Sunday, February 7, 2016

complications

dear mom,

If there is one thing in my life I don't mind being complicated, its food.  Salty, sweet, spicy, fatty, mmmm, you name it, I want it all!  Of course food can be simple and delicious as well.  In general, I would say that I spend about 75% of my brain power thinking about food.  When is my next meal or snack?  What will I eat at said meal or snack?  What should I make for dinner?  What did I eat yesterday?  What's in the fridge?  What's that smell (food smell!)?

Food is very much a part of my life and an enjoyable one at that!  Which is why two weeks ago I thought I was going to have a complete meltdown.  The hubs and I were feeling our standard, annual, post-holiday fat-funk.  We were bloated and low-on-energy; our clothes had all mysteriously shrunk in the washer.  It was time to make a change, to start eating healthier and exercise more.  Well, every two weeks we say we are going to eat healthy, but then lasagna calls...  We needed to do something drastic.

My research-loving hubs started reading up on this diet/cleanse/detox called Whole30.  No gluten, grains, dairy, sugar, legumes, booze, joy, etc. for 30 full days.  Needless to say my reaction was less than positive.  Cheese, for one, is pretty much at the bottom of my food pyramid.  Cheese in my opinion, can easily be treated as a meal on its own, it is also a condiment; a food staple, integral to health and happiness, and my sole source of calcium, it cannot be eliminated!  Well, that was my initial reaction.  This Whole30 also made claims that I had to do things like make my own ketchup and mayonnaise, because there was sugar in the store-bought variety.  Vinaigrettes for my salad dressing could not include things I always put in them like honey, because it was an added sugar.  In fact no added sugars or sweeteners were allowed at all!  No stevia in my coffee, no brown sugar in my oatmeal, no maple syrup on my pancakes.  Arrrgh! No pancakes!  How the heck will I ever survive on this diet???

Well, I am happy to report I'm still alive and its been over two weeks!  I feel great and I've lost some lbs!  This "diet" is tolerable - if you like to cook, which is why I've been able to stick with it.  I'm actually enjoying coming up with new recipes based on the restrictions of the diet, its more challenging.  When you realized that while on this "diet" you are allowed to have things like steak, potatoes and bacon, you realize it doesn't feel like a diet at all!  I hate to say it, but its changed the way that I think about food.  Especially sugar and cheese.  I didn't realize how often I was eating sugar until I eliminated it, I also realized that fruit is super sweet and delicious on its own.  Instead of adding that sugar to my vinaigrette, I threw some strawberries on my salad and that added the sweetness that the vinaigrette was missing.

I also was surprised to learn that I can survive without adding cheese to most meals.  Which brings me to this recipe.  The old K would have topped this off with melted provolone, which you can still do and I'm sure it would be wonderful - but I like it just fine as is.  Salty olives and prosciutto with juicy chicken breast and tangy sauce on top, I don't even miss the cheese.  And yes, this does work with the diet!


chicken saltimbocca

for the chicken
2 chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4" thickness
8 fresh sage leaves
2 thin slices prosciutto
1 cup olive tapenade, see note
1 cup almond meal flour (Not doing Whole30? Use AP flour.)
1/2 tsp. granulated onion
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
salt and pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp. of water
2 tbsp. ghee or veggie oil
8-10 wooden toothpicks
cooking spray

for the sauce
1-1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock
1 tbsp. ghee or butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 small shallots, minced
juice from 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
2 tsp. capers

Preheat oven to 350.  Lay both chicken breasts out on a cutting board.  Split the tapenade between the two breasts and spread in an even layer, it should be around 1/8" thick.  Top tapenade with sage leaves, 4 on each breast spaced evenly, and then the prosciutto.  Starting at the thin end of the breast, roll up the chicken with all the goodness inside.  Secure with toothpicks.

In a shallow bowl combine almond flour, granulated onion, garlic powder, paprika and salt and pepper to taste.  Heat a skillet over medium high heat, add ghee or veggie oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Working with one at a time, dip chicken wraps in egg wash, roll around to coat completely in the egg, then transfer to almond flour mixture.  Coat completely in the almond flour mixture, shake off excess and put in the hot skillet.  Brown the coating on all sides, turning as necessary.  Transfer to a baking dish sprayed with cooking spray and bake in hot oven for 40-45 minutes (I tested mine with an instant read thermometer, when it hit 160 in the middle it was done).

While the chicken bakes prepare the sauce.  In a shallow pan (you can use the same as the one you used to brown the coating on the chicken, just wipe it out), over medium high heat, add the 1 tbsp. ghee, garlic and shallots.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent.  Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Continue cooking and stirring occasionally until reduced by half.  Stir in lemon juice, capers and season to taste.  Serve chicken topped with sauce.

note: The lovely hubs was allowed to go to Costco all by himself a week ago...  Big mistake, when he walked in the door I quickly remembered why he needed me as a chaperon.  The rest of the evening I had to try to jam a life-times supply of seltzer water, canned tomatoes, dog treats, eggs, olives and a bunch of other random items in our tiny apartment.  It worked out though, because I took one look at the gallon of olives he brought home and immediately thought, "Oooo! Olive tapenade!"  This particular blend had green olives, pearl onions, garlic and red bell peppers in it.  I drained a little over a cup of this mixture and threw it in the food processor with a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and voila!  Olive tapenade!  You could also get store bought tapenade or make your own blend.  If you don't like olives, make a pesto instead!  Basil and sun dried tomatoes comes to mind - in this case omit the sage in the above recipe.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

for days when thinking is just too hard

Dear Kristin,

Life has become much too complex. If you want to watch television in our house, you are required to use three different remotes. One is for sound, one is for picture, and the third - well I'm sure it's there so that I unknowingly take a selfie, capturing that look of utter confusion on my face and saving it for all posterity. The laundry is out to get me also. My washer has at least 17 different settings; normal, heavy duty, hand-wash and super stinky to name just a few. How many of these settings do I use? Two. Oh, and we just got a new treadmill. I'm still trying to figure out how to get it off of the "Mount Kilimanjaro" incline level. Yes, technology is out to get me.

Every once in a while I have to step back to simpler times. Heck, sometimes I even give up my Kindle and read an actual physical book! There are days when having the option to change font size on an e-book is just much too much for me to handle.

Admitting that it is probably not a good idea to take on any particularly daunting culinary challenges on these techno-meltdown days, I've come up with a really simple slow-cooker solution to technology overload. I won't pretend that it's good for you. It's not. However, this super easy slow cooker recipe allows me to serve something that is comforting and tasty even when operating a measuring cup is above my capabilities. Oh - and it involves bacon - nothing can go wrong when bacon is involved!




Creamy chicken with peas and bacon

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cans cream of chicken soup
4 Tblsp. butter, melted
salt and pepper
1 packet dry ranch salad dressing mix
6 oz. cream cheese, cut into small pieces
2 c. frozen peas
6 slices bacon, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces

Place chicken breasts in slow cooker. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour melted butter over the chicken breasts. Sprinkle contents of salad dressing mix over the chicken. Pour cream of chicken soup over the top. Cook on low for 5-6 hours.

Remove chicken from slow cooker and raise temperature to high. Add cream cheese to slow cooker and stir occasionally until all cheese is melted and mixture is smooth. Add frozen peas. Continue cooking on high until thoroughly heated. Return chicken to the slow cooker and cook an additional 5 to 10 minutes on high. *

Remove chicken from slow cooker and top with a generous amount of sauce and cooked bacon pieces.

*At this point you could also shred the chicken and return it to the slow cooker and heat through. The chicken goodness could then be poured over biscuits for a really simple chicken & biscuits type of meal.

Friday, January 1, 2016

happy new year!

Well hello, hello!!!! Long time no chat! Well! The rest of my 2015 was pretty busy and lots of fun. The highlight of the year was the trip to Italy the hubs and I took. Seventeen glorious days in Rome, Sorrento and Florence. The best of Rome  were the Roman ruins, St. Peter's, pizza and the Trastevere neighborhood (best restaurants ever). Sorrento was relaxing after the hustle and bustle of Rome. Absolutely stunning coastline scenery and seafood! The best lunch was in Positano at Da Vincenzo, fresh caught Mediterranean prawns with a tomato sauce over linguini, wow! I had no idea prawns could taste like that! We loved Florence, it is truly one of the prettiest cities I've ever been to. We took a guided tour of two wonderful wineries in Tuscany where we had the opportunity to try the first pressing of olive oil at a Tuscan estate. John's favorite thing in Florence was probably the Florentine steak, which comes from a local Tuscan beef and is served rare and delicious! Speaking of Tuscan beefcakes, Michaelangelo's David is stunning, from every angle if you know what I mean...  ;)

So I am hoping to have a bunch of fantastic recipes inspired by the trip for you. I'm still working on them though. In the works, but not yet perfected is a red wine marinated steak with balsamic sauce, pasta Amtriciana, Cacio e Pepe, and pasta carbonara. 

Today, however, I have a simple recipe for you that is quick and easy and perfect for a holiday party as an appetizer that everyone will love. Bacon wrapped dates. You can stuff them really with anything blue cheese or almonds or maybe even a bit of spicy sausage, but I like to keep it simple and go for the manchego cheese.


Bacon Wrapped Dates

This recipe is for two people, three dates each. Be warned, these are really good and you may want more than three per person. Adjust accordingly.

6 medjool dates
6 chunks manchego cheese (about 1" x 1/4" chunk) 
3 slices bacon, sliced in half lengthwise
6 toothpicks 

Preheat oven to 425. Cut a slit along the length of each date and remove the pit, replace with chunk of cheese. Squish the date closed around the cheese. Roll up each date in a half slice of bacon. Secure with toothpick, piercing the loose end of bacon
and going all the way though the date. Place each date on a cookie sheet leaving about 1-2 inches between. Bake in preheated oven for 15-18 minutes until bacon looks done. Place dates on paper towel to dry some grease away then transfer to serving plate. 

Happy holidays and have a delicious New Year!! 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Chi-town challenge

Dear Kristin,



Thank you for the wonderful kitchen gadgets you gave me for Christmas. Having the right tools always makes a job so much easier. I found the bench scraper a real help when it came to chopping up bread dough for my version of chopping block bread. The little hand mitten tweezers are great for removing sun-dried tomatoes from the jar, and the kitchen shears (which you gave me previously) are wonderful when it comes to cutting salami into bite-sized pieces. So, as you can see, I am making good use of the gifts you sent!

Oh - but wait - did I say chopping block bread? Yes - the manna from heaven that you used to get from Mariano's in Chicago. We had it a number of times, and I'm so sad that there is no place up here in Rochester that makes anything similar. I miss it so much, in fact, that I decided to try & come up with a version that can be made by a humble home cook such as myself. It took a couple of tries, but the recipe that follows is pretty close. The beauty of this bread-y goodness is that you can change the toppings pretty freely - I've used salami & sun-dried tomatoes, but you could easily go more Mediterranean and use olives with feta, or maybe you could come up with a sweeter version with apples or raisins or cranberries and nuts - I think the basic dough will work well with either a sweet or savory finish. If going the sweet route, simply eliminate the Parmesan cheese from the dough recipe.

So here's the challenge - while I'm so happy to have you back in New York State, I must admit that there are some things I truly miss about Chicago. Not surprisingly, most of my fondest memories of Chicago are food-related, such as:

Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder
Pequod's Pizza
RoseAngelis

I came up with the bread course for a Chi-town inspired dinner - I challenge you to come up with another course. Here's a hint - I would absolutely die for some of RoseAngelis' Italian Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce. Is there something that you truly miss from your days in Chicago? See if you can't come up with a home-version of one of your Windy-City favorites.

A word about the chopping block bread dough - this recipe is very loosely based on a recipe for one hour pan rolls found in "The Red Star Centennial Bread Sampler" - a promotional book published by Red Star way back in 1981. That was evidently before the rise (pardon the pun) of the bread machine, so I adapted the recipe to work in my machine. Warning - this just barely fits in my 1 1/2 loaf capacity machine - if yours is smaller you might have to trim the recipe in half.



chopping block bread

for the bread:

4 c. flour
2 pkg. instant dry yeast
2 Tblsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary (or Italian seasoning)
1 tsp. salt
1 c. milk
1/2 c. water
2 Tblsp. butter
1 egg
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese

for the topping:

1/4 c. butter
3 cloves (or more to taste) minced garlic
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
6-8 slices good quality hard salami, cut into 1" squares
1/3 c. sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped and patted dry

Place ingredients for the bread into your bread machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Use dough setting for 1 1/2 lb. loaf.

During the last 10 minutes of the bread machine cycle, saute the garlic in 1/4 c. butter until fragrant.

Remove dough from the bread machine after the cycle has finished. Knead on a lightly floured surface about 10 times. Use a bench scraper to cut the dough into small (about 1" square) pillows. Arrange pillows on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a large rectangle, allowing the sides of the pillows to touch. Generously brush the top of the bread with the garlic butter. Scatter the salami and sun-dried tomatoes over the top of the bread. Lightly tuck the salami and tomatoes down into the spaces between the pillows. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese.

Let dough rise in a warm place for 20-30 minutes.

Bake at 375 F. for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned and dough sounds hollow when tapped.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

lazy eggs

Dear Mom,

Christmas was an especially lazy holiday for us this year.  For the past 8 years while living in Chicago, John and I would pack up the Honda-sleigh with Christmas gifts and the pup and cross the winter wonderland of Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania towards either Pittsburgh (John's hometown) or Rochester.  This year, between moving to New York and just a generally crazy year, we opted to stay in NY sans parents and siblings.  While at first this sounded great, we would sleep in as late as we wanted, veg in our PJs and eat what ever we wanted, when the day actually came after the presents were opened we found ourselves drumming our fingers and wondering what to do.  There is surprisingly little good TV on on Christmas day.  The day did start out pretty strong for us though, we had the traditional Christmas Breakfast Casserole and then opened presents, which got us to about 11am.  Then, due to a miscalculation of preparing dinner the night before, the boredom set in.  Next year we'll be heading back out for the holidays for sure.

breakfast casserole
(This doesn't have to be made on Christmas of course, but it works out quite well for that particular holiday because you have to prep it the night before and let it sit in the fridge over night.  Then in the morning it has to sit on the counter for an hour and then in the oven for an hour, so you can open presents in the two hours while its resting/cooking.)

1 lb. breakfast sausage
12 pieces of white bread, cubed with crusts removed
1-1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (not pre-shredded)
9 eggs
3 cups 2% milk
1-1/2 tsp. dry mustard
salt and pepper

Spray a 9x17 glass or ceramic casserole.  Brown the breakfast sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Remove sausage to a plate to cool.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs, milk, dry mustard and salt and pepper together.

In a large bowl toss together bread, cheese and cooled sausage.  Pour egg mixture over bread mixture and fold gently until combined.  Pour mixture into prepared casserole, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night. 

In the morning, remove the casserole from the refrigerator and let it sit on the kitchen counter for 1 hour.  Preheat the oven to 350, and bake the casserole for 1 hour, until browned on top.