Archive | September, 2009

Chicken Corn Chowder… simple pleasure

29 Sep

What is the best medicine for a cold rainy night? Soup. If you’ve been reading my blog you know that I love soup and make some any chance I get. Last night I was really in the mood to make one of my all time favorites, chicken corn chowder.

What makes a chowder different from just a soup? Potatoes. It’s true a chowder without potatoes is really just a soup. Technically, a chowder should also have some sort of cream as well, but if they can call Manhattan Clam Chowder, chowder then I’m calling mine chowder (just so we’re on the same page, that’s the red.)

Here’s my recipe for the chowder. Like I said it doesn’t have cream, but you can certainly add a little to finish and it will give the chowder that rich creamy texture that you might be used to. My version is also a broth chowder not the usual thick and creamy version. It makes the soup lighter and makes you feel less guilty eating it 🙂

Katie’s Chicken Corn CowderIMG_0851
serves 4-6

1 pound chicken breast
1 large red bell pepper, small dice
1/2 sweet yellow onion, small dice
1 large stalk of celery, small dice
2 medium sized red potatoes, small dice
1 tablspoon bacon fat
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 small bag of frozen corn
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup chopped chives
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated parmesan for garnish

In a large pot melt bacon fat and add celery, onion, and pepper and cook until soft. Add in corn , potatoes and seasonings. Add in chicken broth and the raw chicken breasts. Bring to a simmer and let cook until the chicken is cooked through. When the chicken is finished, pull it out of the soup and cut it into small pieces and add it back into the soup. When you are ready to serve, stir in the chives. Ladle each portion and top with parmesan cheese.

If you want a thicker, creamier soup, add 2 tablespoons flour to the sweating vegetables. Make sure all of the vegetables are coated evenly before adding the broth. At the end of the cooking process, stir in 1/4-1/2 cup of heavy cream. Remember that the cream will thin the soup, not thicken it. If you the soup is too thin for your liking, combine 1 tablespoon of cold butter with 1 tablespoon of flour and add it to the simmering soup until it has reached the consistency you are looking for.

Always thinking of the next meal

-Katie

Cheese glorious cheese

28 Sep

IMG_0049Cheese. It’s one of the most versatile foods that we have access to. It can be used in a salad, melted over chips, folded into an omelette, and even whipped into a cake. It can be eaten at breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack or dessert. It’s prized in Europe and becoming a huge trend in American cooking. Although cheese making has been  an artisan specialty for centuries, it has just recently become more popular and less mysterious.

Here’s a little background on how cheese got its start. Although there is no official stand on this, it is thought that cheese was discovered by accident. About 2000 years ago, sheep herder was out for a long walk with his sheep. As was the norm back then, he was carrying some of the sheep’s milk with him to sooth his thirst in the hot weather. In the middle of the day he was feeling particularly thirsty, and stopped to have a sip. He was surprised to find that his fresh sheep’s milk had turned into a thick creamy mass. What he had discovered was cheese. The vessel that he was using as a canteen was in fact, a sheep’s stomach. Sounds weird today, but it was an everyday thing 2000 years ago. The stomach contained the rennet that creates the separation of curds from whey.

If that’s how cheese was discovered, then how did we get the variety of cheeses that we have today? Well, it’s simple. Trial and error. People all over world played with their food and discovered fabulous variations of cheese. Different milks, different regions, different processes, different additives and flavor agents all add to the differences in cheese.

There are so many different types, but I want to talk to the Blues…

Blue cheese is one of the love it or hate it things. Most people either LOVE it or can’t stand it. But I think blue is great. It comes in so many varieties  that there really is a blue for everyone. Blue can be sweet, gorgonzola dolce, and served as a dessert with pears and honey. Or it can be super strong like roquefort. Blue can be paired with steak, mashed potatoes, dates, and apples. It jazzes up chicken, salmon, and can even be made into a cheesecake.

I’ve made the cheesecake before, and it makes a great appetizer. It’s a nice change from baked brie. If you aren’t a general lover of blues, give the milder ones a chance. Try them in a salad with cranberries and walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette.

As far as wine pairing, blue go well with strong wines like cabernets and Bordeaux blends. It is also classically paired with tawny ports. The saltiness of the cheese makes the port taste sweet and addicting. You can also pair them with sweet wines like Riesling and sparkling wines. The contrast of sweet and salty it always a safe bet. I would personally stay away from drinking sauvignon blanc or an un-oaked chardonnay because the lightness of the wine can not stand up to the intensity of the cheese. If you still aren’t sure, the best rule of thumb is to drink what you like and you will be guaranteed to like the pairing.

Always thinking of the next meal

-Katie

The Anatomy of a Tailgate

24 Sep

This weekend is the Penn State/Iowa at Penn State. And while I can’t claim to be as big of a college football fan as my mom, brother, and husband, but if you’ve been reading my blog you know that I never pass up an opportunity to party down.

So I wasn’t formally asked to cater this event, but I was asked to bring a few things. It made me start thinking that a checklist would be a good thing to have on hand for future planning. My brother sent me a Excel spreadsheet, but unfortunately it just had the amounts of things everyone was bringing and not what they were bringing. So below is a “tailgate must-have” list:

Hardware:

Grill (at least one, but the more the merrier)
Music maker, i.e. ipod and speakers, boom box, car radio
table (any kind of flat surface off the ground counts for this, including the hood of a car)
chairs (this is not so necessary but a nice luxury)
Paper products; paper towels, paper plates, plastic forks, knives, etc.
tongs and spatulas for the grill
*if you wanna get fancy, bring some sharp knives, and maybe some spoons and other kitchen-y things you might need like a cutting board

Ok so tailgate food is a one of those things that can ultra impressive of extra basic. It can range from huge porterhouse steaks, to gas station subs. Both have their merit, and I don’t know anyone who would pass up either. The key to choosing a tailgate menu is comfort. Ask yourself what you are comfortable eating outside and what you are comfortable making. For me a tailgate is not the time to try that coq au vin recipe that’s been burning a hole in my cookbook. But that’s just me…I like to go middle of the road with burgers and dogs.

Other things to consider:IMG_0848

Will you have electricity? You might need that for you music generator or the karaoke machine

If using a charcoal grill, do you have charcoal?

Propane grill, uh do you have enough propane?

Do you have matches or other grill lighting devices?

What about ice? Do you like cold beer? Then you need ice. A cooler or large container also helps with this.

Bottled water is another good thing to have on hand. You wash things with it, fill a vase and decorate your tailgate area, freeze it and keep other things cool, use it to put out a small fire, and if it’s clean enough, you can drink it.

Below is the menu (that I know of) for this weekend’s tailgate festivities.

Software (food):

Burgers and Dogs with ketchup and mustards (super low key)
Kielbasa with onion and apple relish (a little more fancy)
chips and more chips
apple, cheddar, walnut salad with roasted apple vinaigrette
apple celery seed slaw
cheese curls
Buffalo Chicken Dip: 1 lb roasted chicken shredded and mixed with 1 bottle of bleu cheese dressing and 1/4-3/4 cup of you favorite hot sauce
celery sticks
Grilled naan pizza, the topping was leftover pot roast from the London Broil post with a horseradish cream sauce (yum)
assorted desserts

Seriously this menu is all over the place and that’s ok. Don’t let any OCD tendencies get in the way of a relaxing weekend. But the star of the show has yet to be mentioned… alcohol. Let’s face it. The truth is that a tailgate is just a fantastic excuse to drink and have a great time with friends. Have fun, but be responsible. (Sorry I had to say it) Cheap beer is traditional, but why not jazz it up and get some good boxed wine, yes there is such a thing. Or go to a Wegmans and make a mixed 6 pack. Try something new. Just be sure to know if you are allowed to have glass on the party property or if you need to stick to plastic and cans.

Most importantly let loose and have fun. Football season is short so even if the tailgate is in your own driveway, party it up and cheer for Penn State! (or your favorite team)

Always thinking of the next meal

-Katie

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, what does a bushel a day keep away?

21 Sep

IMG_0844This past weekend my family was in town for my cousin’s wedding. The following day we were all looking for a fun outdoor activity to do together. We took some suggestions from everyone but the winning suggestion was the surprising one from my dad. We decided to go to the Linvilla Orchards and pick some apples.

This thought was originally a good one. I mean who doesn’t love running up and down the sweet smelling aisles looking for the biggest and best apples. The bonus was the bluegrass and craft festival, and being a festival junkie, I couldn’t resist. Like I said, this was a good idea. My folks were leaving for Orlando later in the afternoon and my brother and his girlfriend were  both heading home as well. This left me and my husband with a LOT of apples. Don’t get me wrong I love apples, but the picture to the left is what we had minus 9 that were baked into pies.

So now the question is no long what should we do, but what should we do with all these apples? Since we picked golden delicious, jonagold, and courtlands, we knew that we wanted to makes pie. These varieties hold up well to the heat of the oven. They cook down slightly, making them soft to eat, but they also retain their shape so you can see the big chunks of apple in your pie. So I made 2 apple pies this afternoon with streusel topping (recipe below) and my hubby has requested apple sauce.

Still I think that there are about 100 things or more that you can do with apples. Apple butter is one of my favorites, and although I’ve never made it before, I like a good challenge. I’ve also been thinking about apple slaw, roasted apple vinaigrette, and an apple cranberry chutney. But before I get too ahead of myself, here’s the apple pie recipe:

Homemade apple pie:IMG_0845

For the filling:
8-10 large apples, peeled and sliced to 1/4 inch thickness
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup apple cider
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Put the apples in a large pot with the sugars and cinnamon. Cook just until the fruit starts to soften. Add in 1/2 of the apple cider and continue to cook on medium heat. Take the other half of the cider and wisk it in with the cornstarch in a separate bowl. Slowly add it to the cooking apples and allow to simmer. Watch the thickness of the syrup. If it looks too thin add more slurry, if it looks too thick add more cider. The liquid will thicken more during the baking process.

For the crust:

I used the crust recipe from an earlier post about pie

The strusel topping was unmeasured. I just combined flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter until the mixture looked like cornmeal and sprinkled it on top of the pie before baking.

Bake at 350 for 1 hour and let cool completely before serving

Apples are one of the fantastic ingredients that lend themselves to be sweet an savory. They pair beautifully with bacon, sausage, chicken and many cheeses and well as the obvious sweet treatments. I saw a recipe on epicurious earlier today that was kielbasa with shaved apples and onions. It sounds to me like a great fall dinner! I’m sure I’ll be posting about the rest of my apple adventures during the remainder of the week so keep checking back!

Always thinking of the next meal

-Katie

Psychology of Chocolate Chip Cookies

18 Sep

What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to cookies EVERYTHING! You know the moment the words hit your ears. For everyone it’s different. For some, it the crispy spicy bite of a gingersnap. For others, it’s the chewy cinnamon flavors of an oatmeal raisin. But for me, it’s the sweet, decadent childish indulgence of a chocolate chip cookie.

IMG_0808Thankfully my husband shares in this need for chocolate chips, otherwise I’d be making batches of cookies and eating them all myself! Yes, cookies are not the healthiest things that can happen to you, but let’s face it, eating cookies just makes you feel happy.

Every Christmas season, I purchase no less than 3 large serving trays and fill them with a plethora of holiday goodies. No matter how many beautifully decorated sugar cookies there are, no matter how many fruit and nut stuffed rugula there are, and no matter how many Italian butter cookies have been pain-stakenly pressed, the favorite is always my chocolate chip cookies. I derived my cookie recipe from Miss Paula Dean’s recipe for triple chocolate chip cookies. Here’s her version:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/three-chocolate-cookies-recipe/index.html

Why does this recipe work? Well here’s what I know. The amount of butter and shortening are in perfect ratio. There is enough butter to make the outside of the cookies crispy, but there is enough shortening to keep the inside soft and moist. The balance of the sugar and brown sugar lends the cookie to be sweet, but no so sweet that your teeth hurt afterward. The amount of brown sugar also helps to keep the cookies moist.

You can change what you put in these cookies as well. Instead of chocolate chips, try M&M’s or raisins. Make a “trail mix” cookie by using premixed trail mix. You can also add things like dried fruits and peanut butter chips.

These cookies are a constant request in my house. Make them once and I can guarantee you your household will be all smiles.

Always thinking of the next meal

Katie

School Lunch throw-back

16 Sep

“Woke up in the morning
Put on my new plastic glove
Served some reheated salisbury steak
With a little slice of love…”
Adam Sandler’s Lunch Lady Land

One of my favorite lunches when I was I was in grade school was baked potato bar. The concept was simple. You got a baked potato, and had the option of topping it with any number of things. Depending on my mood, I would go with chili and cheese, or broccoli, cheese, and bacon. Tonight I choose to recreate the the latter.

IMG_0805First, start with the broccoli. As mentioned in a previous blog entry, start with fresh broccoli. Blanch and shock the broccoli as needed. Set aside and start with the cheese sauce. Here’s the recipe:

Cheese Sauce:

1/2 cup of milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons cornstarch
salt and pepper to taste

Toss the cheese with the cornstarch. Then bring milk to a simmer and stir in the cheese. Bring to boil and continue to stir. Keep warm until you’re ready to use.

Make the potato however you’re most comfortable. I did mine in the microwave simply because it cooks faster and I was hungry. But you could certainly bake them in the oven with a little olive oil and salt.

If you want to go completely old school, (pun intended) top with Bacos. Those are the little “bacon” bits that you can find in the aisle with the salad dressings. For me though, nothing beats the real deal. I used bacon that I cooked earlier in the week. I also garnished with torn parsley.

You’re never too old to enjoy something from your childhoodIMG_0804

Always thinking of the next meal

-Katie

Velvety Garlic Soup, Duxelles, and Monte Cristos

14 Sep

So today was another fantastic day recipe testing. I’m making Velvety Garlic Soup, Duxelles, and Monte Cristo Sandwiches. I have to say it is a strange combination, but I have the ingredients, so that’s the menu. First, the garlic soup. Yes, garlic is a very potent herb/vegetable but handled correctly, it is beautiful.

Ok so here’s the deal. When garlic is roasted it become something better, something magical. When garlic is roasted it transforms into this beautifully sweet and slightly bitter. The soup is gentle. Don’t get me wrong it tastes like garlic, but unlike an Italian dinner the garlic is mild and understated. Here’s the recipe:

Velvety Garlic Soup

Garlic Soup ready to be frozen

Garlic Soup ready to be frozen

2 cups garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup of yellow onion, medium dice
1 tablespoon thyme, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream

Make a small pouch out of aluminum foil and put the garlic and olive oil. Roast in the oven at 350 for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, sweat the onion and thyme together in a saucepan. When the garlic is finished roasting, add it to the the sautéing onions. Add the stock and season. Purée the soup and finish with cream. Re-season and serve hot. Garnish with shaved parmesan and fresh minced parsley.

The garlic soup is a wonderful dish for this time of the year. It’s easy to find garlic and the warmth makes you thankful that the seasons are finally turning.

Duxelles before puréeing

Duxelles before puréeing

Next, duxelles. Now this a a classic french recipe that is typically used in dishes like beef Wellington. But, it can also be used as a spread, dip, or appetizer. In perfect English, this is a mushroom purée. It’s very simple. Start with a 1/2 cup minced yellow onion. Melt 2 tablespoons over medium heat and add the onions. While the onions are sweating, mince 8-10 large button mushrooms. You can use any type of mushroom you like but the more wild the mushroom, the more intense the mushroom flavor will be. When the onions are soft add in the mushrooms. Cook on low for 20-25 minutes. When the mushrooms are soft purée the whole mixture together, adding water as needed. Season and serve. I’ll be serving mine as an appetizer in crostini with manchego cheese and parsley.

The monte cristos are one of my favorites. This classic dish is very simple to make. First, assemble the sandwich. You need two slices of bread (I like an egg bread like challah, or white bread). In between the bread put 2 slices of american cheese and 2 slices of honey ham. Here’s the best part. Make a custard. Yes, you read correctly, custard. In the simplest terms, a monte cristo is grilled ham and cheese that is dipped in a sweet custard and cooked like French toast! The custard I like is 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Assemble the sandwiches and the dip in the custard. On a greased griddle, fry the sandwiches. Garnish with powdered sugar and strawberry jam or mustard on the side.

Always thinking of the next meal

-Katie

Eat your broccoli

11 Sep

This is the truth, food is good. Broccoli tastes good because it’s fresh and bright and vibrant. It’s hard to taste broccoli when it’s being covered up by cheese and potatoes and other crazy things. What? You don’t like broccoli? May be you’ve only had overcooked frozen broccoli. Is your most recent memory of broccoli one that is mushy and unpleasant? Did the broccoli have a odd army drab color? If you answered yes to any of these questions then my friend you don’t know broccoli. Try some fresh broccoli. You can find it in the produce department.

To cook broccoli, first cut the fresh heads into 1- 1 1/2 inch pieces. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add a good amount of salt. Add broccoli to the water and cook until the florets are bright green and can easily be pierced with a paring knife. Have large bowl filled with ice water ready to go. Once the broccoli is cooked transfer it directly into the ice water bath. This will stop the cooking and preserve the bright green color. To reheat, sauté over medium heat in a little olive oil.

How many ingredients does it take to make broccoli soup? Well, if you are reading the back of the Campbell’s condensed version, probably a dozen or so. I bet you can’t pronounce some of the them either. Now, if you know me well you know that I love Gordon Ramsey. He has a philosophy that is similar to my own. Take good food and only add the minimum to make that ingredient shine.

Gordon Ramsey has a show called Kitchen Nightmares. In one of the episodes, he asked a “chef” of a restaurant to make broccoli soup. How many ingredients did it take? Twelve. Twelve ingredients to make broccoli soup! When Gordon made it it took three. Broccoli, water, and salt.

Want to make the soup? Follow the directions for blanching (above), but don’t shock in an ice bath. Instead, put the broccoli into a blender or food processor and add some of the cooking water (about 1 cup). Blend until smooth, added more water as necessary to achieve the perfect consistency. If you want something a little richer, when the soup has been blended swirl a tablespoon of heavy cream into each serving bowl.

So I dare you. Make some 3 ingredient broccoli soup, or just have some sautéed, but have some. If you become a convert, try this technique with other veggies that you think you don’t like. Leeks, carrots, corn, red peppers all work fantastically.

always thinking of the next meal,

Katie

Oh Crepe!

9 Sep

IMG_0793Today’s recipe testing involved crepes. When I was in Paris, crepe vendors were as common as hot dog carts in New York. They were used as envelope for fabulous fillings like, ham and gruyére, nutella and bananas, sugar, strawberries, and anything else you can imagine. I think each vendor had at least 20 combinations of fillings. The crepe itself, was wonderful. It was light and crispy, but still chewy and satisfying.

I made my attempt at these French favorites this afternoon. I wanted my version to be smaller, more of an appetizer size. Since I wasn’t sure what kind of filling I wanted to use I choose to make my crepes a neutral flavor. So I stuck to the basic recipe. Here it is:

Basic Crepe Recipe:IMG_0794

1 cup AP flour
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tablespoons canola oil
1/4-1/3 cup water

mix all ingredients in a blender and allow to rest for at least 1 hour before using. When rested, pour 2 oz portions onto a hot griddle, swirling the batter with your ladle to create an even circle. flip when the top of the crepe looks dry. Cook on opposite side for 30 seconds. Remove from griddle and set aside while the other crepes are cooking.

*NOTE: if your first crepe looks too thick add a little water until the batter is the correct consistency

IMG_0795If I had decided the filling ahead of time, I could have tweaked the basic recipe to further compliment the filling. For example, if I knew that I would be making a sweet crepe filling, I could have added 1 tablespoon of sugar to the batter. Or if I knew I was going to use bananas and cinnamon as a filling, I could have used 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and topped the finished crepes with a brown butter bourbon sauce. Bananas Foster anyone?

If I had decided to fill the crepes with lox, cream cheese, and red onion, I could have added fresh dill and salt to the batter for a fun twist on bagels and lox. (Yes this is fusion food 🙂 )

Since I did stick with the basic recipe, I was able to experiment with different fillings. I made 6 different fillings; nutella and banana, PB&J, lemon and sugar, cream cheese and dill, cream cheese and pork roll, and provolone and olive tapenade. Ryan helped me with the tasting and here’s the verdict. The top 2 flavors were the nutella and banana and the lemon sugar. I liked the cream cheese and dill, but Ryan wasn’t convinced.

Next time you’re thinking about trying something new, try crepes. They are versatile, tasty, and full of your favorite flavors

Always thinking of the next meal

-Katie

Magic Food

6 Sep

I believe that food can be magic. When you were little and not feeling well, your mom made you chicken noodle soup. Maybe it was a holiday meal that made you feel so comfortable and at home that you never wanted to leave the table. Maybe it is just the smell of freshly baked brownies that make you warm up and feel like there’s no other place in the world that you need to be.

The Italian Chicken Soup that my mom used to make when we were sick, is what does it for me. The smell of the golden broth, and the Italian herbs simmering all day just made you feel better just thinking about it. In fact we’ve even given it the nickname, Feel Better Soup.

I think I read somewhere that chicken soup is full of all kinds of good vitamins and minerals that make you feel better. Something about boosting your serotonin blah blah blah. The fact of the matter is that chicken soup makes you feel better because someone that loves you did something just for you. Personally I think it’s the love that goes into the food that helps to make you feel better.

Here’s the recipe:

Feel Better SoupIMG_0792

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound carrots, small dice
1 pound celery, small dice
1 1/2 cups yellow onions, small dice
2 cans diced tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic
2 large chicken breasts
48 oz chicken stock
2 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup pasta, cook separately
2 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
grated parmesan for garnish

Sauté the vegetables and garlic in the oil. When the vegetables are soft add in the tomatoes and chicken stock. Add in the chicken breast whole and bring to a simmer. Allow the chicken to poach for 20 10-15 minutes. When the chicken is cooked through, remove and dice. Add back to the soup. Allow soup to simmer for 30-45 minutes. 10 minutes before service, cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Add 1/4 cup of the cooked pasta to an empty bowl and ladle the hot soup on top. Grate parmesan on top to garnish.

When Ryan was growing up his mom would make chicken soup too. She served them with crunchy peanut butter sandwiches. At first, I thought this was a little weird. Peanut butter and chicken? Well, it works in Thai food doesn’t it? I’m telling you it’s actually really good. So the traditions have been combined. My mom’s Italian chicken soup and Ryan’s Mom’s crunchy peanut butter sandwiches.

Since we are both feeling under the weather, I can’t wait for dinner. The house smells so good and I’m about to go make the sandwiches. Not the best way to spend Labor Day weekend, but I never mind having Feel Better Soup.

Always thinking of the next meal

Katie