Sunday, December 31, 2017

Herbed-Baked Eggs {#Foodgoals}

I began 2017 with two #Foodgoals. The first goal was to cook simple recipes featuring quality ingredients. The last goal: cook with lots of eggs. So, 2017 began with Heidi Swanson's Poached Eggs in White Wine and things were off to a fun, and tasty, start.    

I shared forty-one recipes this year and all of them were simple, using 10 ingredients or less, with most being under five ingredients or less. Of those recipes, six recipes featured eggs, so about 15% of my recipes showcased the incredible edible egg. Funny enough, there were many times I wanted to share more egg dishes but felt as if I were sharing too many. Looking back, I could've shared a few more.

I'll be doing a roundup of my Top Favorite Recipes in 2017 later in the week, but for now, I'm going to round up all my egg dishes.  The year started with Heidi's Poached Eggs in White Wine, then after that I made Giada's Baked Gruyere and Sausage Omelet, followed by Jamie Oliver's Mexican-Inspired Breakfast Bowl, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Swiss Chard, Green Onion & Cheese Tart, Giada's Pan-Roasted Asparagus with a Crispy Fried Egg, and ended the year with Ina Garten's Herb-Baked Eggs. (click on the recipe titles to be directed to the original post) 

Out of all six egg dishes, Giada's Pan-Roasted Asparagus with a Crispy Fried Egg was hands down my personal favorite. I love flavor profile in this dish, along with the healthy dose of veggies, and the texture from the crispy egg and breadcrumbs. If I had to choose a second favorite, it would be Jamie Oliver's Mexican-Inspired Breakfast Bowl, simply because I tend to favor a Mexican flavor profile. The other egg dishes were all delicious, and I'd make them all again but let's face it...we all have our personal, and biased, favorites.

Saying that, Ina's Herb-Baked Eggs wins the award for being the most versatile egg dish in my roundup, and for that reason, it will be made over and over again in my kitchen. There are endless possibilities!

Ina's recipe consists of a handful of ingredients: eggs with a touch of cream, butter, garlic, parsley, thyme, and rosemary. Now, this version is perfectly delicious if you're in the mood for a mild egg dish. It was very satisfying with pieces of crusty toast, had a hint of garlic and herb flavor, and it was the epitome of easy to make. In fact, the ease of this dish makes it perfect for entertaining.

However, I think the fun of this dish is the endless possibilities! You can add just about anything to the baked eggs. Pieces of cooked meat (whatever you have leftover in the fridge: pot roast, sausage, bacon, ham, etc.); veggies of any variety (I'm mostly thinking a spinach and artichoke version would be the best); a variety of cheeses; a spicy version with chorizo, jalapeno, and red pepper flakes served with a warmed tortilla, or any other way you chose! You name it, you can make it! 

So while the other two egg dishes may have been my personal favorites, they were in no way my family's favorites. Since Ina's Baked Eggs can be customized to suit everyone's individual taste, and is about the easiest egg dish that can be made, this recipe is likely to be the real winner of the bunch!  Therefore, I encourage everyone to give it a try, making it your own with your favorite ingredients!

Happy New Year! I'll be back in 2018 with my Top Favorites of 2017, new #Foodgoals, and also to round out my 10th year of Stirring The Pot! Beginning January 2019, Stirring the Pot will turn 10 years old! Back in 2009, when I first started Stirring the Pot, I never imagined I would continue the blog this long and still be going strong ten years later. Very exciting!

Herb-Baked Eggs
Adapted from Food Network
 by Ina Garten
Serves 2-3

1/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper, to taste
Toasted French bread or brioche, for serving

Preheat the broiler for 5 minutes and place the oven rack 6 inches below the heat.

Combine the garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and Parmesan and set aside. Carefully crack 3 eggs into each of 2 small bowls or teacups (you won't be baking them in these) without breaking the yolks. (It's very important to have all the eggs ready to go before you start cooking.)

Place 2 individual gratin dishes on a baking sheet. Place 1 tablespoons of cream and 1/2 tablespoon butter in each dish and place under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Quickly, but carefully, pour 3 eggs into each gratin dish and sprinkle evenly with the herb mixture, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place back under the broiler for 5 to 6 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are almost cooked. (Rotate the baking sheet once if they aren't cooking evenly.) The eggs will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven. Allow to set for 60 seconds and serve hot with toasted bread. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Weeknight Bolognese {Perfect For A Busy Christmas Eve}

When I'm looking for a helping hand this is my go-to dish. Ina makes a Weeknight Bolognese with a jar of crushed tomatoes and a few herbs and seasonings. While I'm sure her version is perfectly delicious, and easy, I use a jarred tomato sauce my family loves. This is a dish you can have on the table in the time it takes the pasta to cook. Even better, this dish is one of our all-time favorites so it's a win-win all around.

I make this dish with whatever I have on hand. More often than not I will use either ground pork or Italian sausage for my bolognese.  If I don't have that I'll go with ground beef or even ground lamb.  I also think this dish is perfectly good without the meat (even though it's not technically a bolognese then). If it's summertime and the herbs are fresh I throw those in. If not, I use an Italian seasoning blend that I love. We always spice ours up with plenty of red pepper flakes and I'll admit that I probably use a little more than the 1/4 cup of heavy cream Ina calls for in her recipe. I think the whole point is to make it your own.

For example, I rarely have red wine on hand since I prefer white, so I will usually sub a veggie, chicken, or beef broth in its place. Sometimes I add cheese to the sauce and sometimes we just serve it on top. Sometimes we don't even use Parmesan and opt for those cute little baby bocconcini (baby mozzarella balls). If so, I like to toss them into each bowl right before serving so they don't melt away in the hot pan.

I do feel like pasta choice is important here. While you could use any pasta in a pinch, this is best with small shapes like shells, or orecchiette, where the bits of meat and sauce can get inside of the pasta for the ultimate bite.

This quick bolognese is the perfect dish for my family this Christmas Eve. It's something we all know and love and it helps get me out of the kitchen faster so I can drink hot chocolate and watch Christmas movies with the family.  

A Very Merry Christmas to all!

Weeknight Bolognese
Adapted from How Easy Is That?
by Ina Garten
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons good olive oil, plus extra to cook the pasta
1 pound lean ground sirloin
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
1/2 an onion, minced*
1 tablespoon dried oregano*
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
1-1/4 cups dry red wine, divided*
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes*
2 tablespoons tomato paste*
salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound dried pasta, small shells or orecchiette
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed*
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg*
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

*Notes: You can speed things up by using your favorite jarred sauce and using an Italian seasoning blend in place of the herbs and seasonings listed above. I do this on busy weeknights and also in the winter when fresh herbs aren't readily available. If you don't have the wine on hand, feel free to sub a good quality broth in its place.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the meat has lost its pink color and has started to brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Pour 1 cup of the wine into the skillet and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, and pepper stir until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt, a splash of oil, and the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box. 

While the pasta cook, finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, basil, cream, and the remaining 1/4 cup wine to the sauce and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss well.  Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Ina Garten's Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Every Christmas my daughter and I make Hershey's Peanut Butter Blossoms, a classic peanut butter cookie with a Hershey kiss placed on top. My mom would make Buckeyes, a sugary peanut butter ball dipped in chocolate. We would always laugh because these are by no means traditional Christmas cookies, but for us, it was all about the peanut butter and chocolate. Always.

This year things are so different. My daughter and I muddled our way through putting the Christmas tree up, something we always used to do with my mom. I was so proud of my daughter the way she strung all the extra lights and fussed over the branches, studying for openings and fixing them, like my mom always did. She even remembered the special way my mom hung the angel, using a ruler to anchor the angel to the tree, and I watched as she stepped back several times to make sure she was straight. We took special care to hang all the ornaments that we had made over the years, the same ones my mom had painstakingly saved, in all the places my mom liked them to be, right at the top of the tree. Front and center.

When we were finished we each went to our rooms and I cried. I was so very thankful for my daughter. She did all the things my mom used to do. All the things I'm not any good at. The things I didn't think I could do on my own. My extremely sassy 16-year-old, who constantly has headphones in her ear, saved Christmas; and, there wasn't a sassy bone in her body while she did it. I was so proud of her and I wanted to tell my mom how Olivia saved Christmas. I wanted to see that smile on my mom's face, the one she reserved for times like these when she was bursting with pride.

I don't know if we have it in us to make the Hershey's Peanut Butter Blossoms or the Buckeyes like my mom always did. If not this year, I know we will next year. But for now, we made something completely different. We made Ina's Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies and they were delicious. Who doesn't love a peanut butter cookie with lots and lots of chocolate chips running throughout? Fluffy and chewy and full of chocolate, these were a hit at my house, and they definitely satisfy our peanut butter and chocolate craving. I know my mom would approve!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
by Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Parties!
Makes about 4 dozen

1/2 pound butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature*
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup peanut butter*
2-1/2 cups all-purpose
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt*
1 pound semi-sweet chocolate chips*

Notes: My grocery didn't have extra large eggs so I used two regular large sized eggs with perfect results. You could easily use crunchy peanut butter, but I prefer creamy. These cookies needed a bit more salt and were bordering on needing a touch more granulated sugar. I'd taste your dough and add accordingly. One classic-sized bag of chocolate chips isn't enough. You'll need about one and a half bags.

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer (this is some hefty dough), cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time. Add the peanut butter and the vanilla and mix. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and add to the batter, mixing only until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Drop the dough on a baking sheet, using either a 1-3/4" ice cream scoop or a rounded tablespoon. Dampen your hands, flatten dough lightly. Bake for exactly 10 minutes (your time may be different). The key is to remove the cookies when they still look slightly wet on top and a little underdone. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Lemon Drop Cocktail

From time to time I like to enjoy a little cocktail. Usually, I'll pour one of three things: Prosecco, Champagne, or Pinot Grigio. It's also likely there's some fruit involved: usually peaches, but sometimes strawberries or raspberries, lemon, orange, and on occasion, pomegranate seeds. I love the color the fruit adds, and let's face it, the fruit is a special treat after it's soaked up a bit of the alcohol.

This past fall I discovered a delicious little sipper. An Apple Cider Mimosa. It is the perfect fall drink: crisp, fresh, and sweet. It's so simple! Simply pour the desired amount of apple cider in the bottom of a champagne glass and top with either Prosecco or Champagne. Enjoy! The amount of apple cider is totally up to you and let me tell you....there is no way you can mess it up! It's an amazing drink. Perfect for ladies parties and brunches.

The store is no longer selling apple cider and the mills have closed, so I've been looking for a new go to drink. Of course, I wanted this drink to be something every bit as simple as my beloved Apple Cider Mimosa; but also, something that could be made with ingredients I typically have on hand. Ina's Lemon Drop Cocktail fits the bill perfectly. Three basic ingredients: vodka, lemon, and sugar. Easy enough, right? A pour of vodka, a quick squeeze of lemon, a dusting of sugar, a quick shake and you're ready to pour yourself a tasty glass of relaxation!

Now, full disclosure, this Lemon Drop Cocktail is way more potent than a glass of champagne! Most martinis are on the strong side, and after a few sips, this goes down fairly easy I enjoyed mine with a slice of lemon, orange, and a sprig of basil. The pretty colors on a cold winter day help to cheer me up!

Whether you're hosting a party, or simply unwinding from holiday chaos, this Lemon Drop Cocktail is a tasty and delightful way to relax.

Lemon Drop Cocktail
Adapted from Food Network
by Ina Garten
Serves 6

2 cups frozen vodka
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 superfine sugar
thinly sliced lemon slices, for garnish
herbs, for garnish

Combine the vodka, lemon juice, and sugar and pour into a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour into martini glasses and garnish with lemon slices.  

It's 5 o'clock Somewhere!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

16 Bean Pasta e Fagioli

This "16 bean" pasta e fagioli beckoned to me from the pages of Ina Garten's Cooking For Jeffrey. A simple peasant soup full of all the things I love: tomatoes, beans, and pasta. It screams of comfort food.

So, on a blustery winter day, I gathered my ingredients and set about preparing this soup. This recipe takes some forethought, namely soaking the beans overnight. If you forget, like me, you can do the quick-soak method (thanks Deb). After soaking, this recipe does take quite a bit of time. The beans cook an hour and you have to watch, skimming off foam. When they're done it's time to get out the food mill, or in my case, the blender.  One-third of the beans gets pureed so as to thicken the soup. Then you have to add all the beans, and pasta, back to the pot and cook the soup for another 30 minutes.

Do you see where I'm going with this? This soup takes forethought, quite a bit of work, and results in lots of dirty dishes. No problem, right? After all, I love all the ingredients and this soup is definitely going to be great.

Wrong. So wrong. I wish I didn't have to say this, but my soup was really mild. Way too mild. In fact, my husband's comment was "this has no flavor at all." I had to agree with him. Baffled, I explained how I added bacon, extra onions and garlic, loads of red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, and topped it off with a little drizzle of some really nice extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and fresh basil.  Normally, these ingredients always deliver flavor. This time they did not.

Every once in awhile I have a kitchen failure, but I don't mind because I usually learn something helpful. This one leaves me wondering. What was the lesson? Was it the brand of beans? Were they old? Was it because I didn't soak my beans overnight? Maybe the quick-soak worked to make them tender but perhaps they just didn't soak up enough water? Maybe the quick-soak method affected the flavor profile of the soup? Maybe when you quick-soak you need to add xyz.... to help make up for something. Maybe it's something else altogether.

Either way, this recipe is a no go for us. Don't be afraid to give it a try though because I know a few others who have really enjoyed it! But, do me a favor, soak your beans overnight!

"16 Bean" Pasta e Fagioli
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 6-8

1 (1-pound) bag Goya 16 Bean Soup Mix*
2 tablespoons good olive oil, plus extra for serving
6 ounces pancetta, 1/4-inch-dice, or bacon*
1 large onion, chopped*
1 tablespoons minced garlic (3 cloves)*
red pepper flakes, to taste*
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine*
4 to 6 cups good chicken stock
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup miniature pasta, such as ditalini or tubettini
1/2 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1 tablespoon good red wine vinegar*
Julienned fresh basil leaves, for serving

Note: My grocery didn't have the Goya brand bean mix so I bought an equiavalent. I used bacon in place of pancetta, added extra garlic and onions, about a tablespoon or more of red pepper flakes, two teaspoons of Italian seasoning, and a good amount of salt and pepper. I didn't add the red wine but replaced the liquid with chicken stock. The red wine vinegar did help to wake up the flavors, but unfortaunely not enough.

The day before you plan to make the soup, place the bean mix in a large bowl, add cold water to cover by 2 inches, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, drain the beans, rinse under cold running water, and drain again. Place the beans in a large pot with 8 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 1 hour. Stir occasionally and skim off any foam that rises to the top. The beans should be very tender and the skin will peel away when you blow on them.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium (10-inch) stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the pancetta and onion and saute over medium to medium high heat for 12 to 18 minutes, until browned. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute for one minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, 4 cups of the chicken stock, salt and pepper, and turn off the heat.

Drain the beans and add two-thirds of them to the soup. Pass the remaining beans through a food mill, discarding the skins. Stir the bean puree and the pasta into the soup, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender. Add up to 2 more cups of chicken stock if the soup is too thick. Stir in the Parmesan and the vinegar. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and add a swirl of olive oil,a sprinkle of Parmesan, and some basil. Serve hot with extra Parmesan on the side.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Parmesan & Chipotle Popcorn

We never have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. No one cares for a big roast turkey, and to seal the deal, my youngest is allergic. In years past we've had roast chicken, rib roasts, spaghetti, and even tacos. This year we opted for ham which is not only the easiest, but something everyone is crazy about, and for that I am thankful. Amen for an easy and peaceful Thanksgiving that everyone enjoyed.

Thankfully, Thanksgiving weekend is long enough to squeeze in all sorts of things: eating, shopping, resting, watching parades, Netflix, and spending lots of time with family. Now that our kids are older we love to have game night. It's a great way to have some good old fashioned fun together and it forces everyone to put their electronics away. 

On Black Friday I found the retro (1986 version) of Clue and snatched it right up. I can't even tell you how many times I played that game back in the 80's. I knew my kids (who are obsessed with the 80's thanks to Stranger Things) would love this throwback game.

Now that I had the game it was time for snacks. Ina's Parmesan & Chipotle Popcorn has been calling to me. Easy, cheesy, and spicy. I knew I couldn't go wrong. We set the table with the game, Ina's popcorn, and some buttered popcorn for the kiddos, and we were all set. It was definitely a table to be thankful for.

I loved the combination of Parmesan cheese and chile powder and thought it was perfectly balanced. My husband thought there was a bit too much cheese on the popcorn, but we all know there is no such thing as too much cheese, so he loses his vote. I will say there is probably too much butter. How do I know there was too much butter? Well, my popcorn became a little soggy in places so I think I would suggest using half as much butter next time around. Adding two tablespoons of butter in lieu of four would probably suffice. If not, you can always add a touch more. This is the perfect solution for an otherwise lip smacking and darn right addictive cheesy delight of a snack. I'd definitely make this again!

Parmesan & Chipotle Popcorn
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 3 to 4

1 bag microwave popcorn, such as Newman's Own Natural
4 tablespoons butter, melted*
1/2 cup finely grated Italian Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
2 teaspoons salt 

Note: Four tablespoons of butter may be a bit too much. I'd try half (2 tablespoons) at first and then add more if necessary. I didn't have chipotle chile powder so I used regular chile powder with great results.

Microwave thepopcorn for 3 to 5 minutes, according to the directions on the package, until the popcorn stops popping. Carefully pour the hot popcorn into a large bowl and immediately pour on the butter, then the Parmesan, chile powder, and salt. Toss well and serve hot.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken

This time of year brings about a certain stillness that I crave.  Sure, things quiet down when the kids go back to school, and then they quiet down even more when the air begins to chill, but once it hovers around freezing, there is a final layer of peace that is achieved. Total stillness. No moving about outside, very little traffic, and no knocks on the door. This stillness is the sole reason I love winter. I crave it all year.

There is little better than a still day spent in the kitchen. Kids and husband gone. Candles burning. Nothing but the sound of Adele playing and the dog snoring in the background. Knife in hand as I do my favorite kitchen chore, chopping veggies and herbs. Prepping and preparing a lovely Sunday meal for my family for when they return from their outing, it's therapy only the kitchen can grant.

Cooking doesn't always come from the heart, but on these days it does. A tender and juicy Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken fills the kitchen with a wonderful and comforting aroma that warms hearts. Some days people have to be called to dinner, but with this in the oven, you will find everyone gathering in the kitchen early.

A comforting chicken dinner with no chance of anyone knocking on the door? It's heavenly. Try it sometime.

Skillet-Roasted Lemon Chicken
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 4-6

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
salt and black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup good olive oil
1 lemon, halved and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 (4 pound) chicken, backbone removed and butterflied
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
Juice of 1 lemon

Note: My kids don't care for fennel so I made a different herb mixture using fresh sage and thyme.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the thyme, fennel seeds, 1 tablespoon salt, and1 teaspoon pepper in a mini food processor and process until ground. Pour the olive oil into a small glass measuring cup, stir in the herb mixture, and set aside.

Distribute the lemon slices in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and distribute the onion and garlic on top. Place the chicken, skin side down, on top of the onion and brush with about half the oil and herb mixture. Turn the chicken skin side up, pat it dry with paper towels (very important!), and brush it all over with the rest of the oil and herb mixture.

Roast the chicken for 30 minutes. Pour the wine into the pan (no on the chicken!) and roast for another 10 to 15 minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155 to 160 degrees. 

Remove the chicken from the oven, sprinkle it with the lemon juice, cover the skillet tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Cut the chicken into quarters or eights, sprinkle with salt, and serve hot with the pan juices, cooked lemon, and onion.

Theme: Cooking For Jeffrey!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ina Garten's Raspberry Roasted Applesauce {Perfect For Your Holiday Table}

Kids are funny when it comes to food. One week they love to eat something and the very next week they hate it. When they're loving something they simply can't get enough of it. They beg you to buy it in bulk and it's almost as if they're out to prove something by inhaling it as fast as possible. They ask you for more and you oblige because you are thrilled they're eating real food. Then one day, with all the dramatic disgust they can muster, they hate that food and look at you as if you've two heads when you say, "but you loved it last week."

Such is life with kids. Just when you think you get a handle on something it changes. For months my son was on an apple jag. He became obsessed with the mini-sized Honeycrisp apples and was eating them at least three times a day. Every meal centered around an apple and honestly I was thrilled. I could've cared a less about their high price tag. I couldn't buy enough of them. Then all at once I noticed the fruit basket was staying full and the apples hadn't been touched and just like that, he was done.

I was hoping he would continue to love apples the same way he's continued to love rice krispies treats, but no such luck. So I set about finding a recipe to use up my apple stash and when I came across Ina Garten's Raspberry Roasted Applesauce I knew I found a winner.

 I fell in love with the idea of roasting apples with raspberries, brown sugar, and cinnamon and letting their delicious aroma fill the house. I fell in love with the idea of topping the warm applesauce with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and watching it melt into the sauce. Mostly, I fell in love with the idea of making a beautifully hued ruby red applesauce.

I do have a few suggestions if you chose to make this. First of all, the recipe as written, will make enough to feed an army. I think Ina wrote it so that each person gets about one full cup of applesauce, along with a scoop of ice cream. I love sweets, but this is far too much for one person so I would suggest cutting this recipe in half if you're not feeding an army. Even half the recipe is enough for 6-8 people. Secondly, depending on your apples, you may or may not want to reduce, or eliminate, the brown sugar. I couldn't find the Macoun apples Ina called for so I used a mix of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp. I didn't even think about their sweetness when I added the brown sugar and my applesauce was quite sweet. It wasn't cloyingly sweet and I still enjoyed it, but I think I could've gotten by without adding any brown sugar at all, or very little, just for flavor.

This applesauce is delightful on it's own, but a scoop of good-quality vanilla ice cream makes it practically irresistible! 

This is a perfect dessert for the holidays because it can be made ahead. In fact, it's even better made a day or two in advance because the flavors get a chance to develop. Simply warm it up, scoop some ice cream, top with orange zest and you're set. I especially like the idea of having this applesauce as a lighter option for those who want a little something sweet but aren't into rich heavy desserts after a big holiday meal. A total winner!

Raspberry Roasted Applesauce
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 8*

Zest and Juice of 2 large oranges
Zest and Juice of 1 lemon
3 pounds Granny Smith apples (6 to 8 apples)
3 pounds sweet red apples, such as Macoun (6 to 8 apples)*
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed*
4 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
12 ounces fresh raspberries (2 pkgs.)
Vanilla ice cream, for serving
Orange zest, for serving

*Note: I halved the recipe above and feel it was still enough to serve 6-8 people, especially once topped with ice cream. I couldn't find Macoun apples so I used Honeycrisp and I would recommend eliminating the brown sugar or reducing it.  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the zest and juice of the oranges and lemon in a large (11-inch) ovenproof pot or Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset. Peel, quarter, and core the apples and add them to the pot, tossing them with the juices as you go.

Add the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and raspberries, cover, and bake for 1 to 1-1/4 hours, until the apples are very soft. Stir vigorously with a wire whisk. The applesauce will be smooth but still have a lot of texture. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream and a dusting of orange zest.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Butternut Squash & Ricotta Bruschetta {Perfect For Your Holiday Table}

I love a good crusty bread on it's own, but I especially love with it with all sorts of goodies piled on top. This type of thing is my go to for breakfast, a quick lunch, or for party appetizers. When I came across this Butternut Squash & Ricotta Bruschetta in Ina Garten's Cooking For Jeffrey cookbook, I was hooked. I've never tried a combination quite like this.

The combination of butternut squash and ricotta on bruschetta may sound strange at first, but I can assure you that this combination is so very good. In fact, I was simply blown away.  The squash goes sweet from the addition of maple syrup and a hefty dose of red pepper flakes really spices things up! These sweet and spicy flavors marry perfectly with the caramelized onions and ricotta, and when piled high on some crusty bread, this recipe is THE PERFECT combination of sweet, spicy, creamy and crunchy. Every bite is just the perfect bite.

There are a couple things worth mentioning. First, and foremost, a good bread is necessary here. Ina uses a French baguette, which would make perfect party-sized bites. I wanted to make mine more of a meal, so I opted to use really good thick slices of sourdough. Chose your bread accordingly. The most important aspect of the bread is that it be totally crusty.  Don't make the mistake of simply heating it up a tad, or perhaps just going for a little bit of crunch. You want thicker slices of bread that are toasty all the way through. This crustiness provides the perfect texture and will hold up to the hefty toppings you are going to put on top. I rubbed my bread with olive oil, salt, and pepper and put it in a 400F oven for about 10-12 minutes. Times will vary depending on the size and thickness of your bread.

Secondly, do not skip the addition of the maple syrup or the apple cider vinegar. I wasn't sure I wanted any sweetness from the maple sugar into this otherwise savory dish. I'm also not a fan of apple cider vinegar and was worried that it's flavor would ruin the dish for me. On a whim, I decided to add them both and I'm so very glad I did! Those two ingredients really heightened the flavor of this dish. The sweetness of the maple sugar struck the perfect balance with the spiciness of the red pepper flakes and the apple cider vinegar....well, it simply tied all the flavors together. In fact, the topping mixture would be a perfect side dish all on it's own!

I really cannot say it enough. This dish was phenomenal! I would encourage any butternut lovers to give it a try. It is a perfect autumn dish and would be really good served in party-sized portions as a Thanksgiving appetizer!

Butternut Squash & Ricotta Bruschetta
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 6

1 pound butternut squash, peeled and 1/2" to 3/4"inch-diced
good olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups sliced yellow onions (2 onions)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons pure Grade A maple syrup
apple cider or apple juice (optional)
6 (1/2-inch-thick) slices rustic country bread, toasted
1-1/2 cups fresh ricotta, homemade or store bought

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the squash, 2-1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and the red pepper flakes on a sheet pan, toss, and spread out in one layer. Roast for 25 to 35 minutes, until very tender and starting to brown on the edges, tossing once with a metal spatula during roasting. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium (10-inch) saute pan. Add the onions and cook over a medium to medium-low heat for 12-15 minutes, tossing occasionally, until golden brown. Add the vinegar and maple syrup and simmer over medium heat for 4 to 6 minutes, until the liquid is reduced. When the squash is tender, add it to the saute pan with the onions and mash it lightly with a dinner fork.

If the mixture is a little dry, add a few tablespoons of apple cider to moisten. Taste for seasonings and reheat over low heat, if necessary.

To assemble the bruschetta, spread a thick layer of ricotta on each toast and spoon the squash mixture on top. Sprinkle with salt and serve warm.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Crusty Baked Shells & Cauliflower

Mom and I went to the County Fair every summer. I was going for the rides, the animals, and the food. She was going for my sake, but also because a basket of fried veggies was one of her favorite things to eat. Back in the day we were very healthy eaters, so these battered and fried veggies were a big treat for both of us. The basket would come out piping hot and brimming with golden puffy clouds of broccoli, mushrooms, onions, zucchini, and cauliflower. She loved them all, but she loved the mushrooms best. This worked in her favor since I didn't like mushrooms. The onions and cauliflower were always my favorites. Together we would eat the basket clean.

A few weeks ago I went to a street fair and there were rows upon rows of food trucks. There were endless things to eat, but I only had one thing in mind: fried veggies.  Problem was, I looked high and low and no one seemed to be selling them. Determined, I walked around in the hot sun for what felt like ages. Finally I find a place and my eyes lit up. I went ahead and ordered the big basket, even though no one would share them with me.

Even though I had to hold back tears, I did manage to thoroughly enjoy those fried veggies. To me they will always be the best thing to eat at the fair. The onion is still up there as one of my favorites, but it's the fried cauliflower that's my favorite. I love all the craggy fried edges and how the cauliflower starts to go all creamy inside. It's just so darn good! The whole thing got me thinking...why don't I cook with cauliflower more often?

I vowed then and there to buy some cauliflower and find a good recipe. While looking through Ina Garten's latest cookbook, Cooking For Jeffrey, I found this recipe for Crusty Baked Shells & Cauliflower and it was perfect!

This baked pasta dish is delightfully different. First of all, there is no cheese sauce, but there is plenty of cheese: creamy Fontina, fluffy ricotta, and nutty Pecorino. These three cheeses may very well be the foundation of this dish, but it's the brightness of the lemon zest and the pop of the capers that are front and center. Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't give mention to the real star of the dish, the crusty panko topping. The topping is a textural delight, with crusty bits of panko, pasta, and cauliflower. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention the fiery heat of the red pepper flakes! I really loved this. It was just plain fun to eat! While it may not be for everyone (a quick poll taught me that not everyone loves cauliflower), I will say that I found it absolutely delightful! I can understand why Ina says it is wildly popular. It is creamy and crusty, comforting yet bright, mild yet fiery and everything else in between. My favorite bites were the ones with the crusty bits from the top and the pasta shells that had capers tucked into them. So tasty, so unique!

Pasta and cauliflower mixed with lemon zest, capers, sage, garlic, Fontina, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper

 If you love the ingredients in this one I urge you to give this a try! It is definitely one of those dishes that shakes things up a bit!

Crusty Baked Shells & Cauliflower
Adapted from Cooking For Jeffrey
by Ina Garten
Serves 6-8

Ina says, "When I met David Tanis in Paris, he was the head chef at Alice Water's legendary restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. David now writes cookbooks andmy favorite food column in the New York Times. This wildly popular recipe is from his column. I love the creamy cauliflower with the crisp pasta plus sage, capers, garlic, and Fontina."

Before the topping was scattered on

3/4 pound medium shells
good olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
2-1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into small florets (1 large head)
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups freshly grated Fontina cheese (10 ounces with rind)
1 cup (8 ounces fresh ricotta)
1/2 cup panko
6 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Fill a large pot with water, add 2 tablespoons salt, and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook al dente, according to the instructions on the package. Since it will be baked later, don't overcook it! Drain and pour into a very large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium-high heat, add half the cauliflower in one layer, and saute for 5 to 6 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the florets are lightly browned and tender. Pour the cauliflower, including the small bits, into the bowl with the pasta. Add 3 more tablespoons of oil to the saute pan, add the remaining cauliflower, cook until browned and tender, and add to the bowl. 

Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the bowl and stir carefully. Stir in the Fontina. Transfer half of the mixture to a 10 x 13 x 2-inch rectangular baking dish (or cast iron skillet). Spoon rounded tablespoons of ricotta on the pasta and spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top. Combine the panko, Pecorino, parsley, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl and sprinkle it evenly on top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until browned  and crusty on top. Serve hot!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Ina Garten's French Chocolate Bark {Perfect for Halloween}

If I had I had a dollar for every time I've heard Ina Garten declare "How Easy Is That?" then I would have a fat stack of bills in my wallet. Ina repeats this catch phrase over and over again on her hit cooking show, but what's more is that she actually proves it, by showing us how easy it is to cook her five star dishes.

This recipe for French Chocolate Bark is an example of just how foolproof and easy Ina's recipes are. A handful of quality ingredients, a set of simple instructions, and voilà have yourself a five-star chocolate bark that would rival anything you could find at an upscale chocolate shop!

This chocolate bark calls my name with all the delicious toppings: roasted and salted cashews, sweet dried cherries, and beautiful orange dried apricots. The colors just scream Halloween to me and makes this perfect for taking to any upcoming Halloween celebrations. The textures and flavors are out of this world: crunchy and salty cashews with sweet and chewy bits of dried fruit and creamy chocolate. Wow! Your taste buds are in for a special treat with this one!

French Chocolate Bark
Adapted from Back To Basics
by Ina Garten
Makes 18 to 20 pieces

1 cup whole salted, roasted cashews
6 to 7 ounces very good semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 to 7 ounces very good bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup dried crystallized ginger, 1/2-inch diced*
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried apricots, 1/2-inch diced
1/4 cup golden raisins

*Note: I omitted the crystallized ginger and raisins simply because I didn't have them on hand. I used Ghiradelli chocolate with great results.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Using a pencil, draw a 9 x 10-inch rectangle on a piece of parchment paper placed on a sheet pan, then turn the parchment paper over. 

Spread the cashews in one layer on another sheet pan and bake for 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.  

Place the semisweet chocolate and half the bittersweet chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave on high power for 20 to 30 seconds. (Don't trust your microwave timer; time it with your watch.) Stir with a rubber spatula. Continue to heat and stir in 30-second increments until the chocolate is just melted. Immediately add the remaining bittersweet chocolate and allow it to sit at room temperature, stirring often, until it's completely smooth. Stir vigorously until the chocolate is smooth and slightly cooled; stirring makes it glossier.

Pour the melted chocolate onto the parchment paper and spread it lightly into the drawn rectangle. Sprinkle the top evenly in the following order; first the ginger, then the cooled whole cashews, the cherries, apricots, and raisins. Set aside for 1 to 2hours until firm. Cut the bark in 18 to 20 pieces and serve at room temperature.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Ina Garten's Engagement Roast Chicken {The Very Best Roast Chicken}

Long time watchers of  Ina Garten's cooking show, Barefoot Contessa, know that she is The Queen of Roast Chicken.  Ina has many recipes for roast chicken and countless others celebrating chicken. Her inspiration behind these recipes is her husband, Jeffrey. Chicken is Jeffrey's favorite and Jeffrey is Ina's favorite.

These two things, Ina's love of Jeffrey and therefore chicken, are apparent to anyone who catches a few segments of her tv show. In fact, my husband has surmised as much after only seeing a few snippets here and there. It's so evident that for years we've had a running joke about Ina and Jeffrey and Friday night chicken dinners.
Weeks ago my husband called me laughing when he saw the text that my newest cookbook, Cooking For Jeffrey was set to arrive in the mail. He said, "it's about time she wrote a book dedicated to cooking for Jeffrey." So, my husband was delighted when on Friday I sent him a text to let him know that I was making Ina's Roast Chicken for dinner, Jeffrey's favorite. Let's just say he had high expectations because he knows that Jeffrey gets only the best!

This recipe started off just like all the rest, but Ina throws a few wise tips in. Namely, the size of the pan and the reason why it's so important. The chicken is nestled with two sliced onions and lemon wedges. The pan needs to be somewhat of a tight fit or the onions will burn. This was most helpful for me because in the past my add ins (onions, garlic, lemon, potatoes, carrots, etc) have all been in a pan that was too large which resulted in burning and scorched tasting gravy, etc. The second, and equally helpful tip, was to cut the slices of onion thick so that they would hold up in the oven. The result was perfectly cooked onions and delicious gravy. Score!

Ina says to use a 9 x 11 roasting pan and you can definitely do that, but I prefer to use my cast iron whenever possible so I went ahead and used my 12" cast iron skillet. It was the perfect fit!

There is a reason why this chicken is called Engagement Roast Chicken. The word is that the chicken is so delicious it earns marriage proposals! While I think that is somewhat of an exaggeration, I can understand the name. This is quite simply THE VERY BEST ROAST CHICKEN I've ever made! We found this to be the ultimate in chicken, tender and juicy with a perfectly crisp and golden brown skin. The onion gravy is equally delicious, with a fresh pop from the lemon, and really elevates the chicken to another level. All in all, this was divine, exceeding all expectations. From now on, this is my one and only roast chicken recipe. Five stars, Ina!

Engagement Roast Chicken
Recipe found on Food Network
by Ina Garten
Serves 4

1 (4 to 5 pound) roasting chicken
salt and black pepper, to taste
2 lemons
1 whole head garlic, cut in 1/2 crosswise
good olive oil
2 onions, peeled and thickly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Remove and discard the chicken giblets. Pat the outside dry.  Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Cut the lemons in quarters, place 2 quarters in the chicken along with the garlic and reserve the rest of the lemons.  Brush the outside of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken.  Place the chicken in a small (11 by 14") roasting pan (if the pan is too large the onions will burn - I used a 12" cast iron skillet). Place the reserved lemons and the sliced onions in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then season with salt and pepper, to taste. Pour the mixture around the chicken in the pan.

Roast the chicken for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and a thigh. Remove the chicken to a platter, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the sauce, leaving the lemons and onions in the pan. 

Place the pan on top of the stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the wine (I didn't have wine so I subbed in extra chicken broth in it's place) and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits. Add the stock and sprinkle on the flour, stirring constantly for a minute, until the sauce thickens. Add any juices that collect onto a platter and serve with the lemons, onions, and warm sauce.

Cooking with Alliums @ IHCC