Sunday, January 31, 2010

Penne ala Vodka

I realized about four bites in that I’d never actually had penne ala vodka before. That’s probably a good thing – I can see this adding a good three inches to my waistline if I made it regularly! The recipe itself ended up being much easier than I’d anticipated. Everything seemed to work out timing-wise and came together at the end just as the recipe said. I did have to keep asking Laura, though, what things should look like as I went along since I had no reference. “It should be a salmon color, right? Kinda thin - not like an alfredo?”

I’ll be making this recipe again – with a few tweaks. The whole time I was eating, I kept feeling like it was missing something - salt for sure and maybe another herb flavor. I think when I saute the mushrooms next time, I’ll add pancetta and possibly a little thyme. One more layer of flavor in an already delicious sauce works for me. In any case, I can’t wait to have leftovers tonight – this time I’ll remember the bread!

I’ve always been very intrigued by penne ala vodka. I want to order it each time I see it on menus, but I never do. Any time I eat it from a catering place, the pasta is overcooked. I think that’s the reason why I don’t order it. I’ve associated penne ala vodka with overcooked pasta.

When we decided to make this dish, I was thrilled. I’ve been looking for a signature dish and I thought this might be a contender. The truth is that this dish isn’t all that hard to make. You just have to be able to multitask. It’s by no means a one pot meal.

My changes: I made (approximately) two thirds of the recipe. I couldn’t see making a pound and a half of pasta for just myself. I also used light cream instead of heavy cream. The penne were whole wheat. The mushrooms came in 8 ounce containers so I used two of them instead of only 12 ounces.

Changes I’d make next time: I felt like the dish was missing something. I had considered using pancetta or prosciutto, but changed my mind at the end. Sometimes, we should stick with our gut feelings. The dish was also missing an herb flavor. Next time, rosemary or thyme might make it into the mushroom mixture.

Meredith always says that a good gauge for any dish is to ask yourself if you’d serve it to guests and if you’d make it again. I would make it again and I would serve it to company.

Is this my signature dish? No. Baked ziti has always been my signature dish. I guess I was thinking that it was too easy or too commonplace to qualify as a signature dish. Meredith reminded me that after making my own sauce, adding sausage and making the meatballs to go in it that I’ve personalized it to a point where it should be my go to dish. I agreed. However, if something else comes along, I’m open to the idea of having a first runner up. This, however, wasn’t that dish.

Here’s the recipe: Fabulous Penne a La Vodka
Thanks, Koren!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chicken Divan

When I was young, this was just called chicken and broccoli casserole. And I HATED it. Fast forward to me as an adult and a random evening at my mom’s. She pulls leftovers from the fridge and I grudgingly decide to make a plate. I was instantly converted! Everything I hated about it as a kid I now loved!

The Paula Deen recipe was a new one for me. I swapped fresh broccoli in for frozen, light sour cream and mayonnaise, fat free cream of soups (one celery/one mushroom) and 2% cheddar. You’d never know. I’ve been eating it all week and aren’t even sick of it yet!

This was new for me.  I never even HEARD of Chicken Divan.  It's a very comforting casserole dish.  Next time, I might add sliced mushrooms to it.  I'd definitely make this dish again.  I'd serve it to my family; people I'm comfortable with.  My suggestion would be to let it sit after it's done cooking for about 15 minutes.  Actually, this is the perfect make-ahead dish so cook it, let it cool, refrigerate it and eat it the next day.  It was much tastier the next day.  I'm glad I learned about Chicken Divan.

Recipe is courtesy of Paula Deen

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Breakfast for Dinner – Eggs Benedict

The Eggs Benedict recipe we used was by Tyler Florence.

I didn’t make my own hollandaise sauce.  I used a sauce packet that I had.  Honestly, it was good but not like the hollandaise sauce you get when you get eggs benedict in a restaurant.  I used Canadian bacon.  Originally my plan was to use Taylor ham, but I seem to be the only person that knows what that is.

Let’s talk about poaching eggs.  I poached it as per the directions in the recipe.  The egg white was a little undercooked and the yolk was’'t runny enough because it was overcooked.  Anyone know a foolproof way to poach an egg?  Oh who am I kidding?  I’m not going to poach an egg anytime soon.

The verdict:  While the dish was good and interesting to make, next time I want eggs benedict, I'll just order it from a professional chef.

Alright, I made my own hollandaise sauce! It’s a good thing my arms get a regular workout because the stamina was certainly needed here – oh man that was a lot of whisking! The end result was worth the effort I think, but the sauce packets are convenient in a pinch and taste good too. The poaching of the eggs will take some practice, on the other hand. My whites had some runny spots like Laura’s but at least my yolks were still runny. I can’t quite figure out why you’d poach an egg anyway. I mean, after you’ve covered it in hollandaise does it matter if it’s fried instead? For the meat I had one “benedict” with the traditional Canadian bacon and then on the other I tried Smithfield country ham. I won’t use the country ham again here – way too salty for this application.

On the side I had steamed broccoli and home fries – let’s call it my ode to Rockafeller’s brunch. I first boiled red potatoes and then smashed them a little bit before I added them to onions and red pepper flakes that I’d sauteed in olive oil. Then I smashed the potatoes to the pan letting them get browned before stirring and smashing again. These were DELICIOUS. So simple yet so full of flavor. A definite winner here. All in all, this was a yummy meal. I don’t know that I would put forth the effort very often when Rockafeller’s can put it on a plate for $5.95, but hey – at least now I’m not afraid of hollandaise!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chicken Pot Pie

3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 chicken bouillon cubes
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 cups medium-diced carrots, blanched for 2 minutes
1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas (2 cups)
1 1/2 cups frozen small whole onions
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

For the pastry:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
Flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the chicken breasts on a baking sheet and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin. Cut the chicken into large dice. You will have 4 to 6 cups of cubed chicken.

In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock and dissolve the bouillon cubes in the stock. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the onions over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and heavy cream. Add the cubed chicken, carrots, peas, onions and parsley. Mix well.

For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls. Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle. Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top. Trim the circle to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the bowl. Crimp the dough to fold over the side, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.


This venture started with a recipe in my inbox from Eat Better America for "healthified" chicken pot pie. Unfortunately, that recipe used canned cream of chicken soup and that didn’t seem Good Chef worthy. So in my hunt to find another suitable healthy pot pie I ran across the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe that begins with a stick and a half of butter. I was SOLD. I followed Ina’s recipe as is, also adding crimini mushrooms to the vegetables. After all the cooking and dicing and stock-making and chicken baking – it was an all day affair – I have to admit it was worth the effort. The finished pie was warm, comforting and absolutely delicious. I’m not sure if I’d go through the trouble of making my own crust every time – the pies I made with the Pillsbury crescent recipe creations tasted yummy too.

 I did the recipe as written +1/2 since I was making it for a potluck at work as well. This is how much filling I had!
One of the small pot pies with the Ina’s crust. This is the one I had cooking night.

The potluck pie with Ina’s crust
One of the small pot pies with the Pillsbury crust. I sent 2 of these home with my parents.

So here’s the story:  I didn’t make my own stock.  I didn’t make my own crust and the only thing that I used the recipe for was for the basic idea of how to make a chicken pot pie.  I DID roast the chicken as per the recipe.  Truthfully, I don’t think that chicken pot pie is something that requires anyone to follow the recipe exactly.  I added soup vegetables instead of just peas and carrots.  For my sister, I made a fake chicken pot pie and she really liked it. 

What I liked about it:  It was warm and comforting.  I’ve needed that these last few days.  The Pillsbury crust was delicious.  (For me, making the crust seemed like too much work.)  I liked that there were more than just two vegetables in it.  Next time, I think I'll use LESS chicken and MORE vegetables.  (Don’t tell anyone I said that.)

(My sister started off as an innocent bystader and now she's a guest blogger.)  Danielle's first blog....EVER

Picture it Long Island 2010. I come home and my house smells delicious. These things never happen to me. In the year and a half I've been in my house, this is the first time it smelled so good without me cooking anything! What a treat it was to walk through the door. Initially, I was disappointed to hear that it was "chicken" pot pies. Not because they aren't great but because I don't eat chicken. Then Laura asked me if I had any "fake chicken". That was when it all changed. That's when I knew I'd get to have a pot pie too. I don't know what the homemade crust was like, but the Pillsbury one was great. I loved that the inside was somewhat creamy without being as thick as a cream of chicken soup. I think it was a perfect consistency. Laura made my pot pie in a glass dish that should have been 2 good sized servings. It was not. I just kept eating....and eating....and eating. So my suggestion for next time is to make your sister's pot pie bigger so she doesn't have leftover envy.