Fav Comfort Apps

A lot of restaurants seem to be advertising their 500-calorie meals or the weight watchers specials but sometimes, you just need serious comfort food. Tavern On the Square is one of my regular comfort food places, and Phantom Gourmet agrees!

#1 Risotto Fritters

Parmesan risotto stuffed with pesto and mozzarella lightly breaded and fried. Served with tomato cream sauce and baby arugula.

The risotto is nutty with the perfect amount of pesto. The arugula is peppery and added a nice contrast to the salty parmesan.

#2 White Truffle Tator Tots

A heaping portion of our tator tots drizzled with aromatic white truffle oil and Parmesan cheese.

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The tator tots are truly a heaping portion. I think the truffle oil is a bit lacking and I’d prefer a better ratio but I wouldn’t pass on these…they’re just too addicting.

#3 Tropical Chicken Skewers

Chicken tenders coated in shredded coconut and panko breadcrumbs, fried to a golden brown and served with a pineapple curry sauce and fruit salsa.

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I was pleasantly surprised by these. The coconut was perfect and a great sweetness with the zip of the sauce.

These apps are really fun and make a meal to share.

Oodles of Noodles in a Chicken Stir-Fry

It has been awhile since I made an exciting meal that I was really truly happy with. I don’t think my standards were too high, I’ve been busy and a few recipes fell a bit short. I LOVED this. Super flavorful and fresh tasting. The sauce was a great combo of sweet and spicy. It was quick to whip up and made great leftovers for lunch the next day.

Ingredients

1 orange pepper
1 cup pea pods
2 cups bean sprouts
1 package asian noodles (Nasoya or similar)
½ cup cashews
1/2 cup chicken stock or veggie stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons ginger peanut sauce or 3 tbs minced peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tsp chopped garlic

Directions

In a small saucepan, combine the stock with the soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch slurry, vinegar and sesame oil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add peanut oil, ginger and crushed red pepper and cook over high heat, stirring, until fragrant and golden and boil over high heat until thickened and glossy, about 1 minute. Add garlic and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes.
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Fry chicken and start boiling water. Flash-steam the pepper slices and pea pods before adding into a large skillet or wok with some of the stir-fry sauce. I got a nifty double-boiler/strainer and it made it easy to flash team then use the same pot of water! 2 in 1!
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Start dry roasting the cashews separately while water boils for the noodles (or rice if you prefer). Fresh Asian noodles cook for about 10 minutes then they cook for another 2 in the sauce with your chicken & veggies.

Add the sauce into the veggie skillet and add the noodles when they’re ready. Cover the pan while everything combines for 2-3 minutes. Add the cashews right before serving.
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If you haven’t used these noodles you should try them. They are in the produce section of the supermarket and come in Chinese (round), Japanese (flat & my favorite) and wonton wrappers. Regular spaghetti works fine too, but these noodles absorb the stir-fry sauce better.
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This ended up making about 3 pretty hefty servings. It was really good and a perfect amount of sauce.

A Tasty Catastrophe

Once upon a time, Ms. S wanted to bring something to a weekend away with friends but what would travel well on a bus from NYC all the way to the far away land of Massachusetts?

BEER BREAD (mix, to be made on the spot)

It was such a great idea. It was easy, goes with everything, didn’t take up room, and didn’t create any leftovers! Yum! I was new to the world of Tastefully Simple but it sounds like fun and I’m glad to be in-the-know (recently I was feeling old/out-of-it after having to google flash mob).

Ingredients

mix
12 oz beer or carbonated beverage
3 tbs butter (optional)

Directions

1) Empty mix into a big bowl
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2) Stir in beer

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3) Melt butter and pour over the top of the mixed batter
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4) Bake according to package
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I hesitate to share the commotion this bread caused before telling you how yummy it is! We loved it and ate it all. For beer Ms. S chose a winter beer which was great, thought I hadn’t had it anyother way. The buttered top made it crispy and delicious.Ok, so, we’re in a rental house with a full kitchen. Ms. S followed all instructions perfectly and baked it until she realized the oven was smoking. It smelled like chemicals so we fanned it out, wiped the bottom of the oven, let it cool and turned it back on. It seemed fine at first but the smoke came back! It was crazy, let me tell you. One of us would open the oven and stand back from the fumes, another one would hold a small fan pointing into the oven, three was taking photos, and four was opening doors and fanning the smoke detector.

The smell was very intense and the property owner had to come over to look at the oven. We still attest that it wasn’t our fault. We THINK the previous tentant may have used oven cleaner on a self-cleaning oven (serious no-no).

Anywho, it baked part way, then the oven had a hissy fit then it baked more. It didn’t taste like the smoke at all and turned out fine. We loved it and hope to have it again!

Deeply in Love

I love a lot of things, but I’m new to Chicago deep dish and it was love at first sight. My sis and I really enjoyed Chi-town, especially the pizza. Our first full day was a rainy one, but we made it awesome. Dad had given us a contribution for the trip and we made him proud. After a tour of Wriggly Stadium, we yelp’ed for some good deep dish.chi_pizza_slice_290_200
They take forever to cook, but it’s so worth it. I had only ever had Uno’s deep dish before. I liked that but even though it originated in Chicago, Uno’s isn’t the same as our local-to-Chicago family-owned deep dish experience. We chose sausage, green pepper, and onion. The sauce was zesty, the ingredients perfectly cooked, and the cheese abundant. My mouth waters as I reminisce.

I probably don’t cook as much pizza as I would like to…I know, I can do something about. I just need a pizza stone to be able to do it right at home.

I needed a creative bday present for my amazing sis and thought about shipping a frozen one from Chicago! Lou Malnati’s ships them frozen and it was so fun! We had it the other night and thought it was pretty good but it just wasn’t super thick.

chi_pizza_290_200I did get Mr. J a pan from them too so I really need to get on making deep dish the next time I have hours and hours to wait for my pizza to be done (or 60 minutes). Sometime soon, I’ll make one myself.

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‘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!

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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.

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

3) Mix raita, sour cream, artichoke hearts, and spinach.
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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.
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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

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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.