Friday, June 29, 2012

Jalapeno Popper Stuffed Chicken Breasts

This dish is basically a jalapeno popper chopped up and stuffed inside a chicken breast. I stole the idea from Skinnytaste but modified it a bit; primarily because I forgot to buy a few of the ingredients. Oh well, you live and you learn. This dish takes about an hour start to finish (it took me a little bit longer because I was taking pictures the entire time), with about 20-25 minutes of that time involving cooking; so during the time the food is in the oven, you can do other things to help maximize post-work enjoyment time.

You will need:

one package chicken breasts (if you can find the kind that are thin sliced cutlets that will definitely cut down on your prep time but my grocery store was out of them when I went shopping)
One large container of whipped cream cheese (reduced fat would be preferable but I had this one left over from another recipe I made for a party and I don't believe in bringing reduced fat anything to celebratory occasions)
Reduced fat shredded colby & monterey jack cheese
Two limes
3 Jalapenos (note: I only put two jalapenos in my recipe because I am a bit of a wuss, and it was barely spicy at all)
Olive oil
Sea salt
Garlic Powder
Panko bread crumbs, italian style (I know it's not in the picture; I forgot I had them in my cupboard until halfway through when all the other ingredients were scattered)
Tooth picks are going to be very helpful, also.

Preheat your oven to 425.

For those of you who have the thin sliced cutlets, you can ignore this part of the prep. For those of you who do not, slice your chicken breasts in half horizontally so that you are basically making them thinner (skinnier) versions of themselves. If only I could do this to my thighs.

The next step is really therapeutic if you've had a bad day at work. Take a piece of wax paper (parchment paper works too) and put it over the chicken. Using the blunt side of a mallet, pound the chicken until it's thin. Make sure you move the mallet all over the chicken as you're pounding, otherwise you'll tear right through the chicken.

Now, we turn our attention to the filling. Take your jalapenos and dice them, removing the seeds and membranes as you go. NOTE ABOUT CHOPPING JALAPENOS: They sting. If you are a nail biter or otherwise have hidden tiny little cuts on your hands, they will HURT FOREVER. Also, they release juices and aromas that will make your nose and mouth burn. 

This is why I made J (my fiance) chop the jalapenos. 

I don't really have any advice on how to get through it if you must do it yourself, except perhaps wear gloves and just chop quickly. 

With regards to how much jalapeno to put in, like I said before, I put two of them in with no seeds, and although it was spicy on my hands, it was not spicy in my mouth at all, but imparted a good southwestern flavor. I think I will move it up to three of them next time, with no seeds, but if you really like that heat then definitely throw some of the seeds in there. I would not recommend putting in any less than two jalapenos, because I think you'd lose the actual flavor of the dish at that point, but again, it's up to you.

In a glass bowl, scoop 2/3 of the container of cream cheese into the bowl. Then add about 4 ounces of the shredded cheese (1/2 a cup). To save on time and dishes, one of those packages of cheese is typically 7 or 8 ounces; so I usually dump in about half of a bag of cheese. Dump the jalapenos in, and season it with a tiny bit of garlic powder. If you have it, you could add a couple of pieces of crumbled up bacon, but J doesn't eat pork, so I don't include it. Mix it all up with a spoon.

Now, let's turn our attention back to the chicken breasts. In a smaller bowl, mix together 1 tbsp of olive oil and the juice of 1 1/2 limes. Throw in some sea salt and garlic power in that mixture. On a plate, pour out some of your panko bread crumbs (not a lot, but you're going to be coating chicken).

Dip each chicken piece in the oil/juice mixture then lightly in the bread crumbs, giving it a light coating on each side. I typically do this step and the next one chicken breast at a time, but you could do all of the chicken then all of the cream cheese, whatever you'd prefer.

Spread some of the cream cheese mixture onto the chicken breast.

Roll the chicken breasts up and stick tooth picks in them to make them stay put. Put them all in a non-stick spray coated glass baking dish.

Pop those bad boys in the oven, enjoy a glass of wine for 20-25 minutes or until the bread crumbs start to brown and the cheese is bubbling nicely, then pull them out, serve, and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Black Bean & Corn Salad

Sometimes I like to make this salad on Sunday afternoon and then nosh on it through the week. It's good to take to work in lunches, and you can also make it a bit heartier if you add in some cubed avocado, or if you are so inclined, some crab meat. It's also a good side dish for mexican or southwestern themed dinners.

What you will need:

One can of black beans
One can of "fiesta corn" (you can also use regular corn kernels you cook yourself or get from another type of can and then chop up some red/green bell peppers, but since I'm trying to teach you to cook gourmet-ish in less time)
One lime
Cilantro, fresh
Chili Powder
Garlic Powder
Sea Salt (not pictured, I know)

First thing's first, drain the corn and dump it into a mixing bowl. To save on time and dishes, I typically make this in a big tupperware container so I can just snap the lid on when I'm done.

Then, drain the black beans, put them in a colander, and rinse them to get the rest of the black residue off. Dump them in with the corn.

Cut the lime in half and squeeze all juice from the lime into the bowl. I find it easiest to get all of the juice out of the lime with a citrus reamer (they are pretty cheap at any kitchen goods store), and they are very fun to use.

Typically I chop about 1/3 of the bunch of cilantro up finely and throw it in. You can put more or less in if you'd like; this is really all to taste.

Sprinkle it with sea salt (more than you think you'll need because a lot of it will be absorbed into the juices), and 1/2 of a tbsp of garlic powder. Sprinkle to taste with chili powder, and start with less until you reach your desired heat level.

Mix all together, taste to make sure you like your spice levels, and then chill in the refrigerator. If I am making it as a side dish, I make it first and then cook the rest; it's usually sufficiently chilled by the time dinner rolls around.

Then, serve and enjoy!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tomato, Avocado & Feta Salad

This is a super quick, easy and very fresh salad/side dish to throw together. It requires absolutely no cooking skills, only some moderate knife skills, but is very impressive looking. I learned this recipe from my friend Jenny, who learned it from her ex-boyfriend, Mike. So thanks Mike, for teaching this recipe to me indirectly.

What you will need:

1 Hass avocado (you want it to be pretty ripe; not guacamole-ripe, but maybe one day before that)
1 large tomato (beefsteak or vine ripe work the best)
EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
Reduced fat crumbled feta cheese
Sea Salt
Black Pepper

Start out by slicing your avocado in half lengthwise. This should be accomplished using a sharp, smooth knife like a paring knife or a fruit knife with a smooth (non-serrated) blade. Then, holding an avocado half in your hand, cut between the skin and the flesh around the perimeter of the avocado half. This will loosen the avocado from its skin. Next, cut lengthwise slices in the avocado, making sure you go all the way down to the skin (you'll feel the resistance through the knife change). 

Repeat with the other half. Then use the knife to pull the slices out of the skin--it should surrender pretty easily. If you feel like the slice won't come out of the skin without breaking, don't push it too hard; just run the knife back around and if possible, try and wedge it underneath the skin to loosen it. 

Next, cut your tomato into wedge slices. For anyone who is apprehensive about cutting a tomato because you have had the unfortunate experience of having the tomato squirt out its seeds at you, try using a serrated knife. I use a steak knife, and it's changed my entire perspective on tomato slicing.

Your tomato slices should look something like this:

Take a round dinner plate or serving plate and arrange the tomato and avocado slices in an alternating circular pattern.

Then comes the easy part. Just sprinkle some feta over the plate (as much as you want), then drizzle olive oil (be very careful as you don't want to completely douse the food in oil--I use a bottle that has a pour spout with a small opening on it and just re-fill from my big bottle of olive oil), and sprinkle the plate with paprika, salt and pepper to taste. 

Serve and enjoy!!!!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lemon, Garlic and Rosemary Roasted Leg of Lamb

For some reason, guests are always impressed that I can cook a large piece of meat. Be it a standing rib roast, a turkey, a chicken, a duck, people are always all "oh, wow, you can cook that entire thing? All together at the same time? Wow you are a super awesome cook." If only they knew how EASY it is to do. In fact, I think it's easier to roast a larger piece of meat than try to cook smaller individual pieces--bigger cuts of meat are more forgiving of error. 

A leg of lamb is an excellent "weekend lunch" type meal to make in the Spring and early Summer months. Grocery stores sometimes have specials, and I typically pick it up if I see it on sale. Some people find lamb to be a bit gamey, but if it's cooked well, and done with complimentary flavors, then I think it's quite delicious and of course, a special treat. Buy bone in or boneless, whichever fits your style.

Disclaimer: Roasting meat always works out much better if you have a roasting pan; it's typically just a non-stick baking pan that has a rack set into it about 1 inch high; this allows all of the juices which drip during cooking to collect below and leave the meat with its nice crust on it.

To make this recipe, you will need:

Lamb roast (mine was about 3.5 lbs with a bone, and we have some leftover after feeding two people)
One head of fresh garlic
One lemon
Sea Salt
Black Pepper

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

First thing's first: Rinse the lamb and pat it dry with paper towels. It's important to get as much of the excess water/juice off of it as possible due to the fact that when you're roasting, you want your piece of meat as dry as possible.

Next, trim the lamb of excess fat. You want to keep a tiny bit of fat on it to keep it juicy and moist in the oven. The best way to trim the fat is to use a chef's knife to cut a tiny slit in one area of the fat, grab the fat with one hand, and slice horizontally through the fat with the knife. A good, sharp knife will cut easily through the fat. After you're done, it should look something like this:

After trimming the leg of lamb, use the chef's knife to cut several slits into it in varying locations. To do so, push the tip of the chef's knife into the lamb and push it in maybe 1-2 inches. The slits do not need to be too big. 

Then, take the head of garlic and extract 5-6 cloves of garlic from the peel. For those of you who think this is a difficult task, learn the magical way of extracting garlic cloves from their peels without smushing them: press the flat part of the chef's knife blade against the garlic and push down with the heel of your hand until you hear the "crunchy" sound of the peel giving way. Usually the garlic escapes  unscathed.

Take one clove of garlic and a small sprig of rosemary and put some in each of the slits you cut into the lamb. Stuff them deep down into the lamb; this will infuse the flavor as it cooks. 

Season the rest of the meat with salt and pepper, then sprinkle some extra sprigs of rosemary on it. Then lay some lemon wheels on the meat, and squeeze whatever lemon you haven't laid out over it to get the juice on the lamb. Place the lamb on your roasting pan.

Put in your oven on a center rack at 325. Some people advise cooking at about 20 minutes per pound; I find though, that when I have a bone-in roast, it takes a bit more time. I'd start out with about 15-20 minutes per pound on the kitchen timer, then check it with a meat thermometer. You want the meat thermometer, when stuck in the thickest part of the lamb (without touching the bone, if it's a bone-in roast) to read about 150-155 degrees.

A note about temperature: 145 is rare; 160 is medium. I like to slightly "undercook" from medium, because it will also continue to cook when it comes out of the oven and rests a bit. Also, it always possible to cook a piece of meat further if you find it is too rare for your liking; it is impossible to "uncook" something that is too overdone, and that's just the most disappointing thing; to realize you've messed up at that last step.

My roast was done after about an hour and fifteen minutes:

Let it rest for about ten to fifteen minutes before you fully cut it; then slice, serve, and enjoy! Impress your guests, your significant other, or your own belly!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Rosemary Roasted Red Potatoes

This is a relatively easy side-dish that is full of flavor and takes only a few minutes of prep time, then you can leave it pretty much well-enough alone while you cook your main dish. Typically when I make these potatoes, I start them first thing, then once I get them in the oven, I can pay attention to other parts of the meal. The best part about them is they can be cooked anywhere between 325 degrees and 425 degrees; all that will change is how long the potatoes need to stay in. This is quite convenient, as the potatoes can cook simultaneously with pretty much everything else in the oven.

What you will need:

Petite Red Potatoes (for two people, I use about 6-7 potatoes)
Fresh rosemary
2 tbsp canola oil OR olive oil (more depending on how many potatoes you cook)
Sea Salt
Black Pepper

Pre-heat your oven. If you're not using the oven for any sort of meat or something else that needs a more specific temperature, I find cooking these around 375 is reasonable if you want them done in about 45 minutes.

First thing is to wash the potatoes, dry them, and cut them into 8ths. It is very important that you dry the potatoes before you cut them and cook them, because the whole point of roasting potatoes is to apply a dry heat. If the potatoes have excess moisture or water on them, there is more of a "steaming" effect and you won't get the wonderful crispy roasted texture that makes this dish so delicious.

Once you cut your potatoes, put them into a bowl. Pour the canola oil over them, along with a liberal amount of paprika, salt and pepper. You will need more paprika than you think you do; the paprika gives them a subtle flavor and provides them with a nice color as they roast. You will also want to take one or two sprigs of rosemary and take the leaves off of the stems and toss those in the bowl too.

Mix everything with your hands until the potatoes are well coated with all of the ingredients. Then pour into a glass baking dish.

Put them in the oven, and continue prepping the rest of your meal. Every now and then look at them, they should be getting a nice crust on them. Cook time is inexact; the best way to test them is to stick a fork in one and feel if it's soft and gives on the inside.

Once they are done, pull them, out, serve, and enjoy!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Starting with the Right Ingredients

One of the most important parts in cooking well is having the right ingredients. I don't believe that I need all the gourmet, brand name spices, salts, and garlic-in-a-jar, but I do believe that its worth it to splurge for the better vegetables, the better cut of meat, and the fresher seafood. 

I am a member of a vegetable co-op type movement which delivers fresh, locally grown produce to me once every other week. This is a new culinary/grocery trend that has spread (probably from California) over the last few years across the country.  Every other Thursday, I get a delivery of fresh veggies and fruit from Black Hog Farm, and I menu plan around the delivery. Ordering veggies like this forces me to become more creative with my meals and to incorporate more greenery into the scheme. Sometimes you get some pretty interesting things, like kohlrabi, or a whole stalk of brussels sprouts (who knew they grow on a stalk?) and sometimes it's a little more predictable. 

My bi-weekly delivery this week included Florida corn, green peppers, new potatoes, carrots, summer squash, tomatoes, lettuce, blackberries, and blueberries. All for $23. I know that if I went to the grocery store, I'd probably walk away with a lot less for a lot more money. Interestingly, I find that the veggies I get from the local producers last in my fridge a lot longer than the veggies I buy at the store--perhaps it's because I don't know how long the veggies in the store sat on the delivery truck before they got to where I bought them. 

This service has definitely pushed my boundaries. I cook things I have never cooked before and consequently, have invested some time in researching recipes. Most of the time, the vegetables are at their peak stage of ripeness or just coming into the right stage for eating, and I don't worry about how many other people passed it over before it came to me. And most importantly, the vegetables taste better. Yum!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Let's Give it a Try

After much thought (read: about 30 minutes), I've decided to start a blog primarily about food. About cooking it and eating it. I worry that this will become very pretentious or someone will accuse me of trying to recreate the Julie/Julia project, but quite frankly, I'm primarily in need of a place to put all of my recipes and remember the way that I cooked things. Plus, many of my friends ask me for recipes, so this will be an easier way to give them my secrets. 

I don't claim to be a gourmet chef whatsoever. I'm completely self-taught, save the few lessons I learned from watching my mother cook and from watching Top Chef. I like to read food blogs online, particularly ones with pictures, because then I know if what I'm doing looks remotely correct. I try to cook healthily, but every now and then I have a good guilty-pleasure recipe I'll throw in there and pretend that the calories don't count. 

Fair warning: my presentation is not always gorgeous and sometimes the pictures may just look like piles of food on a plate. Hopefully, as my impending nuptials approach, I will get some good kitchen and serveware as gifts off my registry and plating will look better than the crappy $12 Ikea plates I have. Seriously, don't ever buy Ikea plates. They make a horrible screetchy sound when you accidentally scrape your fork against the plate. 

Another disclaimer, though I think that this is to my benefit: I am not a housewife or aspiring restaurateur (not that being either of those things is bad). I am an attorney by day and work 50+ hours a week. Most of the meals I make are thrown together in an hour or so after work. I can occasionally expend a bit more effort on Fridays and on weekends, particularly if I'm in the mood to throw a dinner party. If I make a "company" meal, I will try to mark it as such. 

Let's see how this goes....