  My normal go-tos are Yellowtail and Barefoot, so when I took the first sip of this, I was taken aback. 

It is a beautiful, rich, complex red perfect for the cooling nights we've been experiencing lately.  It starts with a fruity, peppery sharpness that is welcoming, not overwhelming.  And it has an incredibly smooth, buttery, earthy finish.

"With aromas of dark cherry, vanilla, mocha, and earthy elements of mineral,
this wine delights with delicious flavors of vibrant, red berry pie, caramel
and fresh boysenberry. Lingering sweet oak adds excellent depth."
~Vineyard's description

Unless you have a lot of money to spend on wine, this is unfortunately not practical as an every day wine.  The good news is that it is not going to set you back too much or break the bank if you decide to purchase a bottle as a gift or for a special occasion.  For the "Classic Wines" produced by Ferrari-Carano you can expect to pay between $15-$30.  The reds are characteristically more expensive than the whites.  Ferrari-Carano is a California based winery, so that keeps the price down a bit.  A French wine of this caliber would probably be about $45-$50.
(By the way, don't you love my wine glasses?  They are hand blown/formed blue and clear glass.)

Browse the website for more info an varieties and amazing gift baskets.  They also produce their own estate olive oil!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eggplant and Sweet Potato Korma

My little brother went through a vegetarian phase a while ago.  He stuck with it for almost 3 years which is surprising because he loves steak and bread and even to this day is not terribly keen on veg.  He lived off soy patties and carbs.  Trying to temp with delicious green things, we picked up vegetarian cookbook that incorporates a lot of dairy and eggs into the dishes.  Its just a simple book, one of those that is displayed between the set of doors when you enter a bookstore and habitually marked 30% off, but it is a really fantastic book.  I've gotten so many ideas for sides, simple lunches, and dinners from it. 

I adapted this recipe from the korma recipe in the book.  I couldn't find garam masala in NC, so I used what I had which, oddly enough, is whole spices.  But the flavor from the whole spices is amazing!  I used different vegetables and I made my version a lot less fattening.  It is fragrant, hearty, rich, and healthy (my version at least.)  So wonderful for a chilly night.
Eggplant and Sweet Potato Korma
1 onion, sliced
2 Tbsp ginger-garlic paste*
2 Tbsp butter
2 tsp oil
6 cardamom pods (1 tsp ground)
1 3-inch cinnamon stick (1/2 tsp ground)
1 star anise
1 lrg bay leaf
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
 3/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red pepper flake (optional)

1-1 1/2 C water
2 lrg sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (3/4 inch pieces)
1 med eggplant, cubed (3/4 inch pieces)
1 14-oz can chick peas, drained
1 1/2 C frozen green peas (thawed)
1/2 C low fat yogurt
1/4 C cream
Salt and pepper
chopped cashews and cilantro

   Heat butter and oil over med heat in a large skillet.  Saute onion until tender, 5-7 minutes.  Add ginger-garlic paste and all spices.  (*Ginger garlic paste is available in Indian markets; it is just equal parts of the two ingredients.  Convenient, but you can use 1 Tbsp of each and it tastes the same.)
   Add 1 C water and sweet potatoes.  Salt and pepper potatoes  Cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked about half through.
   Add eggplant and chick peas.  Salt and pepper the eggplant.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
   Check eggplant after about 5 minutes, if it has absorbed a lot of the water or it has just evaporated, add another 1/2 C.
   When potatoes are fork tender and eggplant is cooked, add green peas, yogurt and cream.  Heat peas through.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
   Serve with rice and top with chopped cashews and cilantro.
   Serves 4. (main dish portions)

Vegans:  Considering that the yogurt and cream are added in at the very end just to make the sauce rich and creamy, I see no reason why you couldn't use soy or rice products instead of dairy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spinach Goat Cheese Tartletes

Last weekend was my best friend's birthday party.  We can't have an un-themed party and her themes always seem to be the best.  Past themes have included white trash and pimps 'n' hoes.  This year was cartoon themed.  The hubs and I were Dr. Benton Quest and Hadji.  I was so proud of his commitment; he shaved his beard into that quintessential Quest facial hair.  Food somehow became difficult so most of it ended up being kid-oriented.  I made meatballs (a la Meatwad.  ATHF, anyone?) and obviously I had to do something with spinach.  It is probably the most classic cartoon food there is.  I do spanikopita a lot, it is one of my go-to party foods, so I wanted to do something different.  These tartletes ended up being so incredibly easy because I didn't bother with a homemade pie crust.  (And they disappeared really fast, before most people arrived.)  Make these for your next party, seriously.
Spinach and Goat Cheese Tartletes
1 pkg refrigerated pie crusts (2 9-inch)
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz goat cheese, softened
2 oz cream cheese, softened
10 oz frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
2 lrg eggs
1/2 C shredded parmesan
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt (~1/2 tsp) and pepper (~1/4 tsp)
cooking spray

   Heat about 2 tsp of the oil over med/med-lo heat.  Saute onions until soft and very lightly golden, 7-8 minutes.  Quickly saute garlic with onion, just to take out the raw flavor (~30 sec).
   Cream the goat cheese and cream cheese together.  Mix in eggs.  Add spinach, onions, garlic, and the rest of the oil.  Salt and pepper.
   Lightly flour surface and unroll pie crust.  Cut into 3 inch circles.  You will need to bring dough together and roll it out again to get enough circles.  You can get 12 circles from one 9-in circle; it will use all of the dough.  (Try to at least get 10.)
   Lightly spray a regular sized muffin tin.  Gently fit the circles into pan.  Poke the bottom of the shell with a fork so they don't puff up too much.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 10 minutes.
   Pull shells out of muffin tin and place on a baking sheet.  Fill with about 1 Tbsp of spinach and cheese mixture.  Sprinkle with parmesan.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 12-14 minutes.
   Makes 24 tartletes.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Puttanesca Pizza

I don't need to tell you how much I love pizza or puttanesca.  Bread with cheese:  awesome.  Olives and salty things with tomatoes:  brilliant.  Put them together and it is kind of an indulgence over-load but I don't care.  The only thing with this pizza is that the toppings can feel a tad mushy all together with the ripe tomatoes, gooey cheese, and soft anchovies, so you really need to get the bottom of the crust good and crispy.  The textural contrast is important.

Puttanesca Pizza
pizza dough (store bought, refrigerated, or homemade)
1 lrg ripe tomato, thinly sliced
1 C shredded mozzarella
1/2 C shredded provolone
1/2 C black olives, chopped
7-8 anchovy fillets, rinsed and cut in half
1 1/2 Tbsp capers
1 Tbsp roasted garlic

   Stretch dough into a 13x9 baking sheet dusted with cornmeal or into 12-13 inch circle.  Pre-bake on bottom rack at 450 deg F for about 7 minutes, until the bottom is golden.
   Try to squeeze out the excess pulp from the tomatoes so your pizza doesn't get soggy.
   Smear pre-baked crust with roasted garlic.  Lay down tomatoes, top with cheeses.  Add anchovies, olives and capers.
   Bake on center rack at 450 deg F for 7-10 minutes until cheese is bubbly and brown.
   Serves 4.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Open Face Steak Sandwiches

I love burgers, but every once in a while things need to be changed up a bit.  Steak sandwiches can be casual or classy and this version is the perfect combination:  nice but unpretentious.  If you aren't into the pepper and onion thing with steak (but seriously, who isn't?), try just the marinade portion.  The port and Worcestershire are really delicious with the beef.  It will work on any cut.  The one-of-a-kind flavor of Worcestershire and the slightly sweet port play so well with the minerally red meat.
Port and Worcestershire Steak
1 lb beef (we used flat iron)
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp port wine
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

   Liberally salt and pepper steak.  Use a fork to poke hole in the meat.  Combine wet ingredients.  Marinade beef for 1-24 hours turning over occasionally.
   Cook using desired method to preferred doneness. 
   Serves 3-4.

Open Face Steak Sandwiches
1 lb cooked Port and Worcestershire Steak, sliced*
2 Tbsp of reserved port and Worcestershire marinade
1 med red bell pepper, sliced
1 med onion, sliced
4 large slices sourdough bread, about 3/4 in thick
1 C shredded fontina cheese

   Heat about 1 tsp oil in a non stick skillet over med heat.  Saute onion until translucent (4-5 minutes.)  Add bell pepper, cook another 5 or so minutes until pepper is tender.  Add reserved marinade.  Cook 3-4 minutes.
   Lightly toast bread slices.
   Top bread with meat, peppers and onions, and cheese.
   Place under a hot broiler until cheese is melted, brown and bubbly.
   Serves 4.

*Tip:  Slightly undercook the steak from your desired temperature because it will cook a little more under the broiler.
Bacon braised cabbage and sweet potato oven fries round out the meal.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Summer Pastisio

I made this for dinner last night and could not wait to share it with you!  Yes, I have a backlog of a few things, but this is so delicious.  Also, a perfect transition dish from summer to fall.  The air is cooler, but fresh zucchini can still be found.  This is a considerably lighter than the beef/lamb version.  Ground turkey and lots of veggies make for a beautiful end of summer pasta treat.  Don't be intimated by the amount of ingredients and the step.  It is actually very easy and this is a complete meal.

Summer Pastisio
1 med onion, diced
1 lrg carrot, diced
1 med zucchini, chopped
5 oz frozen spinach, water squeezed out
3/4 lb ground turkey (90/10 or 93/7)
2 C diced tomatoes (1 15 oz can)
1/2 C dry vermouth (white wine or broth will also work)
2 tsp minced garlic
3/4 tsp dried oregano
1 3in. cinnamon stick
5-6 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp red pepper flake
1/2 lb penne, cooked 3 minutes shy of done
1/4 C chopped parsley
salt, pepper and oil
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
2 1/2 Tbsp flour (You may need another 1/2 Tbsp.)
1 C low sodium chicken broth
1 C low fat milk*
1 C shredded mild white cheese (jack, havarti, mozz, etc.)
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 C shredded parmesan (for top)

   Heat a little oil over med in a large, deep sided skillet.  Saute onions and carrots until onions are translucent, 5-7 minutes.  Add ground turkey that has been salt and peppered.  Break up turkey and cook about halfway.  Add tomatoes, vermouth, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, bay, and red pepper flake.
   Simmer until liquid has reduced by half, 12-15 minutes.  Then add half-cooked pasta, zucchini, spinach, and parsley.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for 5 minutes.  (Remove bay, cinnamon, and cloves.)
   While filling is cooking down.  Make sauce.
   Melt butter into oil over med heat.  Whisk in flour so there a no lumps.  Slowly whisk in broth and milk.  (*I did not have low fat milk so I used half skim milk and half buttermilk.  That is a really tasty option.)  Cook for 2-3 minutes to thicken.  The sauce should coat the back of a wooden spoon, if it doesn't, whisk in a little more flour.  Melt in cheese and add nutmeg.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat
   Take a small amount of the sauce (~1/4 C) and slowly whisk it into the beaten eggs to temper them.  Then stir in tempered eggs to sauce.
   Pour filling into a greased 13x9 dish.  Pour sauce on top.  Top with parmesan.
   Bake covered at 375 deg F for 25 minutes.
   Bake uncovered at 375 deg F for 15-20 minutes, until top is brown and bubbly.
   Serves 6.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cardamom Lemon Rice Pudding

I have a new found love for rice pudding after our first venture into the classic comforting dish.  This time went a lot smoother than the previous experiment.  For the dinner we made for our parents, I really wanted something cool and creamy to finish the pungent, smokey dinner.  I would have loved to make peach ice cream, but we don't own an ice cream machine... yet.  Also, this is a bit more figure-friendly than ice cream because milk fat is not an absolute requirement.  There is a little bit of cream and butter, but the bulk of the dairy is skim milk.  The flavoring came about because I love cardamom and I am always trying to figure out applications where it won't overwhelm or get lost in a dish.  The earthy citrusy notes pair really well with the fresh lemon and nutty almond.  (*The picture is a double batch.)

Cardamom Lemon Rice Pudding
1/2 C regular long grain rice
1/2 C heavy cream
3 1/4 C skim milk
2 Tbsp butter
1/3 C brown sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
pinch nutmeg (~1/8 tsp)
pinch salt
toasted sliced amonds (optional)

   Add cream, milk, rice, and butter to a 2 qt pot.  Bring to a bubble over med-high.  Reduce to a simmer over med-low.  Cook uncovered for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  (About once every 5-8 minutes to prevent sticking.)
   When rice has absorbed most of the liquid and the remaining liquid is thick, remove from heat.  Add the rest of the ingredients except the nuts.  (Hint:  Save the lemon juice as your last addition to prevent a curdled looking pudding.)
   Chill for at least 3 hours.
   Top with toasted almonds for serving.
   Serves 4 large portions.  (6 smaller or "normal" servings.=D)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Smoked Chicken and Corn "Creole Chowder"

I love a rich hearty soup... especially one you don't have to feel guilty about.  Cooking the vegetables down then pureeing them gives you a thick creamy base without adding cheese or cream or anything fattening.  The okra acts as a natural thickener.  Don't scoff even if you think you don't like okra.  It's pureed so there are no slimey chunks, and it adds a hint of grassy sweetness and earthiness that is so wonderful.  Fresh is better, but frozen will work just fine.  And if you are really hesitant about the okra, use frozen because the flavor isn't as strong as fresh.  But the smoked chicken and fresh corn are the real stars of this "chowder".

I wrote this recipe using leftover smoked chicken.  It is so so sooo delicious!  However, if you aren't into smoked flavor or don't have a smoker or whatever, a store bought rotisserie chicken will work great.

Smoked Chicken and Corn Creole Chowder
1 lrg onion, chopped
1 lrg green bell pepper, chopped
1 lrg carrot, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 1/2 C sliced okra (roughly 1/3 lb)
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
2 Tbsp minced garlic
~1 lb shredded smoked chicken (4 lrg thighs, save the bones)
2 lrg ears of corn, kernels removed (~2 C corn)
6-7 C water
2 Tbsp Worcestershire
2 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp cider vinegar
hot sauce
Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning

   Heat about 1 1/2 Tbsp oil over medium in a large pot.  Saute onion, pepper, celery, and carrot with a sprinkle of Tony's for about 10 minutes.  When the veg starts to stick to the bottom of the pot and turn golden brown, Add garlic, jalepeno, okra, a few chicken bones, 1 Tbsp worcestershire, and 1 C water.  Simmer over med until most of the water is evaprated.
   Add 2 C more of water, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. 
   Remove bones. Add another cup of water and puree using an immersion blender.
   Add last 2-3 C water so soup is at desired thickness.  Add bay, thyme, second Tbsp of worcestershire, vinegar, hot sauce to taste, and Tony's to taste.  Cover, simmer over low for 30 minutes.
   Add corn and chicken.  Adjust final seasoning to taste.  Cover and simmer over low for 7-10 minutes until corn and chicken are hot.
   Serve over rice.  Garnish with chopped green onions and parsley.
   Serves 6

Monday, September 12, 2011

Smoked Chicken Thighs w/ Roasted Garlic Mustard Vinaigrette

My parents were so amazing helping me get the house ready for our stuff to arrive last month.  My in-laws helped move all the crap out before I got here.  And my mom and dad were here with me every day for a week cleaning, repairing, and painting.  The only thing my dad requested in return was a "kick-ass meal."  Direct quote.  (Also, use of our military discount for various Home Depot purchases including new carpet for heir house helped with payment, saving them nearly $2,000 this year in total.)

Smoking was the obvious go-to option for us to make our parents some awesome food.  It isn't fussy or complicated, it just takes some time.  Neither of them have smokers, so it isn't food they can make for themselves on any occasion.  We tested this with skin on and off, thighs and breasts.  We agreed that skin-off thighs (bone-in) were the best.  The interior fat melts out so there no globby bits which is my general issue with thighs.  The dark meat is really delicious with the flavor profile we had chosen and stays juicy.  Also, my dad loves chicken thighs, so I knew that would make him happy.

Kick-ass Smoked Menu
Spicy Smoked Salmon w/ cream cheese, capers, and onion on toasted bread
Smoked Chicken Thighs w/ Roasted Garlic Mustard Vinaigrette
Quinoa w/ Caramelized Onions, Zucchini and Feta
Simple Summer Salad
Cardamom Lemon Rice Pudding

Roasted Garlic Mustard Vinaigrette
2/3 C extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C whole grain mustard
1/3 C white wine vinegar
8 cloves (1/2 head) roasted garlic
2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp chopped parsley

   Combine first seven ingredients.  Use a blender (upright or immersion) to emulsify.  Stir in parsley.
   Great on veggies, grilled/smoked meat, salads, etc.
   Will keep in refrigerator for two weeks.

Smoked Chicken Thighs
3.5-4 lbs bone-in chicken thighs (~12 pieces)
1 recipe vinaigrette (above)
mesquite and hickory wood chunks
Our Basic Smoking Dry Rub:
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp sea salt
1.5 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp hot paprika

   Combine rub ingredients. 
   Remove skin and large bits of excess fat from thighs.  Spread a little oil over thighs.  Liberally rub with spice mixture.
   Set up smoker according to product specifications with equal amounts of hickory and mesquite wood chunks.
   Smoke for 2 hours.  Turn over once during cooking.  Baste with vinaigrette every 30 minutes, starting as soon as you put the chicken on.  Finish with a drizzle of vinaigrette
   Serves 6.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Chocolate Banana Oat Pancakes

I feel like I get on these flavor combination kicks every once in a while. Chocolate and banana is apparently my most recent. We always have the two ingredients on hand so it is really easy to combine them into things.

I love a special breakfast on the weekends. It doesn't have to be anything special. Even bacon and eggs is special enough. It's something more than cereal or toast. Not too long ago I made these pancakes. The oats add a touch of savoriness to the generally sweet pancake and they make them really hearty without messing with the fluffy texture. A great way to start a long day of yard work (which was our punishment du jour.)

Chocolate Banana Oat Pancakes
1 C pancake mix (I like Bisquick Heart Smart)
1 small/med egg, beaten
1/2 C milk (I used skim, any fat% works)
1/3 C quick oats
1/4 C chocolate chips
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 lrg banana, roughly chopped

   Combine pancake mix, oats and chocolate chips.  Make a well in the center.  Add egg, milk and vanilla.  Slowly work dry and wet together.  Fold in banana pieces.  Let batter sit at room temp for 10 minutes.
   Scoop 1/4 of batter for each pancake.  Cook in butter or margarine over medium/med-low heat.  When little bubbles form in batter of cooking pancakes and first side is golden, flip.  Cook second side until golden brown.  It will be about 3 minutes per side. 
   Top with sugar, butter, honey, syrup, whatever you like.
   Makes 4  big pancakes, serves 2. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gloria's Korean Kitchen

Shortly before I moved to North Carolina in March, Gloria's Korean Kitchen opened in Cool Springs (Franklin, TN).  I was sad that I didn't have a chance to try it before leaving.  So that was the first place we went when Louis finally made it back to Tennessee.  Yeah, I know I am a bit late on the timing of this post, I apologize.

I would love to tell you that I am well versed in Korean food, but I am not.  At all.  This was the first time I'd ever had it.  Well, not true... I had a really disgutsing kim chi once.  I will say that I have seen more than my fair share of Korean food specials on TV and I've been kind of fantasizing about the cuisine for a while.

The meal began with "sides".  I found that a bit odd.  There were two plates with little tastings of kim chi, soy cucumbers, seaweed salad, sweet daikon radish, and cole slaw.  The kim chi was fantastic: sweet, sour, spicy, not overly fermented, soft but not mushy with a slight bit of cabbage-y crunch left.  The soy cucumbers were my favorite.  They were lightly pickled in soy and rice vinegar with whole cloves of garlic.  The sweet daikon was also lightly pickled in rice vinegar, but they were still crisp and crunchy.  The flavor of the seaweed salad was good, the texture was a little like that of soggy nori, so I wasn't the biggest fan.  And the coleslaw was just regular old coleslaw, nothing special and not to my liking.

Our official appetizers were the yaki mandu (fried dumplings with beef) and ssam (lettuce wraps.)  The yaki mandu were really delicious, the meat was seasoned with coriander and Chinese five-spice.  Tender juicy filling in a crispy wonton skin, there are few things better.  But be careful, they were scorchingly hot!  We chose the chicken for ssam filling meat.  It came with sauteed mushrooms, soy dressed cabbage, cucumber garlic soy sauce (the liquid form the soy cucumbers I suspect...), and a spicy miso sauce to stuff inside the leaves of bib lettuce.  It was good but over salted (to an almost unacceptable level) and didn't come with enough lettuce leaves.  Also, we were not given plates so we were dripping sauces all over the table.

   For entrees, we ordered the glass noodles that had a soy glaze and beef, jjampong (seafood noodle soup), dolsot bipimbap with spicy pork (hot bowl with rice and an egg), and daeji bulgogi (spicy pork shoulder grill.)  The soy glaze on the the glass noodles was really tasty, sweet and a little spicy.  However, as the dish cooled down while eating the noodles became a slightly gummy which, for me, is always unappetizing.  The jjampong was... interesting.  It had an overwhelming odor of cooked shellfish.  And the broth was pretty strongly flavored of seafood.  I adore seafood, but this was even too much for me.  The noodles were delicious though.  Cooked in the broth they absorbed just enough of spicy seafoodiness.  The most disappointing thing was the seafood itself, unfortunately.  WAY too many chunks of krab  (yes.... krab with a k, not real crab) that were disgustingly mushy.  The shrimp, squid and mussels were, I assume, frozen and in extremely limited numbers inside my bowl.  This soup would have been better if the protein had been skipped altogether leaving only noodles and some veg.

The bipimbap and bulgogi were fantastic though!  One of the characteristics of the rice hot bowl is the crispy bits of rice on the bottom.  Steamed rice is placed into a baking hot stone bowl and topped with veggies, meat or tofu, and a sunny side up egg.  The egg yolk creates a gooey, yummy sauce for the dish.  As you eat and stir up your food, the hot bowl continues to cook the rice to crunchy, chewy goodness that is totally unique.  So you know, when they say "spicy pork" they mean it.  You have the option of ordering a less spicy version, but if you go for it all the way (like my dad), be prepared.  It is mouthwateringly delicious, but lip numbingly spicy.  Louis had the daeji bulgogi with the spicy pork shoulder; this cut is available only for the "grill".  He asked for medium heat and I think that is a great level.  Its warm and spicy, but not to the point where you can't finish the food.  The heat builds pleasantly and wont blow out your taste buds.  This pork is wonderful.  Ultra tender, flavorful, and served on a bed of soft, sweet onions with rice on the side

I realize that this may not have been the most authentic of first experiences with Korean food.  Yet, I don't think the menu has been "overly Americanized" as some people seem to think.  To me, it seems, Chef Gloria (who I met and is an incredibly sweet person), has taken the traditional classics that will appeal most to her largely suburban clientele. (Why should she up food costs by expanding a menu with items that won't sell to appease some jaded assholes?)  Overall, I really enjoyed the meal.  I know what is awesome, and what I should probably avoid.  The bipimbap is definitely on my "to eat" list for the next visit.  (I am still a little jealous that I didn't order it....)

9100-A Carothers Pkwy, Suite 108
Franklin, TN 37067

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bacon Jack Corn Muffins

   Cornbread is one of my favorite things in the world.  Unfortunately my mom and grandma and anyone else on that side of the family doesn't actually use a recipe.... seriously.  Baking without a recipe?  And it's not like I can just look up some regular cornbread recipe.  This stuff is special:  lots of white cornmeal, no sugar, perfectly fluffy and moist.  I have a couple of guidelines from my mom, but that is it.  These muffins are the first batch of cornbread that have been right.  It was crazy exciting.  And they were perfect with the beefalo chili.

   So, I guess I should apologize in advance if your cornbread doesn't turn out quite right.  It has taken me two years to get this right.  The exact amount of buttermilk varies from day to day, that is the main thing.  Too crumbly?  Add more buttermilk next time.  Weirdly dense?  Add less.  I've learned the correct texture relies heavily on the batter's visual appearance before baking.  It's hard for me to explain.  Thick grits or a medium-thickness oatmeal?  If it gets to pancake batter consistency you've added too much liquid, I can tell you that much.

Bacon Jack Corn Muffins
1 C stone ground white cornmeal
1/2 C whole wheat flour*
1/3 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
3/4-1 C buttermilk
1/2 C shredded Monterey Jack cheese
3 lrg scallions, chopped
3 thick cut slices bacon, chopped (or more...)
(cooking spray)

   Render chopped bacon over medium heat until crisp.  Drain.  Save bacon fat.
   Combine cornmeal, flour, baking soda, salt and pepper.  Make a well in the dry ingredients.  Add egg and about 1/2 C buttermilk.  Combine.  Add a buttermilk until the consistency is correct.  Add 2 tsp of bacon fat.
   Fold in cheese, scallions, and bacon.
   Fill pre-greased muffin tins about 2/3's of the way.  (Have extra bacon fat?  Grease pan with it.)
   Bake at 400 deg F for 15-17 minutes, until tops are golden.
   Serves 6.  (Makes 12 muffins.)

*I'm not really sure why I used whole wheat flour.  Regular flour will work.  The whole wheat was delicious though.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Beefalo and Roasted Pepper Chili

   It has been raining for the past 48 hours.  I love it!  I can't remember the last truly rainy day I've had.  There was maybe one in NC, there was a half rainy day when I first got back to TN, but this is true rain.  Grey, drizzly, and cool.  Our AC hasn't kicked on 24 hours.  Fabulous.  Cool weather to us means soup.  A week and a half ago we bought some beefalo stew meat at the local farmers' market.  The intent was to make chili it the whole time, but it was so hot and humid that we couldn't imagine having chili for dinner.  But yesterday posed the perfect opportunity.  To make it a little more special, I roasted some fresh local peppers and made bacon jack corn muffins (recipe tomorrow!)

Beefalo and Roasted Pepper Chili
1 lb beefalo stew meat, 1/2 inch cubes
1 lrg onion, diced
1 lrg red bell pepper
1 small green bell pepper (or 1/2 a lrg)
1 lrg New Mexico green chile*
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz can red beans
1 14 oz can black beans, drained
2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp red pepper flake (optional)
1 bay leaf
1/2 C water
oil, salt and pepper

   Set broiler to high and move oven rack close to top of oven.  Place bell peppers and chile under broiler.  Allow skin to char and turn black, rotate peppers as needed to skin is evenly charred.  When skin is fully black, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let sit at least 10 minutes.  Peel skin off and remove seeds.  Finely dice peppers.
   Heat about 2 tsp of oil over med heat in a large pot.  Saute onions for 4-5 minutes, until soft. 
   Liberally salt and pepper meat, add to pot.  Sear meat well.  (It is ok for it to stick to the bottom a little.)
   Add spices and herbs, garlic and diced chile peppers with 1/4 C of water.  Scrape bottom of pot to remove any sticking bits.  Simmer for about 5 minutes.
   Add beans, tomatoes and last 1/4 C of water.  Turn heat up to med-hi, bring to a bubble.  Cover and turn down to med-low.  Simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
   Uncover, turn heat to low.  Simmer another 45 minutes.
   Top with your favorite items:  scallions, cilantro, cheese, chips, etc.
   Serves 6.

*The New Mexico chile is a moderately hot variety.  It will not make your chili overly spicy; most of the heat comes from the red pepper flake.  But if you are wary of the heat, use a supermarket jalapeno.  (They are generally pretty mild.  A homegrown jalapeno will probably be hotter.)  If you can't find a New Mexico green chili but still want the warmth, try a serrano or two jalapenos.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cookout Menu

   I realize that today is Labor Day and so this menu is of no use, buuut I thought I would share the complete menu of our Saturday cookout because tailgate season is fast approaching.  Also, backyard parties in the lovely, cool fall weather?  Yes, please.

   We had an early Labor Day/House Warming/EAS party on Saturday.  Saturday was Louis' last official day as an active duty Marine!  So eff-ing exciting.  Yes, we've been in Tennessee for a month, but technically he could have had to go back to Lejeune if some dick decided he needed to.  Whatever.  It was a crazy mix of people:  our parents, family friends, and my odd-ball mix of friends.  The menu was very simple over all and a mish-mash of styles (Mediterranean, Southwestern, etc.), but food was devoured!  I love to see people relaxing, eating, and having an overall fun time.

Cookout Menu from 9/3/11
Grilled Burgers and Hotdogs
Caprese Foccacia
New Orleans BBQ Shrimp*
Fried Chick Peas*
Spinach and Monterey Jack Dip
Fresh Corn Salsa
Veggies with Cumin Ranch
Coconut Almond Brownies*
Mini Grasshopper Pies*
Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream Sandwiches*

*Made/Brought by Super Awesome People

Friday, September 2, 2011

Chocolate Dipped Banana Bites

   First of all, I would just like to say I don't know how I feel about this interface change.  It has messed a couple things up.  For example, I can't view blogs as a logged in Blogger user.  Its like whenever FB changes... I feel like I have to learn crap all over again.  it never takes too long, but it feels like a chore.  At least this is format is extremely close to the WordPress format which is what Save The Artist uses.

   Alright, quick dessert are always great.  This one requires a teeny bit of planning because they are frozen, but an hour before dinner is plenty of time and they only take about 10 minutes to make.  Also, only 5 ingredients... total.  (My little homage to Claire Robinson.)  No crazy ingredients, I used what I had, hence the coffee creamer.  But, wow... it made for some seriously delicious chocolate!  I may use it for all my future ganaches.  Despite the simplicity they are the best little bite dessert I've had in a while.  The smooth decadent chocolate, frozen creamy banana, and a sweet little crunch from the raw sugar... sort of like a healthy bonbon.

Chocolate Dipped Banana Bites
1 lrg banana
1/2 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 Tbsp hazelnut creamer (non-dairy, liquid)
1 Tbsp strongly brewed coffee
2 tsp raw sugar

   Slice banana into about 10 pieces, on the bias or not.  Place on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper or parchment paper.  Put in freezer for about 10 minutes.
   In a double boiler set-up, add chocolate, coffee and creamer.  Melt together.
   Dip banana pieces into chocolate.  You'll probably need a spoon to help cover the pieces.  Place back on lined cookie sheet, sprinkle with raw sugar.  Insert toothpick.  Place back in freezer for at least 30.
   Let sit at room temp for 5 minutes before eating.
   Serves 2.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Watermelon Mojito

   I may have just ordered a gorgeous new pair of boots for fall and can't wait to wear them, but it is definitely still summer.  Maybe, maybe by late this month it will creep into boot weather.  However, I'm betting they don't make it out of the house until October (because, yes, I will put them on and wear them around my house the second they arrive.)  The good news about the part of summer:  the produce.  Everything is so beautiful at the markets this time of year.  Last week, in the Mennonite community in Scottsville, KY, I bought the most perfect little watermelon for $1.  Seriously.  I adore watermelon, the hubs hates it with a passion.  While I could eat slices of it all day, some times things need to be switched up a bit.  Mojitos have been one of my go-to drinks this summer so I thought why not add some fresh, juicy, sweet watermelon to the mix?
Watermelon Mojito
1/2 C watermelon chunks (1 good sized slice)
1 tsp simple syrup
2-3 sprigs of mint
juice of 1 lime, ~1 1/2 Tbsp
2 oz light rum
diet tonic water

   Add watermelon, simple syrup, mint and lime juice to the bottom of a glass.  Muddle everything together.  Make sure to break up the melon and bruise the mint really well.  Add rum.  Add ice to your liking.  Top with tonic.
   Makes 1 drink.