Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Grilled Caprese Chicken

A great Indian summer supper. It could be very light too, if I didn't insist on topping it with a giant slab of fresh mozz. Oh well, it's almost sweater season, right? The first few steps are basically how we make any grilled chicken. I'm no Alton Brown, but my theory is that an even thickness and a marinade with a bit of oil and a bit of acid are crucial to moist, non-rubbery grilled chicken. It was complimented by grilled zucchini and onions. By the way, do you have a grill basket? You should really get one.

Grilled Caprese Chicken
Serves 2

  • 2 chicken breast halves, pounded between plastic wrap to an even thickness
  • juice of half a lemon
  • good olive oil
  • 1/3 packet Good Seasons Italian Dressing mix (dry)
  • 1 vine ripe medium tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 c. artichoke hearts (optional)
  • about 6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • splash of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 slices mozzarella
  • Throw breasts in bowl or ziploc bag. Add lemon juice, italian dressing mix and a glug or two of olive oil. Mix to evenly coat chicken. Preheat grill.
  • In a small bowl, combine tomato, artichoke hearts, basil, garlic, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a splash of olive oil, a bit of salt and pepper. Set aside.
  • Turn grill down to medium high. Throw breasts on and cook, about 6 minutes on each side. If you have a hard time judging when chicken is done, please for the love of God, get a meat thermometer. I can't think of any sauce, condiment or magic potion that can cover up the sin of overcooked chicken breast.
  • When the breasts are just about done, top each with a slice of mozzarella and allow the cheese to melt for a few moments.
  • Remove chicken from grill and let rest for a minute or two (also important for juicy meat). Top with a few heaping spoonfuls of tomato mixture. Enjoy the last taste of summer!

It's fall, dammit.

I can no longer wait for the weather to catch up. I'm ready for autumn--the season of pumpkins and pot roast and apple pie. However, with the 90 degree weather (seriously, 90? That's just for shock value, right?) my oven remains empty. I have found a pretty good substitute that I like to call "fall in a bottle". Pumpkin ale!

I believe it's a brown ale (hence the slightly bitter, ale-y taste. Sorry, I'm usually more of a Hefeweizen/wheat ale girl!) brewed with real pumpkin and spices. Although a lot of beers have pumpkin flavor, I really love the spices in this version. You all know that I'm a huge fan of Blue Moon in general, but I have to say that this pumpkin ale puts theirs to shame.

Oh, hey! The Washington Post just wrote about pumpkin ale!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Celebrating a Homecoming with Heavy Cream

Part II in a series, because evidently I have a knack for creating special event menus that rely on this naughty dairy product.

So, my brother is home from Iraq! Looking suspiciously pale for someone who has supposedly spent 9 months in the desert, but it's okay--if he actually wiled away the past few months holed up in his friend Mike's basement while playing video games and avoiding diaper duty, I won't rat him out.
Chris and Tessa tried for a good 20 minutes to get a decent picture of Bird, Dad and me. I'm using this reject photo to spite them and because it's a more accurate representation of the three of us.

On the menu: steak au poivre, sour cream and chive mashed potatoes, sauteed spinach and chocolate amaretto cake. And Masking Tape wine. Made on my dad's friend's Eastern Shore winery (where they've yet to select a name or logo, hence the masking tape), it seriously looks like something straight out of Prohibition. Because of that, and the fact that it's pretty tasty, it's become a family favorite.

This would only be cooler if the label was made of duct tape.

Steak Au Poivre (courtesy of This is one of the recipes I based my Duck Au Poivre on last month. Just as delectable with steak! This serves 4, but is easily doubled for 8.


  • 4 (3/4- to 1-inch-thick) boneless beef top-loin (strip) steaks (8 to 10 oz each)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots (I omitted because the shallots at my store looked terrible, recipe was great without)
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/2 cup Cognac or other brandy
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • Preheat oven to 200°F.
  • Pat steaks dry and season both sides with kosher salt.
  • Coarsely crush peppercorns in a sealed plastic bag with a meat pounder or bottom of a heavy skillet, then press pepper evenly onto both sides of steaks.
  • Heat a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot, about 3 minutes, then add oil, swirling skillet, and sauté steaks in 2 batches, turning over once, about 6 minutes per batch for medium-rare.
  • Transfer steaks as cooked to a heatproof platter and keep warm in oven while making sauce.
  • Pour off fat from skillet, then add shallots and half of butter (2 tablespoons) to skillet and cook over moderately low heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until shallots are well-browned all over, 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Add Cognac (use caution; it may ignite) and boil, stirring, until liquid is reduced to a glaze, 2 to 3 minutes. Add cream and any meat juices accumulated on platter and boil sauce, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter and cook over low heat, swirling skillet, until butter is incorporated. Serve sauce with steaks.
Sour Cream and Chive Mashed Potatoes
Darn good potatoes, few ingredients. Serves 4-6.

  • 2 lbs. red skinned potatoes (about 8-10 medium sized potatoes)
  • 3/4 c. light sour cream
  • 1/2 a bunch of chives (about 6 little chive stems), sliced into small pieces.
  • salt and pepper
  • Dice potatoes (not peeled) and place in pot. Cover with cold water and salt. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender.
  • Drain potatoes and put in mixing bowl of standing mixer (you can just as easily use a hand mixer, though). Add sour cream, chives and a few good shakes of salt and pepper. Mix until fairly smooth, a few lumps are just fine.
As usual, Hali oversees child labor for the evening. You call that Swiffering, kid?! Luckily, we have lots of floors for him to practice.

Cheaters' Chocolate Amaretto Cake

This is such a simple cake, but is incredibly moist and has a rich, satisfying chocolate flavor. The ganache glaze is delectable. So what's the "cheater" part, you ask? Well, aside from breaking any low-cal diet you might have planned, the ingredients are far from scratch, yet still impart a great homemade flavor. Essentially, the cake is an edited version of the famous Bacardi rum cake recipe, staple of '60s housewives everywhere and one of my personal favorites. Do yourself a favor and serve with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

We also shared a few sips from a bottle of Chyrsalis Vineyards Petite Manseng. The bottle recommended a "lighter" dessert paring, but whatever, they're not the boss of me. Mmm ... look at that glaze. I think I want to be buried in a tub of ganache.

Ingredients for Cake:
  • 1 package devil's food cake mix
  • 1 package vanilla instant pudding (3.4 oz)
  • 1/2 c. Amaretto (I use a chocolate amaretto, but regular is fine)
  • 1/2 c. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 4 large eggs
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly coat bundt pan with cooking spray.
  • Combine first five ingredients in mixer, add each egg one at a time. Mix until smooth.
  • Pour batter into bundt pan and bake for about an hour. Cake is done if you can press it lightly with your finger and it springs back.
  • Allow to cool for about 20 minutes. When pan is cool to the touch, run long knife around edges and invert cake on to plate. Cool for another 20 minutes, the spoon ganache over (recipe below)
Ingredients for ganache (adapted from The Cake Mix Doctor):
  • 1 c. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 tbs. amaretto
  • In saucepan, bring cream to boil over medium heat while stirring. Place chocolate chips in separate heat-proof mixing bowl.
  • Pour boiling cream over chocolate chips, stir constantly until smooth.
  • Add amaretto and continue stirring. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before spooning over cake.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Last Minute Event - Capitol City Carnival

This looks like fun! If you don't have anything better to do this weekend than head out to the hills of Virginia (actually, I have no idea - is Bull Run in the hills? It sounds like it would be.) check it out: Capitol City Carnival!

Doesn't that look fun? Freak shows and beer and George Clinton? Awesome! I may convince Chris to head out there Sunday (we'll see). The only downside is that tickets are $30 but that only entitles you to 4 little beer samples. Boo! I hate when they do that.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chicken Parmigiana and Chunky Tomato Sauce

So, I guess Mondays are designated "Italian" nights in our household. One of our favorite take out places (Mama Lucia's) has an awesome dinner deal on Mondays and if we can't make it there, we always seem to have some version of pasta. Tonight was chicken parm with tomato sauce, whole wheat spaghetti and roasted zucchini. And a few sips of Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cuvee.
The flash of my Kodak washed out the golden crust, but trust me it's there in all its cheesy glory.

Chicken Parmigiana
Adapted from Everyday Food. This is one of my favorite recipes to whip out with I feel like I just can't look at another boring, bland chicken breast. I used panko bread crumbs this time, which are fun for the fancy gourmet factor, but I have to say the crust sticks to the chicken better with old school Progresso crumbs in the big blue cannister.

  • 2 chicken breast halves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 c. bread crumbs
  • 3/4 c. grated parmesan (NOT Kraft. I may use store bought bread crumbs, but have to draw the line somewhere)
  • about a 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 c. tomato sauce (my current favorite version is below)
  • 4 slices of mozzarella
  • Preheat the broiler.
  • Set the breasts down on a flat surface and with a sharp knife, filet the breasts in half horizontally. Salt and pepper chicken on all sides.
  • In a shallow bowl, wisk egg. On a plate or pie pan, combine parmesan and bread crumbs (you could season with a little italian spice blend, if you like). Dip each piece of chicken first in egg, allow excess to drip off, then in crumbs/cheese. Press coating on if necessary.
  • Heat skillet over medium high and add enough olive oil to coat bottom. Once oil is hot, fry chicken until golden on each side, about 2 minutes on each side. Do not crowd the pan, work in batches if necessary.
  • Coat bottom of oven proof dish with tomato sauce. Place browned chicken on sauce and top each piece with a slice of mozzarella. Broil for a few minutes, until sauce starts to bubble and cheese begins to brown. Serve over pasta with extra sauce.

Quick and Chunky Tomato Sauce
First, let me start by saying that tomato sauce is not something I am very snobby about. I was raised on Prego and still keep a jar of some kind of Trader Joe's sauce in the cabinet. But if you have an extra 20 minutes or so and a few staple ingredients on hand, it's almost as easy to make yourself. I've dabbled with slow cooked recipes and fresh tomato versions, but I think this is a great combination of simplicity and flavor. Plus, Chris loves it and I cook to please my man, dontcha know.
The dirtier the pot, the better the sauce.
Makes about 4 cups

  • olive oil for pan
  • half a large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 14 oz cans diced tomatoes
  • salt (or Adobo salt for a bit more flavor. It's the wrong ethnicity, but we'll just call that "fusion cuisine")
  • sugar
  • balsamic vinegar
  • Italian spice blend (oh shush - I've managed to kill off most of my fresh herbs this season.)
  • heat oil in bottom of dutch oven (or heavy bottomed pot) on medium high. Once oil begins to shimmer, add onion. When onion becomes translucent, turn down to medium, add garlic and stir about.
  • As onion and garlic cook, puree one can of tomatoes with juice. Add both cans of tomato to pot and stir. Swirl a bit of water in the cans and add that to the pot as well.
  • Throw in a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, a splash of vinegar and a few good shakes of Italian spices to taste.
  • Simmer 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
  • If you need to justify owning your immersion blender, feel free to break it out now if you think the sauce is a bit too chunky (or pour a bit of cooled sauce into your blender and puree, then add back into rest of sauce).

Loaded Baked Potato Salad

This is a neat twist on traditional potato salad. I served this with the buffalo chicken and coleslaw at our tailgate on Thursday. The Terrapins lost, but I think this side dish was a clear winner (ba dum bing!)
Loaded Baked Potato Salad
Serves 8

  • 2.5 pounds red skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite size pieces
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1/2 c. light sour cream
  • 1/2 c. light mayonaise
  • 2 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 3/4 c. shredded cheese such as cheddar or monterey jack, or a mix.
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dash of paprika

  • Place potatoes in pot, cover with cold, salted water. Bring to boil and cook until fork tender. Drain and cool.
  • Meanwhile, fry bacon until crips. Cool and crumble.
  • Mix together sour cream and mayo, combine with cooled potatoes and bacon and rest of ingredients.
  • Chill for about half an hour before eating.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

My 'Tini Matches my Screen-y

Interesting. Did you know a Raspberry Melon Martini perfectly matches the Food Network's home page? Coincidence?

Raspberry Melon Martini

  • One part raspberry flavored vodka (like Smirnoff Twisted)
  • One part melon liqueur (like Midori)
  • Ice
  • Fresh raspberries for garnish
  • Combined vodka, liqueur and ice in martini shaker. Shake your heart out. Strain and pour into martini glass.
  • Throw in your pretty raspberries for garnish. Or not, if you're like me and ain't got none.

Tailgate, Take One

In preparation for our festivities next Thursday evening (UMD vs. WVU. Go Terps!), I thought I'd try to make a meal out of a classic football munchie - the buffalo wing. The chicken is pretty good at room temp so I think it will make a good addition to our tailgate, grilled at home beforehand. Of course, what is "buffalo" anything without blue cheese, so I've paired it with a blue cheese coleslaw in addition to sweet potato fries. And beer. And napkins.

Grilled Buffalo Chicken
Serves 4
  • 8 chicken drumsticks, thighs or combination
  • 1/2 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 tbs. apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 1/2 c. pepper sauce, like Frank's Red Hot
  • Prepare grill.
  • As grill heats, in large bowl combine chicken with olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Grill chicken over medium to medium high heat. Turn frequently.
  • As chicken grills, melt butter in microwave (I use a coffee mug so that it's easy to take out to the grill). Stir in pepper sauce.
  • After about 20-25 minutes check chicken for doneness (I don't think "doneness" is actually a word, but I use a thermometer and look for temps between 160-165).
  • When chicken is almost done, begin basting with pepper sauce, turning a few times.
  • Take off grill, let rest a few minutes before chomping down.
Blue Cheese Coleslaw
This is "inspired" by Ina Garten's recipe, which has a ungodly amount of mayonnaise. Speaking of God, this is exactly why he bestowed the Cuisinart down upon us. Serves 8.

  • 1 head cabbage, shredded
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 lbs baby carrots, grated
  • 1/4 c. minced onion
  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise
  • 1/2 c. sour cream
  • 1 tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. celery seed
  • 6 oz crumbled blue cheese(one small tub)
  • Combine cabbage and salt in colander set over large bowl. Put in fridge for an hour or two. Dispose of nasty cabbage water, rinse cabbage and pat dry with paper towels. You can skip this step if you want, but it does help keep the cole slaw from becoming watery later on and lessens the harshness of the cabbage.
  • Combine cabbage with carrots and onion.
  • In separate bowl, combine rest of ingredients.
  • Add blue cheese mixture to cabbage and carrots, toss well.
  • Chill at least half an hour. Toss again before serving.
Sweet Potato Fries
Serves 3-4
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Slice sweet potatoes into fries (about 1/2"x1/2" slices)
  • Drizzle potatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss with garlic.
  • Put on baking sheet in single layer and bake for about 20-25 minutes, turning a few times, until done.

Cherry Cordial Brownies

Brownies are definitely my go-to dessert. They're easy. There are a million ways to dress them up. They're crowd-pleasing. What's not to like? Here I took one of my stand-by recipes for creme de menthe brownies and switched out the liqueur for chopped maraschino cherries. The resulting brownies taste deliciously akin to chocolate covered cherries. In this first test batch, the cherry layers were a bit runny (though still good), but that's probably because I got cocky and tried adding extra cherry juice to the mixture.

Cherry Cordial Brownies

  • One batch of your favorite brownie recipe, baked in 9x13" pan and cooled. (My favorite is usually courtesy of the fine folks at Ghiardelli. wink wink nudge nudge. )
  • 1/4 c. butter, softened
  • 2 c. confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1 16 oz. jar maraschino cherries, drained and chopped
  • 1/4 c. butter (yes, more)
  • 6 oz (half a package) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Cream 1/4 c. softened butter, gradually add confectioners sugar. Once smooth, add cherries and stir to combine.
  • Spread cherry mixture over brownies. Chill1 hr.
  • Melt remaining butter and chocolate chips in double boiler, stirring often. Pour melted chocolate over cherry layer, smoothing with rubber spatula. Chill 1 hr.
  • Cut in smallish squares (these babies are sweeeet) and enjoy!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mark Your Calendar? Or not?

Rennfest. I imagine Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons eating a turkey leg while wearing tights and bells. Am I wrong? Is just witnessing that kind of hilarity reason enough to go?

I know, I know. I've lived in Maryland all my life and I haven't been? Yeah, well I've also never worn a cape to high school and I can't put "Set Design" on my resume. So, Mr. Internet, what do you think? Is this a foodie "Mark Your Calendar" type of thing with meat on sticks and casks of ale? Is anyone out there going? We have a few weekend days free in the next month and I might be convinced ; )

By the way, I do hope to add more actual recipe content this weekend. It's been a busy week with painting our guest room and starting school again. I did make a decent potato salad, but if your last name is/was Clements you already know how to make it and don't need tips from me : )