Saturday, January 28, 2012

To a Crisp

Crispy Caesar Salmon Fillets with Roasted Potatoes and Broccoli
Several clever uses of leftover homemade Caesar dressing and I was still facing a usable amount at the bottom of the jar. Going over the ingredients in my head (garlic, lemon, anchovies, Dijon mustard) it occurred to me it could be perfectly paired with a couple of thick, fresh salmon fillets. I rounded out this quick meal for two (easily doubled for the whole family) with roasted broccoli and potatoes. It's a great no-fuss weeknight dinner. Ready in less than 30 minutes- exactly what I wanted after a long day at work.

- 2 6-7 oz. salmon fillets
- 2 Tbsp. prepared Caesar dressing
- 1/4 c. dried breadcrumbs
- salt and pepper
- 8 oz. broccoli florets
- 3 little potatoes with waxy flesh (Yukon Gold, rose, purple, whatever), halved and quartered
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- lemon pepper
- garlic salt
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable or grape seed oil

Heat the oven to 425˚ F. Line a heavy rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray lightly with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, toss the quartered potatoes and broccoli florets with olive oil. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle potatoes and broccoli with a few grinds of lemon pepper and some garlic salt. Place in the oven and roast until the vegetables are soft and begin to brown (20-25 minutes or so). 

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the salmon. Blot the salmon fillets with a paper towel to get rid of any excess moisture. Sprinkle both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper then brush all over with the Caesar dressing. Dredge the salmon fillets in the dried breadcrumbs and set aside. Heat the vegetable oil or grape seed oil in a heavy, ovenproof skillet (a cast iron skillet works great). Once the oil is hot, place the breaded fillets in the hot oil and cook until the outside begins to turn brown and crispy (about 3 minutes per side). Place the skillet in the oven in the rack below the roasting vegetables and cook an additional 5-8 minutes until the salmon is cooked through. Remove salmon and vegetables from oven and divide amongst two plates. Serve it up!

In Minutes Flat

Super Fast Greek Chicken Flat Bread Paninis
I must say . . . I have a crush on my panini press. Some sort of leftover meat, a random assortment of condiments, cheese and like magic . . . a hot delicious dinner! Flat bread is a staple in our house for everything from falaffle to fantastic and quick mini pizzas! This time around, I decided to fold it over and grill it panini style. Some leftover homemade Caesar dressing, roasted peppers, and oregano added a flavorful punch to this quick and easy dinner. This recipe makes enough for four flat bread paninis- plenty to share!

- 4 pieces of flat bread
- 1 cooked chicken breast, diced
- 3 Tbsp. prepared Caesar dressing
- 1/4 c. kalamata olives, halved
- 1 roasted red bell pepper
- 4 marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
- 4 slices provolone cheese
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
Heat panini press to high. In a small bowl, toss chopped chicken breast with Caesar dressing. Set out flat bread pieces and top each with one slice of provolone cheese. Divide chicken, bell pepper, artichoke hearts, and chopped olives amongst paninis and mound ingredients on top of the provolone slices. Sprinkle each panini with a little dried oregano and crumbled feta cheese. Fold each panini in half and place on heated panini press.

Cook paninis on the press for about 5-8 minute until the flat bread becomes toasty and the cheese melts. So quick and easy- it's a great week night family dinner with a little tomato soup or tzatziki sauce for dipping.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

California Dreamin' (In the Form of a Panini)

Sonoma County Chicken and Apple Panini
I consider myself very lucky to have grown up in Northern California with such food-adventurous parents. My brother and I were frequently exposed to new tastes from my mom's kitchen and at numerous restaurants. "California cuisine" provides a bounty of fresh ingredients in clever combination. Some of my very favorite dining experiences happened on trips to the California Bay Area and Wine Country (including the BEST tomato soup ever). This panini recipe is inspired by some of the tastes of California's foodie-happy wine-soaked Sonoma County. Apples, brie, and crusty bread (staple snacks amongst avid wine-tasters) play perfectly off a garlicky chicken salad and caramelized onions. Enjoy this one with a glass of wine (or two).

- 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, fully cooked, and diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced into thin rings
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 tart apple (such as Granny Smith) sliced thin
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 4 slices sour dough bread
- about 4 Thsp. soft brie cheese
- salt and pepper
- 2 Tbsp. garlic aioli (or prepared Caesar dressing)

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, separating into individual rings with a wooden spoon. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and cook until the onions begin to soften, stirring occasionally. Once the onions are soft and translucent, turn the heat to low and caramelize (20-30 minutes). Once the onions are soft and brown, remove from heat and allow to cool while preparing the rest of the panini. 

Set panini press to high. In a small bowl, combine chopped, cooked chicken breast with prepared aioli or Caesar dressing. Toss to coat chicken completely, adding a little extra dressing if it seems dry. Brush one side of each slice of sourdough bread to a little olive oil. Spread equal amounts of the brie cheese on the non-olive oil side of the bread slices then assemble paninis. Top the brie on one slice per sandwich with a little bit of the chicken, a few apple slices, and a sprinkle of the caramelized onions. Top with the second piece of bread, oil side out.

Place sandwiches on panini press and cook until the cheese melts and the bread is golden and toasted. Serve panins with a little soup and definitely a glass of California wine!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Curry Up Already!

Crostini With Curried Chicken and Avocado Salad
The Anglophile in me is absolutely mad for the tradition of "taking tea." A hot cup of tea, a splash of milk, and a little snack can brighten even the dullest afternoon! This weekend I had a little gathering to welcome back Jordyn after her quarter abroad in London. Scones, clotted cream, and cucumber sandwiches were definitely on the menu, but I wanted to deviate a little bit from a completely traditional afternoon tea (ie. champagne). I came up with this delightfully easy and tasty chicken salad recipe as a fun twist on the classic finger sandwich. Try the chicken salad on crostini for your next party or just slathered between two slices of bread for lunch! 

- 1 baguette, sliced crosswise into 1/4" thick slices
- 2 large cloves of garlic, grated fine
- 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
- salt and pepper
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 4 green onions, minced
- 2 Tbsp. minced fresh cilantro, divided
- 1/2 mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp. Madras curry powder
- 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
- 1 large, ripe avocado, diced into bite-sized pieces
- juice from 1 lemon

To make the crostini, preheat the oven to 350˚F. In a small dish whisk together grated garlic and 2 Tbsp. of olive oil, season with a little salt. Line a heavy baking sheet with foil and arrange baguette slices on foil in a single layer. Brush the top of each slice with the garlic oil mixture. Toast in oven for about 20-25 minutes until the slices are golden brown. Set aside to cool completely. Meanwhile, season chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Brush with remaining two Tbsp. of olive oil. After the toasted crostini comes out of the oven, put chicken breasts in (keep the oven at 350˚F). Cook for 20-25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink in the middle. Allow chicken to cool completely before making chicken salad.

After the chicken has cooled, dice into bite-sized pieces and place in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add lemon juice, mayonnaise, curry powder, ground coriander, green onions, and 1 Tbsp. cilantro. Mix ingredients to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper. If salad is dry, add a little more mayonnaise. Carefully mix in sliced avocado (be gentle so that it doesn't get squashed into guacamole). Top each slice of crostini with about 2 Tbsp. of chicken salad mix. Garnish the tops of each chicken salad crostini with a tiny pinch of the remaining cilantro. Serve! Eat! You'll love it!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Yes Please to Cheese!

Creamy Goat Cheese "Won Ton" Ravioli
My sweetie and I love to entertain and one of our absolute favorite appetizers to serve is goat cheese won tons. (Crisp and creamy- the recipe is a classic staple at my mom's "famous" annual holiday open house eat-and-drink-fest.) This year we served them at our New Year's Eve cocktail soiree and found our post-party fridge with some unused won ton wrappers and cream cheese. Rather than make another batch of fried food, I decided to alter the recipe slightly to make a hearty vegetarian pasta dinner. Won ton wrappers make a great short-cut to any homemade ravioli recipe if you don't want to bother with making fresh dough. They're easy to work with and the filling possibilities are endless! I used some Simple and Delicious Marinara Sauce I had stocked in my freezer. Top with a jar of your favorite marinara or toss with olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese! You'll love it!

- 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature 
- 7-8 oz. goat cheese
- 2 Tbsp. sour cream
- 2 egg yolks
- 3 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp. dried thyme
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 c. shredded fresh Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 tsp. salt
- fresh ground pepper
- 1 package (36 or so) won ton wrappers
- 1 tsp. corn starch
- 1/4 c. warm water
- 4 c. marinara sauce or olive oil for topping

Set a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. While waiting for water prepare the ravioli. In a medium sized bowl combine cream cheese, goat cheese, egg yolks, green onions, parsley,  sour cream, thyme, Parmesan cheese, salt, and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Stir until smooth, creamy, and well combined.

To assemble ravioli, whisk together warm water with cornstarch in a small bowl. Line a baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper to keep ravioli from sticking. One at a time, place about a teaspoon sized dollop of the goat cheese mixture into the center of a won ton wrapper. Wet one finger with the cornstarch and water mixture and wet two edges of the wrapper. Fold the won ton square into a triangle sealing the two wet edges to the two dry edges of the wrapper to it sticks. (Be careful not to over-stuff the ravioli so it doesn't explode all over the cooking water.) Continue the process until all the ravioli are filled. 

If you are topping the ravioli with marinara sauce, begin to heat it in a medium sized pot on the stove when you start boiling the ravioli. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add the ravioli to cook. They will cook very quickly (about 3-4 minutes) floating to the top of the pot. Stir gently a couple of times while they are boiling to prevent from sticking. Drain and place in a serving bowl, top with warmed marinara sauce or dress with olive oil. Serve with extra grated Parmesan cheese!

Pucker Up!

Sweet and Sour Lemon Almond Cake
Nearly two weeks into 2012 and I'm still trying to find uses for the 3 pound bulk container of sour cream I purchased to make various dips and appetizers for our swanky New Years bash! I love baking cakes with sour cream because it makes for such rich texture with a hint of zip. With Barb coming by for dinner last night, I decided to experiment with making a sweet/tart treat to end the meal. Here's the result- a moist, nutty, delicious cake with lemony zing!

- 1/2 c. almond meal
- 1/2 c. cake flour 
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 c. sour cream
- 1/4 c. lemon curd
- 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar, divided
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 c. sliced almonds
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Butter and flour an 8" round baking pan, tapping out the excess flour. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, and baking powder. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl cream together butter, lemon curd, and 1 cup of the powdered sugar with an electric mixer. Add vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, alternating with portions of the flour mixture, beating together thoroughly after each addition. Gently fold the sour cream into the batter. Pour batter into prepared baking pan and cook in oven for about 35 minutes until cake is baked through completely and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove baked cake from oven and allow to cool in pan for five minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. When the cake is cool, make the lemon icing by whisking together lemon juice and remaining powdered sugar, adding more powdered sugar if the icing is too thin. Spoon the icing over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. (Place a piece of waxed paper underneath the wire rack to keep the icing from getting all over your work surface.) Sprinkle almonds over the top of the cake.

Serve slices of cake for dessert with tea! So very yummy! (Also great for a breakfast treat with your morning coffee!)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Alpha and Omega . . . 3 That Is

Thai Noodle Salad with Chili Glazed Salmon
The numerous benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids are no secret. Research suggests a diet rich in these "good fats" improves brain function, cardiovascular health, and can reduce pain and inflammation. One of my absolute favorite (and most delicious) sources for this miracle fat is salmon- pink, tender, and flavorful salmon. Eating my doctor-recommended two servings of fish per week is no problem. Especially when the "prescription" is so tasty. But even more that that, I always just feel good when I eat salmon for dinner. This may have to do with the healthy brain benefits of Omega-3s, but I'll just say it's a "good mood food." I put together this quick "Thai" noodle salad as a new spin on an old favorite. This is a great dinner for two- double it for the whole family and everyone can enjoy the benefits of Omega-3-induced euphoria.

- 2 6-7 oz. salmon fillets
- 1 avocado, pitted, halved, and sliced
- 8 oz. udon noodles
- 1 carrot
- 1 medium sized cucumner
- juice from 1 lime
- 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1 Tbsp. Sriracha hot sauce
- 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 4 Tbsp. grape seed or vegetable oil, divided
- 2 Tbsp. chili pepper jam
- 3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, minced and divided
- 1 large clove of garlic, finely grated
- salt and pepper
- 3 green onions, trimmed and chopped

Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Boil a large pot of water on the stove. While waiting for the water to boil, make the dressing. In a small bowl whisk together lime juice, fish sauce, vinegar, pepper flakes, hot sauce, 2 Tbsp. of the oil, garlic, and 2 Tbsp. of cilantro. Peel the outer green layer from the cucumber and then using the vegetable peeler slice thin ribbons lengthwise into the bowl of dressing. Do the same with the carrot. Add the sliced green onion to the bowl and toss the ingredients together. Set aside. After the water has boiled, cook the udon noodles according to package directions (likely 3-4 minutes). Drain and rinse with cold water. Toss noodles together with the carrot and cucumber mixture.

Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. of oil in a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Season salmon fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. Cook in heated oil 3-4 minutes per side until a golden brown crust appears. Place skillet in the oven and cook the salmon an additional 4-5 minutes until it is cooked through. Remove salmon from oven and brush each fillet with a tablespoon of the chili pepper jam. Divide noodle salad among two plates. Garnish with avocado slices and top each with a salmon fillet. Sprinkle each dinner with remaining cilantro. I think you're going to enjoy this fast (and healthy break) from hot and heavy winter soups and stews!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Garlickity Split!

Garlicky Spinach Mac and Cheese
Over the holiday season I threw and/or organized five parties in three weeks. Let's just say that even this happy-hostess is ready for a bit of an entertaining hiatus. On the upside, my fridge is stocked with bits of leftovers and unused dip ingredients just screaming for a purpose. My sweetie and I have been snacking of leftover Crock Pot meatball subs for the past few days . . . but what to do with all this cream cheese? Well . . . naturally another Mac and Cheese recipe was destined to make this week's menu. This may very well be the richest, creamiest Mac recipe I have ever put together, thanks to a remaining carton of half and half left from New Years Day Brunch. It's an easy and delicious dinner to throw together. You'll like it. But, believe me- a little bit goes a long way!

- 2 heads of garlic
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 4. Tbsp. butter
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 c. half and half
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1/2 c. dry sherry
- 1/4 c. flour
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 2 c. grated sharp white cheddar cheese
- 1 c. dried bread crumbs
- 1 small handful of Italian parsley, finely minced
- salt
- 2 tsp. white pepper
- 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 lb. dried orecchiette pasta
- 10 oz. fresh spinach

Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Remove the tops of the garlic heads and place in the center of a square of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Wrap tightly in foil and place on the center rack of the oven. Roast for 20-25 minutes until the garlic cloves are soft and brown. While the garlic is roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and butter a 13x9" glass baking dish on the bottom and sides, set aside and prepare the cheese sauce. 

Melt butter over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Add onion and cook over medium until the onion softens and turns translucent. Stir occasionally with a wooded spoon. Sprinkle with salt. Add flour and whisk into butter and onion mixture over medium heat for 1 minute. Slowly begin to add half and half and cream, about a half cup at a time, whisking after each addition until mixture becomes silky and smooth. When all the cream and half and half are added, mix in white pepper, cheddar cheese, mustard, cream cheese, and sherry. Whisk mixture together until it is smooth. Season to taste with additional salt. Remove from heat. 

Add the dried pasta to the boiling water and cook for about 7-8 minutes. Add the uncooked spinach to the boiling pasta and cook for an additional minute until the spinach is bright green. Drain pasta and spinach mixture, reserving a cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Add cooked pasta and spinach to cheese sauce and stir to combine.

By now the garlic should be thoroughly roasted. Remove from oven and turn the heat down to 325˚F. Squeeze the roasted cloves of garlic from the papery head into a small bowl and mash the roasted garlic into a paste. Add to the cheese mixture and combine thoroughly. Mix some of the reserved pasta water into the cheese sauce to loosen it up a bit. 

Spread the cooked pasta and cheese mixture into the prepared baking dish. Cover evenly with a layer of breadcrumbs and then sprinkle with the minced Italian parsley. Bake Mac and Cheese in the oven for 40 minutes, until the top begins to brown the the cheese sauce is hot and bubbly. Allow Mac and Cheese to rest for about 10 minutes before serving. So yummy!