Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Perfect Pilaf

Good evening everyone!  The premise behind Chef Zakarian's latest book is that to create a delicious meal is lurking just inside your pantry.  He lists 50 readily available ingredients and creates a multitude of recipes from these.  One of these ingredients is long-grain brown rice.  While most of us serve it as an afterthought, Chef Zakarian uses it to create a filling, yet delicious meal, with some vegetable goodness.

The Recipe:  Brown Rice Pilaf
Original Recipe Found In:  Geoffrey Zakarian's My Perfect Pantry

What You'll Need:
1/4 Cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 Cup finely chopped Bell Pepper (green or red will do just fine)
1 Cup finely chopped Carrot
1 Cup finely chopped Onion
2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Teaspoons chopped fresh Oregano
2 Teaspoons chopped fresh Thyme
1 Cup long-grain Brown Rice
2 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock
2 dried Bay Leaves
1 Cup chopped Scallions (white and green parts)
2 Tablespoons unsalted Butter, cut into pieces

To start, place the oil in a medium-sized Dutch oven and heat over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the bell pepper, carrot and onion.  Cook these vegetables until they begin to soften, about seven to eight minutes.  Add the garlic, oregano, and thyme and cook until the fragrances release themselves, about one minute.

Next, add the rice and stir to coat with the ingredients in the Dutch oven, insuring the rice begins to toast in the oil, about two minutes.  Add the chicken stock and bay leaves and bring to a boil.  Once at a boil, bring the heat to a bare simmer, cover the Dutch oven, and cook until the rice is just tender, and still a little chewy, about 45 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and let sit, covered, for about ten minutes.

Uncover the pot and fluff the rice with a fork.  Add the scallions and the butter, stir to combine to melt the butter.  Once the butter is melted, remove the bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.  Serve and enjoy!

The End Result:

While it's hard to ignore all the beautiful colors in this dish, the rice remains the star.  Perfectly seasoned in chicken stock, it almost melts on your tongue with each bite.  But all the ingredients have taken on that stock flavor and have harmonized together.  While this dish might not be a week-night favorite (since it does take over an hour to cook,) it's something delicious to try using the resources that might be in your pantry!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bountiful (Meat-Free) Burritos

In the endless pursuit that is my obsession with Mexican food, I found this little gem.  While it may not be an overly complicated recipe and packed to the gills with meat, its simplicity won me over and what a delicious delight this dish turned out to be! 

The Recipe:  Cheesy Baked Bean and Rice Burritos
Original Recipe Adapted from a Recipe Found On:

What You'll Need:
1 (16 Ounce) can of Refried Beans
2 Tablespoons of jarred Salsa (your favorite will suffice)
1 Teaspoon packaged Taco Seasoning Mix
1 (10 count) package medium soft, taco-sized flour Tortillas
1 Cup prepared Mexican Rice
1 Cup shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 Cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese

To start, preheat an oven to 400 degrees and prepare a baking sheet by covering it with foil and top with non-stick cooking spray.  In a small mixing bowl, add the refried beans, taco seasoning, and salsa and thoroughly mix.  Set the bowl aside.

Warm the entire stack of tortillas in the microwave for 20 seconds, just to slightly warm them.  Place a tortilla on a cutting board and place a couple of tablespoons of the refried bean mixture in the center of the tortilla.  Next, layer a couple of tablespoons of the rice and finally top with some cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses.  Fold in both sides and then roll the tortilla up.  Place seam side down on the prepared baking sheet.  Continue the process with the remaining tortillas.  Coat the tops of the burrito with additional cooking spray.

Once all the burritos have been prepared, bake at 400 degrees for ten minutes.  Remove the baking sheet from the oven and using tongs, very carefully flip each burrito over to brown the other side.  Return the baking sheet to the oven for an additional five to ten minutes or until each sides has browned slightly.  Serve and enjoy!

The End Result:

I realize refried beans aren't the best to photograph after I took this picture!
If you are looking for a quick, simple, meatless Mexican dish to whip up, this recipe is for you!  Sometimes, it's nice to go au natural when creating a timeless dish.  This dish, packed with cheesy, protein-rich goodness is delightful, and never heavy.  If you want to serve with addition salsa or sour cream, be my guest.  But this one is best left alone and you will be rewarded!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Perfect Pulled Pork

Hello again everyone! Spring appears to have finally arrived in the midwest, as the past week has seen temperatures in the 50's, 60's and even 70's. As to be expected, the warm weather has brought the grills from the garage back to the patio - we've already fired ours up as well!

Yes, warm weather means grilling and BBQ, but the downside with these early spring days is that the temperature isn't consistently warm. So, what are you to do when you want great BBQ flavor but the outdoor temps aren't cooperating? Turn to the slow cooker, of course!

The Recipe: Barbecue Pulled Pork
Original Recipe Found in: Food Network Magazine (January / February 2015 Issue)

What You'll Need:

1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon Chili Powder
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Ground Mustard
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Allspice
1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
4 Pounds Boneless Pork Shoulder (Excess fat trimmed)
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 Onion (Chopped)
4 Cloves Garlic (Chopped)
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
2 Cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1/2 Cup Ketchup
1/4 Apple Cider Vinegar

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, ground mustard, allspice, cayenne pepper, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Once combined, rub this spice mixture all over the pork shoulder, making sure to get the spices into every crevice of the meat. Once completely covered, tightly wrap the shoulder in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for 1 to 4 hours (the longer the better - feel free to leave it for up to 8 hours, if you can).

Next, set a large skillet over medium high heat and add the vegetable oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the onion and garlic and cook until softened. Add a pinch of black pepper along with the tomato paste, chicken broth, ketchup and cider vinegar and a cup of water. Bring the mixture to a simmer and allow to thicken slightly.

Transfer the pork shoulder to a slow cooker, and cover with the BBQ sauce. Set the slow cooker to low and allow it slow roast for 5 to 7 hours. After the initial roast, use a part of tongs or forks (whatever you feel most comfortable with) to tear apart the pork. Serve on fresh buns with a pickle and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dessert for Breakfast? Yes, Please!

Need a brunch idea fast, but in not a lot of time?  These pancakes will be sure to delight and will make you crave for some more!

The Recipe:  Carrot Cake Pancakes
Original Recipe Found In:  Cooking Light 350 Calorie Dishes

What You'll Need:
5.6 Ounces All-Purpose Flour (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/4 Cup chopped Walnuts
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon freshly ground Nutmeg
Dash of ground cloves
Dash of ground ginger
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
3/4 Cup Low-Fat Buttermilk
1 Tablespoon Canola Oil
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2 Large Eggs, lightly beaten
2 Cups finely grated Carrot (about 1 pound)

To start, weigh or lightly spoon 5.6 ounces of flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife.  Combine the flour, walnuts, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger in a large mixing bowl.  Stir these ingredients with a whisk until well combined.  In a medium mixing bowl, add the brown sugar, buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, and eggs.  Thoroughly mix until all the ingredients have incorporated themselves.  Slowly pour the sugar mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just moist.  Fold in the carrot until it has incorporated itself into the batter.

Next, heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Coat the pan with cooking spray.  Once the pan has heated, spoon a 1/4 cup portion of the batter into the skillet, leaving room for three more pancakes.  Gently spread the batter, but don't overcrowd the pan.  Cook each pancake for two minutes or until the tops have begun to bubble and the edges look colored.  Very carefully turn the pancakes over and cook for another minute, or until lightly browned.  Repeat this procedure with the remaining batter.  Serve with butter and/or syrup or nothing at all and enjoy!

The End Result:

These little pancakes are the most decadent, moist pancakes you will ever meet!  The carrots will make it taste like carrot cake, and if you are a fan of it (but not the amount of time it takes to make it,) you will love these pancakes!  You will have to be very careful on latter batches of the pancakes, because they will cook very quickly, if you aren't watching.  The original recipe called to serve with the honey and butter, but I stuck with good ol' maple syrup and it tasted delicious.  You could serve it with a multitude of sweet toppings, or, like Tyler did, ate them by themselves and the delicious factor was still in place.  Give these pancakes a try, you will NOT be disappointed!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Carrots...Who Knew?

Good evening everyone!  Tonight, I introduce a new chef to our kitchen.  No, we're not adding another writer to the blog.  I'm talking about another influence to our cooking abilities.  Chef Geoffrey Zakarian might not be a household name, but if you are a fan of Food Network (especially the show Chopped,) the name you'll immediately recognize.  His old-school, traditional recipes definitely add a bit of style to the modern kitchen, but he has some true talent that cannot be overshadowed.  Tonight, I'll be showcasing one of those dishes and it will not disappoint!

The Recipe:  Roasted Carrots with Provencal Breadcrumb Crust
Original Recipe Found In:  Geoffrey Zakarian's My Perfect Pantry

What You'll Need:

2 Pounds Baby Carrots with tops, trimmed to leave a small tip of green at the top
1/4 Cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
2 Cups unseasoned Bread Crumbs
2 small Shallots, finely chopped
1/2 Cup chopped fresh Basil
1/2 Cup chopped Scallions, white and green parts
2 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 Cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

To start, preheat an oven to 375 degrees.  In a large pot, fill with water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the carrots to the boiling water and cook until just tender, about four minutes.  Drain the carrots in a colander and place in a ice bath.  Bring the carrots out of the ice bath and onto paper towels to pat dry.  In a large glass or ceramic baking dish, arrange the carrots in a single layer and drizzle with some olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Next, in a large mixing bowl, add the bread crumbs, shallots, basil, parsley, scallions, and garlic and throughly combine.  Season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle the mixture with olive oil and toss well with a fork to combine.

Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the carrots, so that that carrots are completely covered.  Sprinkle the cheese and drizzle with a bit more olive oil.  Place the baking dish in the oven and roast until the carrots are browned and the crumbs are crisp and golden, between 20 to 25 minutes.  Serve and enjoy!

The End Result:

Even though this recipe could call itself a "side dish", there's no dish that could call itself the main course over these carrots!  Once the carrots are nice and tender, the bread crumb topping just melts into the carrots.  There's a host of flavors that have added themselves nicely to this dish and makes it quite delectable.  While this does take a bit more time than my usual week night meals, it well definitely be worth it and you're eating healthy too!

Keep checking back for recipes that are sure to entice and get your mouth watering!  Until then,


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chickpea & Spiced Pita Soup

Hello again everyone! While the calendar may be creeping toward spring, the reality is, winter still has a vicious hold upon most of the region. While that is bad news for most things (the air HURTS YOUR FACE! Why do we live in a region where the air hurts you face?!) it does mean that soup season is still very much in place - which is always a welcome thing.

So, let's take full advantage of soup season by cooking up a healthy, filling and most importantly - warm - soup.

The Recipe: Chickpea Soup With Spiced Pita Chips
Original Recipe From: Food Network Magazine - January 2015 Issue

What You'll Need:

1/4 Cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
2 Stalks Celery (Chopped)
2 Carrots (Chopped)
1 Large Onion (Chopped)
2 x 15 Ounce Can Chickpeas (Drained, rinsed)
1 x 15 Ounce Can Diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes with Green Chiles
1 Tablespoon Cumin
1 1/2 Teaspoons Ground Coriander
2 Pocketless Pitas (In a pinch, pita pockets work as well)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Preheat your oven to 325.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion, celery and carrots along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies have softened.

Next, add 6 cups of water, the chickpeas, tomatoes, 2 teaspoons cumin, 1 teaspoon coriander and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture has thickened (this takes roughly 20 minutes). After 20 minutes, mash the chickpeas with the back of a large spoon - you don't have to mash them all or evenly completely mash them - just look to "break" them down a bit.

Meanwhile, slice your pita bread into wedges and toss them with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 teaspoon coriander and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread the wedges in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the wedges are golden brown and crispy (roughly 8 to 10 minutes).

Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice and top with the pita chips. Enjoy!

The Results:

This recipe is a perfect example of a symbiotic culinary relationship. On its own, the soup is a bit bland, with lackluster texture - while on their own, the pita chips are a bit pungent and a little intense - together, however, the two make a beautifully balanced soup that finds great harmony in both flavor and texture. In short, this is a tasty soup that keeps the calorie count low. Just don't skip the pita chips - you'll be sorry!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Steak, Onion, and Pepper - A Classy Dinner Move

Good evening everyone!  It's nice to add a bit of decadence to the standard evening meal.  There are numerous options when this is the case.  Nothing says it more than steak.  While the meat itself is pretty bland, the possibilities of how you serve it and what you serve it with is what defines it.  Tonight, I'll be creating a delicious steak, served with some veggie options that are out of the norm.

The Recipe:  Strip Steak with Onions and Poblanos
Original Recipe Found In:  Cooking Light, November 2014 Issue

What You'll Need:
2 (10 Ounce) New York Strip Steaks, trimmed
3/8 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 1/2 Tablespoons Sesame Oil, divided
1 (12 Ounce) Yellow Onion, cut into 12 wedges
2 Poblano Peppers, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch strips
4 Lime Wedges

To start, heat a large, cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  On a clean plate, position the steaks.  Sprinkle the steaks evenly with the paprika, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.  Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil to the pan and swirl to coat.  Carefully place the steaks to the pan and cook for four minutes on each side, or until desired degree on doneness.  Once cooked, remove the steaks from the pan on a cutting board, cover with aluminum foil, and let stand for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan swirl to coat once more.  Add the onion wedges and cook for two minutes on each side.  Make room in the pan and add the poblanos.  Saute the ingredients for four minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove the skillet from the heat, cover, and let stand for five minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  

Prepare a clean platter and arrange the onion mixture on top.  Remove the foil from the steak and cut the steak across the grain into thin slices.  Arrange the steak over the onion mixture and sprinkle with salt.  Serve with lime wedges and enjoy!

The End Results:

While the onions look a bit charred, trust me, it only adds more complexity to the dish.  The steak is cooked perfectly, while resting it gives it more juice that would be lost if it was cut into right after cooking.  The poblanos lost most of their heat while deseeding and cooking, which ended up being a a great pepper add in.  The lime juice (we used bottled) spritzed on the meat and veggies added a bright note to the ingredients.  Overall, a great, simple, and a hint of class dinner option that will leave you hungry for more.

That's all we have for you this week.  Continue to check back with great options to try in your kitchen.  Until then,