Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fiery Chicken with Vegetables

This was the first recipe I tried from my new cookbook, Cheap. Fast. Good! And I'm pleased to say, it was delicious! It was easy to make, and the recipes are written in such a way that makes you maximize your cooking time. I like it already. :)

Note: The recipes in the cookbook all seem to call for long grain rice. Of course, that's not what we eat in our house. :) I just skipped the instructions for preparing rice that were given in the recipe and prepared my own in our well-loved rice cooker. I'll include the instructions from the book, in case you would like to prepare the rice that way (or if you don't have a rice cooker).

Fiery Chicken with Vegetables
1 can fat-free chicken broth (1 c. for the rice and 3/4 c. for the vegetable sauce)
1 c. long-grain rice (I actually made 2 cups of Japanese style short grain rice)
1 lb. chicken breasts
1 T. vegetable oil
1 bag frozen broccoli stir-fry vegetable mixture (without sauce)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. soy sauce
2 t. minced ginger (either fresh or bottled...I bought a jar of it)
1 t. sugar
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
2 T. cornstarch

Prepare rice by combining 1 c. chicken broth and 1 c. water in a covered medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the rice, stir, and reduce heat to low. Cover the pan and simmer until rice is done, about 20 minutes. (Or, like I said, prepare rice in a rice cooker...you can even substitute part of the water with chicken broth for flavor.)

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. While the oil heats, defrost your chicken if needed. Once oil is hot, add the frozen vegetables and stir occasionally. While the vegetables start to cook, cut the chicken into small cubes, adding them to the skillet as you go. Cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is no longer pink in the center, about 5-6 minutes.

Add garlic to the pan and stir. Next, add soy sauce, ginger, sugar, and red pepper flakes*. Stir well and cook for about two minutes to blend the flavors. In the meantime, combine cornstarch and 3/4 c. chicken broth in a small container with a lid. Cover and shake to combine until there are no more lumps.

Drizzle mixture over the chicken and vegetables. Stir continuously until sauce thickens, about 1 minute (it really does thicken up pretty quick). Serve over a bed of rice.

*The red pepper flakes are the reason this recipe is called "Fiery". If you like things a little less spicy you can reduce the amount of red pepper flakes. If you don't want it to be spicy at all, you can leave them out. Paul and I enjoyed the kick, and it wasn't too spicy for us. :)

Cream Puffs

These were the prize for our annual Oscar Ballot competition at our Oscar Party this year. (Yes, I know the Oscars were a month ago. I'm slow. ;) )

The nice thing about cream puffs is that they aren't nearly as difficult or complicated as they seem. Here is my family's tried and true recipe (in three parts):

Cream Puffs (the pastry part):
1 c. water
1/2 c. (one stick) butter
1/8 t. salt
1 c. flour
4 eggs

In a medium saucepan, combine water, butter, and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook and stir until the mixture forms a ball (this only takes about a minute). Remove from heat and cool for ten minutes (this is important because if you add the eggs when it is too hot, they will start cooking and make the dough lumpy). Add eggs one at a time. Each time, stir well with a wooden spoon until the egg is completely incorporated. This is the key to good cream puffs, and it gives your arm quite a work out.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking sheet. Drop dough onto the baking sheet by the heaping spoonfuls. I like to make my cream puffs pretty small so it makes about 24 cream puffs. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, checking after 20 minutes. Cream puffs are done when they are golden and the peaks are light brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

This recipe comes from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. As you can see, there isn't any sugar in the puffs themselves, so they can be used for appetizers or lunch items if you want to fill them with chicken or tuna salad, or anything else you can come up with.

Cream Puff Filling
1 large box vanilla instant pudding
1 pint whipping cream

Prepare pudding according to the directions on the box, using only half the indicated amount of milk. While pudding chills, whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Fold in the pudding gently, until the cream and pudding are completely mixed together. This makes enough filling for two batches of cream puffs. It's a lot. :)

There are two ways to fill the cream puffs. Either you can slice them in half and scoop a generous amount into each one, or you can poke a hole in each one and fill them using a frosting bag and wide piping tube. Slicing them in half is much easier and faster, but also messier.

If you like your cream puffs without chocolate on top, you can simply sprinkle some powdered sugar on top at this point and call them done. :) If you are a chocolate lover, like me, continue on to the final step.

"Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Frosting:
This recipe comes from the side of the Hershey's Cocoa container.
1/2 c. butter or margarine
2/3 c. cocoa
3 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. milk
1 t. vanilla

Melt butter in the microwave. In a medium heat-safe (pyrex glass or metal works well) bowl stir together melted butter and cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating on medium speed to spreading consistency. Add more milk or more powdered sugar as needed. Stir in vanilla.

At this point, the frosting is finished. However, my dad likes the frosting on his cream puffs to have a fudge-like quality (and so do I :) ). In order to achieve this, he holds the bowl of frosting over a stove burner (hence the heat-proof bowl) on medium-low heat, stirring continuously until it just begins to melt. At this point he pours the chocolate over the filled cream puffs in a thick layer. If the frosting starts setting up before he has finished topping the cream puffs he holds it back over the heat to soften it again. Because he partially melts the frosting, it sets back up and ends up having a consistency that is more like fudge than frosting.

They end up looking great and tasting amazing! :) Enjoy!

(Either serve the cream puffs immediately, or refrigerate them until serving. They don't last very long in the fridge, so I wouldn't make them too far in advance.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Undisputed Best??

I have already shared my family recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies. I have long believed that this was the best recipe to be had. Whenever I come across new recipes that claim to be the best, I have to give them a try to make sure they really aren't better than mine.

So, you can imagine what I felt when I came across this blog: Good Things Catered. She has a list of popular recipes on the side, and one of them is for Chocolate Chip Cookies. UNDISPUTED best, she calls them. This woman used to be a caterer, and all of her food looks perfect and delicious. I was enthralled. I had to make them.

And guess what? They ARE the best. They really are delicious. They are big and chewy and chocolatey, and they look like the type of cookie you can buy at a bakery (only they taste better than bakery cookies usually do).

Her recipe is very specific and detailed, so I would recommend taking a look at it in her own words on her blog here: Best Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Here's the recipe in my words:

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies*
2 c. plus 2 T. flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter**, melted & cooled until warm
1 c. brown sugar, packed (I used my traditional dark brown, but I think she uses light brown)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 yolk
2 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

*OK, I realize that different people look for different things in a chocolate chip cookie. But as far as my experience goes, this is the best traditional, no-frills recipe I have come across.

**Her recipe specifies unsalted butter, but I didn't have any when I first tried the recipe and they were still delicious. The second time I made them I used unsalted, and they were even better.

The original recipe has you combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl, but you know me, I didn't do that. ;) You can choose for yourself.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt butter in the microwave and set aside to cool until just warm (if it's too hot it will cook the egg). I found it best to partially melt the butter and then stir it until it is completely melted. That way the butter wasn't too hot from the start. In a large bowl, mix together both types of sugar and the melted butter. Add the egg, the egg yolk, and the vanilla and mix until combined. Add salt and baking soda, and briefly mix. Add flour and mix well. Add the chocolate chips and combine either with the mixer, a spoon, or your hands. I really find that my hands work the best. ;)

Prepare cookies by rolling a scant 1/2 cup (just estimate) of dough in your hands. This is quite a bit of dough. Remember, the cookies are big, and this ball of dough is for two cookies. Pinch the dough slightly in the middle and pull it apart. Place balls of dough, rough side up, on two ungreased cookie sheets (she says to line the cookie sheets with parchment paper, but I don't have any). Continue preparing cookies until you have 24 cookies, 12 per cookie sheet (I use light metal jelly roll pans). Place both sheets of cookies in the oven, one on a lower rack and one on an upper rack. Switch the cookie sheets halfway through baking. Bake for 16-18 minutes total. Cookies will be slightly golden. Allow cookies to cool on the cookie sheets for a while (roughly 5 minutes), until they can be moved without breaking. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before storing. Makes 24 big (delicious) cookies.


Rigatoni with Meat Sauce

I made this recipe a couple weeks ago, and it was quite good. I liked that it was fast and simple. I found it at Chef Britta.

Rigatoni with Meat Sauce
12 oz. rigatoni
1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c. tomato paste
1/2 to 1 t. garlic salt
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
1 T. red-wine vinegar

Cook pasta. Meanwhile, brown beef in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic, and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender (about five minutes). Stir in tomato paste, garlic salt, and cayenne pepper, and cook about two more minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 8-10 minutes, until slightly thickened. Stir in vinegar and season again with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve meat sauce over pasta. Top with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

I liked that it was different than regular old spaghetti. Those of you who know me, know that I'm not the biggest fan of spaghetti. This was different enough that I enjoyed it and would happily make it again.

Here's the link to Chef Britta's recipe: Rigatoni with Meat Sauce.

Menu: March 23 - March 31

Oh my goodness! It's an actual menu! I can't believe it! ;)

Yes, after a long time (don't really want to figure out exactly how long), I've made a new resolution to return to menu planning and sticking to them during the week. Things have gotten a little out of control here lately. Vacations, business trips, and holidays can certainly throw you off! I've really only been cooking dinner a couple times a week. And that's bad. So, here's to doing better! Here we go:

Monday (today): Fiery Chicken with Vegetables (CFG*)
Tuesday: Potato Soup
Wednesday: Three-Pepper Pasta Sauce (slow cooker)
Thursday: Basic Chili and Cornbread
Friday: Island Chicken (CFG)
Saturday: Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Sunday: Paprika Chicken and Bowtie and Asparagus Pasta (FFR)
Monday: Cinco de Mayo Skillet (CFG)
Tuesday: Poor Man's Food

CFG=Cheap. Fast. Good! A new cookbook I got over the weekend. :) Exciting! It was recommended to me by a friend.

This big menu should get me back on track with my Tuesday shopping day schedule. Wish me luck!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Caramel Brownies

This is one of our favorite desserts. I think it would probably be more accurately described as a cookie bar because of its consistency, but either way, they're pretty yummy!

Sunday Desserts 009

1 German chocolate cake mix
3/4 c. melted butter
2/3 c. evaporated milk
50 caramels (one package)
chocolate chips (semi-sweet)

Mix cake mix, 3/4 c. melted butter and 1/3 cup evaporated milk. Spread half the mixture in an ungreased 9X13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes.

Meanwhile in a saucepan melt caramels with 1/3 c. evaporated milk over low heat until completely melted. Remove bottom layer from oven and let cool for a moment (I usually only wait a few minutes) then pour caramel over the top. Sprinkle chocolate chips all over caramel (I never measure just sprinkle them all over). Spread remaining cake mixture over the top (I pat the dough between my hands to form little patties and put them all over the top). Bake for 15-18 minutes.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Chicken Enchilada Soup

This is actually a recipe that my sister got from someone on her mission. It is definitely the easiest soup I've ever made and it's way yummy! It also makes a ton (serves about 8-10 people).



1 can (29.2 oz) enchilada sauce
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
2 cans chicken broth
2 uncooked chicken breasts*

Spanish rice (Lipton works well but you can use another brand)
1 can black beans
2 cups corn (I just did one can of corn last time)

Put the first 4 ingredients in your crockpot and cook on low for 8 hours. Remove chicken, shred/cut and return to pot. Prepare spanish rice. Add beans, corn, and as much rice as you want.

Garnish with all kinds of yummy things like: olives, green onions, tortilla chips, cheese, avocado, and sour cream.

*Avocado tastes amazing on this! I don't really like avocado when I'm pregnant and I really like it on this.
*The recipe says to put as much of the rice as you want. I ended up putting most of it in last time I made it because it was for a lot of people.
* If your chicken breasts are small you can do three. I did two large chicken breasts both times I made it and it turned out great! The chicken goes a long way.
*I bought mild enchilada sauce both times I made this because that's all they had in the big can so I added a little cayenne pepper with the sauce and it just gave it a little kick. That's definitely not necessary though.

Thanks Jamie, for such a great recipe!