Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Foodie Penpals: April Reveal

Back in March, I stumbled across Lindsay's Foodie Penpals program, and wanted to join instantly.  I missed the March deadline, so I was forced to wait until April to join.  In case you're unfamiliar with the program - it's organized to connect bloggers and blog readers around the country.  It's become so popular that there are now separate programs for Canadian and European bloggers/readers.  You receive a penpal match on the 5th of each month, send out a box filled with foodie treats to your penpal by the 15th, and reveal what treats you received on the last day of the month.  The penpal matches change monthly so you're always sending to and receiving from someone new.  It's set up to be a fun way to meet new food-loving friends while trying new foods.  It sounds like a win-win!

My inaugural Foodie Penpal experience was full of Texans! Since KK and I visited Vermont a few weeks ago, I sent a Vermont-themed package to blog reader Aly in Houston, Texas.  Two weeks ago, I received a wonderful box sent from Xochitl Small Bear just outside of Dallas.  Here's a peek of the treats I got:

My penpal was kind enough to send me a handwritten note, giving an explanation of each item I received!

Pumpkin Seed Cheddar Crisps: A favorite after work snack with apples or soup!

Almonds: On-the go snack which covers any craving - salty, crunchy, sweet.

Dried Ancho Chilis: A household staple, complete with directions for making a pozole.

Lettuce seeds: Something fun, yet practical! These will be donated to my in-laws for now, but one of my homeowner goals (whenever we buy a house) is to grow my own vegetables

Recipe: Sweet Potato Chipotle Gratin: Sounds absolutely amazing!

Thank you so much for the fabulous package, Xochitl! Without a question, I'll be joining next month's Foodie Penpals.  If you're also interested, blogger or not, head over to The Lean Green Bean to sign up!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Shahi Paneer

Monday came too quickly this week, but I guess that's the sign of a successful weekend! We had early morning plans on Saturday, so a friend from NYC stayed over to reduce her morning commute.  We had to set the alarm for 7:00AM to ensure there was time to grab breakfast, coffee, and snacks before leaving for the Hoboken Happy Hour Group's Long Island Wine tour.  The group organized a tour bus to visit three vineyards on Long Island's North Fork.

KK, myself and two friends kicked off the bus ride with mimosas and bagels.  By the time we'd finished breakfast, we arrived at Martha Clara.  KK and I left with a bottle of their 2010 Viognier and Clusters, a wonderfully sweet dessert wine that reminded us of Christmas Eve with my family.  Martha Clara also had an interesting array of farm animals on property - goats, sheep, and turtles.  Stop #2 was Pindar, our favorite vineyard of the day.  We tasted wines and enjoyed lunch and the sunshine on their large patio.  We left with 6 bottles: the Winter White (2), Sweet Scarlett, Pythagoras, Isabella, and Cabernet Port.  The last vineyard was Laurel Lakes.  Although we didn't purchase anything to bring home, we bought a bottle of 2009 Merlot to sip on while enjoying the late afternoon sun.  The bus made a quick stop at Briermere Farm before heading back to Hoboken.  Once home, we met up with the Swikers who were in town from Philly.  And cooked Tofu Pad Thai for dinner! What a great day!

Sunday was less exciting, but more productive.  Since I wasn't working from home on Friday, I caught up with laundry and did FOUR loads! Laundry is one of those household chores that is never-ending.  We also went grocery shopping; got an oil change and new tires for the car; stumbled across Free Grilled Cheese Day at Cheese Boy; and took advantage of Macy's Friends & Family sale.  The sales were amazing, and I think I even found a bridesmaid dress for my friend Jess's September wedding!

Paneer is my favorite Indian food.  What's not to love about crisped blocks of cheese in a spicy curry?!?  Monica's Spice Diary classifies this version of Shahi Paneer as "skinny."  The sauce is primarily made of water, getting its creaminess from sour cream instead of heavy cream.  I also increased the amount of peas, and reduced the oil and salt to keep things a bit healthier... something certainly required to fully enjoy the paneer! Since I'm still a novice at cooking Indian cuisine, I trusted Monica's recipe and chose not to experiment with spice ratios.  We couldn't pick one, so we chose to serve this Indian dish with both basmati rice and frozen garlic naan that we bought in Edison, NJ.

Shahi Paneer
Adapted from Monica's Spice Diary
Time: 45 minutes
Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 block of paneer (~350g), cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 teaspoons turmeric powder, divided
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons ginger, minced
1 green chili 
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 cups water
3 tablespoons sour cream
Rice or naan, for serving

1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add paneer cubes, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder.  Heat paneer until golden brown on all sides, remove from heat.

2.  Meanwhile, combine the following ingredients in a food processor: onion, garlic, ginger, chili  1/2 teaspoon salt, paprika, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, garam masala and the coriander. Process until finely ground.

3. Using the same skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil.  Add the onion mixture from the food processor.  Cook on medium heat until golden brown, about 5-7 minutes.

4. Add tomatoes to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes. Next, add peas and paneer and mix well.

5. Add water.  Bring mixture to a boil, then cook for an additional 5 minutes.  Add sour cream and stir continuously for 3-5 minutes.  Serve with rice or naan.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Penne a la Betsy

I forgot to mention one of the perks of my new job - I get my own desk! I know that sounds insignificant, but my Jersey City office implemented "free seating" a few years ago.  Free seating means there are less desks than people, and therefore no one has their own space.  You go into the office in the morning, choose an open desk, and plug in your laptop.  Since there are less desks than people, we have the technology to work anywhere (remote access with video chat, IP phones, etc.) which makes it easy to work from home.  I've gotten quite used to working from home on Fridays.  The NYC office location does not (yet?)  have free seating, so I get my own desk! Woo! Now I've started leaving things on my new desk, and mistakenly left my laptop there on Thursday.  Unfortunately, this meant that I had to go into the office on Friday.  KK was also forced to implement a last-minute menu change because I was supposed to marinate chicken during the day.

Penne a la Besty was the backup dinner plan for Friday night.  KK was planning to pickup penne at the grocery store this weekend so, without penne in the pantry, we used rotini instead.  I decided to keep the recipe name consistent with The Pioneer Woman's original creation.  You get the gist! The most substantial change I made to the original recipe was using chicken instead of shrimp - not surprisingly, I dislike seafood.  I also added various Italian spices to make the dish more flavorful.  The sauce-to-pasta-to-chicken ratio was perfect! I'm looking forward to leftovers later this week.  Enjoy!

Penne a la Betsy
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Time: 25 minutes
Serves: 4

3/4 pound penne pasta
1 pound chicken breast, chopped into small pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Cook until no longer pink, about 10 minutes.  Remove chicken from skillet, plate, and cover with aluminum foil.

3. Deglaze the pan by pouring a small amount of white wine into the skillet, stirring to get up any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan

4. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet over medium heat.  Saute onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes.  Add white wine and let it evaporate for a few minutes, again stirring occasionally.  Next, add tomato sauce and evaporated milk.  Stir until well combined.  Turn heat down to low and let simmer.

5. Add herbs and cooked chicken to the tomato cream sauce.  Stir to coat, and season with salt and pepper.  Add cooked pasta, stir to combine, and serve warm.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Lemon Gnocchi with Spinach & Peas

I'm back! Orlando was great! My friends and I split our time between poolside relaxation and Disney parks.  As expected in Florida, it rained one day, but luckily it wasn't one of our park days.  Our first stop on Saturday was Hollywood Studios.  We rode Toy Story Midway Mania, Tower of Terror, and Aerosmith's Rockin' Rollercoaster.  We moved over to Epcot in the afternoon, and sampled the food and drinks in  the World Showcase.  My personal favorite was the hazelnut liqueur Kasbah Coffee in Morocco.

We saved Magic Kingdom for Monday, hoping the park would be less crowded without the weekend vacationers.  Success! In 9 hours, we experienced 18 rides (some duplicates) and even had a sit down lunch.  Karen rode her first roller coaster and announced Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as her favorite ride in the park.  With that being said, we rode Big Thunder again and convinced her to try Space Mountain, too.  We ended the day with a brownie Sundae from Plaza Restaurant on Main Street, and watched the fireworks over Cinderella's castle.  It was perfect!

I thought this would take about 25 minutes to pull together, but I promise it only took 15 minutes.  Once the water boiled, the gnocchi only took 2 minutes to cook.  Don't forget to reserve some of the pasta water for the sauce! Once the gnocchi was finished, the veggies and sauce were already done, too.  I increased the crushed red pepper flakes and decided to use garlic salt because, in my opinion, one clove of garlic was not enough! I hope you enjoy this quick, easy, and healthy dinner.  I know KK enjoyed it because there were no leftovers, but I think he's also just happy to have me home :)

Lemon Gnocchi with Spinach & Peas
Adapted from Epicurious
Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 2


1 pound gnocchi
1 cup frozen baby peas
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups packed baby spinach
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1.  Boil water and cook gnocchi according to package directions.  Reserve 1/2 cup water before draining gnocchi.

2. In a large skillet, combine peas, evaporated milk, red pepper flakes, garlic, and garlic salt.  Cover skillet, and simmer over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, until peas are tender.

3. Add spinach to skillet and reduce heat to medium-low.  Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until spinach is wilted.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.

4. Add Parmesan cheese and gnocchi to the skillet.  Stir to coat.  Add reserved water as needed to thin the sauce.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Chicken & Black Bean Tostizzas

Never heard of a tostizza before? Don’t worry, neither had I, and it seems like Deborah over at Taste and Tell invented the term.  She combined two of her family's favorites – tostadas and pizzas – into one delicious concoction! One of my cooking goals is to make pizza dough from scratch, but before that happens, you may see some variations of these biscuit-based tostizzas in our menu rotation.

I was on track to get this meal on the table in 30 minutes, but unexpected disaster struck! As I tried to place the baking sheet in the oven, my inner-klutz came out, and I knocked the tray against the oven rack.  Oops!  The damage wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but there were some bean, cheese, and salsa casualties on the bottom of the oven.  Luckily I had some extra bean mixture, so I reconstructed the tostizzas and got back on track.  I was able to clean up most of the mess, but have tasked KK with a weekend chore – running the oven self-cleaner function.

An added bonus to this meal: we “customized” the tostizzas by leaving the chicken off half of them.  KK’s cousin was over for dinner, and she gave her stamp of approval on the veggie-friendly version of the tostizzas that we created for her!

While KK has some amazing perks at work (free breakfast, snacks, lunch, and gym membership), my company gives more vacation days.  Because wasting vacations days would be a crime, I’m off to Orlando on Friday! A few girlfriends and I are taking a much-needed long weekend which will hopefully be filled with sun, relaxation by the pool, and a few Disney park days!

Chicken & Black Bean Tostizzas
Adapted from Taste and Tell
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4

1 cup diced chicken breast
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 can large refrigerated flaky biscuits (8 biscuits)
1/2 cup salsa
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup red pepper, cut into strips
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream, for garnish
Guacamole, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. I a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Cook chicken.

3. Meanwhile, flatten each biscuit with bare hands, and arrange on an ungreased baking sheet.

4. In a medium bowl, combine salsa, chicken, black beans, cumin, chili powder, and onions.  Mix well, and spread over the biscuits; try leaving a small crust free of toppings around the edges.  Top each biscuit with bell pepper strips and cheese.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden and the cheese is melted.  If desired, serve garnished with the sour cream and guacamole.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bruschetta, Avocado and Mozzarella Chicken

It looks like we had a weekend of dinners inspired by IGE - both Saturday and Sunday nights' dinners came from her site.  It's clear that she's one of 3D Dinners favorite bloggers!  In the same post as this recipe, IGE's Kristin also gave her readers a fail-proof way to ensure chicken breasts are cooked through without cutting them open...something that I'm certainly guilty of 9 times out of 10.  She recommends pressing into the chicken with your finger.  If it feels bouncy and raw, the chicken needs to be cooked another minute or two.  If you can't really press into the chicken, it's all done.  Amazingly simple!  I tried it on Sunday, and it worked, of course I had to cut into the chicken to verify, but it worked!

I don't think I mentioned last week, but the Grilled Eggplant Burger tomato topping was made from tomatoes found in the discount produce section!  You know how much I love discount produce.  The $1 pack came with 8 tomatoes, so I used the leftovers to pull together some homemade bruschetta.  I chopped up the remaining plum tomatoes and added onions, crushed garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, thyme, oregano, and Parmesan cheese.  I don't have a recipe to save because I was experimenting, throwing things into the bowl randomly.  I will be more precise next time.  The end result was delicious, and it was perfect for this bruschetta chicken dish.

This meal came together quickly.  I started with the balsamic vinegar first, and it turned into a nice reduction sauce by the time I was done with everything else.  I used shredded mozzarella instead of fresh cheese, so it melted in less than 2 minutes.  While under the broiler, watch the cheese carefully to ensure it doesn't burn.  In an attempt to be healthy, I served the chicken over spinach instead of pasta.  It was a tricky way to sneak a decent-sized salad onto KK's plate!

Bruschetta, Avocado and Mozzarella Chicken
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 2


1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 lb. chicken breasts, cut in half and butterflied (4 thin pieces)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup bruschetta
1 avocado, sliced
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Baby spinach or pasta, for serving


1. Pour balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan then bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium then simmer and reduce until vinegar is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 20 minutes.  Set aside to cool; vinegar will continue to thicken while cooling.

2. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper on both sides.  Coat a large skillet with olive oil, and heat on medium-high.  Add chicken breasts to skillet, and cook for 4-5 minutes each side, until no longer pink in the center.

3. Meanwhile, place oven rack in top position and preheat broiler.

4. Line baking sheet with foil and spray with Pam.  Transfer chicken to prepared baking sheet, and top each piece with 2 tablespoons bruschetta, 3-4 slices avocado, and 1/4 cup mozzarella.  Broil until cheese melts.  Serve over spinach or pasta.  Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar reduction.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Kung Pao Chicken Burgers

I was quite the Maxxinista on Saturday - using my new job as an excuse to pickup a few new blazers and work dresses.  And a fun pair of wedges for my friend Jess's September wedding! After a long afternoon of prowling through the racks at both TJ Maxx and Marshalls, my coworker informed me that Red Mango was serving free yogurt.  It was too cold outside for pictures (and my hands were full with shopping bags), but KK and I enjoyed frozen yogurt chock full of toppings before dinner!

My cast iron grill pan still needs some more seasoning, so I was relieved to see this recipe suggesting a non-stick skillet for cooking the burgers.  I recommend flattening the chicken patties before you start to ensure they cook through without the outsides burning.  As you can see from my picture, I knew my patties weren't cooking thoroughly, so I had to slice them in half.  Problem solved! IGE recommends low-sodium soy sauce... listen to her! Our Costco-sized jug of soy sauce is not low-sodium, and the grocery store strangely didn't have any in stock, so we were forced to use regular soy sauce.  The burgers themselves were fantastic, but the sauce was - as predicted - quite salty.

Burgers for dinner would not be complete without beer (and tater tots!).  KK and I sampled beers from his quarterly Beer Club delivery.  The latest delivery included beers from Sprecher Brewery and Woodstock Inn Brewery.  I enjoyed both of the beers I tasted: the Sprecher Abbey Triple and the Woodstock Red Rack Ale.  KK only had a 50% success rate with his selections.  The Sprecher Piper's Scotch Ale was his least favorite, but he enjoyed the Woodstock Pemi Pale Ale.

Kung Pao Chicken Burgers
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats
Time: 30 minutes
Serves 4

Sauce Ingredients
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup white cooking wine
4 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Other Ingredients
1lb ground chicken
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1 egg white
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 buns

1. In a small bowl, combine all sauce ingredients except for the cornstarch and water.

2. In a large bowl, combine chicken, onions, bread crumbs, peanuts, egg white, garlic, and 2 tablespoons sauce.  Mix with hands until just combined and form into 4 patties. Cook in a nonstick-sprayed skillet over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes each side, or until done.

3. Meanwhile, whisk cornstarch and water into the remaining sauce. Transfer to a small saucepan, and heat over medium heat until thick and bubbly.

4. Place cooked burgers on toasted buns, and top with sauce and desired burger toppings.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Slow Cooker Garlic & Brown Sugar Chicken

Happy Saturday (although I must admit that I cooked this meal on Friday)! Slow cooker meals are perfect for weekends or days that I work from home, so this was a perfect meal to start off the weekend.  While working from home on Friday, I managed to get dinner started, fit in a trip to the post office, and get FIVE loads of laundry washed/dried/folded.  Talk about productivity!

If I haven't mentioned it before, a slow cooker was one of my most coveted wedding registry gifts.  I chose the Hamilton Beach 3-in-1 crockpot - with 2, 4, and 6 quart bowls for cooking.  I really do love my slow cooker, but (not so secretly) wish I had one with a timer.  Do you think having a timer is better than having multiple sized bowls? Tell me your thoughts!

I used frozen chicken and cooked it for 7.5 hours.  Although my picture shows a whole chicken breast, the chicken shredded easily and KK enjoyed mixing the chicken, sauce, and rice all together.  The sauce was deliciously sweet, but still had a nice garlicky taste.  Along with the rice, I served this chicken with a side salad and whole edamame.  I'm certain that KK will add this dish to the Repeat List.  Enjoy!

Slow Cooker Garlic & Brown Sugar Chicken
Adapted from Six Sisters
Time: 8 hours
Serves: 2

1 lb. frozen chicken breast
1 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup vinegar
1/4 cup lemon-lime soda
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Brown rice, for serving
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons water
Red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Spray slow cooker with non-stick cooking spray. Place chicken inside slow cooker.

2. Mix together brown sugar, vinegar, soda, garlic, soy sauce, and pepper together. Pour over chicken. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4 hours.

3. With 30 minutes left to go on the slow cooker, cook the rice.

4. Take chicken pieces out of slow cooker, and pour remaining sauce into saucepan over high heat. Mix together corn starch and water, pour into saucepan. Bring sauce to a boil and let heat for 2-3 minutes, until it begins to thicken. Remove from heat and let sit for 2 minutes.  Serve over rice and, if desired, top with crushed red pepper flakes.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Chicken Enchilada Skillet

Things are about to get crazy at work.  I've accepted a new role internally, so I’ll essentially be doing two jobs for the next 1-2 months… the old boss won’t want me to transition too soon, but the new boss will want me to start ASAP.  To make matters worse, the old and new job are in different office locations, Jersey City and Manhattan, so I’ll be schlepping back and forth between office locations for a bit.  It’s inevitable that I’ll be burning the candle at both ends. Let’s just hope it doesn't eat into my cooking and blogging! Pun intended? :)

Now. Onto the food! I honestly had low expectations for this recipe.  Most of the commentary on the RoTel site was full of disappointment, but several people improved the recipe by getting a little creative.  To enhance this meal, I added frozen corn, black beans, green pepper, green chiles, cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, and garlic salt.  Phew!  The result was an amazingly saucy, flavorful Mexican dish.  Success!  The result of the updated spice list below has a nice kick to it, so consider halving the spices if you can't handle the heat!

Chicken Enchilada Skillet
Adapted from RoTel
Time:  20 minutes
Serves: 4-6

olive oil
1 lb. chicken, cubed into pieces
4 large flour tortillas, torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup frozen corn
1-14.5 oz. can black beans, rinsed
1 green pepper, diced
1-4 oz. can diced green chiles
1-10 oz. can RoTel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies, undrained
1-10 oz. can enchilada sauce
1-8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic salt
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese, divided

1.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high.  Cook chicken thoroughly.

2. When chicken is cooked, add tortilla pieces, corn, black beans, and green pepper to the skillet. Cook over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until hot, stirring frequently.

3. Pour green chiles, RoTel, enchilada sauce, tomato sauce, and spices over chicken mixture and mix well.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese on top; cover skillet and cook for 5 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat, sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The 10 Most Polarizing Foods

After writing a mini-novella about coconuts a few weeks ago, I did some Googling for other foods that people love to hate.  While there are some foods people dislike but don’t really complain about (such as mustard for me), and then there are the common foods that people HATE and tend to get quite opinionated about (coconuts).  I found an aptly named article from Huff Post, The 10 Most Polarizing Foods, and have decided to give my two cents on each contentious food.

1. Cilantro: Apparently this is the most debatable food out there, and I’m quite surprised by that! With the exception of guacamole, where I feel cilantro really makes the dip, I seldom notice the presence or lack thereof cilantro.  Usually, I skip cilantro when a recipe calls for it, but that’s only because I rarely have fresh herbs on hand.

2. Celery: It’s got zero calories (right?) – what’s not to love!? I’m also partial to ants on a log, celery topped with peanut butter and raisins, because it reminds me of my childhood.

3. Licorice: Red Twizzlers are good. Black licorice and black jelly beans are not.  Whenever I get a jelly bean delivery from the Easter Bunny, I immediately discard the black ones, although I should gauge KK’s feelings on licorice and barter with him for a black/purple jellybeans exchange if that works out in my favor!  I also despise all things licorice, anise, or fennel.  This is one of the flavors I can catch if there’s even the slightest drop of it in my food. Update: KK shares my disdain for licorice, so any black jellybeans from the Easter Bunny will be discarded. 

4. Green Pepper: Although I don’t hate green peppers, I certainly like red peppers better.  Who doesn't!? I was shocked to read that Dan Barber, chef and owner Blue Hill restaurant in NYC and one of my favorite Top Chef guest judges, refuses to have green peppers on his restaurants’ menus.  Love to hate!

5. Marzipan: Although there hasn't been much baking on 3D Dinners, I have a serious sweet tooth! One version of marzipan’s history recalls the nuns of the Convent of San Clemente in Toledo, Spain.  After a long Spanish battle, many, many years ago, there was no wheat to be found in Toledo.  There was, however, plenty of sugar and almonds, and the nuns used it to make a paste to feed to the starving people.  Marzipan saved Toledo! In October 2011, KK and I took a daytrip to Toledo.  The city’s streets were lined with so many marzipan shops that it was nearly impossible to decide on a purchase.  This conundrum resulted in marzipan purchases from multiple shops!

6. Mayonnaise: In moderation and light-versions, I think mayo is a good thing.  A little bit goes a long way on a sandwich.  Now that mayo's gone fancy, I love trying the more creative flavors of mayonnaise: chipotle, olive oil & cracked pepper (a new favorite from Kraft!), sun dried tomato, horseradish... the list is almost never-ending!

7. Blue Cheese: I've just had another flashback to our October 2011 Spain trip.  We took a Mad Ride free walking tour of Madrid, and our tour guide recommended Cervecería 100 Montadito as an inexpensive yet delicious lunch option.  If I recall correctly, sandwiches were ~€1, mugs of beers were €2, and a side of French fries was €3.  Perfect.  Except I mistakenly ordered a "queso azul" sandwich instead of a "queso blanco."  One bite of the queso azul and I had a look of utter disgust on my face.  KK couldn't help but laugh!

8. Vegemite/Marmite: Skip. I know nothing about Vegemite, but I don't like what I'm reading.

9. Coconut: See post for One Pot Thai Chicken Pasta.  Although I gave it a shot, and would probably cook the pasta dish again, coconut is still on my personal "love to hate" list.  I will still continue avoiding, but at least I know I'll live if it contaminates any of my other foods.  I did just come up with one coconut thing that I tolerate/like - Girl Scout Samoas! Yum!

10. Liver: No thank you.

So there you have it - my thoughts on the Huff Post's most polarizing foods.  Surprisingly, I'm OK with 50% of the foods.  I thought my percentage would be much lower! Without consulting with him, I'd say KK's most hated foods are raw onions and goat cheese.  Missing from the list for me? Olives, broccoli, capers, mushrooms, oysters.....

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Skillet Chicken Parmesan

Although Friday's post was 3DDinners' first post outside of Hoboken, this is my first post based on a meal cooked outside of Apt. 3D! KK and I weren't up for food shopping on Friday night, so we went to the local pizza joint for dinner.  The Pizza Stone was right down the road from the house, has a great beer selection, and live music by the Cold River Ranters.  We spilt an order of cheesy bread sticks and had the Gouda Morning pizza - garlic butter, mozzarella, sausage, leeks, roasted garlic, Caraway cumin Gouda, and cilantro.  It was absolutely amazing.  Here are a few pictures from our night out:

On Saturday, we drove north to Long Trail Brewery.  In all honesty, they only offered a lackluster self-guided tour of the brewery, so it was less impressive than the Harpoon Brewery tour in Windsor, Vermont we took last spring.  That being said, we still enjoyed the pub fare and craft beers.  Before making a full-size pint selection, KK and I shared the 6 beers in the Long Trail Sampler: Blackbeary Wheat, Pollenator, Long Trail Ale, Double Bag, Traditional IPA, and Brown Bag Milk Stout.  For our next round, I ordered my favorite from the sampler, the spring seasonal Pollenator, and KK decided to try the Double IPA Brewmaster special.  None of the Long Trail beers wowed us, so we didn't pick up anything from the To Go store.  If we had to choose, KK and I would both opt for another visit to Harpoon over Long Trail.

I should mention that this Vermont house sleeps 10 people (plus 4 in the carriage house!), so the kitchen is extraordinary.  My only complaint about the kitchen was the lack of sharp knives, but otherwise I'd be in heaven if I had this kitchen to cook in every day!

The kitchen was stocked with essentials (spices, sugar, flour, oils, etc.), so we only needed a few ingredients from Shaw's.  I almost didn't mention our grocery store specifics, but KK suggested I mention Shaw's for some reason...I'm guessing because it reminds him of his fraternity shopping trips during college in Boston :) We picked up chicken tenderloins instead of breasts by mistake, but I've updated the ingredient list below because they ended up being a nice change.  Plus, I was less worried about the chicken not cooking through with the thinner slices.  During dinner, KK shook his head at me and said that I had ruined ordering Chicken Parm at restaurants for him.  I guess that's the sign of a well-cooked meal!

Skillet Chicken Parmesan
Adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe
Time: 40 minutes
Serves: 3-4

8 ounces spaghetti
2 cloves garlic, minced
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 lb. boneless chicken tenderloin
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups shredded Italian blend cheese

1.  Cook spaghetti according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the garlic, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, oregano, basil, sugar, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Set aside.

3. In a large skillet with a lid, heat oil over medium heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Place the flour in a shallow dish and cover the seasoned chicken with flour, coating both sides.  Place chicken in skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes per side to form a golden crust; chicken will not be cooked through.  Remove the chicken to a plate.

4. Wipe the skillet clean, and pour tomato sauce contents into the skillet.  Adjust the heat to medium, and submerge the chicken into the sauce, making sure the chicken is mostly covered.  Cover the skillet and simmer on medium for 15 minutes, sitrring every few minutes to ensure the chicken isn’t sticking to the bottom of the skillet.  If the chicken is sticking, reduce the heat to medium-low.

5. Uncover the skillet, sprinkle the Italian cheese blend and remaining Parmesan over the chicken and sauce.  Recover and cook for 5 minutes, until cheese is melted.

6. Plate pasta and cover with sauce and chicken.  Enjoy!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Roasted Red Pepper & Pesto Penne

This is a new one - I'm blogging from the car! KK and I are on our way to Vermont for the weekend. We found out on Thursday morning that we won the "lotto" at KK's work, and get a free weekend at a house in Vermont. We also won last spring, so we know what to expect - a gorgeous house set on several acres of land, with hiking trails and a skeet shooting range on property.  During our last trip, we visited Harpoon Brewery where we bought the Brewmaster beers we enjoyed with this amazing pesto pizza. We're hoping to check out some of the other local breweries this weekend.  I don't think we'll get any skiing in, but I do see hiking and a trip to the Vermont Country Store on our list of things to do!

Before we left for the weekend, KK insisted we finish the open jar of pesto and very ripe red peppers in the fridge. I adapted Kuntal's recipe to use store bought pesto instead of making it from scratch. To add a homemade touch to dinner, we roasted our own red peppers! When roasting peppers, I find it best to use the broiler on high heat. Char the peppers until they're nice and black - this makes the skins come off much easier.  Here are some other helpful red pepper roasting tips.

One final note: we should've considered halving the pasta quantity because now, although the pesto and peppers are finished, we have a ton of leftovers!! This recipe easily feeds 4-6 people. Enjoy!

Roasted Red Pepper & Pesto Penne
Adapted from Kuntal's Kitchen
Serves: 4-6
Time: 40 minutes 

2 red peppers
1 lb. penne pasta
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. chicken breast, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup jarred pesto
1/2 teaspoon crushed red peppers
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper
Grated Parmesan, for garnish

1. Cut red peppers in half from top to bottom, and remove ribs and seeds.  Preheat your broiler and roast peppers for 5-7 minutes.  Place peppers in a Ziploc bag and let sweat for 15 minutes.  Peel off skins and chop peppers into small pieces.

2. While peppers are sweating, cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and return to the pot.

3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook chicken, turning occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

4. Using a food processor or handheld immersion blender, combine 1 tablespoon olive oil, pesto, roasted peppers, crushed red pepper, and heavy cream until smooth.

5.  Add chicken and sauce to the pot of pasta.  Stir to combine, season with salt and pepper.  If necessary, heat on low until warmed through.  Garnish with grated Parmesan.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Grilled Eggplant alla Norma Burgers

Back in 2010, my Mom turned Rachael Ray’s subs into burgers, so this meal was inspired by her.  I've worked really hard to season my cast iron grill pan over the past few months and, with a few successful burger attempts (think Chili Lime Chicken and Chicken Parm burgers), I finally got around to trying this adaptation on Monday evening.  As Rachael Ray would probably say – "Yum-o!"  Not only were the burgers delicious, but they were also incredibly simple.  If you don’t have tomatoes on hand, or if you feel like saving more time, you can substitute the tomato mixture for store-bought bruschetta.  I've doubled the tomato mixture ingredients below because KK and I used the original amount for just two burgers.  To reheat the leftovers, I recommend using a toaster oven to avoid soggy eggplant.

Grilled Eggplant alla Norma Burgers
Adapted from Rachael Ray
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4

1 medium eggplant
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
4 plum tomatoes, lightly seeded and chopped
Fresh basil (10 leaves), torn into small bits
2 cloves garlic, minced
Hamburger buns, toasted
Margarine, for spreading
Garlic salt

1. Heat a grill pan or outdoor grill over medium-high heat.

2. Slice the eggplant into 8 ½-inch “burgers."

3. Pour olive oil into a bowl. Using a pastry brush, brush the eggplant burgers on both sides with the oil, and season with salt and pepper. Cook the eggplant burgers for 3-4 minutes per side, until tender. While still warm, top eggplant burgers with cheese.

4. Using the same bowl, still with some remaining olive oil, combine tomatoes, basil, and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper, then toss to combine.

5. Spread hamburger buns with margarine, and sprinkle with garlic salt.  Toast.

6. Layer 2 slices of eggplant with lots of raw tomato mixture into each burger roll.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Slow Cooker Tex-Mex Chicken Stew

After Saturday's early Easter festivities, KK and I had Easter brunch with some friends at O'Nieals.  The brunch menu had a good range of breakfast and lunch options, as well as an extensive variety of Bloody Mary choices, including a "build your own" option.  I'm more of a mimosa girl myself, but several people around the restaurant were enjoying Bloody Marys.

We opted for a non-traditional Easter dinner - Tex-Mex stew! With the temperatures in the mid-50s, I'm not really sure what prompted KK to pick stew for dinner, but it was delicious.  I think KK was swayed by his love of shredded chicken! I started the slow cooker before we left for brunch, and the apartment smelled heavenly by the time we got home.  Without Tapioca on hand, KK's research indicated that we should use flour to help the stew thicken.  My original instinct was to use cornstarch, but thankfully KK learned that cornstarch tends to break down in the crockpot.  Good to know! I carefully removed most of the jalapeno ribs/seeds, but KK and I didn't think the stew was hot enough.  Remember - we like things spicy! A little Frank's RedHot did the trick, but next time I'll probably leave some of the jalapeno seeds or add more chili powder.

Slow Cooker Tex-Mex Chicken Stew
Adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures
Time: 5 hrs 35 minutes
Serves: 6-8

2 onions, chopped
2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup instant tapioca
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
3 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
2 cups frozen corn
1 (15.5 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Shredded Mexican cheese (optional), for topping

1. Combine the onions, jalapenos, garlic, tomato paste, oil, and chili powder in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 5 minutes, stirring half-way though, until the onions have softened. Transfer mixture to the slow cooker.

2. Add chicken broth, tomatoes, tapioca, and brown sugar to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then add it to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours.

3. Move chicken from slow cooker to mixing bowl; shred it using two forks.  Allow the stew to sit uncovered and untouched for 5 minutes; use a spoon to skim any fat from the surface. 

4. Add the corn and black beans, cover slow cooker and cook on high for 10 minutes.  Add the shredded chicken and chipotle chile, and cook for another 5 minutes.  Stir in the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve and top with shredded cheese, if desired.
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