Chopped at Home

I love watching Chopped not only for the food factor, but the competition aspect! I’m not always in the mood to be told how to make something on another cooking show. Plus, that 10-second countdown at the end of each round? Eeeek! It’s also fun to see where the chefs have come from and I love some of the judges.

My sis and I play chopped sometimes. It brings us back to the days of Ready-Set-Cook from ‘95. Ready Set Cook had studio audience members bring mystery ingredients to cook along side the chef.

On Chopped, there are 3 rounds: appetizer (20-minutes); entree (30-minutes); dessert (20-minutes).  Each round includes a basket of mystery ingredients which need to be included (in any amount) in the meal with any of the pantry items. We don’t always make 3 courses and we definitely don’t have a time limit.

chopped_em_290_200

My ingredients:

Cannellini Beans
Zucchini
Israeli Couscous
Whole Peeled Tomatoes

chopped_liz_290_200

Sis’ Ingredents:

Leeks
Thin Cut Pork Chops
Spam

Our Meal:

Pork chops in mustard sauce
Couscous with spam and leeks
White bean, leeks, zucchini, and tomato hash

Directions:

Chop the leeks and bathe or salad-spin the dirt/sand out of them.
chopped_leeks_290_200
Mix dijon mustard, chopped garlic, salt and pepper together and spread onto the pork chops while a grill pan is heating.
chopped_pork_290_200
Drain tomato and bean cans before dropping into a skillet. Add leeks, chopped zucchini and season generously with salt, pepper, and italian seasoning.
chopped_hash_290_200Finely chop spam and pan fry as if it were bacon.
Start cooking the couscous while adding spam and leeks. This will take about 5 minutes so set the pork chops on to grill.

The spam was totally the curve ball here. I have to say, it’s not as weird when sliced into small strips and fried until crispy. Sis and I eat our share of pork so we went with it.

The pork chops were good! I think our sauce had a nice not overpowering flavor. It was a good quick fix that will come in handy sometime in the future.
chopped_porkdone_290_200
I loved the hash. It also provided a good vehicle for leeks 2 ways. It was fresh and a nice medley.

We toasted the couscous before adding the liquid for a more nutty flavor. Spam was the salt factor and dropped leeks in as well.
chopped_plate_290_200
Overall, I think our meal would have scored well…it did by our critique! Sis’ idea for leeks 2 ways was a good one…it tied everything together. I ate the leftover veggie hash for lunch and it was still good. I probably wouldn’t have given much credit to canned tomatoes but it was a great variation from my usual sides.

In the past we’ve made ratatouille stuffed, pita chip crusted pork tenderloin with green beans and no-bake chocolate marshmallow cookies.

I highly recommend you try this game sometime! It’s a good challenge to use something you have on hand or to try something new…spam?

I have several of birthday meals to post soon (Figs, Amrheins, and the Mac & Cheese Taste-Off) so stay tuned!

The Pork is More Than Just Brine…With Butternut Squash Risotto

I don’t end up cooking much meat so I’ve never brined meat before but there’s a first time for everything. I was excited for a new technique.
risotto_pork_plate_290_200
I set the country style boneless pork ribs set up in brine for the workday. The pork should absorb a lot of liquid and when this cooks off, the meat will be more tender. True story.

Ingredients

2 cups ice cubes
1 cup cider vinegar
¼ cup salt
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tbs peppercorns

Directions

Boil cider vinegar.
Add salt and sugar stirring until dissolved.
Add ice cubes and peppercorns.
Put pork into the brine and let sit for 8 hours.
brine_pork_290_200
To cook, remove from brine, smother with bbq sauce and bake for 1 hour, covered.
brine_pork_bake_290_200
The pork came out smelling amazing! It was uber tender. Fork tender…no knives required. It would have been really special with homemade barbecue sauce but was so good and I was really happy with it.

butternut_risotto_cup_290_200
I made butternut squash risotto to go with it. I love risotto and don’t make it nearly enough. It is creamy and delicious with so many variations! I’ve made a weight watchers one with tomato juice and zucchini. The tomato juice makes it red, flavorful, and creamy without being overly acidic. Enough about that, onto today’s risotto.

Ingredients

1 cup aborio rice
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups butternut squash
½ cup white wine
¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Directions

Toast aborio, stirring consistently until golden.
Heat broth and wine on medium low.
Steam butternut squash and add to rice.
butternut_risotto_steam_290_200
Add ½ cup broth until absorbed and repeat until all the liquid has been absorbed.
Serve with plenty of Parmesan.
butternut_risotto_290_200
The risotto was sticky and delightful. The squash was a perfect addition. What a great orange color! Needless to say, I ate leftovers for days. I thought making a ½ cup of rice might be weird to have strange quantities but we definitely had more than enough. Maybe arancini will be a fun use of these leftovers.

Itsa meatball!

I made meatballs for the first time ever. Well, not never, but I made them by myself for the first time. I can’t eat red meat so if I want meatballs, they have to be turkey and it usually means I eat them at home after buying them.

When I was little I remember making meatballs. My mum would put all the ingredients into a bowl and dad would let us help roll and cook them. I think as a kid I probably thought she was “letting us help” but it was probably more that she doesn’t like to handle meat with her hands because of the “ick” factor.

We would get some cooking and then make a big one with all the remaining mix and giggle relentlessly before continue to roll them.

Even after buying some frozen turkey meatballs at Trader Joe’s (theirs are the best!). I decided to make some and they were AMAZING, if I do say so myself. This is a prime example of a simple meal, made with really great ingredients, and letting them speak for themselves.

Ingredients

¾ pound ground turkey
2 links sweet Italian sausage
1 egg
1 cup bread crumbs
½ cup milk
2 tbs parsley
2 tbs minced garlic
2 tbs Parmesan cheese
½ cup red wine
salt & pepper

Directions

Remove sausage from casing.
Mix bread crumbs and milk. Let sit a minute.
meatball_breadcrumb_290_200
Combine ground turkey, sausage, egg, parsley, garlic, Parmesan, wine, salt and pepper. Add breadcrumb mix and combine well.
meatball_mix_290_200
Form into balls depending on your size preference. I went with larger ones.
meatballs_formed_290_200
Heavily oil a baking sheet.
Bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees, turning every 10-15 minutes to evenly brown.
meatballs_baked_290_200

I was so happy with these! I thought sausage would provide enough fat for moist meatballs instead of proscuitto or bacon, but those would be good too. I was super diligent about turning them to ensure that they cooked evenly. I could have fried them but baking them was way easier.

I’ll continue to purchase them but they weren’t a big deal to make myself. The wine was a HUGE flavor enhancement. A few glug glug glugs of a pinot noir that was already open definitely added some depth of flavor.

They smelled simply amazing! Have you met my sous-chef Windsor? He was standing by, under my feet in our tiny kitchen as usual. I think he was super excited to see what delicious item was coming out of the oven! Even with that cute face he still doesn’t get anything I make.
windsor_290_200
Part of my inspiration to make some came from another blog I love We Are Not Martha. Theirs were featuring prosciutto and were pan fried. I literally read the recipe and thought, ooo red wine would be good with these as I channeled my wine-loving college roommates as inspiration. Parsley isn’t my favorite so I just used dried parsley. Rosemary would be good.

I served these with a basic red sauce and spaghetti. I thought my meatballs were good enough and deserved to shine! I’m so proud!
meatball_plate_290_200I didn’t make a ton of meatballs but now that I know this recipe is a winner I’m sure I’ll make more and freeze them. I will probably also make some cute little ones to freeze for appetizers or soup. They aren’t that much effort and I keep thinking about all the exciting additions! Spinach very finely chopped would be good, sun dried tomatoes, maybe a little nugget of mozzarella? Mmmm the possibilities are endless. I also love sweet & sour meatballs which would definitely highlight these guys.

Dinner from the Depths of the Fridge

Every now and then meals should be easy to whip together or comforting…or both!! They can’t all be amazing, sometimes the goal is simply dinner.

I was digging around looking for inspiration in the fridge when I realized there are a few items in my fridge I couldn’t recall buying. Totally uninspiring. Cleaning out the fridge went onto my to do list but dinner was still a necessity.
sausage_plate_290_200
Anywho. I found some fresh spinach, some chicken sausage, a too-small-for-pizza-dough-ball. Time for a little experiment!I decided to try wrapping the chicken sausage in some dough and balancing the weight with a side of wilted spinach.

Ingredients:

2 bamboo skewers
2 chicken sausage links
pizza dough (size of a tennis ball)
salt, pepper, garlic powder mix (also known as Jane’s Krazy Salt)
3 cups fresh spinach
½ cup roasted red peppers, sliced
2 tbs lime juice

Directions:

Skor the sausage and insert a bamboo skewer in each to keep the shape.
sausage_prep_290_200
Stretch the dough out and wrap around the sausage. Secure each of dough on the skewer. Lightly roll in olive oil and season generously.
spin&redpep_290_200
Gently wilt spinach and roasted red peppers.
Flavor with lime juice.
veg_limedress_290_200Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees, turning to ensure even cooking. The chicken sausage is fully cooked so only the dough needs to cook through.

I used my fav lime salad dressing. It goes with everything! This dressing is great for a touch of citric acid or Mexican salad. It makes a great marinade too.

The dough was ok, but puff pastry or crescent rolls would have worked better. I didn’t want to encase the sausage because I thought it wouldn’t stay perfect and the look of this was half the interest. I was going for a pigs-in-a-blanket appearance.

Maybe this isn’t my signature dish but it was yummy and was ready in 30-minutes. Serve with some mustard and call it dinner.

A Comeback with Chicken

I know a few of you felt cheated with the Brownie post. In an effort of full disclosure: I love all food. I love to make things myself and I love that which others make for me too. There are not as many restaurant reviews as I originally anticipated but winter in New England makes us hole up inside sometimes.

I’ve been sick so I agree that my recent posts are not all AMAZING. The other night I did make a pretty amazing meal. Without further ado…I present to you: Smoky Grilled Chicken with Mango Salsa. Boo-yeah.

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts
marinade
spice rub
1 ½ cup chopped mango
1 cup chopped tomato
½ cup chopped roasted red pepper
½ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup vegetable oil
½ tsp brown sugar
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Directions

Marinate the chicken and then dredge into the rub. I used my fav lime salad dressing and a rub blend I got Mr. J in Seattle from the famous Chef Tom Douglas.
spice_rub_290_200

Grill the chicken until cooked through. Since our chicken breasts were so enormous I cut them each in half (yes, those are 2 breasts cut in half, woah!)
grilled_chick_290_200
Chop the mango, tomato, roasted red pepper pieces. Add vinegar, oil, sugar, and red pepper flakes. Roughly mix with a fork to incorporate all the flavors. Let stand while chicken finishes cooking.
mango_salsa_290_200Serve over rice with salsa spread on top.
chick&salsa_290_200
This was so easy and was wonderful! The chicken was veryyy spicy because of the rub but I liked that combo with the sweet salsa. Mr. J may not have been expecting the kick during his first bite! I hadn’t been sure what to make for dinner when I defrosted chicken early that morning but this was almost all pantry/freezer items!

I used frozen mango chunks that I keep handy for smoothies or when we’re just out of produce and I’m in fruit-withdrawal. Since mango can be so pulpy or fibrous I probably should have chopped it while frozen, but I didn’t care that it wasn’t perfect. Pineapple would be a great alternative!

We ate the chicken & mango salsa over instant brown rice to cut the spice. I steamed some pea pods on the side. I really enjoyed this flavorful & instant dinner! It was refreshing and was a perfect amount.

Raving about Pumpkin Ravioli

Pumpkin Ravioli

I was thumbing through a Cooking Light magazine and came upon this recipe for Pumpkin Ravioli with Gorgonzola Sauce. I don’t love Gorgonzola but I was up for the challenge of making my own ravioli.

They definitely tasted amazing but the final product didn’t look 100% perfect. This was a great meal with wintery tones from the pumpkin, nuts, and cranberries. Sage would have been a good addition but since I love it, I tend to be heavy handed with it and Mr. J doesn’t love it like I do.

Ingredients

½ canned pumpkin
2  tablespoons  dry breadcrumbs
2  tablespoons  grated Parmesan cheese
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
1/8  teaspoon  ground nutmeg
30  wonton wrappers
1  tablespoon  cornstarch
½ cup butter
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup toasted walnuts
¼ cup toasted cranberries

Preparation

To remove some excess moisture spoon pumpkin onto several layers of heavy-duty paper towels, and spread to 1/2-inch thickness and let stand 5 minutes. Scrape into a medium bowl using a rubber spatula. Stir in breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
pump_rav_inner_290_200
Working with 1 wonton wrapper at a time, spoon 1 teaspoon of pumpkin mixture into the center of wrapper. Brush edges of wrapper with water and fold in half, pressing edges firmly with fingers.
pump_rav_290_200
Then pinch the end points together to form a tortellini shape. Place on a large baking sheet sprinkled with cornstarch. Repeat procedure with remaining wonton wrappers and pumpkin mixture.
pump_rav_stuffed_290_200
Bring a pot of water to a simmer. Add half of ravioli to pan. Cook 4 minutes or until done stirring gently. Remove ravioli with a slotted spoon and keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining ravioli.

When the second batch goes into the water start on the sauce. Melt butter in small saucepan. Add heavy cream and stir to combine. Drizzle over ravioli, sprinkle with toasted walnuts and dried cranberries. Serve immediately.
pump_rav_plate_290_200
I was patient and really tried to take the time to seal each ravioli really well. I didn’t want them bursting in the water and that helped. I could have been more conscientious about the air inside and spreading the filling more. Otherwise, these were a hit!

I thought about making a brown butter sauce but wasn’t sure if my spreadable butter substitute would work for that. Any know about that or has anyone tried?

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.
stir-fry_chic_290_200
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!
stir-fry_veggies_290_200
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.
stir-fry_dish_290_200
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.
stir_fry_package_200_290
This ended up making about 3 pretty hefty servings. It was really good and a perfect amount of sauce.

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!

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?

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!