Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I WANT To Be a Rebel


I know that a lot of people don't care for Rachel Ray and personally I could live without quite SO MUCH of her around. I have to admit though, she was the one who really turned me on to The Food Network. This was before cooking and celebrity chefs and what not became so trendy. I don't consider myself a nonconformist but I hate to feel like I am following the masses. I want to believe that I am doing (or can do) something that not EVERYONE else is doing. So I find it frustrating when I find something I like or I am good at and then suddenly everyone else is doing it too. I want to feel special ...sigh!

ANYWAY! Once again I have gotten off track. Regardless if Rachel Ray is annoying or over exposed I have really learned tons of things from her. If you ever watch her she often reminds you that lots of what she does is just a basic method for making something and it is easy to make it your own. Hopefully without being quite so annoying, my cooking style is pretty similar to hers. No measuring, little baking, a few convenience foods mixed in with really fresh stuff where it counts and though I think her stuff takes a bit more than 30 minutes for the average cook, I prefer meals that do not take an extraordinary amount of time to make.

This dish is the first thing from Rachel Ray that I ever made. I follow her original recipe pretty closely because really it is super easy. The only substitution that I make is sometimes I replace the Pancetta with bacon. It is a dish that easily can be made in 30 min and it's really filling and quite tasty! I was surprised at the texture of the escarole after cooking it keeps just enough crunch to give it a great texture!

The only part I find difficult is the garlic chips which are extremely easy to overcook and then become bitter. But I would definitely NOT leave them out they give this dish that little extra something that makes it special. Just cook them on very low heat, watch them VERY closely and remove as SOON as they get a hint of color.

Spaghetti with Pancetta, Escarole and Garlic Chips Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray

1/2 pound dried spaghetti
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound thickly sliced pancetta, chopped
6 to 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 large heads escarole, washed and drained, roughly chopped
3/4 cup chicken stock or broth, eyeball it
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a couple of handfuls, plus some to pass at table

Fill a large pot with water, bring to a boil and salt the water. Add the pasta and cook to al dente, with a bite to it.
While the pasta is working, heat a large skillet over medium heat with the extra-virgin olive oil, 3 turns of the pan. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pancetta from the skillet with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Ser aside. Turn the heat on the pan back to low then add the sliced garlic and cook until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the garlic chips from the pan to drain alongside the crispy pancetta, reserve. Turn the heat up to medium again, add the crushed red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Add the roughly chopped escarole, tossing to wilt it in the flavored oil and wilting it into the pan in stages. Once all the escarole has fit into the pan, add the chicken stock, lemon juice, salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes.
Drain the hot pasta well and add it to the escarole pan. Add lemon zest and toss to distribute. Turn the heat off and add the butter and cheese, toss to melt. Toss in the crispy pancetta and garlic chips. Serve the spaghetti with more cheese to pass at the table.

Notes: I also skipped the butter (though inadvertently) I can see where it would add great flavor but I did not really miss it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Want S'more Pie?

S'mores Pie

No, this is not a blog about redneck translations I promise! It is also not for the faint of heart or...sweet tooth. This recipe is RICH and VERY sweet! Diabetics, consider yourself warned!

I found this recipe on Smitten Kitchen. Her recipes are always amazing and her pictures are Beautiful! She is also a "real" baker, unlike me. She made every part of this pie from scratch from the actual graham crackers for the crust to the marshmallow topping. Now I have made home made marshmallows before but I draw the line at graham crackers. But for this I decided that the store bought versions would still produce a yummy finish although I am certain that Deb's version is far superior. Forgive me Deb but the filling is the only part I actually made from scratch and it is so ridiculously simple I could hardly believe it. If you are feeling especially creative and want to try your hand at the Real deal S'Mores Pie check out Smitten Kitchen. But if you are lazy like me this is pretty tasty too!

I opted to make single serving pies hoping it would help me to moderate my portion control a little bit. I also opted to use half and half instead of heavy cream which made me a little nervous thinking it might not set up right but it worked fine.
This is pretty simple. I did decided to pipe on the Marshmallow cream in order to give it some texture when the marshmallow was toasted. This was incredibly messy but I am pleased with the results. Spreading the marshmallow cream on evenly would also work just fine (and likely you could use quite a bit less cutting down a bit on the incredible sweetness). If you don't have a creme brulee' torch you could place them under the broiler for a few minutes but keep a VERY close eye on them.

S'mores Pie

12 mini Graham Cracker Pie crusts
16 oz Marshmallow Creme
7 oz of Bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli 60% Cacao chips)
1 cup Half and Half
1 egg at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in center of oven.

Place mini pie crusts on a cookie sheet. Place chocolate into a bowl. Slightly beat egg in a separate small bowl. In a heavy sauce pan bring Half and half just to a boil. Pour over Chocolate and let stand for 1 minute. Whisk together chocolate and Half and Half then whisk in egg.
Ladle chocolate evenly into pie crusts. Bake for 15 min. Let cool for at least 30 min. Top with marshmallow cream. Brown topping to desired color with Butane torch or under broiler.

Notes: One deep dish Graham cracker crust could be substituted for mini crusts. Increase baking time to 20-25 min. (It will be still a little jiggly in the center but will firm up as it cools)
Spraying inside of piping bag and tip with cooking spray will make handling marshmallow cream easier to handle.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Christmas in June

Exotic Melons

Do you like Melon? Specifically, do you like Cantaloupe? Well, if you do, Get thee immediately, if not sooner to Harris Teeter and pick up a Santa Claus melon! WAIT! Make that 2 or 3 (I will explain that later).

GO! NOW! I will wait for you ...............................................tick tock,tick tock........ Lalala la, la la la, Lalalala LA LA LA . That was the Jeopardy theme in case you didn't recognize it. Wait, you are not here anyway.

Are you back? Did you get your melon? If you didn't, I am telling you, you are missing out!

The other day I went into Harris Teeter and was checking out the "exotic fruits" section. They have a pretty good one and I love to try new stuff. When I noticed the produce clerk putting out some unusual looking melons. One looked sort of like a watermelon but was much smaller and sort of egg shaped. I asked her about it and she told me it was a Santa Claus melon. I asked her what it tasted like and she was unable to give me a description (obviously she is not a Foodie). She did say that they only get them once a year and that they were going on sale the next day. (Now I bet you are sorry you didn't go get one.)

So the next day I came back and bought a Santa Claus melon. I decided that I would do a taste test on few things and post them here for you because I am just that kind of girl (flashing a cheesy grin). I picked out a Casaba Melon which is yellow and shaped sort of like an acorn. A Pepino Melon (one of the exotic fruits) which is light beige in color with thin brown stripes and is very small (palm size). I also decided to try a Feijoa which is not a melon but a type of Guava, also in the exotic fruits section.

I will start with the ones I didn't care so much for. I was unimpressed with the Pepino melon it had a very mild almost watery flavor it likely won't be something I buy again.

The Casaba melon had a stronger flavor but to me had a very "green taste" sort of grassy. I definitely won't try that one again.

On the other hand I loved the Feijoa again this one is not a melon but just sounded good to me. This is a small egg shaped fruit that is green in color. The flesh is very sweet and is a combination of a pineapple, strawberry and of course guava flavor. This one was a hit! This is eaten by cutting in half and scooping out the flesh. When I was doing research for this also read that the skin can be eaten and is slightly bitter complimenting the sweet fruit. I might try that next time. The Feijoa when ripe gives slightly when you press on it similar to a ripe avocado.

Santa Claus Melon

Last but not least was the Santa Claus melon. The inside flesh is light green and resembles a honey dew. The flavor is sweet and has the essence of cantaloupe mixed with watermelon. But WAY better than either by itself. This is by far my favorite melon. I am very sad to find out they are only sold once a year! BUT, here is a cool thing I found when doing some research. They can be stored uncut for several MONTHS! That's right I said months. Now excuse me I need to run out and buy a couple more before they are gone!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Herb- A-Licious


I have a warning for you! I am going to tell you right now that I planted an herb garden a few weeks ago and it is doing FABULOUS! Do you know what this means? It means that you are going to be inundated with recipes that feature fresh herbs!

Now I love plants but I do not have a particularly "green thumb." I have absolutely NO houseplants because I kill them. Even my "lucky bamboo" died which is supposed to be one of the easiest plants to keep. But I do much better with plants outdoors. The problem is that I HATE(!!!) to weed and occasionally I forget to water. The first issue is solved by planting a "potted" garden. Which is what I have done on my back deck. The second...well we will just keep our fingers crossed. The fact is that I use some kind of herb (when I have them readily available) nearly everyday. So, if I use them I generally check to see if they need water at the same time.

I highly recommend planting your own. I get bedding plants from one of the local nurseries and I have not had any issues with any of them. Even Walmart sells them though the ones that I have gotten there do not seem quite as hearty. Think about the herbs you love most and plant one or two. For the price you pay for 1 package of grocery store herbs you will always have the freshest on hand and you will likely (much like me) begin putting them in EVERYTHING you cook. It is SO cool to go out your back door and cut the fresh herbs you need for a meal!
These are the herbs that I currently have growing and all are hearty and easy to grow.
Basil (my most favorite), Chives, Rosemary, Thyme, and Oregano. I still would like to get some Parsley (which I have never tried to grow before) and Sage.

The only thing that I have not had luck with was Cilantro. That makes me sad because I use a lot of cilantro and would love to be able to snip it whenever I need it. It does fine for a while but as soon as it gets really hot it goes straight to seed and then dries up and dies. I am thinking about maybe trying it on my front porch this year where it does not get so much direct sunlight. My friend Karen, who grows a good sized organic Vegetable garden in her backyard, says that she has also had problems with Cilantro and she has found that fall is a better time to grow it.

The key things to growing potted herbs:

Plenty of water: Sometimes in the summer when it is very hot and dry they need to be watered twice a day.

Pinch back plants regularly to encourage full bushy growth instead of tall and lanky. Basil in particular will quickly flower and then go to seed and then the plant will not produce many leaves. For this reason along with the fact that I plant a lot of basil you will probably get your fill of basil recipes this summer (I already have 2 ready to go).

If you feed your plants (which I do about once a week) be sure that you are using a fertilizer that is intended for fruits and veggies. I have had great luck with Miracle Grow. Remember to mix it at a strength for houseplants if you are feeding potted herbs as not to burn the roots.

So here is the first dish I have for you that features ingredients from my herb garden. I have made this 3 times now and though it is very tasty I have not yet gotten the timing down for how long to cook it. I found this recipe on a Blog called Columbus Foodie I made a few minor changes to it because I did not want to eat 3 eggs and I did not have any parsley so I substituted Chives. Other than that I am still working on the Broiling time. The recipe says 6 min under the broiler but this produces a very hard cooked egg and I like mine over medium. I tried 4 mins and this was still too long. Today I tried 3 mins and the yolks were the way I like them but the whites were not quite done enough. I definately think 3 1/2 mins should do the the trick. Enjoy this decadent but really simple breakfast!


Herbed-Baked Eggs
recipe adapted from Ina Garten

1/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon minced Chives

1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
4 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Toasted French bread or brioche, for serving

Preheat the broiler for 5 minutes and place the oven rack 6 inches below the heat.

Combine the garlic, thyme, rosemary, chives, and Parmesan and set aside. Carefully crack 2 eggs into each of 2 small bowls (you won’t be baking them in these) without breaking the yolks. (It’s very important to have all the eggs ready to go before you start cooking.)

Place 2 individual gratin dishes on a baking sheet. Place 1 tablespoon of cream and 1/2 tablespoon of butter in each dish and place under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Quickly, but carefully, pour 3 eggs into each gratin dish and sprinkle evenly with the herb mixture, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place back under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are almost cooked. (Rotate the baking sheet once if they aren’t cooking evenly.) The eggs will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven. Allow to set for 60 seconds and serve hot with toasted bread.

Notes It is important to have all of your ingredients ready before you start cooking and to keep a close watch on them under the broiler.The butter can go from brown to burned in seconds. This seems like it would be a big pain but its only 5 mins (tops) and it's well worth it!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

How To Be The Perfect Houseguest


This past weekend was jam-packed and playing catch-up this week has been the reason I have yet to write about it. I woke up Fri afternoon after just a few hours of sleep (been on night shift) and never stopped till Sunday evening when I fell into bed thoroughly exhausted. I am pleased to say that all of the craziness was purely fun! The highlight of the weekend was an overnight trip to Raleigh which included shopping, cooking for my friends and a night at a "real" night club for nonstop dancing! (Fayetteville is trying, but we still don't have comparable nightlife here)

Just like a posh hotel, only better

My friend Josh was an AWESOME host and it was my pleasure to cook dinner for him and my other friends (new and old) in appreciation for that. Nothing is better than enjoying a meal with friends and at someone's home is way more relaxing and intimate than a restaurant. I hate that I did not think to take some pictures of us eating but here we are dancing the night away.

The dish I decided to make is not very fancy but it has an unusual "can't quite figure it out" flavor that is much different from my usual (Mediterranean inspired) style. Though it does not photograph all that pretty, I assure you the flavor makes up for it. I served it with a plain brown rice and Balsamic roasted green beans. It was a hit and the perfect beginning to our evening on the town. I stuck pretty close to the recipe ( I will have to admit I don't remember from where originally got it) The few minor changes I made were just due to things I had on hand so I am going to post the recipe just as it was written.
Don't be scared of the jalapeno with the seeds removed it does not make this dish spicy at all. It just adds another layer of flavor to the dish. Of course if you like spicy then feel free to up the jalapeno.

African Chicken in Peanut Sauce
Adapted from "The Oprah Magazine Cookbook"
Serves 6
Spice Rub:
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

4 pounds bone-in chicken pieces, skin removed
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Peanut Sauce:
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 medium carrot finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely diced and seeded jalapeno chili
4 cups (32 ounces) chicken broth
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 tomato, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup well-mixed coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped parsley, for garnish

1. Stir together the spice rub ingredients and rub onto chicken pieces.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add half the chicken and brown on all sides, taking care not to burn the spices. Transfer browned pieces to a platter and set aside. Brown remaining chicken and transfer to platter.

3. With a paper towel, wipe skillet dry; then add remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add onion, red and green bell peppers, carrot, garlic, and jalapeno chili. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, stir in remaining sauce ingredients, and simmer 2 minutes. Return browned chicken to skillet. Cook 25 to 30 minutes, or until chicken is tender and cooked through, stirring frequently to prevent sauce from sticking. Turn chicken pieces over midway through cooking time. Garnish with parsley.