Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chicken Cavatappi with Lemon and Goat Cheese

Note to self, always make recipes titles by adding the Italian name for the pasta used... people will think the recipe is fancier... now, on to some fancy-sounding-pasta-that's-really-not-that-fancy. :)

I promise to post pictures (taken by the lovely Carrie, as my hands were otherwise occupied butterflying chickens and whatnot) of the cooking class soon. As I've mentioned before, please see Jenna's blog for the recipes and great photography of the final products. I'm going to avoid being redundant with that and just keep pointing you all to her great posts about our crazy/great night.

To add another drop into my personal blogging bucket (which is still woefully dry since grad school), I decided that I hadn't had enough of cooking this week and didn't have enough tests to study for and so I'd make up a dinner. Why not? How hard could it be?

Actually, when you see the ingredient list of said dinner, it would have been pretty difficult to screw up. Chicken + pasta + goat cheese + lemon + tomato + basil = pretty darn good. But still, I'm pretty proud of myself. This was rather delicious. I recommend it. Especially as it has some lovely acidic notes and some bright colors that tease you like our elusive spring, but is still comfort food to the max to go with the ever-present snow.

Also, if you have a ziploc bag full of lemon wedges that are leftover from a 20-person cooking class you just finished teaching, this is a good way to squeeze a bunch of them. Just an fyi.

Giant pot of goodness
Glamour shot
Double the pleasure, double the yum
No puns in this one, this is just plain good

Chicken Cavatappi with Lemon and Goat Cheese
Total Cooking Time: 45 minutes

2 chicken breasts, pounded to a uniform 1/4 inch thickness, and sliced lengthwise into long strips
1 c flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive Oil
1 lb cavatappi pasta (or any other small ridged pasta)
1 white onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
28 oz can diced tomatoes, mostly drained
1 lemon, juiced
12 leaves basil, chiffonaded
1 T dried parsley
1/2 c half and half
4 oz goat cheese
Lemon wedges

1. Pat the chicken breast strips dry and liberally salt and pepper them
2. Dredge the chicken breast strips in the flour and shake off the excess
3. Heat about 2 T of olive oil over medium high heat in a large pan
4. Brown the chicken in batches and reserve on a covered plate, adding some more pepper and a little salt on the cooked strips
5. Heat a pot of salted water to boiling and cook the pasta until al dente, about 7 minutes
6. In the pan, wipe clean with a paper towel and then add another T of olive oil and heat over medium heat
7. Saute the onions and garlic slices until soft, stirring so the garlic doesn't burn
8. Add the drained tomatoes along with whatever juices are leftover
9. Add the basil, lemon juice, and parsley and stir to combine
10. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer
11. Add the cream and the reserved chicken pieces and stir to coat
12. Drop the goat cheese in by adding crumbled pieces to the pot and stir till it all melts
13. Dump the drained pasta into the mixture and combine everything together
14. Serve with some basil chiffonade on top and with a few extra lemon wedges for people to squeeze over the top


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cooking Class

Last night, I taught a cooking class with my friend Jenna for 20 lovely women. It was at times crazy, at times, overwhelming, at times wonderful, and always delicious. I will post again on it, but, for now, I direct  you to Jenna's post about embarking on the journey. She said it perfectly. I concur.

I'll tease you a little bit with the menu:

Mediterranean Citrus Dinner

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Cilantro Lime Sour Cream
Creamy Polenta with Rosemary and Goat Cheese
Whole Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Garlic and Rosemary
Whole Roasted Chicken with Olive Tapenade
Fruit Pizza

We enjoyed it!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chicken Tortilla Soup

For those of you who don't live here in Chicago, I'm going to let you in on a little secret... it's cold here. As in, 6 degrees with a wind chill factor below zero. My AZ/CA blood is doing surprisingly well, but I'm getting a little sick of this winter thing, and hoping it goes away soon.

The culinary aspect of this weather is that I'm all about making comfort foods. Casseroles and pastas and soups and stews and things that are generally warm. Of course, comfort food is often equated with fat-filled butter and cheese. And while there's nothing wrong with that, I'm trying to not do that every night. Especially because the cold is also keeping me from running at the moment. And I'd rather not balloon into two of me.

This recipe was a great antidote to the cold without being high on the fat and calories that so much comfort food brings. I love tortilla soup, and I made this one out of an amalgamation of other recipes I found online. The only change from the pictures to the recipe is that there is no cilantro in the pictures. You should definitely eat this soup with cilantro, but Jewel didn't have any, and I wasn't going to schlep to another grocery store just for cilantro. In 50 degrees, maybe, in 0, no. So, pretend like there are pretty little green leafy things all over the top of the soup, and all will be well.

Enjoy this with a big fluffy blanket and/or a warm kitty on your feet and you'll be quite ready to withstand the elements. From inside your home, at least.

The soup itself, with all its yummy bits of chicken and onion and tomato

The finished product, topped with chips and cheese and avocado

If only there had been leftovers...

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Total cooking time: 1 hr

5 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned
2 limes
2 T olive oil
2 white onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 serrano chilies, seeded and minced
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained (I used the ones with onions in them, just for fun)
1 t cumin
1 t coriander
1 1/2 t oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 qt good chicken stock
1 avocado, sliced or diced
1/2 c shredded cheese of your choice
Crushed tortilla chips

1. Fill a dutch oven about halfway with salted water and boil
2. Add the chicken thighs and boil until they float or until their juices run clear
3. Using two forks, remove the chicken from the bones and shred
4. Put the chicken meat on a plate and add salt and pepper and the juice of 1 lime to cover the meat, then cover with foil and let sit till later
5. In the rinsed dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat
6. Add the onions, garlic, serranos, tomatoes, cumin, coriander, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste to the pot and cook, stirring frequently, till vegetables are soft (about 15 minutes)
7. Add the chicken stock (getting good stock is key here, spend the extra 2 dollars, it's worth it) and the juice of a half of lime in (about 1 T)
8. Turn the heat to medium high and bring to a boil
9. Once boiled, add the chicken back into the bot, turn the heat to low, and let simmer for 20 minutes
10. To serve, ladle into bowls and top with avocado, cheese, chips, cilantro, and a wedge of lime


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Great Thundersnow of 2011

Along with every other person in Chicago, I have decided to release my own personal pictures of the blizzard that has hit us here. It started blowing snow yesterday and today shows no signs of letting up. And yes, there was actually thundersnow last night. As in a thunderstorm while it was snowing. It was crazy, let me tell you.

Yesterday, sensing the enormity of this occasion, I took this "already been snowing but let's call it a 'before' picture anyway" picture with my phone.

Our cute little car, relatively untouched by the snowy drifts

This morning, I tried to recreate the picture, to no avail.

Too much snow on the screen means bad phone pictures

Not worried yet, I grabbed my big camera and saw what I could see out my window

There's my little snow covered bumblebee
Our dining room windows, nicely frosted

A snowy, icy tree

Some cars that have made nice little snow burrows for themselves
That was all well and good, but I wanted to get out there! I wanted to be a part of everything! There's no point in living throw the snowpocalypse if you don't actually go out in the snow, right? So I bundled up, grabbed my camera, and started down the staircase...

Staircase window, doesn't look too bad from here...

Uh oh, Chicago, we have a problem... the front door was not looking promising

Yeah... that's like a 4 foot snow drift at our front door... and I'm only 5' 2"

There, I want to get out there! How do I get there?

The elusive sidewalk

I knew there must be a way out. There just had to be. There were dogsledding children laughing and screaming out there. Surely their front doors had been snowy and blocked in too? Or maybe they had Dads around to shovel such things... Bother. I was Dad-less and shovel-less.

Then I had an epiphany. The back door! Down the scary wooden stairway I never used except to take trash out! Surely that wasn't also closed in. Because if it was, then I was well and truly stuck inside our apartment for the next 24 hours or so, and then I was going to have to dig a snow tunnel to get to class tomorrow.

The back door view, however, did not look promising

Want to add some weatherstripping to that door there mr. landlord?
But once opened, success! I was free!

So, I promptly took some photos of my car and of the crazy snowy sidewalks, and then went right back to my warm, cozy apartment

These are almost knee-high boots, mind you
I leave you with this tidbit of the storm last night. Note the blowing trees and the snow-swept cars. The wind was blowing so hard that the snow wasn't sticking to the cars, so it looks like nothing was happening. But it was. Also note the man bravely walking home through it all. Well done, sir.


And that's all for now! But here's the kicker... it's still snowing. If I really do get stuck here, I'll probably need one of you to bring me a shovel.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Best Margaritas in the World

These are absolutely the best margaritas I have ever made/had in the comfort of my own home. The credit, alas, is not mine at all, that belongs to the great and talented Rick Bayless, of Top Chef Masters and other foodie fame. He runs Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, and XOCO here in Chicago. We visited Frontera about a year ago and the food was good, but the truly memorable part of the meal were the incredible margaritas. (Memorable food for cheap, by the way, can be found in abundance at XOCO, go there.) These were just the house margaritas, mind you, and they were about $14 at that. But they were amazing.

Luckily for the world, Rick chose to share his recipe for his house margaritas with a columnist here in Chicago who, in turn, chose to share it with everyone else. I personally recommend these, as do many of our friends and family members. The combination of the homemade lime simple syrup (which would be an amazing limeade on its own, by the way... and worth the hour it takes to make) and the higher quality tequila (completely worth the extra money) and the shaking over ice makes these incredible.

If you like margaritas and their limey goodness, please do yourself a favor and try these. And try not to be horrified by the extreme ratios as far as the seemingly large amount of tequila involved in these, but do drink them in moderation. The taste is exquisite, and can be enjoyed in small sips :).

Close-up of the real lime bits of goodness
Yes please

Rick Bayless' Margaritas of Awesomeness
(recipe makes 6ish, depending on your margarita size preference)

1 1/2 c freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 c sugar
2 c water
2 1/4 c 100 percent agave anejo tequila
1/2 c orange liqueur
1 lime, halved
Kosher salt

1. Place the lime juice, the sugar, and the water in a pitcher, stir well, and let refrigerate for about an hour
2. Once the simple syrup is all melded together, add the tequila and the orange liqueur into the pitcher and stir to combine
3. Using the cut side of the lime, moisten the rims of your margarita glasses/martini glasses and immerse in salt to crust the rims
4. Fill a single serve cocktail shaker about 3/4 of the way with cubed ice, fill with margarita mixture, cover, and shake until condensation appears on the outside of the shaker (or for about a 15 count)
5. Strain into one of the salted glasses, repeat the shaking for all your guests


Friday, January 28, 2011

Divine Chicken Sandwiches

Ok, so really these are Chicken Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions, Garlic Paprika Aioli and Arugula... but they're amazing and that name's too long for a title, so I shortened it. I think this new one works nicely.

This meal was born out of Brad's desire for sandwiches for dinner. his typical response when I ask him what I should make is now turkey burgers. But I'm pretty sure I've showcased about 5 different turkey burgers on this blog so far, and while they are delicious, I'm trying for a little more variety in my life. So I forced him to change his answer to the dinner question and he came up with sandwiches. Fine.

Of course, I can't just make sandwiches. I need to make delicious, melt-in-your-mouth goodness if it is going to be blog-worthy. So I found an older Bon Appetit recipe for chicken sandwiches with caramelized onions and garlic aioli. How could that not be good? I made some tweaks and they were wonderful. Side note, they were even delicious as leftovers on wheat bread the next day for lunch.

Here they are in all their wonderful glory. Mmmmmmm...

From this...

To all of this...

To this amazingness

The finished product

Worth eating, I'm telling you

Chicken Sandwiches with Caramelized Onions, Garlic Paprika Aioli and Arugula

1/2 c mayo
3 T fresh squeezed lime juice
1 t paprika
1/2 t cayenne pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 T olive oil
2 T vegetable oil
6 sweet onions, halved lengthwise then sliced thinly
1 t sugar
4 chicken breasts, pounded thinly
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Sourdough bread, lightly toasted

1. Make the aioli by whisking together the mayo, 1 T of the lime juice, the paprika, the cayenne, and the garlic. Slowly stream in the olive oil while whisking until nicely combined and creamy. Cover and chill until time to use.
2. For caramelizing the onions, put the vegetable oil in your largest pan over medium high heat
3. Add onions and some salt and cook for 10 minutes, stirring pretty constantly until all the onions are coated and starting to soften
4. Reduce the heat to medium and for the next 45 minutes or so (yes, it takes a while) let the onions caramelize down, stirring occasionally. The trick to good, brown caramelized onions is to let them brown in the bottom of the pan a little, but not to the point of burning. Use a sturdy spatula to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan when you stir. If you need to, add the sugar to help the caramelization process along about halfway through the cooking, but if your onions are browning nicely without it, don't bother. (Side note: this will make your kitchen smell absolutely amazing)
5. Once the onions are done, remove them to a plate and cover to keep warm
6. In the same pan, heat some more olive oil over medium high heat
7. Pat your chicken breasts dry and season with salt and pepper and cover in the remaining lime juice to add some much-needed acid to this dish
8. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side (may be longer or shorter, depending on thickness)
9. Assemble the sandwiches by spreading the aioli on both sides of the toasted bread, then layering the arugula and the onions and the chicken together. You can squirt everything with a little more lime if you'd like. It can't hurt :)


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I'm Back! With a Wine Dinner to Boot!

Hello world!

I am finally back to the world of blogging. I know it's been forever, and you'll have to excuse me for that. A little thing called a PhD program has gotten in the way. But who needs to spend more of their life studying when there is perfectly good blogging to be done? That's my attitude at this moment, anyway.

I've missed sharing my life and my table with you all lately, so here is a post to whet your appetites, as it were, for what's to be coming your way this semester.

Since I had to cancel the seasonal winter wine tasting, we hosted a progressive wine dinner instead, to kind of take its place. It was wonderful. Our friends all pitched in to help make the courses and I picked out some wines I hoped paired well with each one. A grand time was had by all and I highly recommend that you host something similar very soon... and hopefully invite me to it :).

Our menu was as follows: garlicky spinach and artichoke dip with a nice dry rose, butternut squash bisque with a chard/viognier blend, turkey bolognese with a montepulciano d'abruzzo, and chocolate chip pizookie with a zin/cab/petitie sirah/syrah blend. Everything was incredible (we have good cook friends) and I think the wines went quite nicely. I'll save the pictures and such of the wines for future cheap wines of the weeks but here are some pictures of the prep and the dinner to share with you all! Enjoy!

The tablescape

On sale Christmas ornaments that are still good for winter!
Everyone got their own snowflake, no two alike :)
Elissa's amazing spinach and artichoke dip
Heather's equally amazing butternut squash bisque

Delicious pizookie to finish off the night

We love our friends!
 Have a great night!