Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve Dinner

Auld lang syne my friends! It's official, we had our best meal of the year on the last night of the year. Thank you Southern Living Ultimate Christmas Cookbook for providing us with the incredible menu line up of our short culinary careers. The night's menu consisted of:
  • Holiday baked brie
  • Winter greens salad with a champagne-pomegranate vinaigrette topped with Gorgonzola crumbles, honey glazed pecans and pomegranate seeds.
  • Bacon wrapped beef tenderloin with Madeira sauce
  • Sun-dried tomato and garlic whipped potatoes
  • Roasted green beans with balsamic glaze
Mr. Max and I have created a New Year's Eve dinner tradition - at A&M, if anything happens more than 2 times, it is a tradition, I've adopted that policy. The past two years we have spent the afternoon preparing a wonderful dinner of steak and bell pepper kabobs, mashed potatoes, big salad and an alternating veggie. This year, we decided to shake it up with something new. After reading the SL cookbook, it was a given - we were graduating to bacon wrapped beef tenderloin. I decided to up the ante with sun-dried tomato and garlic potatoes, trying another version. The salad was incredible, I loved this vinaigrette and plan to make a batch to store for future use! Finally, the green beans were the perfect side; roasted until almost crunchy, yet moist and juicy, tossed in a balsamic glaze. Mmm-mm-mmmm-mm-mmmm.

The individual recipes will come over the next couple days but I leave you with these shots of our lovely meal to ring in 2011! Time to get ready to celebrate with friends, much love and happy new year to you all!

Baked brie appetizer

Plate of incredible food

Our little table set up - of course, a bowl game playing in the background :-)

Fun fact: Notice anything different? Perhaps, the photo clarity and awesomeness? Mr. Max surprised me with a new fancy Nikon camera for Christmas so I could take better pictures for my blog - and life in general. Thank you Santa Max!!

Tomorrow on New Years Day, I will be in my mom's kitchen tackling brisket and black eyed pea soup!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pomegranate Glazed Salmon

This delicious little recipe comes from the new Cook's Illustrated magazine. Because I was cleaning, working and cooking 2 things at the same time, I happened to overlook a few things in the recipe - good news, wasn't ingredients. What I overlooked was that before baking in the oven, you quickly pan sear the salmon fillet to help the glaze stick to the fish while baking. Well, it stuck just fine anyway, but did cause me to alter the heat at which it cooked and the longevity in the oven.

If you've been a follower throughout the year, you've seen that I enjoy making glazes, sauces and creams. It was one of my goals in 2010, to start making my own and learning a wide array of them. I loved this recipe because it used such a healthy fruit, rich in antioxidants, and sweet in taste but combined it with balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard. The final product was a tasty twist on a regular baked salmon dish.

Grocery List:
for sauce
- 3 tbsp. Pomegranate juice
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar
- 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp. dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

for salmon
- 1 tsp. of light brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp. of salt
- 1/4 tsp. of cornstarch
- 2 salmon fillets (I cut each in half to make a total of 4 small fillets)
- Olive oil

As I said, I slightly overlooked a step so I'm going to write this recipe the way I made it, only because my negligence didn't turn into a recipe flop, this time :-) Because I missed the pan-searing, I ended up heating my oven to 350, instead of the suggested 300. So go ahead and pre-heat the oven to 350.

We will prepare the salmon first so in a small bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, salt and cornstarch.

Next, I used a pastry brush to brush olive oil over the salmon, then I sprinkled the prepared rub over the salmon - doing this is two fold, it helps the salmon caramelize as it heats, along with providing a "grip" for the glaze so it doesn't slide off as it bakes in the oven.

In a small saucepan, prepare the glaze. Combine all ingredients for the glaze in the saucepan over medium-high heat and whisk together.

Bring to a boil to allow the sauce to thicken and become "syrupy". Once this consistency is reached, spoon it evenly over the salmon fillets.

Cook in the oven for about 15 minutes or until done. Served with a veggie medley quinoa!

Veggie Medley Quinoa

I had carrots, I had zucchini and I had squash. I planned to saute them with a little seasoning and be done with it. Then, I felt the urge to make something more out of it. I looked in my pantry and saw I had quinoa on the third shelf - touchdown.

Easy and simple, packed full with nutritious delight, here is my version of a veggie medley quinoa.

Grocery List:
- 1 zucchini squash
- 1 yellow squash
- 2 carrots, peeled
- 1 small onion, diced
- Olive oil
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- Parsley
- Garlic Salt
- Parmesan cheese, grated
- Tamari

Heat about 2 tablespoons worth of olive oil in a large skillet (if you have a wok, I would suggest it, I felt I should have used mine). Chop your squash and carrots into coins. For Christmas, my aunt started me on a new knife set so I use my wonderful new Santoku Wusthof tonight!

Begin sauteing your onions in the olive oil, I seasoned with garlic salt and dried parsley.

Once translucent, add the other veggies. Turn up to medium heat and cover to allow for veggies to steam and soften within the skillet.

Meanwhile, in a small pot, take your quinoa and boil in 2 cups water (rule of cooking this grain is 2 cups water to every 1 cup of quinoa - if you are making for more, remember that). Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer on lower heat until water is absorbed.

Now - I just start making things up. When quinoa was nice and cooked, I dumped it in the skillet with my sauteing veggies. I felt it needed some liquid so I added about 1/4 cup worth of chicken stock as it all blended, continuing to cook. Next, I felt some seasoning was in order so I added some garlic salt and dried parsley to taste (about 4 hearty shakes of each). Next, I decided to throw in 2 pinches of Parmesan cheese. Stir well!

Finally, I decided it needed something a little tangy and I remembered my double broccoli quinoa recipe using tamari, so I pulled out my tamari and added about 2-3 tablespoons worth. Mix it all up, you have a great tasting, healthy dish!

Served with a pomegranate glazed salmon.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Best of 2010

As this year comes to a close, I decided to showcase my favorite recipes from each month as a tribute to my first year in the blog world. I've thoroughly enjoyed my time sharing and exchanging recipes since May of this year and I am greatly looking forward to all that I will try in 2011.

Favorite recipe from May, my debut recipe, the Halibut en Papillote. I have learned three important things from the America's Test Kitchen Cooking Light experimental recipe: I love halibut, I love quinoa and I love zucchini squash!

Other notable recipes, and all worthy of honorable mention titles that stemmed for trying this include the double broccoli quinoa, the parmesan zucchini and the pan-seared halibut with pesto butter. All of these made possible (and incredible) because I branched out of my comfort zone with the above winner.

Favorite from June would have to be the San Antonio Style Goat Cheese Enchiladas. This was my first time to attempt enchiladas and work with food the way the recipe called for. This was back in the day when my camera didn't work and I only had Mr. Max's iPhone. I need to make this again soon so I can a) enjoy this wonderful dish and b) take new pictures!

Favorite for July would have to be the Chicken Lettuce Wraps. I boldly wrote that they were better than Pei Wei and I stand behind that testimony.

My favorite for August was a toss up because I really loved the hatch chili recipes, but the Summer Stirfry takes the prize! It reminded me of the delicious chicken curry that has been a Max Man favorite, but with a light and sweet taste perfect for summer.

Favorite September recipe was probably the appetizer Chicken Bruschetta that I took and adapted to really make into my own.

Favorite October recipe was very difficult - I really loved all of the meals we made, however, Pioneer Woman's Pasta a la Vodka wins for this month. As for anything PW, this was incredible and completed my long-awaited attempt at a homemade vodka sauce.

I thought October was tough, November had to be my favorite month of recipes. From the tortilla soup and butternut squash soup that inspired me to expand my appliance family to welcome the immersion blender, to the wonderful Thanksgiving offerings like the buttermilk chess pie and gorgonzola fried onion potatoes, it was a delicious month that's for sure! (See what I did there?) I think the Beef Goulash will be my absolute favorite though, if only choosing one. Perfect for the fall, an incredible tasting stew using sweet red wine and paprika.

Last but not least, my favorite for the month of December, which has to be the meal made of the Butternut Squash Risotto and the Spiced Pork Agrodolce - a symphony of flavors!

Lighter Macaroni and Cheese

I found this recipe from Gina's Skinny Recipes - it's a lightened up version of a cheddar mac and cheese. I made a slight addition of sauteing the onions in paprika and of course, added some Tony's Creole for a delicious final product. It was a great complement to dinner tonight, much more simple than my first homemade effort and perfect comfort food for this cold and rainy Texas evening. The recipe makes enough for about six side dish portions, containing 297 calories, 9.7 grams of fat, 15.8 grams of protein, 34.5 grams of carbs and 5.3 grams of fiber.

Grocery List:
- 3 cups of elbow macaroni noodles (wheat, high fiber)
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup onion, minced
- Paprika
- Olive oil
- 2 cups skim milk
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 8 oz. of 2% reduced fat mild cheddar cheese
- Fresh chopped spinach
- 3 cheese blend (I used a packaged version with asiago, fontina and parmesan grated cheeses)
- Salt and pepper to taste

Start by boiling your macaroni elbow noodles until soft. Drain and set aside.

In a small skillet, add a dab of olive oil and your onions. Begin to saute, adding a few shakes of paprika.

In a dutch oven or heavy pot, heat your butter. Next, whisk in your flour and stir for about two minutes on medium heat, creating a roux.

Once your onions have had a chance to cook and absorb the paprika flavoring, add to the roux.

Next, add the milk, followed by the chicken stock. Turn up to medium-high heat and stir until well combined and thickened.

Add the mild cheddar and stir, followed by a small handful of the three-cheese blend. Stir constantly until the cheese has melted. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the cooked macaroni noodles and about 1 handful of chopped fresh spinach leaves.

At this time, you can choose to move the noodles into a baking dish, top with additional parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs to bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes. However, I have a texture issue and feel like breadcrumbs in creamy macaroni and cheese is like pouring sand into my milkshake. So, I just sprinkled Tony's Creole over top!

I served this meal with a flavorful walnut-crusted chicken topped in a cranberry "mojo" along with a spinach salad of red onion, dried berries, feta and balsamic vinaigrette.

Walnut Chicken with Cranberry Mojo

I don't know about you but when I put on my work clothes this morning, they seemed just a little snug. Holiday eating commenced at Thanksgiving and I would be lying if I said I've watched what I've been eating since then. This time of year is just so much fun when it comes to the endless possibilities of food preparation and of course, the cookbooks designed for holiday entertaining. I received Southern Living's Ultimate Christmas Cookbook and I'm just not ready to give up the holiday tastes.

This is a lighter entree that I adapted from two recipes: a walnut chicken with dijon cream sauce and a panko bread crumb coated chicken with a cranberry "mojo" topping. I couldn't decide between the two but certain aspects of both struck my fancy so I just combined them, adapting the recipes more as I went.

The original recipe for the cranberry mojo called for real cranberries but my Whole Foods was out, so I got dried cranberries and opted to make this sauce a different way; the recipe called for the fresh cranberries to be processed in with the rest of the sauce. This probably would have added a certain thickness that my sauce lacked. Instead, I processed the mojo ingredients without the cranberries, decided to heat in a saucepan, then add corn starch as a thickening agent, followed by the dried cranberries. I also decided to bake the chicken rather than cook it in a skillet, like the initial recipes called for.

Mr. Max and I really enjoyed this dinner! The chicken was crispy yet tender, the cranberry "mojo" added a tangy, yet savory component.

Grocery List:
- 4 Chicken cutlets
- 1 cup of walnuts, chopped
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup flour
- Olive oil
- 1 cup of cranberry juice, from concentrate
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 tbsp. cumin
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Start by pre-heating your oven to 420 degrees.

I prefer to use chicken cutlets because they are already trimmed of fat and excess. They are also smaller amounts of meat than a full chicken breast - which I personally prefer. If you use full chicken breasts, pound them down to about 3/4 of an inch thick.

In a small mixing bowl, combine your chopped walnuts, panko bread crumbs and flour. Using a spoon or pastry brush, spread a small amount of olive oil over each side of the chicken, then dredge the walnut mixture onto both sides of the chicken cutlets. Once coated, place the chicken breasts in an oven-safe baking dish and cook for about 20 minutes.

In a food processor, add your cranberry juice, cilantro, chopped garlic, honey, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, cumin and lime juice.

Process well - this is where I felt it needed to be thicker. I poured the cranberry sauce into a saucepan on medium heat. Once slightly bubbling, I added the dried cranberries. I remembered how in other recipes such as the Waldorf Salad and the Pork Chops in Cherry Chutney Demi-Glace, I put the dried berries in hot water to let them expand before adding to the sauces. Instead of following that same procedure to use the microwave and bowl of water, I dumped them right in the simmering sauce to let them soak and expand. I added about a tablespoon of corn starch and mixed well, allowing the sauce to thicken. Now, it was perfect!

Make sure the chicken is completely cooked, then remove from oven.

Spoon the cranberry mojo over top the walnut crusted chicken and enjoy! I served with a homemade, lightened up macaroni and cheese along with a spinach salad to complete the meal.

The one thing I thought to add as I was putting it in the oven was to try adding 2 tbsp - 1/4 cup (depending on how much you are making) of brown sugar to the bread crumb/walnut mixture. I think it would bring a wonderful sweetness to the chicken and pair well with the cranberry sauce!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Pesto Linguine with Chicken and Tomatoes

The brothers are home for Christmas so we decided to have a good ol' fashioned family dinner at the parent's house last night. I regret not having a camera to document the meal, but I'm sure I will make it again soon. We joke that every family gather meal involves fajitas or Bubba's, so Italian food was the verdict. Max Man and I had a delicious date night recently and he had ordered a simple basil pesto linguine with chicken - it was wonderful! So, I decided to make that, adding a little half and half to make it a creamy pesto.

Grocery List (for 6):
- 1 box linguine
- Chicken breasts
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 cups packed basil leaves
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (grated)
- 1/4 cup parsley
- 3 cloves garlic
- Balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup half & half
- Cherry tomatoes, halved and pitted

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Start by trimming your chicken breasts and pound them to about 1 inch thick, if not already.

Take your basil leaves, parsley, garlic and pine nuts and grind in the food processor. Start adding the olive oil slowly and process, until all is used. Finally, add the Parmesan cheese. Next, spoon and spread a little of this pesto over the chicken breasts and put in the oven to cook for 20 minutes.

Next, take your halved tomatoes and saute them in a skillet with olive oil and about a tablespoon worth of balsamic vinegar. Let them pucker and soak in the flavors!

Last, boil your noodles until al dente. While the noodles are boiling, take the pesto from the food processor and put in a small sauce pan. Let it heat up and add about 1/4 cup's worth of half & half. Once your noodles have been boiled and drained, take the pesto cream sauce and toss with the pasta until well coated.

To serve, create a bed of noodles to top with the chicken breast and spoon the tomatoes over the chicken and pasta. Garnish with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. Close your eyes and imagine the sight and the aromas of basil, garlic and sweet tangy tomatoes.... mmmmm.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tale of the Cake Balls

Today's entry: The Tale of the Cake Balls

Sometimes I forget just how competitive I am by nature. So much so that it becomes frightening - not really but it sounds dramatic so let's go with it. I am happy that Mr. Max happened to be out of town for this saga or else I'm not sure he would love me as much. Again, not really but going for the dramatic entry.

The past twelve days my office put on a friendly cookie/confection contest. I slated my name in for the last day so that I could spend these 2 weeks sizing up the competition and plotting my perfect finale. The problem being, as I've said in previous posts, I am not a baker. Very unskilled at it, easily frustrated by it and all around, not a fun activity for me. So, I signed up for this contest out of my need to compete, but then reality sunk in. Beginning day one there were creative displays, incredibly tasty treats, people really brought their A game. This was not a friendly competition anymore, this meant war.

I changed my mind about 4 times until I discovered a recipe for cake balls. Then, I thought of my theme (I always have themes for things, it's like my calling card). Twelfth day of the 12 Days of Christmas contest, my mind sang "on the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to meeeee, 12 drummers drumming!" - cake balls, on sticks, drum sticks, drummer, drum. Eurekia!!

I got a big red and green drum basket, stuffed it with natural colored crinkle paper, snagged some holly jolly cupcake cups for them to sit in, secured a drummer nutcracker from my mom, this was looking great in my mind. Missing something.... a poem of explanation. Deal maker. Cranked that sucker out in 10 minutes. Ok, well a prior 10 minutes were spent actually trying to make it iambic pentameter, but that crashed and burned to no avail.

I give to you the poem I masterfully created - it was possibly one of my most corny publishings.

On the 12th Day of Christmas....
An ode to 12 Drummers Drumming
a poem my English teacher would be ashamed of

I chose day twelve for a reason;

To check out the competition of the season!

The many creative treats have certainly made this hard,

As I have consumed them, it has left me feeling like a tub of lard.

I have spent many hours planning the perfect treat,

The opposition, I hope I can beat! (as in a drum, get it?)

Twelve drummers drumming is my theme,

With bites of red velvet and mint chocolate, a winter dream.

I give you homemade cake ball pops and ask that you cast a vote,

I asked Santa for the win, and that’s all she wrote…

Yes, pulling out all the stops on this one. My journey began on Tuesday this week when I bought all of my materials. I decided on red velvet filling dipped in white chocolate and mint chocolate filling dipped in milk chocolate. I started the process that night, baking each respective cake according to the box, then ruining it by dumping it in a bowl and combining with a tub of icing. Quick, painless, easy - superb. I followed my directions and put them in the fridge for 24 hours. I had my brother's birthday dinner Wednesday night and returned home at 11 PM thinking I could whip the next step together no problem, get a good night sleep because I had an early morning. With a mellon ball scooper, double boiler and bamboo skewers, I was ready to roll.

Let's hone in on something real quick, I said bamboo skewers. If my experience 6 years ago at Texas A&M's Big Event should have taught me anything it was that bamboo is one tough stick to crack, literally. At the Big Event (an all campus service day for students and organizations) my group's task was to help a family with their yard work, but I think it was really taking advantage when the very middle class family in 5 bedroom tudor home in College Station, TX used us sorority GIRLS to rip up a bamboo bush in their yard. I couldn't move my arms for 4 days. All of this to say, I thought - oh, I can't find lollipop sticks as quickly as I need them so I'll just cut these skewers to work, perfect!! No, it was not perfect, they did not want to cut. I broke a pair of scissors in the process and even my knife block shears were too wimpy for these things. Cutting them down to size, both berating them to just cut, just do it already, just, ahhhhh, and chopping them in half. This task began the frustration. It took probably 40 minutes to get those taken care of.

Next, the rolling of the dough to create the ball of cake. I quickly found I didn't think the suggested melon ball scooper that I bought was large enough for the size I was hoping for, so I used it but more as an ice cream scoop and rolled larger globs of the cake/icing mixture to mold. Once rolled, I put the sticks in them and heated the chocolate in the double boiler. Thinking it was smooth sailing from this point, I went into dipping mode. With the white chocolate all nice and silky, I went in for the perfect dip, only for the ball to slide off the stick immediately, plop into the bowl and begin to get mushy in the hot, melted chocolate. Obscenities followed.

Scooped it out, looked at the lines of balled dough in front of me. Re-read my directions, tried again. Another fail, this time the red velvet cake was running into the white chocolate - so NOT part of my plan. More obscenities. These were not my proudest moments.

At this point, I cleared out my freezer, and shoved the cookie sheet of cake ball sticks in it. For ten minutes I sulked and thought about throwing in the towel, forfeiting my triumphant holiday vision but then the spirit of competition whacked me upside the head and I was back in the game. Perhaps it was Mariah Carey's All I want for Christmas is You that came on and my Grinch-like spirits were lifted. Luckily, a good timeout in the freezer is just what the cake balls needed, they had firmed up and were ready to go! While they looked anything but professionally done, I decided to embrace a sloppy homemade look, part of their charm right? Like that wonky frame of golf tees and popsickle sticks you would make your parents as gifts - no they aren't perfect but that's why it's so great! I convince myself of these things sometimes... I would make a quick initial dip then use a spoon to slather it on. Once covered in chocolate, I stuck the cake ball back on the cookie sheet in the freezer to harden.

The next hour of dipping was a blur. I had it in my mind that I would then drizzle the white chocolate with milk chocolate and vise versa. No ma'am, that went out the window when I looked at the clock that read 1:45 am and I knew 6 am was going to come waaaaay too soon. A total of 40 cake balls made, barely put a dent in the batter I had, I was done for the night.

I woke up praying it was only 3:00 am and I could sleep for a few more hours, this was not the case. When I got into the office at 7:15, I arranged my themed-scene on the counter of the break room, gathering a few event supply items from my storage area (bonus!) to complete the staged look. Last touch was the poem in the 8x10 plexi frame and we were open for business.

Shortly thereafter, I left for an event at the hospital and when I returned at 12:30, only 4 of my 40 cake ball pops remained. Therefore, it was all worth it.

Recipe with pictures will follow, I needed this post for therapy.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Butternut Squash Risotto

A few weeks ago, Mr. Max and I had a nice little date night at the Stoneleigh Hotel's restaurant, Bolla. They had a four-course meal special and the second course served an incredible butternut squash risotto. We attempted our first homemade risotto alfredo last month and decided to recreate Bolla's version with our quasi-working knowledge of risotto making. The first thing we are doing different is using Arborio rice rather than short grain regular rice - due to the starches, Arborio rice becomes creamy as it cooks, enhancing the consistency of the risotto.

After researching several recipes, I've adapted fellow blog, CheapGoodHealthy's, recipe and I have to say, this was amazing. Risotto does take a little more time in the kitchen to make, but it was well worth it. The nutritional facts for this dish include 371 calories, 10 g fat and 1.4 g fiber.

Grocery List:
  • about 1 lb. of butternut squash, cut up into small cubes
  • 1 dozen sage leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4-5 cups of low fat chicken (or veggie) stock
  • 1/2 cup onion, diced
  • 3 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 cup Arborio rice, uncooked
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan, shredded
Start by cutting up your squash into small cubes.

In a heavy pot or dutch oven, add squash, 1 cup of chicken stock, salt and 3 sage leaves on medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the squash reserving the cooking stock for later.

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in the pot and add about 2 tbsp. of chopped sage, followed by the onions, cooking until translucent. This was another heavenly aroma! Turn the heat on low, add a pinch of salt and the Arborio rice. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring often. Turn the heat back up and add the white wine. Cook until the wine has been absorbed.

While the rice absorbs the wine, in a separate pot, heat the remaining 4 cups of chicken stock. Once bubbling, scoop about 1/4 cups worth and add to the rice. Stir well to help absorb, once absorbed, add another 1/4 cup. Repeat until all stock is absorbed. At this point, I'm glad I had held on to the stock I boiled the squash in because the rice still wasn't completely cooked, so I added about 1/3 cup to the rice.

Finally, add the last of the butter, the Parmesan and the squash, stirring carefully, mixing all together. I added a few shakes of cinnamon to this dish to give it a little more flavor and then it was perfect.

I garnished with grated Parmesan, sage leaves and sprinkled cinnamon served with a tasty spiced pork agrodolce. This was an incredible Roman-Italian meal, godere amici!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Print Friendly