Friday, April 25, 2008

New Orleans Feast for 12!

**Disclaimer: If you are not interested in reading this novel, just scroll looking for the pictures, and read the blurbs (recipes) under each picture.

For those of you that do not know, Matt’s family started a neat Christmas gift tradition in 2006. Instead of exchanging gifts, the adults all select themed dinners out of a hat. We have 4 couples, so each couple selects three themes and we get together once a month for dinner, roating hosts and themes. We get together much more often than that, but we all do look forward to our “monthly meals” and we all get into creating an authentic, flavorful dinner.

Since I am the resident foodie in the family, it was my job to come up with the themes for Christmas ’07. I thought long and hard about it, and tried to offer a variety of themes for a variety of palates and also considered meals that would be best served during specific times of the year. The three themes Matt and I ended up with this year were Soup and Salad, Takeout Choice (where you recreate something that is typically takeout) and New Orleans. I can’t for the life of me remember what the remaining themes were that everyone else selected?

Anyway, I decided to go with the New Orleans theme for our April dinner, which we hosted last night. This was quite a challenge to me as I have never made anything of the sort, never visited the great city, and really had no clue what I was in for! After much deliberation and revising, I settled on the following menu...

Creole shrimp

For the shrimp, I gathered my inspiration from this recipe, but didn’t like the butter aspect of, and reviews said it tended to be a bit oily, though quite delicious. So, I used many of the same ingredients, but did this my own way. I took large shrimp (they were on sale, in retrospect – I should have gotten jumbo), put them in a bowl, squeezed the juice of one lemon, added a little bit of lemon zest, and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. I tossed to coat evenly. I then took the spices suggested in the epicurious recipe, combined in a prep bowl, and added to the shrimp, again tossing to coat. I had Matt grill these little guys up and served with lemon wedges.

Cajun Sweet Potato "Chips"

For the sweet potato chips, I started by thinly slicing the potatoes using a mandolin. I sprayed two baking sheets with olive oil spray and then lined with the slices. I then drizzled with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with Cajun seasoning and flake salt. I baked for about 20 minutes at 400 (some didn’t need quite that long)…and once out, sprinkled with more salt and some fresh thyme. These “chips” had a nice bite, everyone really enjoyed them…even Matt’s sister, Deb, who is a self-proclaimed picky eater.

I also served a cheese and fruit selection, and some munchies for the kids, popcorn, etc.



I decided on jambalaya, and after reading through countless recipes, went with this recipe from the Food Network. I figured that Emeril, the king of New Orleans cuisine, couldn’t disappoint. And boy did this recipe deliver! It was fairly easy, and packed such a nice, but not overpowering KICK!
I had prepped all of the veggies and meat the night before, because having this meal on a Friday and trying to race home after work to prepare everything would have been impossible. I diced the peppers, onions, sausage, chicken, ham, and garlic ahead of time, which made a world of difference in terms of ease of preparation and clean up.

I only made a few small changes to the recipe.
• We could not find andouille sausage, so we used chorizo.
• I also had a few people who do not like shrimp (Matt – gasp, and one of his sisters) and one person who is allergic to shellfish (my mom, poor thing!), so I omitted the shrimp, but did leave the rest of the Creole shrimp out for people to add to the jambalaya if they wished.
• The recipe calls for 6 cups of water. I cut that down to 3 cups, and added 3 cups of chicken stock as well.
• I felt it needed a little longer than the 30-35 minutes for all the liquid to absorb. I think once the rice was in and liquid had been added, I had it cooking for closer to 45 minutes.
• I omitted the green onions, but only because I forgot about them . No one seemed to miss them, but I think they would have been a great addition to the dish.

Mixed Green Salad with Creole Mustard Dressing
I combined romaine and red leaf lettuce with orange bell peppers, red onion, cherry tomatoes for the salad, and topped with a mustard vinaigrette. For the dressing, I combined a few spoonfuls of Dijon mustard, about 1 teaspoon minced garlic, salt, pepper, a *small* pinch of cayenne pepper, fresh parsley and red wine vinegar in my mini prep food processor. Once blended, I streamed in extra virgin olive oil. Once salad was dressed, I topped with some grated Parm-Reg. cheese.

Bread Pudding with Spiced Rum Sauce
Two famous New Orleans desserts are bread pudding and banana’s foster. I would have preferred bananas foster, since the flavors seemed more appealing to me, but since the banana dish was more labor intensive, I went with the bread pudding. I love entertaining and having people over, but I don’t like spending every minute in the kitchen. Since the bread pudding allowed me to stick it in the over and forger about it, it was my winner.

I read through multiple recipes and settled on this one from epicurious. It was simple and the end result was fantastic! I had never made bread pudding before, and actually had never eaten it, so I was a little nervous as I didn’t know what it was “supposed to” look and taste like.

I followed the recipe nearly exactly. The only addition I made was to add a few dashes of cinnamon and a few dashes of nutmeg to the custard mixture.

I baked according to the directions and my end result was a beautiful, puffy masterpiece. We were all so busy admitting the puffy goodness that I forgot to snap a picture! I am SO upset about this, it was truly a site to see! The pudding falls within a few minutes, so by the time I remembered, it was too late.

I used the accompanying recipe for the spiced rum sauce, and aside from adding a dash of vanilla extract and a dash of ground cloves, I followed it closely.

I served the pudding with vanilla ice cream and then spooned the sauce over the pudding and ice cream. Delish!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Giada's Banana Muffins

I had four over-ripe bananas in my kitchen, and was looking for an alternative to banana bread. I use my mom's banana bread recipe and LOVE it, but I was in the mood for a change. I remembered Giada's muffin recipe, and decided to give it a whirl.

I followed the recipe nearly exactly, although I did add in cinnamon and nutmeg to the batter, which I think was a nice (and needed) addition.

I didn’t make the frosting to go along with the muffins, so I topped each muffin with chopped walnuts before baking. If you are a real nut-lover, I think adding walnuts to the batter would be excellent as well.

The muffins were really easy to make and baked perfectly. I was very happy with the results. Both Matt and I brought these into work to share with our coworkers, and everyone agreed that this recipe was a keeper.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Grilled Chicken Salad with Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

Tonight I decided to use up some cilantro that I had in my fridge, so I made a quick salad consisting of grilled chicken, romaine lettuce, radicchio, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, and served with a cilantro-lime vinaigrette.

For the chicken, I marinated it in a mixture of:
extra virgin olive oil
red pepper flakes
juice of 2 limes (mine were NOT juicy at all)
lime zest
minced garlic

For the dressing, I combined the following ingredients in my mini-prep food processor:
white wine vinegar
a touch of honey
lime juice
lime zest
handful of fresh cilantro
minced garlic (maybe 1 teaspoon)
red pepper flakes

Once mixed, I streamed in extra virgin olive oil to taste.

This salad was a light, refreshing meal. The spices on the chicken worked well with the freshness of the cilantro vinaigrette.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Grilled Quesadillas

I am obsessed with the grill. So now that it is nice outside, I use the grill nearly every night. Tonight I made a variation of my chicken quesadilla recipe. I changed it up a bit, marinating the chicken in extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, lime zest, garlic powder, salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and cumin.

I grilled the chicken breast and then assembled the quesadillas right on the grill. I used low carb wheat and flax tortillas. In the quesadillas, I used light pepper jack cheese, a little shredded Mexican, the sliced chicken, cilantro, peppers, mushroom, and onions (which I had sautéed with garlic and salt and pepper) and green onions. Once cheese started to melt, I topped with the other tortilla, flipped and grilled for a few more minutes.

I mixed together some sour cream, lime juice, zest, cilantro and green onions together as a dip for my quesadillas. Yum!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spicy Tilapia with Pineapple-Pepper Relish

We haven’t had fish in a while, so I was eager to make something light and healthy with the tilapia I picked up at the fish market. I decided on a Cooking Light recipe, and although I didn’t follow it exactly, it was the same idea.

I didn’t use exact measurements for the relish, but kept the ingredients the same. I added salt and pepper to the mix as well, and squeezed in some lime juice, which the recipe did not suggest.

I cooked the tilapia on the grill instead of in a pan with canola oil. I sprayed the grill surface with grilling non-stick spray, sprinkled the fish with the Cajun seasoning and red cayenne pepper as the recipe suggested, and also added salt, pepper, and a little garlic powder. I grilled the tilapia for about 3-4 minutes per side.

I served the relish over the tilapia, with a side of long grain wild rice. The fish was pretty fiery, and I think that is because I added a little too much cayenne pepper. But, it was good nonetheless. Overall, this was a healthful, tasty meal that Matt and I both enjoyed. It is a difficult job convincing Matt that white fish other than swordfish can fill him up, but I managed to please tonight.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My 1st Platinum Chef: Lemon Rosemary Chicken with Leek Risotto and a Caper, Mushroom Balsamic Sauce

Whew! What a title! For about a year, since its inception, I have been a “lurker” of the Platinum Chef Challenge. I always take a look at the ingredients, always peruse everyone’s blogs to see what they’ve come up with, but have never taken part, until now! I decided during the last round, for which I missed the deadline, that I was GOING to participate next time, regardless of the ingredients. Then, Kate of Paved with Good Intentions unveiled the ingredients…capers, leeks, cream, rosemary, and lemon. Wow! What a great mix! The only daunting ingredient to me was leeks, I had never even thought of using them before, never mind knowing what to do with them. But, I forged ahead nonetheless. I ended up with a grilled chicken breast that was marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, and rosemary; and I served it with a leek risotto and a balsamic mushroom sauce.

I had made a delicious chicken dish at the end of last summer, and after quite a bit of thinking, decided to work off of that inspiration. I knew it contained rosemary and lemon, so I went from there.

I took the following ingredients:

2 chicken breasts
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
garlic, minced
a dash of paprika

and I marinated in a shallow dish for about 45 minutes. I then grilled the chicken for about 7 minutes per side, until cooked through and complete with light grill marks.

Meanwhile, I began the risotto. I have only made risotto once before, and was quite nervous, but took a deep breath and went for it.

Ingredients (adapted from an epicurious parmesan risotto recipe):
2 tablespoons butter
1 large leek, halved and chopped
1/4 cup light cream
1 shallot, chopped
1/4 small white onion, chopped (I wanted a variety of members from the onion family to be represented here, but I am sure it would be just delicious with only shallots or just onions)
3/4 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup water
just shy of 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh rosemary

I began by sautéing the leeks, salt and pepper with some melted butter for a few minutes over medium heat in a medium sauté pan. I then added the cream, and stirred and let simmer for about 10 minutes and set aside, keeping warm.

I then melted 1 tablespoon of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. I added the shallot and onion and cooked until softened, about 4-5 minutes. I then added the rice and stirred for 1 minute or so. Next, I added the wine and stirred until most of the liquid was absorbed, about 1 minute. In a separate, small saucepan, I heated the chicken stock and water together. Once the wine was nearly absorbed, I then added 1/2 cup of the stock. I let it simmer until stock was almost absorbed, stirring often, about 3-4 minutes. I continued to add more broth, 1/2 cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding next and stirred often, until rice was tender and mixture was creamy, about 20-25 minutes total. Finally, I stirred in leek mixture and remaining tablespoon butter, then added cheese and a touch more cream.

While making the risotto, in between stirs, I went to work on the balsamic mushroom topping.

1 tablespoon butter
1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
Generous handful of cremini mushrooms, sliced in half
Spoonful of capers (drained of liquid)
4 tablespoons white wine
A few turns of balsamic vinegar.

I melted butter in a medium skillet, then added the shallots and garlic and sautéed for a few minutes until softened. I then added the sliced mushroom and chopped rosemary and sautéed for about 5-6 minutes until browned. I kept the mushrooms over low heat while the chicken and risotto cooked, and once those dishes were almost done, I added the capers, white wine and balsamic vinegar. I stirred to combine and then let reduce.

Once everything was done, I mounded the risotto in the middle of the plate, placed the chicken on the risotto, and then topped with the balsamic mushrooms. For presentation, I added a grilled lemon wheel, as sprig of rosemary, and a thin leek.

This meal was FANTASTIC. The flavors worked so well together. The leeks were a wonderful addition to the risotto, and the capers were a nice compliment to the balsamic mushrooms. The chicken was ridiculously flavorful and tender! A bite with the creamy, rich risotto and the tart, savory balsamic mushrooms was my favorite, a nice contrast!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze

I needed to make desserts for a family party, and I really wanted to try something new. I was also anxiously awaiting the arrival of spring and warmer temperatures, so I was eager to try out a light, springy recipe. I stumbled on Giada’s Lemon Ricotta Cookies and was quite intrigued. Ricotta in a cookie? I thought perhaps this would allow for a more delicate texture and decided to give them a shot.

I followed the recipe nearly exactly. I did add slightly more zest (I zested one and a half lemons) and I did add a little more flour at the end, just before I was ready to spoon onto the baking sheets. The batter was quite sticky, and I panicked for a moment, added a bit more flour (which didn’t reduce the stickiness) and then just decided to trust the recipe. Well, the stickiness was no issue really, other than the fight I had getting the batter of the spoon, because the cookies were FABULOUS! Definitely the best cookies I have ever made. They were perfectly cooked and they rose into the perfect little shape.

For the glaze, I did find that I needed more lemon juice to get everything to the right consistency. I just kept squeezing a little bit in until I felt it was spreadable without being too watery.

I highly, highly, highly recommend these cookies!!!!!

"Mud Pie" or Chocolate Trifle

Disclaimer: I had forgotton to take a pictute of this at home, and had to take this one really quickly once the trifle arrived (a little weary from the trip) at its destination, so it is a terrible picture. I even forgot to clean up the whipped cream mess from the side, which was a casualty of traveling.

The title of this blog post is what my mother called this concoction while my brother and I were growing up. She even made it more “mud-like” by putting gummy worms on top, which was such a hit in my youth! But, this recipe is really just a chocolate cake trifle.

I was in charge of desserts for a party last weekend, and decided this family staple was just the ticket. It is easy, I have made it a dozen times, and I knew I couldn’t mess it up. I was also trying a new recipe or two, so this one was sort of my safety net. It is also such a kid-friendly dessert, so I knew it would go over well with my niece and nephews.

I started by following an recipe for Dark Chocolate Cake. I have used a number of cake recipes over the years to make this dessert, and was quite pleased with this cake. It was very moist and had such a smooth dark chocolate flavor.

I also mixed up some instant, sugar free chocolate pudding. I guess this step makes my dessert more of a semi-homemade treat, but I just wasn’t ambitious enough to make the pudding myself!

While the pudding was chilling, I beat up some whipping cream to make a light whipped topping. I chilled the metal mixing bowl in the freezer, and also chilled the beaters (from my stand mixer). I started with 1 and a half cups of whipping cream, and mixed until almost done. I then added 1 teaspoon of vanilla (plus a dash extra), and about 2 tablespoons of confectioner’s sugar and mixed until stiff peaks formed.

The layering technique is quite simple. Crumble up the cake, place in bottom of trifle dish. Then, add some of the pudding. Next, cover with the whipped cream. Repeat until you reach the top. I like to add some shaved chocolate on the top of my trifle.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Chicken with a Raspberry-Balsamic Glaze

Tonight was one of those nights where I stood in front of my fridge and pantry until something hit me. I quickly noticed that I had thin-sliced chicken breasts, raspberry preserves, mushroom, onions, and balsamic vinegar and asparagus. Presto - dinner was inspired! I had remembered reading about a balsamic-raspberry chicken in a few different places, one of which was in Cara's blog. I looked to her recipe for inspiration, but didn't follow it exactly.

I started by sautéing some onions (1/2 an onion) and a handful of mushrooms in a large pan with some olive oil cooking spray. I added salt and pepper, a little garlic powder, and some thyme. Once softened, I removed and added the chicken. I cooked on both sides for about 4-5 minutes until cooked and slightly browned. I then added the mushrooms and onions back in, and added the preserves, vinegar, more fresh thyme, and a touch of chicken stock to help loosen up the preserves. I stirred until combined, let reduce a little bit, then added the chicken back to the pan for a few minutes.

I served with roasted asparagus with garlic, salt, and pepper. A tasty and healthful meal!

*My only regret was not using seedless preserves (which I had, but just opted for the regular stuff) because I thought the cruch of the seeds was odd in this dish.