Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Year in Review

Foodie friends,

I hope you have been having a very enjoyable holiday season with your friends and family! My kitchen welcomed some highly anticipated new arrivals from Santa including an 11-cup food processor, chef's saute pan and some helpful gadgets I look forward to using. It is that time of year where we begin to reflect on what the past twelve months have brought us. There is so much to be grateful for, appreciate, and motivate us for the upcoming year. It has been a very busy two months and I regret the lack of recipe creativity. Unfortunately my most recent meals for December are captured on my camera that has a dead battery and I haven't been able to charge it. There are some great dishes including garlic-Parmesan veggie ribbons, roasted tomatoes and asparagus with balsamic glace, broiled salmon in an white wine and herb sauce, butternut squash polenta, and truffle mashed potatoes. I promise these posts for next year!

Last year Mr. Max and I went through and chose our favorite meals from each month for an end-of-year recap in 2010. This year, I'm going to allow the reader stats from my 2011 posts dictate the top ten favorites. For any blogger, it is always interesting for us to see what posts garner the most activity: where your traffic sources come from, what google search terms land people on your blog and what seems to be the most popular thing people look at. Therefore, here are the readers most-read posts of 2011!

Top 10 Favorite Meals of 2011

Bacon wrapped beef tenderloin with a madeira sauce - the meal that we welcomed 2011 with!

Buttermilk Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes - that pot roast was simply divine as well!

Chicken Spaghetti - Made in both a pasta version and a spaghetti squash version for the carb-consciousand packed with delicious veggies

Gnocchi Mac n Cheese - Such a fun cooking experience with delicious results!

Cilantro Lime Chicken - Included a tasty avocado salsa and saffron rice to compliment the chicken

Black Bean Veggie Enchiladas - One of my favorites, glad this was a reader favorite as well!

Chimichurri Salmon and Black Bean Succotash - Inspired by my birthday trip to New Orleans,
Emeril's NOLA Restaurant menu item. I've used this chimichurri on several dishes since!

Caprese Salad - Loved the preparatory addition of grilling the heirlooms!

Lasagna Roll Ups  - A delicious method to create lasagna at your control

Cider Ginger Brisket - Such a favorite of this fall season, a no-hassle dish that is perfect comfort in colder weather, and doesn't break the waistband!

Thanks for following throughout this year, I am looking forward to sharing more new recipes in 2012. Wishing you all a very happy and safe new year!
Tastefully Yours,

Monday, December 19, 2011

Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese and Pancetta Pizza with Truffle Oil

For our Friday date-night-in, we decided to make pizza influenced by some pretty amazing slices we tasted recently at Mr. Max's work party. We sampled tasty combinations including bacon-bleu cheese, pepperoni-jalapeno, and my favorite, the caramelized onion with goat cheese. Mr. Max wanted to make his favorite, the pepperoni-jalapeno, while I decided to get some pancetta, crisp it up and use that on the my version inspired by their caramelized onion and goat cheese version. Then...we used the ultimate finishing touch: we topped the whole pie with a drizzle of truffle oil. The result? Incredible - see below!

Grocery List:
  • 1 ball pizza dough (we picked up our favorite in Dallas from Jimmy's Food Store in East Dallas)
  • 1/4 cup red pizza sauce
  • 1/4 cup low fat-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 onion, chopped into rings
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • 2 strips pancetta
  • 1/4 cup goat cheese crumbles
  • 1/4 cup fontina cheese
  • 1 tbsp. truffle oil 
*Measurements are based on our approximations during the cooking process.
Start by preheating your oven to 400 degrees. In a skillet, add the olive oil and the onion slices over low-medium heat. Let cook for 5 minutes, covered. 

After 5 minutes, add the brown sugar, stirring around in the skillet to help coat the onions. Cover and check back periodically, stirring to keep from over-cooking. For best results, saute for at least 25-35 minutes on low heat. The slow cook process on a lower heat will extract the natural sweetness of the onions and caramelize them perfectly.

Remove onions from pan and set aside. Add pancetta to the skillet to begin to crisp over medium-high heat. Cook for about 8 minutes, then remove from skillet. When it is crisped and cooled, chop up into bite-sized bits.

On a pizza stone or large baking sheet, grease the surface, then roll out your crust with a baking pin to about 1/4 inch thick. Top with your preferred amount of sauce. I used a very little amount to provide an adhesive layer between the crust and cheeses, (right side) but not enough to overpower the main ingredient toppings. Mr. Max, however, loves his sauce and coated his side in it (left side).

Next, add your first layer of mozzarella cheese, followed by the caramelized onions and pancetta. Sprinkle the goat cheese and fontina, filling empty space. Once you have all you toppings set, carefully drizzle a light zig-zag of truffle oil from left to right, starting from the top to the bottom. Should not exceed more than 1 tbsp. of the oil.

Place in the oven on a lower oven rack to keep the top from browning too much. Cook for 15 minutes or until dough is golden brown and cheese is bubbling.

This is a break in your regularly scheduled programming for some holiday warmth.
I love having a fireplace and mantle now!
Sitting by the fire and watching a movie as the pizza cooked in the oven...

Back to food. When your pizza is ready, remove from oven and let cool for about 2 minutes.

Cut it up, dish it out and enjoy! We absolutely loved this pizza, it was fun to be creative in our topping choices and the truffle oil was the perfect addition. Mr. Max's verdict: we are never ordering out for pizza again.
My version

Mr. Max's version
Same preparation with more sauce, mozzarella and fontina cheese only, topped with 
pepperoni, minced jalepeno and drizzle of truffle oil

Tastefully yours,

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Santa Bites

The third annual Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies (or other baked delights) Contest just wrapped up at work. I have said before and have readily accepted the fact that I am just not much of a baker, but I do always try to participate. Last year, I sought therapy after my Tale of the Cake Balls chain of events. I realized I never came back around to give the recipe or at the least a picture of those little balls of hate, so here. You get a picture.

I was approached by another coworker to go splitsies on the last day of the competition, knowing that I always nab that sign-up spot. She decided that since the last day had two sign-up spots, we go in on it together as one ballot entry and blow the competition away. She is an incredible little baker, pies and jams her specialty, so I thought this could be a good fit. I bring the theme and presentation, if my baked contribution sucks, at least hers will rock it. Perfect combination!!

She encouraged me to do the cake balls again but I just couldn't bring myself to sacrifice the time, even though I'm sure the second go-round would have been smoother. If I ever do make them for Christmas again, I will use candy canes as the stick part, so much easier than that blasted bamboo skewer business that I brought upon myself.

Let's get back to the point. I ramble-write for my therapeutic purposes, but it's not what you care about. 

I wanted something easy this year, so I found some pinspiration for this little treat. The recipe was perfect for my inability to be very successful with baked goods and they were a hit at the office! Original recipe suggests melting white chocolate chips and transfering into a icing bag, but reading that was like Charlie Brown adults talking: wahh wah wahh wahp. No comprendo, dude. I was not going to mess with melting chocolate again this year. Therefore, I replaced that piece of the puzzle with a ready to go vanilla icing bag from Betty Crocker. Oh the simplicity.

Recipe yields 20 Santa Bites
Grocery List:
  • 1 box Brownie mix (I used a Duncan Hines, reduced fat mix)
    • this will call for you to use 1 egg, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup canola oil. You're welcome.
  • 1 tube vanilla icing 
  • 1 carton strawberries
And that's ALL! Shortest grocery list I've ever provided you. Additionally, you may want to pick up some materials such as baking tins if you don't already have some and miniature baking cups. I couldn't find the aluminum tins to make the minis, but I emprovised using the small cups in regular muffin tins, making the brownie cups a little more spread out and thinner, since they weren't held in form by the smaller diameter to reign in the sides. I really liked that about them though, it provided more surface space for the strawberry hat topping.

You are going to start by making the brownie mix as usual. Set the cups in the muffin tins and fill each with a large spoonful. Bake in the oven on 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Set the timer for 12 minutes first, test with a toothpick and play the "2 more minutes" game until the toothpick test results in no residue. Because these are much more condensed than one massive sheet of brownie batter, they will not take as long as the box says. I'm glad I had that common sense. I don't always.

While the brownie bites are baking, utilize this time to prepare your strawberries, aka, the hats. Chop the stems of creating a perfect little triangle.

When you brownies are cooked and cooled, get your icing bag and squeeze the frosting about 5 millimeters inside the perimeter of the brownie bite, a big thick ring. That's 1/2 a centimeter folks, 1/8 of an inch - I know this because I'm staring at a ruler on my desk.

Add your strawberry to settle right down in the icing ring, then top the peak with a little bop of icing.

Doesn't that resemble a little Santa hat?? Therefore, I nixed the longer title from the recipe I used and just referred to them as Santa Bites. 

I saved two at home for Mr. Max and got to the office to set up the display with my coworker. We had her chocolate, apple and cherry pies, my Santa Bites, nutcracker decor, hot chocolate, spiced tea, holiday serving pieces, an old school boombox hidden under a tapestry that played Christmas music all day long, and recipe cards.

Then, in true over-acheiving fashion, we elfed ourselves and sent this email out to the office, announcing the arrival of the treats:
In honor of our last day of holiday treats,
Here’s a fun video clip with killer beats.

Help yourself and take a bite,
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Bon app├ętit,

Katie and Cassie 

Enjoy friends, Happy Holidays!!

Tastefully yours,

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lobster Mac and Jack

As a new contributor for the Dallas Observer's "City of Ate" blog, I get to dine at restaurants each month to try a favorite dish. My premise is to recreate that dish healthier, cheaper and/or easier from home. Sometimes all goals will be met, sometimes none of them will, but it's been a fun journey so far that I look forward to continuing!

For this assignment, my friend Erin and I hit Victor Tango's to indulge in their Crab Mac and Jack Gratin - an incredibly cheesy, creamy side dish favorite. I am not allowed to play the "journalist" card so I have to weasel answers out of staff the best I can as an "average-Joe" patron. The place was packed so the waitress was my best ingredient-hinting source and all I was able to get from her was that there were 6 cheeses, lots of heavy cream and Pancetta used.

The restaurant version was $13.00 before tax and tip and we were in and out in less than an hour. I had seafood, heavy cream and six cheeses to try to emulate without breaking budget or the waistband. My work to meet cheaper, easier and healthier was cut out for me!

In a Central Market class that Mr. Max and I took last spring, we did a Lobster Mac and Cheese, so I took to that recipe for some guidance as I began my restaurant recreation process. That class recipe only used four cheeses and did not include a roux, which is typically created in cream based sauce-making. Due to time constraints, I only had one night that I could do this to meet the deadline, and of course, I ran into one slight problem: my grocery store was out of crab meat - BUT - they did have lobster. Though my objective is to recreate the restaurant dish, the D.O. food critic editor challenged me to include my own twists, so I felt this classified as such and I went with a different crustacean.

The crab in the original version was a silent ingredient; it sat atop but didn't bring any flavor or even texture to the dish. As far as the Pancetta, we couldn't find a trace of it while eating it, though they said it was an ingredient, and it was listed on the menu. I went ahead and picked up some fresh shavings of the meat from the deli to incorporate at some capacity.

For the sauce, I wanted to try to make it as healthy as possible. I bypassed the fat and calories of the heavy cream, opting for Half and Half instead, paired with whole wheat macaroni elbows. As for the six cheeses, the lobster already put me closely over budget at $10 for half a pound, so I needed to be tactful. I picked up some reduced fat cream cheese to help fill the void that the heavy cream would leave, then after discussion with a self-proclaimed cheese expert on melty, tasty, non-sweating cheeses, I grabbed shredded Parm, Gruyere, Fontina and a Cheddar-Jack mix.

Experience with sauces has taught me, you need a double boiler-type method when dealing with cheeses to keep them from burning or curdling when directly melted on the heat source. After starting the noodles, I was able to create a make-shift double boiler with a pot and a ceramic mixing bowl.

I added a little butter to provide a liquid for the cheese as it started the melting process. I used about 2 cups of cheese altogether consisting of approximately 10% Parm Reggiano, 20% Gruyere, 20% Fontina and 50% Cheddar Jack. I used 3 oz. of softened cream cheese, then added in tablespoon pours of the Half and Half as it melted, mixing it in before adding more. I reserved 1 cup of the macaroni water to help with thinning, and add a little starch if needed, using about 2 tbsp. worth total.

My thought for the Pancetta was to cook it in a skillet, creating tasty grease. I cooked four pieces, put them aside, then added the chopped lobster to saute and coat in the flavoring. I am a huge fan of creole seasoning in my macaroni so I decided to add that to the lobster chunks for additional taste, something the crab lacked in the restaurant version. I then chopped up one of the Pancetta pieces and mixed it in with the lobster.

I learned in a cooking class to coat noodles with just 1 tbsp. of butter when using a heavy sauce to help keep the dish creamy, rather than coagulating into clumps. I used 3/4 of the sauce to coat the noodles, then spooned them into individual casserole dishes. I then topped each with the remaining 1/4 bowl of sauce. The restaurant version used a few breadcrumbs sprinkled atop the crab and then baked for the finished result. While I am not a fan of heavy bread crumbs, I decided to pull out the Panko and mimic that texture, only using a light sprinkle, dusting the lobster-pancetta mix spread along the middle of the mac and jack.

I turned on my broiler and popped this in the oven for 2 minutes until top looked golden brown. The taste was wonderful - the lobster method was a vast improvement in the overall taste from the initial dish, it added so much more dimension! However, my cheese sauce did not maintain the same kind of velvety, creamy consistency as the restaurant version. It had the right taste to it but missed the full-bodied consistency that heavy cream would have created, and seeped through every bite of the restaurant version.

The results? If I could take my flavorful lobster topping and use of the whole wheat noodles, combined with their cheese sauce, it would have been a perfect combination! In terms of ease, my process took about 40 minutes from start to finish, which worked well on an evening where I wanted to be home, and still less time than the restaurant experience. The cost of just one portion would come out to roughly $10.67, no tax or tip needed in my kitchen. The amount of ingredients I purchased made three portions and my grocery bill for everything, rounded to the nearest dollar, was $32 - much higher than going to the restaurant and ordering up just one for myself. My use of whole wheat noodles and Half and Half certainly made it healthier. 

For my full recipe, click here!

Tastefully yours,

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Cider-Ginger Brisket

I picked up this recipe card at Whole Foods nearly a year ago, however, I misplaced it and recently came across it in my recipe binder. It's recipes like this that remind me why I should use my crock pot more often! The preparation process takes no time at all and when you get home at the end of the day, your home smells absolutely divine and the contents of the slow cooker tastes even better than they smell. Embrace the colder weather and give yourself a break with a crock pot meal this simple and hearty!

We absolutely loved the flavor of this meal and it was our first time to try parsnips. After the week of Thanksgivings, I needed a break from potatoes so I readily accepted the recipe suggestion. This was a perfect substitute and a new root vegetable that we both enjoyed. I decided to do a little google comparison between parsnips and potatoes and came to find that they are much lower in calories and contain more fiber and folic acid than potatoes. I'm considering a new type of mash to replace potatoes!

Moving along... this took 15 minutes to prepare before work one morning. I let it cook on low heat in the crock pot for 8.5 hours, which was the longest I've left my crock pot unattended but it worked out just fine. The result was an incredibly tender brisket with soft veggies in a tangy cider-vinegar broth.

Nutritional facts include: 400 calories, 15g fat, 24g carbs, 4g fiber, 10g sugar and 40g protein per serving.
Recipe yields 2 servings. 

Grocery List:
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1.5 lbs. beef brisket
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. minced ginger
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar (for a more subtle taste, use regular apple cider)
  • 1 cup low-sodium beef broth
  • 3 parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup baby carrots
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
 To start, you want to season the meat with salt and pepper, then sear each side of the brisket in a little oil.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ginger and apple cider vinegar. In a crock pot, add the onions, parsnips, carrots, brisket and garlic, top with the beef broth. 

Add the vinegar and ginger mix, followed by the parsley. Cover and let cook for at least 6 hours on low heat. For a faster result, you can cook on high heat for 4 hours. 

When you return, your kitchen will smell incredible. Remove the lid and test a veggie or the brisket itself for a sneak peak of your dinner. The meat will fall apart at the slightest touch!

When you are ready to serve, break the meat apart and ladle into bowls, topping with the broth for more flavor. I look forward to making this one again... enjoy!!

Served with simple sauteed haricot verts

Tastefully yours,

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