Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Grilled Chicken Panini with Roasted Red Peppers, Pesto and Garlic Herb Cheese

At the beginning of the year, I started working with a personal trainer to help me work out and prepare me for a possible hip replacement.  Ellen is great.  She has taken me as I am -- which is less than anywhere -- and has slowly integrated exercise and movement back into my life.  Not of the "no pain, no gain" school, Ellen believes you should leave a session feeling healthy and good.  And she accomplishes that every week.

Since I go after work, seeing Ellen is a great way to shed the stresses of the day.  It's nice to follow someone's directions instead of giving them out, and the banter is light and airy.  I tell her that personal trainers must have to take an encouragement class and learn phrases like, "Wow, you are doing great!", "Boy, you are really strong!" and "You did that as fast as the guys!"

I know I'm a gimp, but Ellen's praise makes me puff up like a peacock.

After today's workout, I went to Trader Joe's to pick up something quick I could make for the family for dinner and walked out with chicken breast, bread, Rondole, pesto, and roasted red peppers.

Whereas working out takes motivation, perserverance, and commitment to reach goals, the payoff on these panini was immediate. And highly satisfying.

Note: You can easily switch out the chicken with fresh mozzarella for a vegetarian sandwich.

Grilled Chicken Panini with Roasted Red Peppers, Pesto and Garlic Herb Cheese

2 slices Tuscan or other bakery-style bread
Grilled chicken breast, sliced on the diagonal
Roasted red peppers from the jar (stored in water), cut into thin strips and patted dry with a paper towel
Pesto sauce (homemade, jarred, or store-made from the deli section)
Rondole Garlic herb cheese spread
Olivio Buttery Spray or butter

According to your own preferences, build your sandwich. One way to make this sandwich is to spread some pesto on one slice of bread and some garlic herb cheese on the other side. Add a layer of chicken and a layer of roasted red peppers on one slice and place the other slice on top to make a sandwich.

Generously spray both outside sides of the bread with Olivio Buttery Spray or butter both sides.

Preheat panini maker at the highest heat. Or heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.

When the panini maker indicator says it’s ready, place the sandwich in the panini grill and grill until nicely browned. Alternately, place the sandwich in the heated skillet, grill on one side until it’s nicely browned and then turn over and grill the other side. Enjoy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Barcelona-inspired Fennel Salad with Manchego Cheese and Sunflower Seeds

Barcelona Wine Bar is one our favorite restaurants.  They have wonderful tapas, and they released a great cookbook last year.  Click here for some of the recipes I've tried.

The other night we added their fennel salad to the parade of tapas at our table.

I had never had fennel salad, but this brightly flavored salad with nutty Manchego cheese and crunchy sunflower seeds won me over from the first bite. I love it!

The next day, I ran to the grocery store and bought some fennel, red onion, sunflower seeds, and Manchego cheese.  A mandoline made quick work of shaving the fennel and red onion, and a quick marinade in a white wine vinaigrette and topping of cheese and sunflower seeds brought this salad to our table in no time.

If you've never had shaved fennel salad, I recommend that you try this salad.  It's also great on top of a green salad.

Barcelona-inspired Fennel Salad with Manchego Cheese and Sunflower Seeds

2 fennel, shaved
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tbs. sherry wine vinegar (or white wine, red wine, or other vinegar)
3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Shredded manchego cheese
Roasted sesame seeds
Parsley, finely chopped

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kulinarya Cooking Club: Filipino Beef Empanadas

When it rains, it pours.  And it blows down trees and knocks out power.

I was negligent on the blog anyway, because real life got in the way.  Work heated up, I overextended myself on volunteer activities, I started purging the house as we started thinking about putting it on the market, and we left town to go to Las Vegas for 6 days for my husband's business.  A doozy of a storm blew me even farther off course, as 6 days without power set me further adrift. Even though the streets are passable now and the lights have been on for one week, I'm still trying to get back on track. 

With that said, here is my belated posting for this month's Kulinarya Cooking Club selection of empanadas.  To find out more about the club and who's in it, go to the bottom of this post.

I'm presenting very traditional Filipino beef , potato, and raisin empanadas.  I have fond memories of sitting around the kitchen table making these little meat-filled pastries with my aunts and grandmas.  To me, empanadas are party food, as that's when my stressed mother marshalled us to make empanadas, along with lumpiang shanghai and all the other-time consuming Filipino party food favorites.

In fact, my love of cooking was developed in these mass cooking extravaganzas, as three generations of women sat together, reaching to the communal filling bowl to take spoonfuls of filling and mound them on dough rounds.  To the steady rhythm of Tagalog interspersed with English, brown fingers would deftly pinch the pastry ends together, and soon enough there would be dozens of empanadas ready for the fryer.

I would struggle through the first ones, and then satisfaction would slowly spread up my fingers, through my young arms and straight to my heart, as my misshapen empanadas gave way to perfect half moons. 

Crispy, juicy, and made with love, empanadas are sure to make you, your family, and friends happy and whole.

Cook's Notes:

1) I didn't have time to make empanada dough, so I bought pre-made pie dough at the grocery store. It's not perfect, but it's certainly convenient.

2) I used a 3-inch round cutter, so they were appetizer size -- empanaditas. Use 4- or 5-inch cutters to make regular size empanadas.

3) If you're not frying the empanadas, make sure your filling is a little juicy as the filling will dry out in the oven.  You can use a little cornstarch mixed with water to bind up the sauce, so the filling is juicy but not runny.

Filipino Beef Empanadas
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 medium potato, diced (I had a cooked potato, but you can use a raw one too.)
2 scallions, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Tomato paste or sauce (optional)
Soy sauce
Salt & pepper
2 boxes Pillsbury pie dough
3-4 inch round cutters
1 egg, beaten (this is your egg wash)

Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add a little oil (about 1 tbs. or more) when hot. Add potato and season with paprika, cumin (just a little cumin as this is not a typical Filipino seasoning), kosher salt and pepper. When lightly browned, set aside. (If your potato is uncooked, add to the skillet and add a little beef broth or water and cook until tender.)

Add a little more oil and a little butter (1 tsp. each) to the skillet and turn heat down to medium. Add garlic and scallion and saute for a few turns of your spoon. Add ground beef and saute until browned. Sprinkle beef with paprika, soy sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. If you have some tomato sauce or tomato paste, add a spoonful to taste.

Add raisins to your liking and potatoes, and let cook with beef mixture for a couple minutes.

Now taste. Your filling should more intensely flavored than if you were going to eat it alone. Remember that the flavor has to come through with all the pie dough.

If you're going to fry your empanadas, put mixture in a strainer over a bowl and let cool. Don't throw away the strained liquid, because if you want your mixture to be wetter, you can add some the liquid back. If you're going to bake the empanadas, you may not want to strain it at all but keep it juicy.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Unroll the pie pastry and roll a little thinner with a rolling pin to your liking. Cut out rounds (I got 12 rounds out of one pie crust). Fill each empanada with a teaspoon of filling, making sure you have some beef, potatoes, and raisins in the empanada. Encase filling with dough by folding over the dough over the filling and pressing the dough closed at the edges. Take a fork tine and press down along to the edges to seal. Place on a cookie sheet. Repeat with 2nd pie dough sheet.

Brush empanada tops with egg wash. Take a wooden skewer and poke a couple air holes in the tops of the empanadas.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy.

About Kulinarya Cooking Club:

Kulinarya was started by a group of Filipino foodies (Kath, Trisha and Trissa) living in Sydney, who are passionate about the Filipino culture and its colorful cuisine. Each month we will showcase a new dish along with their family recipes. By sharing these recipes, we hope you find the same passion and love for Filipino food as we do.

If you’re interested in joining our Kulinarya Cooking Club, please feel free to drop by our foodblogs and leave a comment – we would love to hear from you!

Here are the members of the Kulinarya Cooking Club!

Kath - A Cupcake or Two
Trisha - Sugarlace
Trissa - Trissalicious
Olive - Latest Recipes
Caroline - When Adobo Met Feijoada
Ninette – Big Bold Beautiful Food
Peach- The Peach Kitchen
Cusinera- Busog Sarap
Asha – Fork-Spoon-Knife
Malou - Skip to Malou
Cherrie – Sweet Cherrie Pie
Acdee - Confession Nook
Valerie – A Canadian Foodie
Bel – Food Geeks Diary
Sheryl - Crispy Waffle

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chocolate Souffles

When we were in Las Vegas, we had a chocolate souffle with creme anglaise that the girls just swooned over.  They had never had a souffle before, so the combination of crisp light exterior and moist, chocolatey interior won them over from the first bite.

We decided to try to make them at home.  We buttered and sugared the ramekins, chopped and melted semi-sweet chocolate and butter, beat some egg yolks until the ribbon stage, whipped egg whites until they were "stiff but not dry," and gently folded everything together.

A little nervous, we tiptoed around and whispered while the souffles were baking.  We didn't want them to fall.  Christina sat in front of the oven, monitoring their every move.

Since we had so much batter, the ramekins were piled high to begin with, so it was no surprise when Christina said ... "Mom, one of them has got a big crack in it ... uh oh, Mom, it looks like the piece is going to fall off ... It fell off ... oh, there goes another one ... oh, and that one in the back just went.

Four of the eight ended up looking like lava overflows, but they still tasted yummy.

Since I'm not an experienced baker, I learned the following:

1) Souffles aren't as hard as I thought they were to make.
2) Souffles take a *lot* of eggs.
3) If you overfill the ramekins, they'll rise out instead of up.
4) A dash of Kahlua doesn't hurt. :)

For the souffle recipe, click on this Food Network link. Also, there are great souffle-making tips at this blog.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Eating Through Las Vegas 2010: Bouchon Bistro

Rating of Bouchon Bistro: Love, love, love it!

I don't gamble, but that doesn't stop me from hitching a ride with my husband to Las Vegas every year. He comes to exhibit at the Global Shop tradeshow, and the kids, grandparents and I come to have fun.

There are tons of exquisite eateries here. If you're a foodie and have never been to Vegas, I highly recommend it.

My must-go restaurant is Bouchon Bistro in the Venetian. Owned by Thomas Keller of French Laundry and per se fame, Bouchon offers French bistro fare in the most elegant yet down-to-earth of environments. Dark paneled-wood and mosaic floors juxtapose against shiny brass globe lamps, Carrera marbletop counters and white linens. Everything is bathed in a diffuse natural light that pours in from grand windows overlooking a green garden.

This place makes my soul sing.

This morning, my daughter Christina ordered a croissant, flaky as flaky can be and with a crisp outer shell and buttery, tender interior.

My daughter Lizzy ordered a baguette, which came with nutella, jam, and homemade butter.

Both girls got the tropical fruit salad, a medley of toasted-coconut topped banana slices, finely diced melon, and blackberries. It just goes to show you that ordinary fruit served in a white porcelain bowl with little handles tastes grand.

I went to town and ordered the oefs au grautin with bacon lardons, button mushrooms, and oven-roasted tomatoes. Enveloped in a mornay sauce and browned under the broiler, this dish is decadent and as rich as the high rollers in the casino downstairs.

My mother-in-law ordered the French toast, and to our surprise, it came stacked with apples and caramel, reminiscent more of bread pudding than the eggy, grilled sliced of bread we’re used to. One bite of this soft, velvety bread custard had us converted.

Since we were there, we just had to order Bouchon’s pommes frittes, which Anthony Bourdain said were better than his pommes frites at Halles. Look how prettily they are served:

On the second day – yes, why wouldn’t we? – Grandma and I ordered the waffles, crisp and airy delights with banana slices, walnuts, and Tahitian vanilla-scented maple syrup.

Grandpa ordered the omelette with bacon and potatoes. Of course, the omelette was perfectly cooked with no browning on the outside and puffed. Lizzy got the pastry special, an apple croissant, which was ½ a croissant with an apple crumble topping. Wow! I don’t have pictures of these, but trust me, they are just as mouth-watering as the rest of the dishes seen here.

Can you guess where we will go to breakfast tomorrow?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chicken Chili Verde

I was thinking of making a chicken chili and pondered aloud on Facebook whether I should go the "white" chili route with salsa verde and cannellini or go Southwestern style with tomatoes, corn, and black beans.

The verdict?  White, unanimously.

I had never made a chicken chili before.  My beef chili is very much appreciated in these here parts, so I wasn't sure if the family would touch a chicken chili.

But the aromas of chiles, onion, and garlic won them over.  My husband walked into the kitchen and said, "That smells good.  What are you making?"  And my daughter Christina came by and said "Oh, what's that?  I'm hungry."

The chili was a big hit, even for this beef-loving family.

Cook's Notes:

1) If you follow this blog, you know I love Trader Joe's for their economical and natural products.  I used their salsa verde in this recipe. Herdez is another good brand.

2) There are several ways you can roast a poblano pepper.  We used a kitchen blow torch, which we have to make creme brulee, but you can blacken the skin of the poblano pepper either under the broiler, turning when appropriate to get all sides, or above the open flame on a gas stovetop.  When the pepper is fully blackened, place in a paper lunch bag, a plastic freezer bag, or in plastic wrap.  Enclosed, the heat from the pepper will cause steam and helps the skin separate from the pepper.  When cool, rub off the blackened skin and proceed with the recipe.

3) This chili can be as mild or as spicy as you like.  To obtain a medium level of heat, take out the seeds and the inner ribs of the poblano pepper and the jalapeno.  For a milder chili, use green pepper instead and leave out the poblano and jalapeno.  For a hotter chili, include the seeds and add more chili if you like.

4) Instead of ground chicken meat, you can use ground turkey or cubed chicken or turkey breast or thigh.  You can also use leftover cooked chicken or turkey.  Or you can use cubed pork, although you would cook the chili longer, until the pork is tender.  If you're vegetarian, you can use soy crumbles or TVP.

Chicken Chili Verde

2 tbs. olive oil or Olivio Butter Spread
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 poblano pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced (see Cook’s Tips) or green pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeds and inside ribs removed (see Cook’s Tips), diced
1 lb. ground chicken
2 tsp. chili powder
½ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. salt
1 11 oz. jar of salsa verde (like Trader Joe’s)
1 15.5 oz can cannellini beans, drained
1 15.5 oz Chicken broth

Your choice of garnishes: sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro, shredded cheese (manchego, cheddar, Monterey Jack, cotija cheese, etc.)

Heat dutch oven over medium heat. When hot, add 2 tbs. Olivio and melt. Add diced onions, garlic, poblano or green pepper, and jalapeno pepper. Cook for 7-10 minutes or until onions are translucent.

Add ground chicken, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and salt. Saute chicken, breaking up into small pieces.

When chicken is cooked, add jar of salsa verde, can of chicken broth, and can of cannellini beans. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or until the sauce is the consistency that you prefer.

Serve with fresh chopped cilantro, sour cream, cheese, or anything that you like.

Whole Wheat Yogurt Pancakes

With weather in the 50s for the first time in months and Spring in the air, people have been out in force, cleaning their yards, running, riding bikes, and hitting the golf course this weekend.  We're moving from winter stews to salads, hot chocolate to fruit smoothies, and for breakfast, these healthy yogurt and whole wheat pancakes.

My friend Andy inspired these pancakes as I did a shout out on Facebook asking for healthy breakfast ideas.  He normally does a combination of wheat flour, wheat germ and oatbran and he adds mashed ripe bananas and a little buttermilk to his batter.

For simplicity's sake, I used whole wheat flour and wheat germ, and I used fresh cut bananas as a garnish rather than in the batter.  To his use of baking powder as a leavener, I added baking soda.  I toasted some cut pecans and added them to warmed maple syrup to accompany the pancakes.  What a great breakfast for a Sunday morning!

Cook's Notes:

1) Don't overmix your batter. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated and still lumpy.

2) You can adjust the amount of flour or milk, depending on whether you like your pancakes denser or lighter.  After you've made the batter, add a little more milk or flour if you need it.  Mix lightly.

3) Let the batter sit for 10 minutes so the baking powder and baking soda can activate.  After ten minutes, you should see the bubbles in your batter.

4) When cooking pancakes, you know to flip them when the edges are dry and you see a number of bubbles on top.  After you flip them, the second side won't take as long to cook.

5) It takes cooking a few pancakes to get the heat right to the perfect temperature.  Don't worry if your first pancake comes out a little dark or light.  Adjust the heat accordingly.

Whole Wheat Yogurt Pancakes

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
½ tsp. salt
3 tbs. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda

Wet Ingredients:
2 eggs or egg substitute
1 8 oz. container cup low-fat yogurt
1 cup low-fat milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tbs. butter or Olivio Butter Spread, melted and cooled

Butter, Olivio Butter Spread, or Olivio Spray

Mix the dry ingredients together until well incorporated in one bowl.  Mix the wet ingredients together until well incorporated in another bowl.  Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients.  Mix together until just incorporated.  The mixture should have some lumps in it.

Heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat.  Add a little butter spread or spray.  Using a 1/4 cup measure, add batter to the hot surface.  Add as many pancakes as will fit without touching; 2-3 pancakes is the norm.

Cook 2-3 minutes on one side until edges are dry and large bubbles appear.  Flip and cook 1-2 minutes on the other side.  Place on a rack or plate.  You can put them in a 200 degree oven to keep warm or tent them with foil.

Serve with syrup, jam, fruit, confectioner's sugar or your favorite toppings.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Zucchini "Pasta"

I wonder how many of us are trying to reduce or eliminate our carb intake?  My husband has been on Atkins for years, and it's an easy way for him to stay trim.

Taking zucchini cut in long strands and sauteing it with butter spread and garlic is a nice way to introduce the feel of pasta into the meal but without the starch and gluten.  I also used Olivio butter spread to cut down on cholesterol.

This dish is great for a weeknight meal, because it cooks in less than three minutes.

Cook's Notes: 1) A mandoline makes quick work of cutting the zucchini in ribbons. I have a Japanese benriner, but any mandoline will work. 

2) Using smashed garlic cloves is a great way to add flavor to a dish without having to mince anything.    You just have to remove the smashed garlic pieces before serving.

Zucchini Pasta
Serves 2

1 zucchini
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tsp. Olivio Spread, separated (or butter or olive oil)
1/8 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. kosher salt or salt
Black pepper
2 tbs. cup water
Grated parmesan cheese

Cut the zucchini in long ribbons, using a mandoline or a knife.  Cut the ribbons lengthwise, into 3-5 strands depending on the size of the zucchini, so that you have fettucine-like strands.

Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot.  Add 1 tsp. of Olivio spread and the smashed garlic.  Add the zucchini strands and stir.  Add Italian seasoning, salt, and black pepper to taste. Add 2 tbs. water and stir occasionally for another minute or until the zucchini is crisp tender or "al dente."

Remove to a plate, top with grated parmesan cheese, and serve.  Enjoy.