Sunday, September 29, 2013

Easy Italian Chicken with Bertolli Bowties

 I recently received an email from one of my readers, Dave. He wanted me to take a look at a certain crock pot recipe, and he had a few questions about it. As I said to him, I really don't like to cook chicken in a crock pot because it often comes out overdone or rubbery. I just think it's not good to cook chicken for such a long time. So I told him I'd probably nix the crock pot altogether and just make the recipe on the stove top. Of course you know I needed to try it out to see if I was right. A few changes in method, a few extra ingredients, and here we are!
  I have to say, I think it turned out pretty great! It's really simple and flavorful! And it was ready in less than 30 minutes. Perfect! I honestly have no idea where Dave found the original recipe, but like I always say, since he's the one who brought it to me, he's the one who gets the credit! Thanx for the inspiration, Dave! I hope you'll give my new version of this recipe a try!

flour for dusting
salt and pepper
3 or 4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
a few glugs of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 14oz cans diced tomatoes
1 envelope Lipton Savory Herb w/ Garlic soup mix
1 heaping tbs tomato paste
a few shakes crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb Bertolli bowtie pasta
Parmesan cheese
chopped fresh basil

 Place flour and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add chicken pieces, a few at a time. Toss until coated. Shake off excess flour. Add oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add floured chicken to pan. Saute until browned on all sides, but not cooked all the way through. Do this in batches so you don't crown the pan. As you finish browning each batch, remove the chicken to a plate and set aside. Pour out any oil from the pan and use a paper towel to remove any excess flour that is still in the pan. Add a little fresh oil. Add the chopped onions and saute until they begin to soften a bit. Add the tomatoes, soup mix, pepper flakes, and tomato paste. Give it a good stir until well combined. Add the chicken back to the pan, stirring to coat. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Meanwhile, boil the Bertolli bowtie pasta according to package directions. Serve chicken over pasta with a little sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and some chopped fresh basil.

You can use any kind of tomatoes you want. Crushed, puree, diced, plain, low sodium, with Italian herbs, whatever you like. It will all work.
There's no need to add any seasoning to the sauce because the soup mix takes care of that for you.
If you don't have bowties, try it with any other Bertolli cut pasta, such as ziti, rotelle, or penne. You can certainly try it with another brand of pasta, but I bet it won't taste as good.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Apple Raisin Muffins

Ok, so go with me on this one...
I was originally gonna write about how much I love apples and how great the fall weather is for baking apple desserts, and how this is a tweaked version of a Paula Deen recipe, and blah blah blah, but here's the thing... after the first attempt at making these, I figured I'd write about something MUCH more important than having a great recipe. And that is FOLLOWING a really great recipe. Seriously, what good is having a great recipe if you don't do what it says???  So basically, when it says to add 2 tsps of baking soda, it's really not a great idea to add baking POWDER.
I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin..... btw... these muffins are slammin'....

1 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 cups grated Granny Smith apples
2 cups raisins
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the water, sugar, apples, raisins, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and salt in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and cool completely.
In a large bowl, stir baking soda into the flour. Add the cooled mixture to the bowl, and stir until blended. Fill greased miniature muffin tins with batter to the top. Bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick come out clean. Makes 5 dozen mini muffins.

If you're not a fan of raisins, try a different kind of dried fruit, such as dried raisins, dried apricots, or dried blueberries.
To grease the muffin pans, I usually just use non stick spray for baking (the one that has flour in it). It's just so much easier!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mexican Vinaigrette

 I recently made a Chicken Tortilla Lasagna for my friend Michele. Now, if I were serving a regular Italian lasagna, I would also serve a nice crisp tossed salad. So I decided to do a Mexican inspired salad to go with my Mexican inspired lasagna. I basically started out with a regular honey mustard vinaigrette, and then added some Mexican flavors to it. It turned out great! Very quick, very simple, very fresh. It was also very light and it didn't overpower any of the salad veggies. It was so good, we both had a second helping of salad before going for the lasagna! Try it!

2 tbs apple cider vinegar
3 tbs honey
2 tbs fresh lime juice
1 tsp chili powder
1 tbs mustard
salt and pepper to taste
a few shakes crushed red pepper
1 tbs chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Whisk together all ingredients except the oil until well blended. SLOWLY drizzle the oil into the mixture while whisking constantly. Serve immediately or store in the fridge.

If you're not a fan of cilantro, just use chopped fresh parsley instead.
I chose romaine lettuce and a bunch of fresh veggies, such as sliced red and orange bell peppers, sliced zucchini, vine ripened tomatoes, and sliced scallions. I also topped the salad with some diced avocado and a sprinkle of shredded cheddar cheese. Love!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Joey's Vanilla Bean Brownies

 Let me just start by saying that this is one of the best desserts I've made in quite a long time! It all started when I was in the mood for a fabulous vanilla something. My only requirement was that I wanted it to have a serious PUNCH of vanilla flavor. Well, it has taken a few tries, but I've finally landed on the correct recipe! Here's how it happened..
  I figured I'd look for a really rich vanilla brownie and I happened upon a recipe. So I gave it a try. They were AMAZING, but there were several things I didn't like about them. The biggest problem was the amount of fat. They were absolutely LADEN with butter and heavy cream (which is probably why they tasted so good) but there was so much that they barely held their shape when you cut them into squares. The other thing I didn't like was that they had no vanilla in them! How can you make a vanilla brownie with no vanilla? So I tried adding a couple ingredients, and also changed some of the amounts. After a few tries, I decided that THIS was the right recipe. I made them for Ginna and Charlie's yearly White Elephant party, and everyone loved them! There was barely a crumb left! They're SO delicious and they're quite literally the BEST vanilla something I've ever made. So there ya have it. I KNOW I'll be making these again soon! Who wants some?

2 vanilla beans*
1 stick butter 
3 c powdered sugar
2 tbs half and half (or milk)
1 tbs pure vanilla extract

2 c flour
2 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c half and half
1 stick (1/2 c) butter
1/2 c sour cream
2 large eggs (lightly beaten)
1 tbs pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven 350ยบ F.

Make the frosting first:
Using a sharp knife, split open the vanilla beans longways and use the back of the knife to scrape out the "caviar" from inside. Save the empty vanilla bean pods. Add the "caviar" to the rest of the frosting ingredients and whip until well combined. Set aside.
 In large bowl combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder; set aside. In a small sauce pan, combine butter and half and half. Add the reserved empty bean pods. Bring it to a gentle simmer.  Let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally, making sure to get any remaining "caviar" out of the beans. Remove from heat. Remove the vanilla bean pods and discard. Add the flour mixture, whisking to combine. Stir in sour cream, egg, and vanilla extract. Pour onto greased and floured half sheet pan, spreading evenly. Bake 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Don't over bake! Let it cool for about 10 minutes until it's no longer piping hot, but still warm. Spread warm cake with frosting. Let it cool completely or chill before cutting into bars.

 *I used 2 vanilla beans, but you can do it with just one. Actually, I suppose if you don't have a vanilla bean, you could just leave it out and add a little more vanilla extract.
 If you want to cut the fat even further, you can just use milk instead of half and half, but you'll get more of a cake like texture instead of a rich brownie texture.
 As you can see in the photo, I placed a piece of parchment paper between each layer of brownies when I placed them on the plate. Because they have such a fudgy texture, I was worried that they might stick together. As it turns out, this was a really good idea!
 You probably don't really have to grease the baking sheet, but I always grease and flour everything. Why take chances?
 I found that you get prettier cuts when you chill the whole pan after frosting it. Using a big sharp knife also helps you to that end. One should always consider presentation!
 Be sure to use PURE vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla flavoring. There's really no comparison, and since vanilla is the main flavor, you really want it to be pure.
 I tried playing around with the amounts to see if I could bake it in a 9x13 pan, just because the half sheet pan makes quite a bit, but I haven't quite figured it out yet. I decided to just leave the quantities as they were because half the time I wind up making two batches anyway. So instead of 24 small brownies, I made 32 large ones. More is more!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sausage Tortellini

I recently saw this recipe that a friend posted on Facebook, and it looked fabulous, so I thought I'd give it a try. So here's what I found...
 The ingredients and flavor were wonderful, but I think the cooking method wasn't quite right. The original recipe was for the crock pot, which I LOVE, but not for pasta. It seemed to me (and also many who reviewed the recipe) that the pasta just becomes overcooked and mushy when you cook it for that long. So I looked at the ingredients again, changed the amounts a little, added a few extras, switched up the cooking method, and here it is!
 I think it turned out pretty good! The pasta wasn't overcooked and the sauce was SO flavorful! It was pretty quick too! So, I guess this is one occasion where the crock pot wasn't the way to go. I'll save that for another time! Hope you like it!

Olive oil
1 lb Italian sausage, mild or hot (or some of both)
1 9oz bag of fresh baby spinach
1 28oz can italian style diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
1 8oz pkg cream cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream (or more, if desired)
1-2 tbs fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 lb bag of frozen tortellini
Parmesan cheese, (optional)

Add a few glugs of olive oil to a large saute pan. Remove sausage from casing and add it to the pan. Use a large spoon or a potato masher to break it up as it browns. Add spinach to the pan. It seems like far too much but it will cook down quite a bit. After the spinach has cooked down, add diced tomatoes and chicken broth. Cut cream cheese into chunk and add to the sauce. Let it simmer stirring occasionally until the cheese melts and the sauce thickens a little. Stir in the heavy cream and fresh basil to finish the sauce. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Boil the tortellini in generously salted water according to package directions. Pour sauce over tortellini. Top with Parmesan cheese if desired.

You really don't need a lot of salt and pepper because the sausage really flavors the sauce. Choose any sausage you like! Hot, mild, whatever you like! The hot is always too hot for me, but I do like a little warm heat, so I like to use mild sausage and just add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes.
Use any kind of fresh basil you like, or you can just use fresh parsley. The green freshness cuts through the cream and also the spice of the sausage to balance everything.
Be sure to generously salt your pasta water before you boil the tortellini. It makes all the difference!