Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chicken Canzanese

In case you’ve never noticed, Ginny and I (though residing many miles apart) often share recipes we find. Sometimes one of us makes the dish and passes the recipe on to the other. Other times we hoard several recipes we both want to try and make them all during one of our semi-regular visits.

On this occasion, I had a package of chicken thighs in the refrigerator and absolutely zero ideas for dinner. The hubs isn’t the biggest fan of chicken to begin with, but I insist on rotating it between his regular meals of beef and pork. So, the dish had to be Matt-approved. The oven baked BBQ chicken quarters I made a few weeks ago did NOT pass muster, so I was really pushing my luck bringing these treacherous little thighs back into the rotation as it is.

Ginny and I talk pretty much every day after work, so I posed the dilemma to her and she reminded me, without pause, of the dish she had recently made for her parents and got the seal of approval from everyone. She has been a long time fan of America’s Test Kitchen, and, recipe by recipe, she is bringing me over to the dark side with her.

If you’re not familiar, at America’s Test Kitchen, they take a recipe and test it to within an inch of its life, through trial and error and finding the absolutely best version of it. And this is not just a matter of opinion. Its not solely based on the ingredients. Many times, its about the method. We have found, on multiple occasions, that if you follow an America’s Test Kitchen recipe to the letter, you will end up with an absolutely fool-proof meal.

As was the case with this Chicken Canzanese.

The name hails from Canzano, which is in Italy’s Abruzzo region (yes, I googled it). While there are many versions of this age-old dish, none that I found seem to stray very far off the path. I’d never made it before, but I can tell you with certainty that I will never even attempt another version.

There is no need.

The America’s Test Kitchen task, in this case, was to find a way to cook/braise skin-on chicken without having the skin turn into a chewy, slimy, unappetizing mess.

I call them overachievers. But, in a good way.

This chicken was moist and succulent, but the skin remained crispy and golden, even after braising for over an hour. And the sauce? Oh, the sauce..... it was a revelation. The thighs are braised in a mixture of white wine and herbs, flavored with prosciutto and garlic. Even the hubs loved the know, once I pointed out to him that it would be better on his roasted red-skinned potatoes that the piles of butter and cheese he topped them with.

Just to be clear.... this dish is “lick the plate” good. Hell, its “lick your whole family’s plates” good! I am officially an America’s Test Kitchen convert.

Chicken Canzanese
From the episode: Italian Comfort Classics
Serves 4 to 6

When seasoning the dish at the end, be mindful that the prosciutto adds a fair amount of salt. It is
important to use a piece of thickly sliced prosciutto in this recipe; thin strips will become tough
and stringy. An equal amount of thickly sliced pancetta or bacon can be used in place of the
prosciutto. Serve the chicken with boiled potatoes, noodles, or polenta to absorb extra sauce.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ounces prosciutto (1/4 inch thick), cut into 1/4-inch cubes (see note) (I used bacon)
4 medium garlic cloves , sliced thin lengthwise
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), trimmed of excess fat and skin
ground black pepper
2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
4 whole cloves
1 (4-inch) sprig fresh rosemary , leaves removed and minced fine (about 1/2 teaspoon),
stem reserved
12 whole fresh sage leaves
2 bay leaves
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Table salt

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Heat
1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch heavy-bottomed ovensafe skillet over medium heat until
shimmering. Add prosciutto and cook, stirring frequently, until just starting to brown,
about 3 minutes. Add garlic slices and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is golden
brown, about 1½ minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer garlic and prosciutto to small
bowl and set aside. Do not rinse pan.
2. Increase heat to medium-high; add remaining 2 teaspoons oil and heat until just
smoking. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with ground black pepper. Add
chicken, skin side down, and cook without moving until well browned, 5 to 8 minutes.
Using tongs, turn chicken and brown on second side, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer
chicken to large plate.
3. Remove all but 2 tablespoons fat from pan. Sprinkle flour over fat and cook, stirring
constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly add wine and broth; bring to simmer, scraping bottom
of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Cook until liquid is slightly reduced,
3 minutes. Stir in cloves, rosemary stem, sage leaves, bay leaves, red pepper flakes,
and reserved prosciutto and garlic. Nestle chicken into liquid, skin side up (skin should
be above surface of liquid), and bake, uncovered, until meat offers no resistance when
poked with fork but is not falling off bones, about 1 hour 15 minutes. (Check chicken
after 15 minutes; broth should be barely bubbling. If bubbling vigorously, reduce oven
temperature to 300 degrees.)
4. Using tongs, transfer chicken to serving platter and tent with foil. Remove and discard
sage leaves, rosemary stem, cloves, and bay leaves. Place skillet over high heat and bring
sauce to boil. Cook until sauce is reduced to 1¼ cups, 2 to 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in
minced rosemary, lemon juice, and butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour
sauce around chicken and serve.

Gettin’ Naked!

We have a new chef over at I Heart Cooking Clubs this week. That’s right, its our first date with Jamie Oliver.  I have always enjoyed watching Jamie, and I find his effervescent style very refreshing (pun entirely intended). I’m not sure how well we will get along over the next six months of cooking together though, as so very few of his recipes are “Leach Family” friendly. I adore his simple salads and his lovely pastas, but, as I have found, sometimes his choice of ingredients leaves me floundering in my lack of shopping options.

But, since I things he is absolutely fabulous, I’m going to give it the ol’ college try. Starting now. Our theme this inaugural week is “Let's Get Naked”, which I think is very forward for a first date, but hey, I’m willing to give it a chance!

When the vote was in and it was announced that Jamie was our next chef, naturally I went looking for recipes. I don’t own a single one of his cookbooks (that’s a new concept for me) so I just did some browsing online, and the very first recipe that jumped out and said “Eat Me!” was Jamie’s Fresh Asian Noodle Salad. Conveniently, I had just happened across some little personal-sized packages of bean thread noodles and stashed a few in my pantry. Finding any decent fresh chiles wasn’t easy, though, and the best I could do was some green serranos.

I have to say, This recipe kicks ass! I wasn’t that optimistic about it with its basic ingredients (and no, I didn’t have any prawns, either, so my medium size frozen shrimp had to stand in), but it came together beautifully and I couldn’t keep my chopsticks out of it as I was packing up the leftovers for lunch last night. This one is definitely going to be making regular appearances over the summer when I have my own home-grown fresh chiles on hand!

fresh asian noodle salad
• 300g/10½oz cellophane noodles or beanthread noodles
• 200g/7oz minced beef
• 2 teaspoons five-spice
• 5 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated
• 2 heaped teaspoons of grated fresh ginger
• 100g/5½oz cooked peeled prawns
• 3 teaspoons sugar
• 1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
• 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
• 1 tablespoon fish sauce
• 2 fresh red chilies, deseeded and finely sliced
• 1 handful of fresh coriander, chopped
• 1 handful of fresh mint, chopped
• 2 handfuls of roasted peanuts
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
starter | serves 4
This is one of those salads which tastes so amazing that you have to keep making it! It’s spicy, zingy and really gets your tastebuds going.

Soak the noodles in a bowl of warm water until soft, then drain and put back in the bowl. In a hot wok fry the beef and five-spice in the olive oil until brown and crisp, then add the garlic, ginger, prawns and sugar and stir-fry for another 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir the wok mixture into the noodles. Add the spring onions, lime juice, fish sauce, chilies, coriander, mint and peanuts to the bowl. Toss well and correct the seasoning — it wants to be quite zingy with the lime juice. Sprinkle with some extra herb leaves if you like and serve cold.

Try this: You can modify the recipe by using a little wok-fried squid, shellfish or different minced meats.

This is my submission to I Heart Cooking Clubs and Presto Pasta Nights hosted by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast this week.

Monday, March 28, 2011

On The Road Again!

That’s right, its ROAD TRIP time!

Well, okay, its ALMOST road trip time. This summer, though I can hardly believe it, is my TWENTY year high school reunion. (good lord, I am getting old...when the hell did TWENTY years go by?)

I have decided that I’m going to make the trip back “home” for the event, both to attend the reunion and to visit with friends and family I haven’t seen in quite some time. Much of my extended family remains in that area, while my immediate family has moved to the east coast. Instead of flying, as I originally intended, I’ve decided that Ty and I are going to make it a drive trip. Since school will be out for the summer, I am going to take a couple of extra days off and we’re going to “visit” our way out, stopping along the way to see people we don’t often connect with in person.

So, here’s the route:
We’re going to take the southern route on the way there and the northern route on the return trip, stopping in Indianapolis and South Bend, respectively, to break up the trip and see some folks.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention I'll most likely be visiting someone in Sandusky as well, so Cleveland will probably be on the agenda!
Why am I telling you all this? Well, I was just wondering if anyone else happens to live along the way that would like to see our smiling faces! Or, if you have any suggestions for interesting places to stop and stretch our legs. This will be Ty’s longest road trip to-date, so we’ll be stopping often to make it easier on him. Other than the two previously mentioned stops, I will probably also pull the train over in the Elkhart/Shipshewana, Indiana area to talke a stroll around the Amish shops there. Other than that, I’m open!

We’ve got some time to plan this, but I figured I’d put it out there now to see if anyone has suggestions.

Can’t wait to see everyone again! I’ve been missing Toledo!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mocha Crunch Bars

I am always on the lookout for things that I can snack on at work that don’t come from a bag or a wrapper. Since I sit at a computer all day, I do at least attempt to eat on the healthier side, although that rarely seems to happen.

I recently ran across this recipe over at a friend's blog (and yes, I'm terrible, I can't remember where! If this is yours, please comment and let me know!) and knew immediately that I had to make it. I did make a few modifications for my own personal pantry, but I think they turned out wonderfully. A nice, filling snack bar (I may or may not have doubled the espresso powder *ahem*) that I can feel good about eating when I need to stave off the morning “hungries”.

Mocha Crunch Bars
1 1/4 cup toasted nuts and seeds (I used a mix of pecans, almonds, and pepitas)
1/4 cup flax seed meal
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tbsp granulated erythritol (I used sugar)
2 tbsp instant coffee (I used Medaglia D’Oro espresso powder)
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup almond butter (I used peanut butter)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
12 drops stevia extract (again, I used a little sugar)

In a food processer, grind toasted nuts and seeds until fine. Mix in a large bowl with flax seed, cocoa powder, erythritol and coffee.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt coconut oil and almond butter together, stirring until combined and smooth. Off heat, add vanilla and stevia extract.

Pour coconut oil mixture into the nuts and seeds and stir until it comes together. Press into an ungreased loaf pan and chill in refrigerator until set. Cut into 8 bars.

Keep unused bars refrigerated.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ahhhh..... SAKE!

Ok, so by Sunday, I was starting to get a little punchy. It was, after all, a very busy weekend. You wouldn't know that to look at the pathetically small number of items that have been crossed off my "to-do" list, but I guarantee you, I was moving the whole time

It was actually a long weekend for me, thanks (no-thanks) to a doctor appointment in not-so-nearby Springfield. On the plus side, these appointments always give me some much needed "me" time in one of my favorite shopping stomping grounds. While I didn't get everything done that was on my list while in Springfield, I was more productive the rest of the weekend.

Who knew one person could do so much laundry, wash so many dishes, etc....

The last several weekends have all been busy, but of the other, more demanding variety, involving a number of houseguests, parties, and other activities. And so, I declared this weekend, "MY" weekend. To get things done at home, sure, but also to relax a bit. And that, my friends, almost always involves cocktails.

I've been on a mission lately to wrap up some old projects and long-lost "must try" recipes.

This cocktail hails from 2008. Yes, that's right. Its been on my radar for nearly three years. And the ingredients have also been in my pantry. Not long after seeing this recipe on Deb's blog over at Kahakai Kitchen, I promptly bought the first nice bottle of sake that I laid eyes on during a trip to Whole Foods.

Well, I decided that this weekend was the time to let it shine. And SHINE, it did! This little teaser sent me hurtling back through the years to a drink that I learned how to make with my MEF (most excellent friend), Sylvia, many, many moons ago....that was dubbed....Yuck-a-muck.... or Yok-amock.... who knows how it was supposed to be spelled. All I know is that it was GOOD.

So, girlfriend, this one's for YOU!

Sake Drop
2 parts lemonade
1 part sake
a small pour of Grenadine to garnish (about 1/2 ounce)

Mix lemonade and sake together with ice in a cocktail shaker. Pour into a glass and pour about 1/2 oz of grenadine into drink before serving.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Signs of Spring

It has only officially been Spring for a few days, but already I can see the changes happening around me. I have been anxiously monitoring the garden for any progress, and finally I have news to report!

Spring has sprung!

First and most surprising is this:
These are the brussels sprouts I grew last year that are now officially staging a come-back. See those tiny buds on the stems? Those are going to be sprouts!

Second, and always something I look forward to, is my chives.
Finally, and possibly most exciting for me, is this:
Do you know what this is?

THAT, my dear friends, is my fig tree. I bought a fig tree last year, and promptly proceeded to kill it. Recently I heard about a class in St Louis all about growing fig trees in our area. I signed up, and Ginny came out to go with me. The presenter assured us that our tiny little, severely pruned trees that we were given would eagerly sprout green shoots and turn into lovely trees by summer. I have to admit, I was skeptical. But just look at those adorable little buds! They are getting visibly bigger and more numerous every day and I can’t wait to show you updates as my little fig baby grows up!

That’s all for now, but I am anticipating more progress to report  very, very soon!


I’m kind of a freak. Have you figured that out yet?

Yes? Good. Because you may need to put a little faith in me for this post.

Don’t even ask me where I got this would probably take us down roads that are better left untraveled. Sometimes my mind works in mysterious....and moderately disturbing....ways.

I’m not even going to give this recipe and introduction....I really think its going to speak for itself.

Suffice it to say that this recipe goes along with the theme of last weekend for me, which was “finishing up old projects”, since this has been on my list for quite awhile. I honestly didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but in the end, it was a real people pleaser.

2c sugar
1c water
1/16 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 c Chili Cheese Fritos
½ cup cooked, chopped bacon

Spread Fritos out on a piece of parchment paper that has been placed inside a 9x13 baking dish. Combine sugar, water, and salt in a large saucepan and stir until dissolved. Cover and boil for 3 minutes. Remove lid and cook until the syrup turns a rich caramel color (320 degrees F/Hard crack stage). Remove from heat and quickly stir in butter. Pour over Fritos and bacon.

Cool completely before breaking apart.

**NOTES: I more or less poured what was left in my bag of Fritos into the pan. In retrospect, I think 1 ½ cups would have been a better amount. As it was, there wasn’t quite enough sugar syrup to hold all the Fritos together. This treat is sweet...and salty....and smoky....and a little bit evil. The first bite was a little odd. But the next one really packed a punch. The third had me hooked.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Time to Make the Gelato!

A year. Truly...its been a YEAR.

That’s right, a year ago, the Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto was published and I got my greedy little hands on a copy just as fast as I could. And I was determined to make a new batch of gelato every week over the summer.

How many did I make?

I know, I’m a terrible slacker, but really, it was probably the best decision for my waistline. Ciao Bella makes the most fabulous gelatos, and that is a commodity that is very hard to come by in this neck of the backwoods. So, when they released a cookbook, you know I jumped at the chance to make my own version at home. After all, I already had an ice cream maker.

What’s the point here? Oh yeah... I’m getting an early start this year.

I’ve had an idea brewing in my demented little mind for awhile now, but I am one of those people that just can’t eat cold foods like ice cream and gelato during the cold months. Can’t do it. Not even at birthday parties.

Did you know that it was warm enough yesterday to open up my house? I’m not sure what the temperature peaked at, but I even had my fig tree out on the deck, sunning itself for awhile. First day of Spring.....

Time to make the gelato!

Last summer, I was blessed with an enormous quantity of blackberries, brought to me by one of our dear friends, which I promptly proceeded to rinse and freeze in pie-size Ziploc bags. I had about sixteen of them in my freezer. I’ve only used a few of them up and, with summer looming, its time to get those moving into the rotation. First up, naturally, is gelato. Well, ok...sorbetto.

Ciao Bella’s Blackberry Cabernet Sorbetto is one of my favorite flavors, and I have been dying to make my own. Minus the Cabernet. Why? Because I had an idea I liked better.

See, at the Market on the Square (I know, I know, I should shut up about the place already, right? No!) they carry wines from several local vineyards; one of which being the Piasa Winery. (That’s PIE-uh-saw to those of you who aren’t from the area. The Piasa Bird is a mythical bird of legend that was supposedly described by Lewis & Clark, if I have my local history right. That’s debatable though, since I suck at history.)

But, I digress.

The lovely folks over at Piasa Winery make a Port. A CHOCOLATE-INFUSED port that has become my new best friend. I know you’ve got this one figured out already, right? Yep, I reduced an entire bottle of their Dreamcatcher Port (don’t stress, its only a half-size bottle) and substituted that for the Cabernet in Ciao Bella’s recipe.

Blackberries, Port, and CHOCOLATE. Really, I mean, how could that possibly be bad? It can’t. Only in the sense that it makes me want to eat it all....

So, I’m going to be a good girl and share. I froze the sorbetto into smaller containers and I delivered one to the good people over at Market on the Square for their own warm-weather pleasure.

Its like the old saying that I hold so dear.....

“I love cooking with wine....sometimes I even put it in the food.”

Blackberry Port Sorbetto
(adapted from the Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto)

6 cups blackberries
1 TB lemon juice
Simple syrup (about 1 ¼ cups)
½ cup reduced Dreamcatcher Port

Simmer a bottle of Dreamcatcher Port (about 1 ½ cups) over medium heat until it reduces to about ½ cup. Chill.
In a food processor, puree the blackberries and lemon juice until smooth.
Pour through a fine mesh sieve, pressing to release the juices and discarding the seeds. Chill.
Whisk together the port, berry puree, and simple syrup, then process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Spoon into containers and place in the freezer to firm up.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Once Upon a Time....

....In a land far, far away.... Ginny and I made this pasta.
I honestly can’t remember what brought this dish to our roster of culinary delights, except for maybe that it is a Jacques Pepin recipe and Ginny loves to watch Jacques. So, there, that’s probably it.
I have one thing to say about this pasta (okay, you got me, I definitely have more than ONE thing to say, but I’m making a point, so bear with me!).
Notice the ingredients calls for an entire CAN of anchovies. On top of that, you also end up using the oil they were packed in. Add garlic and this pasta packs a powerful punch! (say THAT five times fast!)
That being was really, really good. I don’t remember any of the charming repartee from the kitchen that day, so I’m afraid I can’t tickle your funny bone today, but I can share with you one delish dish that you should definitely try the next time you’re in the mood for something really.....FRAGRANT.
You get the point....but in a good way. It makes its own sauce, which clung to the fresh pasta that we used so that every little scrap of it was coated and not a drop got left on the plate. That’s my kind of pasta. Just don’t plan any dates around this know, unless you’re BOTH eating it....
Rigatoni with Lettuce and Eggplant
1 Eggplant
¾  pound Rigatoni
5-6 cloves garlic sliced
Pepper flake to taste
1 can anchovies with oil
Lettuce (Escarole or other lettuce) large bunch chopped roughly
Parmesan Cheese enough for in and garnish
Peel and dice the eggplant in 1inch dice and place on a lined baking sheet.  Drizzle with olie oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
Start the pasta while the eggplant bakes.
In a large skillet place some olive oil and when shimmering add the garlic and pepper flake.  Cook till it is slightly golden and then add the lettuce. Turn the lettuce so that the garlic is on top of the lettuce to prevent burning.  Add the oil from the anchovies and chop the anchovies and sprinkle into the skillet.  Cover the pan and let the lettuce wilt. Turn the burner down to medium low.  The anchovy will melt into the sauce and you won’t really have pieces of anchovy.
Remove the eggplant from the oven and add it to the skillet, tossing to coat.
Drain the pasta reserving some of the water if needed for the sauce. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss.  Add Parmesan to taste.  You will not need to add salt to this, the anchovies and cheese should provide enough salt. 
This is my submission to Presto Pasta Nights this week, hosted by Claire at Chez Cayenne.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Egg Noodles....They Aren't Just for Soup Anymore

I have a habit of picking up ingredients that interest me, and then hoarding them in my pantry, never to be seen again.

Do you do this?

Am I the only one?

I am constantly finding random ingredients in my pantry that I had forgotten about, and generally, they go right back in, because I don’t have any ideas of what to do with them.

Specialty Pastas, Sauces, Condiments, etc. They all fit in this category.

Not long ago, I bought a package of Oakland Egg Noodles at The Market On The Square in Carlinville, because they came highly recommended by a co-worker. Admittedly, I normally throw egg noodles in a pot of soup.... or maybe a batch of chicken and noodles... but not much else.
I mean, that’s what they are FOR, right?

Right. And wrong.

While chatting up the owners of the Market, I learned that Nathan stir fries his noodles. Well, duh, of COURSE! My all time favorite Thai dish, Pad Sei Yew, is a mélange of chicken, spicy sauce, and rich, thick eggy noodles. Genius!

While rattling around this house this weekend, cleaning for Ty’s birthday party, I began cleaning out the fridge and pulled out a bunch of veggies that needed to be used. Some carrots, scallions, and a bunch of snow peas. Throw in some chicken and noodles and that was a satisfying lunch just waiting to happen!

Five Spice Chicken and Noodle Stir Fry
1/3 cup honey
3 TB soy sauce
1 TB Ginger
2 TB mirin
1-2 TB sriracha
1 TB orange juice concentrate
1-2 tsp five spice powder
1 tsp sesame oil
1 TB minced garlic

Boil water for noodles and start them cooking while preparing the stir fry. (only cook them about half way)
Mix marinade ingredients together and let chicken marinate at least a half hour.
Quickly stir fry the marinated chicken pieces until almost done.

Add in your vegetables, and stir fry another minute, then add in remaining marinade and cooked noodles and cook another minute to finish cooking the chicken and marinade.

Top with cilantro and serve.
**Notes: the noodles add great texture to the stir fry as well as make it more filling for those of us who can’t live on veggies alone! Letting the noodles finish cooking with the marinade helps them soak up a bunch of the yummy flavor of the five spice and sesame.

This is my submission for Presto Pasta Nights #205, hosted by Debbi Does Dinner

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sweet Tart Martini

About a year ago, I ran across a recipe for a pretty little cocktail called a Sweet Tart Martini. I quickly tucked the recipe away, with plans to shake it up at a later date. The sticking point on this one was that it called for a specialty liqueur that I had a hard time finding, and when I did, I couldn't justify paying the price for a bottle of it when I didn't even know what it tasted like.

Well, fear not, my bloggy friends!

For my recent birthday, I received a gift card to my favorite liquor store in the nearest real city, and it just so happened that it was in the perfect amount to buy this bottle. Normally, I wouldn't have paid the money out of my own pocket for something like this, but hey, when its money you didn't have to begin with? Why not!

Happy Birthday to me, right?

You betcha.

So, while Ginny was visiting last weekend, we made a batch (ok, three batches) of these luscious little cocktails. You know... until we ran out of triple sec.... or we probably would have made more. I am not normally a martini drinker, but these weren't what I would call a typical martini. Sweet.... and tart! We did add a little more lime juice to amp up the "tart" factor. This little drinky-drink went down smooth and left me wanting another. And another. And now I have a whole bottle of the stuff, so I guess I better go buy some more triple sec!

Sweet Tart Martini
1.5 oz. X-Rated fusion

1.5 oz. Triple Sec
1.5 oz. cranberry juice
splash of pineapple juice
squeeze of lime

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and pour.

Lamb Chops with Balsamic Pomegranate Sauce

There are times when I think something is just meant to be.

There are signs.

It is FATE.

Fate intervened recently when I was leisurely (yes, I said “leisurely” because I did not have my child with me and was enjoying some pure, unadulterated shopping ALONE time) browsing the ethnic food section at my favorite mega-mart, and I discovered a bottle of Pomegranate Sauce (fortunately those two words were in English because the rest of the bottle was covered in foreign looking symbols...). It was more than I would usually pay for a condiment, but I splurged.

Later that week, when planning our visit, Ginny called me from Sam’s.

“Hey, you want to make lamb chops?”

Well, color me HAPPY!

Lamb chops? Seriously? Do you have ANY idea how rarely lamb makes an appearance in my shopping routine?

Naturally, I did a little bloggy research (also known as running a search on Tastespotting) and discovered that the idea of combining pomegranate and lamb really appealed to me.

How convenient.

Ginny arrived, as planned, with a lovely little package of the tiniest lamb chops I have ever seen. They just made me start singing in my head, “Ohhhh Lambs Eat Oats and Does Eat Oats, and Little Lambs Eat Ivy....”

Yes, I know, I have issues.

This recipe is so simple, its barely a recipe. I suppose if I hadn’t found the sauce, I could have reduced some pomegranate juice and built on it from there, but, lucky me, FATE was on my side.

Lamb Chops with Balsamic Pomegranate Sauce
Season your lamb chops with salt and pepper on all sides.

Sear the chops in a hot skillet on all sides, and cook until medium to medium rare.
Mix together 1 TB good balsamic vinegar and 3 TB prepared pomegranate sauce.

Drizzle sauce over lamb chops.... and revel in it.

We served these precious little gems with some polenta. They were so tiny it was not unlike eating chicken wings, about a bite of meat on either side of the T-bone.


So, if fate should shine down on you, and you find lamb chops and pomegranate sauce all in the same week....don’t question it, just cook it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Arancini di Riso for I Heart Cooking Clubs

I am going to miss cooking with Giada.

Wait, what the hell am I saying? I’m not going to quit cooking with Giada! I’m just going to have to add another chef to my roster of dishes to try. And that won’t be hard, because the choices we are voting on for the next chef over at I Heart Cooking Clubs is full of winners (I admit, I’m rooting for anyone BUT Bobby Flay). Personally, I am a big fan of Rick Bayless, so I think you can see where MY vote lies....

This week’s theme for I Heart Cooking Clubs is Potluck, which is designed to give us the opportunity to try recipes that we have been drooling over but just haven’t quite fit any of the recent themes. The only hard part about that concept for me, is narrowing it down. There are still SO many recipes I want to try, but fate helped me make my decision this week.

While Ginny was visiting this weekend, we made a batch of Creamy Leek Risotto from the Silver Spoon cookbook that is one of our personal favorites. Granted, it is not the Mushroom and Peas Risotto that Giada’s recipe calls for, but I suspect she’ll forgive me since I’ve seen multiple versions of her recipe. You know, that and the fact that I’m allergic to mushrooms.

If you’ve never had arancini, these can be made any number of ways, and it a great way to use up leftovers. The creamy leek risotto is wonderful for this because it stays very moist in the center while the outside fries up to a nice, crispy shell. Serve your arancini with a dish of marinara or alfredo sauce for dipping. These are terrific as an appetizer, or, if you’re me, a main dish on a night when you are already deep-frying something for the hubby.

Arancini di Riso

• Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
• 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
• 2 cups Risotto with Mushrooms and Peas, recipe follows, cooled
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
• 1 1/2 cups dried Italian-style bread crumbs
• 2 ounces mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (my risotto is creamy enough, I didn’t use the mozzarella)
• Salt

Pour enough oil in a heavy large saucepan to reach the depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat to 350 degrees F.

Stir the eggs, risotto, Parmesan, and 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs in a large bowl to combine. Place the remaining breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. Using about 2 tablespoons of the risotto mixture for each, form the risotto mixture into 1 3/4-inch-diameter balls. Insert 1 cube of mozzarella into the center of each ball. Roll the balls in the bread crumbs to coat.

Working in batches, add the rice balls to the hot oil and cook until brown and heated through, turning them as necessary, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the rice balls to paper towels to drain. Season with salt. Let rest 2 minutes. Serve hot.
Just look at the beautiful creamy center on these!
Be careful – these puppies are going to be HOT in the center! They are so worth it, though. Arancini are one of the reasons I make risotto....just for the leftovers!

This is my submission to the I Heart Cooking Clubs Potluck this week!

Dark Chocolate Bacon Jalapeño Bars

There is an idea that has been brewing in the back of my culinary consciousness for quite awhile now. It’s a simple idea, really, a combination of flavors that makes total sense (at least in my mind). There is only one problem. It calls for bacon.
Problem? You don’t think that’s a problem? Well then you must live alone.

See, in my house, bacon is a hot commodity. When I cook bacon, it disappears like my diet plans a week into February every year.

I love to put bacon in my recipes.... but if I want bacon to USE in those recipes, I have to be sneaky.

When I need bacon for a specific purpose, I either have to:

1. Cook it when no one else is home (and make sure I clean up the evidence before they get back) and hide it away in the fridge or freezer until I need it. If I do this, I have to make sure I hide it well, too. My boys can sniff out bacon a mile away. OR

2. Cook a meal for the family that INCLUDES bacon, cooking at least a pound extra, and chop and hide the excess while the boys are eating their share so they don’t realize there is extra.

Even under the best circumstances, these methods don’t always work. Seven times now...that’s right, SEVEN..... I have cooked bacon for this recipe and had it disappear before I had a chance to put it to use. TWICE, I chopped it up into tiny little bacon bits before hiding it, thinking that the men in the house wouldn’t eat it if it wasn’t in “Strip” form. WRONG. Instead of realizing that I must have prepped it that way for a purpose, they see it as a fortuitous occasion to top their potatoes with porky goodness when I am not looking.

Finally, this weekend, Matt was working overtime. I defrosted a package of bacon, cooked it, pre-chopped all of it, promptly made this treat, and buried the remaining bacon in the depths of the freezer, under the sun dried tomatoes and chicken carcasses being reserved for my next day of making chicken stock. Chances are, they will even find it THERE.

At least I finally got to create this little tasty treasure.... and I will again.... because there is just something very addictive about the combination of Chocolate..... Bacon.....and Jalapeño.

I melted 7 ounces of dark chocolate in a double boiler, added about a teaspoon of jalapeño powder, and then stirred in chopped bacon (maybe about 10 strips worth). I gently spooned the smoky mixture into my (long-ago purchased) candy bar molds, tapped them on the counter to evenly distribute the chocolatey dream, and popped them in the freezer to harden.
What a fabulous idea..... that's just all I can say. Just enough heat to make me happy but not to make my eyebrows sweat. Plenty of bacon to crunch on, and the bittersweetness of the dark chocolate.
I know someone at work who is going to be very happy when I bring my latest experiment to work today.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Do you need an easy, weeknight meal? Do you have picky eaters on your house? Is your pantry two days overdue for a trip to the grocery?

I have the meal for you.

I call it....Loaf-a-roni.

Normally I would expound on the virtues of such a wonderful dish....carry on about the ease of preparation....

You know what? There is really no need.

This dish speaks for itself.

Besides.... I am totally exhausted.

I have no words.

Today, Ty and I have been up since 2:30 and we have a long day and big weekend ahead of us.

So I am going to let you use your own won’t be hard.... this is one of those “nuff said” kind of moments.

I was so tired this morning, I even forgot to download the pictures from my camera, so I am including the one I sent to Ginny from my phone.... how lazy is that? Sooooo tired.....
Your mission, if you choose to accept it:

1. Make macaroni and cheese (next time, I’m totally doing pepperjack)
2. Mix up a meatloaf
3. Flatten half the meat mixture on a pan, making a well in the center
4. Fill the well with mac & cheese
5. Top with remaining meat
6. Carefully pull the edges of the bottom meat layer up to seal the top layer, making sure there are no holes
7. Bake at 350 degrees until done (about an hour)
8. Baste with your favorite BBQ sauce (we love Uncle Joe’s Sweet Smoke)
9. Bake 15 more minutes

If you have men or kids in your house, I can guarantee this is going to be a winner. Even MY picky eaters couldn’t deny it.

This is my submission to Presto Pasta Nights, hosted by Sarah at Maison Cupcake.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spring Fever! Strawberry Nutella Panini for I Heart Cooking Clubs

There are always certain things that are signs of spring. These things can be depended on, without fail, to harken the coming of warmer days. I could name a half dozen of those signs right now. But around here, there is one sure sign of spring that every local recognizes.

We even have an annual Strawberry Festival, although every year the berries come a little sooner and are nearly out of season by the time the festival rolls around. But, to me, the first decent strawberries that appear in the stores always excite me. And I was lucky enough to find these luscious little gems just yesterday at my local grocer.

One of my favorite things to do with the season’s first berries is something I learned from Giada de Laurentiis. See, the first berries aren’t necessarily the prettiest berries, but they still taste wonderful after having just gone through the local ice age and its series of snowpocalypses and blizzasters. One thing about berries that might not be the prettiest, though, is that they look just fine when they are sliced and covered in chocoloate.

After discovering the shiny red goodness, I promptly rounded the store and grabbed a pound cake from the freezer and a jar of Nutella.

And, really, I am not a patient person.

So, waking up at the ridiculously ungodly hour of 3:52am this morning, I got the hubs out the door to work, and by 5:00 I was slicing pound cake and heating up the Panini press (also known as the George Foreman grill that Ginny gave me).

This is so simple, its stupid.
  1. Slice the pound cake into ½ inch thick slices.
  2. Slather one side of each piece with Nutella. Not too thick, though it may be tempting to do so, because it will just ooze out onto the grill and be wasted. And that’s just unacceptable. So restrain yourself. Please.
  3. Slice your strawberries and place them on half the Nutella-coated slabs of pound cake.
  4. Spray the Panini press with cooking spray. Sandwich the slices together and place them on the grill, closing the lid.
  5. Grill until you have beautiful grill marks on each little sandwich.
Because a pancake yields pretty small slices, these make perfect little finger sandwiches....or breakfast sandwiches....which is what they are for me today. Breakfast.
Now THAT'S what I call "packing a lunch"!
However, if you wanted to get fancy, you could slice the loaf the long way and make bigger panini, then cut them into thinner sticks, or just shove the entire thing down your gullet and pretend its health food, you know, because it has fruit on it. That’s my rationalization, anyway.
So there you go. I declare it SPRING! And I’m celebrating with strawberries and Nutella. Care to join me?
This is my submission for Spring Fever week over at I Heart Cooking Clubs.