Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sassy Sweets: Glazed Chocolate Doughnuts

Happy Halloween!  Forgive me for giving you so many doughnuts (pumpkin, banana, now chocolate) over the past few days.  But, I wanted to make a delicious Halloween dinner treat for you all.  And then, Hurricane Sandy hit.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, you have to be living under a rock.  I think; it's hard to know how much coverage this got outside our area.
Our area (NYC) has just been devastated.  We're lucky to have power, internet, you name it, we have it.  But, my parents, Awa, they haven't been as lucky.  Likewise, my office has lost all of its power and I haven't been to work for the last 3 days.  While many read that and think I'm lucky, I would rather go to work as normal than experiencing what many New Yorkers are going through right now.

My parents, sister, new friend J, and Awa came over for much-needed hot showers, hot food, and charging of phones, laptops, etc.  It's so hard to remember when we didn't have this technology because I practically grew up on it.  My parents aren't even the worst hit; some towns are without drinking water since in certain areas, sewage treatment centers have been compromised.  Trick or treat indeed.

In the face of trouble, I use my hands - during the hurricane, I made these doughnuts which have been devoured by all ever since.  Top them with some leftover Halloween candy and you have yourself a nice little treat - something to comfort you on the harder, or I hope for all of our sakes, easier days!
Glazed Chocolate Doughnuts (adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures)
Serves:  12
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cups milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1-3 tablespoons milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder.  In another bowl, combine milk, eggs, and vanilla.  Stir the milk mixture gently into the dry ingredients until just combined.  Grease 2 doughnut pans and fill them 1/2 way full.  Bake for 8-12 minutes, until fully cooked through and a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool.
Meanwhile, make the glaze.  In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Sift the confectioners sugar into the butter, stirring well.  When the mixture begins to get lumpy (after about 1 cup of sugar), add the milk, one tablespoon at a time and whisk quickly to combine, until the desired consistency is reached.  Drop the doughnuts in on one side; remove, and top with sprinkles before serving.
This is a great "trick" for Halloween "treats".  Add some of the chopped chocolate bars (Snickers, Milky Ways, etc.) into the dough and then more on top.  Great way to use up all that Halloween candy with minimal fuss.

Until the next time my oven is on...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Brilliant Brunch: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

We're hunkered down here awaiting Hurricane Sandy.  With all the subway systems, buses, and railroads shut down in NYC, John and I are homebound and content to ride this out, safely.  We're sending our best wishes to everyone else out there who is preparing as well. 

But for us, on the 4th floor of a large apartment building in NYC (let's be honest, there are few trees here), we're pretty immune to a lot of the challenges others, like my parents, are facing.  Until our electricity goes off, we're just lying in wait.  What to do then on a surprise day off from work?

Bake of course!  These pumpkin cinnamon rolls are the perfect warming breakfast for Thanksgiving or any fall weekend that requires an extra hug of comfort, like we needed this morning. I made these the day before, set them in the fridge, and then baked them this morning to perfect pumpkin-y goodness. 
Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls (adapted from Reclaiming Provincial)
Serves:  8
1/2 cup pumpkin purée
1 egg
1/8 cup warm water
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 1/8 cups flour (plus more, as needed)
1/8 cup of nonfat dry milk
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tsp yeast

2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice

In a large bowl, combine all dough ingredients and knead until a soft, smooth dough forms (about 8-10 minutes of kneading).  Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour).
Meanwhile, make the filling by mixing together brown sugar and spices.  After the dough has risen, turn it out on a greased surface and roll it into a 14x22 inch rectangle.  Brush with melted butter, then evenly spread the filling mixture over the surface.  Roll the dough up into a log.  Cut into 8 slices.  Place the slices in a greased 8-inch pie pan.  Cover and let rise until doubled in size, at least 1 hour at room temperature. 
To bake later, let the dough rise, cover with a wet cloth and place in the fridge until ready to use.  To bake immediately, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Bake rolls for 10-12 minutes, until golden.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.  

We served these with extra cinnamon cream cheese frosting, but for a delicious looking buttermilk chai glaze, head over to Reclaiming Provincial.  
Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, October 26, 2012

Weeknight Dinner: Jalapeno Popper Chicken

This is one of John's favorite skinny meals - of course because he is a jalapeno fiend.  But even if you aren't, like my grandmother, Awa, you will still enjoy this dish!  Awa doesn't especially like to cook for one person every night and Mom frequently packs "take-home" containers for her (and let's be honest, all of us) on Sundays.

When we made this, Awa carried on about how she had never had a jalapeno, so John and I made her a take-home container of our own!  Two days later, I got a text at my desk that said "that was delicious, whatever you call that chicken thing".  I laughed aloud.  Literally.

It's nice when you can make something as easy as this and everyone loves it - even if you aren't a spice lover, I bet your family will devour this!  We could probably eat this almost once a week because it is always flavorful, easy, and overall pretty healthy!

Jalapeno Popper Chicken (adapted from Skinny Taste)
Serves:  4
2 jalapenos, deseeded and diced
4 ounces Neufchatel cheese
4 ounces grated cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 tablespoon scallions, sliced
2 chicken breasts, sliced in two thin cutlets
1 lime
1/2 cup whole wheat panko breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  In a small bowl, combine jalapenos, Neufchatel cheese, cheddar, salt, pepper, and scallions.  Divide the mixture evenly and spread over each chicken breast.  Roll up the chicken breasts and use toothpicks to secure.  Put the breasts into a casserole dish.  Juice the lime over the top of the breasts and then top evenly with breadcrumbs.  Bake for 30-45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  Serve immediately.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sassy Sweets: Pumpkin Doughnuts and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Last weekend, M came home from college to start her student teaching!  She also brought friend J with her who will also be student teaching in our local high school (how weird that they are old enough to be TEACHERS right?!).  Anyway, to welcome them “home” (since J has never been here before and is probably overwhelmed by us any normal human would be), we decided to have a party.
But not just any party, oh no, it’s MY family we’re talking about here.  We decided to have a PUMPKIN party!  That’s right – we carved pumpkins, toasted pumpkin seeds, and every dish was filled with pumpkin.  You can just imagine how this creative take to dinner pleased grandma Awa.  “Pumpkin is a dessert food” and “How awful” accompanied our making of the menu.

But in the end, Awa was sold.  She couldn’t stop eating K’s Pumpkin Chili.  For my portion of the evening, I made these doughnuts.  Cakey and delicious, I paired them with a cinnamon cream cheese frosting that was simply amazing.  The original recipe calls for cinnamon and sugar, which would be nice, too, of course.  But if you have an extra 5 minutes, this frosting is worth every second.

Pumpkin Doughnuts and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting (from King Arthur's Flour)
Serves:  12 (12 baked doughnuts)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (100% pumpkin in a can - NOT the pumpkin pie in a can)
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice*
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons flour

8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease two 6-doughnut pans**. In a large bowl, combine oil, eggs, sugar, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spices, and baking powder.  Stir in the flour until the mixture is smooth.  Fill each doughnut mold about three-quarters of the way with pumpkin mixture.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until fully cooked through.  Meanwhile, make the frosting.  Beat together cream cheese and butter, until fully combined.  Beat in powdered sugar and cinnamon until the mixture comes together fully.  Let the doughnuts cool and then frost them if serving immediately.  Otherwise, store doughnuts in an airtight container for up to 1 week and frosting in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, frosting immediately before serving.
*I like to "make my own" pumpkin pie spice with 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon each of ground cloves and ground ginger. 

**If you don't have 2 doughnut pans, let your doughnuts cool about 5 minutes, and then turn the pan over and let the doughnuts fall out.  Re-grease the pan and refill the pan with dough. 

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, October 22, 2012

Fancy Pants App: Spinach-Jalapeno Dip

Last weekend we watched football with John's family in Connecticut.  It was a rare warm day for a drive, and for football, and to see the gorgeous autumn leaves on all the trees.  We brought with us an all-new, never been tested before, dip recipe that John and I had dreamed up earlier in the week. This year, we not only have my whole family playing fantasy football (yes, again...and yes, K&E are winning, AGAIN), but we also have John's whole family playing in a different league of fantasay football.

The best part about that?  I am winning! Woohoo!  It wouldn't be nice to visit John's family WINNING fantasy football and not bring something delicious.  I let John choose because it was his family, after all and of course, at the top of his list was the jalapeno popper dip I made last football season.  I wanted to make a more traditional Spinach-Artichoke dip instead because, well, I wasn't really sure how much people like jalapenos (like me).

Like the great compromisers we are, we agreed to meld them into one.  I agreed, mainly because I had a bundle of spinach in the house and I'm always looking for ways to finish off the bag...but we don't have to let John in on that secret.  The result was this Spinach-Jalapeno dip...which was raved over!  It's another dip that you can make ahead of time, and stick in the oven right before serving.  You can hide the veggies for the kids and switching to reduced fat cheese and cream cheese resulted in less than 150 calories per serving!!
Spinach-Jalapeno Dip
Serves:  12 (about 1/2 cup)
16 ounces of Neufchatel cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese)
1/2 cup skim milk
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons pepper
2 cups spinach, chopped*
1 cup jalapenos, diced
1 cup reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese, divided
Chips, Celery, and Carrots for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  In a large bowl, combine Neufchatel cheese, milk, garlic, salt, and pepper until well-mixed.  Stir in spinach, jalapenos, and 2/3 cups of the cheddar cheese.  When it is all well-incorporated, transfer the mixture to a casserole dish (I like my 8-inch deep casserole dish for this).  Top with remaining 1/3 cup of cheddar cheese.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the top cheese is melted and bubbling.  Serve immediately with accoutrements. 

*we put 2 whole cups of spinach into our ninja and pulsed it until it was finely chopped (a little less than tooth-sized). 

Nutrition Info per serving, based on 12 Servings, from
Calories:  133
Fat:  10g
Carbohydrates: 4g
Sodium: 560mg
Protein:  6g
Sugar:  2g

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, October 19, 2012

Weeknight Dinner: Roasted Veggie and Fontina Pizza

Today, John and I are breaking our tradition of pizza night Friday.  Literally, in the 3 years we have been together, I can count the times we have been together on Fridays and not made pizza.  It is not many!  But tonight, we’re going to go on a foray into the wild, rolling streets of Manhattan for a food festival that I couldn’t wait to try out!
Madison Square Eats happened in the spring as well and I passed it by but didn’t stop.  Some things you just enjoy more with someone else.  We’re going to try a number of interesting twists on various dishes (artisan cannolis, asian hot dogs, I could go on and on). 

I know, myself, about twisting up a classic dish; like this dinner!   I have been on a real kick lately for pizzas that aren’t the traditional.  Last week’s French Onion Soup pizza was great, and we followed it up with another winner here.  Roasting the vegetables (well, turning the oven on at all) fills the house with some delicious smells and warmth.  Topping it with a flavorful cheese like fontina means a little cheese goes a long way.  And less cheese means less calories, but in this case, just as tasty! 
Roasted Veggie and Fontina Pizza (adapted from Cooking Light)
Serves:  4
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1 medium zucchini, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray
1 Mom's Pizza Dough
4 ounces shredded fontina cheese (1 cup)
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Toss mushrooms, garlic, pepper, zucchini, and onion with oil in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place vegetables on a cookie sheet and cook 10-15 minutes, until tender.  Remove from the oven but leave the oven on.
Meanwhile, roll out the dough onto a 12-inch pizza pan.  Sprinkle vegetable mixture over dough.  Top with cheese.  Cook the pizza 10-15 minutes until dough is cooked through and cheese is melted, and slightly browning.  Sprinkle pizza with basil and crushed red pepper, if desired.  Serve immediately.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dorm Room Dinner: Chicken Braccioletinne

This is a fancy dinner without the fussy ingredient list.  Also known as, my favorite type of dish!  Over Labor Day weekend, John and I spent time with his family up in Maine.  While we were there, we spent an enjoyable night with his uncle and his dad at one of the best restaurants in their area. John used to go there a lot with his dad and uncle when he lived closer to them, and he always gets the same dish.  So of course, we couldn't let the one time I was in attendance go to waste.
We both ordered his favorite and while he wiped the plate, I surreptitiously dissected the dish. The chicken is simplistic and very classic Italian.  In fact, once we got home, I found a number of recipes but none mimicked the restaurant's ingredients exactly like I wanted.  Like the persistent blogger I am, I used their online menu to recreate the dish for both of us.

Another positive - I stored two of these premade chicken breasts in the freezer for an easy dinner a few weeks later.  They were just as good and reminded me of the type you would get from Omaha Steaks, etc.  You can make these a few weeks in advance for a fancy dinner party, top with breadcrumbs and bake right before the dinner guests arrive.  I promise this will be a hit.  We don't serve it with a sauce but a simple garlic-oil sauce would be a great compliment!
Chicken Braccioletinne (adapted from Varano's Restaurant - unbeknownst to them!)
Serves:  4 
2 cups spinach
2 chicken breasts
6 ounces prosciutto, sliced
6 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup italian breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  In a steamer basket over 3 inches of water, steam the spinach (3-5 minutes).  Let cool to the touch.  Meanwhile, slice chicken breasts in half to make a total of four thin cutlets.  Pound then out to reduce thinness to about 1/2 inch thick.  Top each evenly with prosciutto slices and mozzarella slices.  On top of the mozzarella slices, season the dish with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Evenly distribute steamed spinach on top.  Carefully roll up the chicken and place 2 toothpicks through the edge to seal.  Place all chicken breasts in a casserole dish.  Brush olive oil over the tops and then sprinkle with breadcrumbs.  Bake 35-40 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  Serve immediately.

Until the next time my oven is on...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Weeknight Dinner: Tomato and Asparagus "Carbonara"

This is a perfect "Meatless Monday" meal.  Whether you choose to skip meat on Monday or any day during the week, this dish will have you wishing it could be a meatless night every day of the week!  Each week, I meticulously plan out our dinners; I try to pick ones that are easy for the nights I know it's possible I get stuck at work late.  I pick meals that I am excited to make when I know I will definitely be home to make them!

This dish was one I couldn't wait to make.  Tearing it out of the September 2012 Cooking Light magazine and keeping it on the fridge until a week came where I knew I'd make it home in time to make this dish!  That doesn't happen very often but when it does, the final results are almost better because of how much I am looking forward to eating it!

Another great positive to no meat dinners is the time - this was literally on the table in 30 minutes and John prepped most of it for me, which was a big help.  I found the sauce to be slightly bland and upped the ingredients in our leftovers for lunch the next day, which really made the dish sing! I can't wait to try this with peppers, squash, or mushrooms like the magazine suggests.  Already thinking about variations?  That's a successful dish if I've ever heard one.

Tomato and Asparagus "Carbonara" (adapted from Cooking Light)
Serves:  4 (1 1/4 cups per serving)
1/2 box pasta of your choice
1 pound asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 white onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup grated Romano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

Prepare pasta according to package directions to al dente.  Trim the ends of the asparagus and cut the asparagus into bite-sized pieces.  Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat.  Add asparagus and saute for about 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic and onion, saute an additional 1-3 minutes, until fragrant.  Add tomato halves.  Cook for 6 minutes, until tomatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together cheese, salt, pepper, and egg until well-combined.  Drain pasta and toss pasta immediately with egg mixture.  Add tomato mixture, tossing until sauce thickens.  Divide pasta evenly and sprinkle each serving evenly with basil.  Serve immediately.

Nutrition Facts per Serving, based on 4 Servings, from Cooking Light:
Calories: 335
Fat:  8.7g
Protein:  14.7g
Carbohydrates:  50.6g
Fiber:  5.2g
Sodium:  447mg

Until the next time my oven is on...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Date Night Dinner: French Onion Soup Pizza

Last Friday I was sitting at my cubicle minding my own business when my stomach AND my brain revolted.  It’s unusual that both are so in sync.  Usually my stomach wants something that my brain can talk it out of.  Sometimes my brain thinks something that my stomach says won’t turn out edible.  They balance one another out; checks and balances, like the government.

But sometimes they work together to run my life amok – like right then.  I began craving French Onion Soup.  The funniest thing is, I never even LOVED French Onion Soup until I started making it for John a few years back (it is his favorite).  I knew I had all the ingredients, except the cheese, but I couldn’t disappoint John who looks forward to our Friday night pizza nights as much as I (usually) do.
Poor John got a text from me “so what do you think about French onion soup pizza?!”  Skeptical to say the least, he was a good sport and agreed to give it a try; first he caramelized the onions and doused them with good red wine and beef stock.  By the time I got home with the appropriate cheeses, the pizza practically made itself.  And I’m sorry, if you think French onion soup is good – it has nothing on this pizza!!!  But, if you’re thinking about making this pizza, triple the onions and just make the soup.  The onions are the worst part to make, so if you’re going to do it, just go all the way with it. 
French Onion Soup Pizza*
Serves:  4
2 white onions
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup beef broth
1 Mom’s Pizza Dough
2 cups Gruyere cheese
1 tablespoon fresh thyme

Thinly slice the onions.  In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat.  Add the onions, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender and start to caramelize (turn golden brown).  Add the red wine and beef broth and cook the onions (stirring often) until the liquid has been fully absorbed.  Set aside.  Resist the urge to turn the heat higher to get the liquid to evaporate.  This process took John about 45 minutes – 1 hour to fully cook down the onions.  I told you it’s the worst part!

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Spread Mom’s pizza dough over a 12-inch pie pan.  Place the onions over the dough, evenly distribute the grated cheese over it.  Finally, sprinkle the top of the pizza with fresh thyme.  Bake 10-15 minutes, until the crust is golden and cheese is fully melted (and browning a little).  Serve immediately. 

*After John and I made this spur of the moment, I found a number of other French onion soup pizza recipes.  They are all slight variations of ours.
Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Weeknight Dinner: Sweet Potato Burgers

My grandma told me I could not call this dish a "burger".  That a "burger" was delicious meat and this would never qualify.  Not even patiently explaining the concept of veggie burgers would sway her.  Nope, once Awa gets something into her head, she can get stubborn.  It's a trait all of us women in the D'Ambrosio family share!

John was no better when I told him we were having sweet potato burgers.  He is just as skeptical whenever I make vegetarian dishes that do not feature pasta, but he is always willing to try which is one of the many reasons why I love him.  You all know by now how well I am (trying) to incorporate sweet potatoes into our weekly meal plan because of it's health benefits for both of us, and the fact its one of the best vegetables when discussing men's health specifically. 

There are times when I find a recipe that I feel the urge to make it RIGHT THEN.  That's how it was with these burgers.  I knew the creamy sauce wasn't for me, but I couldn't get out of my head the idea of making sweet potato burgers.  It was a novel idea and the result was delicious - make them ahead of time and stick them in the freezer; then when you want them, it will literally be 10 minutes from freezer to table.  Got to love the easy dinner meals!

Sweet Potato Burgers (adapted from here)
Serves: 4
1 large sweet potato (about 2 cups)
1-14 ounce can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 cloves garlic
1 egg
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
4 slices of cheddar cheese
4 hamburger buns

Pierce the sweet potato with a fork.  Cook in the microwave for 5-8 minutes, until when you touch it, the sides easily cave in.  Remove the meat from the skin and place the sweet potato meat and beans* into a large bowl.  Using a masher, mash until well incorporated and the beans are broken up.  Add egg, breadcrumb, flour, cumin, paprika, chili powder, pepper, and salt.  Continue to mash until it is all well-combined.  Separate the mixture evenly and make into 4 patties.  Place in the freezer for 10-15 minutes (to serve immediately) until cooled or until ready to use (to serve at a later date).

When you are ready to serve, remove the burgers from the freezer.  Preheat the grill to medium-high heat, or a large skillet over medium high heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Place the patties on the grill (we use the Foreman) or the skillet.  Cook about 5 minutes per side, until a golden brown crust has formed on both sides, turning once.  Place each patty on a bun and top with a slice of cheddar cheese.  I also like to mix a couple drops of chipotle seasoning with ketchup for a chipotle ketchup kick on top! 

*You all know how John hates beans so I mashed up the beans beforehand to get them very small.  The second time I made this, I just threw it all in together, and it worked out fine.  To get finer mashed beans, for kids or picky Johnnys, mash the beans first.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, October 8, 2012

Date Night Dinner: Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

As I mentioned, work has been busy the last couple of weeks; but no one was more thrilled than I was when I was invited by the CFO to attend the budget meeting at a property in Chicago.  So, on Monday morning, I woke up at 4.45 a.m.  I took a car to La Guardia (you don't think I'd make John take me that early, do you?!).  I was in Chicago by 9 a.m., met the CFO, and we headed to the Hotel for the meeting.

Work is work - I'll skip over the boring bits and get to what you really care about...lunch!  The food lover that I am enjoyed every single bit of it, but what I enjoyed most was the Roasted Tomato Basil Soup.  When the executive chef came down to see how we were doing, what would any good blogger do?  Yep, I pulled him aside, pulled out a business card, and asked him for the recipe.  He promised he would immediately send it but he had a warning "this soup is simple - it is only as good as your ingredients".
Sure enough, the recipe came through a few minutes later.  I was home, watching Monday Night Football - ironically in Chicago - by 10 p.m.  The rest of the week was work as normal but I couldn't get the soup out of my mind.  What else could I do, but make it?  This weekend, John and I headed down to Union Square's Green Market.  I bought the tomatoes and basil as fresh as possible and came home and made this for the remainder of the day.  Roasting my own tomatoes, sauteing leeks and carrots, blending this soup to perfection.  My idea of a perfect day.
Roasted Tomato Basil Soup (compliments of a Chicago Hotel)
Serves:  8
5 pounds tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup leeks, diced
1/2 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup parsley leaves
2 cups heavy cream (for healthier purposes, I substituted fat free half and half)
salt and pepper, to taste (about 1/2 tablespoon of each)

Boil a large pot of water.  Prepare an ice water bath.  Take the bottom of the tomato and gently pierce the skin in an X-shape, being careful not to make a deep cut.  Boil the tomatoes (2-3 at a time), until the skins start to split.  Immediately place tomatoes in an ice bath.  Peel the tomatoes (the skins should separate easily.  Roughly dice the tomatoes and lay them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Roast the tomatoes for about 30 minutes, until they begin to caramelize.  Meanwhile, in a large pot, melt the butter.  Add carrots and leeks and stir for 10-15 minutes, until softened.  Add roasted tomatoes.  Let simmer for 20 minutes.  Add basil, parsley, and heavy cream.  Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.  Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until desired consistency (the hotel served it and I loved it just a little chunky).  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately (with some delicious bread)!
Until the next time my oven is on...

Friday, October 5, 2012

Weeknight Dinner: Mexican Chicken Stir Fry

I love stirfrys for dinner.  They are so quick, easy, and they incorporate a lot of healthy vegetables without looking overtly healthy.  Plus, if John (my favorite sous chef) chops everything up before I get home, we can have dinner on the table in literally 15 minutes.  But, you can’t really have stirfry three times a week without it getting just a tad boring. 

Just when I thought John was going to go up in arms over yet ANOTHER stir fry dish, I came up with a new and exciting variation!  We had red onion, peppers, and corn which I was trying to tie into an enchilada dish.  But, I was just too lazy to make enchiladas.  More importantly, we didn’t have any tortillas.

Missing ingredients - Always a problem!  So, I whipped it into a Mexican stir fry instead.  I couldn't believe how fast dinner went from disaster to delicious!  Honestly, within 30 minutes, we were sitting down with a glass of wine (or two) eating a dish that John literally could not stop eating.  The best thing of all, is you can throw in whatever vegetables strike your fancy.  It’s quick, easy, the perfect weeknight dinner especially now that we’re frequently eating in the dark!

Mexican Chicken Stir Fry
Serves:  2
2 small corn on the cob
1 red onion, sliced thin
1 green pepper, sliced thin
1 red pepper, sliced thin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 chicken breast, cubed
1 tablespoon cumin*
1/2 tablespoon paprika
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup brown rice (already prepared / leftovers) 

Cut the kernels off the cob.  Combine with onion, and peppers.  Set aside.  In a large skillet or wok, add olive oil and heat over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken and cook until lightly golden brown.  Add corn mixture. 

*Substitute the spices for a taco seasoning packet for an even easier dinnertime meal!
Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Dorm Room Dinner: Indian-Spiced Chicken Wraps

A couple weeks ago John and I went out to dinner; it’s not a frequent occurrence in our house so we always try to go somewhere new or splurge a little.  We hit up this little Mexican restaurant in Forest Hills that is always PACKED when we try to get in.  This time, we were smart though, we went early, before we were hungry, and didn’t mind waiting the 20-30 minutes prior to being seated.  It was a nice evening to sit outside and watch the world pass you by.

When we finally did get seated, we knew that we had to try the margaritas.  The waitress came over and John ordered a margarita on the rocks, no salt.  Then, it was my turn.  “I’ll have the exact same thing...except frozen, oh and salt".  Silence as I thought about that for a minute.  Realizing that I sounded ridiculous, I looked up at her and said, so in reality, NOT AT ALL the same thing!  Everyone had a good laugh.

When I went to make these wraps, I had a similar thought.  These are the EXACT same things as the spicy chicken pitas I made a couple weeks ago.  But in reality, not even close.  Sure they both feature chicken, tomatoes, onions, and yogurt sauce, but the similarities end completely and abruptly there.  These are nicely spiced (okay, I might have upped the spices from the recipe), and are a light, yet filling meal.  I made them into wraps because we got this great Lavash bread from our local market that we’ve been using for everything (Lavash pizza, wraps, etc.)!  They were such a different yet easy take on Indian that even John had to admit they were a great choice!  Practically the same as the spicy chicken pitas...but really different!
Indian-Spiced Chicken Wraps (adapted from here)
Serves:  2
1 chicken breast (approximately 1/2 pound)
2 tablespoons garam masala, divided
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder, divided
1/2 cup thinly sliced cucumber
1/3 cup non-fat plain greek yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 whole-wheat wraps
1/4 cup romaine lettuce
1 small tomato, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.  Rub chicken with 1 1/2 tablespoons garam masala, chili powder, and garlic powder.  Grill the chicken about 5 minutes on each side, until fully cooked through.  Let the chicken rest for 3-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine cucumber, yogurt, cilantro, lemon juice, and the remaining garam masala in a small bowl.  Spread evenly over each of the wraps. 

Thinly slice the chicken and divide evenly in the wraps.  Fill wraps evenly with lettuce, tomato, and onion.  Roll up the wraps, cut each in half, and serve immediately. 

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, October 1, 2012

Brilliant Brunch: Western Scramble

If it wasn't for John, I probably wouldn't have eaten this week.  Not joking. I was out of the house every morning by 7 a.m. and the earliest I got home any of these last 5 weeknights was 7 p.m.  It was awful; my favorite part of any day is getting home and spending time with John (aw, aren't we cute?!). 

So when I can't have my Johnny time, I can get very cranky.  To make matters only worse, I was exhausted but the minute my head went down on the pillow my brain went into overdrive.  I literally tossed and turned half the night kept up by more work that I hadn't gotten to in the 12 hours I was sitting at my desk.  Poor John had to deal with cranky me, and then was kept up by my tossing, turning, kicking, and restlessness. 

By Wednesday, well, I was ready for this weekend.  However, once the weekend came, I couldn't get myself to sleep in.  I was awake and restless but didn't want to wake John, who suffered in his own ways last week.  What to do?  Well, I got up to make him a western omelet - his favorite.  What did we learn?  That I can't make an omelet.  I'm going to keep working on it but when a few eggs crack, make a scramble.  Just as good with less stress - exactly what I needed this weekend!
Western Scramble
Serves:  2
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup green peppers, diced
1/2 cup red peppers, diced
1/2 cup white onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
3 eggs
1/3 cup skim milk
1/4 cup low-fat mexican shredded cheese blend

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add green peppers, red peppers, and onion to the skillet and saute 3-5 minutes, until onions are translucent.   Add tomato and cook an additional minute.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together eggs and skim milk.  Pour the egg mixture into the skillet and cook the eggs, stirring often, over medium heat. 

Once the eggs are fully cooked through, stir in cheese.  Serve immediately. 
Until the next time my oven is on...
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Welcome! I'm Dani (aka the Growing Foodie), just a girl balancing her career and passion for all things edible in NYC. I hope you'll join me in my adventures in life, through food. (Click for More)
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