Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pizza (That's Amoré)

Laura's Pizza
Pizza?  Hell yeah I'll make pizza.  I love making pizza.  I have a bread machine that makes the dough.  Anyone who thinks it's a piece of equipment that just takes up space needs to taste the difference between premade dough and bread machine dough.  Sure, I could make it all by hand, but I'll save that for the professionals.

My pizza of choice was pesto margarita.  The layers are:
dough - pesto sauce (I made pesto months ago and froze it in ice cube trays for easy use) - diced tomatoes with jalapenos (drained well) - shredded mozzarella - fresh basil - minced garlic

To grill or not to grill.  That was the question.  If not for the rain, I would have (maybe) attempted to grill it.  Maybe I would have made one personal pizza on the grill and the other in the oven.  Weather conditions as they were, they both were baked in the oven, on a pizza stone.  If you're going to make pizza, please invest in a pizza stone.  The crust just crisps up so much nicer with one.

The pizza was delicious.  I never made a pesto margarita pizza before.  It came out better than I had expected.  The crust was crispy enough to stand up to the bite test.  (My pet peeve is when you order a pizza and you go to take a bite just to have all the toppings slide off the slice.)  If people wonder why I'm not a fan of ordering pizza when I go out, this is why.  So, bottom line, I'll definitely make this pizza again.  I think I'm going to enjoy finding different toppings to use.  I'd love to know what everyone likes to put on their pizzas.  Doesn't everyone have a favorite?

Meredith's Pizza

OH Today was BUSY! I have no clue why I decided to build a smoker, smoke a turkey, make pasta sauce, grill some chicken AND make pizzas. I'm exhausted!

I made two different pizzas. I took the easy road and used two doughs I bought at Trader Joe's. On the first (whole wheat) dough I did: my homemade sauce (spicy!), pepperoni, roasted onions, roasted red peppers and mozzarella. I tossed fresh red peppers and a vidalia onion with some olive oil, salt & pepper and roasted at 375 for about an hour. I think the pepper was my favorite part of the entire meal.

The second crust (garlic and herb I think?) got a white treatment. I made a white sauce by sauteing onions and garlic in olive oil and then stirring in some light cream- finished with a little salt, pepper and fresh thyme. This went on first followed by a ricotta mixture (ricotta, thyme, garlic), caramelized onions, roasted garlic, prosciutto, and mozzarella.

To be honest I preferred the traditional red sauced pizza. The white pizza came out heavier than I'd have liked and the prosciutto ended up being moot- I think it was too delicate to hold up to the richness of the cream sauce and the ricotta. Bacon would have gone nicely here. The grilling of the pizzas is something I'd like to perfect in the future. My first attempt proved slightly undercooked in some spots- I feel the right temp on the grill and a better stretching of the dough is key.

(I couldn't decide on a pic)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Steak and Sweet Potato Fries

Let me start by saying that the reason why we didn't cook apart this weekend was because we were together. Then, please allow me to continue on by saying that I'll never master the art of grilling steak.  I'm learning to grill, but it seems to be a slow and painful process.  So, that being said, I present to you the steak and sweet potato fries that we made for my mom before we went out to dinner.  (Hey, you didn't think we'd spend our weekend cooking for this blog, did you?)

Meredith made the steak on my grill.  I have no idea what went on it.  You'll have to hope that she'll share that secret with you.  I made the sweet potato fries, sort of.  I put them in the oven and left them.  Meredith turned them and made sure they were done.

My mom loves steak.  That's where this whole steak thing comes from.  Last time she (Meredith) was here, she made a steak so good that my mom STILL talks about it.  So, Meredith thought it would be a nice thing to make mom dinner before we went out.  How'd it taste?  I took a bite and was jealous.  How'd my mom like it?  Well, her response should say it all.  After taking a bite, mom said "How do you DO it?".  That, should say it all.

Finally, I wanted to mention that Meredith is planning on making a smoker for when I go there in October.  Maybe if we're lucky, she'll take us through the process.  Meredith?  What do you say?

I don't have a lot to add to be honest. The steak got a little Worcestershire, salt, pepper and minced garlic and then was grilled over high heat for about 5 minutes per side. That's the BIG secret answer to the "How do you DO it?" question.

As as for the smoker, I have an entire blog entry in mind complete with pictures, step by step instructions and diagrams :)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese

6 cups water
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp vegetable oil
1 lb small elbow macaroni
2 tbsp and 1/2 tsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1/4 tsp freshly ground black (or white pepper)
1/2 lb smoked gouda cheese, grated (or 1/2 lb sharp cheddar cheese)
6 oz bacon, chopped

Cooking Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put the water, 1/2 tsp of salt, and oil in a large, heavy saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook — stirring occasionally, until tender for about 8 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool water — set aside.

In a large sauté pan cook bacon until crispy for about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Set aside. In a small-heavy saucepan — melt 2 tbsp of the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook — stirring constantly — for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Add the remaining 1/2 tsp salt and pepper and continue whisking until the sauce is smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 8 minutes. Remove the white sauce from the heat and stir in the 6 oz of the cheese. Add the bacon. Continue stirring until the cheese melts.

Lightly grease a 6 1/2 x 10 inch dish casserole dish with the remaining 1/2 tsp. butter. Combine the cheese sauce, macaroni, and bacon in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Taste and season , if necessary. Pour into the prepared casserole and sprinkle remaining 2-oz cheese on top. Bake until lightly golden on top, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

We found this recipe here.

Laura's Macaroni and Cheese

I don't understand how I never knew about homemade macaroni and cheese.  I mean, I knew it could be made, but it seemed silly when all I need to do was add milk, butter and a cheesy powder to some macaroni.  And let's talk about the bacon.  I don't even LIKE bacon.  I've always felt like the place for bacon was on a BLT and little else.  Well, let's add mac and cheese to the list of places where I will always want to see bacon. 

I did make some changes.  I used all the gouda in the sauce and topped the casserole with extra shredded cheese.  Then, to make it really perfect, I sprinkled beautiful panko bread crumbs on top of that. 

Now, when I think of the perfect macaroni and cheese, I imagine a gooey mess.  It might be the Italian in me that wants to see the cheese melted and stringy as the mac and cheese goes from the casserole to the dish.  Whatever it is, I didn't feel I could accomplish that by drying it out in the oven.  My answer to that was to combine everything as directed and then broil it until the panko bread crumbs browned.  It was a perfect plan.  The only problem, it still needed more cheese.  Other than that, I'll never eat macaroni and cheese out of a box again and you shouldn't either.

Meredith's Macaroni and Cheese (TWO WAYS)

Alright, alright..... I've made macaroni and cheese a THOUSAND times. I mean- I live in Virginia- Hello!! It's a Thanksgiving staple. But I have NEVER made Patti Labelle's Over the Rainbow Macaroni & Cheese. It is HANDS DOWN the best mac & cheese I've ever eaten/made. That's saying a lot. I pitted it against the Emeril recipe above and Patti wins!! PLUS bacon went into both! Did you hear me? I said bacon!

All 4 stove eyes going, I accomplished macaroni & cheese two ways. Both delicious. However, Patti's recipe will now become mine around November. (Oh- and I posted two pics because, you know, it's mac and cheese TWO WAYS!)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Chicken Cordon Bleu

4 double chicken breasts (about 7-ounces each), skinless and boneless
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 thin slices deli ham
16 thin slices Gruyere or Swiss cheese
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup flour
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tsp olive oil
2 eggs
2 tsp water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lay the chicken between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, gently pound the chicken to 1/4-inch thickness. Take care not to pound too hard because the meat may tear or create holes. Lay 2 slices of cheese on each breast, followed by 2 slices of ham, and 2 more of cheese; leaving a 1/2-inch margin on all sides to help seal the roll. Tuck in the sides of the breast and roll up tight like a jellyroll. Squeeze the log gently to seal.

Season the flour with salt and pepper; spread out on waxed paper or in a flat dish. Mix the breadcrumbs with thyme, kosher salt, pepper, and oil. The oil will help the crust brown. Beat together the eggs and water, the mixture should be fluid. Lightly dust the chicken with flour, then dip in the egg mixture. Gently coat in the bread crumbs. Carefully transfer the roulades to a baking pan and bake for 20 minutes until browned and cooked through. Cut into pinwheels before serving.

Recipe courtesy Tyler Florence & The Food Network

Laura’s Chicken Cordon Bleu

First of all, I hate my camera.  I'm just putting that out there.  Moving right along . . . I'm in love.  Yep, I said it: IN LOVE!  I don't know where panko bread crumbs have been all my life, but I've seen the light. 

The preparation of this dish was messy.  First of all, I don't want to pound out chicken.  After pounding the chicken for what seemed like an eternity, it seemed like they still weren't thin enough so I cut down the amount of ham and swiss.  Then came the breading part.  I know all about not using the same hand for the egg as you do for the bread crumbs, but I couldn't avoid it here.  I kept feeling like the chicken was going to unfold and I did all I could to not let that happen.

I had roasted garlic and pecan rice and some asparagus to go along with it.  We had debated on sauce and finally decided on a mornay sauce with some mustard added in. 

The chicken was delicious.  I was really glad that we decided to use a sauce because it would have been a little too dry otherwise.  Honestly, I'd make it again just so I'd have an excuse to use the panko bread crumbs one more time.  A really delicious dish, just extend the cooking time and be prepared to get a little messy with the bread crumbs.  Trust me, it was worth it!

Meredith’s Chicken Cordon Bleu

I'm going to second almost everything Laura just said (except I LOVE my camera). The pounding... oh the pounding! As soon as I started, I remembered why I don't stuff/roll/roulade things. If anyone has the secret to getting a piece of chicken from one-inch thick down to a mere 1/4"-inch without decimating it, please share. I'm all ears.

Despite the messiness in preparation, the finished product surprisingly held together well on the pan. I ended up extending the cooking time to about 35 minutes. My (super delicious, wonderful golden gems of) Panko never got as brown as I'd have preferred. I'd actually recommend upping the temperature to 400˚ and cooking for about 20-25 minutes.

I topped mine with a white sauce made with swiss, dijon and a little thyme. Is it still a mornay if I embellished? I cooked up some yellow squash with onions and garlic and a little rotini with some of the cheese sauce to finish the plate.

All in all, it was tasty. Next time, I'd use more ham, skip rolling it up and just top the breaded chicken at the last minute with the ham and cheese. And would just have a mound of toasted Panko crumbs as a side ;)