Thursday, March 31, 2011

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

Last night I made Chicken Vesuvio, which is chicken with potatoes and artichoke hearts in a white wine sauce.  This is a favorite of mine which for some reason I had made only a few times before, and never for Corey.  This is definitely something that will go on our "favorites" list.
The original recipe is courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis, and I made only a few changes.  I made 2 servings, and used bone-in chicken breast.  I also used canned artichoke hearts instead of frozen as per the recipe.  I love to cook with Whole Foods' 365 brand canned artichokes which are canned in water rather than the usual jarred kind which are in oil.  I like to always have a can on hand, and happened to have some in the fridge leftover I wanted to use up, which was why I wanted to make this dish.
I love to cook this way - browning everything on the stovetop, and then cooking everything together in the same pan in the oven.  I love to use our Calphalon pans for this, which are anodized with a nonstick interior.  You will see these black pans in a lot of my photos here.  They allow for perfect browning on the stovetop, are oven safe, and are so easy to clean, without any scrubbing.  Because of the material, I use less oil or a light spray of my 100% olive oil spray.  These pans brown so much better than other nonstick pans I've used before, and the nonstick interior does not peel off or scratch.

Here's a photo of the finished product:
Here's how I made it-
1T olive oil
2 chicken breasts with skin and bones
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 small red-skinned potatoes, halved
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2C dry white wine
1/2C low sodium chicken broth
1t dried oregano
3/4t dried thyme
4 whole canned artichoke hearts, excess water squeezed out, and quartered
1T unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 450.
Heat the oil in large ovenproof pan over medium-high heat.
Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper.
Add the chicken to the saute pan and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.
Remove the chicken to a bowl.
Carefully add the potatoes to the same pot and cook until they are golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute.

Cute little potatoes

Add the wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pot.
Add the broth, oregano, and thyme.
Return the chicken to the pot, along with any juices from the bowl, and arrange the potatoes around the chicken.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Lookin' good

Cover, put the pan in the oven and bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes.
Transfer the chicken and potatoes to plates.
Add the artichoke hearts to the sauce in the pot.
Cover and simmer over medium-high heat until the artichokes are tender, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Turn heat to low and stir in the butter.
Pour the sauce over chicken and potatoes, and serve.

It was really delicious.  Corey's only comment was that he wanted more artichokes, and in fact he tried to steal some of mine...OK I relented.  I used a Chardonnay from Argentina for this, which worked perfectly.  A winner!

Here's the link for the original recipe:

I also made some baby spinach to go along with this.
I heated a little olive oil over medium heat, about 1t, in another 1 of these pans, added some sliced garlic and cooked for 1 minute.  Then I added some baby spinach to the pan and cooked it, turning with tongs, until wilted.  I added some grated lemon zest and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Are you going to try this? Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

1 Pot meals are great, but how about a No Pot meal? Cook your dinner in a packet!

Cook your entire meal in individual foil or parchment packets, and cleanup is a snap!  This is a great way to cook fish because it seals in the moisture, requires little or no oil, and the fish is blanketed in the flavors of the other ingredients.
Last night I made hake fillets cooked in foil packets together with several different vegetables, pesto and pearl couscous.   It was a delicious and healthy meal, and easy to put together.
The idea for this dinner started because I wanted to use some of my own pesto I have in the freezer, and also I have been a bit of a slacker regarding my resolution to eat more fish.
I thought I had tried basically every fish there is, until I saw hake at Whole Foods yesterday.  It was half the price of cod, and the fish man said it is similar (the recipe uses red snapper, but that was not available).  Since hake is pretty thick, it required more cooking time than the snapper would have.
I have this recipe from Bon Appetit:
Based on the reviews and my own ideas I decided to make a couple of changes, and only 2 servings.
I wanted couscous but didn't want to have to cook it separately, so I added it to the packets.  I toasted it beforehand, so I did use 1 pan, but only for a minute so I'm still calling it a no pot meal.  I wasn't sure how it would come out, if it would cook without being mushy, but it turned out just perfect.  Also, this gave me an opportunity to use my new walnut oil (thanks Diane!).
The finished product came out great, here's a look:
Fish & Vegetables with Pesto Baked in Foil Packets

1t walnut oil
1/4C pearl couscous
1/3C pesto
1T fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sriracha hot pepper sauce
Olive oil spray
2 handfuls baby spinach
2 6-ounce hake fillets
8 asparagus spears, each trimmed to 4-inch length
2 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 yellow squash, thinly sliced on diagonal


Preheat oven to 350°F.
Heat walnut oil in a saute pan over medium heat.
Add couscous and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted.

Blend pesto, lemon juice and hot pepper sauce in small bowl.
Prepare the vegetables.

Arrange two 12x12-inch pieces of heavy-duty foil on work surface.
Lightly spray center of both pieces of foil with olive oil.
Mound a handful of spinach over the sprayed foil.
Place 1 fish fillet on top of the spinach.
Sprinkle fish lightly with salt and pepper and spread with 1T pesto mixture.
Top with asparagus, tomatoes and squash, and then spoon remaining pesto mixture over the vegetables.
Spoon the couscous around the fish.
With colors like this, it has to be good right?

Fold sides of foil over fish and vegetables, covering completely; seal packets closed.
Transfer foil packets to a large baking sheet.

Bake until fish is just opaque in center and vegetables are crisp-tender, about 40 minutes.  To check if the fish is done, open the packet a little, push the veggies over to the side, and stick a fork in the fish.  If it flakes easily, it's done.  If not, seal it back up and put the tray back in the oven for a few minutes.
Place each packet on a dinner plate, open up, and enjoy!

Those of you who know Corey know he doesn't eat fish...he did not eat this.  He was excited to come home and see some of his favorite foods on the counter - squash, asparagus, couscous, but then the fish.  I am happy to have the 2nd packet for leftovers today.  I know people use this  method for cooking chicken, but I'm not sure I would like it that way.  Maybe I'll try it sometime.

Have you ever cooked with this method?  Let me know!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another day, another stir-fry

Last night I made a stir-fry, similar to the one from my previous post.
Instead of steak, I used pork, and marinated it for 1 hour in a salad dressing I picked up at Whole Foods - Annie's Naturals mango dressing.  Since this dressing is fat free (it contains no oil), it didn't add anything unnecessary to the dish.
I stir-fried the pork in the marinade, and then the vegetables as well, before adding the same spicy sauce.  The marinade added a little bit of sweetness, but the finished dish was still plenty spicy.  I think it would be even better if I added some chopped mango - an idea for next time.  I also used different veggies - a red pepper, broccoli and snow peas.
Here's how I made it:
1. Cut the pork into thin strips, place in a shallow dish, cover with the mango dressing, and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
2. Slice the veggies - pepper and broccoli, cut an onion into wedges, and mince about 1T each of garlic and ginger.  Keep all of these on a board separate from each other, or in individual bowls, as well as the snow peas.
3. Make sauce: Mix together 1/4C low-sodium chicken broth, 1/4C low-sodium soy sauce, 2t rice vinegar, 1t toasted sesame oil, 1t crushed red pepper, and 1t sugar in a small bowl.
4. Make thickener: Mix together 2t cornstarch with 2T chicken broth into another small bowl.
It is important to have all of these done before you start cooking, because stir-frying is done very quickly.
5. Put rice noodles in a bowl and cover with very hot water, and allow to soak until just tender, about 7 minutes, then drain.
6. Add 1T oil to a wok or skillet (I used safflower oil, you could also use peanut or vegetable).  Add pork with the marinade and stir-fry until just cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove to a clean bowl.
7. Add onion to the wok and stir-fry until light brown, about 1 minute.  Add garlic and ginger, and then the red pepper and broccoli.  Cook for 1 minute, and then add the snow peas.  Cook for about 2 more minutes.
8. Return the pork to the wok.
9. Whisk the sauce in the bowl, and add it to the wok, mixing together with the veggies and steak.  allow the sauce to boil for about 1 minute.
10. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir until slightly thickened.
11. Mix in the rice noodles.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sweet Potatoes with Apples

This has been one of our favorite side dishes since I first made it last summer.  We had gone out to dinner at a restaurant in Oakland Beach with some friends.  Corey and I both agreed the only part of our meal we liked was the sweet potato and apple side dish, and he said that would be the only reason he would want to return. Since I preferred never to return, I decided to try making this dish at home. Luckily, we liked my homemade version even better than the restaurant's. Problem solved!
I start by baking the whole sweet potatoes, which helps to bring out the sugar, whereas I think they were boiled at the restaurant.  Also, I'm sure my version is lower in fat and calories, which is always a plus.
You only need a few ingredients (this makes enough for 4 servings):
3 Sweet potatoes
2 Apples - Empire, Macintosh, or any other variety good for baking
2T Butter
Maple syrup or brown sugar to taste
Cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or allspice to taste

First, I pierce the sweet potatoes several times, and bake at 425 until they are tender (can stick a fork in them easily).  This can take about 45-60 minutes.  Then remove them from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, peel and core the apples, and then slice into thin wedges.  Melt 1T butter in a large saucepan, add the apples, and cook until softened and golden brown.
Peel the sweet potatoes and put the flesh in a 2qt casserole dish.  Mash them, adding another 1T butter, maple syrup or brown sugar, and spices as desired. Taste and add more as necessary. Once everything is mixed together well, stir in the apples.
Cover the casserole dish and put it in the oven to heat through.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mmm Mmm Good!

I'm playing a little bit of catch up here, I made this meal days ago.  But trust me, it's worth the wait.
This dinner basically came about because I had a small amount of mascarpone left over from the mousse I made for Saturday's dinner party.  It seems as though the mascarpone people over in Italy are conspiring to get us to buy more of their deliciously creamy cheese.  It comes in 8.75oz tubs, which is sort of an odd size.  No matter that this equals a perfectly even number on the metric system, if it helps to justify buying more right?  Anyway, I needed 16oz for the mousse, which did leave a small amount left over.  So I used it for this dinner, which will inevitably lead to buying more, due to the deliciousness that resulted.
I wanted to make a simple dinner, and I had some nice thick boneless pork chops I had bought the day before.  I decided to make the old stand by of sauteed pork chops with a pan sauce, and I thought the mascarpone could take the usual pan sauce made with butter and make it really special.  I was right, since I remembered to post about it days later.  (One good thing I noticed is that mascarpone contains less fat than butter, another reason to buy more.)
So this is what I made:
Sauteed boneless pork chops with mushroom marsala pan sauce
Green beans with caramelized onions and thyme
Wild mushroom & herb rice pilaf (from a box!)

Olive oil
Sea salt
Ground black pepper
Sliced onions
Sliced shiitake and cremini mushrooms
Boneless pork chops
Green beans
1/2t dried thyme
1/2C marsala
1T mascarpone

To start, I melted a little butter in some olive oil in a large saute pan, added some sliced onions and a little salt.  I kept the burner on low, and let the onions cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, while I prepped the rest of the meal and did some other things around the house.  Once the onions were very soft, I turned the heat up to medium and let them cook for about another 20 minutes, until they were well browned.  Then I removed them to a bowl.
I sprayed another saute pan with olive oil and sauteed the sliced mushrooms until they were soft, then removed to another bowl.
I wanted these 2 things done first so that the rest of the cooking would be done quickly.
To start the pork chops, first I preheated the oven to 400.  Then I added 1T butter and 1/2T olive oil to the pan that I used for the mushrooms on low heat.  I sprinkled salt & pepper on the pork chops, and then dredged them in flour.  Once the butter in the pan was melted, I turned the heat up to medium-high.  When the butter stopped foaming I added the pork chops, and cooked for about 3 minutes on each side.
While the pork chops were cooking, I added the following to the pan I used to caramelize the onions: 1/3C water, 1T olive oil, green beans and dried thyme.  I set the pan over medium-high heat so the water would boil, and then covered to steam the beans for about 5 minutes until crisp-tender.
Once the pork chops were nicely browned on both sides, I put the pan in the oven for about 5 minutes, so the chops would just cook though.
Once the beans were tender I removed the cover from the pan, stirred in the caramelized onions, and left it to heat through on medium.
When the pork chops were done, I removed them to a plate and put the pan back on the stovetop over medium high heat.  I added the marsala along with the mushrooms and stirred them around in the pan, to get the brown bits on the bottom to loosen.  Once the marsala was reduced by about half, I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in the mascarpone.  The I poured the pan sauce with the mushrooms over the pork chops.
(I also made a box of rice, but I'll skip those details.)
This dinner was so good! The sweet mascarpone was a nice complement to the earthiness of the mushrooms.  The crisp green beans were very good with the thyme and the soft, sweet caramelized onions.  This is a dinner I'm sure Corey will be asking for soon, but I might make it again before he has the chance!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mascarpone-Zabaglione Mousse

Saturday night we went to a dinner party at Corey's coworker's house for some lovely authentic Italian food.  In keeping with the theme, I brought mascarpone-zabaglione mousse.  This is a recipe I have made several times before, but only years ago.  The recipe is courtesy of Biba Caggiano, a well known authentic Italian chef from Bologna.  In her book Biba's Taste of Italy: Recipes from the Homes, Trattorie, and Restaurants of Emilia-Romagna, she writes that this recipe comes from Trattoria del Cacciatore in the small hamlet of Frassinara, in the Parma countryside.  Of the cities I have visited in Italy, Parma is my favorite.  I imagine that anything coming from that area would be amazing - this mousse certainly is! This mousse takes some time to make, and needs to sit in the fridge for several hours, so get started in the morning.  It could be done the night before, but I think it's a little better when done on the same day.  It doesn't require a lot of ingredients, just time and attention.  The first step in making this mousse is to prepare the zabaglione, which on it's own is wonderful drizzled over strawberries.  The addition of mascarpone cheese turns it into a deliciously fluffy mousse.

6 large eggs, at room temp
1/2C granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2C dark rum
1lb mascarpone cheese
Amaretti cookies, finely crushed
Grated semisweet chocolate

To prepare the zabaglione, put the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed for about 1 minute, until well blended. Turn the machine to high speed and beat until the mixture is pale yellow and has tripled in volume.
Transfer the mixture to a large heatproof bowl, or the top of a double boiler, and set it over a few inches of simmering water.  (Do not let the water boil or touch the bowl, or the eggs will curdle.)  Slowly add the rum, beating energetically with a large wire whisk (I use my immersion blender), and continue to whisk until the eggs have doubled in volume and the mixture is hot to the touch.  According to the recipe this should take about 10 minutes, but for me it usually takes about 20 minutes.  (This is when I am thankful to have my immersion blender.)  Place the bowl over a larger bowl half-filled with ice water, and whisk for a few minutes to cool.
Put the mascarpone in the bowl of the electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, add about half of the zabaglione, and beat at medium speed just to combine.  Beat in the remaining zabaglione.  Do not overbeat.  Just as in making whipped cream or meringue, if you overbeat you will lose the airiness.
Spoon into dessert glasses.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.  Just before serving, sprinkle the amaretti crumbs and the grated chocolate over the mousse.  (The recipe says to use either the amaretti cookies or the chocolate, but I like to use both - it just makes it that much more sinful.)

This recipe filled 6 stemless martini glasses for me, with a small amount leftover.  I think everyone enjoyed it, and it was all gone too quickly to take a photo.  Although Corey loved it, so I'm sure I'll be making it again.  It is a great dessert for a dinner party, since it needs to be done in advance anyway and is served chilled.

Those of you who know I have issues with dairy may be wondering how I can eat this mousse, but it doesn't bother me - apparently mascarpone cheese contains only a very small amount of lactose.  I also used some in our dinner last night - more to come on that.  It is high in fat, although not as high as butter, so I will have to resist the urge to keep it on hand.
I always buy all-natural free range eggs, which have a lower risk of salmonella.  I feel this is especially important here, where the eggs are basically only partially cooked.  I also used an organic lemon, since it is the zest that is needed, but not any wax or other substances :-).
When I first started making this mousse, I used this great dark rum brought to me from Haiti by my good friend Jen Costanza.  That rum is long gone and can be hard to find in stores here.  I did find it once...but not sure where.  Anyway, it is important to use dark rum, not spiced or black rum.  This time I used a new one I found - Pusser's British Navy Rum from Barbados.  I didn't want to get a really cheap one, since I suspect it may be consumed out of a glass as well.  And I try not to cook with something I wouldn't drink.

Who's going to try this?  Has anyone made this before?