Sunday, November 26, 2017

Parmesan & Chipotle Popcorn

We never have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. No one cares for a big roast turkey, and to seal the deal, my youngest is allergic. In years past we've had roast chicken, rib roasts, spaghetti, and even tacos. This year we opted for ham which is not only the easiest, but something everyone is crazy about, and for that I am thankful. Amen for an easy and peaceful Thanksgiving that everyone enjoyed.

Thankfully, Thanksgiving weekend is long enough to squeeze in all sorts of things: eating, shopping, resting, watching parades, Netflix, and spending lots of time with family. Now that our kids are older we love to have game night. It's a great way to have some good old fashioned fun together and it forces everyone to put their electronics away. 

On Black Friday I found the retro (1986 version) of Clue and snatched it right up. I can't even tell you how many times I played that game back in the 80's. I knew my kids (who are obsessed with the 80's thanks to Stranger Things) would love this throwback game.

Now that I had the game it was time for snacks. Ina's Parmesan & Chipotle Popcorn has been calling to me. Easy, cheesy, and spicy. I knew I couldn't go wrong. We set the table with the game, Ina's popcorn, and some buttered popcorn for the kiddos, and we were all set. It was definitely a table to be thankful for.

I loved the combination of Parmesan cheese and chile powder and thought it was perfectly balanced. My husband thought there was a bit too much cheese on the popcorn, but we all know there is no such thing as too much cheese, so he loses his vote. I will say there is probably too much butter. How do I know there was too much butter? Well, my popcorn became a little soggy in places so I think I would suggest using half as much butter next time around. Adding two tablespoons of butter in lieu of four would probably suffice. If not, you can always add a touch more. This is the perfect solution for an otherwise lip smacking and darn right addictive cheesy delight of a snack. I'd definitely make this again!

Parmesan & Chipotle Popcorn
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 3 to 4

1 bag microwave popcorn, such as Newman's Own Natural
4 tablespoons butter, melted*
1/2 cup finely grated Italian Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
2 teaspoons salt 

Note: Four tablespoons of butter may be a bit too much. I'd try half (2 tablespoons) at first and then add more if necessary. I didn't have chipotle chile powder so I used regular chile powder with great results.

Microwave thepopcorn for 3 to 5 minutes, according to the directions on the package, until the popcorn stops popping. Carefully pour the hot popcorn into a large bowl and immediately pour on the butter, then the Parmesan, chile powder, and salt. Toss well and serve hot.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken

This time of year brings about a certain stillness that I crave.  Sure, things quiet down when the kids go back to school, and then they quiet down even more when the air begins to chill, but once it hovers around freezing, there is a final layer of peace that is achieved. Total stillness. No moving about outside, very little traffic, and no knocks on the door. This stillness is the sole reason I love winter. I crave it all year.

There is little better than a still day spent in the kitchen. Kids and husband gone. Candles burning. Nothing but the sound of Adele playing and the dog snoring in the background. Knife in hand as I do my favorite kitchen chore, chopping veggies and herbs. Prepping and preparing a lovely Sunday meal for my family for when they return from their outing, it's therapy only the kitchen can grant.

Cooking doesn't always come from the heart, but on these days it does. A tender and juicy Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken fills the kitchen with a wonderful and comforting aroma that warms hearts. Some days people have to be called to dinner, but with this in the oven, you will find everyone gathering in the kitchen early.

A comforting chicken dinner with no chance of anyone knocking on the door? It's heavenly. Try it sometime.

Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 4-6

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
salt and black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup good olive oil
1 lemon, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 (4 pound) chicken, backbone removed and butterflied
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
Juice of 1 lemon

Note: My kids don't care for fennel so I made a different herb mixture using fresh sage and thyme.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the thyme, fennel seeds, 1 tablespoon salt, and1 teaspoon pepper in a mini food processor and process until ground. Pour the olive oil into a small glass measuring cup, stir in the herb mixture, and set aside.

Distribute the lemon slices in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and distribute the onion and garlic on top. Place the chicken, skin side down, on top of the onion and brush with about half the oil and herb mixture. Turn the chicken skin side up, pat it dry with paper towels (very important!), and brush it all over with the rest of the oil and herb mixture.

Roast the chicken for 30 minutes. Pour the wine into the pan (no on the chicken!) and roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155 to 160 degrees. 

Remove the chicken from the oven, sprinkle it with the lemon juice, cover the skillet tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Cut the chicken into quarters or eights, sprinkle with salt, and serve hot with the pan juices, cooked lemon, and onion.

Theme: Cooking For Jeffrey!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ina Garten's Raspberry Roasted Applesauce {Perfect For Your Holiday Table}

Kids are funny when it comes to food. One week they love to eat something and the very next week they hate it. When they're loving something they simply can't get enough of it. They beg you to buy it in bulk and it's almost as if they're out to prove something by inhaling it as fast as possible. They ask you for more and you oblige because you are thrilled they're eating real food. Then one day, with all the dramatic disgust they can muster, they hate that food and look at you as if you've two heads when you say, "but you loved it last week."

Such is life with kids. Just when you think you get a handle on something it changes. For months my son was on an apple jag. He became obsessed with the mini-sized Honeycrisp apples and was eating them at least three times a day. Every meal centered around an apple and honestly I was thrilled. I could've cared a less about their high price tag. I couldn't buy enough of them. Then all at once I noticed the fruit basket was staying full and the apples hadn't been touched and just like that, he was done.

I was hoping he would continue to love apples the same way he's continued to love rice krispies treats, but no such luck. So I set about finding a recipe to use up my apple stash and when I came across Ina Garten's Raspberry Roasted Applesauce I knew I found a winner.

 I fell in love with the idea of roasting apples with raspberries, brown sugar, and cinnamon and letting their delicious aroma fill the house. I fell in love with the idea of topping the warm applesauce with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and watching it melt into the sauce. Mostly, I fell in love with the idea of making a beautifully hued ruby red applesauce.

I do have a few suggestions if you chose to make this. First of all, the recipe as written, will make enough to feed an army. I think Ina wrote it so that each person gets about one full cup of applesauce, along with a scoop of ice cream. I love sweets, but this is far too much for one person so I would suggest cutting this recipe in half if you're not feeding an army. Even half the recipe is enough for 6-8 people. Secondly, depending on your apples, you may or may not want to reduce, or eliminate, the brown sugar. I couldn't find the Macoun apples Ina called for so I used a mix of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp. I didn't even think about their sweetness when I added the brown sugar and my applesauce was quite sweet. It wasn't cloyingly sweet and I still enjoyed it, but I think I could've gotten by without adding any brown sugar at all, or very little, just for flavor.

This applesauce is delightful on it's own, but a scoop of good-quality vanilla ice cream makes it practically irresistible! 

This is a perfect dessert for the holidays because it can be made ahead. In fact, it's even better made a day or two in advance because the flavors get a chance to develop. Simply warm it up, scoop some ice cream, top with orange zest and you're set. I especially like the idea of having this applesauce as a lighter option for those who want a little something sweet but aren't into rich heavy desserts after a big holiday meal. A total winner!

Raspberry Roasted Applesauce
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 8*

Zest and Juice of 2 large oranges
Zest and Juice of 1 lemon
3 pounds Granny Smith apples (6 to 8 apples)
3 pounds sweet red apples, such as Macoun (6 to 8 apples)*
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed*
4 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
12 ounces fresh raspberries (2 pkgs.)
Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Orange zest, for serving

*Note: I halved the recipe above and feel it was still enough to serve 6-8 people, especially once topped with ice cream. I couldn't find Macoun apples so I used Honeycrisp and I would recommend eliminating the brown sugar or reducing it.  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the zest and juice of the oranges and lemon in a large (11-inch) ovenproof pot or Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset. Peel, quarter, and core the apples and add them to the pot, tossing them with the juices as you go.

Add the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and raspberries, cover, and bake for 1 to 1-1/4 hours, until the apples are very soft. Stir vigorously with a wire whisk. The applesauce will be smooth but still have a lot of texture. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream and a dusting of orange zest.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Butternut Squash & Ricotta Bruschetta {Perfect For Your Holiday Table}

I love a good crusty bread on it's own, but I especially love with it with all sorts of goodies piled on top. This type of thing is my go to for breakfast, a quick lunch, or for party appetizers. When I came across this Butternut Squash & Ricotta Bruschetta in Ina Garten's Cooking For Jeffrey cookbook, I was hooked. I've never tried a combination quite like this.

The combination of butternut squash and ricotta on bruschetta may sound strange at first, but I can assure you that this combination is so very good. In fact, I was simply blown away.  The squash goes sweet from the addition of maple syrup and a hefty dose of red pepper flakes really spices things up! These sweet and spicy flavors marry perfectly with the caramelized onions and ricotta, and when piled high on some crusty bread, this recipe is THE PERFECT combination of sweet, spicy, creamy and crunchy. Every bite is just the perfect bite.

There are a couple things worth mentioning. First, and foremost, a good bread is necessary here. Ina uses a French baguette, which would make perfect party-sized bites. I wanted to make mine more of a meal, so I opted to use really good thick slices of sourdough. Chose your bread accordingly. The most important aspect of the bread is that it be totally crusty.  Don't make the mistake of simply heating it up a tad, or perhaps just going for a little bit of crunch. You want thicker slices of bread that are toasty all the way through. This crustiness provides the perfect texture and will hold up to the hefty toppings you are going to put on top. I rubbed my bread with olive oil, salt, and pepper and put it in a 400F oven for about 10-12 minutes. Times will vary depending on the size and thickness of your bread.

Secondly, do not skip the addition of the maple syrup or the apple cider vinegar. I wasn't sure I wanted any sweetness from the maple sugar into this otherwise savory dish. I'm also not a fan of apple cider vinegar and was worried that it's flavor would ruin the dish for me. On a whim, I decided to add them both and I'm so very glad I did! Those two ingredients really heightened the flavor of this dish. The sweetness of the maple sugar struck the perfect balance with the spiciness of the red pepper flakes and the apple cider vinegar....well, it simply tied all the flavors together. In fact, the topping mixture would be a perfect side dish all on it's own!

I really cannot say it enough. This dish was phenomenal! I would encourage any butternut lovers to give it a try. It is a perfect autumn dish and would be really good served in party-sized portions as a Thanksgiving appetizer!

Butternut Squash & Ricotta Bruschetta
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 6

1 pound butternut squash, peeled and 1/2" to 3/4"inch-diced
good olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups sliced yellow onions (2 onions)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons pure Grade A maple syrup
apple cider or apple juice (optional)
6 (1/2-inch-thick) slices rustic country bread, toasted
1-1/2 cups fresh ricotta, homemade or store bought

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the squash, 2-1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and the red pepper flakes on a sheet pan, toss, and spread out in one layer. Roast for 25 to 35 minutes, until very tender and starting to brown on the edges, tossing once with a metal spatula during roasting. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium (10-inch) saute pan. Add the onions and cook over a medium to medium-low heat for 12-15 minutes, tossing occasionally, until golden brown. Add the vinegar and maple syrup and simmer over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes, until the liquid is reduced. When the squash is tender, add it to the saute pan with the onions and mash it lightly with a dinner fork.

If the mixture is a little dry, add a few tablespoons of apple cider to moisten. Taste for seasonings and reheat over low heat, if necessary.

To assemble the bruschetta, spread a thick layer of ricotta on each toast and spoon the squash mixture on top. Sprinkle with salt and serve warm.