‘Morning Sunshine

Stranded on an island with one meal, hands down a breakfast sandwich is my choice. Everytime. I’m specifically interested in one varity: sausage, egg, cheese on a croissant. I mean I wouldn’t pass up one with bacon, or on a bagel, but for breakfast or brunch, this is a pretty regular choice for me. It is also a great way to compare restaurants!

bfast_sand_290_200

the egg:

over-easy or scrambled

the cheese:

preferably cheddar, but American will do just fine

the sausage:

maple is great but links or patties, I don’t discriminate

the bread:

croissants are my favorite, but again, bagels make a great choice…the caveat? The bagel must, must, must be toasted or grilled. This seems obvious but it has been a reoccurring faux pas.

bacon_egg_sand_290_200

My local favorites include Kelly’s Diner, Ball Square Cafe, Bakers’ Best, and yes, Dunkin’ Donuts.

Unacceptable breakfast sandwiches are found at The Broken Yolk (untoasted bagel and a single link sausage cut in half) and Moogy’s (stringy cheese and rubbery bacon).

Normally my restaurant choices lean towards something I cannot make at home, but the fact that I don’t make them regularly adds validity to my choice. It needs to be served HOT HOT HOT. Also, the egg must be cooked through while the cheese needs to be melted. I swoon over a sharpness of the cheddar, the toasty-ness of the croissant, and the sweetness of the sausage gets me every time.

Wine IN Dinner and WITH Dinner

Chicken Marsala

Another Mr. J delighted our group with his Chicken or Filet Marsala.

I was very appreciative that he accommodated my inability to eat red meat by offering the chicken option! (hopefully that helped the meal not break the bank either!) He based it off a Weight Watchers recipe

Ingredients

2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp butter
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (he used baby portabella)
1 pound uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast (there was also a filet option)
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
½ cup Marsala wine
1 ¼ cup reduced sodium chicken broth (for the filet the sauce used beef broth)
1 ½ tbs cornstarch

Directions

1) Heat oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until tender and releasing liquid, about 5 minutes.


2) Meanwhile, season chicken on both sides with thyme, salt and pepper. Move mushrooms to outer edge of skillet once cooked. Place chicken in center of skillet and sauté until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

3) Add wine to skillet; simmer 1 minute. Add 3/4 cup of broth and simmer, uncovered, until chicken is tender and cooked through, about 8 minutes.

4) Dissolve cornstarch in remaining 1/2 cup of broth in a small bowl; add to skillet. Simmer until sauce thickens, stirring constantly and incorporating mushrooms into the liquid, about 1 minute. Serve chicken with mushroom sauce spooned over top.

He served it with mashed russet potatoes and broccoli. We loved it!

Pie for Dinner: Tortilla Pie

I was in the mood for something fun and after scouring the fridge I thought about Mexican. I went with a tortilla pie and it was great! All the ingredients were things I had on hand and threw in what I had.

My thought was that it could come out too messy if there was too much liquid. Since flour tortillas won’t absorb much I tried to keep that in mind.

Ingredients

3 flour tortillas
1 can pinto beans
½ cup salsa
2 cups chicken, chopped
2 cups spinach, chopped
1 cup brown rice
1 cup corn
1 cup shredded cheddar
2 tbs taco seasoning

Directions

1) Cook chicken with taco seasoning.

2) Cook rice and then mix in spinach. I used instant brown rice and and the spinach wilted perfectly when mixed in. Serve the unused portion on the side. Putting some in will help keep everything from getting soggy.

3) Spray an empty skillet with non-stick spray and toast each side of the tortilla.
4) Rinse beans and add ¼ cup of salsa. Mash the beans and mix the salsa evenly with a few lumps remaining.

5) Layer toasted tortialls with bean spread, chicken, corn, cheese, rice & spinach, and sprinkle with taco seasoning. Repeat layers ending with a tortilla on top.

6) Bake 20 minutes at 350. Sprinkle with cheese if desired and salsa.

I had some leftover breaded chicken pieces that worked really well. The spinach was a good way to add another veggie and tomatoes might have made it too runny. Keeping the salsa out of the pie kept the consistency perfect. I had some salsa con queso cheesey dip so I drizzled some of that too. Mr. J and I liked it a lot and will definitely make it again!

Spinach and Artichoke Dip…with an Indian Twist

I needed to make a healthy appetizer for a non-profit having a get together for women. On The Rise is an amazing organization who supports women who are trying to move out of homelessness and women in crisis. I was in a hurry and didn’t have a ton of ideas. I knew my ap wouldn’t be able to be kept or served warm so I went with a semi-homemade dip.I had raita dip from Trader Joe’s so I used that as my starting point. I made this with the idea of spinach and artichoke dip without all the cheese and one that wouldn’t need to be served hot.

Ingredients
6 oz premade Raita
3 cups spinach, chopped
½ cup non-fat sour cream
1 jar artichoke hearts
1 pumpernickel bread loaf, uncut

Directions
1) Wilt spinach in a skillet.
spinachdip1_290_200

2) Slice the top of the loaf and hollow out the inside.

3) Mix raita, sour cream, artichoke hearts, and spinach.
spinachdip3_290_200
4) Refrigerate a few hours or overnight.
5) Serve in bread bowl with bread, baby carrots, and wheat thins to dip.This probably won’t be my claim to fame but it fulfilled the criteria I was looking for. It also was cheap, easy, and traveled well. I don’t have a final photo since they protect the anonymity of their clients so I wasn’t at the meal.

I’ve made lunch for these ladies and I really wonder how it has gone over. Again, the charge was healthy and minimal prep. Once I made sandwich filling options of grilled chicken salad with grapes or greek veggies (hummus, feta, cukes, tomatoes, and greek dressing) in pita pockets or bulkie rolls. Another time I made breakfast of baked blueberry french toast, hashbrown casserole, and mini bagels with cream cheese.

Mac & Cheese, no box involved

I was bringing a meal to my NYE weekend in the Berkshires and I was thinking about what would be easy, travel well, and was good for a group of 8. I came up with mac & cheese. Who doesn’t love it.

Well, I didn’t love mine as much as I anticipated when making it the night before BUT I know what I’ll do for the next time around. It was too dry. The night I cooked it, there was an amazing looking creamy-ness and cheesy texture I couldn’t resist sampling a macaroni before baking.  I cooked it part way before packing it, but maybe I should have kept everything separate since I knew I would have access to a kitchen.

It was good, but it wasn’t amazing. I based it off Alton Brown’s mac & cheese recipe. I switched up the topping to crushed potato chips instead of bread crumbs. I also added some other cheeses.

Ingredients

*special note: this serves about 6 so I doubled it for 8 and had leftovers*
1 pound large elbow macaroni
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons mustard
5 cups milk
1 large egg
12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
½ cup mozzarella, shredded
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
1 teaspoon koshersalt
Fresh black pepper

Topping:

5 tablespoons butter
1 cup crushed potato chips
¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to a bit firmer than al dente.
3) While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep whisking until it is free of lumps for several minutes.

4) Cook bacon until crisp then chop into pieces.
bacon_290_200
5) Stir in the milk and simmer for ten minutes.

6) Temper in the egg. Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the sauce into the macaroni in the casserole dish. Mix in chopped bacon. Top with remaining cheese.

7) Melt the topping butter in a saute pan and toss the chips in to coat. Top the macaroni with the chips. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.

Leftovers need some additional help to recreate the creamy texture so I add a dribble of milk or cream and a sprinkle of leftover cheese.

I think next time I make mac & cheese I will greatly increase the liquid and severely undercook the pasta since it’ll cook a bit when baking.

Other great additions to baked mac & cheese are: caramelized shallots; cherry or grape tomatoes whole and basil; sometimes I make it Mexican with taco seasoning, pepper jack cheese, green onions, salsa, and topped with crushed tortilla chips. What should I add next time?

How to Cheat on Flour’s Sticky Sticky Buns

Flour’s Sticky Sticky Buns by Joanne Chang

stickybuns_290_200
Sis doesn’t cook a ton, BUT she makes amazing sticky buns. She made them for Christmas breakfast and we loved them.  I learned that they are based on Joanne Chang’s recipe. Chef Chang was on Bobby Flay’s Throwdown, where she won. Check out the video.

You could make the whole thing yourself, BUT using pre-made puff pastry makes it a bit more do-able.

Ingredients Goo:

 

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup  water
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Basic Brioche Dough (or cheat with frozen puff pastry)
1/4 cup  light brown sugar1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped

Directions

First, make the goo. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the brown sugar and cook, stirring, to combine (it may look separated, that’s ok). Remove from the heat and whisk in the honey, cream, water, and salt. Strain to remove any undissolved lumps of brown sugar. Let cool for about 30 minutes, or until cooled to room temperature. You should have about 3 cups. (The mixture can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

On a floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry into rectangle about 12 by 16 inches and 1/4-inch thick. It will have the consistency of cold, damp Play-Doh and should be fairly easy to roll. Position the rectangle so a short side is facing you.

In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and half of the pecans. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the entire surface of the dough. Starting from the short side farthest from you and working your way down, roll up the rectangle like a jellyroll. Try to roll tightly, so you have a nice round spiral. Trim off about 1/4- inch from each end of the roll to make them even.

Use a bench scraper or a chef’s knife to cut the roll into 8 equal pieces, each about 1 1/2-inches wide. (At this point, the unbaked buns can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 1 week. When ready to bake, thaw them, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours, then proceed as directed.)

Pour the goo into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish, covering the bottom evenly. Sprinkle the remaining pecans evenly over the surface. Arrange the buns, evenly spaced, in the baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and put in a warm spot to proof until the dough is puffy, pillowy, and soft and the buns are touching-almost tripled in size, about 2 hours.

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat to 350 degrees F.

Bake until golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the dish on a wire rack for 20 to 30 minutes. One at a time, invert the buns onto a serving platter, and spoon any extra goo and pecans from the bottom of the dish over the top.

The buns are best served warm or within 4 hours of baking. They can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day, and then warmed in a 325 degree F oven for 10 to 12 minutes before serving.

See? You have plenty to do without making the brioche dough yourself.

Gift-giving for the Culinary Inclined

This year Mr. J and I got some great food and cooking related holiday gifts and I wanted to share them! Here’s a roundup of these fun items. Our families know us too well.

Cast Iron Skillet for the grill, and an authentic deep dish Pizza Pan from Lou Malnati’s in Chicago. I’m so excited to whip up some pizza soon! We can’t grill outside the condo, but someday we’ll own a house and can grill year-round (or when there isn’t snow covering it).

I asked for bakeware and this one is so fun! I love the yellow. You’re sure to see some posts come out of this.

We got some tools as well. 3 Wooden Pampered Chef spoons & spatulas, a set of new whisks, and a nifty little spoon to get to the smallest quantities.

I got a set of 3 CorningWare baking dishes with covers. Great sizes. Now I have options to whip up double batches and freeze them.

Lastly, we got a set of everyday dishes from Bobby Flay…or from Mrs. E & Mr. T but made by Bobby who will always have a special place in our hearts since we got engaged at his restaurant, Bar Americain.
xmas_dishes_290_154

Mr. J and I got a few cook books and some fun ingredients that I’m sure will make an appearance soon.

Say mmmm: Chicken Pot Pie with Cheddar Biscuit Topping

This is a great meal to come home to or to pull out of the freezer (adding drop biscuits just before cooking).

chickenpotpie5_290_200
I’m not a fan of peas, so I don’t include them in my pot pie. In the past, I’ve included edemame for some color. Individual ramekins would mean you could customize per person! How fun?! Turkey instead of chicken, sweet potatoes, celery, turnips, or anything else you like of would be great additions too.

I make this occasionally and thought it was a great use for leftovers too! I made a crock pot recipe the other day which wasn’t great. It was chicken, white wine, cream cheese, onions, and a packet of italian dressing. I served it over egg noodles and it was OK but not overly blog-worthy. When photographed it showed how white it was!

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts, cooked
2 cups carrots, cooked and cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup corn
2 medium potatoes, cooked and cut into cubes
1 can cream of celery soup (or cream of potato, or cream of mushroom, or cream of chicken)
1 cup milk
drop biscuits (recipe below)

Directions

1) Cook potatoes and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2) Cook carrots and corn.
3) Tear or dice chicken and put into a greased 9” pan.
chickenpotpie1_290_200
4) Add chopped potatoes, chopped carrots, corn, and onions.
chickenpotpie2_290_2005) Combine cream of celery soup and milk. Pour into pan.
6) Mix the pot pie insides and spread drop biscuits onto the top.
7) Bake 30-40 minutes at 375 degrees.
chickenpotpie4_290_200

Drop Biscuits Recipe
Ingredients

1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons butter, cut in small chunks
3 to 4 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar (if desired)

Directions

1) Combine flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a bowl stirring well.
2) Cut in butter to form small chunks.
3) Stir in enough milk to form a wet batter (I make it more soupy when it is for topping).
4) Mix in cheddar (if desired).
drop_biscuits_290_200

The drop biscuits don’t look great, but trust me, it is awesome when baked. This time I turned the broiler on for the last 2 minutes to get it more golden once I was sure the biscuit was totally cooked and not gummy underneath.

I like these amounts but thought about mixing the insides with cream of celery soup and a cup of chicken broth. I’ll probably try it next time. Sometimes I make a second one and leave off the topping to freeze it. Just add the topping before baking. Pie crust or puff pastry would make a good topping too, but I’m partial to the biscuit myself. Enjoy!

Holiday Feasting

If your holiday season was anything like mine it included goodies of all kinds, and often. Here’s a journey through the last few days of family, friends, and FOOD.

A holiday gathering with friends was made more special with delightful holiday beer. Of course they had the regulars as well but I’m a sucker for seasonal beers. I thought it was a really nice touch to have a few seasonal varieties on hand.

holidaybeer_200_290
Some other fun additions they served was a decadent bark. This would be a fantastic post-halloween treat as well. Bittersweet chocolate was topped with pretzels, melted red & green chocolate, and all the candy and cookies you can think of. Bittersweet chocolate was definitely necessary since milk chocolate would make it over-the-top sweet. The pretzels added a nice sweet/salty/crispy aspect.

holidaybark_290_200
Lastly they served roasted chestnuts! I hadn’t ever had them but fell in love. They have a real woodsy flavor. They are meaty and substantial. A little cut on the bottom made them easy to pop right out. Check out how nicely the bowl complimented the nuts too!

chestnuts_290_200
Ok, lets move on to some holiday meals. Breakfasts are my favorites. Christmas Eve was already my 2nd day of holiday celebrations with the C family and we had a crockpot scramble dish including ham, egg, cheese, and shredded potato. We also served Ebelskiver (translation: dutch filled-pancake). These are tasty and really fun. Mr. J is a master at turning them so he did the honors. We filled them with raspberries, banana, and chocolate chips. More than 3 options just gets confusing.

pancake_290_200
The pan only allows for a few per batch but we found out the first time making them that this is probably all that we could keep up with at a time anyway. Williams Sonoma makes fancy turners for $12.95 but bamboo skewers work just fine. We kept them warm in the oven while making the rest. I’ll post again about these…they’re that good.

pancake2_290_200
After discovering a Christmas journal from 1987 we realized the R fam has been eating a traditional Christmas breakfast since at least since then. It is a casserole (to be made the night before) with rice, eggs, velveeta, ham, and asparagus. It’s delectable and nobody is ever ready for a change.

holidaybfast_290_200

The other benefit is that it just gets popped into the oven while gifts are in progress and nobody misses anything! We also have a partridge and a pear tree, minus the partridge. Though I’m not sure why, the top of the tree gets a sugar cube with a drop of flavored extract lit on fire for a second.

holiday_peartree_290_200
Dinner time? There’s no set tradition with the R family so this year we had ham. Yum! Sides included the best sausage stuffing ever, creamed onions, green beans, and a baked fruit on the side.

holiday_dinner_290_200

Check out the BLT skewers I made with Mrs. C. She brought them to church on Christmas Eve and they were such a hit. How is it that I’ve never had super thick cut bacon? I’m now enlightened. Wow. We cut one end of the grape tomato off to make it stand better.

blt_sticks_290_200
One last delectable thing I ate (and ate) was sis’ sticky buns. The recipe will follow soon! Hope everyone else had great meals too!

In the zone, the CALzone: Turkey Meatball & Spinach

I loooove to make calzones. I think the ratio of crispy crust to inner fillings or would-be pizza toppings is the best. It is also a great use for leftovers or the occasional less-than-perfect ingredient.

This calzone was turkey meatball, fresh spinach, and cheese. Dough definitely plays a big role in the calzone but dough varies in ease and quality. I went with refrigerated dough and pre-made turkey meatballs.

The trick is to fill the calzone much more than it looks like it can hold. Calzones fall into those “contents may settle while in motion.” I bought a ton of spinach and thought I could use it here.

Ingredients

1 ball of refrigerated pizza dough
4 turkey meatballs
2 cups shredded mozzerella
3 cups spinach, chopped
1 egg, whipped

Directions:

1) Stretch pizza dough out using your hands and spread out on lightly greased pan.
2) Top half of dough with sliced meatballs, spinach, and cheese alternating layers.

1st_calzone_290_200
The trick is to fill the calzone much more than it looks like it can hold. Calzones fall into those “contents may settle while in motion.” I bought a ton of spinach and thought I could use it here.
calzone_2nd_290_200
3) Fold over and secure all the way around. Make a few slits to let steam out before brushing with eggwash.
4) Bake at 375 degrees for about 30-minutes until golden brown.
calzone_3rd_290_200
Some of my other favorite calzones include: green apple, brie, and prosciutto; chicken parmesan; and ham and cheese. Literally anything could fill them up but I draw the line at going too far out of the box with Chinese or Mexican. That’s just crazy.
Calzones are great appetizers or as a meal. I might bring some to Christmas with the future in-laws!