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Southern-Style Chicken Cordon Bleu

26 Apr

One of my good friends Kristin is an editor at the fabulous blog A Woman’s Paris.  I would highly recommend this site for anyone interested in French style, culture, cooking and more.  In addition, the creator of the site is a talented artist and sells her whimsical drawings as iPhone and iPad covers at the following site.  I love them all but I think the Avenue Montaigne drawing is my favorite.

Avenue Montaigne, Paris

Avenue Montaigne, Paris
Photo Credit: A Woman's Paris

After my successful (but tiring!) attempt creating French macarons last year and talking with Kristin about French cooking, I was inspired to try and create a classic French dish but to add a Southern twist to it.  Below is my adaptation of the famous French entree Chicken Cordon Bleu.  This recipe has its roots in a Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals episode that I watched years ago in college but never wrote down.  The thick, hearty mushroom-gravy is what really makes this a “Southern” dish.  Bring your appetite to the table when you make this dish – it’s rich and very filling!

Southern-Style Chicken Cordon Bleu with Mushroom Gravy
Serves 4

Ingredients (for the chicken)
4 chicken breasts, butterflied (you can have the butcher do this for you)
Fresh sage
Prosciutto
Fontina cheese
Flour
2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

*You also need: Toothpicks 

Directions (for the chicken)
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place small amount of cheese, sage and prosciutto in each chicken breast.  (Note: I overstuffed the chicken breasts and put way too much filling in the pictures below.  They are included so you can see the layout only.)


3. Starting at one of the narrow ends of the chicken breast, roll each chicken breast up and secure with a couple of toothpicks.  Coat each roll up in flour.


4. Heat a skillet using medium heat and add extra virgin olive oil.  When heated, add the chicken breasts and brown.
5. When browned, place chicken breasts on a baking sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes until fully cooked.
6. Remove from oven and place one breast on each plate.  Remove toothpicks immediately before adding gravy and serving.

Ingredients (for the gravy)
1 package crimini or button mushrooms
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. flour
Dry white wine
Chicken Broth (low sodium stock)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions (for the gravy)
1.  Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add butter.  When butter is melted, add mushrooms to skillet and cook until browned and soft.
2. Add flour and 1/4 cup wine and 1/4 cup chicken broth to skillet.  Mix until incorporated and warm.
3.  Season with salt & pepper.  If you want more acidic sauce, add more wine.  If you want thicker sauce, add more flour.  I usually wing it here so apologies I can’t give more specific directions!

Serve With…

Sauteed Green Beans or Spinach

and

Cheesy Risotto with Peas
Serves 4

Ingredients
Arborio Rice (4 servings according to rice package)
2 tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 32 oz. container low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1/2 – 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions
1. In a saucepan, heat chicken stock until warm but not boiling.  Keep warm while you prepare the risotto.
2. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat and add butter.  When melted, add garlic, rice and 1 cup chicken stock, stirring frequently.
3. When the chicken stock cooks off, ladle another cup of broth into the pot.  Continue doing so until the rice is cooked, which should take about 20 minutes.
4. About halfway through cooking the risotto, try out the rice.  If it is TOO chicken-y, substitute 1 cup of water instead of chicken broth when the liquid runs out for the next cycle.
5. When the rice is cooked, add the peas and Parmesan cheese to the pot, stirring rapidly to incorporate.
6. Serve immediately and top with freshly ground black pepper and an additional sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

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Nanaimo Bars

20 Apr

Nanaimo Bars

Earlier this year, I attended a Pacific Northwest cooking class at The Institute of Culinary Eduation in NYC.  D is from Seattle so I wanted to learn how to make some of the foods he loved growing up.  We learned how to make cedar-planked salmon, venison, butternut squash soup and fire-roasted oysters, among other things.  Nanaimo Bars were one of my favorite dishes we learned how to make, and, interestingly, D had never heard of them before!  Nanaimo Bars are a no-bake three-layer cookie bar with origins in Vancouver.  You can learn more about Nanaimo Bars on its very on Wikipedia page.  This dessert is extremely rich, so even though the yield is a small 8″x8″ pan, you can easily make 60+ bars from one pan because a serving size is so small.  Below is my recipe adapted from the ICE Pacific Northwest Cooking Class.  Enjoy!

Nanaimo Bars
Adapted from ICE Recipe

Bottom Layer:
Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 egg, beaten
1 3/4 cup graham crackers, crumbled (measured after crumbling)
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup dried unsweetened coconut

Directions
1. Melt butter, sugar and cocoa powder in a double boiler.
2. Add beaten egg and stir to cook and thicken.  When mixed, remove pan from heat.
3. Stir in graham cracker crumbs, almonds and coconut.
4. Press firmly into an ungreased 8″x8″ pan.

Middle Layer:
Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tbsp plus 2 tsp heavy cream
2 tbsp vanilla custard powder (such as Birds, or substitute instant vanilla pudding powder)
2 cups powdered sugar

Directions
1. Cream butter, heavy cream, custard powder and powdered sugar together well.  Beat until light.
2. Spread over bottom layer.

Top Layer:
Ingredients
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
4 tbsp unsalted butter

Directions
1. Melt chocolate and butter over low heat in a double boiler.
2. COOL.  (Don’t skip this step or the top layer will melt into the bottom layers.)
3. When cool, but still liquid, pour over middle layer.
4. Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving.  Serve cold or slightly cooler than room temperature.

Nanaimo Bars

Sunday Supper: End of Winter Pasta with Cabbage, Speck and Grappa

16 Apr

It’s 85 degrees in NYC today which means that spring is officially upon us!  Last week I made a delicious pasta that is perfect for the final days of cold weather.  Since I found this Andrew Carmellini (former A Voce chef) recipe in a Daily Candy post from 2009, I’ve made this recipe at least once every March/April.  Cabbage is one of those veggies that I know is really good for you but I don’t love cooking with it, so this recipe is a great way to include it in my diet.  Another added plus of this recipe is that it tastes awesome reheated so one pot of this can last me a few days.

Hearty Pasta

End of Winter Pasta with Cabbage, Speck and Grappa
Adapted from Andrew Carmellini recipe (via Daily Candy)
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, cut in half and sliced thin
½ lb. speck, trimmed of overdried skin and cut into thin 1½-inch strips (if you can’t find speck, you can substitute pancetta, bacon or even prosciutto)
1 medium green cabbage
1 lb. dried pasta (I prefer shells because they soak up more of the sauce)
1 c. heavy cream
salt & pepper, to taste
1 egg
½ c. grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
2 tbsp. grappa (very strong Italian alcohol)

Directions
1. Boil a pot of water.  Just before adding pasta, add salt and a dash of olive oil to prevent pasta from sticking together while cooking.
2. Heat olive oil and butter in large sauce pot over medium heat. When butter has melted, add onions and speck and cook until onions soften, about three minutes.
3. Meanwhile, remove outer leaves of cabbage and cut in half. Remove hard white core and slice cabbage into thin strips. You should have about four cups.
4. Cook pasta according to package instructions.
5. While pasta cooks, add cabbage to onion-speck mixture and stir continuously until cabbage begins to wilt, about three minutes.  At this point, if you pasta is not finished cooking yet, turn off the heat on the cabbage-onion-speck mixture and let it rest until the pasta is finished.
6. Drain the pasta, saving one cup of the cooking water (you will use if for the sauce).  Return pasta to the pot you cooked it in.
7. Turn heat back on pan containing cabbage-onion-speck mixture to medium heat.  Add cream, black pepper, salt, and UP TO one cup of pasta cooking water. (Note: I usually use 1/2 to 3/4 cup.  It all depends on how thick you want your sauce to be.)  Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for two more minutes, until the cabbage has wilted but still maintains a little crunch.
8. Turn heat on pot containing the pasta and add the sauce. Mix well to coat pasta and cook for one minute, so the pasta absorbs some liquid.
9. While the pasta/sauce are cooking together, beat a raw egg.
10. Turn off heat and add egg to pasta, stirring well so it cooks in the hot mixture.
11. Add cheese and stir. Add grappa and stir.
12. Serve immediately in large bowls topped by more cheese and a few cracks of black pepper.

Hearty Pasta

Mom’s Easy Easter Quiche

7 Apr

For Easter brunch tomorrow, I’m making my mom’s super easy and delicious quiche recipe.  She has been making it for so long that she doesn’t use a recipe.  It’s always delicious, but it tastes different with every preparation.  I’m a stickler for following her recipe to a tee because I think the combination of spices is perfect.  Also, this while this recipe calls for heavy cream and whole milk, you can substitute skim or low fat milk if you would prefer.  The resulting quiche will be less fluffy and creamy, but will still taste great with a lot less calories and fat.  In my mind, whenever I make this dish it’s for a festive occasion, so I like to stick with the heavy cream and whole milk and indulge a little!  Note: This recipe makes TWO quiches so if you only want to make one, halve the recipe.  This quiche does well refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for a couple of months though so I always make two and have an extra on hand when a quiche craving strikes!

Mom’s Easy Easter Quiche
Makes 2 quiches, each serving 6-8 people

Ingredients
2 deep dish pie crusts
Dijon mustard
1/2 pound of bacon, cooked and crumbled (6-8 slices)
2 cups shredded cheese (approximately 1 1/2 cups Jarlsberg and 1/2 cup Gruyere)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
6 eggs
1 medium onion, minced
1/2 cup unsifted flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Grated parmesan cheese
Spray butter or margarine

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Squeeze a large dollop of Dijon mustard on top of each pie crust.  Using the back of a spoon, spread so there is a thin layer of mustard along the bottom and sides of the pie pans.
3. Put crumbled bacon on the bottom of each pie pan.  There should be enough to cover most of the surface area of both pans.
4. Add shredded cheese on top of bacon, dividing evenly between both pie pans.
5. In a large bowl, mix onions, flour, salt, cayenne pepper and nutmeg.   In a small bowl, beat eggs.  Add egg mixture to large bowl of dry ingredients.  Slowly add in heavy cream and milk until fully mixed.
6. Pour mix into both pie pans on top of cheese, dividing evenly between the two.
7. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top of each pie and spray a few times with spray butter or margarine.
8. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  Then turn temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
9. Let sit for 5 minutes before cutting.

Tastes great reheated – simply microwave a slice or warm it in the oven at 350 degrees for a few minutes.

For those of you looking for more of a sugar-filled Easter brunch, check out this link that my mom sent me for some special Cadbury Creme Egg recipes.  I wish I lived in the UK because a Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry sounds really yummy!

Happy Easter everyone!

Homemade Ketchup (aka Tomato Jam)

31 Mar

When we want to go out for dinner but still be super casual, we visit the grill at our neighborhood Whole Foods and get their turkey burger.  It’s much healthier than a beef hamburger, not greasy at all and comes with a large side salad.  The best part of the WF turkey burger though is the tomato jam they put on the burger.  It’s thicker than regular ketchup and slightly sweet.  D challenged me to make some for us at home, which seemed like a daunting task until my March issue of Real Simple arrived and there was a recipe for tomato jam inside!  It is super easy to make and tastes so much better than Heinz ketchup (think: no preservatives, super fresh, slightly sweet).  Here’s my recipe adapted from RS.  Since I don’t like to cook with a lot of salt, I used low-sodium whole peeled tomatoes and a very slight pinch of salt for depth.

Homemade Ketchup (aka Tomato Jam)
Adapted from Real Simple, March 2012 issue

Ingredients
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes (low sodium – you can find at Trader Joe’s)
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch kosher salt

Directions
1. Empty the entire can of tomatoes (and juices – do not drain) into a deep large skillet.  Add sugar and salt.  Bring mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.
2. Reduce heat to medium and cook, mashing occasionally, until thick and jammy.  This should take 20 minutes or so
3. If you don’t like the idea of “thick” ketchup, once cooled, put in blender and puree until smooth.
4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

We use this homemade ketchup on burgers, fries, anything else you might put ketchup on.  You can even add some spices like oregano and use it as a pizza sauce.  However, our new favorite way to spread this is on slices of lightly-buttered bread that have been toasted then topped with extra-sharp cheddar cheese and melted under the broiler for a few minutes.  (See below for a picture.)

Tomato Jam

Special Valentine’s Day Steak Dinner – Filet Mignon with Cognac Cream Sauce

12 Feb

Decadent Steak Recipe

Last year for Valentine’s Day, D and I took a couple’s cooking class at ICE Culinary School in NYC.  The theme of the class was “The Great New York Steakhouse” and over the course of the evening, we learned how to make: Shrimp Cocktail, Clams Casino, Caesar Salad, New York Strip Steak, Filet Mignon, Pork Chops, Creamed Spinach, Truffled Mashed Potatoes and Almond Bread Pudding.  Everything was delicious and we left the class stuffed and excited to re-make the recipes at home.  Our favorite dish was, hands down, Filet Mignon au Poivre with Cognac Cream Sauce.  It’s not an easy dish by any means but it’s so, so good and the sauce makes this dish really special and also decadent.  We loved it so much, we’re going to make it at home on Valentine’s Day this year and open up a bottle of Quintessa wine that we bought on our trip to Napa last August.  Since the sauce is on the heavier side, I generally serve this dish with roasted veggies (like roasted squash and brussels sprouts seen here) to balance the steak out.  Happy Valentine’s Day!  I hope you all like this meal as much as we do!

Filet Mignon au Poivre with Cognac Cream Sauce
(Adapted from ICE Culinary Class)
Serves 6

Ingredients
6 filet mignon, 6 oz. each
Salt & pepper
Canola oil
3 tbsp. butter, divided
2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup cognac (I use Hennessy)
2 cups beef stock, reduced by half (I use low sodium stock)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. chervil, minced (or use parsley, I can never find fresh chervil at the grocery store)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Heat a large, saute pan and add oil to lightly coat bottom of pan. In a small pot, heat beef stock until half of the liquid has evaporated and you’re left with one cup.  (This intensifies the flavor of the stock.)
3. Season the filets with salt and pepper just before cooking.  *The trick to perfectly seasoned steaks is to use ROOM TEMPERATURE steaks, pat the meat dry before seasoning, season immediately before serving, and ensure the saute pan is hot BEFORE you put the steaks on it.
4. Add the filets to the saute pan and sear both sides.  *The steak is ready to be turned over when it gets a crust on the bottom and doesn’t stick to the pan.  Patience is very important here – don’t mess around with/move around the steaks once you put them in the pan unless you are flipping the steak over.  It should take max 5 minutes per side.
5. Once you finish the steaks, put the saute pan aside and transfer them to a baking dish and put them in the oven until desired level of doneness.  Estimates are   10-15 minutes for medium rare, 15-20 minutes for medium, 20+ for medium well/well done.  The temperature should be no lower than 130 degrees if you’re using a meat thermometer.  *A trick we learned in class is to relax your hand and feel the tendon part of your hand between your thumb and pointer finger.  That is how a medium rare steak should feel when you poke the middle of the steak and it’s done.
6. When done, place the filets on a wire race and let rest for 5 minutes.
7. While the steaks are in the oven, prepare the sauce.  Using the saute pan that you used to cook the steaks (Pour out the extra oil, but DO NOT CLEAN IT – the “fond” – little pieces of meat that stuck to the pan – adds extra flavor to the sauce), add 2 tbsp. butter and melt over medium-high heat.
8. When melted, add the shallots.  Cook the shallots until translucent and soft.  This should take about two minutes.
9. Deglaze (take pan off burner) and flambe with cognac.  *Trick – to flambe, pour the cognac into the saute pan then tilt the pan slightly so the liquid drains to one side.  Move the saute pan over the burner and the flame should cause the cognac to ignite.  Off the burner, swirl the liquid around in the pan until the flame has burned off.
10. When the flames have died down, scrape the pan to free the brown pieces of fond.   Add the reduced stock and let cook until further reduced by half.
11. Add  the heavy cream and reduce by half again.  It should be thick enough now that it coats the back of the spoon you’re stirring it with.
12. Finish the sauce by swirling in 1 tbsp. butter.  Do this OFF the heat.  Season with salt and pepper.
13. Serve sauce over cooked filet mignon and garnish with chervil.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Serves 6

Ingredients
1 package brussels sprouts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Crushed red pepper, optional

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Clean brussels sprouts (cut off hard ends, remove yellow leaves).  In a large bowl, lightly coat brussels sprouts with olive oil.  Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.
3. Spread brussels sprouts on a baking dish (cover with foil if you want to make clean up easier).
4. Roast in oven for around 40 minutes.  They should be crispy on the outside but still tender inside.


Roasted Butternut Squash

Serves 6-8

Ingredients
2 whole butternut squash (or 6 pre-cut/cleaned/peeled butternut squash halves – you can find these at Fairway Market)
Cinnamon
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 stick of butter

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. If using whole butternut squash, wash well then cut each in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out seeds and gunk inside squash and discard so just the “meaty” part remains.
3. Using your hands, lightly rub olive oil on both sides of squash.  Sprinkle with cinnamon.
4. Spray a baking pan with cooking spray and place squash flesh side is face down.  Bake for 50-60 minutes (if squash is peeled) or 60-75 minutes if using whole squash.  It is finished when a knife can be easily inserted into the squash.
5. Melt butter and combine with maple syrup.  When squash has ten minutes or so left to cook, take it from oven and lightly brush squash with butter/maple syrup mixture.  The longer you cook the squash with the butter/maple syrup, the sweeter it will be.  The glaze will take around five minutes to set so that is the minimum cook time for the squash once the butter/maple syrup has been applied.
6. Remove from oven, cut each piece in half once more and serve immediately.

Decadent Filet Mignon Recipe

Caramel Cake

5 Feb

Caramel Cake

Caramel cake is a Southern dessert that is traditionally made with white cake and caramel frosting.  Lots of variations exist (i.e., caramel cake and caramel icing, yellow cake with buttercream icing drizzled with caramel), but in my opinion, the original is the best.  When I am home, my mom always picks up Cindy Lou’s caramel cakes from the Cashiers (NC) Farmers Market (visit their website).  While I’ve tried to replicate her recipe at least a dozen times, I can never quite perfect it.  Usually, my icing is too thin (and seeps into the cake) or too hard (and nearly impossible to spread onto the cake).  While the icing in today’s attempt is darker than Cindy Lou’s version, I think I finally figured this cake out!  At the least this recipe will tide me over until I am back in North Carolina and can get a slice of the real thing!  A few important lessons I have learned during my caramel cake attempts:

1. Buy a candy thermometer.  It’s the best $5 I spent and really helps to know when the icing is done.
2. When making the caramel icing, use LOW heat.  It takes forever (or nearly an hour in my case), but you won’t burn the caramel and make a huge mess of your kitchen.
3. Wait for the cake and the icing to be fully cooled before you try and ice the cake.  If either is still warm, the icing won’t stay on the cake.
4. Sometimes, you can’t recreate a recipe to a tee and that’s OK.  However, Cindy Lou – if you’re reading this and want to give me your recipe, I would be forever grateful!!!

Cindy Lou's Old Fashioned Cakes - Caramel Cake

The Original - Cindy Lou's Caramel Cake

Caramel Cake
(Inspired by Cindy Lou’s Old Fashioned Cakes 828-526-9310)
Cake adapted from Gourmet, January 2008; icing adapted from here, source unknown  

Ingredients
For the Cake:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For the Icing:
3 cups (light) brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons half and half
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
For the Cake:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled – see photo below). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Caramel Cake Batter
4. Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.
5. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

For the Icing:
1. Mix sugar and half and half in a heavy saucepan and cook, stirring over low heat until syrup reaches the soft-ball stage, 235 degrees on a candy thermometer. If lacking a thermometer, check doneness by dropping a tiny bit of syrup into a cup of cold water. When the syrup can be gathered up in fingers and will almost hold its shape, it has reached the soft-ball stage.
2. Remove pan from heat. Stir in butter, then let syrup cool. Add vanilla and beat until frosting reaches spreading consistency (note: the icing will thicken as it cools). A little cream (or half-and-half) may be added is mixture is too thick.

Caramel Cake Icing

Good icing consistency

3. Spread icing on cooled cake.  Don’t skimp on the icing!  The photo below contains only the first 1/3 of the icing that I ultimately used to frost the cake.  (Note: This is a really messy, sticky cake.  In order to make cleanup easier, I put the cake inside a disposable roasting pan to frost it and transport it to my friend’s apartment.  Not the prettiest way to serve it, but caramel would have been everywhere otherwise!)

Caramel Cake

Icing the cake