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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Edamame Succotash

This is a super easy side dish that you can make to go along with pretty much anything. Its healthy and colorful and ready in about 5 minutes - what more could you ask for?

If you haven't ever tried edamame, you should. You can pick up a bag in the freezer section of shelled edamame and you just pop them in the microwave to cook. They cook in just a couple of minutes and sprinkled with salt they make a great snack or add them to all kinds of things. I had a bag in my freezer for quite a while that I wasn't really sure what to do with until someone told me how good they were on their own. You can add them to stir-fry dinners, mix them with couscous or pasta salads, or even add them to hummus or guacamole, although I haven't tried that yet.

Edamame Succotash

1 cup shelled edamame
1 cup corn kernels
1 cup peas
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced (I used roasted red pepper but you could use raw too)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp olive oil
2 T balsamic vinaigrette
1 tsp salt

Add oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and cook about three minutes. Add remaining vegetables and vinaigrette dressing. Cook about five minutes until vegetables are hot and vinaigrette reduces slightly. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with salt.

Note: If edamame, peas, and corn are frozen, microwave or thaw to room temperature first or increase cooking time.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lemon Thyme Chicken

Last week lemons were on sale at the grocery store so I picked up a whole bag of them. There are tons of things that you can use lemons to make. A bit of fresh squeezed lemon juice adds brightness to so many foods. You can add it to sweet or savory things, it mixes really well with lots of herbs - my favorites are thyme and rosemary. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a rosemary plan when I was buying some herbs to put in my garden this year.

Oregano and Thyme

Speaking of herbs - if you knew how cheap and easy they were to grow, you wouldn't pay the ridiculous prices for them in the store. Pick up some small herb plants or seeds and plant them. For a total investment of under $15, I have oregano, basil, thyme, sage, cilantro, and flat leaf Italian parsley growing in my garden right now. And my neighbor gives me chives and mint when I want them or I would have planted those too.

You can grow them in pots in your kitchen or on your patio or mix them in with flowers in your flower beds - this is what I do. However, I will warn you if you are going to grow mint, put it in a pot as it can be invasive.


Some of these herbs are even perennials, meaning they will come back year after year - my sage, oregano and thyme have been going for three years now. I cut them all way back this spring so they don't take over. Both thyme and oregano spread almost like a ground cover. Plant them in a sunny spot and water as necessary, they are all pretty hardy and don't take much effort. Make sure you keep your herbs from blooming or going to seed by pinching off the tops and cutting them frequently and they will continue to produce all summer.

Cilantro - an annual so its much smaller than the perennials at this point

But anyway, back to chicken since that's what I'm supposed to be talking about. This lemon thyme chicken is really easy and only involves a few ingredients. Marinate, refrigerate and toss it on the grill and you have a quick, healthy summer dinner. I served mine with an edamame succotash that I'll post shortly.

Lemon Thyme Chicken

1.5-2 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts
2 lemons
1 T olive oil
8 -10 sprigs of thyme
Salt and Pepper

Trim any visible fat from chicken breasts and butterfly them to make thin cutlets of an even thickness. Rub olive oil on both sides and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Zest 1 lemon over the chicken. Squeeze juice of lemon over the chicken. Strip thyme off stems by holding the tips and running fingers down the stems, the leaves will fall right off. (I like to leave a couple sprigs to top the chicken after cooking.) Lightly chop and sprinkle over chicken. Cover and refrigerate for about one hour.

Preheat grill to medium heat. Add chicken and cook about five minutes per side, chicken will easily release when its ready to be flipped. Cook until juices run clear. Remove to a plate and tent with foil for 5-10 minutes to let juices redistribute. Squeeze juice of remaining lemon over chicken or serve with lemon wedges. Garnish with more thyme if desired.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Blackberry Crisp

One of the best things about spring is the abundance of fresh fruit - its everywhere, its cheap and its oh so flavorful. Sure you can find bananas and grapes in the winter, but berries are harder to come by and they definitely don't taste as good. When I saw the fresh blackberries in the grocery store, I had to buy them. They were so good we ate about half of them just plain. The rest I baked up into a delicious blackberry crisp.

Fruit crisps are one of the easiest desserts to make, especially when you have naturally sweet fresh fruit. A quick crumble topping takes only a few minutes to make and a few ingredients. Flour, oatmeal, brown sugar and butter are really all you need. I made these in individual tart pans (which really weren't the best idea, ramekins would work much better since the tart pans have a removable bottom) but you could also bake it up all in one pan. An 8x8 baking dish would work great.

Top these with vanilla ice cream while they are still warm and you have one of the most delicious desserts you can make in under an hour. Whipped cream would be good on top too.

Blackberry Crisp

2 pints fresh blackberries
2 T sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, cold, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place berries in baking pan(s). Sprinkle berries with sugar. Combine lemon juice and cornstarch and stir until smooth. Pour over berries and toss together gently. In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Cut in butter using a pastry blender, forks or your fingers until it resembles coarse crumbs. Top berries evenly with crumble mixture. Bake about 20-25 minutes until bubbly and topping is lightly browned. Cool about 15 minutes and top with vanilla ice cream or as desired.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Baked Pesto Penne with Ricotta and Sun-dried Tomato

So it seems like it does nothing but rain here... what happened to the sunshine and 80 degree weather? It feels like March not May. Last night, I came home from work and looked around my yard, my plants are growing, there are buds on the hydrangeas and the roses are blooming like crazy, but it still doesn't seem like we are only a week and a half from Memorial Day - summer's official start in my world. I think the dreary weather is making me feel like comfort food, I had a tub of ricotta on hand, so I decided to go ahead and use that and make a baked pasta dish. I didn't want to do a traditional lasagna or ziti so I made up this one as I went. It turned out great. Although really how could it not - pasta + garlic + cheese is almost always a winning combination.

The pesto and sun-dried tomatoes add so much flavor to this. You can make pesto yourself or buy it pre-made in the store, in the same area as the marinara sauce. If you buy it in the store, there is often sun-dried tomato or basil pesto available, for this recipe I used a basil pesto although either would work. If you use the sun-dried tomato pesto, I would leave out the actual tomatoes so it wouldn't be overpowering. Sun-dried tomatoes come packed in oil, I drain the oil off of them on a paper towel before chopping.

Baked Pesto Penne with Ricotta and Sun-dried Tomato

1/2 pound penne
12 oz lean ground turkey
1/2 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups spinach
1 T olive oil
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup pesto sauce
8 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 T oregano, finely chopped
Salt & Pepper

Heat a large pot of water to boiling, add generous pinch of salt and add pasta, cook until just al dente. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, brown ground turkey, add fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, and 1/2 crushed red pepper flakes. Drain and remove to a bowl.

Reduce heat to low, add oil to pan, add onions and garlic and saute for about 3 minutes until softened. Add spinach and sun-dried tomatoes and cook until wilted. In a separate bowl, lightly beat egg, add ricotta and pesto sauce and remaining crushed red pepper flakes, add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and add to pan with spinach. Return turkey and onions to pan and mix well. Drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of water, and add to pan, add water if necessary to thin sauce.

Spray a 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray or grease lightly, add pasta, top with grated cheese and bake about 20 minutes until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbly. Top with oregano and serve.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tropical Granola

I love making homemade granola -- it takes less than an hour including baking and its a lot cheaper and healthier than buying granola at the grocery store. I wanted to change my usual granola a little bit to make a bit more summery, so I came up with this tropical granola. Including the mashed banana really gives this a ton of flavor. Adding the egg white, helps the granola form clumps. Feel free to switch out the dried fruits for whatever you like, banana chips, papaya, or mango would also work great in this granola. This granola is great on its own or served over yogurt.

Tropical Granola

1 large very ripe banana, mashed
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup honey
1 T canola oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup shredded coconut
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup dried pineapple, chopped
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1 cup chopped pecans
1 egg white

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper. Combine banana, applesauce, honey, oil, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt and whisk together until smooth in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir gently with a wooden spoon until well incorporated. The mixture will be dry but all dry ingredients should be moistened. Beat egg white with a whisk until foamy and pour over mixture. Stir to incorporate.

Spread in an even layer onto prepared pans, if mixture is too deep, it may take longer to bake. Bake about 30 minutes, stir gently making sure to move the granola from the edges into the middle and bake about 20 minutes more. Remove from oven and cool on pans. Transfer to storage containers. Recipe yields about 3 quart-size jars of granola.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spicy Chicken Supreme Pizza

So that leftover chicken from the tacos I told you about here... was just what I needed to re-create on of my favorite pizzas. The spicy chicken works perfectly with a mix of mozzarella, Parmesan and sharp cheddar cheeses. Add some roasted piquillo peppers, green bell pepper strips, and red onion and its my idea of a perfect pizza. If you're like my husband, go ahead and throw some black olives on too.

This pizza crust is a great homemade crust, the addition of white wine and oregano make for a really flavorful crust. It makes enough for 2 large pizzas, but it does require a little advanced planning. The dough has to rise once and then be refrigerated over night and rise again. I actually prefer to freeze it between rises. I think the dough becomes a lot easier to work with after being frozen. I let the dough rise once, divide it in half and wrap in plastic wrap. Slide each disc into a freezer-weight Ziploc and then the day I want to use it, I pull the dough out in the morning and refrigerate. When I get home from work, I heat a mug of water in the microwave for 3 minutes and then put the dough in with the mug and let it sit for about 2 hours. Remove the dough, reheat the water, and let rise 1 more hour. At that point, I knead it a bit and it stretches perfectly for me.

The other big key to this pizza is a pizza stone. Pizza stones make for a fantastic crisp crust because they pull absorb any moisture from the bottom of the pizza so you don't end up with a soggy crust. By heating the stone while your oven preheats, the crust starts cooking immediately when transferred to the hot stone. If you have a pizza peel, make your pizza on that and transfer to the stone, if not use a piece of parchment paper on top of a large cutting board, just transfer the pizza, parchment and all to the stone and bake. A pizza stone can be purchased for under $20 at places like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond. Of course there are other models which cost more, but I've found my Oneida version works great for me. These stones can also be used to bake bread, rolls and even cookies.

Spicy Chicken Supreme Pizza

6 oz cooked chicken (recipe here), roughly chopped
1/2 cup pizza sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 small green pepper, thinly sliced
2 roasted piquillo peppers, thinly sliced
1/4 cup black olives, sliced
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 T fresh oregano, finely chopped
1/2 - 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 pizza crust (see recipe below)
1 tsp olive oil

Place pizza stone in cold oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Dust a pizza peel or parchment paper over a cutting board with cornmeal.

Lightly dust countertop with flour, knead dough for about a minute. Stretch crust into circle or square by draping the dough over your knuckles and letting it hang to stretch, rotate your hands stretching the dough as you go.

When shaped as desired, transfer to prepared peel or paper. Brush outside 1/2" ring of crust with olive oil. Smooth pizza sauce over the crust. Sprinkle with minced garlic.

Add Mozzarella cheese, top with chicken, peppers, onions, and olives. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until crust is lightly browned and cheese is bubbly. Sprinkle with oregano and crushed red pepper flakes. Let the pizza sit about 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Pizza Crust
Recipe from The Way The Cookie Crumbles

2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
22 oz bread flour (approx. 4 cups)
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 packet instant yeast
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups water

Heat oil and oregano in a small saucepan over medium heat about 5 minutes, add water and wine and stir to combine. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook, add flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. Mix about 30 seconds. Pour in the liquid ingredients and mix until all the dry ingredients are mixed in. Continue mixing on medium low speed about 8 minutes to knead, until dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour if necessary, dough should not stick to the sides of the bowl when kneading but will still be sticky.

Grease a deep bowl with non-stick spray or olive oil. Form dough into a ball and transfer to bowl, turn once to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise about 1 hour in a warm place. Divide dough into 2 equal portions, pat into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and slide into a freezer weight Ziploc. Freeze at least overnight or until ready to use. Transfer to refrigerator the morning you want to use. Once thawed, let rise at least 3 hours and then stretch and top as desired.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Healthy Grilled Tacos

Mexican food isn't usually the first thing you think of when you think about eating healthy, but there are ways to still enjoy Mexican food without all the fat. Starting with grilled chicken, a healthy tortilla (either low fat corn tortillas or whole wheat) and losing most of the cheese and high calorie sauces will result in a good-for-you taco. Add flavor with queso fresco, Mexican spices, cilantro and lime. These tacos are full of flavor, good for you and they are ready in no time. You don't even have to dirty a pan.

This recipe makes about double the chicken that I needed for 2 people, come back tomorrow and I'll show you what I did with the leftovers.

Healthy Grilled Tacos

2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1.5 pounds)
2 tsp ancho chili powder
1 tsp + 1/2 tsp garlic salt (I like Lawry's)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Juice of 1 lime
2-3 roasted piquillo peppers, sliced into strips
1/2 -1 cup black beans
1/2 -1 cup corn kernels
2 oz queso fresco
2 T cilantro, roughly chopped

Trim any fat off chicken breasts, cut each breast in half horizontally to make chicken a uniform thickness, pound flat if necessary. Combine chili powder, garlic salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Coat both sides of chicken pieces with spice mixture. Squeeze juice from half the lime over chicken. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Preheat grill on medium-low heat. Grill chicken about 6 minutes, flip and grill 5-6 minutes more, until cooked through. Remove to a plate and cover with foil. Turn the grill off and place tortillas on the grill for 20-30 seconds per side to warm. You don't want the tortillas to char or crisp up or you will have tostadas instead of soft tacos so watch them carefully.

Combine corn, peppers and black beans in a small microwave-safe bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt, microwave about 2 minutes until hot. Slice chicken thinly and assemble tacos with chicken and bean mixture. Crumble cheese over the top and add cilantro. Squeeze remaining lime juice over tacos. Serve with fresh salsa or pico de gallo if desired.

Note: Queso fresco is generally found in the dairy case with other specialty cheeses or in an ethnic food section of the grocery store. Roasted piquillo peppers are similar to roasted red peppers but are really good if you can find them; if not, you can substitute roasted red peppers.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cheesecake-filled Coffee Cake Muffins

I love having a random free weeknight where I don't really have anything to do. I mean of course there were things I should have done, like the laundry or cleaning the bathroom or something, but all of those things will still be there tomorrow. Instead of doing those things on my free weeknight, I made up an excuse to bake. I decided that my husband should have some baked goods to take to his co-workers. I wanted something that didn't require frosting since baking time + cooling time + frosting time would have been too much when starting at 7:00 pm. The other requirement was that I had to have everything on hand and not go to the grocery store. So I had to find something with less than 2 sticks of butter, less than 4 eggs, no sour cream, no heavy cream, no buttermilk, etc.

Well, I browsed through my Magnolia Bakery cookbook and when I got to the muffin/breakfast bun section, I knew I wanted to make some sort of coffee cake type dessert. I did have a package of cream cheese in the refrigerator, so this recipe was the winner. And winner it truly is... don't be put off by the fact that I picked the recipe by process of elimination of ingredients because these little muffins are delicious. The gooey filling is perfect and the cake has a great light texture. I added a little cinnamon to the streusel topping and a bit of extra vanilla to the batter, both of which I would recommend doing again. I also cut the recipe for the topping as I ended up with way more than I needed.

This recipe does require three separate processes to make each part but they all come together really easily - the only downside is the couple extra bowls you have to wash. Watch the cooking time carefully so you add the filling at the right time.

Cheesecake-filled Coffee Cake Muffins
Adapted from The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

Cheesecake Filling:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 T unsalted butter, softened
2 T sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 16 muffin cups with baking spray or butter and lightly flour.

Cream together cream cheese and butter until light and smooth - about two minutes. Add sugar, egg yolk, and vanilla and mix until well incorporated. Set aside.

Streusel Topping:
1 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Combine flour, sugar and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add butter pieces and toss to coat. Using a pastry blender or two forks, mix in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Cream shortening and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Combine milk and vanilla in a measuring cup. Alternately add 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/2 of the milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour, beating on low speed until just incorporated after each addition. Use a scoop to transfer batter to prepared muffin tins, filling each about 1/2 full. Bake 10 minutes and remove pans from oven.

Add a spoonful of cream cheese filling to each muffin, pressing lightly with the back of the spoon. Top with a spoonful of streusel topping, filling each muffin cup to the top. Bake an additional 14 minutes and remove. Cool about 15 minutes and use a knife to loosen slightly and continue cooling. Cool completely or serve slightly warm after about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ginger Soy Turkey Burgers

I found an Asian sesame ginger salad dressing by Ken's Steakhouse in the grocery store the other day that sounded pretty good - unfortunately it contained high fructose corn syrup and since I'm cutting that out of our diets, I decided to leave it at the store. But it was still in the back of my mind when I decided to make these turkey burgers for dinner. I'm not positive this is the exact same result but it turned out to be really good.

I served these with some sweet potato fries with salt and thyme and steamed edamame sprinkled with a little garlic salt for an easy, healthy meal.

Ginger Soy Turkey Burgers

1 pound lean ground turkey (I use 93/7)
2 T sesame oil
1 T rice wine vinegar
2 T soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
4 whole wheat hamburger buns
1-2 cups baby spinach
4 T feta cheese

Preheat grill on medium low heat. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, and soy sauce. Add garlic, ginger, and black pepper and stir to combine. Remove about 1/3 of the mixture and set aside. Add ground turkey and bread crumbs and lightly mix with your hands until just incorporated, be careful not to over mix. Form into 4 patties and transfer to grill. Cook about 5-6 minutes and flip, grill an additional 5 minutes until cooked through. Grill buns for last minute of cooking time to warm.

To assemble, either top each burger with spinach and feta and drizzle on remaining sauce or combine spinach, feta and dressing in a bowl and toss to coat. Top each burger with "salad" and serve.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes

So I found this recipe for banana caramel cupcakes over on Annie's Eats shortly after I started this blog. It's been saved in my "to make" list for a long time. I've even printed out the recipe a couple of times but somehow I never got around to making them. Then a couple weeks ago I had some very ripe bananas that I threw in the freezer. A couple days later, I remembered this recipe and decided to make them for my husband to take into work since he had to go be there on a Saturday. Now every time I buy bananas, I hope there are some extras I can use to make these again.

These banana cupcakes are great with or without the frosting -- the cupcake is so moist, essentially like really good banana bread in cupcake form. Add a caramel cream cheese frosting to the top and it's a decadent treat. Drizzle them with a little chocolate sauce and not only do these taste awesome, but they look great too.

Just a note, Annie's recipe has a Swiss meringue buttercream frosting that is probably awesome but I didn't try it on these because I currently have a battle with SMBC because it never works, every single time I try it, it curdles. She even admits that it's a bit of a process in her post. Someday soon, when I have a bunch of time, I will get it to work. I'll let you know if its better than this cream cheese icing -- which I think is perfect with these cupcakes.

Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from Annie's Eats

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 cup plus 2 T buttermilk
1 1/3 cups mashed ripe bananas (I had 2 ripe bananas but that only came out to about 1 cup so I added 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce too)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners (this made 24 full size cupcakes plus about 10 mini cupcakes for me). Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Cream together butter and sugar medium high speed for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing after each until incorporated. Add the mashed bananas and beat on low to incorporate. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, alternating with 1/2 the buttermilk, mixing on low until just incorporated, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

Use a scoop to fill cupcake liners 2/3 of the way full. Bake about 20 minutes until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool about 5 minutes in the pan and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

1/2 cup butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup caramel (see recipe below)
Pinch of salt

Beat together butter and cream cheese until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing until incorporated. After 3 cups, add cooled caramel and salt and beat until well blended. Add additional powdered sugar if necessary to reach desired consistency. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes as desired.

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

Combine butter, cream and sugar in a saucepan over medium high heat. Stirring constantly, heat to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and cook until thickened, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Chocolate Sauce:
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup heavy cream

In a microwave safe bowl, heat the cream about 1 minute, add chopped chocolate and let stand 1 minute. Stir until melted. Cool about 5 minutes and transfer to a squeeze bottle to drizzle on cupcakes.

White Cheddar Chicken Pasta

Do you stand in front of your closet thinking I have nothing to wear even though its full of clothes? I do this all.the.time. It drives my husband crazy because my closet seems like clothes are exploding from it half the time and my dresser drawers are way too full when all the laundry is clean. Its frustrating to him, but he does the same thing when he looks through the kitchen, he always says there is nothing to eat. Its true that I keep very few packaged foods on hand these days; there is usually a box of crackers and some granola bars for lunches but other than that, its pretty much pantry staples. Not exactly nothing to eat, but since he doesn't cook, he doesn't see the potential. Evidently I need a fashion consultant or something, so I can start seeing some potential in my closet. Or a new wardrobe - shopping would probably be more fun.

Keeping a well-stocked pantry makes it much easier to always have something to make for dinner. You won't need to run to the store 3 nights a week to pick up something or call for pizza. At a minimum, I try to always keep canned tomatoes, dried pasta in several varieties, vinegars, oils, mustard, chicken stock, garlic, rice, flour, and sugar. In addition, I always have frozen vegetables in the freezer, lemons and limes, and onions. I also grow fresh herbs so I can add oregano, thyme, basil, cilantro, or parsley to add more flavor. And of course, there is always wine on hand.

For this pasta dish, the sauce is a simple cheese sauce, similar to any macaroni and cheese recipe, started with a roux made with flour and butter. A little white wine, onion, garlic, Dijon mustard and then the delicious sharp white cheddar cheese. Add some chicken, some thyme and oregano and sprinkle on some red pepper flakes and you'll have a great meal in just a few minutes.

White Cheddar Chicken Pasta

For the chicken:
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tsp dry mustard
1 T fresh thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 T olive oil

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Mix together mustard, thyme, salt and pepper and sprinkle over chicken pieces. When pan is hot, add chicken and brown about 3 minutes per side until cooked through. Remove to a plate and cover with foil.

For the pasta:
1 pound rotini or other short cut pasta
2 T butter
2 T flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely diced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 T Dijon mustard
8 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups milk (I used skim milk but mixed in about 2 T heavy cream)
1 T fresh thyme
1 T fresh oregano
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Parmesan cheese to taste

Heat water to boil in a large stock pot for pasta, add salt and pasta and cook to al dente and drain according to directions. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add flour and whisk to combine. Add wine, garlic, onions, and mustard. Cook about 5 minutes, until onions are translucent. Reduce heat to low and slowly add milk, stirring to combine. Cook about 5-7 minutes more until mixture begins to thicken. Add cheese and stir to melt. Add chicken and pasta and toss to incorporate sauce. Add thyme and oregano and serve topped with crushed red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Kentucky Derby

So the last couple of days I've been a little busy with the Kentucky Derby going on here in Louisville. We had great weather for the Kentucky Oaks but rain on Derby day. It ended up being okay though, we were able to stay dry and undercover for the majority of the day and the sun even tried to come out just in time for My Old Kentucky Home. I hit the exacta on the Derby race too -- hopefully Super Saver has another great run in the Preakness in a couple of weeks.

Since the Kentucky Derby is the Run for the Roses, I decided to use roses to decorate these cupcakes. I used a candy mold to make small chocolate roses out of red candy melts. All you need is a little mold, melt the chocolate, making sure to stir frequently and microwave in short intervals and then transfer it to a small squeeze bottle and fill the candy molds. Once they are set, they pop right out and can be stored in an airtight container.

For the horseshoe cupcakes, I used cupcake collars - I found these online and thought I would try them out. I'm not really sure about them yet, so I would love to hear what you think. Basically you print them out on your computer, cut out the shapes and the centers and then just slip them over the cupcake liner. They can be taped on the bottom if necessary but I didn't need to tape mine, they fit pretty snugly.

For the rose cupcakes, I used this Devil's Food Chocolate Cake and for the horseshoe cupcakes, I used a classic yellow cake recipe from Martha Stewart. I frosted both with a cream cheese icing.

Classic Yellow Cake
Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

1 cup cake flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 T unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
2/3 cup buttermilk
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners. Sift together the flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add flour in 3 parts, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat after each addition until just incorporated. Add vanilla and beat until combined.

Use a cookie scoop or ice cream scoop to portion the batter evenly into the muffin tins. Fill each about 3/4 of the way full. Bake 18-20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until the tops are golden and spring back when touched. Cool about 5 minutes in the pan and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. When completely cool, frost as desired.

Cream Cheese Icing

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3-4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 T heavy cream

Beat together cream cheese and butter on medium high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, until incorporated. Add heavy cream and additional powdered sugar as necessary to reach the right consistency. Add gel food coloring if desired. Transfer to a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes as desired.

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