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Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini

boy, n.
1. noise with dirt on it
 

Daylight savings time has done a number on my noisy boys’ sleep schedules. They’ve always been early risers, but now we’re talking about 4:30 in the morning early. And they don’t wake slowly. They wake with the force of a jack-in-the-box that someone has been cranking all night long. It’s startling…even when you know it’s coming.

And they’re loud; so incredibly loud. I can’t even begin to put words to the kinds of noises which come from their little bodies. As they come barging into our room making all manners of inexplicable noises, I bury my head under my pillow and wonder why little boys don’t come with volume controls.

But even as I’m hoarsely grumbling ‘go away’, I’m reminded to be thankful for all of that predawn noise; that noise which means we have three healthy, active little boys to be making it. In a month of thanks giving, I am thankful for that.

Thursday nights are crazy nights for our noisy little family. For the few hours preceding the boys’ bedtime, it’s a revolving door of activity. The boys have ninja training (karate class) right about the time we’d normally be eating dinner, so we eat early. My husband gets home from work shortly after we return, then runs off to rock and roll training (band practice) just after the boys get to bed. At that point, I curl up onto the couch for my extremely informal sommelier training (glass of red).

So, everyone eats dinner in a rush and at a different time on Thursdays, making it essential that Thursday night dinners are simple and easy to reheat. This satisfying chicken cordon bleu panini fits the bill perfectly! Breaded chicken breasts are sliced and combined with salty prosciutto and a creamy gruyere sauce, then pressed together, wrapped in foil, and heated until it’s hot and melty. Every part of this sandwich can be made ahead of time (even the night before). Best yet, it can be wrapped in individual portions, which are ready to pop in the oven whenever your future ninja, rockstar, or sommelier gets hungry!

Today’s Focus on Technique – Bechamel Sauce

A bechamel sauce is one of the five French ‘mother sauces’, which means that it is a base sauce from which many variations can be made. Bechamel sauce is a simple white sauce made with a combination of roux (butter and flour) and milk. It’s typically seasoned with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Bechamel sauces can be made thinner or thicker by varying the amount of roux used in the sauce. A basic bechamel can be seasoned in a multitude of ways and used in lasagna, as the base of a cheese (mornay) sauce for macaroni and cheese, or as the start of a creamy soup.

The process of making a bechamel is simple. Combine equal parts butter and flour in a pan over medium heat, whisking constantly for a minute or two to remove some of that raw flour taste. Gradually add milk to the roux, whisking constantly. (Ideally, the milk should be warm or hot when it’s added to the roux, though I’ll admit that I rarely warm the milk and have never had a problem.) Whisk until well combined. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for a few minutes, whisking constantly, until the milk is thickened. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

*1 tablespoon each of butter and flour to 1 cup of milk will produce a thin bechamel which makes a good base for a cheese sauce. Use 2-3 tablespoons each of butter and flour to 1 cup of milk for a thicker sauce.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf of wide, flat crusty bread (such as ciabatta)
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
  • Olive or vegetable oil
  • 3-4 ounces prosciutto (or ham)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup gruyere (or other swiss-style cheese), shredded
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of nutmeg

Directions

For the chicken: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dip the chicken breasts in the beaten eggs, then press into the bread crumbs, until well coated. Heat a thin layer of oil in a fry pan over medium/medium-high heat. Cook the chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet. Place in the oven, until cooked through. (Chicken is fully cooked at 165 degrees. Cooking time will vary based on thickness of the chicken breasts and how well they’re cooked during the browning step. Mine took about 13 minutes in the oven.) *The chicken can be made ahead and refrigerated.

For the sauce: Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic. Cook for a few seconds, being careful not to burn. Add the flour. Whisk to combine. Cook for a minute. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for a minute or two, until thickened. Reduce the heat. Add the cheese and whisk until melted. Season with a pinch of nutmeg and salt and pepper, to taste. *The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated. It will thicken as it cools.

To assemble the sandwiches: Slice the loaf of bread in half. Spread a layer of sauce onto each half. Arrange the prosciutto in a thin layer on the bottom half. Slice the breaded chicken breasts into thin pieces. Arrange them on top of the prosciutto. Cover with the top half. Tightly wrap the sandwich in foil, pressing down to flatten the sandwich. If desired, you can pre-cut the sandwich and wrap in individual servings. Bake in a 375 degrees oven for about 20 minutes until hot and melty. *The entire sandwich can be made ahead of time. If cooking from cold, allow for extra cooking time.

Buffalo Chicken Pasta Bake (and Giveaway Winner!!)

Well, we did it! We made it through Halloween. I enjoy Halloween, especially now that I have kids to celebrate it with – but to be honest, for me it’s mostly just the gateway holiday to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those are the holidays which really have my heart. I’ll admit, a small tear of joy may have run down my cheek when I walked into Target the other day to find the first of their holiday decorations hung from the ceiling. I have no problem with celebrating Christmas even as we prepare for Thanksgiving. The two go hand in hand for me.

But Halloween was fun this year. Really fun. The boys dressed up for the pre-Halloween party at their school. There was a dj, a disco ball, and hundreds of costumed children, half-blinded by masks, crashing into each other on the school gym dance floor. All varieties of goblins, ghouls, princesses and superheroes roamed the school cafeteria with slices of pizza and pumpkin cookies hanging from their mouths.

On Halloween, the boys put on their costumes for their school parade. Liam was Harry Potter, a costume I’m certain he selected for the pretend glasses it came with. Lucas was a terrifying werewolf, a costume I believe he selected for the shredded jeans it would give him a reason to wear. The kid’s got a weird love for jeans, as long as they have a real, functional button and zipper…none of those faux buttoned, elastic-waisted toddler jeans for him!

After school, we attended a pre-trick-or-treating party at our friends’ house. I dressed as a princess with baby James as my frog prince. We brought along a bucket of spooky eyeball cake pops, which everyone enjoyed after the delicious dinner served by our friend. There was pasta and meatballs, a vibrant pasta salad, Italian bread and butter, jumbo shrimp, fresh veggies with dip, cheese and crackers, baked ziti and chicken wings.

And that’s when the seedling of an idea began to take root, right there surrounded by ninjas and vampires – baked ziti and chicken wings…

Y’all know I’ve got a little thing for inserting buffalo chicken wing flavor into all varieties of other foods…chicken wing dip, buffalo chicken lasagna, buffalo chicken monkey bread, buffalo chicken pizzabuffalo chicken meatballs, buffalo chicken potato skins… so, why not buffalo chicken baked ziti? As my sister put it, “Why have we not eaten that before???” It’s a practically ludicrous idea to consider. Fortunately, we no longer need to commiserate over the absence of buffalo chicken baked ziti in our lives. I made it last night and my hybrid baked ziti-buffalo chicken world is now beautifully complete.

Focus on Technique – Poaching Chicken

It’s common to find recipes calling for poached chicken. Poaching is simply the process of very gently simmering a food until it’s cooked. Eggs, poultry, and fish all responded well to poaching. Foods can be poached in a variety of liquids, including water, milk, wine, and broth/stock. Various herbs and seasonings can be added to the poaching liquid to impart delicious flavor into the chicken. When poaching, it’s important to control the heat in order to keep the liquid at a gentle simmer.

Properly poached chicken breasts remain moist and tender. Poached chicken works well on its own, in chicken salad, on pizza, in soup, or mixed in with pasta.

To poach chicken breasts, place the chicken in a pot large enough for the chicken to fit comfortably. Cover the chicken with cool water (or chicken broth). Over medium heat, bring the liquid to a gentle boil. Adjust the heat so that the liquid maintains a gently bubbling simmer. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. An instant read meat thermometer is the most effective way to determine doneness. Chicken is done once it’s reached 165 degrees.

Buffalo Chicken Pasta Bake

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pasta
  • 1 pound of chicken, poached and chopped into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1 cup Frank’s Red Hot hot sauce (or your other favorite hot sauce)
  • 1 cup blue cheese dressing (I always recommend Marie’s)
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled (optional)
  • Salt and pepper (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook the pasta for about a minute less than the package directions call for. Strain and rinse with cool water to prevent overcooking. Return the cooled, strained pasta to the pot. Add the chicken and chopped celery.

In a bowl, combine the hot sauce and blue cheese dressing. Pour the mixture over the pasta. Add the ricotta cheese and 1 cup of the mozzarella. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, or additional hot sauce, as desired.

Transfer the pasta mixture into a large 13×9 baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and the crumbled blue cheese (optional) over the top. Bake for about 30 minutes.

*You can prepare the entire dish, up to the baking step, ahead of time. If preparing ahead of time and refrigerating, allow for approximately 10-15 minutes of extra cooking time. 

Werewolf and the frog prince

GIVEAWAY WINNER!! We have a winner! Using http://www.random.org to select a number at random, out of the 28 entries received for the dairy-themed gift bag giveaway, the winner is #12 , Jessica M. Congratulations, Jessica!! I’m going to send you an email at the address provided with your comment to get the information necessary to send you out your prize!!

Candy Corn Krispie Pops

I had the coolest adventure this past weekend, at an event hosted by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council in upstate NY. I pet a baby cow. I drank wine. I ate cheese. Mmmmcheese. I’m in the process of organizing my thoughts so I can tell you all about it. I’ll even be hosting my first ever giveaway in conjunction with this dairy adventure!! I’m really pretty excited about it all!

In the mean time, I wanted to share this straightforward and adorable idea for a fun Halloween treat. These candy corn krispie pops almost never happened, as a series of wild events ensued in their making, beginning with the microwave dramatically giving up the ghost in a plume of stinky gray smoke as I was trying to melt the candy for coating these pops. That was just the beginning. I won’t go into the rest.

Suffice it to say, my life set a series of obstacles between starting and finishing these sweet pops. My end result lacks a bit of the finesse they may have had if I weren’t simultaneously jumping hurdles as I made them. But they’re too darn cute not to share. Yours will look nicer than mine!

Line a small baking sheet or baking dish with wax paper or parchment paper. Prepare rice krispie treats by melting 3 tablespoons butter and 4 cups of mini marshmallows in a large pan over low heat, stirring until melted. Turn off the heat, then stir in 6 cups of rice krispies cereal. Press the mixture into the baking dish in an even layer.

Once cool, cut the rice krispie treats into triangles. You can make them any size you wish, but smaller is easier to dip.

Try not to eat them all…yet.

Insert lollipop sticks into the bottom of the triangles. Cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour or two.

Melt about 3 cups of yellow candy melts in a double boiler or in the microwave until smooth. Dip the entire pops in the yellow candy melts. Cool until hardened. Then, melt about 2 cups of orange candy melts and dip the top 2/3 of the pops. Cool until hardened. Then, dip the final 1/3 in white candy melts.

A piece of styrofoam is handy for arranging the pops in an upright position as the candy hardens.

Finished pops can be stored at room temperature for a couple of days or in the refrigerator for several days. Take them out of the fridge a few minutes before serving so they soften up a bit.

A Few Other Spooky Treat Ideas for Halloween…

Spooky Eyeball Cake Pops

Chocolate Covered Spiders

Bloody Molten Lava Cakes

Wormy Apple Pops

Caramel Apple Tartlets

I had a little mommy meltdown yesterday. It was very unpretty…crying, rocking, gasping for the air which seemed to be sucked from the room. And over what? I don’t even know. Nothing even worth writing about. Stupid, every day, normal stuff…just too much of it. Fighting with an uncooperative vacuum while trying to banish the tumbleweeds of dog hair from our living room was the little thing that sent me over the edge. So silly. And yet in the moment it felt like the world was caving in on me. To an objective observer, I probably looked pretty ridiculous, throwing myself down onto the ground and mumbling under my breath as I cried, while my inner voice tried to coach myself to pull it together and act like a grown-up. But for me the feeling was crushing. Sometimes day-to-day life is just overwhelming.

Sadly, the kids witnessed my little meltdown, and I can only imagine how scary and unsettling that must have been for them. In the moment, rational mommy (as compared to crazy lump of tears mommy) told them I loved them and explained that I was just stressed and needed to cool down for a minute. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to get that minute of serenity in a house with three young boys. Eventually, I stopped fighting with the vacuum, collapsed against one of the toy boxes and closed my eyes for a second.

And then the most beautiful thing happened. I opened my eyes and my precious 17 month old was sitting in front of me, completely silent. He sat facing me, knees bent, feet together, so that his entire little body was nestled within my own bent legs. And he just smiled. Silently, calmly smiled. I kissed his forehead. He smiled and leaned forward to rest his head against my chest. He stayed like that for what felt like a perfect eternity. I inhaled his sweet baby hair as I felt my heart rate slowly returning to normal. Eventually he turned around so that he was leaning against me, holding my hand as it rested on his little belly. And he stayed like that until his daddy arrived home from work. He greeted his daddy, then returned to sit by my broken side, smushed up against me with a perfect grin on his face. He was like a tiny, precious bomb defuser.

Such perfect, simple love…and trust. He saw me torn apart and irrational. If it were me, I would have run from that crazy woman. But he came straight to me. As close as he could get to me. Confident that his presence would fix me. How in the world did I get so lucky??

These drool-worthy caramel apple tartlets are bursting with flavors as uncomplicated and confident as my sweet little man’s love. We baked them using fresh-picked apples from our favorite local orchard. Though the apple crops up here were hit hard by an early spring bloom followed by a bloom-killing frost, the kids got every bit of fun out of filling buckets of unusually small apples. I made these tartlets using store-bought puff pastry and caramel sauce for time-saving convenience. The end result is still dripping in homemade yumminess.

Focus on Technique – Puff Pastry

Puff pastry is a rich and flakey pastry made by repeatedly folding and rolling generous quantities of butter into the dough, resulting in puffy, delicate layers when baked. It’s a manageable and fun thing to make at home (and will totally wow your guests), but takes a few hours of repeatedly rolling and chilling to be made properly. When ease is the name of the game, store-bought puff pastry provides great results with great convenience. It can be used to make decadent savory appetizers, like warm pastry-wrapped brie or sweet treats like these caramel apple tartlets. Check your grocery store’s frozen section, near the frozen pie shells for boxes of puff pastry sheets. Always defrost the sheets according the package directions and lightly sprinkle your clean work surface with flour before rolling.

Easy Caramel Apple Tartlets

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
  • 2 large apples (or 4 teeny-tiny ones), very thinly sliced
  • 4-5 tablespoons caramel sauce, store-bought or homemade
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Lightly sprinkle a clean work surface with a bit of flour to prevent sticking, then roll the sheet of puff pastry into a square, about 12″ wide. Cut the square into four 6″ squares. Place the squares on the prepared baking sheet. Spread about 1 tablespoon of caramel sauce into the center of each pastry. Arrange a layer of thinly sliced apples on top of the caramel. Then, pull each of the four corners over the apples, slightly twisting each point so that the corners meet in a sort of pinwheel design revealing four pockets of the caramel and apples. Gently press the points together with your fingers to hold them together. Brush each pastry with some of the egg white. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over each pastry. Bake for about 20 minutes, until puffed and golden.

Enjoy hot out of the oven or at room temperature.

Makes 4 Individual Tartlets

Rice Krispie Treat ‘Sushi’

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I’m just about ready to put this chat about ninja parties to bed. (I’ve got a recipe for some really delicious and very un-ninjalike Moroccan lamb meatballs in a minted apricot glaze coming up soon.) But before we bid farewell to ninjas, I wanted to share a quick photo guide for making the rice krispie treat ‘sushi’ which we served as part of our dessert spread. It’s super easy and insanely cute. The hardest part was peeling those darn fruit roll-ups off the wrapper.

You can find lots of variations of this sort of thing all over the web. Here’s how I did it…

You’ll need:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups mini marshmallows
  • 6 cups rice krispies cereal
  • A baking sheet
  • Wax paper
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • A few long, soft candies (like twizzlers, gummi worms, or sour straws)
  • Fruit roll-ups (green would be most realistic looking, but might be difficult to find)
  • Swedish fish candies

Step 1: Melt the butter in a large pan over low heat. Add the marshmallows. Stir until melted. Remove from heat, then stir in the rice krispies.

Step 2: Arrange a piece of wax paper on a baking sheet. Spray the wax paper with non-stick cooking spray. Transfer the rice krispie treat mixture to the baking sheet. Spray your hands with the cooking spray, then press the rice krispies into a thin (less than 1/2″) even layer.

Step 3: Arrange a few fruit roll-ups (the ‘nori’) on top of the rice krispie treats.

Step 4: Place a couple of the long candies on top of the fruit roll-ups. I used sour straws. Multi-colored Twizzlers or gummi worms would also work well.

Step 5: Lift up the edge of the wax paper and begin to roll the rice krispie treats around the fruit roll-ups and candy. Use the wax paper to help squeeze and tighten the roll.

Step 6: Once you’ve achieved a small ‘California Roll’ size, use a knife to cut the roll from the remaining rice krispie treats. Slice into pieces. Roll in colored sugar ‘roe’, if desired.

Repeat to make additional ‘California rolls’. Alternately, you can roll the candy within the rice krispie treats, but reserve the fruit roll-ups to wrap around the outside of the roll prior to slicing in pieces.

To make ‘nigiri sushi’: Using your hands, mold portions of the rice krispie treats into small oblong clumps. Place a swedish fish on top. Use thin strips of fruit roll-ups to wrap around the rice and fish.

Serve with a bowl of chocolate syrup ‘soy sauce’.

Creamy Chipotle Tomato Soup

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We have one of those Kinect sensors for the Xbox 360. We bought it on a whim a few months ago, in search of something fun and active to do as a family while we were all cooped up during the chilly winter months. We picked up a few games for the kids and ourselves and we played them often for about two weeks time. Then, our enthusiasm for our new toy waned and the games have gathered dust since.

Mostly, we use the Xbox 360 for watching movies and shows through Netflix. And my husband enjoys the convenience of the Kinect’s voice-command abilities. I, however, have been unable to get comfortable with shouting commands at the little sensor which sits perched on top of my tv. It just feels so We’re the Jetsons to me. Just can’t do it.

My husband, amused at my apprehension to talk to the machine, got a bit surly with it the other night. He started yelling at it, Xbox, make my dinner. Xbox, take a hike. Xbox, smell my feet. At each command, Xbox, upon hearing its name, would stop and try to process the request. Poor, confused Xbox was dutifully attempting to identify and obey each given command, while we sat by and giggled as it struggled.

Well…I’m pretty sure my husband broke the sensor with this little game. It hasn’t worked correctly ever since. It now requires most commands to be repeated multiple times or firmly shouted before it responds. It appears we’re dealing with a little case of boy-who-cried-wolf. The Xbox no longer believes we’re serious when we call it. Either that or it’s just angry and being difficult. It’s smart. It’s learning. And it freaks me out.

Thankfully, I am not reliant on the Xbox for doing my laundry or cooking my dinner.

We’re right about at that time of year when gardeners are proudly reaping the fruits of their labor in the form of baskets full of ripe, delicious tomatoes. I myself did not undertake trying to grow anything more than a few herbs and a beautiful flowering plant, which I promptly killed. I can grow some darn fine humans, but the ability to grow things in dirt eludes me. I buy my tomatoes at the grocery store and they have been garden-fresh, ripe, and delicious lately…the perfect tomatoes for fresh tomato soup. At any other time of the year, you might be wise to use canned tomatoes when making tomato soup, but now is the perfect time to use the season-peak ones you’re harvesting from your gardens or picking up in local farmer’s markets.

I give my tomato soup a spicy, smokey flavor with the addition of a chipotle pepper. A bit of heavy cream balances the spice and gives the soup a rich texture. The soup is garnished with a few homemade croutons and a couple dashes of chipotle tabasco sauce. On the side, I served a simple mixed green salad tossed in a ginger vinaigrette and grilled brie and gouda with bacon on French baguette. I’m fairly certain that the Xbox would have been incapable of coming up with something so perfectly simple and delicious as this…but don’t tell the Xbox I said that.

Creamy Chipotle Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and deseeded, coarse chopped*
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Chipotle Tabasco Sauce, optional (for garnish)

*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to peel and deseed tomatoes.

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock, chipotle pepper, and tomato paste. Simmer over medium/medium-low heat for about 25 minutes, stirring frequently. The tomatoes should almost completely break down during the cooking time. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, then return to the pan. Add the cream. Season with salt, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon should do the trick). Add cayenne pepper, to taste, if additional spiciness is desired. Warm gently over medium-low heat.

Garnish with a few dashes of chipotle tabasco and homemade croutons.

Makes 2 generous servings

* For the homemade croutons, simply toss a few chunks of French bread in a bit of olive oil, season with cajun seasoning or any other seasoning, then bake in a 375 degree oven until toasted, about 10 minutes or so.

Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon

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Julia Child was one of America’s first (and dare I say greatest ) culinary celebrities, in a time long before shows like The Next Food Network Star or Top Chef sought to discover such talent. She was just a woman with a passion for good food, which led her down the gastronomical path that ultimately brought her into America’s kitchens. It was her passion for food which led her on the journey. It was her charm, relatability, and contagious adoration of food which grabbed the attention of adoring fans all around the world.

Julia changed the way home cooks thought about food. She knew that good food wasn’t exclusive to restaurant kitchens, prepared by professional chefs. She made expert culinary techniques accessible to everyone, in a manner which could inspire even the most novice cook to jump in head first. Because Julia understood that we learn best through trial and error. She understood that there is no such thing as a bad cook, only cooks who needed more practice. And she understood that even the most experienced cooks encountered the occasional kitchen disaster. She’d say, “Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”  

Julia viewed food as one of the greatest pleasures in life, a pleasure worth the small sacrifice of a wider waistline. (Who needs to be a size 4 anyway???) She embraced cooking as an art form akin to ballet. And she cooked with the same inspired strokes of an artist to create timeless gastronomical masterpieces. But she was often criticized by nutrition-minded individuals for her use of rich ingredients, like butter and cream, which in excess could lead to health problems. To those criticisms, she responded, “Everybody is overreacting. If fear of food continues, it will be the death of gastronomy in the United States. Fortunately, the French don’t suffer from the same hysteria we do. We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life.”  

I love this woman. And having lived to be two days short of 92 years old, a lifespan which she attributes to a regular diet of gin and red meat, I’d say she knew what she was talking about. Well-prepared food is a pleasure to be enjoyed, even within the framework of a healthy lifestyle.

Julia understood what really mattered. She knew that good food needn’t be complicated with elaborate presentation. She would say, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” That’s all it really takes, isn’t it? It’s like this beef bourguignon, perhaps her most famous recipe and the subject of her very first televised episode of The French Chef on PBS. It’s a stew (with a fancy name that’s fun to say). But it’s a stew all the same, certainly not something most would consider fine dining. And yet, it’s probably one of the most delicious dishes you’ll ever eat.

I started making beef bourguignon a few years ago as our Christmas dinner. I suppose it’s become our tradition at this point. We entertain a large crowd on Christmas and for a few years, I experimented with various menus, all delicious, but the beef bourguignon stuck. It’s enjoyed by everyone at the table and best yet, can be fully prepared the day before. In fact, it’s even better after sitting in the fridge overnight!

In honor of what would have been Julia’s 100th birthday (August 15), I prepared her infamous beef bourguignon. (I certainly wasn’t going to cook the roast suckling pig.) Beef Bourguignon is normally a recipe I would save for the colder months when it’s lovely to have the house warmed with the slow-cooking oven and flooded with the rich aromas of the dish. But when I think of Julia, I think of beef bourguignon, and so it had to be.

The original recipe can be found in Julia’s first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She was a wise woman who fully recognized that some of the recipes contained in the book may require stretching one’s budget, waistline, time, and schedule, but such are the sacrifices we make in the name of something wonderful to eat. Like many of the dishes in her book, this dish takes some time, but there’s no step too complicated for even the most novice chef. Heed Julia’s advice and cook with abandon. As with many of the world’s greatest pleasures, anything worth having is worth the work it takes to get there.

While I waited for my beef bourguignon to finish cooking, I turned on some music and danced in the kitchen with my boys. Then I poured myself a glass of wine and spread some creamy brie onto slices of French baguette. I’m pretty sure Julia would have approved.

Happy 100th, Julia and Bon Appétit!!

Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon
Boeuf a la Bourguignonne

(In my own words. Very slightly modified from the original.)

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound bacon, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 pounds lean stewing beef (cut into approximately 2″ chunks)
  • 1 carrot, sliced (or 10-15 baby carrots, coarse chopped)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups full-bodied red wine
  • 2 – 3 cups beef stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 crumbled bay leaf (optional)

For the brown-braised onions (Oignons Glacés à Brun)

  • 1/2 bag frozen white pearl onions, defrosted and patted dry
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup beef stock or beef broth
  • Salt and pepper

For the sautéed mushrooms (Champignons Sautés au Beurre)

  • 1 pound mushrooms, quartered
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Gather and prepare your ingredients prior to cooking. Chop the bacon, chop the beef, chop the veggies, smash the garlic… Preparing your ‘mise en place’ will help things go smoothly once you’ve fired up the stove.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Arrange the beef chunks in a single layer on a tray lined with paper towels. Use additional paper towels to thoroughly pat the beef dry.

*Damp beef will not brown properly.

*Julia recommends chuck beef for stew meat. I usually use the precut ‘stew beef’ from my grocery store. It saves me a few minutes of prep time, which is invaluable when you’re cooking while three young boys threaten to tear the house (or each other) apart.

In a large dutch oven pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for several minutes, until the bacon is browned and has released most of its fat. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pan.

*Julia’s recipe calls for a 6 ounce piece of chunk bacon, cut into lardons. Regular sliced bacon will work just fine!

*Any large, stove and oven-safe pan with a tight fitting lid will do the job. I use a 9-quart Le Creuset enameled  cast iron french oven pan.

Over medium/medium-high heat, brown the beef in the bacon fat for a minute or two on each side. Do not overcrowd the pan. The beef should quickly develop a nice caramelized brown on the surface. Turn the beef to brown on all sides, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat until all of the beef has been browned.

*You do not want to steam or boil the beef. If your beef is not browning properly, it is either due to the heat not being high enough, the pan being over-crowded (which lowers the heat of the bacon fat), or the beef being too damp. Try adjusting each of these conditions.

Once all of the beef has been browned, add the carrots and onions to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until they develop a golden brown color. Then, carefully pour out the excess bacon fat, leaving the veggies in the pan.

Add the beef and bacon back into the pan. Toss with salt and pepper. Then, sprinkle the flour over the mixture and toss again. Place the pan, uncovered, on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the mixture, then cook for 4 more minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees.

Add the wine*, beef stock, tomato paste, garlic, and thyme. Add just enough beef stock to barely cover the beef.

*Julia recommends Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy. I use whatever dry red I have on hand, usually Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Pinot Noir. Use something you enjoy drinking. While you’re at it, go ahead and pour a glass. Julia wouldn’t mind. In fact, I think she would have encouraged it. Cheers!

Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Then, cover the pan, and place it in the oven. Cook, covered, for about 3 hours. Adjust the temperature slightly, if necessary, so that the liquid maintains a gentle simmer throughout the cooking time.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

For the onions:

Heat the butter and oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for about 10 minutes, occasionally shaking the pan to allow the onions to roll around in the pan and brown on all sides. Then, add the beef stock. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer slowly for about 15-20 minutes. Check the pan towards the end of the cooking time. Most of the liquid should have evaporated and formed a brown glaze around the onions. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

*Julia’s recipe calls for fresh, peeled white onions, about 1″ in diameter. Since my grocery store does not regularly carry the small onions, I use about 1/2 a bag of frozen white pearl onions. The added convenience is that they’re already peeled! Just be sure to defrost completely and pat dry before sauteeing. Fresh onions will require longer cooking time, about 40-50 minutes.

For the mushrooms:

Heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms. Cook for  about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

*The mushrooms will at first appear to absorb the melted butter, but will eventually release the butter and their own liquid. As the liquid evaporates, the mushrooms will acquire a golden brown color.

Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Once the beef has finished cooking, carefully pour the mixture through a sieve or strainer. Allow the sauce to collect in a large measuring cup (the 4-cup kind) or glass bowl. Return the beef and bacon to the dutch oven pan. Discard the carrot and onion pieces.

Arrange the brown-braised onions and sauteed mushrooms over the beef.

Allow the sauce to rest for a few minutes. The excess fat will rise to the surface as it rests. Use a spoon to collect and discard the excess fat. Repeat until much of the excess fat has been discarded.

You should have about 2 – 2 1/2 cups of sauce. If you have much more than this, pour the sauce into a small saucepan and simmer uncovered until it’s reduced a bit. It should be quite flavorful and thick enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired. Pour the sauce over the beef, mushrooms, and onions.

Serve over boiled potatoes or hot-buttered noodles. Julia recommends a side of buttered peas as an appropriate veggie side.

This dish reheats exceptionally well. Simply bring to a gentle simmer on the stovetop for a few minutes, until all components are heated through.

If you’ve got 30 minutes to spare, you can watch Julia cooking her beef bourguignon during the first episode of The French Chef  HERE.

Barbecue Bacon Mango Pizza

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The sun is barely risen. I’m lying in bed and I can feel sweet warm breath rhythmically hitting my face. I slowly open my eyes and find myself nose to nose with Lucas, my three-year-old, who climbs into bed with me each morning. I put my arms around him, then close my eyes and pretend to be asleep. He plays with one of my earrings, trying to remove the small silver leaf from my ear. After a moment, he abandons the earring and begins running his tiny fingers over my eyebrows. Behind me, I can feel my five-year-old, Liam, trying to braid my excessively long hair. Lucas becomes bored with my eyebrows and begins trying to forcefully push my eyelids open. I roll over to face my Liam. Liam pushes his nose closer to mine and whispers, I love you, Mommy. I kiss his nose. The baby begins to peep through the monitor, wordlessly begging to join the family snuggle time. My husband rolls out of bed to grab the baby. Once in our bedroom, our sweet baby James crawls over his brothers to get on top of me. He puts his wide open mouth onto my cheek. I think it’s a kiss. A very sloppy kiss. Then he tries to jam his finger into my mouth to touch my teeth. I rouse myself then, to bring the boys downstairs for breakfast before my little amateur dentist gets too aggressive.

I’ve come to realize that I belong to my children as much as they belong to me. We belong to each other. It’s a thoroughly symbiotic relationship.

More than anything, I want my family to feel loved in the same way they so generously give their love to me. And one of the ways that I show my love is through fresh and delicious food, carefully crafted into delicious meals we can enjoy as a family, like this barbecue bacon mango pizza. This pizza is inspired by one of the recipes provided by The National Mango Board in a booklet they sent along with a shipment of beautiful ripe mangos. It instantly reminded me of a sweet and savory Hawaiian pizza, only substituting the ham for bacon and the pineapple for mango. Genius. Only I took that idea a little further by coming up with a homemade mango barbecue sauce, rather than slathering on something store-bought.

Though unplanned, the preparation of this pizza became a family affair. Small noses came running at the scent of bacon. Small hands stole said bacon. Small mouths gobbled up an entire mango before I had a moment to protest. We dubbed the afternoon Mangofest. There were tears when the last of the mango had been devoured, but smiles returned once this pizza was presented. Definitely a family pleaser! Best yet, the recipe for the barbecue sauce will make more than you need for the pizza…perfect for grilled mango barbecue chicken breasts the next day!!

Barbecue Bacon Mango Pizza

Ingredients

For the mango barbecue sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh mango puree (2 medium mangos should do the trick)
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more, if desired)
  • Salt (optional), as desired

For the pizza

  • 1 12″ pizza crust
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 mango, chopped*
  • 6-8 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Fresh parsley, chopped

* Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to chop a mango.

Directions

To prepare the mango barbecue sauce: Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium/medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for 5-7 minutes until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add all other barbecue sauce ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a very gentle simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Allow the sauce to cool, then use a food processor or blender to puree until smooth. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning as desired. Refrigerate until using.*

To prepare the pizza: Heat the oil in a small pan over medium/medium-low heat. Add the onion. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until the onions are tender, sweet, and lightly golden. Spread a thin layer of the sauce (approximately 1/2 cup) over the pizza crust. Scatter most of the bacon, mango, and onions over the sauce. Top with the shredded cheese. Scatter the remaining bacon, mango, onions, and parsley on top. Bake in a 400 degrees oven for about 12-15 minutes, until hot and melty.

*The barbecue sauce recipe will produce more sauce than is necessary for the pizza. You can use the sauce as you might use any barbecue sauce on grilled chicken, ribs, shrimp… It would also freeze nicely for later use.

Grilled Chicken Tikka Masala Pizza

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Anyone following all of this crazy zombie apocalypse ‘news’ popping up?? There’s some seriously wacky stuff going on out there.  I’ve seen enough zombie movies to know that this is always how it begins…a few random incidents which are brushed off as isolated events with some logical cause. The public is urged not to panic and then all h.e.double hockey sticks breaks loose. (Being told not to panic is a sure sign that it’s time to panic.) And honestly, though I’m inclined to believe that all of this has more to do with dangerous mind-altering drugs than a zombie armageddon, I’m not sure that brings me any peace of mind.

Did ya know that the CDC’s website has a section on zombie preparedness?? I kid you not. I’m pretty sure it’s a tongue-in-cheek, fun way to educate about general disaster readiness. Or is it???

Personally, I learned everything I need to know from the educational zombie comedy, Zombieland.

Zombie Survival Rule #1: Cardio

Good thing I’ve been running again. And it feels so good. I’d been struggling to get back to a regular running routine ever since having my baby 15 months ago and it’s been an uphill battle, both literally and figuratively. My progress had been dreadfully slow. But, the baby weaned from nursing almost two months ago and my running progress has accelerated ever since. Guess I didn’t realize the toll it was taking on my body. It feels good to get out there for my runs and I’ll be ready when the zombies…errr, I mean bath salt crazies…start chasing me down. (I’m joking…mostly.)

The other benefit of running is that it affords me a little more wiggle room in my dietary choices, so I can afford to enjoy a few indulgences. Ok, my running/indulgence balance is admittedly still a bit off, but it’s getting closer. This grilled chicken tikka masala is one of those indulgences that I think about when I’m running. This mouth-watering pizza combines one of my all-time favorite dishes, chicken tikka masala, with homemade garlicky grilled naan flatbread and a bit of melty mozzarella cheese. Seriously yummy and worth every second of heart-pounding cardio.

I’d like to tell you that this dish is a cinch to pull together, but that would be a lie. There is nothing inherently difficult about it, but between preparing the marinade, making the sauce, preparing the dough, grilling the chicken, grilling the naan, and then assembling and grilling the pizzas, this is a time consuming meal. But it is a labor of love. Definitely worth the time! Just save it for a sunny weekend day and get the whole family involved in the process!

To make things more manageable, you may want to plan to cook the meal in parts. The chicken can be marinated the night before. The sauce, the chicken, and the naan can all be made ahead of time and will hold well in the fridge for a day or two. You could even enjoy the meal as traditional chicken tikka masala with rice and naan one night and make the pizzas for leftovers the next day! However you decide to break it up, I think you’re going to enjoy this delicious meal!

Grilled Chicken Tikka Masala Pizza

Ingredients

For the Naan*

  • 1 packet dry active yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (about 110-115 degrees)
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 4 cups flour (approximately)
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted

For the Chicken

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 inch segment of fresh ginger, grated

For the Sauce

  • 3 tablespoon butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 1-2″ segment fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 small serrano peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons garam masala
  • 1 (29 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne (plus more, if desired)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (plus more, if desired)
For the Pizzas
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Directions

To prepare the chicken marinade: Combine all marinade ingredients in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Place the chicken thighs in the marinade and toss to evenly coat. Refrigerate and allow the chicken to marinade for at least six hours or overnight.

To grill the chicken: Wipe the grill with a bit of vegetable oil to help prevent sticking. Preheat grill to medium heat. Shake the excess marinade off of the chicken and place it on the preheated grill. Cook the chicken for about 7-10 minutes on each side. (Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the chicken. The chicken is fully cooked when it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees.) Allow the chicken to cool, then cut into small pieces. Refrigerate until using.

To make the naan: Stir together the yeast and warm water. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar, salt, milk, garlic and egg. Add the flour 1 cup at a time, stirring and kneading for several minutes until a soft dough forms. (Add the flour slowly towards the end, since the quantity of flour will vary. The dough should be slightly sticky, but manageable. If the dough is too dry, add little bits of water or milk. If the dough is too wet, add small quantities of additional flour.) Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a slightly damp towel and allow it to rest at room temperature for 1-2 hours, until it has doubled in size. Then, divide the risen dough into 12 equal balls of dough. Place the balls on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Cover with the towel and allow to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Preheat your grill to medium heat. Prepare a work station near your grill with a rolling pin, cutting board, and flour. Lightly scatter the flour over the cutting board. One at a time, roll each ball of dough into a flat round, then gently stretch the dough into a soft teardrop shape. Place the dough directly onto the grill and cook for about a minute on each side. It will begin to puff slightly when it is done. Remove from the grill and brush with melted butter.

To make the sauce: Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and serrano peppers. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent. Add the garam masala, stir, and cook for another minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine. Continue cooking until heated through, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and add the cream. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt and cayenne pepper, as desired.

To assemble the pizzas: Spread a layer of sauce onto each piece of naan. Scatter some of the chicken over each naan. Sprinkle each pizza with a bit of the mozzarella cheese. Garnish with fresh parsley. Heat the pizzas on the grill or in a 350 degree oven until the cheese is melty and all components are heated through (about 8-10 minutes).

*Recipe for naan adapted from the recipe found HERE.

Makes 10-12 small individual pizzas

Chilled Mango Cucumber Gazpacho

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This past weekend, I had the pleasure of escaping with my husband to the most charming little place in the Catskills. We’d gone to celebrate the first wedding anniversary of my husband’s beautiful sister at the location she and her husband eloped to last August. Dear old friends, family, and new friends gathered at The Roxbury Motel for a truly blissful weekend.

Grounds of The Roxbury Motel in Roxbury, NY

This place is a polished gem with so many facets that you can’t help but gasp as you view each new angle. It’s hard to put into words and pictures don’t do it justice. It’s just magical. Every space on the property has been tended to with the same special care a momma gives her baby. You can feel the love in every unique little detail. During our time there, we encountered a family with two small children, a group of four women celebrating a bachelorette weekend, a couple on a romantic getaway, and a pair of outdoor sports enthusiasts. Oddly, The Roxbury Motel provides the perfect accommodations for each of these occasions. It’s definitely a special place.

The ‘Maria’s Curtains’ room in The Roxbury Motel

My husband and I stayed in the room which is called ‘Maria’s Curtains’…as in the Maria from The Sound of Music and the curtains she used to create play clothes for the von Trapp children. Our room was swimming in the curtain’s pattern, from the bedding to the hand stenciling which crossed from the walls to the ceiling, to the custom tiling around the massive soaking tub. The lamps were made of brown paper packages tied up with strings. And two fantastically tiny, bright copper kettles sat on a small corner table. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t spend half of the weekend singing My Favorite Things in my ridiculously out-of-tune voice.

We stayed up too late laughing with friends, old and new. We had massages. We soaked in the spa’s hot tub. We drank champagne. And we dined at an amazing little restaurant, called the Peekamoose. The Peekamoose prides itself on its use of locally grown, seasonal ingredients with a menu which changes based on the day’s freshest available foods. Their execution is flawless in every way. I enjoyed a peppery arugula salad tossed in a light vinaigrette with fresh peaches, chevre, and toasted pine nuts, followed by tender goat cheese gnocchi and then the most decadent slow-cooked braised short ribs in a truffled bordelaise sauce. It was an amazing meal.

Exterior of the Peekamoose Restaurant in Big Indian, NY

My husband enjoyed the same selections, with the exception of the first course. For his first course, he selected the chilled watermelon gazpacho. (I stole a taste, of course.) And when we arrived back home to find a box full of the most beautiful, perfectly ripe mangos on my doorstep (courtesy of the National Mango Board), I was instantly inspired. Mango gazpacho.

Traditionally, gazpacho is a chilled tomato-based soup accented with cucumbers, onion, and peppers. But, inspired by the sweet and savory watermelon gazpacho at Peekamoose and the box full of gorgeous mangos on my doorstep, I came up with this refreshing (and quite mangolicious) variation.

Somebody couldn’t stay away from the mangos…

Mangos are just so perfectly versatile. They’re sweet, smooth, and bursting with fiber and vitamin C. Everyone in our family loves their flavor and I always feel good about feeding my family fresh, nutritious foods. When selecting mangos, focus more on the feel of the fruit, than the color. A ripe mango will feel slightly soft, like a peach. If your mangos are not quite ripe, store them on your countertop for a few days. Placing them in a brown paper bag can help speed the ripening process. Once they are ripe, you can store them in the fridge for up to five days. For a photo guide on how to cut mangos, check out my mango guide HERE or stop by www.mango.org for more tips and delicious mango recipes.

Apparently, I was taking too long to cut the mangos.

This smooth, chilled soup makes a refreshing first course during a summer meal or an eager partner to a nice fresh salad. Sweet mango provides the main flavor base, combined with a bit of creamy Greek yogurt and vegetable broth. Fresh cucumber, added to both the soup and the garnish lends a cool, crisp flavor. We tend to like things spicy around here, but you can easily adjust the spiciness to your family’s liking by increasing or decreasing the cayenne and jalapeño pepper in the recipe.

Chilled Mango Cucumber Gazpacho

Ingredients

  • 4-5 large mangos, skin and pit removed, cut into chunks*
  • 1 (6-ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can vegetable broth
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 3″ segment seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more if desired)

For the garnish

  • 6″ segment of seedless cucumber, finely diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • Basil oil, optional

*Click HERE for a photo guide on how to cut a mango.

Directions

Place the mango chunks in a blender. Blend until smooth. (You should have about 3 1/2 cups of mango puree.) Add the cucumber, vegetable broth, lemon juice, and yogurt. Blend until smooth. Add salt and cayenne pepper, as desired. Refrigerate until chilled.

For the garnish, combine the cucumber, jalapeño pepper, and shallot with the lime juice. Refrigerate until serving.

For the optional basil oil, blend about 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves with abut 1/4 cup of olive oil, then strain through a fine sieve or a piece of cheesecloth to remove large chunks of basil.

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