Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Cannoli

I’m late, I’m late…for a very important date! With all the Thanksgiving shenanigans, I completely spaced what day it was and didn’t have time to post about every Italian’s nightmare — horrible cannoli.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100 percent verbatim from either book.

Despite the fact that I’m Italian, I have never made cannoli. I’ve eaten plenty of them, though, so I know exactly what they’re supposed to be like. Mine definitely did not turn out like “true” cannoli.

The dough, though easy enough to make, was so difficult to work with. In order to get perfect cannoli shells, the dough was to be rolled paper thin. No matter how hard I tried or how long I worked at it, I could not get that stuff to roll out! I’m not sure if it was something I did wrong (added too much liquid, maybe not enough?) or if it’s just a difficult dough. Either way, I decided to try frying them anyway and they just didn’t turn out right. They were too fat and didn’t blister at all. From what I could tell, the taste was right on, but the texture definitely wasn’t (too fat, not crunchy enough, etc.).

I made a traditional ricotta filling (with a little mascarpone to help the texture) and mini chocolate chips. The filling was awesome. So good, in fact, that I was eating it with a spoon in between filling the shells. I guess that made up for the shells being not-so-perfect, but it still wasn’t goon enough for me.

I fully intend to give the cannoli another try, but I think I’ll use a pasta roller to try and get the dough extra thin. Any tips from other Daring Bakers or cannoli makers would be greatly appreciated!

Recipe Link: Cannoli

Green Chili Risotto

I’ve lived in New Mexico all my life, so green chili is pretty much a staple to me. Since Billy is a transplant, he seems to think that New Mexican’s use green chili for way too many things (like pizza and beer). Never the less, when we were out to eat a few weeks ago and he saw Parmesan risotto with a green chili white wine sauce, he had to order it. He cleaned his plate and was determined to recreate the dish at home…I think it’s probably safe to say that he’s turning in to a true New Mexican.

We pretty much made just a basic risotto and created a sauce to put on top, and it was amazing. It was one of the easiest risottos I’ve done in a while, but also one of the most flavorful.

Here’s what you’ll need:
Risotto
– 3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
– 3 tablespoons butter
– olive oil
– 1 onion, chopped
– salt and pepper
– 1 cup Arborio rice
– 1/2 cup white wine
– 1/4 Parmesan cheese
Sauce
– olive oil
– 1/2 of an onion, chopped
– 3 to 4 ounces green chili, chopped (2 or 3 fresh green chilies or 1 small can)
– salt and pepper
– 1/2 cup white wine

Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce to a slow simmer and let it sit throughout the cooking process — the idea here is that all liquid additions to the rice are warm. In a separate pot (or high-sided pan large enough to hold the rice once it’s cooked), heat two tablespoons of the butter and a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion until translucent, about three minutes. Season with salt and pepper (and a few red pepper flakes, if you like). Add the rice and stir to coat each grain with butter. Next, begin adding liquid, one half cup at a time, starting with the wine. Stirring constantly, let the liquid simmer until it has evaporated almost completely, about three minutes per addition. Continue adding liquid, stirring and evaporating until thre rice is cooked through and creamy, about 20 minutes after the first addition of liquid.

Meanwhile, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat for the green chili sauce. Saute the onion until translucent, about three minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the green chili and continue to saute for another two or three minutes. Add the white wine and let simmer until reduced by half, or until there is a good amount of liquid to create a sauce for the rice.

Once the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the Parmesan and remaining tablespoon of butter and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Spoon onto a plate and cover with the green chili and white wine sauce.

Considering we had really no idea what we were doing when going into this, it turned out awesome. Billy was in charge of make the sauce since he was the one that devoured the version we had at the restaurant. It was spot on, let me tell you. The flavors from both the green chili and the wine really went well together and added a ton of flavor to the risotto. The green chili wasn’t overpowering, but it added so much flavor to the dish as a whole. I think the sauce would go great on any type of plain rice (or other grain, like quinoa) as a flavor enhancer. Plus…if you live in New Mexico, green chili has to be a part of every meal and this is certainly a new way to do it!

 

Chicken Tikka Masala

One of the things I’ve loved most since becoming a part of the blogging community is meeting other foodies and getting great ideas from all you wonderful cooks out there. Carrie over at Our Life in Food posted a few weeks ago about an Indian dish her and her husband tried. Her picture literally made my mouth water and I put it on our menu the very next week. Chicken Tikka Masala will most definitely be a frequent rotation in our weekly menu from now on…thanks Carrie!

Before trying this, I don’t think I had ever had “real” Indian food. I pretty much knew what kind of spices go into Indian dishes, and this tasted pretty much exactly like what I would imagine an Indian curry dish tasting like — only minus curry powder. It was thick and creamy and made for a perfect sauce to serve over rice.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized chunks
– 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (this is for garnish only, we left it out)
Marinade
– 6 oz. yogurt
– 2 tsp ground cumin
– 2 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
– 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
– salt and pepper
Sauce
– Olive Oil
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
– 2 tsp ground cumin
– 2 tsp paprika
– salt and pepper
– 1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
– 3/4 cup heavy cream

Keep in mind that the chicken should marinade for about an hour, so keep that in mind when you’re thinking about preparing this dish.

In a bowl large enough to hold the chicken, combine the yogurt, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, ginger and salt and pepper. Add the chicken and mix well, making sure to coat each piece of chicken with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan or high sided skillet and saute, over medium-high heat, the garlic and jalapeno for about one minute. Add the cumin, paprika and salt and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute. Next, add the tomato sauce and cream. Stir well to combine, bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer. Simmer the mixture for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the marinade, heat a medium-sized skillet over medium heat and cook the chicken until browned on the outside and cooked through on the inside, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken to the simmering sauce and stir to coat. Serve over rice.

This was amazingly delicious. Although, it was pretty dang spicy (yes, even for two New Mexican’s), but so, so good. It was creamy, spicy and extremely flavorful. It was perfect over rice and paired really well with cauliflower. All the different spices and flavors came out in every bite, but didn’t overpower the flavor of the tomato-based sauce. This will for sure be something we make often…and will hopefully inspire us to try other Indian dishes.

For the original recipe, visit Carrie’s blog (and while you’re there, make sure to check out her other recipes!).

Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto

We love risotto. It’s a lot of work for a typical meal, but the results are always well worth it. One of the great things about risotto is that there are so many flavor options and Giada de Laurentiis’ variation is a perfect example. The natural sweetness of the squash combined with the vanilla gives the risotto a whole new flavor base that you wouldn’t expect for a normally (very) savory dish.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
– 1 large vanilla bean
– 3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
– 3 tablespoons butter
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 1 cup Arborio rice
– 1/2 cup white wine
– 1/2 Parmesan cheese
– salt and pepper

This recipe is ultra easy because there’s no extra pots for cooking meat or anything else that you add to the actual rice. Like all risotto, you want to start by heating the broth — bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer and let it hang out while you’re cooking.

You’ll want to add the vanilla bean to the broth right away. Cut it in half, scrape out the seeds and put everything in the broth. The big difference here is that you’ll cook the squash in the broth, so once it comes to a boil add the squash and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the squash is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the squash from the liquid and set aside. Leave the heat on the broth in order to keep it at a warm temperature.

Meanwhile, in a pot (or pan) large enough to cook all the rice in, heat two tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Saute the onion with salt and pepper until tender and see-through, about three minutes. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat all the grains with butter. Next, add the first batch of liquid — the wine. Stirring constantly, let the wine simmer until it has evaporated almost completely, about three minutes. After the liquid has evaporated, begin adding the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, letting it evaporate almost completely before each addition. Make sure to continue stirring throughout the cooking process. Continue adding liquid and letting it evaporate until the rice is tender, but still a little firm, and creamy, about 20 minutes after adding the wine.

Once the rice is cooked, turn the heat off and stir in the Parmesan cheese, cubed squash and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.

I absolutely loved this variation on risotto. Billy…not so much. The sweetness of the squash and vanilla added a hint of sweet to this normally savory dish, but Billy seemed to think it was overpowering. I thought it was perfect. It was a great meal for a fall day — not to mention that it made the house smell delicious. The one thing I didn’t like about the dish were the cubes of squash. I would have rather pureed them or just left them out completely because the flavor that was left in the broth was enough for the whole dish. An alternative to the over-sweetness that Billy tasted could be to leave out the vanilla…maybe that’s a test for the future.

This recipe can be found in Giada’s latest book, Giada’s Kitchen, or on the Food Network Web site. Even though Billy wasn’t a huge fan of the dish, I highly recommend it for anyone who loves risotto!

Baked Stuffed Chicken Breast

I must have really been feeling sick when I decided to take tips from Rachel Ray (no offense to you Rachel lovers out there, but I just can’t stand the lady), but I followed through with it anyway. During the week I spent stuck to the couch, I saw a lot of Rachel Ray on Food TV and I have to admit…sometimes her food looks good.

In one of the 9 million episodes they air throughout the day, she made what she called “chicken cordon bleu” (but it so wasn’t) in which she stuffed a chicken breast with a blue cheese, spinach and arugula mixture, wrapped it in bacon and baked in the oven. I usually am not a fan of food wrapped in bacon, but I couldn’t get the idea of a cheese, spinach and arugula stuffing out of my head. So, I asked Billy his opinion and we decided to do a spin-off of Rachel’s chicken.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 2 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
– about 1/2 cup goat cheese (or any crumbly-type cheese you prefer)
– 1/2 cup each spinach and arugula, chopped
– salt and pepper
– Panko (or regular) bread crumbs

Prepare the stuffing by combining the cheese, spinach and arugula. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using a paring knife, cut a slit into the fat portion of the breast. Then, using your fingers, make the slit bigger without busting through the sides or bottom of the meat. Start stuffing the chicken, about one teaspoon at a time, until you get the desired amount of the cheese mixture in each breast. Finally, cover the outside of the chicken breast with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until cooked through.

This wasn’t the best chicken we’ve ever made, but it wasn’t bad for something we just threw together from an idea we had (thanks, Rachel). The stuffing mixture was interesting. The arugula really overpowered the spinach, and even the goat cheese — I think this would have been the case even in the original recipe. Aside from that, the filling was pretty good and paired well with the chicken. I love the texture of goat cheese, and it really held up through the cooking process. The crunchyness from the panko bread crumbs was a great addition to the dish as well. I’m not sure that we’d make it again, but it might be worth it to try a few other combinations.

Mother-in-Law Party Mix

There are few things that I will say someone makes better than my mom, but this is one of them. The first time I had the famous chex mix was the Christmas of 2005. I arrived at Billy’s parents house a few days after Christmas, not knowing his family that well, but I quickly learned that my mother-in-law makes the best chex mix ever. She makes it for pretty much every event, and it always disappears (usually eaten by me and my father-in-law). So, when we decided we were having a Halloween party, I knew I had to make it.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 4 cups rice chex cereal
– 4 cups wheat chex cereal
– 2.5 to 3 cups Cheerios
– 1 can (16 oz.) peanuts
– pretzels
– 3 sticks butter, melted
– 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp garlic salt

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. You’ll want to use a large aluminum pan or a large turkey roasting type pan that will hold everything.

Combine the chex, Cheerios, peanuts and pretzels and mix together well. Next, add the Worcestershire sauce and garlic salt to the butter, stirring well to combine. Pour the butter mixture over the cereal mixture and stir to coat everything. Bake for one hour at 250 degrees, stirring well every 15 minutes.

For Halloween, we decided to replace the pretzels (our least favorite ingredient) with festive colored M&M’s — only we added them after the baking was done. I thought adding something sweet to the mix was pretty good, but definitely not the same. Billy didn’t like it. Either way…still the best party mix you’ll ever have. I’m not sure if it’s the butter, the Worcestershire sauce or the garlic salt, but something about this mix is amazing. Eating bagged chex mix isn’t even an option anymore…thanks Linda.