Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Nigella's Chocolate Fudge

Six months ago I joined up with I Heart Cooking Clubs to celebrate the wonderful and eloquent Nigella Lawson. Armed with my copy of Nigella Express, I was excited to get cooking and testing out Nigella's recipes. Right out of the gate, I loved Nigella's recipes and her style of writing. Cooking up one hit after another for my picky family, we grew to love her recipes. After thirty or so of Nigella's recipes, Nigella Express holds a very special spot on my cookbook shelf.

One of our family favorites is this recipe for Nigella's Chocolate Fudge. In Nigella Express, Nigella adds pistachios to her fudge, but my son is allergic to nuts so we omit them. This is just your standard recipe for fudge using condensed milk, but the entire family loves it and most importantly my son can eat it, therefore it makes us all happy.

Chocolate Pistachio Fudge
Adapted from Nigella Express
12 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (I use a bag of semi or milk chocolate chips)
(1) 14 oz. can condensed milk
pinch of salt
1 cup shelled pistachios (I omit these and sometimes sub dried fruit)
2 tablespoons butter

Melt the chopped chocolate, condensed milk, butter and salt in a heavy-bottomed pan on low heat. Put the nuts into a freezer bag and bash them with a rolling pin until broken up into both big and little pieces. Add the nuts to the melted chocolate and condensed milk and stir well to mix. Pour this mixture into a 9-inch square aluminum foil pan, smoothing the top. Let the fudge cool and then refrigerate until set. You can then cut into small pieces approximately 1-3/4 by 1-3/4 inches in size. Cutting 7x7 lines in the pan to give 64 pieces best achieves this. Once cut, you can keep it in the freezer, no need to thaw; just eat right away. Makes 64 pieces of fudge.

Notes/Results: This fudge is a family favorite. It is quick and easy to adapt to your taste. I love pistachios and I'm sure they would be wonderful, but we usually make the fudge plain. I have toyed with the idea of adding dried fruit, but haven't experimented with that just yet. Since we are celebrating Easter over at IHCC, I bought some cute little Easter cupcake holders, filled them with the fudge, and topped them with some cute little bunnies. My son is allergic to flour, eggs, nuts so he can't have a traditional cupcake. These little fudge cupcakes were the perfect treat for him (and the rest of the family too)!

Head on over to I Heart Cooking Clubs to see what everyone else cooked up for their Easter Basket.

This is the last week we are celebrating Nigella Lawson over at I Heart Cooking Clubs. Starting next week, we will be featuring the recipes of Mark Bittman. I'm looking forward to cooking my way through his recipes!!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Taco Night: Sauteed Potatoes with Chorizo and Creamy Poblano Pepper Strips

It was a busy weekend here at Stirring the Pot. One thing after another, you all know how that goes. We spent the bulk of the weekend getting two cars fixed and neither one ended up being right. My husband's work vehicle broke down Thursday night, spent Friday in the shop, ran fine for an hour or so and then broke down again on Saturday. We're crossing our fingers that they can get it right this time around. My car wasn't broken, but we had an appointment to have a leather seat replaced. The shop replaced the seat a different color! Sometimes I really wonder what goes on in people's heads. It seems like it is nearly impossible to get what you pay for these days and that is a shame.

Frustrated and famished, I cooked up two different types of taco fillings. The first was Sauteed Potatoes with Chorizo and the second was Creamy Poblano Pepper Strips (Rajas). Both recipes were featured on the new Food Network Show, Mexican Made Easy. I have to admit that I'm still not sure what I think of the show itself, but I have loved all three recipes I've tried so far.

The Sauteed Potatoes and Chorizo were super easy and delicious. You can find Marcela's recipe posted HERE on Food Network. Mexican chorizo is sauteed with onion and boiled red-skinned potatoes to make a delicious, easy and unique taco filling. The recipe makes a ton of food and is great the next morning as a filling in an omelet or folded into scrambled eggs. We really liked it!

The next recipe,and our favorite, is the Creamy Poblano Pepper Strips, also known as Rajas, found HERE on the Food Network website.

The recipe for Rajas begins by blackening six poblano peppers, steaming them, and removing both the skins and seeds. The peppers are cut into strips and added to a mixture of sauteed onion and corn. This dish is finished off by the addition of heavy cream, creme fraiche, and monterey jack cheese. This recipe is SO good! It is tasty on it's own, but is delicious in a corn tortilla. I made a few changes to the recipe which I will note below.

Notes/Results: Creamy, unique and delicious, the Rajas were our favorite. I made a few changes to the pepper and corn filling because I have a major aversion to creme fraiche and sour cream. I replaced the creme fraiche with cream cheese and found that my mixture was a little too dry, requiring more heavy cream (oh darn!). The poblano peppers aren't hot at all, but did add a nice mellow pepper flavor to the filling. Even my picky daughter liked the poblano pepper and corn filling. Tucked inside of some delicious corn tortillas, both fillings were delicious!

Warning: While both recipes are delicious, they do make a ton of food! Luckily we loved both recipes and have been happy to have them as leftovers throughout the weekend. Both recipes would be great for a larger family or a gathering. In fact, they were featured as part of a Mexican Cookout on Marcela's show.

P.S. I was so hungry I snapped the pictures as quick as I could and got busy eating! Sometimes it's so hard to stop and take the time to worry about getting good pics!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Winner of the Lush Giveaway!!

The winner of the Lush giveaway is.......................................

Krista over at Krista's Kitchen!! If you haven't had the chance, please head over and check out Krista's site. She is a sweetheart and has wonderful recipes!!

Congratulations Krista! I hope you and your girls enjoy the products:D

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rib-Sticking Stir-Fry

Last night was one of those crazy and chaotic nights with the kids. My eight year old was outside playing with the whole neighborhood and let me tell you, there are easily 50 kids in this neighborhood. Every child was out and about. The doorbell was ringing, there was constant knocking at the door, everyone was hungry and thirsty, everyone had a million questions, and each and every time I went to the door my three year old took the opportunity to make a mess or get himself into trouble. My evening consisted of cleaning up messes and answering the door, repeatedly. My husband has been gone for almost two weeks on business, so thank God that my Mom was over. She and I went so crazy with the kids that we got slap silly and started laughing. The doorbell rang so much that my Mom finally took a chair and sat by the door so she could answer it while I made dinner. I laughed as I heard her out there answering all of their silly questions with equally silly answers. It was good stuff.

With my three year old riding his bicycle in circles around my island in the kitchen, I made Nigella's Rib-Sticking Stir-Fry. It sure was a good thing that this recipe was quick and easy, requiring absolutely no attention whatsoever. I whipped it up in about ten minutes and Mom and I sat down to eat with the blaring noise of Hungry Hungry Hippo in the background. As the hippos slammed loudly against the gameboard we discussed how we really enjoyed this meal. It was a funny evening and we were nearly crying with laughter at the sheer chaos.

I'd been looking forward to the day I got to try this recipe. Nigella's Rib-Sticking Stir-Fry is served with cannellini beans in place of rice. As a bean lover, I was very excited to try this meal.

Rib-Sticking Stir-Fry
Adapted from Nigella Express
Serve 2
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (you can use just a tad of oil if using a nonstick wok)
10 oz. chicken or turkey breast fillet, cut into 1-1/2 inch x 1/4 inch strips
4 cups chopped stir-fry vegetables (from a package)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Chinese cooking wine (I used chicken broth)
1 (14 oz) can cannellini beans, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

Heat the oil in a wok, and over fairly high heat add the chicken or turkey strips and toss them about to color. Once the meat has seared, add the vegetables and toss around again until beginning to soften, ten add the soy sauce and the wine. The soy will help the meat strips bronze beautifully. Once the heat is back up and sizzling, add the beans and toss everything about to mix before tipping onto two plates. Sprinkle with the herb and serve straight away.

Notes/Results: I added a few things to this recipe: one minced shallot; two good-sized cloves garlic, minced; and one teaspoon hot pepper flakes. Mom and I don't like to eat a lot of meat sometimes, so I just used one chicken breast for the entire recipe. We were craving vegetables, so I used an entire package of frozen Asian Medley Veggies (carrot sticks, baby corn, broccoli, sugar snap peas). I was a little short on 4 cups of veggies, so I added a cup of an edamame mix I had in the freezer. I wanted to garnish the meal with crushed peanuts or cashews, but there just wasn't any time for that. Maybe next time. Next time? Yes, there will definitely be a next time! This is an extremely quick and easy meal that goes together in record time. Healthy, quick, easy, delicious, very filling and a little spicy from the pepper flakes. I was impressed and will definitely be making this meal quite a bit. In fact, if I had the ingredients on hand, I would make it for dinner again tonight!

This is our last potluck round with Nigella over at I Heart Cooking Clubs. We have one more week with Nigella and then we will be cooking with a new chef for the next six months. Head on over to I Heart Cooking Clubs to check out this week's potluck roundup and vote for the next chef!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cook the Books: Easiest Ever Chicken Mole Enchiladas

Like water for chocolate is part love story, part fantasy and a whole lot of food. It is a tale of true love, family traditions and family secrets. Tita and Pedro are madly in love, but they are forbidden to marry because Tita is bound by family tradition, as the youngest child, to take care of her mother. Tita's mother is a force to be reckoned with and forbids Tita to marry Pedro. In an act of desperation, and also to remain close to Tita, Pedro asks for the hand of her oldest sister. Heartbroken, Tita stands by as the love of her life marries her sister.

Tita, who was born into the kitchen, puts all of her love and emotions into her food, preparing elaborate meals. Her food is magical, illicting powerful emotions to those who eat her meals.

A tragic love story with magical food, Like Water For Chocolate, was a great read.

Inspired to make a recipe containing chocolate, I had my heart set on making Mole. I found the perfect recipe while watching the new Food Network show, Mexican Made Easy with Marcela Valladolid. Her Easiest Ever Chicken Mole Enchiladas looked amazing and take only one hour. I was instantly sold on making this recipe.

Marcela's Mole is about as quick and simple as they come. The sauce begins with 5 dried ancho chiles which are reconstituted in hot water for 15 minutes. While the chiles are reconstituting, grill two corn tortillas until crisp and crumble into pieces. In a saute pan, saute one and a half onions (chopped) and 2 cloves of garlic (minced) until translucent. Transfer seeded chiles, crisp corn tortillas, onions, garlic, one tablespoon of sugar, 3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter, 1-3/4 cups chicken broth, and one teaspoon oregano to a blender and blend until smooth. Add sauce back to saute pan and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in 5.5 ounces of Mexican chocolate (Ibarra preferred) and season with salt and pepper. (Here is a picture of the Ibarra Mexican chocolate. I was expecting it to be bittersweet, but you can actually see how crystallized it is with sugar. It has a cinnamony bite and is delicious all on it's own).

The enchiladas go together pretty easily. Two chicken breasts are coated in oil, salt and pepper and baked for approximately 20 minutes. When removed from the oven, shred the chicken with two forks.

Marcela suggests dipping the corn tortillas in hot oil to soften them and make them pliable. Once dipped in the oil, she dips them into the mole sauce, fills them with 1/3 cup shredded chicken and rolls them up. Extra mole is poured over the enchildas and they are topped with Queso Fresco and Mexican crema.

Disclaimer: I'm sure that this is probably the easiest mole ever, but it was still messy and quite time-consuming. I'm talking lots of pots and pans, blenders and so on. Saying that, as far as moles go, it was really easy, quick and a lot less ingredients than a traditional mole.

Notes/Results: I enjoyed making this recipe. I love the chance to cook with new ingredients and explore in the kitchen. The Mexican chocolate is literally delicious and I can see myself using it for many other recipes. The recipe was well-written and went together perfectly. The mole had a very complex flavor, a little spicy, a little sweet, a little nutty. The smell of the mole reminded me of my favorite authentic Mexican restaurant. The recipe was good, just not my personal favorite. I'm glad I had the chance to try it, but I still prefer my enchiladas with red sauce.

Queso Fresco is also my Cheese of the Month. I went to a special Mexican grocer in Lexington looking for Queso Fresco(fresh cheese) and I was very happy to find it. It has a crumbly texture and a mild flavor which paired nicely with these enchiladas. True Queso Fresco will become soft when warmed, but does not melt. It can be used as you would use any other mild crumbly cheese, but mostly is served as a topping or a garnish. Marcela suggests using Feta cheese in place of Queso Fresco. The two cheeses do have the same texture, but Feta is full of flavor whereas Queso Fresco is really mild. I'm anxious to use the Queso Fresco in a simple recipe where it can really shine as part of the meal.

This is my submission for this round of Cook the Books, hosted by Rachel of The Crispy Cook, Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food, and Deb at Kahakai Kitchen.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Strawberry Mascarpone Crepes

Are you guilty of buying cooking magazines in the check out line? It's hard to resist, isn't it? There you are standing in line and the magazines are glaring at you, tempting you with their pretty cover dishes. I'm convinced it's a form of torture. I used to be really bad about buying cooking magazines, collecting so many that I couldn't even go through them all. I seem to have a little more control lately, except when it comes those huge Taste of Home Editions. You know the ones I'm talking about? The magazine that is more like a book than a magazine. It's like a mega magazine with 240 recipes. Packed with mostly family style dishes, sweet treats, and breads, they are almost always worth buying.

Armed with my new mega magazine, I can hardly wait to get home and flip through it. This is serious business for me! A new cookbook or magazine is such a delight. An adventure that you can immerse yourself in for a short time. Settled on the couch with a notebook and pen, I'm in pig heaven (literally)!

I have a special weakness for breakfast/brunch recipes and these Strawberry Mascarpone Crepes were seriously calling my name! Even better, I had half a tub of mascarpone and some strawberries to use up. It was like it was meant to be.

Strawberry Mascarpone Crepes
Adapted from Best of Taste of Home 2010
Serves 8, can be halved
3 eggs
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons butter, melted (I think I used 5 tablespoons, oops!)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 ounces) Mascarpone Cheese
2 tablespoons Confectioner's Sugar
3 to 4 teaspoons minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1-1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries (sliced into bite-sized pieces)
Strawberry Topping:
2 cups slices fresh strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice (I used lemon juice)
1 teaspoon strawberry or vanilla extract (I used vanilla extract)
Dash of Salt
To make crepes:
4 teaspoons butter, divided (I found I really didn't need any butter when using a nonstick skillet)

For the batter: In a blender, combine the batter ingredients, cover and process until smooth. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

Meanwhile, for filling: In a small bowl, combine the cheese, confectioner's sugar, basil and lemon juice. Gently fold in the strawberries. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the topping: In a small bowl, combine strawberries, sugar, orange juice, extract and salt. Let stand on counter for 30 minutes.

To make the Crepes: Melt 1 teaspoon butter in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat; pour about 1/4 cup batter into the center of the skillet. Lift and tilt pan to coat bottom evenly. Cook until top appears dry; turn and cook 15-20 seconds longer. Remove to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining batter, greasing skillet as needed. When cool, stack crepes with waxed paper or paper towels in between (I used paper towels with good results)

Spoon filling over crepes; roll up. Serve with strawberry topping.

Notes/Results: These crepes were heavenly! Delicate, light, creamy and fruity. I really loved them and will most definitely be making them again. I really wish that I had been able to add the minced fresh basil to the filling, but I didn't have any basil on hand. I'm sure the basil is a wonderful addition. I had to laugh when I typed this recipe out. I realized that when making the batter for the crepes I had added 5 Tablespoons of melted butter instead of 5 teaspoons. No wonder the crepes were so good! The crepes are gorgeous when plated and would make a wonderful addition to any Spring Brunch Menu, perfect for Easter or Mother's Day.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Help/Suggestions About Whole Fresh Ham

My next recipe for Stirring the Pot is Baked Fresh Ham with Apple-Cranberry Chutney. I saved the recipe for Easter hoping to find a 5-6 pound fresh ham. After some serious searching, I have come to realize that finding a 5-6 pound fresh ham is next to impossible. I finally called Mike the butcher in Lexington and they do have fresh ham, but only sell the whole fresh ham, which is 20 pounds.

Mike said that he could cut a 5 pound ham from the middle portion of the whole ham. I'm okay with that. This next part is where I need your help. There will be two ends of the ham once the ham is cut from the middle. The two ends will equal almost ten pounds of meat and a ham hock. If there is at least ten pounds of meat left, Mike can make me some sausage. If there is not ten pounds, he suggests a roast or even just plain ground pork. At one point he even mentioned ham steaks. My mind was racing as Mike talked on about the possibilities. I saw a food challenge and I was seriously down with it!

Here come the questions. What would you do? Would you get sausage made? Would you simply have it all ground? Get the roast? Go for the ham steaks? Is there another cut I didn't mention? Do you have any other ideas? Also, do you have any great recipes for any of these cuts?

I ordered the whole ham today and will pick it up on Friday. The whole ham will come to around $30, which really isn't bad when you consider that you're getting 5 pounds of fresh ham, a ham hock, and about ten additional pounds of meat.

I'm now referring to this as my Whole Ham Adventure and think it will be a fun challenge. I welcome your ideas and suggestions!!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Lush Giveaway, Awards and Chocolate Sheet Cake

This is going to be a busy post, so let's start with the food first. To congratulate my neighbors on the birth of their first grandchild, I made Pioneer Woman's Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever. I figured a chocolate sheet cake was a sure bet. Everyone usually likes chocolate, right? I also like the fact that this cake serves 24, which was perfect for my neighbors because they have seven children, six of which still live with them and are under the age of eighteen. I wanted to make sure that everyone in the family was able to have some. (Note: I omitted the nuts in this recipe because most children aren't a fan).

The cake uses ingredients I always have on hand and was easy peasy to throw together. I even had enough batter left to fill a small ramekin for my daughter (a devoted chocolate fan). I tasted a bite of the cake and it was rich, chocolatey and moist. The cake is rich enough that you can satisfy your chocolate craving with a very small piece. Of course, if you really want to indulge, plop a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on top and call it a day. This is a great recipe for a large family or any other get together.

I am submitting this cake to Foodie Fans of the Pioneer Woman for their bi-monthly roundup of PW's recipes. Tomorrow's roundup promises to be a sweet one since we are celebrating desserts this time around. You can find the recipe for the chocolate sheet cake HERE on the Pioneer Woman's website.

I was very honored to receive two awards this week. Thank you to Sam of My Carolina Kitchen for giving me the Honest Scrap Award. Thank you also to Kathleen of Gonna Want Seconds for this beautiful Sunshine Award. I adore reading both of your blogs! In the interest of keeping this post from becoming a book, I would like to pass these awards on to all of you!

Onto the giveaway! I've mentioned before that I love my job at Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics. I discovered the company as a consumer while traveling with my husband one summer and went broke buying everything in the store. Next to cooking, Lush is my second love. I love their products and so do my family and friends. When a store opened up in my local mall I ran for the opportunity to work there.

Lush is a UK-based company that has spread worldwide. All the products are handmade with fresh organic, fair-trade ingredients, based on natural ingredients, such as cocoa butter, essential oils, fruits and vegetables. The products are made with little or no preservatives and for this reason have expiration dates. The products are tested on humans, never animals. There are so many fun things, that it was hard to pick what to give away!

I wish I could make the giveaway available to everyone, but for now I will have to limit it to the US only. I am, however, looking into having items ship worldwide for the next giveaway.

I chose four items that are all related to food in one way or another:

First up is Helping Hands Hand Cream. Since we all spend so much time in the kitchen working with our hands and washing dishes, this is the perfect cream for us. This cream is packed with nourishing shea butter, soothing chamomile water, honey, and lavender. Our most popular hand cream. NOTE: The item pictured below is only 1.5 ozs. I am giving away the large sized 3.5oz hand cream.

Next, is a Blackberry Bath Bomb. Drop this purple, blackberry and frankincense scented bath bomb into your bath and relax.

Third on the list is a Creamy Candy Bubble Bar. I'm sure you're all familiar with liquid bubble bath, but this is a solid bubble bath with no preservatives at all. Simply break the bar in half and crumble one half under running water for a candy scented bubble bath!

And finally, a luxurious Melting Marshmallow Moments Bath Melt made to look like a cute little pink cupcake. The bath melts are one of my favorite products, much like a bath where you are being dipped in lotion. Cut the pink cupcake look-alike in half, toss one half in a warm bath and say MMM. This melt is packed with moisturizing cocoa butter, marshmallow powder, and almond oils. Great for dry skin.

The giveaway is open to all US Residents. The winner will receive all four products. To enter, simply leave a comment telling me which of these four products sounds the best to you. Your comments will help me when it comes time for another giveaway. Contest ends Friday, March 26th at midnight EST. Winner will be chosen with the random number generator on Saturday, March 27th.

I encourage everyone who is eligible to enter the contest, men included. These products make great gifts!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Cookbook Review: Giada's Kitchen

I can easily say that Giada's Kitchen is one of my favorite cookbooks at the moment. The recipes are simple, but also unique with fun twists here and there. For instance, classic tomato soup is Hearty Tomato Soup, topped with a Lemon and Rosemary Cream. Chicken Scallopine is Chicken Scallopine with Saffron Cream Sauce. The recipes are easy enough for a beginner cook, but unique and beautiful enough for a well seasoned cook.

I was lucky enough to borrow the book from the library, keeping it a total of about ten weeks! Over the ten week period, I made nine recipes: Roasted Pork Loin with Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette, Tuscan White Bean and Garlic Soup, Hearty Tomato Soup with Lemon and Rosemary Cream, Pecorino Crackers, Baked Orzo with Fontina and Peas, Amaretto Sour with Prosecco, Chicken Scallopine with Saffron Cream Sauce, Artichoke Gratinata, and finally Strawberry and Mascarpone Granita. All nine recipes have been a big hit. Here is a recap of all nine recipes below (Note: When my computer crashed I lost my picture of the Baked Orzo with Fontina and Peas)

Below is a picture of Giada's Roasted Pork Loin with Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette. In January, I did a recipe throwdown comparing Ina's Grilled Pork Tenderloin and this version of Giada's pork tenderloin. Ina's recipe blew our socks off, but Giada's version was also a big hit. The pork was meltingly tender and the sauce was full of robust flavor. The meal had a gorgeous presentation and I would definitely make this recipe again.

Next up, I made Giada's Tuscan White Bean and Garlic Soup which was right up my alley. It really satisfied my bean craving, while at the same time being hearty and delicious, especially served with bread on the side. This is an extremely easy and economical meal, not to mention delicious. Also on my list of make again recipes.

Lured in by the gorgeous photograph in the book, I made Giada's Hearty Tomato Soup with Lemon and Rosemary Cream, served alongside her Pecorino Crackers. I should have known better than to think I would only partake in one cracker! Those crackers were addictive and the soup was too. The soup is extra hearty with the addition of canned white beans. The dollop of lemon rosemary cream makes the soup fun and special. Definitely a soup that would be wonderful for a dinner party. My new "go-to" recipe for tomato soup.

Before my computer crashed, I made Giada's Baked Orzo with Fontina and Peas. I don't have a picture to share, but we did enjoy the recipe. Giada goes light on the cream and cheese in this recipe, but it feels indulgent. The peas really liven up the meal, but they do add a sweet dimension to the dish, which might not be for everyone. Also worth noting, I enjoyed this recipe more before the pasta was baked. I'm not sure I would make it again, but if I did I probably wouldn't bake it.

I had a Valentine's Day Throwdown with a bottle of Prosecco. Nigella's Fruit Fizz won the Throwdown, but Giada's Amaretto Sour with Prosecco came in second place. It was a wonderful drink that I would be happy to serve to a crowd or at a party.

With the remainder of my saffron, I made Giada's Chicken Scallopine with Saffron Cream Sauce. It was a gorgeous meal which was made in less than a half hour. We felt like we were dining in a fine restaurant when we sat down to eat this. Also something that will be made again soon!

Onto my favorite of all the recipes, Giada's Artichoke Gratinata. I knew this would be good, but I didn't know it was going to blow my socks off. I made it for lunch yesterday and ate both helpings! I loved it as much as anyone could love a meal. Truly delicious. I'm thinking of eating it everyday until I stop craving it.

Lacking seriously in the self control department this week, I made this summery Strawberry and Mascarpone Granita. Strawberries were blended with simple syrup, lemon juice and mascarpone into a smooth, thick, creamy, dreamy, glorious mixture. It was so good that I wanted to drink the whole batch before freezing it. The only thing stopping me was not being able to take that final picture of the granita! The granita was delicious. It was almost the texture of an ice cream, but was still slightly icy like a granita.
That wraps up my roundup of Giada's recipes. The good news is that all of the recipes posted here, as well as many others from her book, are posted on the Food Network for free. I have many more recipes from this book bookmarked to make.

For now this book makes my top ten list! The recipes are well-written and tested, the pictures are gorgeous, everything is easy with simple fresh ingredients, plus the recipes are impressive and worthy of your most special guests. Simple and classic recipes with a unique flair.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Artichoke Gratinata

I ate the whole batch. Yes, the entire recipe. Both ramekins. It was a good thing I was in the privacy of my own home, because I'm quite sure it was unladylike. It was so good that it caused me to lose both my manners and self-control. I'm talking mind-blowing delicious! This is a side dish that will steal the show. The smell of the gratinata baking in the oven is reminiscent of the best Italian tratorrias. It is intoxicating. Are you seduced yet?

When I really love something, I can be a little over the top. It's almost like I can't stop babbling. This is such a good recipe, that I will literally tell everyone I know to make it. It's that good. I can already tell you that it will easily make my top ten favorites for this year. Hands Down!

This recipe received four out of five on the Food Network. I'm not sure why. I would give it more than five stars if possible. I did make a few changes, which I will note below.

Artichoke Gratinata
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis/Food Network
*Serves 2, can easily be doubled
3 tablespoons olive oil (I used barely 1 tablespoon)
1 garlic clove, minced (I used one really good sized clove)
1 pound frozen artichoke hearts, thawed (Used one can drained, halved artichokes)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I added about 1 teaspoon)
1/2 cup chicken broth (I omitted the chicken broth, using about 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice)
1/4 cup Marsala wine
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup plain bread crumbs (I used Panko)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Warm the olive oil in a heavy bottom skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the artichoke hearts, parsley, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook until the artichoke hearts are starting to brown at the edges, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth (lemon juice) and wine and simmer for 3 minutes. Transfer the artichoke mixture to a 2-quart baking dish. (I like individual ramekins so that everyone gets some yummy crunchy topping)

Melt the butter in the same skillet used to cook the artichokes. In a small bowl mix the melted butter with the bread crumbs. Stir in the Parmesan and top the artichokes with the bread crumbs. Bake until the top is golden, about 10 minutes.

Notes/Results: Loved it so much! I'm so glad that I omitted the chicken broth and used lemon juice. You could really tell that the lemon juice brightened up the recipe. Also, I can never find a bag of frozen artichokes, so I decided to use canned artichoke hearts. I had read the reviews online and saw that the canned artichokes worked well. I drained the artichokes and cut them in half before adding to the skillet. I also cooked the artichokes until all the water (leftover from canning), wine and lemon juice had reduced to about nothing. The mixture was moist, but not wet when I put them in the ramekins. The panko topping was crunchy, cheesy, buttery and over the top delicious. I would definitely double the panko topping if you use two cans of artichokes. You will want all that yummy extra crunch. This recipe is a unique and fun side dish. It is bright, fragrant, crunchy, buttery goodness! I'll be making it again soon!

I'm submitting this to Reeni's Side Dish Showdown. Click HERE for the link.

Oink! Oink!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mustard Pork Chops Go Green!

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Are you wearing your green today? If not, maybe you can eat green today! It's Easy Being Green Week over at I Heart Cooking Clubs and everyone is eating green. Some of us have cooked up some truly green dishes, others had to satisfy those deep dark mustard cravings and just threw some green on the plate for good measure;D

Yep, that would be me! I kinda cheated this week because I have been wanting to make Nigella's Mustard Pork Chops for a super duper long time. The problem: mustard pork chops are not green! Well, I don't know about you, but I can rationalize just about anything when I want to. I found some perfectly green spinach in my refrigerator and called it a day. One fairly green dinner on the table in less than a half hour, perfect for satisfying your mustard cravings. What? You don't crave mustard? Sorry to hear that! I can put mustard on anything (or so I thought).

Nigella's Mustard Pork Chops
Adapted from Nigella Express
2 pork chops (about 1 pound total)
2 teaspoons oil
1/2 hard cider (couldn't find this so I used apple cider)
1 tablespoon grain mustard
1/3 cup heavy cream (I used fat-free half and half)

Cut the fat or rind off the chops, and then bash them briefly but brutally with a rolling pin between 2 pieces of cling film/plastic wrap to make them thinner.

Heat the oil in a pan, and then cook the chops over a moderately-high heat for about 5 minutes a side. Remove them to a warmed plate.

Pour the cider into the pan, still over the heat, to deglaze the pan. Let it bubble away for a minute or so then add the mustard and stir in the cream.

Let the sauce continue cooking for a few minutes before pouring over each plated pork chop. If you're having gnocchi with, make sure you turn them in the pan to absorb any spare juices before adding them to your plates.

Notes/Results: This was the first recipe I bookmarked when I received my copy of Nigella Express. The funny thing is that I received the book at least a year ago and never got around to making these mustard chops. I kept hunting for hard cider and after a year or so of looking, I finally gave up. I decided to go ahead and substitute apple cider for the hard cider. I feel like a Negative Nelly lately, but I have to say that I really didn't care for this recipe. The pork and mustard sauce were okay, but not great. I took Nigella's advice and tossed the potato gnocchi in the mustard sauce and it was definitely not a great combination, if you know what I mean. I ate both the pork chops and spinach in mustard sauce, but thought the gnocchi and mustard sauce was pretty inedible. Maybe it was my fault for substituting apple cider for hard cider and substituting fat-free half and half for heavy cream.

What do you think? Have you ever had hard cider? If so, what does it taste like? Is there a substitute for hard cider? Also, have you used fat-free half and half as a substitute for cream with good results? Just curious.

Head on over to I Heart Cooking Clubs to see all things green this week!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Recipe #51 - Stirring the Pot: Slow-Roasted Beef Ribs with Mushroom Stroganoff

Tyler won us over with this version of beef stroganoff. It was rich, meaty, indulgent and comforting.

The recipe calls for 3 pounds of beef short ribs, cut into 2 ribs apiece. I halved the recipe, buying one and a half pounds of beef ribs and opted not to cut them, leaving them whole. The ribs are simply placed in a roasting pan, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted for 3 hours in a 300F oven. You can hardly get more simple than that.

When the 3 hours time frame is closing in, start preparing your sauce. You'll need mushrooms, garlic, shallots, to start. Once the mushrooms have browned, add the garlic and shallots. When the garlic and shallots are fragrant, remove from heat and add the cognac, scraping to deglaze the pan.

Return the pan to heat and add whipping cream. Reduce and simmer, until reduced by half. Turn off heat and stir in mustard and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm until serving. This is one thick and luxurious sauce.

Meanwhile, cook one pound of egg noodles (I chose egg pappardelle noodles from Trader Joe's) in a pot of salted water. Drain well, toss with butter and chopped parsley. Pile buttered parsley noodles high on a plate, top with ribs, and finish with stroganoff sauce. Garnish with parsley. (I really wish I had parsley on hand for this dish. As it was, I was out of parsley and all other green herbs).

You can find the recipe HERE on

Notes/Results: This recipe is actually one of the easier Tyler recipes I've tried. I had concerns about not searing the short ribs first and I also worried that they would dry out, but they didn't. The end result was richly colored short ribs with almost crispy, crackly edges that pair wonderfully with the rich and luxurious stroganoff sauce. The stroganoff sauce was like liquid gold! I really wish I had the fresh parsley on hand because I think the dish definitely needed that fresh pick me up, which only fresh herbs can deliver. I think this is a tasty, comforting, quick and easy Tyler recipe that would be great for family dinners or entertaining. No hard to follow instructions, no long list of ingredients, and best of all: NO BIG MESS to clean up! All in all, this is a great recipe.

I still have two rather heavy recipes to post this month:
Baked Fresh Ham with Apple-Cranberry Chutney, which I will probably prepare for Easter and Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Salsa Verde and Grainy Mustard Mashed Potatoes. After that, I will be posting some seafood and salads. There are still 39 recipes left for me to cook in Stirring the Pot.

On another note: I was hoping to cook up some Irish fare for St. Patrick's Day in celebration of my Irish roots, but turns out the kids and I are feeling a bit under the weather this week. Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Muffins for Tea Time

I grew up in a pretty small family. My Dad and myself are both only children and my Mom had only one sibling, an older sister, my Aunt Jenni. Always a beauty, Aunt Jenni was my idol. I loved her auburn hair, her bright blue eyes, and the sprinkling of freckles that ran across her nose. It was such a treat to visit her. Filled with anticipation, I could hardly wait for her to paint my nails, do my hair and bring out the high heels. I would happily raid my Aunt's closet while she and my parents chatted away. When it was time to leave, she always gave me something of hers, usually a purse, which always smelled of her perfume. I hid those gifts in my closet, saving them for my eyes only, smelling them when I missed her, treasuring them while waiting for the next visit.

In this Photo: My Aunt Jenni in her twenties

Even as a teenager I adored her. In fact, I paid even closer attention, noticing things I hadn't before. It seemed that when my Aunt would become angry or frustrated, she would utter the same silly phrase over and over. The words "Oh Sugar" came out of her mouth like some kind of candy-coated swear word. Even in anger and frustration this woman was polite and ladylike. When other kids my age were using real swear words, I was uttering "Oh sugar" under my breath and laughing.

In this Photo: My Aunt and I looking through photo albums

My Aunt passed away unexpectedly in her late-forties, when I was about 20 years old. Still in shock of her passing, my Mom and I were tasked with going through her belongings. For all of my life, my Aunt's belongings had been such a thing of joy to me and now they were overwhelmingly sad. The only laugh of the day occurred when we opened up her kitchen belongings and found the coffee mug in the above picture with the words "Housework is a Bitch". I'm sure the look on my face was priceless. I couldn't believe that this mug belonged to my sweet and ladylike Aunt. I just couldn't picture this lady, who never swore, using a mug like this. My Mom, trying to make light of the entire day, reminded me of my bad housekeeping and encouraged me to keep the mug. For one reason or another, this mug was one of the few things I kept that day and I'm so glad that I did. To me, it resembles something I may have had in common with my Aunt Jenni as an adult. It reminds me of the gleam in her eye and makes me believe that there was much more to this woman I only knew as a child. I so wish that I had been given the chance to know my Aunt in my adult years. It appears we would've had some things in common.

In this photo: My Mom, Me and my Aunt on the day I took my first steps

Whenever I drink tea, I use this mug and think of my Aunt Jenni. I've thought of buying some new mugs, but I like this old one far too much. I debated using this mug for this week's Tea Time celebration over at I Heart Cooking Clubs. In the end, I went ahead with it. Sorry if the language offends anyone! To go along with the tea, I baked up Nigella's Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Muffins, recipe can be found online HERE.

Notes/Results: Nigella says to use a good quality cocoa powder, so I broke out the Valrhona cocoa powder for the first time. I thought there would be a noticeable difference in using Valrhona cocoa powder, but there really wasn't. Good old Hershey cocoa powder is just as good, at least in a muffin anyway. I used buttermilk in place of regular milk because I think buttermilk makes a better muffin. I wanted to add some cinnamon or cayenne for added spice, but knew my daughter wouldn't eat them if I did. The muffins were nice, moist, and chocolatey and my daughter and I each ate two in place of a normal and healthy lunch. I'm doing my best to teach her that chocolate is a proper food group!

Head on over to I Heart Cooking Clubs to check out all the other Tea Time Celebrations!

P.S. I believe whole-heartedly in the quote on this mug!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Recipe # 50 - Stirring the Pot: Country Spare Ribs and Mustard Greens Braised in Apple Cider

I took a very long break in my quest to cook through Tyler Florence's Stirring the Pot. In fact, the last recipe I made from the book was back in mid-November. Feeling guilty, I dug out my rather beaten up copy of Stirring the Pot and resolved to get started again. With the onset of spring, I wanted to try and bang out some of the wintery dishes before the weather convinced me otherwise. Within the next week or so I will be bringing you some of Tyler's more heartier dishes, both this recipe for Country Spare Ribs and Mustard Greens Braised in Apple Cider AND Slow-Roasted Beef Ribs with Mushroom Stroganoff. Spring has already come to Kentucky, but I know it won't hurt my husband's feelings to eat such hearty and meaty meals.

Getting back into the kitchen with Tyler means a few things. First of all, it means searching for hard to find ingredients. Some of you are lucky to live in large cities with wonderful and bountiful grocery stores. I'm not so lucky. For me, this means a trip to Lexington and running around to different stores. For example, there are no beef short ribs or 4-pound pork rib roasts here in Georgetown. So, I hightailed it to the butcher in Lexington and was able to get both cuts of meat. The pork rib roast is really 4 thick pork chops attached to the bone in a roast-style. I've never cooked the pork rib roast before, so I was excited to get started.

The other part about getting back into the kitchen with Tyler is dirty dishes, lots of dirty dishes. I really love Tyler and his recipes, but I'm not excited about the prospect of doing tons and tons of dishes. There is really nothing more daunting in the kitchen than a sink overflowing with dirty dishes.

The pork rib roast was really easy to prepare and really only required a small amount of looking after. The pork is braised for a total of three hours, largely unattended, save for the every half hour when you baste. The pork, which Tyler refers to as country spare ribs is braised in apple juice, apple cider vinegar, mustard greens, garlic and thyme for 2 and a half hours covered, basting every half hour. After two and a half hours, the cover is removed and the meat is cooked until the surface caramelizes and the liquid reduces. A gravy is made by squeezing the garlic pulp into a blender along with the juices from the braising liquid. The pork is served on top of the greens and mashed potatoes. The recipe can be found HERE on Tyler's blog.

Notes/Results: I'm really glad this recipe pushed me to buy and cook with the pork rib roast. I really liked this cut of meat. I have to say that I wasn't too crazy about Tyler's recipe though. Even though the meat was braised and the directions were followed to the letter, the pork ended up overcooked and dry. Also, in Tyler's book, the pork has a glossy sheen to it, almost like it is covered in a barbecue sauce. My pork never got that caramelized, nor did the sauce look like a barbecue sauce. Not sure what happened there. I will buy this cut of meat again, but will probably braise it in a different liquid or coat the pork in some more savory seasonings. Neither me or my husband cared much for the sweetness that the apple juice lent to the pork. The pictures didn't turn out too well. The pork was rather pale looking and so were the mashed potatoes. The braising liquid, which was pureed, was also on the clear side, which didn't really add any color to the dish.

Overall, it was a learning experience. I was pretty sure I would love this cut of meat and I was right. I never like it when a recipe doesn't work out, but I do like learning about what would work. I'll chalk it up to a learning experience.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pioneer Woman's Butter Chicken

I've really been into expanding my spice cabinet lately. Even though I have an entire cabinet dedicated to spices, I still need more. Recently, I have purchased saffron, cardamom, turmeric, and curry powder. I had fun cooking with the saffron and loved the pretty color it imparted to each dish. This week, I opened up my cardamom and was instantly in love. Who knew cardamom had such an intoxicating smell? That stuff is delicious and I'm on a mission to find new uses for it.

The first recipe I made with my cardamom was Pioneer Woman's Butter Chicken. I will tell you now that this chicken is absolutely delicious. I love the somewhat complex flavors of this dish and found it to be very comforting. I definitely suggest that you make this chicken, but only when you really want to be naughty. Why? Well, right before serving the meal, you pour in ONE PINT of heavy cream. Yes, one pint. The entire recipe serves four. I almost cried when I did it. Notice I said almost. Then I remembered that I had a pint of cream hanging around that just needed to be used up. Not one to waste food, I instantly felt better about the dish. Or at least that's what I told myself.

The chicken is marinated in a mixture of garlic, salt, black pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, cardamom, ground coriander, and the juice of a whole lime. It needs to marinade overnight (a step that is well worth it and makes the chicken exceptionally tender). The next day, you saute an onion with butter and cook the chicken for 10 minutes before adding tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. The chicken simmers for 30 minutes. Right before serving, you pour in one pint of heavy cream and garnish with cilantro. You can find the link to Pioneer Woman's recipe HERE.

You should definitely make this chicken if you have heavy cream that needs using up OR if you feel like indulging. I'll definitely be making this chicken again one day! In the meantime, I've used up all my heavy cream and will get back to lightening things up. Summer is fast-approaching.

I wanted to submit this recipe to Foodie Friends of the Pioneer Woman, but the weekend got away from me. This is definitely a great site worth checking out! The next roundup is in two weeks and will be featuring desserts.

SPECIAL NOTE: A couple of you asked whether or not I had hot pink legwarmers and other 80's gear just hanging out in my closet. The answer is yes. We have a lot of "costume parties" at work so I have a little costume section in my closet. I wish I had pictures to share, but we forgot to take pictures on Saturday. I had some 80's pictures from our previous 80's party, but I lost them when my hard drive crashed awhile back. I'm sure there will be a next time! Over the past few months, we've done 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's parties. In addition to that, we've done beach parties, pajama parties, fairytale parties, and Greek parties. I'm going to need a bigger closet soon!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chicken Scallopine with Saffron Cream Sauce

The weekends always go by in a blur. I usually work most weekends, which is enough to throw me completely off schedule. This weekend we had an eighties party at work and it required a little extra time getting ready. Hot pink leg warmers, check. Hot pink chandelier earrings, check. Blue eyeshadow, check. Blue mascara, check. Is my hair big enough, check. Hot pink mesh gloves, check. Looking like a fool, check.

The best part is that no one at the mall knew we were celebrating eighties day. It takes a certain amount of courage or bravery to walk into an extremely crowded mall on a Saturday afternoon, decked out in 80's garb. I don't recommend it for everyone. I thought I was at a point where I didn't worry about these things, but maybe I was wrong. I did receive some rather funny looks. By the time I reached my store I was a little self-conscious. It didn't help when my co-workers laughed at me. A little while later, another co-worker walked in looking like Punky Brewster and I couldn't help but to laugh at her. Eighties fashion is fun, but it can be so over the top ridiculous. It made for a very fun afternoon. After all, you have to put able to laugh at yourself every now and then.

I wanted to cook the Pioneer Woman's recipe for Butter Chicken this weekend, but lost sight of the fact that it needs to marinate overnight. I needed something quick for dinner tonight so I threw together Giada's Chicken Scallopine with Saffron Cream Sauce. The chicken recipe came together in record time and was a gorgeous meal.

Chicken Scallopine with Saffron Cream Sauce
Adapted from Giada's Kitchen
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound thin chicken cutlets (scallopine)
3/4 teaspoons salt, plus more for seasoning meat
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning meat
2 shallots, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (optional)

Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Season the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken until golden and cooked through, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a serving plate and tent with foil to keep warm.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the shallots and garlic, and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the white win, using a wooden spoon to scrape all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the wine is almost evaporated. Add the chicken broth and saffron threads, bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes, or until reduced by half. Add the cream, salt, and pepper to the skillet and stir to combine.

Simmer for 1 minute to blend the flavors. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with the parsley if desired and serve immediately.

Notes/Results: This is a truly gorgeous dish that would be great as a romantic meal for two or even for company. It was extremely quick and easy to put together and has a lot of eye appeal. (Unfortunately for me, my pictures didn't turn out too well because it was dark when I ate this tonight) I thought the chicken had a very mild flavor, but at the same time was very pleasing to eat. I really enjoyed it and found it comforting. I think it would be great served over rice or greens, such as spinach.

This is my fifth or sixth recipe from Giada's Kitchen so far and I will be putting together a roundup and cookbook review shortly.

I'll be posting the Pioneer Woman's Butter Chicken soon. The chicken is marinating overnight for dinner tomorrow.