Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pesto Chicken Pillows

This is a guest post from yours truly, KK!  MC ended up working later than expected on Wednesday, so I took it upon myself to cook dinner.  Luckily, MC made it home in time to check them while they were in the oven, as she was better able to judge when the rolls were fully baked.  I likely would have taken them out of the oven too soon, but the extra 5 minutes in the oven cooked them to perfection!  I don't know if I'm biased because I made them myself, but I must say these were pretty tasty!  Pesto, cream cheese, crescent rolls, and breadcrumbs, what's not to like?!

Pesto Chicken Pillows
Adapted from The Girl Who Ate Everything
Time:  1 hour
Serves:  4-6

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb. chicken breast, cut into 1-in cubes
Cooking spray
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup pesto
2 8-oz. packages Crescent Rolls
1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
¼ cup butter

1.  Heat olive oil on skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook chicken thoroughly.

2.  Preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with foil.  Spray the foil lightly with cooking spray.

3.  In a medium bowl, add the cream cheese, pesto, and cooked chicken.  Season with salt and pepper, and stir until combined.

4.  Unroll the crescent dough.  Press two triangles together to form a rectangle.  Spoon the chicken mixture in the center of the rectangle and bring the corners of the crescent dough together, pinching to seal.  Repeat 8 times to form 8 pillows.

5.  Place the breadcrumbs on a plate.  Melt the butter in the microwave, and then dip each chicken pillow into the melted butter; alternatively, use a pastry brush to coat each pillow.  Roll each butter-coated pillow in the breadcrumbs.

6.  Place chicken pillows seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until chicken pillows are golden brown and cooked through.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Tomato & Spinach Risotto

Courtesy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I hope many of you are enjoying a day off from work right now! We spent the weekend catching up with friends we see far too infrequently! On Saturday, KK and I caught dinner with my old roommate (counting time in college, we lived together for almost 8 years!) and her boyfriend in Hoboken.  Thanks to Groupon, we had $21 off our dinner at Sushi House.  It was a great evening catching up!  On Sunday, I met a friend/former coworker for dinner at Eataly.  It was surprisingly crowded for a Sunday evening, presumably due to others also enjoying the long weekend, but we were happy to sip on glasses of wine at La Piazza as we waited for our table at La Pizza & La Pasta.  After heading back to Hoboken, I met up with KK and his friends who had spent the afternoon/evening watching football at Village Pourhouse.  Thankfully, we were able to sleep in today.  Right now, we're watching The Price is Right, even though it just isn't the same without Bob Barker. After the show's over, I'll head to the gym so I can preemptively work off the Thai-Style Chicken Flatbreads that I'm making for dinner tonight!

Although I don’t make it often (here and here), I do love risotto.  The second link is especially interesting because it’s oven-baked risotto, not the traditional type like this meal which requires constant stirring.  Nevertheless, the smooth, creamy, cheesy consistency is so warming and it’s perfect to serve as a main course in the wintertime.  Serve this risotto as a side dish, or with chicken, or remove the chicken entirely and use vegetable broth to make it suitable for vegetarians.  The key to risotto is to stir.  And stir.  And stir.  Whatever you do – don’t let the broth be fully absorbed by the rice before adding more liquid; if that happens, you’re risotto will not reach its full state of creaminess.  Risotto is also best consumed as soon as it’s removed from the heat.  It will continue to cook in its own heat, so it becomes dry and overly mushy as it sits.  The juices from the tomatoes, spinach, and cooked chicken added to the creaminess of this dish, which is why I think I liked it even more than some of the other risottos I’ve tried in the past.  I promise the effort from all of your stirring is worth it – this risotto was delicious and will absolutely be repeated in the near future!

Tomato & Spinach Risotto
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats
Time: 35 minutes
Serves: 2

2 ½ cups chicken broth
1 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt & pepper, to taste
1 tsp olive oil
1 lb. chicken breast, cut into 1-in cubes
¾ cup Arborio rice
¼ cup sherry or dry white wine
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
3 oz. baby spinach
1 tsp dried basil
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Bring chicken broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat to low, cover and keep warm.

2. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until onion begins to brown, 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.

3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in another large nonstick skillet.  Cook chicken thoroughly, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes.

4. As chicken cooks, begin cooking risotto.  Add rice to skillet with onions, coating rice with the butter.  Pour in wine and stir until nearly absorbed by rice. Add ½ cup chicken broth, stirring continuously until broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth to the rice mixture in ½ cup increments, stirring constantly until liquid is nearly absorbed before adding more.

5. When there is 1 cup of broth left (after three pours), add tomatoes and continue stirring.  Add baby spinach and basil when pouring the last ½ cup chicken broth over the rice.  Continue stirring until liquid is almost absorbed and spinach wilts.  Stir in Parmesan cheese and cooked chicken; season with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Macaroni and Cheese Soup

Macaroni and cheese, especially Velveeta, reminds me of my childhood.  I have strange memories of squeezing the foil pack of Velveeta cheese into the pot of cooked pasta as my dad stirred the mixture.  I also ate a lot of Easy Mac in college, but now I can’t stand it.  Nevertheless, If KK weren’t around or if calories ceased to exist, I might eat mac and cheese 2-3 times/week.  Although my picture doesn’t do it justice, this soup was remarkably creamy, and the store-bought breadcrumbs added an unexpectedly pleasing crunch to the soup.  The original recipe recommended using whole milk, but we drink skim or 1%.  In using skim instead of whole milk, the soup didn’t come to its creamy state of perfection until I used the immersion blender to smooth it up.  If you’re making this for kids, the immersion blender also helps break up the diced vegetables, hiding the added nutritional value from potential picky eaters.  Before adding the pasta, it will look like you have a lot of liquid for the soup, but the pasta absorbs some of the liquid, and it forms the perfect ratio of soup to noodles.  I’m looking forward to the leftovers, although I imagine more of the soup will be absorbed by the noodles… but I’m OK with that because it just means the leftovers will be more like mac & cheese than soup.

Macaroni and Cheese Soup
Adapted from Famed Cooks
Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4-6

8 ounces dry elbow macaroni
½ cup diced onion
½ cup diced celery
2 Tbsp butter
⅓ cup flour
cup sherry or white wine
3 cups chicken broth
½ tsp cayenne pepper
3 cups milk
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Breadcrumbs for topping, optional

1. Cook macaroni according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, sauté onions and celery with butter in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat.  Cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add flour to pan and stir for 1 minute.

3. Next, add liquids to the pan.  Start by adding the wine, bringing the mixture to a simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Then add chicken broth and cayenne pepper, and continue to simmer for 5 minutes as mixture begins to thicken.  Finally, whisk in milk and simmer for another 3-5 minutes until hot.  Keep pan at a simmer; do not bring to a boil.

4. Add cheese in 1-cup increments, stirring after each pour until the cheese melts.  If soup looks clumpy, use an immersion blender to smooth out the liquid.

5. Pour in cooked macaroni, stirring until the pasta is warmed through.  Serve immediately, topping with breadcrumbs if desired.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Nutty Caramel Oatmeal Bars

I have zero motivation to get started on things at work this week, but at least we have a long weekend to look forward to! I did a little baking this weekend for my friend Liz’s surprise birthday.  I’ll get to the baking details in a bit, but first I should do a proper recap of the party! Despite the fact that her mom thought we were childhood friends, Liz and I only went to high school together for 1.5 years.  Nevertheless, she’s one of my closest friends, each a part of the other’s wedding, and I’m even credited with introducing her to her husband (he and I went to college together)! I don’t think she was terribly surprised by the party, perhaps because her sister-in-law had to keep her at brunch well past the time their plates were cleared, but props to her husband for planning such a great party.  There was great food (dips galore, meatballs, roast beef sammies, and more), we played a few drinking games, and I discovered a new favorite drink – McKenzie’s Black Cherry Hard Cider! Since her actual birthday is today – HAPPY BIRTHDAY LIZ(ZY) :) Feeling very lazy on Sunday evening, KK suggested Oven Baked Risotto with Caprese Chicken for dinner which we enjoyed while watching the Golden Globes.

Now... onto the baked goods. Liz and her husband tend to follow a Paleo diet, so these bar cookies weren’t necessarily Paleo-friendly, but I had some caramel squares I wanted to use up, so I went ahead with it anyway! I have several oatmeal/chocolate/nut/caramel bar recipes in my email archives, so I took inspiration from all of them, but mostly based them off of Blue-Eyed Bakers’ recipe.  I was going to skip the parchment paper step, but decided to double-up with parchment paper and cooking spray to avoid a difficult of melted butter and sticky caramel (you’re welcome, KK!).  I used a combination of milk chocolate and dark chocolate chips this time, but you can use semisweet, white, or even butterscotch chips to add a little variety.  My favorite part of these bars were the salted peanuts – they added just the right amount of saltiness to offset the caramel chocolate filling.  I baked these the night before the party, and allowed them to cool completely before cutting them.  These bars are very dense, so I do recommend cutting them into small pieces.  In an airtight container stored at room temperature, the bars will stay fresh for about a week, but I imagine the party leftovers will be devoured by my coworkers in a matter of minutes after lunch today!

Nutty Caramel Oatmeal Bars
Adapted from Blue-Eyed Bakers
Time: 50 minutes
Makes: 30-40 bars

Crust & Topping Ingredients
Cooking spray
1 ½ cups salted dry roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
3 cups flour
2 ½ cups old fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
⅔ cups sugar
⅔ cups packed light brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 ¼ cups (3 sticks) butter, melted

Caramel Chocolate Filling Ingredients
24 soft caramel candies
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup mini Rolos
¾ cup chocolate chips (milk chocolate, dark, or semisweet)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease a glass 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray, and line bottom and sides with parchment paper.

2. Mix together dry crust ingredients in a large bowl.  Pour in melted butter, and mix until combined.  Use ⅔ of the mixture to form the bar crust, pressing the mixture into an even layer on the bottom of the prepared baking dish.  Bake 20 minutes, until crust is golden brown and soft.

3. Prepare the caramel filling while the crust bakes.  Melt caramels and heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat.  Stir frequently to prevent the cream from boiling.  Once caramels begin to melt, but are still somewhat clumpy, add Rolos to the saucepan.  Continue stirring until both the caramels and Rolos are melted, about 7-10 minutes in total.  Let caramel cool slightly.

4.  Cool crust on a rack for 5 minutes.  Top with chocolate chips and cover with caramel chocolate sauce.  Crumble remaining crust/topping mixture on top of the filling.

5. Bake 20-25 minutes until top is golden brown.  Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Masala Macaroni

Happy Friday! This week certainly got away from me! Last Saturday, our friends hosted a Wildcard Playoff party at their house in north Jersey.  Their house is perfect for watching sports and, although we aren’t quite ready to move out of Apt. 3D, KK’s already set on having a similar “man cave” in our house one day.  Above their garage, our friends’ entertainment room has a 70” wall-mounted flat screen TV, and two 30”’ TVs mounted next to it.  I wish I had a picture of it, but you’ll have to take my word for it when I say it’s incredible.  The entertainment room also has a 3-side wraparound couch, built-in surround sound, and even darts! Needless to say, KK was in heaven! After the first game, we headed to south Jersey for a belated holiday party with KK’s cousins.  We had a white elephant gift exchange, an Indo-Chinese potluck dinner (the cousins requested I make Red Velvet Butter Cookies for dessert, but they were gone before dinner was even served!), and stayed up way too late! All in all, it was a fantastic weekend! Of course, I’m also looking forward to this weekend, which is just a few hours away :)

Since I didn't contribute anything Indo-Chinese to the family potluck last weekend, I thought I'd share an Indo-Italian dish with you instead.  Yes you read that correctly - Indian spices with Italian pasta! I was skeptical at first, but it was surprisingly a good combination!  Cooking the macaroni, or other small pasta, is the longest step of this meal.  But, let’s be real – cooking pasta doesn’t take THAT long! Unless I’m working from home or have a light day in the office, I can’t afford/don’t want to spend a long time in the kitchen, so the whole thing takes just over 30 minutes.  While your pasta cooks, everything else (chicken, veggies, and sauce) comes together.  One word of caution: make sure to continuously stir the onions and spices to prevent them from sticking to the pan or burning.  Once the pasta is done, the rest of the steps should be done, and all you need to do is toss to combine and serve.  Enjoy!

Masala Macaroni
Adapted from Hooked on Heat
Time: 35 minutes
Serves: 4

12 oz. macaroni
2 Tbsp canola oil, divided
1 lb. chicken breast, cut into 1-in cubes
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ tsp cumin
1 ½ tsp dried parsley
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
1 tsp coriander
¾ tsp chili powder
Heaping ¼ tsp turmeric
1 tomato, chopped
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Salt & pepper, to taste

1. Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp canola oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok.  Season chicken with salt and pepper, then cook until no longer pink.  Plate, cover with foil to retain heat, and set aside.

3. When pasta water is boiling, heat remaining canola oil in the same skillet/wok.  Sauté onions, garlic, and spices until onions are browned and fragrant, about 5-8 minutes.

4. Add in the chopped tomatoes, and cook for 2-3 minutes to combine well. Add in veggies, shredded chicken and pasta, and stir-fry to combine well with the spices. Season with salt and pepper.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Ground Turkey Bolognese

As you know, I love one pot recipes (see: here, here, and here), so I was very excited when KK told me he’d found another one.  Not only was I excited about a new one pot meal, but I was also thrilled to recreate a Bolognese sauce like the dishes we enjoyed while on vacation in Bologna, Italy.  Although it isn't like our traditional favorite sauces – saucy and chock full of tomatoes – this sauce is just a perfect meal for a chilly almost-winter evening.  It is incredibly hearty, includes a few veggies, and the lean ground turkey keeps it somewhat healthy.  Make sure you use a deep skillet because everything goes into this one,  including the pasta.  I used my 5-qt. Dutch Oven, and it was filled to the brim.  Next time, I’ll consider using a stock pot just to make stirring a bit easier.  If the liquid in your pot reduces before the pasta is fully cooked, add ½ cup of liquid (water or more chicken broth) at a time until the pasta reaches your desired firmness.  I haven't asked him, but I think this first-time recipe jumped onto KK's Top 10 list of recipes because he told me how pleased he was with this dinner several times!!

Ground Turkey Bolognese
Adapted from Serious Eats
Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery (about 2 stalks)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. ground turkey
½ cup red cooking wine
½ cups low sodium chicken broth
28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1 lb. spaghetti
Splash of fish sauce
½ tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried oregano
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or stock pot skillet over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add carrots, celery and red pepper flakes and cook 5 more minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add turkey, season with salt and pepper, and cook until no longer pink, 5-6 minutes.  Add red wine and allow to simmer until liquid is mostly reduced, about 5 minutes.

3. Add chicken broth and tomatoes, breaking apart tomatoes as they soften with a wooden spoon or potato masher.  Raise heat to high to maintain a steady boil; add pasta and cook according to the package directions.  Stir occasionally to prevent pasta and meat from sticking to the pan.

4. When pasta is cooked through, add fish sauce, spices and Parmesan.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Chicken Enchilada Soup

Happy New Year!! Most of the blogs I read posted their Most Viewed/Top posts of 2013, but I’ll save that for the end of January to celebrate my first blogiversary! So – how did everyone ring in the New Year? Instead of waiting hours to see the Times Square ball drop, without food/warmth/bathrooms, KK and I hosted a party at our place.  We ordered dinner from Grimaldis, and munched on homemade goodies like buffalo chicken dip, spice cupcakes, pumpkin bread, and brownie batter dip.  Since my friends were all eager to bake, I just provided the basics – wine, cheese and crackers, hummus, a veggie platter, and Archer Farms Butter Toffee Caramel Clusters courtesy of Target (YUM!).  We were having too much fun catching up that we weren’t prepared with our champagne toast and noisemakers when the ball dropped.  Whoops! Thankfully, KK rewound the DVR so we could properly ring in the New Year (just a few minutes late!).  Sadly, I had to return to work today, but it’s already Thursday so the weekend is just around the corner!!

This cheesy soup was simply divine, and we even had all the ingredients already on hand! Usually, soups take awhile to simmer and come together, but this only takes ~20 minutes.  I recommend nuking the cream cheese in the microwave for 15 seconds to soften it up before blending together the sauce mixture.  This will help create the soup’s smooth consistency.  The original recipe lacked a bit of flavor, but that was quickly solved by added heaping teaspoons of cumin and chili powder.  Instead of seasoning the soup with salt while cooking, the chips added the right amount of saltiness at the end.  In fact, I continuously added crumbled tortilla chips to my bowl, making the crunchiness last throughout the entire meal!

Chicken Enchilada Soup
Adapted from Some the Wiser
Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4

1 tsp canola oil
1 lb. chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
10 oz. can enchilada sauce
15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 ½ cups frozen corn, thawed
10 oz. can diced tomatoes
¾ cup milk
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
Tortilla chips, for serving

1. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Cook chicken and onions 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until chicken is cooked through.  Add garlic and continue cooking for 1 minute.

2. Use a hand mixer or immersion blender to blend cream cheese and enchilada sauce together in a small bowl.  Mixture should be smooth.  Once chicken is cooked, pour cheese sauce mixture into the skillet.  Stir in beans, corn, diced tomatoes, milk, cumin, and chili powder.  Simmer over medium-low heat until heated through, about 7 minutes.  Serve warm, topped with crushed tortilla chips.
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