Trouble With Toast

God Bless Texas

August 27, 2008
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I may not love the scorching heat. I may not be thrilled about the prevalence of guns. I may be put off by the large Republican population and the numerous state-sponsored executions. But I think I could get on board with any state that encourages me to eat this:

Not only was the beef inside the burrito tender and juicy, and not only was the flour tortilla pillowy soft and made from scratch, and not only were the pinto beans cooked to perfection and flavored perfectly. In addition to all of that wonderment, the burrito was smothered in an absolutely sublime green chile sauce, with the peppers coming straight from Hatch, New Mexico (where they grow arguably the best chiles in the world).  This particular dish at Chuy’s was part of their special “Green Chile Festival” menu, which, when I saw it, prompted me to hug my colleague who suggested our dinner location and tell him that I would be naming my first son in his honor.

Yessir, any state that celebrates this kind of deliciousness is okay by me.  Giddyup!


On the road again

August 27, 2008
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Sorry for the lack of blogliciousness (for all of you Project Runway fans–you know you love some Blayne, don’t lie), but I’m in Austin, Texas, doing some hard-core software testing, eating a WHOLE bunch of Tex-Mex, and drinking my weight in Shiner Bock.   I promise, I’ll be back soon (hopefully tomorrow) with some tales from the road.  I also have a couple of great shrimp recipes to share with you.

Hope you’re all having a great week–and remember, don’t mess with Texas!  :-)


Recipe: Key Lime Cupcakes

August 22, 2008
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I hemmed and hawed about what to serve our recent dinner guests for dessert.  On the one hand, I wanted to try something new and different.  On the other hand, new and different–especially when baking–can often result in unpleasant “oh, shit” moments.

I thought about my signature dessert, homemade key lime pie.  It’s always a crowd-pleaser, but it doesn’t really present any kind of satisfaction or challenge for me (because it’s an easy recipe to start with, AND because I’ve made it about a billion times).  Then I saw it, on Bon Appetit’s website–a recipe for key lime cupcakes.  We have a winner!

These were surprisingly easy to make (I’ve actually never done both cupcakes and icing from scratch), and they were dubbed by one of our guests as “the best cupcakes I’ve ever had.”  The cake was moist, the frosting was creamy, and the flavors were sweet and tart and buttery all at the same time.  And, the bonus about cupcakes is that they’re easy to send home with your guests (ostensibly for their kids, but my guess is that they got eaten on the car ride home).  Of course, if you’re smart, you’ll save a couple for yourself as well!

Cupcakes:

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup self-rising flour
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon neon-green food coloring
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Frosting:

  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line standard muffin pan with 12 paper liners. Whisk both flours in medium bowl. Beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar; beat to blend. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, then next 3 ingredients (batter may look curdled). Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions. Spoon scant 1/3 cup batter into each liner. Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan; cool.

Beat all frosting ingredients in medium bowl until smooth. Spread over cupcakes.

Recipe: Chicken and Sausage Cacciatore with Grape Tomatoes

August 20, 2008
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For the main course of our Saturday night dinner, I wanted a “one pot” meal that focused on rich, hearty flavors.  Seafood was a no-no, and I wasn’t really in a pasta mood, so when I saw this cacciatore recipe, I was stoked and couldn’t wait to try it out.

It was So. Freakin’. GOOOOOOOOOD.  As in, “I was too busy stuffing my face with its deliciousness that I forgot to take pictures” good.

The chicken and sausage were tender and meaty, and the red wine/mushroom/herb sauce added some wonderfully complex notes to the dish (note: because of boyfriend’s loathing of all things fungal, I actually cooked the mushrooms separately).  The tomatoes brought forward a lovely brightness and acidity, which helped to cut the richness and add some textural interplay.  Long story short, this cacciatore got RAVE reviews, and it only took about an hour to prepare from start to finish.  This is a great dish for entertaining or for everyday.  Enjoy!

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 large chicken thighs with skin and bones
  • 3/4 pound fresh mild or hot Italian sausages
  • 3/4 pound large mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 twelve-ounce containers grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (I used a nice Rioja)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.  Add chicken and sausages to skillet. Saute until brown, 4 to 5 minutes per side.  Transfer chicken and sausages to bowl.  Add mushrooms to skillet.  Saute until brown, about 4 minutes; add to same bowl.  Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet; add tomatoes, red wine, garlic, and rosemary.  Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until tomatoes soften, about 5 minutes.  Using potato masher (or, in my case, the business end of a heavy wooden spoon), lightly crush half of tomatoes.  Return chicken to skillet.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer uncovered 5 minutes.  Add remaining contents of bowl and simmer uncovered until chicken and sausages are cooked through, turning often, about 15 minutes longer.  Place chicken and sausages on platter.  Cut sausages on diagonal into thick slices.  Stir basil into sauce.  Season with salt and pepper.  Spoon sauce over chicken.


Recipe: Brochettes of Melon, Prosciutto, and Fresh Mozzarella

August 19, 2008
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Jason and I hosted our first dinner guests (well, besides my parents) on Saturday night, and I wanted to make a special meal to mark the occasion and make them feel welcome.  However, I also wanted to keep the cost of the dinner relatively low, and because of our new pup, I didn’t want to spend all day in the kitchen.

This appetizer was perfect because it was simple and fresh, and because it was ideal for advance preparation.  The flavors were great (even though the basil oil, since I kept it on the side, didn’t mesh with the ingredients on the skewers as intensely as I would have liked), but the presentation seemed a little off to me–next time, I’ll use a melon baller instead of chopping the canteloupe into cubes.

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
    1/3 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves plus sprigs for garnish
    1 medium shallot, quartered
  • 1 small (about 2-pound) cantaloupe, halved crosswise, seeded, cut into 6 wedges, peeled
    6 small fresh water-packed mozzarella balls, drained
    6 thin slices prosciutto, cut in half lengthwise, gathered into ruffle
    6 8-inch wooden skewers

Puree olive oil, 1/3 cup basil, and shallot in food processor until basil and shallot are finely chopped.

Cut each cantaloupe wedge crosswise in half.  Alternate 1 melon piece, 1 piece ruffled prosciutto, 1 mozzarella ball, 1 more prosciutto piece, and 1 more melon piece on each skewer. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 15 minutes before serving.)

Arrange skewers on platter. Drizzle with basil oil and sprinkle with cracked black pepper. Garnish with basil sprigs.


The newest member of the family

August 18, 2008
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Here he is!

He’s such a good boy, and keeps his mama company in the kitchen!  In fact, he even behaved well while I cooked a three-course dinner for company on Saturday night.  The meal was absolutely delicious, by the way, so I’ll post the recipes and tips over the course of this week.  Stay tuned for food-related content!


Recipe: Chicken Cutlets with Tomato Saute

August 13, 2008
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Here’s another “20-minute” meal from Real Simple magazine.  Summer is a great time for it, since the tomatoes are at their natural peak and the recipe doesn’t call for anything super heavy.  I know many people have issues with cooked tomatoes, but since they’re only in the skillet for a few minutes, they retain most of their firmness while getting an extra flavor and aroma punch from the heat, the olive oil, and the wine.  I really enjoyed this dish–hope you do, too!

  • 1 1/2 pounds small chicken cutlets (8 to 12)
    Kosher salt and pepper
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 1/2 cups pints grape or cherry tomatoes
    3/4 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
    4 scallions, sliced
    2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped

Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, cook the chicken until browned and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side; transfer to plates. Add the tomatoes to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to burst, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the scallions and tarragon and serve with the chicken.


Recipe: Pot Sticker Salad with Sugar Snap Peas

August 12, 2008
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Way back in the beginning of my relationship with Jason, he surprised me with a beautiful Calphalon steamer. I was absolutely giddy–I believe the first words out of my mouth (after giving my oh-so-thoughtful man some hot lovin’, of course) were, “Now I can make dumplings!”

Nearly three years later, I love Jason more than ever, and I’ve treated him to many varieties of steamed veggies–but I’ve never made dumplings. Sue me. I did, however, use the steamer to HEAT some pre-made dumplings for this delicious and simple summer salad from Real Simple magazine. Even my ghetto Kroger had some good frozen pot sticker choices, and the snap peas and carrots were tender-crisp and perfectly sweet. If you like, and if you’re not allergic like me, add some chopped peanuts for extra flavor and crunch. Enjoy!

  • 1 one-pound bag frozen pot stickers
    3/4 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed (about 4 cups)
    2 medium carrots, sliced
    1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
    1 tablespoon sesame oil
    1/4 pound bean sprouts (about 1 1/2 cups)
    2 scallions, sliced

Fill a large saucepan with 1 inch of water and fit with a steamer basket (or fill a large skillet with 1/2 inch of water). Bring the water to a boil. Place the pot stickers in the basket (or skillet), cover, and steam for 4 minutes. Add the snap peas and carrots, cover, and steam until the pot stickers are cooked through and the vegetables are tender, 4 to 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the soy sauce and sesame oil. Divide the bean sprouts among bowls and top with the pot stickers and vegetables. Sprinkle with scallions. Serve with the sauce.


BBQ Blues

August 11, 2008
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Few subjects cause more disagreement (friendly and not-so-much) here in the south than barbecue.  Just like people root for their SEC college football teams with great fervor, so do they espouse their intense preferences for barbecued meats.  Dry rub or marinade?  Vinegar- or mustard- or tomato-based?  Pulled or sliced?  Wood or charcoal?  Pork or chicken or brisket?  These are the sorts of questions that plague our times.

Anxious to try what has been called Atlanta’s best BBQ, boyfriend and I headed to Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q last Friday night.  The atmosphere was decent(we sat on the large patio), and the smell of smoky goodness was prevalent.  To start, we guzzled a pitcher of Sweetwater 420, one of my favorite beers and an Atlanta must-drink.  For an appetizer, we ordered fried pickles.  Yeah, that’s right–fried pickles.  With ranch dressing.  And they ARE as good as they sound.  I couldn’t stop eating them.  YUM.

Entrees came out super fast, which I guess is understandable, considering that BBQ is not cooked to order.  Jason ordered chopped brisket, fried okra, and tater tots.  The brisket was only lukewarm, and it was very bland.  The same complaints applied to the side dishes, unfortunately.  As for me, I had chicken and pulled pork with macaroni and cheese and potato salad.  The pulled pork was tender, but it wasn’t as flavorful as I would have expected (and I personally would have enjoyed a finer pull).  Meat-wise, the chicken was the highlight, with a great smoky flavor that permeated the whole breast.  It was also surprisingly moist, considering that it was white meat.  The mac was hot, which I appreciated, but the taste was nothing special (and it needed a healthy dose of salt).  The potato salad had potential, but it didn’t have a lot of zip or tang or anything, so it fell toward the bland side of the spectrum like most of the other food.

So, the verdict?  Other than the fried pickles and the chicken, we weren’t terribly impressed with Fox Bros.  For me, when the tab ends up close to $60 for two people, I expect more than just a “meh” reaction.  Next time I’m craving ‘cue, I’ll take half that money, pay for some gas, and drive out to one of the many joints outside of the city.  I suppose, though, that for the in-town set, Fox Bros. may be as good as it gets.


Recipe: Honey Chicken with Grilled Corn Salad

August 7, 2008
3 Comments

Here’s another recipe–slightly modified–that I got from the August issue of Real Simple magazine.  Corn is sooooooo delicious right now, so I’ve been trying to use it in every possible way.  Honestly, my favorite corn iteration is a good creamy chowder (with bacon, of course), but when it’s 98 degrees outside with 98 percent humidity, any kind of soup is absolutely out of the question.

A note: While Worcestershire sauce is usually one of my favorite seasonings, I somehow ran out and didn’t know it (wait, that’s probably BECAUSE it’s one of my favorite seasonings).  Strapped for time and missing a key part of the marinade, I improvised.  Instead of the tablespoon of Worcestershire, I subbed about half a tablespoon of soy sauce, half a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, a few shakes of garlic powder, and a couple drops of Tabasco.  The verdict?  Boyfriend didn’t taste the difference.

  • 1/2 cup ketchup
    2 tablespoons honey
    1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
    1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders
    Kosher salt and pepper
    Canola oil, for the grill
    6 ears corn, shucked
    1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into pieces
    2 scallions, sliced

In a medium bowl, combine the ketchup, honey, Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Coat chicken with mixture (note: if you want to baste the chicken while grilling, reserve a bit BEFORE putting the chicken in the bowl).  Lightly oil the grill. Cook the chicken, turning occasionally, until cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes, basting with the ketchup mixture during the last 2 minutes of cooking.  Meanwhile, grill the corn, turning occasionally, until slightly charred, 3 to 4 minutes (note: this time might work if you have a real outdoor grill, but if you have an indoor grill pan, cover the corn with foil and grill/roast for about 15-20 minutes). Cut the kernels off the cobs, place in a medium bowl, and toss with the butter, scallions, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Serve with the chicken.


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