Monday Reviews- Stirring the Pot

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Monday Reviews:

As a young child I had absolutely no patience for picky eaters. I would watch disdainfully as kids from other families pushed food around their plates until they were excused from the table. At school I made sure to keep my coveted Lunchables away from the roving eyes of the picky eaters at the 3rd grade lunch table. And I always made sure to finish my meals, so as never to be confused with the “other” kids. You can imagine my embarrassment then, when my younger sister Madeline began shunning the dinners my mom would put in front of her. At first it was just salad. She would only eat it with French dressing, then she would only eat salad if she could dip the romaine leaves into the dressing. I watched in horror as she descended further down the picky eater slope, eventually eating only buttered noodles and McDonalds chicken nuggets. I thought all hope was lost until a birthday dinner at Olive Garden one night. She was presented with a huge plate of Chicken Parmesan. Fate intervened and Maddie added a new dinner to her repertoire. Her love for this dinner gradually expanded into more foods and our relationship -and my third grade reputation were saved.

Stirring the Pot was the first Tyler Florence cookbook I bought and I love his style. The first chapter is devoted to de-cluttering and making the most of your kitchen space. It teaches you how to utilize your freezer, fridge, and pantry. He also shows you the knives and pans to buy at three different price points. 

The recipes in this book are simple and taste great. He breaks the second chapter into 8 sections: Roast, Sauté, Braise, Fry, Grill, Steam, Bake, and Fresh and Raw. He teaches you the basics of these techniques while providing you with delicious recipes. I love the acorn squash stuffed with cheese tortellini’s, his perfect roast chicken (covered with 2 sticks of butter!), and of course the Chicken Parmesan. This version is sautéed in a pan first and then placed in a hot oven to finish. The result is a crunchy, cheesy masterpiece that everyone will love no matter how picky they are.

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RTK note: To get a few more veggies into this dinner. I’ll sometimes replace the noodles with spaghetti squash. Also if I’m feeling especially lazy, instead of making the sauce below I’ll use previously made sauce from my freezer or a good jar of pasta sauce.

Recipe from Stirring The Pot by Tyler Florence

Chicken Parmesan

 (Makes 4 servings)

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
  • 1/2 bunch fresh basil leaves
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained and hand-crushed
  • Pinch sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts (about 11/2 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 1 (8-ounce) ball fresh buffalo mozzarella, water drained
  • Freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 pound spaghetti pasta, cooked al dente

Coat a saute pan with olive oil and place over medium heat. When the oil gets hazy, add the onions, garlic, and bay leaves; cook and stir for 5 minutes until fragrant and soft. Add the olives and some hand-torn basil. Carefully add the tomatoes (nothing splashes like tomatoes), cook and stir until the liquid is cooked down and the sauce is thick, about 15 minutes; season with sugar, salt and pepper. Lower the heat, cover, and keep warm.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Get the ingredients together for the chicken so you have a little assembly line. Put the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and lay a piece of plastic wrap over them. Pound the chicken breasts with a flat meat mallet, until they are about 1/2-inch thick. Put the flour in a shallow platter and season with a fair amount of salt and pepper; mix with a fork to distribute evenly. In a wide bowl, combine the eggs and water, beat until frothy. Put the bread crumbs on a plate, season with salt and pepper.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high flame in a large oven-proof skillet. Lightly dredge both sides of the chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour, and then dip them in the egg wash to coat completely, letting the excess drip off, then dredge in the bread crumbs. When the oil is nice and hot, add the cutlets and fry for 4 minutes on each side until golden and crusty, turning once.

Ladle the tomato-olive sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with mozzarella, Parmesan, and basil. Bake the Chicken Parmesan for 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. Serve hot with spaghetti.

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Spicy Veggie Pizza

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Let’s talk about real life for a minute. Have we known each other long enough to do that? I thought so.

Real life is not like imaginary life. In imaginary life I arrive before anyone else. In real life I am sometimes always 10 minutes late. In imaginary life I also have someone to do my grocery shopping and when I don’t feel like making dinner, my private chef Jose whips up a three-course meal, complete with a (chocolate) dessert. Pretty good right?

Just to make sure you got it, let’s take this pizza recipe as an example. In imaginary life I made my Jamie Oliver pizza crust, took vegetables out of my garden, and only ate one slice. In real life we were out of bread flour and yeast so Pilsbury made my crust, my corn was from the freezer, and I’m not telling you how many pieces of pizza I ate …fine, I ate 4 slices but it wasn’t my fault. This pizza is imaginary life good and real life easy. It’s covered in veggies, spicy-ness, cheese, and is delicious (hence the mass quantities I consumed). It screams summer and I have already added it to my list of favorite dinners. I’ll warn you, make sure to have some friends around when you make this. I’m already trying to talk myself into eating another “small” piece.

 

Recipe (very) slightly adapted from Shutterbean‘s Corn Zucchini Lime Pizza

Spicy Veggie Pizza

(Serves 4-6)

  • Pizza dough
  • 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 1½ cups corn (cooked or uncooked)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup feta
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced
  • red pepper flakes
  • salt & pepper
  • juice of 1 lime

Preheat oven to 500F. Put the zucchini & corn in a bowl. Toss with olive oil and set aside.

Oil a 9×13 inch pan (use a bigger rimmed baking sheet for a thinner crust) with extra virgin olive oil. Add dough and press it out to the edges.

Top the pizza dough with zucchini, corn, red onion, jalapeno, and cheese. Add cilantro leaves on top. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and red pepper. Cook for 20-25 minutes in the oven. The edges will be golden and the cheese melted (although not in my picture apparently). Evenly squeeze lime juice on top of the pizza, add another sprinkle of cilantro and some sliced avocado. Put the leftovers in the fridge immediately and walk away.


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My pups were trying to persuade me to share. Sorry guys, this isn’t safe for you.

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Monday Reviews- 5 Ingredient Fix

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Monday Reviews:

I have noticed a problem. I talk (type?) too much. The story behind this cookbook was a page long before I was halfway through. Oops! I guess minoring in English will do that to you. I love writing and food and I get a little carried away sometimes. So let’s get started.

“5 Ingredient Fix” changed my whole cooking philosophy. Before this book I used to waste so much time with complicated ingredients and recipes. This book taught me how to simplify meals using only 5 ingredients. I doubt I would have ever picked this book up off the shelves if I hadn’t seen the show first. In an episode called “Cook Once, Eat Twice” Claire (in my kitchen I’m on a first name basis with the chefs) made Pork Roast with Hard Cider Gravy and Parsnip-Potato Mash. It looked so good I immediately looked the recipes up on my computer and made it for dinner that night (can you tell I’m a little impulsive?). It was amazing. I couldn’t believe only 10 ingredients could make an entire meal that was also delicious. I ordered the book the same night.

“5 Ingredient Fix” covers it all, from breakfast to cocktail hour to dessert and is laid out very simply. The five ingredients are at the top of the page with the instructions below and two tabs are listed on the side of the page. One states: “What makes this recipe really sing” where she introduces the recipe with a couple of sentences about why she likes the dish. The other tab says “What to toss in if you have it”. This gives you a more options if you want to go above the 5 ingredient limit. The directions are clear and easy to read and the photographs are lovely. Looking through this book I realized just how many of her dishes I have made, some of my favorites are, Lemon-Tarragon Chicken Soup, Spaghetti Squash with Basil Butter, Edemame Hummus, and Pecan Cheese Straws.

The only downside to this book is the time factor. Since you are only using 5 ingredients, you have to work a little harder to bring out the flavors. This is usually achieved in this book by roasting, which can add about 45 extra minutes so keep that in mind. However I think the extra time is well worth it and would recommend this book to anyone who craves simple, delicious food.

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I make this soup whenever I’m feeling under the weather. I usually have the ingredients on hand and the mix of roasted garlic, hot soup, and lemon always makes me feel better.

Recipe from 5 Ingredient Fix by Claire Robinson

Lemon-Tarragon Chicken Soup

(Makes 4-6 servings)

  • 1 large head garlic, cut in 1/2 horizontally through cloves
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, plus thin slices for garnishing
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves, plus more for garnishing
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, preferably organic, cut into bite-size pieces

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Put the garlic halves, cut side down, on a sheet of aluminum foil on a rimmed baking sheet. Add 2 tablespoons chicken stock and wrap the foil around the garlic, keeping the cut sides flat on the sheet tray. Roast until the garlic is very soft, about 30 minutes. Remove the garlic from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.

Squeeze the soft garlic from the head with your fingers into a large saucepan. Whisk in 1 cup of the stock to loosen the garlic paste and put the pot over medium-high heat. Add the remaining stock, lemon juice, and chopped tarragon; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and add the chicken. Cover and cook until the chicken is just cooked through, about 9 to 12 minutes.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with thin slices of lemon and a sprinkle of fresh tarragon leaves.

“What to toss in if you have it: You can add just about any vegetable to the soup; chicken breast cooks quickly, so there are no worries about overcooking vegetables in the broth. Broccoli, peas, fresh corn kernels, celery, and carrots would all be great additions.”

Monday Reviews- Jamie’s Italy

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Monday Wednesday Reviews:

To help me blog on a more regular basis I thought I would turn to my other favorite love, cookbooks. This isn’t a story from my childhood of days spent flipping through cookbooks with my mom. In fact, my mother rarely used cookbooks, instead she relied on a handful of staple dinners and Italian recipes handed down from her mother and grandmother. Italian woman rarely write anything down, and my mother was no exception. My sister Amelia and I have had myriad conversations regarding our frustration that she never wrote down the recipe for her lasagna with homemade sauce and have spent the past three years attempting to recreate it from memory. (Amelia has recreated a similar version and now gets requests to make lasagna for the family on an almost monthly basis.)

Ironically my mother has shelves packed with old cookbooks from Martha Stewart and The Joy Of Cooking. But the only time I ever saw her use these cookbooks was to make two things. Birthday punch (which she made for rare special occasions) and a multi-step egg soufflé (which she made on even rarer occasions). For this reason I grew up believing cooking was just something that happened naturally. I imagined I would move out on my own and years of cooking wisdom would magically appear fully formed in my brain.

For this reason, a large part of my college diet consisted of microwave oatmeal, apples with crunchy peanut butter, ramen noodles, cheese quesadillas dipped in barbeque sauce, and frozen vegetables. Occasionally I would stumble across a recipe in a magazine or feel the need to cook my boyfriend a “fancy dinner” (usually the same baked salmon and rice) and break out of my rut for a while. However I still never thought to pick up a cookbook or learn to make myself anything worthwhile.

A few things helped to change this pattern. One, I got married, being a wife, I now wanted to learn to make dinners so my husband Nick and I could sit and eat together (also if I had let Nick make dinner, we would have eaten frozen pot pies every night). Two, for my bridal shower my mother in law gave me a cookbook and had all the guests bring me their favorite recipe to add to it. It was one of the most thoughtful presents I have ever received and really helped teach me to make some great dinners. My third breakthrough happened while wandering through Lowe’s of all places. You know those racks of magazines that cover every topic from landscaping to grilling? I picked up one called “Ultimate Italian”, it had so many delicious looking recipes I quickly added it to our cart of painting supplies and light bulbs. When I got home I read through it and saw a recipe for homemade pizzas from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook “Jamie’s Italy”. My mom had loved him back when he was known as “The Naked Chef” so I decided to try the recipe. I went to the store and bought semolina flour and golden caster sugar, came home and made my very first homemade crust. It was easy and more importantly it was better than any crust I could have gotten from the delivery guy. I was hooked. I knew I had to have whatever else Jamie Oliver was cooking in his book. I went out that night and bought my very first cookbook.

And what a book. Jamie Oliver is the kind of person I want to be friends with. He makes you feel confident and also says fun British words like “meat with two veg”. The book has beautiful pictures of Italian countryside’s, grandmothers making pasta, and (my favorite) a truck bed stuffed with pans of lasagna. This book totally immerses you in the culture. The recipes are made with simple, non-processed ingredients and they really challenge you to use fresh food and know where it comes from. It seemed so obvious when I read it but it had somehow never really occurred to me before. Inspired, Nick and I starting going to the local farmers market down the street and even planted a couple of vegetables in our tiny yard. I loved this book, I loved it so much I spent a whole month making recipes out of it. Until one night after a dinner of chicken tetrazzini (made with 2 cups of heavy cream and twice as much cheese) Nick and I realized eating pasta 5 nights a week was making our pants a little… tight. That night I vowed to cut back on the pasta dishes and dust off my running shoes. But I was a new woman. This book made me realize just how delicious food could be when I put a little effort into it and, that with a little guidance I could make delicious food whenever I wanted. I was liberated and knew this was the beginning of a whole new way of cooking.

This recipe is the first thing I made from “Jamie’s Italy”. The crusts are simple to make and bake up beautifully. I just put all the toppings in small bowls and let everyone make their favorite (Nick and I like Margarita pizza the best). It is also easy to double the recipe and freeze some for later too.

Recipe from Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver

Pasta Per Pizza-Basic Pizza Dough

(Makes 6-8 medium-sized thin pizza bases)

  • 1 3/4 lb strong white bread flour (about 3 ½ cups)
  • 1 ½ cups fine ground semolina flour or strong white bread flour
  • 1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ oz envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon golden castor sugar
  • just over 2 cups lukewarm water

Pile the flours and salt onto a clean surface and make a 7-inch well in the center. Add your yeast and sugar to the lukewarm water, mix up with a fork and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork and a circular movement, slowly bring in the flour from the inner edge of the well and mix into the water. It will look like stodgy porridge (How British is that??!) – continue to mix, bringing in all the flour. When the dough comes together and becomes too hard to mix with your fork, flour your hands and begin to pat it into a ball. Knead the dough towards you and your right hand to push the dough away from you at the same time. Repeat this for 10 minutes, until you have a smooth, springy, soft dough.

Flour the top of your dough, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for at least 15 minutes at room temperature. This will make it easier to roll thinly. Now divide the dough into as many balls as you want to make pizzas, i.e. lost of small ones or a few larger ones, but I suggest that 6 is a good quantity for this amount of dough.

Timing-wise it’s nice to roll the pizzas out 15 to 30 minutes before you start to cook them. If you want to work more in advance, it’s better to keep the dough wrapped in plastic wrap in the fridge rather than having rolled-out pizzas hanging around for a few hours. Take a piece of the dough, dust your surface and dough with a little flour or semolina, and roll it out into a rough circle about ¼ inch thick. Tear off an appropriately sized piece of aluminum foil, rub it with a little olive oil, dust it well with flour or semolina, and place the pizza base on top. Continue doing the same with the other pieces and then, if you dust them with a little flour, you can pile them up into a stack, cover them with plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge.

When you’re ready to cook them, preheat your oven to 500F. At this stage you can apply your toppings. Remember: less is more. If you can, cook the pizzas on a piece of granite or marble in your conventional oven- if not, do them one by one on the bars of the oven shelf toward the bottom of the oven. (If you’re going to cook your pizzas on the bars of the oven, make sure they’re not too big- otherwise they’ll be difficult to maneuver.) Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until pizzas are golden and crispy.