Monday, April 25, 2016

Shrimp Carbonara

We love a good carbonara around here. It's been a while since I made a new variation, so when I was reading a book that mentioned pasta carbonara I knew it was a sign. And thus, Shrimp Carbonara was born.

Shrimp carbonara

I'm not sure why it never occurred to me to make this before but now that I have, it will definitely become a regular thing. All I did was add shrimp to my standard carbonara recipe. I mean, what's not to love about shrimp cooked in bacon fat? Positively delicious.

Shrimp Carbonara
Based on Nigella Lawson's carbonara recipe

1 pound spaghetti
6 slices bacon, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 pound shrimp, any size you like, peeled and deveined
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry vermouth (or white wine)
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup half and half cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly ground nutmeg

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet that will fit the pasta later, cook the bacon until crispy but not crunchy. Remove with a slotted spoon, leaving the bacon grease in the pan.

While the bacon is cooking, pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. After you've removed the bacon from the pan, add the shrimp in an even layer. Cook the shrimp until they're pink on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove to the plate with the bacon.

Add the sliced onions to the pan and cook until softened and starting to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Add the vermouth and let it bubble so that, after a few minutes, you have a small amount of thick syrup left.

While the vermouth is reducing, beat together the eggs, Parmesan, cream, pepper and nutmeg in a bowl.

Once you have a nice syrup, add the pasta to the pan, tossing well to coat with the sauce. Take the pan off the heat (remove from the stove completely, don't just turn off the burner) and add the egg and cheese mixture, swiftly tossing everything with tongs to mix well. Add the bacon and shrimp and toss again. Taste and season with some more pepper and grated cheese, if desired.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lemon Chicken Risotto

Last night was one of those nights where I felt frazzled by the thought of making dinner. I was making this recipe for Lemon Chicken Risotto, so I should have been walkin' on easy street. I love risotto and don't know why it has a reputation for being complicated. Maybe it's because a lot of recipes claim you have to stand at the stove, constantly stirring the rice, for upwards of 20 minutes. Let me tell you this - I've been making risotto for years and I never babysit it like that. True, I don't leave the kitchen so I can keep an eye on it, but I just make sure the pan never gets too dry and give everything a quick stir every few minutes.

Lemon chicken risotto

Anyway. I was frazzled, which meant by the time dinner was done I forgot all about photographing the gorgeous skillet full of deliciousness. As Steve and Katie made oohing and ahhing noises over the bright, lemony flavors and the perfectly cooked chicken, I realized my mistake. I quickly gathered the leftover risotto to one side of the pan and tried to strategically photograph it so it didn't look like 3/4 of the pan was missing. Ha!

Guys. This is some seriously good risotto. We all love risotto, but this was a real showstopper. The fresh herbs and the punch from the lemon were utter perfection. I don't have lemon pepper seasoning, but I did have some free samples of Mrs. Dash, so I used that last night. I should probably put lemon pepper seasoning on the shopping list, though, since I plan to make this one often.

Lemon Chicken Risotto
Slightly modified from How Sweet It Is

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 to 6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 scallions, minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
salt and pepper for seasoning
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
lemon wedges for serving

Season the chicken with the salt, garlic powder and lemon pepper seasoning on both sides. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the chicken. Cook on both sides until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a plate. Once cool, cut into bite-size pieces.

Heat the stock over medium heat.

If the pan looks dry, add a little more oil, then add the onion. Cook until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes, then add the rice. Stir to toast the rice until it's somewhat translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the white wine and wait until the rice absorbs it before starting to add the stock, stirring until the rice absorbs the liquid like it did with the wine. Repeat this until all stock has been added and the rice is al dente. This process should take about 20 minutes.

Stir in the scallions, lemon zest, parmesan, basil and parsley. Taste and season with more salt or pepper, if needed. Add the tablespoon of butter along with the chicken, and toss to melt the butter. Serve immediately with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice on top of each serving.
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Tuesday, April 05, 2016

One Pan Orecchiette with Sausage and Kale

I've been on a serious kale kick lately. If I see it on a restaurant menu, there's a good chance I'll order it. But I very rarely (read: never) cook with it at home. I think I've purchased kale only once for this Italian Sausage, Potato and Kale Soup. I'm also really into one-pot meals, specifically when they involve cooking pasta in a flavorful broth. This One Pan Orecchiette with Sausage and Kale combines my two latest obsessions into one delicious meal.

Orrecchiette with sausage and kale

Looking at the pictures of this meal made my mouth water and the end result did not disappoint. I made a few minor adjustments to the cooking method but otherwise I followed the recipe. Katie and I both cleaned our plates in record time. I had the leftovers for lunch today and they were sensational, dare I say better than the first day. I needed to add a smidge of water just to loosen the sauce a bit, but this reheated beautifully.

Not that I have any nutrition background whatsoever, but as far as our personal eating habits, this is a pretty awesome meal. You've got grains, protein and veggies covered. The pasta is minimal (less than half a pound, thankyouverymuch) and plenty of healthy kale. And a bonus - the Italian sausage we buy is actually made from turkey instead of pork. The best part is, you can't taste the difference. We've served this sausage to countless people who had no clue they were eating turkey instead of pork.

One Pan Orecchiette with Sausage and Kale
As seen on For the Love of Cooking

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow or white onion, diced
1 lb mild ground Italian sausage (if you buy links, remove casings)
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed well
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart chicken broth
6oz (weight) orecchiette pasta
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
4oz (weight) kale, chopped
Parmesan, shaved or grated

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until soft and golden, about 5-6 minutes. Stir sausage into the onions along with the Italian seasoning, oregano, crushed fennel seed, red pepper flakes and garlic. Cook and stir until sausage is broken up and just browned, about 3-4 minutes.

Pour the chicken broth into the sausage mixture and bring to a boil. Be sure to scrape up the browned bits off of the bottom of the pan. Once the broth is boiling, add the orecchiette pasta. Cook, stirring every so often to prevent the pasta from sticking together or to the bottom of the pan, about 15 minutes. Taste and season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, if needed. Be sure to taste before adding any salt since the chicken broth will be salty.

Stir the kale into sausage mixture until it wilts, about 1-2 minutes. Ladle pasta into bowls and top with Parmesan.
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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

Every Easter my mom makes a ham and sends us home with leftovers. This year I had my eye on a new recipe for Scalloped Potatoes and Ham. I liked that Ree added onions and cheese so I was excited to give it a try.

Scalloped ham and potatoes

When I made this I followed her recipe exactly save for one thing - precooking the potatoes. I made the mistake years ago of attempting to make scalloped potatoes using raw potatoes. It simply does. not. work. Do NOT make that mistake. You must always parboil the potatoes, otherwise you'll be waiting forever for the potatoes to cook through (or eating crunchy potatoes). I also splurged and used heavy cream, something I haven't purchased in years. And you know what, this was way too rich. Our tastes have certainly changed so feel free to use equal parts half-and-half and heavy cream, if that's what floats your boat. Next time I'm switching to all half-and-half or maybe even equal parts half-and-half and milk.

Another tip - use more cheese. I upped the amount below. And do yourself a favor and use extra sharp Cheddar. Steve didn't even realize there was cheese in the dish until he was setting aside his lunch portion.

It may sound like we didn't enjoy this but that's definitely not the case. And I wanted to share it with you now because I'm confident these small tweaks will make all the difference.

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham
Slightly adapted from The Pioneer Woman

3 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
1 yellow or sweet onion
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups diced ham
3 cups half-and-half (or 1 1/2 cups each half-and-half and milk OR heavy cream)
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
8oz grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
4oz grated Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a large, deep casserole dish (at least 2 1/2-quarts, preferably larger).

Peel the potatoes, rinse under cold water, then pat dry. Using a mandoline or a sharp knife, slice potatoes into very thin slices (1/8-inch). Put the slices into a large pot of cold water. Repeat with the remaining potatoes. Once all the potatoes are sliced, bring to a boil then continuing boiling for 3 minutes. Drain well and set aside to cool slightly.

Cut the onion in half then cut each half into thin slices. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onions. Cook until they start to caramelize, about 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine the half-and-half and milk OR heavy cream (if using) then whisk in the flour, salt and black pepper until totally combined. Set aside. Combine the two grated cheeses. Set aside.

Layer 1/3 of the potato slices in the buttered casserole dish. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the ham and onions, then 1/3 of the cheese, then pour on 1/3 of the cream mixture. Repeat this twice more, ending with a sprinkling of cheese before pouring on the rest of the cream mixture.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes at least, or until bubbly and hot.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Bacon

A few weeks ago I was looking for a light, fresh salad to bring to a friend's house for one of our semi-regular cooking extravaganzas. I knew my friend, Jaida, would have something delicious on her blog and I was right. As soon as I saw this Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Bacon I knew I had a winner.

Spinach salad

I left out the toasted almonds due to Katie's nut allergy and decreased the amount of sugar in the dressing because we prefer things tangy, but otherwise I didn't change a thing. I've made this twice now and both times it was a sleeper hit. People don't seem to expect much from such a simple salad, but the flavors are so light and delicious. I know I'll be making this one often this spring and summer.

Pro tip: I like to cut bacon with kitchen shears. Simply remove however many slices you need from the package, keeping them stuck together, and cut them in half. Hold the chunk o' bacon over the skillet and snip pieces off directly into the pan. Repeat with the other half. No muss, no fuss.

Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Bacon
As seen on Sweet Beginnings, originally from Lauren's Latest

8 slices bacon, chopped
1 6oz bag baby spinach
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
1/4 cup toasted almonds, chopped (I left these out due to Katie's allergy)
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
salt & pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon poppy seeds

In a large skillet, cook the bacon pieces over medium heat, until just crisp. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Place the spinach in a large bowl and top with the strawberry slices, almonds and bacon.

Combine the yogurt, mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper, and poppy seeds in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Drizzle the dressing over the salad just before serving.

All the components can be prepped a few days ahead of time and stored separately in the fridge.
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Monday, February 22, 2016

Dill Pickle Dip

People. People! Have I got an amazing party treat for you.

I had this recipe for Dill Pickle Dip saved for almost a year before I got around to making it. Why? Because we so rarely go to parties these days. Sad, but true. So when a friend invited a group of moms over for a post-Valentine's Day party, I knew this was my chance.

Dill pickle dip

As soon as I unpacked the chips and dip, all the moms were oohing and ahhing. Apparently I'm not the only one who loves pickles. I hadn't bothered to photograph the dip beforehand, not knowing just how good it would be, so as soon as everyone started raving I grabbed the chips and the plastic container I'd brought the dip in, asked the hostess for a proper bowl, and went into the kitchen to take a quick photo.

Rebecca said this dip is also amazing as a burger topping and I can't wait to test that out.

Dill Pickle Dip
As seen on Foodie with Family

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 cup chopped dill pickles
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
4 tablespoons pickle juice (use less for thicker dip or more for thinner dip)
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
salt and pepper, to taste
Pretzels, vegetable sticks, crackers, or potato chips for serving

Place the cream cheese in a bowl and use a wooden spoon to press and loosen the cream cheese. Stir in all of the remaining ingredients and mix until evenly distributed. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

If you have any leftovers, this dip will keep for up to a week tightly covered in the refrigerator. It may become thinner as it sits.
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Friday, February 19, 2016

Restaurant Knockoff: Chick-Fil-A Sandwich

I don't always crave Chick-Fil-A, but when I do, it's Sunday.

I know there's plenty of you out there who feel me on that one. Anyway, even though there's a Chick-Fil-A all of 5 minutes from our house, we never seem to go there. But that's not to say we don't all love a good fried chicken sandwich. I printed out this recipe for a Copycat Chick-Fil-A Sandwich ages ago, but for some reason I hadn't gotten around to actually making it.

CFA sandwiches

Disclaimer for any current or former CFA employees: yes, this recipe contains pickle juice and yes, I'm fully aware that there's no pickle juice in an authentic CFA sandwich. Don't worry, my friend Chelsea (a former manager at CFA) gave me the run-down:

"Here's how we made the sandwiches: filet the raw chicken breasts, making sure they're a uniform thickness. Submerge completely in a milk wash (buttermilk/egg/water) and then coat thoroughly in seasoned flour, shaking off the excess. The flour mix comes in prepackaged bags and has paprika, onion powder, salt, pepper (I don't know exact quantities). I assume there was MSG or other ingredients as well, and most likely sugar. Deep fry in peanut oil in a pressure cooker for a couple minutes until golden brown. Place on a bun that's run through a toaster with "butter oil" on it, add two dill pickle chips, and serve."

Chelsea's theory for why these at-home recipes include pickle juice is due to the pickles sitting on the bread and the bread and chicken absorbing the flavor. I'm not sure two pickle chips is going to impart that much flavor, so my theory is that pickle juice adds that awesome tang but it also keeps the chicken moist, almost like brining. I don't know about most home cooks, but I'm not deep-frying in a pressure cooker. I shallow-fried the chicken for these sandwiches in less than an inch of oil. Frying in a pressure cooker is going to help the chicken retain moisture. The pickle juice helps replicate that for the home cook.

After doing some research online, it looks like the folks over at Serious Eats have come the closest to the real recipe. Hats off to them! As for me, I absolutely love marinating chicken in pickle juice. It's the secret to my homemade chicken nuggets and I highly recommend it, even if it isn't truly authentic.

Speaking of pickle juice, for years I threw all that delicious brine away once we'd eaten the pickles. Not anymore! At any given moment you'll find at least two jars of pickle juice in my fridge. I use it for nuggets, and now I'll use it for these sandwiches. I also put it in my potato salad in the summer.

One last thing - while the restaurant only serves two pickle slices with their sandwich, since you're making it at home you can do whatever you want. We all love pickles so I put at least 6 or 8 on our sandwiches. Rebel!

Restaurant Knockoff: Chick-Fil-A Sandwich
Slightly adapted from Hilah Cooking

4 small boneless chicken breasts*
1 cup pickle juice
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups flour
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
vegetable, canola or peanut oil for frying
4 hamburger buns, buttered and toasted
Pickle slices, for serving

Place the chicken breasts, one at a time, in a plastic food storage bag. Pound to an even 1/2 inch thickness. Place all the chicken in a plastic food storage bag and marinate in the pickle juice for 4 hours.

Beat the egg and milk together in a bowl. Combine the flour, sugar and spices in a plastic food storage bag. Remove the chicken from the pickle juice and place in the bag with the flour. Seal the bag and toss to coat the chicken. Dip each piece of chicken in the egg mixture to coat on both sides, then put it back in the bag with the flour. Once all the chicken went through the egg wash, seal the flour bag again and toss to coat.

Heat about 1/2 an inch of oil in a deep skillet until smoking. Add the chicken and cook for 5-6 minutes per side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Serve on the toasted buns mayo and pickle slices.

*If your chicken breasts are huge (like so many seem to be these days) only use two large breasts instead of four. Cut them in half width-wise and then pound them thin.
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