Sunday, November 09, 2014

Sundried-Tomato Basil & Mozzarella Chicken Pasta

This is one of those meals that is basically impossible to mess up.  It's easy & delicious comfort food with bold flavors that could fool you into believing it was from a fine Italian restaurant.  The photo doesn't even make it look that yummy - I apologize.  Lighting is never good at night especially when the sun sets at 4pm now. Ugh.  Despite how appetizing or unappetizing it looks though - I promise it definitely IS yummy. 

Usually I have some ground rules for myself when ordering at restaurants.  It may sound silly, but typically I don't like to order something that I feel I could easily make at home.  There are times though that I just have to go with my gut (quite literally) and order whatever sounds best at the time.  I feel like if I saw this dish on a menu, I would definitely order it - regardless of my ability to easily make it at home.  Because lets be honest, even the easiest meal to make at home is still more difficult than going out to eat. ;)

Should you choose to stay in and cook your own Italian is a dish I recommend! 

Sundried-Tomato Basil & Mozzarella Chicken Pasta 
Serves 4-6

3 large garlic cloves, minced
4 oz sun-dried tomatoes, julienne cut (packaged, not in oil)
1 lb chicken breast, cut into smaller pieces
Salt & paprika (for sprinkling on chicken breast) 
1 cup half and half
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
8 oz penne pasta (for gluten free, use Tinkyada gluten free brown rice pasta)
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped (or 1 tablespoon basil if using dry basil)
1/2 cup reserved cooked pasta water (or more)
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Salt, to taste

In a large pan, on high heat, saute garlic and sun-dried tomatoes in 2 tablespoons of oil  for 1 minute until garlic is fragrant. Remove sun-dried tomatoes from the pan, leaving the oil, and add chicken, salted and lightly covered in paprika (for color) and cook on high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove from heat.

Cook pasta according to package instructions (I always prefer al dente). Reserve some cooked pasta water. Drain and rinse the pasta with cold water (to stop cooking).

Add sun-dried tomatoes back to the skillet with chicken. Add half and half and cheese to the skillet, too, and bring to boil. Immediately reduce to simmer and cook, constantly stirring, until all cheese melts and creamy sauce forms. Add cooked pasta to the skillet with the creamy sauce, and stir to combine. Add basil, stir to combine.

Add about 1/2 cup reserved cooked pasta water to thin the creamy sauce (do not add all water at once - you might need less or more of it). Season the pasta with salt and more red pepper flakes, to taste, if needed. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes for flavors to combine.

Recipe adapted from Julia's Album

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Maple Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie

Pies scare me a little bit. 

Maybe "scare" is the wrong word - but they definitely seem "touchy" and I'm not super confident that they will always turn out.  Is the crust done?  Overdone? Underdone?  Will I cut into it and will it be complete mush?  With the filling run out all over the place?  So many questions when you make a pie!! I just don't feel that I've mastered the art of pie.  Every attempt is a gamble.  

Then I go and make a pecan pie (my husband's favorite)...and I'm thinking it turned out great.  But I should have known that my husband would consider the addition of chocolate to pecan pie "ruining it."  Whoops.  I think the chocolate was a delicious addition - but if you share my husband's feelings about pecan pie - feel free to omit it. :) 

It didn't stop him from eating half of it couldn't have been that bad, right? :) 

How do you feel about making pies?  Are you a pro?  Feel free to share your tips with me!

Maple Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie
Makes one 9”pie

For the crust, combine the following and press into a 9 inch pie dish:

1 1/4 C graham cracker crumbs
1/4 C butter, melted
Add to the bottom of the crust:
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (optional)
2 C whole, raw, unsalted pecans

For the pie filling, mix together:

1/2 C butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 C light brown sugar, packed
½ cup sugar in the raw
½ cup pure maple syrup
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons Maple Bourbon (or regular bourbon – or if you’re not into adding alcohol, use vanilla)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350°.

Pour the egg and sugar mix over the nuts and chocolate in the prepared pan.

Place the pie dish on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 35-40 minutes until it is puffed and golden, still slightly jiggly but cooked through.

Allow to cool (may need to put in the fridge for a while) to set fully before slicing and serving.

Recipe adapted from Feast for all Seasons 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Compost Cookies {for kids' cancer}

Sometimes you just need a good cookie.

I had the pleasure of eating at the glorious Momofuku restaurant when in New York this past January.  If you ever go to New York, Momofuku's noodle bar is the place to be.  However, perhaps not as well known to some is the somewhat "sweeter" side project - Momofuku's Milk Bar which features, I kid you not, the best cookies on the planet (or that I've tasted).  My favorite was the "Compost Cookie" which can be thought of as "everything but the kitchen sink" in a cookie.  In a good way. :)

These cookies are my attempt at recreating the compost cookies from the Milk Bar.  Although these follow the compost cookie concept - I still think the real Milk Bar version is way better, and who knows if I'll ever be able to match it.  Too bad I don't live in New York...I would be eating cookies all the time!  

I also have the honor of being a part of OXO company's blogger outreach program and was selected to participate in their annual "Bake a Difference" blogging challenge to support the Cookies for Kids' Cancer organization.  It is an awesome fundraising program through OXO that gives proceeds from their product sales to support research to develop new, improved treatments for pediatric cancer.  

For every stickered item sold, OXO will donate 25 cents in support of pediatric cancer research as part of its $100,000 pledge to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. (Look for specially marked OXO products with this sticker at participating retailers.)

To help me "bake a difference", OXO sent me a package full of cookie making essential tools including: 
 3-piece cookie cutter set
Cookie Spatula
Cupcake icing knife
3-piece spatula set
6 piece measuring cup set
7 piece measuring cup set

Thank you OXO! :) 

Compost Cookies
Adapted from Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook

Recipe notes: I followed Averie’s recipe from Averie Cooks who followed Tosi’s recipe from the cookbook, however she made quite a few changes and from her recipe I also made changes so I have to admit this is a very loose interpretation of the Milk Bar compost cookie recipe.  However, the concept of the compost cookie should in essence be that whatever you have in your kitchen, you use. And that my friends, I followed to a T.  

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butterscotch chips
1/4 cup crushed Chex cereal
2 heaping tablespoons old-fashioned rolled oats (half of her value of 1/3 cup)
1 ½ teaspoons ground coffee
1/2 cup tortilla chips (I would have used potato chips as the original calls for and I would suggest potato chips but again, I only used what I had on hand)
1/4 cup mini pretzel pieces

Combine the butter, sugars, maple syrup in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg and vanilla, and beat for 7 to 8 minutes (it sounds long but that’s what they suggest!).

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Still on low speed, add the chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, oats, coffee, and mix until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add the chips and cereal (and any other add-ins) and mix on low speed until just incorporated, taking care not to over mix or break too many of the chips or cereal pieces.

Depending on how large you want the cookies, you could use a normal cookie scoop, tablespoon, or even ¼ cup or 1/3 cup to portion out the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet. After portioning the dough, pat the top of the cookie dough domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 1 week. Do not bake your cookies from room temperature – they will not bake properly.

Heat the oven to 375F.  Bake for 14-16 minutes (check them earlier if you are making smaller cookies.  You want these ever so slightly crispy but not over baked). The cookies will puff, crackle, and spread. Note that because of the high butter content in these cookies, they will be prone to burning around the edges; watch them closely.

Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to an airtight storage container. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Banana Cream Pie with Rum Caramel Sauce

Fall is here, but the weather lately still feels like a perfectly warm, but not too hot, summer.  I'm perfectly okay with that and would be happy as a clam to have this weather stay.  Unfortunately I think the cold will come sooner than later. 

With fall comes a lot of great things...beautiful leaves, pumpkin pie, hooded sweatshirts, apple picking, and cool evening bonfires.  But it also means the start of school, which is exciting for most kids - but not for a grown adult returning for his second bachelor's degree and going on 9 years of school.  I'm talking about my husband of course. :)  

Despite the sad feeling that Ryan and I both have of him being back in school again, the good news is that it is his last year (yay!), and his birthday is always around the start of school so it is a nice way to forget the stress of school for a bit and celebrate his life.  So I made him this pie. 

I've never made banana cream pie before, and I never would have said it was a favorite of mine...but when I found this recipe online, I knew I had to have it.  And it was delicious.  However - I swear I made my pastry cream thick enough, and yet is was still a soupy mess to eat despite chilling the cream overnight and the whole pie for hours. :(  I hope that doesn't happen to you if you make this.  If it does - just rest assured that it will still be incredibly tasty...and hopefully that will make up for it. 

I recommend making most of the components of this pie ahead of time to save you the hassle of a lot of steps on the day you would like to serve it.  You can make the crust, pastry cream, and rum caramel at least a day ahead.  You'll just want to be sure to wait to assemble it with the bananas and whipped cream until right before or a few hours before serving. 

I used my mom's famous pie crust recipe that we use for apple pie normally.  You can use any pie crust you want but I just knew this was a tried and true way to go.  Line the crust with some dark chocolate to give it a chocolaty protective barrier between the crust and the cream. 

Alternately layer the pastry cream and slices of banana.  

Isn't it pretty? :)

Top with whipped cream.

Then drizzle salted rum caramel all over the top.  And more on your slice of pie.  And more just on your plate. And then just lick the spoon and rest of container clean....

Serve your delicious but potentially messy pie to guests, or just yourself - and enjoy! :)

Banana Cream Pie with Rum Caramel Sauce
Pie crust lined with chocolate
vanilla pastry cream
3-4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
whipped cream
salted rum caramel

Pie crust lined with chocolate
(Makes enough for two crusts – one to save for later!J)
½ cup butter
1 ½ cups flour
½ tsp. salt
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Vanilla pastry cream
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsps. Cornstarch
2 tbsps. All-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
5 egg yolks
2 oz. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp vanilla extract

Salted rum caramel
3 tbsps. unsalted butter
1/4 cup cream
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsps. Rum, divided
1/2 tsp molasses
1 tbsp. water
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Whipped cream
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbsps. Confectioner’s sugar

Make the crust: In a medium bowl, stir together flour and salt.  Add butter and mix until pieces are pea-size (use a pastry blender or hands).  Sprinkle 1 TBSP of water over part of flour mixture, gently toss with fork.  Push moistened dough to side of bowl and repeat using 1 TBSP of water at a time until all flour is moist.  Dived in half and roll into balls.   Shape the disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll one ball dough out on a floured surface until it is 1/8-inch thick and 12 inches in diameter. Fit it to your pie plate and crimp the edges. Refrigerate the pie plate with the pastry for 15 minutes or until chilled.  Wrap the other ball of dough in saran wrap and place in a Ziploc bag.  Freeze or refrigerator for later use when you want to make another pie. 

Preheat the oven to 400°F and prick the pie dough all over the bottom with a fork. Bake 20-25 minutes or until set and golden in color (press down any air bubbles). Melt the chocolate on half power in the microwave or over a double boiler. Take the pie crust out of the oven and brush the chocolate over the bottom and sides of the pie crust to form a thin, but solid layer. Let cool.

Make the pastry cream: Heat the milk and cream in a medium saucepan until the liquid begins to simmer. Turn off the heat. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, cornstarch, flour and kosher salt together. Whisk the egg yolks in until smooth (it’s quite thick). Whisk a little of the hot milk-cream into the egg yolks mixture, adding a little more at a time until half of the hot liquid has been added to the egg yolks. Pour the mixture back into the pan with the rest of the hot milk-cream and whisk constantly over medium-low heat. It should thicken in a few minutes. When the pastry cream is thick, remove from heat and whisk the butter and vanilla extract in until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic wrap is in contact with the surface of the pastry cream (to avoid developing a skin) and chill.  (I made mine the night before serving which worked out nicely for chilling and saved me time the next day)
Make the salted rum caramel: In a small saucepan heat the butter, cream, and salt together over medium heat until it begins to boil. Cover and turn off the heat. Stir the sugar, 1 tbsp. of rum, molasses, and water together in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves (it must dissolve or you will brick the whole thing). If the sugar doesn’t seem to dissolve, add a little more water and stir/heat it until it dissolves. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil without stirring or disrupting the sugar. Let it boil until the sugar turns deep amber (about 6-8 minutes). Whisk the heated butter-cream mixture into the hot sugar. It should bubble up to 2 or 3 times the volume, but keep whisking until incorporated. Whisk in the remaining tablespoon of rum and the vanilla extract. Let cool.  If making ahead, store in a sealed container at room temperature or in fridge.

Assemble the pie: Whip the heavy cream and confectioner’s sugar together until medium-stiff peaks form. Try not to over-whip the cream. Spread 1/4 cup of the pastry cream on the bottom of the pie crust. Arrange a single layer of banana slices over the pastry cream. Pour half of the remaining pastry cream over the banana slices. Spread evenly. Arrange another single layer of banana slices over the pastry cream. Spread the rest of the pastry cream over the banana slices. If you have some banana slices left, make a small circle of slices in the center of the pastry cream. Pile the whipped cream in the center of the pie. Drizzle with salted rum caramel and reserve the rest of the caramel on the side. Serves 6-8.

Recipe adapted from: Use Real Butter