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.

Asian Salmon with Sauteed Carrots and Leeks

Since we’ve been trying to eat healthier, we’ve found that making healthy foods doesn’t mean skimping on flavor. The recipe for Asian style salmon from The New American Plate is a perfect example. It’s got all the great flavors that you would find in many Asian dishes without frying or using other unhealthy cooking methods.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 1/2 cup soy sauce (the recipe calls for reduced sodium, but if you have “regular” on hand, that will work too)
– 1/4 cup lemon juice
– 1 tbsp Chinese hot mustard
– 1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice
– 1 lb salmon (4 fillets)
– canola oil
– 2 small carrots, julienned
– 1 leek (white part only), julienned
– 1 cup chicken broth
– 1 tsp sesame oil
– 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

This recipe is really easy, but be prepared to wait about an hour while the salmon marinades before you do any cooking. Combine 1/4 cup of the soy sauce, the lemon juice, mustard and five-spice powder in a resealable plastic bag. Mix together, then add the salmon fillets. Coat well and let marinade in the refrigerator for an hour, turning once.

Preheat the broiler (if your broiler is built in to your oven, make sure to put a baking sheet inside to warm it as well).

Meanwhile, heat a skillet on the oil over medium-high heat and saute the carrots and leeks until tender, about five minutes. Add the broth, the remaining soy sauce and the sesame oil and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed, 10 or 15 minutes. The salmon will take about 10 minutes per inch of thickness, so you can probably start it right after adding the liquid to the pan. Place the fillets on the heated baking sheet (or broiler pan) four inches from the heat and cook until it begins to flake apart, 10 to 15 minutes based on the thickness.

This was seriously one of the easiest meals to make. It only took 15 minutes (minus the marinading time) and you wouldn’t even know it…it tasted like we slaved over the stove for hours. All the flavors of the soy sauce, five-spice and mustard really penetrated the meat of the salmon. The veggies stayed nice a crunchy, but also had great Asian flavors. We also cooked up some plain white rice, which made it feel like we were really in a Chinese restaurant. This dish is for sure a do-over…especially for us since we love Chinese food.

You can find the recipe in The New American Plate Cookbook, which I highly recommend. Every recipe we have made from this book has been really tasty, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re all really good for you!

Grilled Chicken with Garlic-Herb Dressing

Do you ever grill chicken and think that it’s just missing some flavor? When it comes to grilling meats, sometimes it seems like there’s only a few flavor options. The first person that comes to mind when trying to solve a grilling dilemma is Bobby Flay. But that’s not where we turned for this delicious grilled chicken recipe. From now on, I think it’s going to be difficult to have grilled chicken without Tyler Florence’s garlic-herb dressing.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 1 or 2 heads garlic, cut in half horizontally
– salt and pepper
– 1/2 cup olive oil, plus 2 tbsp
– 2 whole thyme springs, plus the leaves from 6 sprigs
– the juice of 2 lemons
– 1 small bunch fresh parsley
– 1 whole chicken (or any combination of chicken pieces you prefer), cut into 10 pieces

Before you can do anything with this recipe, you have to roast the garlic. This is going to take at least 30 minutes, so make sure you account for the extra time it takes to get everything prepared. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To roast the garlic, place the halved head(s) face-up on a large piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and add two whole thyme sprigs to the top. Fold up the aluminum foil to make a little packet and throw in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the cloves are golden brown and soft.

Once the garlic is done, squeeze all the cloves out of the skin into a food processor. Also add the olive oil, lemon juice, thyme, and parsley and puree until you get a smooth, thick vinaigrette-type dressing. Now you’re ready to grill! About halfway through the cooking (after about 20 minutes) start basting the chicken with the dressing. The outside of the chicken will caramelize a little and get a result in a great crusty, crispy skin.

This was seriously the best grilled chicken I have ever had in my life. Once we took it off the grill, we added a little more of the dressing for an added flavor boost. I’m not sure that it needed it, but it sure made it tasty! The flavors of the garlic, lemon and herbs really came through in every bite of chicken…not just the skin (although the skin was the best part). The skin was nice a crispy, but not burnt, and the meat was nice and tender and juicy. I said it last time we made a Tyler Florence recipe and I’ll say it again — it’s called Tyler’s Ultimate for a reason! The deliciousness of this chicken is unexplainable. Period.

You can find the recipe in Tyler’s latest book, Tyler’s Ultimate, or on the Food Network Web site. And I highly recommend you find the recipe and try it out. You won’t be disappointed!

Carrot Cinnamon Dog Treats

I’ve been in the baking mood lately and I’m not sure why…I’m typically not a baker. Never the less, I thought it was only right to let Kramer share in the goodness that is baking. I know you’re probably thinking that I’m nuts, but this isn’t the first time we’ve made our dog treats (I know, that makes me look even more nuts). He loves homemade treats — and they’re better for him than most anything we could get at the store. We get all our dog treat recipes from a nutritional guide and cookbook specifically for dogs called Better Food for Dogs. It’s a great book and has really helped us learn about the specific nutritional needs for dogs. On the plus side, Kramer loves the finished products of everything in this book (we haven’t tried the meals, just the treats).

One of Kramer’s favorite treats from the book are the carrot cinnamon“cookies.” (Sometimes they smell so good in the oven that I’ve thought about trying them myself — I’ve refrained though.)
Here’s what you’ll need:
– 4 cups whole wheat flour
– 1/2 cup cornmeal
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1 cup chopped carrots
– 1/2 cup water
– 2 tbsp canola oil
– 2 tbsp honey
– 1 egg
– 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Baking dog treats isn’t any different than baking human cookies…believe it or not. First you’ll combine the dry ingredients — the flour, cornmeal and cinnamon — in a small bowl. Next, combine the carrots, water, oil, honey, egg and vanilla in a food processor and puree until smooth. Pour the carrot puree over the dry ingredients and stir until well incorporated.

Leaving the mixture in the bowl, kneed with your hands until the dough starts to hold together on its own (you may need to add more water). Once a dry dough is formed, transfer to a lightly floured surface and roll out until it’s about 1/8 inch thick. Use a fork to poke holes all over the dough, then cut into bite-sized pieces based on the size of your dog (you can either use cookie cutters or a pizza cutter). Place the pieces about 1/2 inch apart on a baking sheet. Depending on the size of your dog, you’ll end up with a ton of treats.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until firm. Let cool completely (still on the baking sheet), lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes or until the treats are hard (you want them to be crunchy, just like you would find in the store). Transfer the treats to a cooling rack and let cool completely before serving or storing.

Kramer would do anything for one of these “cookies.” He loves them and we love giving them to him because we know they’re healthy and we know exactly what goes into them. Baking for a dog sounds like a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it — and it’s also kind of fun! If you love your four-legged friends as much as we love ours, I would recommend that you pick up a copy of Better Food for Dogs and try out one of the cookie recipes yourself. If you’re a dog-treat baker, drop a line and let me know about some of your favorite recipes!

P.S. For a lower-fat version of this recipe, substitute the 2 tbsp. oil for 2 extra tablespoons water. Also, if you have a small dog you might want to consider cutting the recipe in half. The finished treats only last about a month and the recipe makes a lot of cookies. Another option is to freeze half the dough and bake it off another time.

Chicken with Saffron Cream Sauce

Saffron is an expensive spice, but it’s worth the price because it lasts forever (and it’s flavor, of course). Giada De Laurentiis’ chicken scallopine with saffron cream sauce is, in my opinion, a perfect way to showcase the great flavor of saffron without overpowering the whole dish. We’ve made this dish many times, and I think it gets better every single time.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 1 lb chicken cutlets (we usually use two boneless, skinless breasts and pound them out so they’re nice and thin)
– olive oil
– salt and pepper
– 2 shallots, chopped
– 1 clove garlic, minced (we almost always use more than a clove, but that’s just personal preference)
– 1/2 cup white wine
– 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
– 1/4 tsp (a generous pinch) saffron threads
– 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

This is jokingly called “10 minute chicken” in our house because each step takes about 10 minutes, but apparently Billy doesn’t know how to read ahead and realize that there’s more than one step that takes 10 minutes and decides to tell me to start the side dishes 20 minutes too early. Anyway, that’s beside the point.

The first thing you’re going to do is cook the chicken. Heat the olive oil (enough to keep the chicken from sticking) in a skillet over high heat. While the pan is heating, season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot drop the chicken as quickly as you can, using a spatter guard to keep the oil from getting everywhere (including all over you). Cook the chicken until golden brown on each side and cooked completely through — 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the pan and cover with foil to keep warm.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the shallots and garlic to the pan (you might need to add a bit more oil) and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the wine to the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits of the bottom of the pan. Bring the wine to a simmer and cook until it’s almost evaporated completely, about (you guessed it) 10 minutes. Next, add the chicken broth and saffron threads. Bring to a simmer again and let reduce for (another) 10 minutes — it will reduce by at least half. Add the cream, season with salt a pepper and let simmer for a minute or two in order for the flavors to combine. Pour the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with parsley and you’re done!

We usually serve the chicken over rice because the rice soaks up the extra sauce and makes it extra delicious. Cooking the chicken over high heat gives it a little bit of a crust but helps lock all the moisture in. The sauce soaks into the chicken (and the rice) and all the wonderful flavors of the shallots, garlic and saffron permeate throughout the dish. Yum.

This recipe can be found in Giada’s latest book, Giada’s Kitchen, or on the Food Network Web site.

Blue Corn Pancakes

I’m pretty sure blue corn pancakes are a Navajo tradition (at least certainly a New Mexico/southwestern thing). I’ve never tried them, but I’ve always been intrigued. There’s supposedly a restaurant in Santa Fe that has really great blue corn pancakes — they’ve even been featured on Food Network. Well, over the weekend I decided to try my luck at this Navajo tradition.

My go to guy for all things Southwestern (at least the one’s I’ve never tried) is Bobby Flay. I used his recipe for blue corn pancakes from his Mesa Grill cookbook, making a few minor changes. Bobby’s recipe includes an orange honey butter and cinnamon maple syrup, but I decided to make the pancakes only.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup blue corn (meal)
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 2 tsp salt
– 1/4 sugar
– 2 eggs
– 1 1/2 cups milk
– 2 tbsp butter, melted

Bobby’s recipe calls for blueberries, but I left them out (I did add some pine nuts to a few of the pancakes, though). If you’re going to use blueberries, or another kind of berry, fold one cup into the batter just before cooking.

Like almost all baking, combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, adding the milk and melted butter and whisk until combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Make sure not to over mix the batter, otherwise you’ll end up with flat pancakes (there should be some lumps in the batter).

Heat a non-stick griddle or large pan over medium-high heat and melt a small amount of butter before ladling the first pancake. Each pancake should be about 1/4 of a cup (or one ladle full) and will cook about one or two minutes on the first side and 30 seconds to one minute on the second side. You’ll know when they’re done based on the color (I’m sure you’ve all made pancakes before…). Keep the finished pancakes warm while continuing to cook by placing them in a 200 degree oven.

Blue corn pancakes…seriously? Amazing. While the taste wasn’t really very different from regular pancakes, you notice it in the texture. They’re still fluffy, but they’re a bit more dense and they have larger grains of corn meal (sort of like a corn muffin). I am a huge fan of pine nuts, but this is one dish I really didn’t like them in. Next time I would either add berries (I knew Bobby called for them for a reason!) or leave them plain. Other than that, no complaints here! I will most definitely be making these again and again, and I would suggest you try them too! As a plus, you can freeze the extra pancakes and they heat up pretty well.

I was able to find a recipe for Bobby’s blue corn pancakes on the Food Network Web site, but it’s a little different from the one in his Mesa Grill cookbook. Whatever recipe you use, I’m sure they’ll turn out delicious!

Pan Fried Halibut

There’s really only so many ways you can cook fish, but I find that the application and the sauce make all the difference in the world. Since Billy is trying some fish for the first time lately, I’ve been trying to come up with some ways to make the “fish” taste less noticeable. In my opinion, sauce is one of the best ways to do that.

Last week, we drenched a nice piece of halibut in some flour than seared/fried it in a pan over medium-high heat. This created a nice crust without being too unhealthy, plus it was the perfect vehicle for a nice lemon butter sauce. The halibut took about 15 minutes to cook all the way through, but it was a pretty thick fillet. We let each side get a nice brown color to it before flipping.

Here’s what you’ll need for the sauce:
– 2 tbsp butter
– 1 shallot, diced
– 2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
– salt and pepper
– 1/2 cup white wine
– the juice of 1/2 a lemon
– about 1/4 cup heavy cream

This is a really simple sauce, and it’s great on any kind of fish (we also like to put it on rice or quinoa for a little extra flavor). Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the shallots the the pan and saute until they start to turn translucent, about two minutes. Add the garlic to the pan and let it and the shallots sweat out and cook through. Season with salt and pepper. Next, add the wine and lemon juice to the pan, bring to a simmer and let it reduce by half, about five minutes. Finally, add the cream to the pan, a little at a time (you might not use the entire quarter-cup). I usually let the cream mix in with everything and decide by how the sauce looks whether or not I want to add more. And…that’s it! Spoon the sauce over the fish and you’re good to go!

The crust on the halibut was awesome. It gave the outside of the fish a perfect crunch, but also helped keep the fish nice and moist inside. The sauce really complimented the fish well, giving it the perfect amount of lemon flavor as well as a little texture and crunch from the shallot. We decided to give quinoa another shot, and this time it turned out really good. We used a full two cups of chicken stock to cook it, rather than half stock-half water like last time (thanks for the tip, Jenn!). It’s a great alternative to rice, and also soaked up the sauce really well…definitely a good combination!

Shrimp Curry

Lately, Billy and I have been paying extra attention to what we eat. Not necessarily to make big changes in our diet, but to be aware of what we’re eating and to try to stay on a healthy track. My opinion has always been, if you’re cooking it…it’s probably a lot healthier than going out to eat. Which is true, for the most part. But, I decided to go out and buy a few healthy-eating cookbooks anyway to make sure that we are actually on the right page.

We made this shrimp curry recipe that’s featured in a book by the American Institute for Cancer Research called The New American Plate. The book is awesome! It’s more than a cookbook, actually. It’s got a pretty long introduction section that explains why American’s are more unhealthy and overweight than ever. It also explains how to prepare a “proper” meal with the right portions of meats and veggies. Anyway, the shrimp curry recipe was really good, and can easily be altered to include the meats and veggies you like most.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 1 tbsp cornstarch
– 2 tsp curry powder (or more if you like)
– 1/2 tsp sugar
– 1 tbsp (reduced-sodium) soy sauce
– 3/4 cup chicken broth
– 3 tsp oil (the recipe calls for canola or peanut, two of the healthiest oils, but whatever you have on hand is fine)
– 8 asparagus spears, cut into one inch pieces
– 1 bell pepper, diced
– 1/4 lb (about 20) sugar snap peas strings on both edges removed
– 2 tsp peeled ginger, minced
– 1 large garlic clove, minced
– 3/4 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (the frozen package will do)
– rice or noodles

The first thing you’ll do is prepare the curry sauce. To do this, combine the cornstarch, curry powder and sugar in a bowl and whisk together. Next, add the soy sauce and combine, then add the chicken broth and give it one final whisk. Set the mixture aside.

In a wok or high-sided skillet, heat 1 tsp of the oil over very high heat. Add all of the veggies (including the ginger and garlic) to the pan and saute until everything had turned bright, about two minutes. (If you like any of the veggies cooked through a little more, add those to the pan first.) Remove from the pan and set aside.

Heat the remaining oil (2 tsp) in the same pan, still over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook on each side until they turn pink, about one minute per side. Return the veggies to the pan and pour in the curry sauce (stir it up if it’s separated a little). Bring to a boil and simmer for about two or three minutes until the shrimp is cooked through and the sauce thickens.

Shrimp Curry over Udon Noodles

Shrimp Curry over Udon Noodles

You’d never know this is a “healthy” meal. While we were cooking, I kept thinking, “This isn’t any different from a normal night for us….” Which is, of course, a good thing considering we’re trying to make sure to eat healthy meals. The biggest difference we did notice is the proportion of veggies compared to the shrimp. But, according to the book, your plate should be 2/3 veggies and starches and 1/3 meat…so I guess that’s how all recipes from this book will be. No big deal, really.

But really, the shrimp were so tender and all the veggies were perfectly cooked — still crunchy and fresh, but cooked enough to not have that raw taste. The curry sauce was so flavorful, and the Udon noodles we made on the side sopped it up nicely. I think next time we make it I would add more curry powder for a little extra flavor and maybe change up the veggies. But overall, a really great dish.

P.S. I also highly recommend The New American Plate Cookbook. It’s so informative and all of the recipes look really tasty. Plus, all of the nutritional information for the dishes is right there.

Mexican Chicken Creation

We’ve been looking for new recipes lately, and this was pretty much us just throwing stuff together and hoping it turned out okay. The idea actually came from a dish that Billy used to get at some Mexican restaurant in Colorado Springs…and it actually turned out pretty damn good! It’s basically some bone-in chicken breasts with a sauce made from tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and chipotle peppers.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– Bone-In Chicken Breasts (one per person)
– 1 onion, diced
– 2 bell peppers, cut into strips
– 1 can stewed tomatoes
– 1 or 2 chipotle peppers, finely chopped, plus adobo sauce
– 1 serrano pepper, finely chopped

Using a high-sided skillet, the first thing you want to do is brown the chicken breasts to get a crispy skin and to lock the juices in. Throw them in a hot pan with a little oil for a few minutes on each side, you’ll know when to turn them when they’re no longer sticking to the pan. Once browned on both sides, remove from the pan and set aside.

Next, saute the onions in the same pan (adding more oil if necessary) until translucent. Next, add the bell peppers and let them cook down, but not all the way through. Finally, add the tomatoes, serrano pepper, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Add the chicken back to the pan, lower the heat and cover the pan to let everything simmer for at least 45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

For making something up with nothing to go off of…this turned out pretty awesome! (All thanks to Billy, of course.) The entire dish had a bite to it, thanks to the serrano and chipotle peppers with adobo sauce, but was evened out by the acidity of the tomatoes. The smoked flavor of the adobo sauce gave the dish the familiar smokiness of classic Mexican dishes. The onions and bell peppers gave the dish a little crunch, while the tomato sauce was perfect for sopping up with some rice. This dish is definitely a do-over!

Butter Stuffed Shrimp on the Grill

Apparently we’ve been in a grilling mood. I guess we’re trying to catch up on all the grilling we didn’t do over the summer. At least the weather is still good. It takes a pretty good chef to be able to call your dishes “the ultimate,” but I think Tyler Florence has the chops. His book, Tyler’s Ultimate, has “the ultimate” recipe for everything. Let me tell you, his grilled shrimp with lemon-basil butter stuffing were amazing.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 1 stick butter, softened (make sure it’s not melted)
– a large bunch of fresh basil
– the juice of 1 lemon
– salt and pepper
– 16 large jumbo shrimp, shells on and split down the back

This recipe is really easy, but it takes some time to individually stuff each shrimp. We ended up with a really good system where one of us would put a drop of butter under each shell and the other would rub it around a bit. However it gets done, make sure you’re not shy with the butter because it gives the shrimp so much flavor. To make the butter, throw the softened stick, basil, lemon juice and salt and pepper into a food processor and puree until smooth. Stuff the butter under the shells of the shrimp, about a half a teaspoon for each shrimp.

Heat the grill over medium-high heat and spray with cooking spray so the shrimp don’t stick. Once the grill is hot, throw the shrimp on and don’t touch until they’re ready to flip, about three minutes. Baste them with more butter as they begin to cook, then flip. Baste again and let them cook through, about another three minutes. Simple as that!

Leaving the shells on the shrimp while they’re grilling gives them so much extra flavor, but nothing can top the amazing flavor from the lemon-basil butter. The shrimp had such a buttery flavor, but the flavors of the lemon and basil resonated throughout the meat of the shrimp. I’ve had grilled shrimp before, but there’s no doubt that these are truly the ultimate grilled shrimp.

Smoked Salmon

Well, sort of. Over the weekend, we found this smoke box attachment type thing made for a regular gas or charcoal grill that basically gives you all the great flavors of smoked food without the smoker. (There are other ways of doing this, such as cooking your food directly on a wood plank, but we had never seen a box made for wood chips.) The box is pretty small, about 10 inches long and one or two inches deep, but it fits right in between the burners on a gas grill. You fill it with wood chips that have been soaked for at least 30 minutes, set it on a pre-heated grill and let it heat up until the chips start to smoke. It’s really simple to use and the salmon came out extra delicious.

We used apple wood for our Atlantic salmon fillet (at the recommendation of Bobby Flay). We soaked the chips for 30 minutes in a cup with another cup set on top to hold them down. While the chips were soaking, we seasoned the salmon with salt, pepper, garlic powder and lemon zest and rubbed in a thin layer of olive oil so the fillet wouldn’t stick to the grill. Billy pre-heated the grill, I drained the wood chips and put them in an even layer in the smoke box then placed the box in between two burners on the grill. With the grill closed, the wood chips began to heat up and started smoke away. After about 10 minutes we could smell the apply goodness…it was time to put the salmon on the grill! Billy put the salmon, skin side down, on the grill, closed the top and let the smoke box do its thing.

When the salmon was about half-way cooked, Billy quickly flipped it (have to get those perfect grill marks!) then shut the grill again in order to keep as much smoke in the grill as possible.

The fish was amazing. It was cooked perfectly, thanks to Billy of course, and had a subtle smoked flavor. Conclusion about the smoke box experiment: awesome deliciousness! We thought that maybe letting the food cook low and slow may give it more of a traditional smoked flavor, but the box is perfect for infusing food with a great smoky flavor. We served the salmon with grilled zucchini and quinoa (instead of rice or potatoes).

This was also our first time trying quinoa. It was…interesting. The texture was pretty close to rice, but it had a small bite to it. It didn’t have much flavor on it’s own, but we tried to boost it up with some salt, pepper, chili powder and lemon zest. Definitely will be using it again, but will need more flavoring ideas…anybody have some they’d like to pass along?

Chicken Stir Fry

We don’t frequently make Chinese food at home, but when we do it always turns out pretty darn good (and probably a whole hell of a lot healthier). The few things that we have tried haven’t been very difficult either. The perfect example is stir fry…all you need is a bunch of veggies, some meet (which isn’t even necessary, really) and some noodles or rice. We use store-bought stir fry sauce to flavor it because we haven’t yet found a way to get the flavors correct without the sauce.

Here’s what we like to put in our Chinese stir fry: (I’m not putting any exact measures because you can put as much or as little of everything as you like…it’s all about preference when it comes to dishes like this.)
– chicken, steak or shrimp
– onions
– bell peppers
– snap peas
– baby corn (we use the canned kind because it’s a lot easier to find)
– watercress
– stir fry noodles (we usually find these in the produce section…weird, I know)
– rice

We usually cook the meat first then take it out of the wok (or pan) to cook all the veggies. Cook the meat in a very hot pan until it’s just about cooked all the way through (you don’t want it completely cooked so that when its added back at the end it doesn’t get over done) then remove and set aside. Keeping the pan very hot, add the onions and cook until the start to turn translucent. This won’t take very long since the pan is still hot from cooking the chicken. Next, add the bell peppers and let them cook down a little bit. Once the onions and peppers have cooked to the consistency you like, add the rest of the veggies to the pan (if you have mushrooms or anything else that needs to cook down, add those before adding the veggies that just need to be heated and not cooked). Once all the veggies are cooked through, add as much of the stir fry sauce as you like. Mix everything together and add the meat back into the pan, adding more sauce if necessary. Once the meat is heated and finishes cooking, you’re done!

We like to mix in some noodles, but you can simply just serve the stir fry mixture over rice and/or noodles. We love making this because it’s so easy, really tasty and a lot healthier (and cheaper!) than going out for Chinese food. Plus…you can make it any way you like, with any veggies and any meat that you prefer.

Sausage, Peppers and Onions

The great thing about sausage, peppers and onions is that everything is cooked in one pot and the only other thing you need to go with the meal is a good, hard roll or two. SPandO is a meal that I consider a “classic” Italian dish (I’m actually not sure if it really is classic or not, but it seems like it should be if it isn’t already). It’s got all of the classic Italian flavors — wine, tomatoes, meat and…wine. What makes it even better is that it’s really simple to make and it doesn’t take much effort at all.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– Olive Oil (for cooking the sausages)
– 1/2 to 1 lb Italian sausage (we like to use hot Italian turkey sausage)
– 1 to 2 bell peppers, sliced
– 1 onion, sliced
– salt and pepper to taste
– red pepper flakes
– 1/2 tsp dried oregano
– 1/2 cup fresh basil (or about 1/4 cup dried)
– 2 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
– 2 tbsp tomato paste
– 1/2 to 1 cup red wine
– 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes

The first thing you want to do is cook the sausages. Heat the oil over medium heat in a deep-sided pan large enough to hold everything and cook the sausages until brown on both sides, about 10 minutes. Once they’re cooked through, take them out of the pan and set aside until they cool down. Add the peppers and onions to the same pan (you might need more oil, depending on the kind of sausage you’re using) and cook them until they’re the consistency you like, anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. Finally, add the salt, pepper, red pepper, garlic and herbs and cook another 2 to 3 minutes (you want the garlic to cook down a little, but still keep a lot of it’s flavor).

Once all the veggies are cooked through, add the tomato paste, stirring to combine, then the wine and tomatoes. Make sure to scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan after you add the liquid. Bring the pan to a simmer. In the mean time, cut the sausages into smaller pieces, about 4 to 6 inches each. We like to cut them in half, then cut the halves in half length-wise (did that make sense?). Assuming the wine and veggies are simmering away, add the sausages back into the pan. Continue to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened to desired consistency. And…that’s it! Easy enough, right?

My favorite way to make an SPandO sandwich is to cut a tip off of a long roll then hollow it out, leaving a little bit of the middle inside the roll so that you have crust, but also yummy fluffyness inside. Stuff the hollowed out roll with plenty of sausage, peppers, onions and juices. The best part? You can use the bread that you took out to sop up more juice! Y-U-M.

P.S. This is a combination of recipes…my mom’s “famous” sausage, peppers and onions, and Giada de Laurentis. Clck here for Giada’s recipe.

Koussa

For those of you who don’t already know…Billy is half Arabic. As he got older and started taking an interest in cooking, he made a point to learn how to cook his great-grandma’s and grandma’s famous Arabic dishes. Let me tell you…it’s a good thing he did! This particular recipe probably isn’t something you would think of when you think of middle eastern cooking (if you really even think of it at all), but it’s worth trying and it dos have all of the traditional flavors of middle eastern dishes.

Koussa is basically squash stuffed with rice and lamb cooked in boiling water and tomato sauce.
Here’s what you’ll need:
– 2 to 4 Mexican squash (depending on how many people you’re serving — allow for one squash per person)
– 1 12 oz. can of tomato sauce
– 1 cup rice
– 1/2 lb. lamb, cut into small cubes (you can use any cut of lamb you prefer, but we find that the meat from the chop is the most tender)
– salt and pepper to taste
– A pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg
– 1 tbsp. butter, melted

This is a simple recipe actually, but not something you find every day. The first thing you want to do is hollow out the squash. Billy has a really old “tool” that his great-grandma used to use, but any type of zucchini corer (or even a knife or small spoon) will work fine. First, cut off the tip of the squash, but make sure to save it. Take out all the meat that’s inside, but make sure to keep enough flesh so the squash is stable and you won’t poke a hole through it, and discard. Next, rinse the rice with cold water and mix with lamb, butter, salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stuff the mixture into the squash until it’s about 3/4 of the way full. Make sure not to over-stuff or the rice won’t cook all the way. “Plug” the opening with the tip you cut off using two toothpicks to hold it in place and poke several holes in the body of the squash.

Place the stuffed squash (aka, koussa) in a large pot and cover with tomato sauce and water until completely submerged. Using a glass plate (or something else heavy), cover the squash in order to keep them completely submerged during cooking. Bring to a boil and let simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, the squash, rice and lamb will all be cooked to perfection! That’s it! Simple, right?

Koussa, like many middle eastern dishes, is traditionally served with plain yogurt as a sort of “dressing.” It took me a long time to try this — it just sounded kind of weird to me — but I was sorry I did. Using yogurt give everything a different texture and really helps it all come together. And contrary to what you might be thinking, you can’t even taste it. So, go ahead, give it a try…I promise you’ll like it!

Rolled Tacos with Mexican Rice

Sunday morning we were going about our weekend morning tradition of relaxing, cooking breakfast and watching Food Network when Paula Dean came on. I’m not usually a fan of Paula Dean (sorry Southerners), but Sunday was an exception. Well, sort of. Paula had a “guest chef,” that I had never heard of, on her show for some odd reason and she couldn’t stop mimicking her Mexican accent. Anyway, I digress. The guest, Patricia Jinich, made rolled tacos, salsa verde and Mexican white rice. Her taco filling was cooked in a red sauce, something I had never had before, and her rice was cooked with onions, celery, chili and lime juice. It all looked so delicious that we made our own that night.

The filling for the tacos called for boiled chicken, tomatoes, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves, onions, cream, and bread crumbs. Easy enough. While the chicken was boiling, we combined the tomatoes, cloves, peppercorns, and onion and pureed until smooth. Once the chicken was cooked through, we shredded it then combined it with the puree in a pan. The mixture simmered for about 10 minutes before we added the cream and breadcrumbs. Once the cream and breadcrumbs combined with the mixture, it was time to start rolling. Yum!

We heated the corn tortillas in a dry pan for about a minute until they were warm (this prevented them from cracking and falling apart when we rolled them together). We then put some of the chicken mixture (a few tablespoons) in the center of the tortilla, rolled it up, and fastened it with a toothpick. The tacos fried for about three to five minutes each (we did two at a time in our little fryer). And…that’s it! The tacos drained on a paper towel and were best while they were still hot.

The flavor of the sauce that the chicken cooks in is…different. Not bad different — really good different, actually. I’m not sure how to describe it really. It was tomato-y, but also had a lot of flavor from the cloves, bay leaves and peppercorns. It didn’t remind me at all of Mexican food at all, but it was so much better than any other taquitos I’ve ever tasted. We had three dipping “sauces” for them: regular red salsa, queso and guacamole. My personal favorite was the guac.

The rice cooked just like normal white rice except that we sauteed onions and the rice in the pan before adding liquid. Once the onions turned translucent and the rice turned bright white, we added the liquid, celery, chili, lime juice, and parsley. The rice simmered away and cooked to a lovely, fluffy, limy bowl of deliciousness.

Note: Sorry for my not so informative post. I feel odd writing about a recipe that’s not mine or at least a variation on something we learned from someone else. Nevertheless, the tacos was yummy and I hope you try them too!

Recipe Links: Click here for the rolled taco recipe and here for the Mexican rice recipe. (We didn’t do the fried plantains that the rice recipe calls for.)

Nanny’s Macaroni and Peas

Probably since the day I could chew food, my absolute favorite meal in the entire universe is my great-grandma’s macaroni and peas. I know what you’re thinking, “Macaroni and peas? What the hell is that and why is it so good?” Let me explain….

It’s nothing complicated or fancy. It’s basically a soupy pasta dish with some onions, tomato sauce, and peas. Literally. But the deliciousness of this dish is unlike anything I can describe, but I’ll try. It’s tomato-y, pea-y and full of old-fashioned Italian simpleness. The sauce is thin and watery, yet holds a lot of flavor.

I hesitate to give out the (not so) secret recipe, but I insist that everyone try this dish. So, here it is in it’s short entirety.
Here’s what you’ll need:
– 1 pound of some kind of small pasta (small is a must)
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 1 small can of tomato sauce
– 1 can Le Sueur peas, with juice (it is most certainly important that you use Le Sueur peas — trust me on this one)
– Salt, Pepper and Red Pepper flakes to taste

This will be one of the simplest dishes you ever make. First, saute the onions in a little olive oil until the become soft and translucent. Season them with the salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (you can omit the red pepper flakes if you prefer). Next, add the can of tomato sauce. Let this simmer away for a few minutes so the sauce has time to heat up and cook down a little. Then, add the peas and all their juices. Stir to combine then remove the pot from the heat and add water. You need enough water to boil the pasta, but not so much that it takes away the flavor of the tomato paste and peas. I usually determine how much water I want by the color of the sauce. My personal preference is for it to remain fairly red, but you can add as much water as you like. (A good way to determine how much water you want is to taste as you’re adding to decide how strong of a flavor you want.) Bring the water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook to al dente and serve right away. (That’s right ladies and gentlemen…no draining of the pasta water here!)

Billy likes to cook some sausage on the side, but I think that’s sabotage. (Secretly I think it’s pretty good, but still not right.) My great-grandma always makes breaded and fried chicken cutlets on the side. Either way, it is imperative that you have bread to dip in the sauce.

I literally could eat a whole pound of this in one sitting, and if you know me that never happens. While I don’t think my mac and peas will ever be as good as Nanny’s, they sure do come in a close second (sorry mom). I think they’d make her proud.

BTW, if you try this recipe, let me know how it turns out and what you thought of it! Since it’s one of my favorites, I’m always interested in other people’s opinions.

P.S. Don’t judge our heart-shaped bowls. 🙂