Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon and Pepitas

23000199_10210341984319173_4556405168983165118_o.jpg

 

Happy Sunday!

What says fall more than pumpkin? Butternut Squash. Step aside there, Jack. Butternut Squash is so much nuttier, creamy, and versatile to its cousin the pumpkin.

Save the pumpkin for the lattes, the rolls, and the pies. Butternut Squash is your best friend for your fall menu.

This Butternut Squash soup is one of the first recipes I ever made growing up (first was Pasta Fagioli, second was Butternut Squash soup, and my third dish I ever made was Butternut Squash Ravioli–see?) I remember making this for my father who was deeply opposed because he had never enjoyed a squash soup in the past. He dropped his spoon in awe. He gave me compliments galore–a man who seldom says much as his expectations were higher than high.

And so, I aim to relive this fond memory by making this at least once a year during the peak of fall. But to be honest, this year has be so unseasonably warm that I haven’t wanted to turn on my oven. Luckily, today was rainy and it was Sunday, so it was perfect day for me to make soup.

Also–mild confession–I am watching what I am eating. For those who know me, I never diet. The reason I don’t diet is probably pretty obvious–I love food, and usually the best tasting foods aren’t the lightest.

But this soup is the exception. It’s delicious, healthy, low-calorie–but firstly great tasting. I have been perusing blogs and Pinterest lately to find other food miracles, but I find some are disappointing, like when I attempted to make pancakes out of bananas and ground oats. No, they’re not the same. Most of these recipes “resemble” the “guilty pleasures” in appearance, but the taste leaves something to be desired. This soup is guilty pleasure that is also guilt-free calorically. It’s also loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants galore.

The flavor and texture is what I enjoy most–it’s creamy, nutty, and buttery without having to add anything. The secret to me is slowly roasting the butternut squash first as it enhances its natural sweetness. But beware: some people who make this soup load it with unnecessary, dessert intensity sweetness–like brown sugar, cinnamon, and wayyyyy too much nutmeg which totally kills the flavor. Not all recipes are made equal for this soup–that’s for sure.

I have a lot of optional additives like apple, sour cream, bacon, and pepitas (pumpkin seeds). You make this soup your own. In terms of the apple, I don’t personally cook the apple in the soup, although the original recipe included that step, so I have it there, but I personally think it’s necessary. Make this any way you like! If you’re vegan or vegetarian, feel free to leave out the bacon, but I personally love the flavor and texture it adds!

Also a note on butternut squash–I know they are a pain to cut, but it’s best to buy it whole. To make it easier (and safer) to cut, microwave it about 5 minutes first before you try to split it in half to roast. I prefer roasting it in the skin for flavor and caramelization reasons. If you happen to use pre-cut butternut squash (no judgement, I have done it before!), just make sure you buy two 20 ounce containers otherwise it won’t be enough squash for the amount of chicken stock. Also, I believe roasting it in the skin tastes more flavorful, but if you’re short on time, it will be still very good.

Butternut Squash Soup with Crumbled Bacon and Pepitas (Serves 4-6)

Ingredients

1 large butternut squash (about 2.5-3 pounds)

Olive oil (to drizzle on squash halves)

Pinch of grated nutmeg

Salt and black pepper, to taste

2 strips bacon

1 medium to large onion, diced

Three cloves of garlic finely minced/pressed (must be fresh–none of that jar stuff!)

1 tablespoon of minced or grated fresh ginger

1 green apple, peeled, cored, and chopped (optional, I never use do this, but feel free!)

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock (you may use broth, but I think stock is richer)

Optional Condiments

Chopped chives

Sour cream

Chopped Bacon (I hate to say this is optional, but…it is.)

Pepitas (get a small bag–they go a long way)

Instructions

STEP 1

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  To soften the squash, put the whole squash in the microwave for five minutes. This will help with slicing. Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Rub the halves with a touch of  olive oil and season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast until the flesh is very soft, about 35 to 40 minutes. Set aside to cool.

STEP 2

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate and reserve. Alternatively, if you are not garnishing your soup with bacon, you may saute the onions, garlic, and ginger in canola oil or olive oil. Add the onion, minced garlic, and ginger to the hot pot and cook until the onion is translucent (but not browned), about 3 minutes. Add the apple and cook until soft, another 3 minutes or so (I don’t include the apple in my recipe, but feel free to follow this if you want.)

STEP 3

When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and add it to a blender or large food processor. Add the contents of the pot and pour in enough broth to cover. (Be careful not to overfill; work in batches if necessary.) Process until very smooth and return to the pot. Stir in the remaining broth and bring to a simmer. Season with salt, pepper, and a touch more nutmeg (it may have enough nutmeg, so don’t over do this). Garnish with crumbled bacon, chives, pepitas, and sour cream (if using).

Enjoy! A cup is roughly 80 calories. If you add on all the condiments for one serving, this is about 120 calories. 🙂

Advertisements

Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

22365691_861602937332496_2733909584112451372_n.jpg

Happy Sunday!

My husband loves chocolate chip cookies. They’re his absolute favorite. Heck–I think they’re everyone’s favorite cookie. It’s a cult-classic. But I have made many cookies and have been disappointed. You would think that a simple flour, butter, sugar combination shouldn’t be so difficult, but it truly is an art form to master these cookies.

And with a lot of trial and error, and a lot of people telling me their recipe is great (and being disappointed), I almost lost total hope that I would ever get a chocolate chip cookie that is just right.

You see, I love soft, chewy, pillowy cookies. Not cakey. Not hard. I like them to have the consistency of just coming out the oven even when they’ve been cooled off and stowed away. Often times, cookies taste great out of the oven, but then the sugars solidify and toughen the cookie. No bueno.

Chocolate Chip cookies, in my opinion, have to be soft and chewy. And because of my high expectations, I am often disappointed. Until this recipe came to me.

I spent countless hours cross referencing recipes, analyzing the scientific outcomes of particular compounds, and I finally arrived at this recipe. It’s the perfect cookie. It’s scientifically proven to be chewy because of three main factors:

1.) Melted butter (the fat and flavor is necessary)

2.) Dark brown sugar (the molasses keeps the cookies moist)

3.) Cornstarch for softness

I also don’t have a lot of patience for cookies that require chilling, but for this recipe it’s okay because all you need is an hour of chilling. If you have the time, you can chill it for longer, but these cookies are perfect within the hour–score!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ sticks (6 oz) butter, melted and cooled (I used Kerrygold’s salted butter–highly recommended!)
  • 1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed (I used dark brown sugar)
  • ½ cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (feel free to add more!)

Path to Cookie Heaven

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer (or a handmixer in a separate bowl) beat together the cooled melted butter and the sugars for a minute. Then, add in the eggs and vanilla extract. Beat until just combined.
  3. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix briefly, just until there are no flour clumps left. I incorporated a half a cup at a time. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  4. Cover and refrigerate the dough for at least an hour or more.
  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 325 degrees, making sure you have the racks in the middle of the oven.
  6. On a cookie sheet, put down a silicone liner (or you may use parchment paper, but I recommend a silicone liner for best results). Using a cookie scoop, portion approximately 20 cookies. Make sure they’re spaced out accordingly. Tip: Feel free to add in more chocolate chips on the top of the cookie for aesthetic purposes. You may add more chips also when it comes out as well.
  7. Bake for about 12 minutes, rotating half-way through, or until the cookies have spread out and the edges are golden, but the center of the cookie still looks soft and just slightly under-cooked. Let cool on the baking sheets until the cookies are firm enough to remove, approximately two minutes.
  8. Enjoy!

 

 

Kahlua Triple Chocolate Cheesecake with Oreo Crust (Pressure Cooker/Instant Pot)

Chocolate Cheesecakeimage2

Happy Wednesday!

My brother loves chocolate cheesecake, and my father, once an avid baker, would normally heed the request. However, my father has fallen off the baking trail for a while, and the torch has been passed to me. I was told I needed to make this chocolate cheesecake for his belated birthday celebration, or I would be excommunicated from the family forever.

*Not exactly, but my family’s cunning use of guilt could be perceived as such!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love making cheesecake, but it’s very time consuming. My typical cheesecake takes me a solid 2 1/2-3 hours to prep and bake, and an overnight time for the cake the set up. It’s so hot in July, and I try my best not to turn on my oven unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Luckily, I recently purchased an Instant Pot on Amazon Prime Day, the latest crave in the pressure cooker community. I was hesitant to purchase one because I don’t like to buy gimmicky, unnecessary appliances–ever. But I did enough research and was intrigued with the idea that the Instant Pot could not only expedite cooking though the powers of pressure cooking, but it can also act as a slow cooker, a yogurt maker, and it has a sauté option to help sear meat, and  to help get a kickstart on aromatics. It sounded too good to be true, and although I don’t think it is a machine that would replace my trusty stovetop and oven for good, it’s definitely a winner. Especially for custardy desserts like cheesecake!

When I saw this pressure cooker could be used for cheesecake, I was skeptical. But I was also intrigued because I thought about my cardinal rule for making cheesecake: I always create a waterbath to prevent cracks and general overcooking. The pressure cooker, or in my case, the Instant Pot, is essentially steaming my cheesecake just the same by putting two cups of water underneath the rack-raised cheesecake. Because it’s a countertop appliance, I am not raising the temperature in my apartment one bit! No oven needed! Additionally, because it is a pressure cooker, my cheesecake only needed 28 minutes of active cooking time versus the hours I have wasted before.

If you’ve made cheesecakes before, you know the usual drill: bake the cheesecake for an hour, open the oven door while shutting off the heat for another hour, and then you need to cool it on a rack for some time. With this appliance, or any other pressure cooker, you can make your cheesecake and cool it in under an hour. And if you’re afraid that a pressure cooker is going to texturally change the cheesecake–it doesn’t. It tastes as if you baked in the oven, and this way it is guaranteed to be silky, creamy, and smooth!

My one note of caution is this: remember the inactive times associated with a pressure cooker. Yes, pressure cookers advertise times that seem incredible, like this one–but it takes time for the pressure cooker to “preheat” (about 10-15 minutes), and most importantly, time for the machine to depressurize (super important–you NEVER want to open your pressure cooker prematurely–it’s dangerous!), which is approximately 15-20 minutes depending on what you’re making. Because this cheesecake has two cups of water, it does not take too long at all to depressurize. And whatever you do, don’t rush the process! Do not do a so-called quick release–the cheesecake is continuing to cook as it is depressurizing, and this amount of steam release is not gentle enough for this dessert.

In a nutshell, the convenience of the instant pot and the perfected results is making me forgo the use of my oven for a cheesecake ever again! For this recipe, you don’t even have to bake the crust either as it’s prepared and then set in the freezer for ten minutes!

In addition to having excellent cooking results, this cheesecake is of course powered by great ingredients. I use Kahlua (or any coffee-based liqueur) to enhance the chocolate flavor. I also use my higher end vanilla extract. My favorite is Nielsen-Massey’s  Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, which you can easily grab on Amazon.

I also believe in using good chocolate, but for some reason, I find this triple chocolate needs the milk chocolate to distinguish itself from the bittersweet ganache topping and the oreo crust. If you prefer a different chocolate, go for it!

Other recommended equipment (helpful, but not necessary): Food Processor (I have an immersion blender, so I have a small hand food processor attachment I use to crush the oreos) and my trusty Kitchenaid Stand Mixer. Also, make sure you know what size pan you’re using because a larger cheesecake cannot be made in the pressure cooker as it is too large. A 7 inch springform pan is a must!

Ingredients

Crust
    • 20 whole Oreo cookies (yes, even the white part!)
    • 4 tbsp of unsalted butter, melted then cooled
Cheesecake
    • 1 lb room temperature cream cheese, room temperature for two hours
    • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
    • 1/3 cup white sugar
    • 1 whole egg – room temperature
    • 2 egg yolks – room temperature
    • 1/4 cup sour cream
    • 8 oz of chocolate (I used Hershey’s milk chocolate, but you can use bittersweet chocolate if that’s your preference)
    • 1 tsp higher end vanilla extract
    • 1 tablespoon of Kahlua or coffee-based liqueur
    • 1 tbsp flour (optional–I did not use this)
    • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
Ganache
  • 3/4 cup  bittersweet chocolate chips (or a bar–you’re just melting it, so it does not matter)
  • 3 oz heavy whipping cream (or half and half)

Instructions

    1. Spray the 7″ springform pan with cooking spray.
    2. Add two cups of water to the instant pot and place the rack on the bottom.
    3. Make a tin foil sling to lift the cheesecake in and out of the Instant Pot or pressure cooker. Essentially, you are folding a piece of tin that’s long enough to be able scoop out your cheesecake.
Crust
    1. In a food processor, combine the whole Oreo cookies and the butter. If you don’t have a food processor, put the cookies in a plastic bag and break them up with a heavy item like a rolling pin, until you have fine crumbs.
    2. Pour the crumb butter mixture into the bottom of the pan and pat until it is evenly distributed on the bottom. Put in freezer for 10 minutes.
Cheesecake
    1. In a food processor or stand mixer (I use my stand mixer for this step), mix the cream cheese with dark brown sugar, white sugar, and cocoa powder.
    2. Once combined, add one egg followed by the two egg yolks.
    3. Add the melted chocolate and sour cream.
    4. Continually scrape the bowl down. Add Kahlua, vanilla, and flour  (flour is optional) and mix until creamy.
    5. Pour mixture into the springform pan and smooth with a spatula.
    6. Place pan on the tin foil sling and slowly lower into the Instant Pot.
    7. Set Instant Pot to maximum pressure for 28 minutes.
    8. Once done, turn machine off and let it return to normal pressure for 15 minutes.
    9. Unlock lid and use sling to transfer pan to cooling rack for an hour.
    10. Chill in refrigerator overnight.
Ganache
    1. Put the 3/4 cup of chocolate in a bowl.
    2. Heat the heavy whipping cream to a simmer. Pour over chocolate.
    3. Chocolate will melt, stir until incorporated. Once incorporated, use a spatula and spread over the top of the cake.
    4. Put back in refrigerator to cool.
    5. If you like, use a vegetable peeler and slide the peeler on chocolate for chocolate curls for garnish and/or crumble some oreos!
Recipe Source (but modified by Lei Mangia): SerenaLissy.com

 

Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves) with Tahini Sauce

IMG_3009.JPG

 

Happy Wednesday!

I went to a Greek restaurant with my mother-in-law a few weeks ago, and we had Dolmades, stuffed rice grape leaves, as an appetizer. I totally forgot about how much I love these little bundles of joy! A week later, I made them at home. It was a great rainy day project as it took about an hour and a half, but my husband and I have been eating them all week.

I love wine, so grapes and I are definitely good friends, but often the leaf of the grape is forgotten–it is a wonderful vessel for stuffing filling whether it be rice, ground beef/lamb, or an exciting combination of both!

They’re healthy, summery, and versatile. The ones I made have ground beef in them as well, but these are just as good simply with rice. You have the vegetarian/vegan flexibility with stuffed grape leaves. They’re paleo, low-carb, gluten-free, and all other hyphenated diet terms galore. These are good for you and taste good–often times, the both are not possible, but this is one fabulous exception.

Grape leaves are found abound in the Middle East/Mediterranean regions of the world. I’ve had the Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, and Palestinian versions, and they all have the slightest variant that makes the grape leave uniquely their own.

Greek Style (Dolmades, Dolmathakia): Lots of lemon, typically prepared with mint and dill

Turkish Style (Dolma, Sarma): Warmed spices (Currants, cinnamon, all spice) and a bit of sugar

Lebanese Style (Warak akish) : Usually lamb and/or ground beef, lemon juice, tomato paste/pomegranate molasses, some warm spices

Palestinian Style (Warak enab mehshi): Mainly Lebanese style with ghee (butter), sometimes parsley

**And I think Armenians do a stuffed cabbage roll similar to a grape leaf, so it’s an international delight!***

For my grape leaves, I went in the Greek direction with an Indian and Lebanese approach. I know Indians do not make grape leaves, but I decided to add Garam Masala to my sauteed onions to incorporate my version of the aforementioned “warmed spices”.

These are great to make for a party and/or picnic as a make-ahead dish. You can eat these cold, room temperature, or hot. Again, regional approaches vary here–I find that cold is popular among the Greeks and Turkish whereas the Lebanese and Palestinian people tend to serve them warm to hot. It’s totally up to you.

You can use fresh grape leaves if you can find them, but it’s just as easy to use jarred grape leaves. Fresh grape leaves must be boiled, and they must have the main stem removed–this is not edible! If your local grocery store does not carry grape leaves, I ordered mine online through Amazon.

Some people find the preservatives/brine off-putting, which makes some people not want to eat these. But if you properly rinse off each leaf before you roll it, it should take away most of the acidity. Besides, squeezing a lemon right before serving is the right tang it needs–not from sodium benzoate. The fresh lemon really brings it together, and if you make a Tahini sauce (or buy it from a reputable place, such as Trader Joe’s), you’ll get this delicious lemony and garlic combination that is perfect.

Ingredients

  • 7-8 cups of chicken broth (you may use water, but chicken broth will impart more flavor)
  • 3 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • One 16-ounce jar fresh small grape leaves in brine (about 70 leaves)
  • 1 cup uncooked short-grain rice (I use Basmati–it’s the best!)
  • 1-2 medium-large onions, finely diced
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pounds lean ground beef or lamb (or a mixture of both)
  • 1 bunch fresh dill, chopped (you may add some mint, but I did not)
  • 1 tablespoon of Garam Masala (optional, but it was my own Indian twist)

Let’s get rollin’!

  1. Remove grape leaves out of the jar. Place all leaves in a colander and rinse/drain very well in warm water. In addition to draining off all the liquid, I individually wash off each leaf before I roll it. If you have leaves that are damaged or ripped, set those aside for layering on the bottom of the pot.
  2.  Sauté the onions in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until translucent, not browned. Throw in the rice into the pan and toast the rice a bit. You are not cooking the rice–you are simply imparting flavor. The rice will cook inside the leaf, so you could also not saute the rice and simply mix it with the meat if you’re short on time, but go the extra mile. 🙂
  3. In a bowl, combine the onions, ground beef/lamb (if you’re using) rice, remaining olive oil, dill, juice of 1 lemon, and pepper. Mix well by hand.
  4. Once the filling is well incorporated, gently separate one leaf and place it shiny-side down on a work surface. Place a pinch (up to a teaspoon) of the filling on the leaf at the point where the stem joined the leaf. DO NOT OVERFILL YOUR LEAVES–THEY WILL EXPLODE!
  5. Roll the leaf like you would a cigar.  You are folding the mixture up and then folding in the sides, tucking them in. Fold up the bottom of the leaf over the filling, then each side inward in parallel folds, and roll up the leaf. The roll should be firm, not tight, as the filling will expand during cooking. Repeat until all the filling has been used.
  6. Repeat this about 70 times (I am not kidding–ask for help!)
  7. Layer the torn/damaged leaves until all are in the pot so that the bottom is covered. Place the rolled up grape leaves all along the bottom and stack them in alternate directions for the most support.
  8. Once you have all your leaves in the pot, place a plate on top to keep the leaves from floating.
  9. Add the chicken stock to the pot to cover the leaves. Add more or less as needed.
  10. Bring the liquid to a gentle boil, add the remaining juice from the 1 1/2 lemons, reduce heat to low and simmer for approximately 50 to 70 minutes. Keep the lid on–otherwise, they will not properly steam.
  11. Check to see if done–if the rice has cooked, they are done. If not, continue cooking for another 10 minutes and check again.
  12. Enjoy while they are warm, leave out for room temperature, or refrigerate. My husband and I like them cold for a picnic. 🙂
  13. Serve with a fresh squeeze of a lemon slice, and dip into garlic tahini sauce (or hummus like sauce).

Garlic Tahini Sauce (If you want to make it versus buy it in the store)

Ingredients

 

  • 1 cup tahini sesame seed paste (I prefer the paste made from light colored seeds)
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water, or more for consistency
  • 3 cloves raw garlic (or 5 cloves roasted garlic for some sweetness–mmm!)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)

Directions

Combine above ingredients in blender or food processor, adding the liquid gradually to make a smooth consistency.

 

 

Edamame Truffle Dumplings with Sake Butter, Shiitake and Enoki Mushrooms

Happy Friday!

I made these dumplings twice now before writing about them, and let me just tell you that these are absolutely magical. If you are a fan of truffle salt or oil, you will love these. If you never had truffle flavored anything, you need to try these, especially if you are a mushroom lover.

My friend Cassandra and I were inspired to make these when we had them during my bachelorette party last August. I was taken to this amazing Japanese restaurant called Koi in Bryant Park (Manhattan).  They’re expensive at $20 for 4-5 dumplings, but my friends and I found these so irresistible that the price tag simply didn’t matter. Side note: If you’re ever at the restaurant, I also recommend the Foie Gras on Seared Tuna with White Truffle Oil as well.

Image result for Foie Gras on Seared Tuna with White Truffle Oil koi

Of course, learning to make these at home has been very much worth the investment! These dumplings are life-changers.

If you have never eaten anything made with truffle oil, you are missing out! It is a distinctive earthiness that is really hard to replicated without it.  What’s trendy lately is truffle oil on French Fries. Those are fantastic.

**A cautionary note on Truffle Oil, however–you should never use too much, and you should never use it to cook. It should be a finishing product–you drizzle/sprinkle a little at the end. In the case of these fabulous dumplings, they are a part of the emulsion process, but the truffle is never used to, let’s say, fry the dumplings. The oil is too expensive to waste, and it can easily become overpowering if you use too much.

If you’re not sure where to get Truffle Oil or Truffle Salt, I would go to a more gourmet grocery store such as a Whole Foods or Wegmans. If your area does not have truffle oil or salt, Amazon has good quality and well priced truffle oil and salt as well.

The mushrooms, enoki and shiitake, are best found in Asian grocery markets, but usually a higher end grocery story would have these as well. Shiitake are relatively popular and will be easy to find dried. If you can’t find these mushrooms, you can omit these, but I personally think mushroom’s natural earthiness play well with the truffle-forward flavor of these dumplings.

The sauce of choice is sake butter, and like it sounds, it’s simply Japanese rice wine,  dry Sake, and butter reduced in a pan. We add ginger and a bit of lemon for freshness. It’s dynamite. If you don’t have sake, you can simply do a ginger-butter sauce and do fine. This recipe is forgiving with omission. The one thing you cannot take out of these dumplings is the truffle salt and oil–everything else is recommended, but not mandatory.

For $20 for 4-5 dumplings, what adds the luxury is the seafood: at Koi, they serve these dumplings with lobster. We decided to substitute lobster with langostino for cost-effectiveness reasons, but I personally would say that scallops would be my meat of choice second to lobster for this dish. Again, you could choose not to put seafood in here and just eat the dumplings, but it does add to the allure of this dish.

This dumpling recipe we found was from the head chef at Koi, but we made tweaks that we thought would be more practical for the consumer (for example, the recipe calls for actual truffle which, if you were able to find it afford it, costs about $5,000 for a pound). Because we actually ate these dumplings at the restaurant, we were able to tweak until we completely got the right flavor. Cross-referencing and having the best version of a dish is the best way to re-create a masterpiece.

These recipe is a great make-ahead as it is a little bit of tedious work, but you can yield so many dumplings that you can boil them up for a party in no time. It takes about two minutes in boiling water to cook the dumplings themselves, and the sauce comes together in about five minutes.

Edamame Dumplings (Makes about 50)

Ingredients for Dumplings

  • 1 pound cooked edamame, shelled (we steam these in the microwave first–they are in the frozen section. Make sure they’re shelled!)
  • 4 ounces of milk (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 6 ounces of good quality truffle oil (white)
  • One tablespoon of truffle salt (stir and add more to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 50 wonton wrappers (usually one package is fine)
  • 1/2 of 1 lemon’s worth of lemon zest (optional, but recommended)
  • 1 egg

Ingredients for Sake Butter

  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into large pieces
  • 2 tablespoons of peeled and minced ginger (use a Microplane if you have it)
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon good-quality sake (feel free to add more)
  • A tablespoon of heavy cream (if desired)

Optional Accompaniments 

  • Seafood: Lobster, Scallops, Langostino, Shrimp (in order of preference), two ounces or more.
  • Mushrooms: Enoki and Shiitake (add to sake butter sauce and garnish dumplings with uncooked enoki). You would need about an ounce of each.
  • Garnishes:  Pea shoots and/or scallions for freshness and green on the plate.

Directions

  1. In a bowl, beat the egg with 1/4 cup of warm water to make an egg wash.
  2. If you have a frozen, microwaveable bag of edamame, follow the instructions on the bag.
  3. Once steamed, boil the edamame in the milk and butter for 6 minutes, until tender.
  4. Strain the edamame, but keep the milk and butter that you used to boil it.
  5. In a blender, blend the edamame, adding the reserved milk and butter and the truffle oil until it reaches a smooth consistency. Season with truffle salt, pepper,  regular salt, and optional lemon zest.
  6. Taste until you think it tastes good. Feel free to add more butter, salt, or lemon as needed.
  7. Assemble: Place a spoonful of filling in the center of each wonton wrapper. Brush each with the egg wash at the edges of the wrapper. Fold on the diagonal like a triangle. Use your index fingers to press air out. Flip wonton to the back and fold left and right edges over. Flip the top piece on top of the edges. Flip dumpling back over and squeeze the ends to puff up shape. Place dumplings on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Click here for the video demonstration of the dumpling fold.

  1. When ready to serve, get a pot to begin boiling water to cook your dumplings.
  2. As the pot of water is boiling, begin making your sake butter.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add ginger and cook, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup sake (or more) and bring to a boil; cook until reduced by 2/3, about 3 minutes. Add heavy cream,  if desired. Bring the whole mixture to a boil; cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add remaining butter in batches, whisking constantly. Once all the butter has been incorporated and mixture is thick and creamy, remove from heat.
  4. Add about 10 dumplings at a time for about two minutes.
  5. In a pot, boil the dumplings until clear and tender, about 1 to 2 minutes. Once they float to the top, they’re done. Drain and keep aside. Place five dumplings in a bowl, and pour sake butter over top, with optional lobster and mushrooms. Garnish with scallions and/or pea shoots, and bon appetite!

 

Chipotle Chicken Enchiladas

17862712_772168166275974_7380401935341695984_n

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner! I love this holiday because of all the vibrant colors and flavors that come to play. It’s always a fiesta at my house, but I do happen to celebrate this day often. Last year, my neighbor and I had an Asian Fusion version with Korean Fried Chicken Tacos, Mexican Street Corn Dip, and Southwest Eggrolls. Best party ever.

And while I would love to do that again, this Cinco De Mayo I need a dish that comes together easily as I have a hectic work week in my impending future. What better way to stay festive than to make these enchiladas, a top 5 favorite for my husband! There is so much flavor and very little prep. What shocks me the most is that this is made without any aromatics–garlic or onion–but of course, these would be lovely additions if you so choose.

I love making White Chicken Enchiladas with Green Chilis, but every once in a while, I love going for comforting heat from Chipotle Peppers. This recipe is also way easier and is even made…wait for it…in a blender. The sauce is made in minutes, and if you buy your chicken ahead (such as a store-bought rotisserie), you’re riding in the fast lane for sure.

This is a great weeknight rotation recipe in addition to being good for company. Of course, this would be the perfect make-ahead for your Cinco De Mayo party! Ole!

Chipotle Chicken Enchiladas  (Serves 4-6)

Ingredients

  • 9 corn tortillas or flour tortillas (Alternatively, you can make four largely stuffed tortillas if you use the large burrito size ones)
  • 1 15-ounce can of crushed fire-roasted tomatoes with green chiles (like Rotel)
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 small chipotle chiles in adobo, plus 1-2 teaspoon sauce from the can (less or more depending on your spice tolerance)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken (skin removed)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (plus more for serving)
  • 1 cup shredded jack cheese, plus a handful more for topping
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, plus a handful more for topping
  • Diced avocado and hot sauce (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, divided

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Tear a tortilla into small pieces and put into a blender. Add the diced tomatoes, chicken broth, cilantro, chipotle, adobo sauce (from the can), and cumin. Puree until smooth.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pureed sauce and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, for about ten minutes. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Shred your chicken, removing the skin. Place in a separate bowl. You may use two forks to shred the chicken, or you may use your hands (if the chicken is not scorching hot).
  5. Meanwhile, coat a 9 by 13 baking dish with vegetable oil.
  6. Going back to the chicken, mix the shredded chicken, sour cream, half a cup of each cheese and a pinch each of salt and pepper in a medium bowl.  If desired, take about two to three tablespoons of the sauce and mix into the chicken as well.
  7. Next, warm the remaining 8 tortillas in the microwave as the label directs.
  8. When ready to assemble, spoon about 1/4 cup of the chicken mixture down the center of each tortilla and roll up, seam side down. Arrange side by side in the prepared baking dish and brush with the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.
  9. Spread sauce lightly on the rolled tortillas. Before putting into the oven, spread a handful of jack and a handful of cheddar on top of each enchilada.
  10. Cook in the oven for about 20 minutes. If you like a bubbly top, you may broil for two minutes towards the end.
  11. Garnish with chopped cilantro, hot sauce, and/or diced avocado, if desired.

 

Mini Carrot Cakes Three Ways: Trifle, Truffle, and Petit Fours (and a Bonus Recipe!)

 

16003205_724940090998782_4042343722220863909_n

Happy Hump Day!

I definitely made these carrot cakes weeks ago, and I am certainly late in posting this recipe; however, my film editor and I made the video in a timely manner, and I am excited to announce that we are beginning to shoot videos to correlate with the blog from today onwards…exciting!

Heres the video!

I’ve always loved carrot cake; I had a terrible craving a few weeks ago, but I didn’t necessarily want to make an entire two-three layered cake for myself (although that would probably go quickly, without fail). I am a fan of mini desserts; they’re whimsical, fun, and they don’t make the diet conscious too jealous. 🙂

I decided to show you three ways of making mini carrot cakes because I couldn’t personally decide what I wanted to make. You don’t need to make three batches, either. All from one recipe you have three different desserts! If you have a favorite style, feel free to just make all petit fours or all trifles. It’s all up to you!

So…what’s the difference among the three?

Trifle: Layering cake and alternating with cream/frosting. This is great when you have a cake crumble/fall apart, but you want to make it look like it was intentionally “deconstructed.” Put it in a shot glass or martini glass to show that it’s all ready for the party.

Truffle: Similar to the aforementioned situation, you could have a crumbly cake and bind it back together with some frosting/cream and shape it into a fun ball. Truffles sound fancier than cake pop, but who are we fooling? Feel free to coat these in white chocolate (like the petit four below) to keep its shape and give it a sweeter edge.

Petit Four: Ah, the creme of the creme. The small, tiny, perfect bite of layered cake.  You can make it with the cream cheese frosting alone, or you may coat it in white chocolate on top to go for the sweetest level of deliciousness. I make round and square . Note: Round is easiest for pouring frosting and is the traditional “carrot cake shape.” Square can be done with or without the petit four cutter, but wastes much less cake than its circular counterpart.

If you are making these for entertaining, you may want to offer some choice for your guests. Also, it’s to show you how you can use one baking sheet pan to make a multitude of desserts. I can foresee this recipe coming into extreme popularity around Easter. For some people, they forget the sheer brilliance a carrot can bring to a dessert. I guess the fluffy bunnies serve as a reminder. 🙂

Hopefully, making this recipe will inspire you to make your other favorite cake recipes in a similar manner: a small, thin layer on a baking sheet. I first learned this when I made Seven Layer (Rainbow) cookies over Christmas. I had a similar revelation when I made Almond Petit Fours with Apricot Jam for my friend’s baby’s first birthday. Making tiny cakes are now becoming quite the pastime for me! Any recipe that has similar measurements that I am mentioning below will work! I think I might do a chocolate cake with raspberry mousse and chocolate ganache petit four for Valentine’s Day! Decadent bites are the best!

If you are fine with square cuts, you don’t necessarily need to order a petit four cutter; however, I find using my round and square petit four cutter has come in handy. I ordered mine on Amazon.

Alright, Doc…here we go!

Carrot Cake Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup of sour cream
  • ¼ cup  canola oil
  • ½ cup  sugar
  • ½ cup (100gr) brown sugar, light or dark
  • 1 cup  of finely grated carrots (preferably using a Microplane)

Optional, but recommended…

  • 4 ounces of chopped pecans (or you can also use walnuts, if you like!)
  • White chocolate candy coating (Microwavable tray, if possible)** (only if you want to have a candy coating for the truffle or petit four)

Cream Cheese Icing

  • 8oz cream cheese at room temperature
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

**P.S: You will have leftover icing, and you will not have a problem finding uses for it. Make some cinnamon rolls, or do what I did the next day…I made “Cinnamon Roll(ed) French Toast). So. Good. (I will post the “bonus” recipe) at the bottom.

First, make the cake!

  1. Take everything out that you need and grate your carrots before you begin! It’s quite the arm workout. 🙂 All ingredients should be at room temperature for this recipe. While you’re prepping, pre-heat your oven.
  2. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 375°F . Line 17x11in baking sheet with a parchment paper and spray cooking spray all over the parchment paper and on the sides. If you don’t have parchment paper, you can survive–just make sure you use enough cooking spray to get the cake out! It’s very thin!
  3. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Set aside.
  4. In a mixing bowl with a paddle attachment, mix together eggs, sour cream, oil, sugar and brown sugar until well combined. You may also add some vanilla extract here, about one teaspoon. Add flour mixture and mix just until combined. Don’t overmix at this point. Fold in grated carrots from bottom to top.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared baking sheet and tap a few times to get rid of bubbles. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and inserted toothpick comes out clean. It took me about 15 minutes.
  6. Make the frosting while the cake is cooling. Beat butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until fluffy for 1 minute. Add powdered sugar, heavy cream and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed for a minute. Then increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Transfer into a piping bag with plain round tip, if desired. If you don’t have a pastry bag, put your filling inside of a ziplock baggie. Squeeze it to a corner and using a scissor, clip a very small tip.

***To make all three desserts, I use a butter knife around the edge and slice vertically into three even pieces. I allocate one third of the cake to each dessert. Even if you’re only making the petit four, for example, you still want to slice the cake into thirds as you want layers of cake. This prevents you having to bake another sheet pan’s worth! You’ll be stacking one on top of the other.

Directions for Each Dessert

Trifle: In a given glass (martini or shot preferable), cut out and/or crumble carrot cake on the bottom. On top of this layer, add your cream cheese frosting. Alternate frosting and cake until you reached the very top.

Truffle: Scoop out 2-3 tablespoons of cake. Starting with a tablespoon of cream cheese frosting, put a dollop in your hands with the cake and roll into a ball like you would a meatball. Put in the freezer once rolled. Microwave the white chocolate. Stir every minute or so. Once properly melted, dip the truffle (or cake pop) into the tray and coat entirely. Let the truffle’s coating harden on a piece of parchment paper. To speed up the process, you may put the truffles inside a refrigerator.

Petit Fours: Cut out your petit fours using your round and/or square petit four cutter. If you don’t have one, you may use a ruler and cut squares by making elongated cuts diagonally.  Place the cutout cake layers on wire rack. Pipe a heaping tablespoon of frosting on half of the cake squares/ circles. Put another matching cake on top. If going for less sweetness/tradition, put some cream cheese filling on top,  using an offset spatula lightly spread the frosting and sprinkle optional pecans.

Alternative approach (if you are short on time/impatient)…put cream cheese frosting on whole layer of cake (remember, you cut your cake into three?) without cutting it into smaller pieces. Place a whole third of cake on top and press down. Put in the freezer for a few minutes to seal together. Using your petit four cutters/knife (if you’re cutting by hand), cut out your small cakes.

If you would like to candy coat your petit fours, make sure you freeze the cut cakes first. Melt your microwavable white chocolate tray in one minute alternates, stirring each minute for proper melting consistency. Once hot and melted, dip your cake and use a spoon to cover the entire mini cake with coating.Let the petit four’s coating harden on a piece of parchment paper. To speed up the process, you may put the truffles inside a refrigerator. Before it hardens completely, sprinkle on pecans, if desired. If you do not do it while it’s hot, it will not stick!

Enjoy!

Bonus Recipe: Cinnamon Roll(ed) French Toast (Recipe inspired by Scrambled Chefs)

 

16194903_727584080734383_6643892865896689340_n.jpgIngredients

  • 12 slices of white bread, crusts removed
  • butter for greasing the pan (or you can use cooking spray)
Cream Cheese Topping
  • Use your leftover cream cheese icing from above!
Cinnamon Filling
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp white sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp cinnamon powder
Egg Mixture
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon (add more if you want!)
  • 1 teaspoon of white sugar
Cinnamon Sugar Coating
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon powder

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients to make cinnamon filling. At this time, take out your leftover cream cheese frosting and make sure it’s room temperature.
  2. Prepare the egg mixture by slightly beating the egg and adding milk to it. Mix well. Add cinnamon and sugar as directed.
  3. Combine white sugar and cinnamon powder in a plate and set aside.
  4. Remove crusts from the white bread slices and with the help of a rolling pin, roll up the bread flat.
  5. Spread ½ to ¾ tbsp worth of cinnamon filling onto the bread and roll up. You do not need anything to help this stick together as the filling will do that for you. Roll it up tightly!
  6. In a non-stick pan, heat a little butter on a low to medium heat. Dip the roll ups into the egg mixture and place on the frying pan.  Let excess dredge before placing in the pan. Don’t overcrowd the pan. I made about 6 at once (they look like tiny eggrolls, but man are they filling!)
  7. Keep turning the french toast every 30 to 45 seconds or until slightly golden brown on one side.
  8. Remove from pan when every side is down and immediately put them in the coating mixture prepared early. Roll it around while it’s hot so it sticks.
  9. Serve with cream cheese glaze as a topping or for dipping.
  10. Serve immediately for the sweetest breakfast/dessert! 🙂

Mini Meatloaf with Russett Cheddar Mashed Potatoes

 

15826793_10208123935069328_5613085375040848871_n.jpgHappy New Year!

I know, I know. I went almost three months without blogging. Believe me–I have not gone all this time without cooking, but I haven’t had a minute to write, and I am sorry! Around this time last year I started this blog, and it was my resolution then to share my recipes with the world. I want to continue that promise to you.

Now I’ve spoken with a few friends of mine, and they have suggested I do a video demonstration as well–this may be in the future! If you have any food requests/techniques you would like to be explained, particularly in video format, let me know.

I made so many meals since I’ve last blogged, and I wasn’t sure where to begin, so what I decided to do was to just post what I made tonight. It’s a top 10 for my husband; it’s a secret family recipe that I have modified. It’s also now freezing cold, and now that Christmas is over, people are using their ovens for comfort foods and not for cookies.

Now if you are a resolutionist, by all means, you can still make this. I made this in a miniature format so that you can have tasty, indulgent meal without the guilt. It is portioned appropriately. If you’re not dieting, then go for seconds and enjoy its cute presentation.

I love meatloaf; it is reminiscent of my childhood for sure. I also think of Wedding Crashers when Will Ferrell screams, “Ma! The meatloaf!” I am pretty sure I said the same thing because it was one of those cult favorites of my own mother. I am convinced that she makes the best! I am sure your mother is some stiff competition, too. 😉

When I first moved out and lived on my own a while back, I wanted to learn how to make my grandmother’s meatballs and my mother’s meatloaf without them. So I asked for recipes…and man, they’re secretive. Once I uncovered the classified information, I was left to my own devices in terms of figuring out how much. Terms like “a bit,” ” a squirt,”, and “a little of that” gave me hardly any help. Luckily, I have an innate sense and a whole lot of dedication to bring you forth the never before disclosed, sworn to secrecy meatloaf. 🙂

The meatloaf is super tasty, moist, and addictive. 

The mashed potatoes I make are delicious and easy. My two best friends for these ‘taters are my slow cooker and my stand mixer.

For everyone that knows me, I make complicated meals. I’ll spend hours to get something right. Shoot, I ground my own chuck this week with bacon and garlic. Cooking is my hobby and not just a necessity. However, time is of the essence, and this recipe is one of those quick meals that can be made that is impressive and elegant enough for one to be fooled into thinking it’s complex and time consuming.

Let’s get started!

First, worry about your potatoes. I use my slow cooker because it makes the potatoes tender, and I can prep them in less than five minutes. No boiling, no peeling (unless you hate skins, but I think they’re tasty and rustic looking), no waiting. If you have a slow cooker that goes to a “warm” setting automatically, that is best, especially if you are trying to do prep before you go to work. You need four hours on high in a slow cooker for these bad boys.

The meatloaf is prepped together in about three minutes and cooks in about 35 minutes. You add a little of this, and a little of that, and that’s it! 🙂

Ingredients for Step One (Slow Cooker Step)

5-6 Russet potatoes (if you like them fluffy, or you may use Yukon Golds or red potatoes, but I recommend Russet)

2 cups of water (you may substitute chicken broth, but it’s not totally necessary)

Salt, pepper, and garlic powder (approximately a tablespoon of each in the slow cooker)

Ingredients for Step Two (Final Mixing Step)

1 cup of half and half, warmed in the microwave (you may substitute whole milk, but the more fat, the better!)

3/4 stick of butter (softened)

1 cup of sour cream

Green onions/chives for garnish (optional!)

1/2 cup of shredded cheddar

Directions for Mashed Potatoes

Slow Cooking Procedure

1.) Wash and scrub your potatoes. Leave the skin on (unless you don’t like it, in which you can peel them.) Slice the potatoes in half, then in half again, then cut into small 1 inch pieces.

2.) Spray slow cooker with cooking spray. Put all diced potatoes into slow cooker. Throw salt, pepper, and garlic powder all over potatoes. Stir to spread seasoning evenly.

3.) Add 1 1/2 cups to 2 cups of water to cover potatoes.

4.) Put your slow cooker on HIGH for four hours, until the potatoes are fork tender. If you are making this all day, try to use a slow cooker that has a warm setting so that it can switch to this setting after cooking.

Stand Mixer Procedure

1.) If you have a stand mixer, grab the mixing bowl that goes with your mixer and scoop out all the potatoes. Put the potatoes in the mixer bowl. Make sure the potatoes are fork tender before doing this step! Alternatively, if you have a hand mixer, you can mix the potatoes right in the slow cooker! 🙂

2.) Microwave a cup of half and half (or milk of your choice) about 30-45 seconds until hot. Soften butter in microwave, in five second intervals, if not already softened.

3.) Throw the butter into the mixing bowl. Crack salt and pepper approximately four times for each seasoning. Being mixing on medium speed for about 20-30 seconds.

4.) Once the half and half is heated, slowly pour in the liquid so the potatoes absorb the liquid. Mix another 20-30 seconds and then stop. Potatoes will be creamy with a few lumps. Do not overmix–potatoes can becoming gummy in texture!

5.) Take your mixing bowl out. Add sour cream, cheddar, and optional green onions/chives. Mix lightly. Keep warm in your slow cooker if not serving right away.

Feel free to add more cheddar on top! 🙂

Ingredients for the Meatloaf 

1 1/2-2 pounds of Beef, Pork, and Veal Ground Meat**

**(I ground my own meat this time; if you have a food grinder and you feel ambitious, grind up 2 pounds of chuck, five slices of bacon, and five garlic cloves).

***You can also just use ground beef, if you so choose, but the mixture of pork and veal helps with moisture.

3 eggs (if you are making less,  say 1/2 pound to a 1 pound of meat, you can use 2 eggs)

1 package of Lipton Onion Soup mix

1/2 cup of ketchup, plus a little more for the “glaze”

1/4 cup of Peter Luger Sauce ****

****–It’s so delicious, but if you can’t find it, here’s a copycat recipe.

Jar of Heinz Au Jus (Beef), or make brown gravy of your choice

1/2 cup of Italian seasoned bread crumbs

2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar

Freshly cracked salt and pepper, about three of each

Directions for Meatloaf

1.) Preheat your oven 350 degrees. Take out a baking pan of your choice and spray the inside with cooking spray. I recommend an 8 by 8 for 4 servings, or a 9 by 13 for 6-8 servings.

2.) In a large mixing bowl, hand mix (lightly) the ground meat, eggs, onion soup mix.

3.) Next, squirt in your ketchup, peter luger sauce, and a little of the au jus/brown gravy (about 1/4 of a cup or so). Do not overmix.

4.) Add the seasoned bread crumbs and continue to mix with your hands. The mixture should be moist, but it should be able to take hold of a shape. Add bread crumbs as needed, but this is very moist so do not add too much!

5.) Using your spoon, divide your meat into even portions (4-8, depending on how much you are making). Each mini meatloaf should be approximately a heavy fistful.

6.) On your baking pan, mold the portion of meat between your two hands, making sure it is in the shape of a loaf. Squeeze the side of the mini meatloaf with your hands on the outside and push it inward to mold it properly. Using a flat hand, push down the top of the loaf to make it flat and even. Mold as you feel fit.

7.) Make the rest of the mini meatloaves, giving at least an inch or two of space in between.

8.) Before putting the meatloaves in the oven, make the glaze. Mix about 3-4 squirts of ketchup, two-three tablespoons of brown sugar, and a dash of Peter Luger sauce. Mix together and place on top of the meatloaf. You may use a spoon for this step or you may use a little pastry brush.

9.) Put the mini meatloaves in the oven for approximately 35 minutes.

10.) Enjoy! Scoop out your delicious mashed potatoes and meatloaf on a dish. Garnish with more sliced green onions! 🙂

 

 

 

 

Rosemary and Thyme Focaccia

foccacia-pic
I am still in love with paninis, and I don’t see that love wavering any time soon. I wanted to make the Chicken Frontega Panini with my own foccacia. As excited as I was for this to happen, my foccacia came out delicious, but too oily for my panini press. It squished all the ingredients out. To my Mother-In-Law’s advice, I dried out the bread in the refrigerator for a day, and it was perfect! Although I could not use it right away because of it’s oil-content, it became a dream. Besides, I couldn’t stop eating it even without any sandwich fillings. It’s great alone, toasted with butter–dipping in sauces. The possibiities are endless.
Making foccacia isn’t difficult, but it doesn’t provide instant gratification as you need to wait for the yeast to work its magic. Save this for your day off–make it in the morning, and indulge for lunch. This is very much worth the wait.
This is the perfect fall recipe; your house will spell like an herbal oasis. Enjoy!
*Although you can use any other pan, this recipe is tailored for a cast iron skillet. I also believe the cast iron skillet delivers in getting the right texture for a good focaccia. If you don’t have one already, invest! They’re very inexpensive and will last for life!*
INGREDIENTS
  • For the dough:
  • 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast* (a package is fine)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (you can scale back to one tablespoon if you don’t love herb flavors)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (you can scale back to one tablespoon if you don’t love herb flavors)
  • For the herb drizzle:
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary, or more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme, or more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked pepper
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Combine milk and brown sugar. Warm in microwave for 1½ minutes or until about 110-115˚F. When you stick a finger into the mixture, it should feel hot, but not so hot that it’s uncomfortable. If it’s not warm enough, place back in microwave and cook at 15 second intervals till temperature is correct. If you’re new to yeast, I recommend using a thermometer. They’re very inexpensive. Once the liquid is the right temperature add yeast and stir. Let stand until foamy about 5 minutes. Add two tablespoons of the olive oil.
  2. Using the dough hook on a stand mixer, mix the flour, salt, rosemary, and thyme. Add the yeast mixture and mix until a soft dough forms, about 2 minutes. Continue to mix with dough hook for 5 minutes. **If your dough is too wet from the oil, it’s okay! Focaccia is very forgiving, so you can simply leave the wet dough to rise in the cast iron pan even if it’s not a ball. As long as the dough rises over time, you will get the right texture.**
  3. Move the dough to one side of the mixer bowl, drizzle a bit of olive oil into empty side of bowl and then turn the dough until lightly greased. Cover the bowl with a  damp kitchen towel and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk (size), about 1 hour.
  4. Combine all of the ingredients for the herb drizzle in a small microwave-safe container. Cook on high for 30 seconds to release the herb oil and flavor. Set aside to cool.
  5. Preheat an oven to 425°F.
  6. Using your fingertips, press down firmly into the dough to make dimples about ½ inch apart and 1 inch deep. Drizzle the herb oil evenly over the dough. Gently rub with your fingers to evenly distribute the oil. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and let sit for another 15 minutes. Feel free to add more spices/herbs directly on top as well like I did!
  7. Bake until golden brown, 15 to 25 minutes until golden brown on top. Let cool in the cast iron skillet. Slide the focaccia onto wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Garnish with more fresh thyme and rosemary leaves, if desired.

Chipotle Chicken Panini with Fresh Mozzarella, Basil, and Red Onion

chipotle-chicken-panini-with-fresh-mozzarella-basil-and-red-onion

Happy Tuesday!

I am so embarrassed. I went an entire month without blogging. What’s even more embarrassing? I cooked plenty of food, and took plenty of pictures–I just haven’t had time to write about it…

Here’s the whole host of excuses…

1.) I moved.

2.) I got a new job.

3.) As of Saturday, I am now MARRIED. Yay!

I will try to stay on top of this–I promise. It was really hard for me to choose what to post as I have made infinite meals since the last time I posted, but this one is a definite winner and perfect work week meal.

Anyway, I don’t know about you, but every now and again, I have a craving for Panera. I was inspired to re-create their Chicken Frontega Panini–and not only do I think I nailed the same flavor profile, but I think this actually tastes better.

Before I got married, I had a bridal shower, and man was I spoiled! I got all these kitchen gadgets, but my favorite of all is my panini press. I used to rough it out by using a grill pan and placing another cast iron skillet on top to get those grill marks, but it is never perfect. And if you’re one of those people who thinks a panini press is a glorified grilled cheese maker, I will seriously take an issue with you. Panini presses are much more industrial and have the finesse to seriously bring your sandwich game to a whole other level.

So Public Service Announcement: Get a panini press if you don’t have one already! I recommend a Cuisinart. My machine was not only used for pressing the bread, but it was also used to grill the chicken. Who wants copious amounts of dishes, especially during the week? Not this girl!

This powerful tool is my secret weapon for saving time and making an unforgettable sandwich.

When Zach and I ate this, we were lost for words. You will be equally speechless. Dinner in 15 minutes (including time to grill the chicken) has never been so good. Enjoy!

Ingredients (Serving Four)

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce + 1 or 2 teaspoons liquid from can

**Alternatively, you can buy Chipotle Mayo already made–I recommend “Just Mayo’s Chipoltle”–it’s fantastic!**

  • 1 loaf focaccia bread, cut into quarters or 4 focaccia buns                                                                                                                                                                                                              **Thicker bread is always great in a panini press, but here’s a little secret–I used just Maier’s Italian bread (nothing special), and this still came outstanding. I will certainly not discourage the garlicly, herb goodness of focaccia, but even if you just have plain white bread, you’ll be okay–promise. 
  • 2 chicken breasts (about 8 ounces each), grilled on the panini press (first)
  • Four tablespoons of garlic powder
  • Two tablespoons of salt and pepper, divided
  • 8oz mozzarella ball, sliced (try to get it fresh in water!)
  • 1 plum tomato, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 small red onion, sliced very thinly
  • 10-12 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (ribbons) or leave leaves (how pun-y!) whole

Directions

1.) First, season your chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Plug in your panini press and get it really hot. Spray the panini press with cooking spray.

2.) Once the press is hot enough, grill the chicken in the press. Don’t push down all the way, but as the chicken cooks (about 6-8 minutes), gradually press to flatten the chicken.

3.) While the chicken is cooking, prep your toppings. Slice the tomato, red onion, mozzarella, and chiffonade the basil.

4.) If you are making chipotle mayo, add mayonnaise, chipotle pepper, and adobo sauce to a mini food processor bowl then process until smooth. If you don’t feel like making a huge mess and don’t mind a chunkier sauce, hand chop the pepper up very finely then stir with sauce into mayonnaise. Taste and add more sauce to your liking. If you don’t feel like making a sauce, then at this time get out your store bought, but delicious chipotle mayo.

5.) Take your chicken off the grill once there are substantial grill marks, and the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Leave chicken aside to cool for a second. Once chicken has cooled a bit, slice chicken length wise into strips.

6.) Assemble! Smear about a tablespoon of chipotle mayo on each side of the bread. Next, add your chicken strips on top of each slide (go across evenly.) If desired, add more chipotle mayo on the chicken itself. Next, add the cheese slices (one-two slices of mozzarella for each side of the sandwich. Lastly, top the sandwich with sliced tomato, red onion, and basil. Press top layer of sandwich on top of the bottom layer.

7.) Spray your panini press once again. Also, spray your sandwich on both sides with cooking spray. As you did with the chicken, you should gradually press down on the sandwich and cook until golden brown. Cut diagonally for best appearance. Enjoy!