Comparing Blueberry-Lemon Frozen Yogurts

Recently, Michael Ruhlman commented on an article about the inevitable extinction of home cooking. He disagreed with this idea, and called out two blogs in praise of home cooks. I had never heard of either so I checked them out.

Like with most successful food blogs, the photographs were fantastic, but the blog that really called out to me the most was Simply Recipes. I went home that night and tried out two things featured there… and was disappointed with both.

The point of this discussion isn’t to trash the other blog. I was just a little more disappointed than usual because Michael Ruhlman called them out and I switched my cooking line up to make them and they didn’t quite deliver. Now I’m left with “meh” and “eh” to post about. Delicious food is the ideal topic to write about, but I don’t always cook those. I know I’m not the only one. So now, in regards to these flailed and flopped dishes, the eternal blog foodie question: To post, or not to post?

I think, post.

So, this week I recreated Simply Recipe’s Blueberry Lemon Frozen Yogurt. This is not our first blueberry frozen yogurt. You may or may not remember that for our June 2008 Magazine of the Month, Food & Wine Magazine, we dug into Jeni Briton’s Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt. (Actually, I think this was our premiere Magazine of the Month post!) A well-known ice cream artisan, Jeni Briton’s creations knock your socks off every single time and that’s exactly what her frozen yogurt did. Because that was my first experience, this other concoction had a lot to live up to.

Blueberry Frozen Yogurt

Here it is coming out of the ice cream machine. It’s very, um, mauve. Don’t get me wrong, I actually kind of like it. After it sat in the freezer overnight, it darkened to a really, really deep purple (cough, mauve).

Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
Adapted from Simply Recipes

3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (about 1 1lb)
3 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup to 1 cup of sugar (depending on how sweet your blueberries are, and how sweet you want the result to be)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups low or non-fat yogurt
2 Tbsp cream
1/2 cup whole milk

Place the blueberries, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Heat on medium heat, stirring, until all of the sugar has dissolved. When all of the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and place saucepan in an ice water bath, and stir mixture for 15 minutes. Process the cooled mixture in a food processor. Remove mixture from food processor workbowl and return to saucepan. Stir in the yogurt and milk until completely incorporated. Process the blueberry yogurt mixture in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions (usually about 25 minutes). Serve immediately (it will be soft) or let it firm up a bit by freezing it for several hours. Makes about 1 quart.

So here are my findings: This was way too sweet. My blueberries were fresh so I only used 3/4 cup of sugar — and that was still way too much. I had to squeeze an entire lemon in to try and force a balance, and it still needed more lemon to balance out the sweetness. It also lacked the creaminess that I expect in a frozen yogurt. I’d give it a C grade, and no higher. After it came out of the freezer, I was even more disappointed in its shaved-ice consistency.

Jeni Briton’s, on the other hand, was incredibly creamy. Each bite had a perfect balance of a light and delicious lemony taste with the blueberry streaks running through it. Though it didn’t seem like a lot of blueberry, the balance was absolutely perfect. I still recall when I made it and being so amazed at how balanced the flavors were. Grade: A+.

So, there you have it. If you are in the mood for a delicious Lemon-Blueberry Frozen Yogurt, I’d still say Jeni comes out on top.

lemon-blueberry-frozen-yogurt.jpg

Advertisements

Hell’s Kitchen – Series 6

HellsKitchenLogo

By now you’ve probably seen the train wreck that is Hell’s Kitchen. We’re now up to the sixth season of what is supposedly unscripted television.

Supposedly.

I’m not going to rehash a lot of it out here because I was forced to endure two hours of morons in a kitchen. But not just any run-of-the-mill moron. They’re morons with a dream — a dream of becoming an Executive Chef of another one of Ramsay’s failing restaurants, Araxi.

Let’s not rehash this out in some sort of play-by-play event where I break the episodes down for you. Let me just tell you this:

Comparing Hell’s Kitchen to Top Chef is like comparing Flava of Love to The Bachelor. All Ramsay needs now is to cut himself off at the knees and hang a gigantic, tacky clock from his neck.

Ramsay of Love!

And don’t forget the gold teeth.

Photo Redux: Warm Double-Chocolate Brownie Cakes

I’d like to think that my photography has improved since the beginning of the site. You may think differently, but I definitely think there’s been some improvement. My photos are something I’ve been working on, just because they’re fun and when you have a delicious dish accompanied by an ugly photo, there’s obviously less desire to make the dish. So, I want my photos to at least do the dish a little bit of justice.

Recently, I remade a dessert that we had featured in a previous Magazine of the Month, the Warm Double-Chocolate Brownie Cakes. Actually, this is a dessert that I still bake up a lot because it only takes 20 minutes of prep time, the ingredients are something I always have on hand, and they’re amazingly delicious. I thought I’d try out a little photographing redux, to see if I couldn’t provide better photos.

I think I picked a difficult one to start with. These brownie cakes are dark and moist inside with melted chocolate chunks, and the top is a glossy, cracked brownie top. After popping these open to try and take a nice shot, I just end up with this brown mass that really doesn’t do the dessert justice. I did try, so hopefully it’s at least not a turn off.

Warm Double Chocolate Brownie Cakes 1

This is a top down version, so you can see the crispy, cracked surface. I baked these a couple of days prior to the photos and kept them inside a sealed plastic bag. They keep quite nicely. To reserve, just pop them in the microwave for 30 seconds and serve with a little ice cream.

Warm Double Chocolate Brownie Cakes 2

Here’s a side view – you can see the ice cream starting to melt from the warm cake. It’s not the most elegant looking dessert, but the taste is fantastic. Chocolate lovers will be big fans!

Warm Double Chocolate Brownie Cakes 3

This one came out a little blurry, but I was trying to show the inside texture — very moist, with melted chocolate bits inside.

So there you have it, a photo redux! We don’t really get a lot of comments on this site but if you have any thoughts or tips, drop me an email (check the “Contact Us” button in the top left corner) or post a comment below.

~MM

Weeknight Cooking: 30 Minute Skillet Lasagna

I’ve bought a lot of cookbooks where the majority of recipes go untouched, and I know I’m not alone. I’ve never met a cookbook that I was 100% sold on.

Until now.

TheBest30MinuteRecipe

Shocked that it’s some 30-Minute thing? How about if I tell you it’s from America’s Test Kitchen?

Skillet Lasagna

Oh yeah, baby.

I scouted around for a group who was cooking this book, and I haven’t found one. If there was one, I would join it in a heartbeat. Heck, I’d even start one. (Anyone want to join?)

30-Minute Recipes have a bad track record. Most dishes just aren’t that good or require too many “storebought” components that make you feel as if you should have just ordered take out. I confess, this book does have a little bit of that, but not a ton. It’s minimal effort with delicious results and still retains ATK’s feel, including recipe explanations, descriptions and taste tests. And, even if I feel a little stuck up about adding a jarred sauce or pre-roasted chicken, I remember this is America’s Test Kitchen and they know what they’re doing. Taste tests have been done on a lot of their “shortcut ingredients” like supermarket tomato sauces. Their highest scored was “Patsy’s Marinara” but our money-conscious web admin was at the grocery store with me and said, “$7.50? For a jar of sauce? What about that one? (points) It’s $2.00! They’re all the same thing!” According to ATK they aren’t all the same, but we went with the number two taste test selection, Bertolli Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce for $2.50 out of principle. 😛

Here’s their Skillet Lasagna. A mixture of beef and pork go into a pan with garlic and broken lasagna noodles and is topped with marinara and water. The mixture cooks for 20 minutes to allow the noodle pieces to absorb water and soften, then is topped with dolloped ricotta, Parmesan and fresh basil.

Yeah, it really is that easy.

Skillet Lasagna Plated

Skillet Lasagna
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, The Best 30-Minute Recipe

1 pound meatloaf mix
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and ground black pepper
6 ounces curly-edged lasagna noodles (8 noodles), broken into 2-inch pieces
1 (26 ounce) jar tomato sauce, such as marinara (about 3 cups)
2 cups water
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
1/4 cup minced fresh basil

Cook meat in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat, breaking it into pieces with a wooden spoon, until fat renders, 3 – 5 minutes. Drain meat and return it to skillet.

Stir in garlic, pepper flakes and 3/4 teaspoon salt and cook over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Sprinkle broken noodles into skillet, then pour in tomato sauce and water over top. Cover and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat as needed to maintain a simmer, until noodles are tender, about 20 minutes.

Off heat, stir in half of mozzarella and half of Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Dot heaping tablespoons of ricotta over noodles, then sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and let stand off heat until cheeses melt, 3 – 5 minutes. Sprinkle with basil before serving.

I give this dish a strong A grade for flavor and ease. And, if you want to mix it up a bit a week or two later, the book provides a variation with sausage and red bell pepper. That’s something else I really like about the book, is that they do provide a lot of options for switching things up.

Skillet Lasagna Plated

Bobby Flay’s Beef Burgers with Peanut-Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Prior to my trip to Las Vegas, I knew two things about Bobby Flay: He’s the barbecue guy and he makes a million different sauces. My ideas of grilling is fairly basic, so I could only assume that all you needed to do to get on Iron Chef America is just pop out a bunch of hamburgers with interesting sauces. How hard is a freaking hamburger? Not very, I’m thinkin’.

Beef Burgers with Peanut-Chipotle BBQ Sauce

So when my spouse and I crossed paths with his Southwestern style restaurant, Mesa Grill, I was surprised. I was even more surprised when my spouse said he wanted to try it out. He takes a bit of time to warm up to certain kinds of food and I was pretty darn sure he had never eaten Southwestern style, so I was leery.

The menu was blown up quite proudly outside, so I quickly skimmed it over. At first I was surprised that it wasn’t a low-class hamburger joint as I had expected, but something so much more.

The food looked dangerous — racy with spice and lots of ingredients we had never tried before. There wasn’t even a single burger on the dinner menu. I was always up for an adventure, but I didn’t want to get in there and watch my spouse get served up something he didn’t like, because then I’d just be bummed out. So I decided for the both of us that we weren’t going.

Instead, we went a couple of restaurants down to a hibachi/sushi place — that absolutely sucked. The grilled asparagus starter was so over-salted that the tips were inedible. I got a beef teriyaki that was grilled to the consistency of shoe leather. Tom’s sushi was apparently not that great, either. Chalking it up to food karma for snubbing Bobby Flay, we left a poor tip and made plans to visit Mesa Grill the next night.

Bobby Flay Burgers - Assembly

We had an amazing dinner. I can’t find our appetizer on the menu now, but it was small, homemade tortillas with grilled chicken on skewers, caramelized onion and fresh cilantro served as a tiny, build-your-own-fajita type of deal. They were amazing and simple and I could have eaten an entire plate of them. Next, we shared an entree. (By the time we got in to eat it was 12:30am Eastern time, and I was too tired to eat much, which is why we shared.) We had the Spice Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon and Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. If you want to see a photo of the dish, I found one here, taken by another happy diner. You’ll have to scroll down the page just a little bit to see it.

The pork came to us medium rare, as ordered, with one savory sauce and a second sauce that brought a little bit of heat. We scarfed this down and walked out of there with our eyes opened to a whole new style of cuisine.

When I got home, I was chatting with Citizen Chef about my Vegas trip, and the one thing I kept coming back to was our dinner at Mesa Grill. Sure, Bouchon was amazing, but I had expected it to be. Mesa Grill, on the other hand, was eye opening and gave me a whole new respect for Bobby Flay and his style of food. CC made a comment that I thought was appropriate: “It’s nice to know that at the heart of (the fame, the hype, the television, etc.) is a real chef.”

He’s right. I picked up the Mesa Grill cookbook and started making some of Bobby Flay’s food. So far I’ve totally mangled everything I’ve touched (LOL) but I’m not giving up. I’m very interested in this whole new world of Southwestern flavors and I’m determined to get good at it.

My new Food and Wine magazine hit my mailbox this week (and their freaking website) and I was thrilled to see they had a feature on Bobby Flay, who provided them with a few of his recipes…

…for hamburgers.

Okay, I’ve learned that it’s a lot harder making Bobby Flay’s food than I originally thought, but I can definitely make a hamburger. 😉

Bobby Flay’s Beef Burgers with Peanut-Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
Adapted from Food & Wine

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for brushing
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup tomato puree
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons pure ancho chile powder
1 canned chipotle in adobo, minced
1/2 cup water
3 1/2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 hamburger buns, split
1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck
1/2 cup shredded cheddar (3 ounces)
1 scallion, finely chopped
Lettuce and tomato slices, for serving

In a medium saucepan, heat the 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the onion and ginger and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Add the tomato puree, ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, honey, molasses, ancho chile powder, chipotle and water. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a blender. Add the peanut butter and puree until smooth. Season the barbecue sauce with salt and pepper.

Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Brush the cut sides of the buns with oil and grill until toasted, about 30 seconds. Spread some of the barbecue sauce on the buns.

Form the meat into four 1-inch-thick patties and brush with oil. Season with salt and pepper and grill over high heat, turning once, until nearly cooked through, about 5 minutes. Brush the burgers with some of the sauce and grill until lightly glazed, about 2 minutes. Top with the cheddar and scallion, close the grill and cook just until the cheese is completely melted, about 1 minute. Set the burgers on the buns, top with lettuce and tomato and serve right away.

Make Ahead
The barbecue sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 months.

My only real beef (get it?) is the amount of barbecue sauce this makes. Even halving the ingredient list gives you enough for dozens of burgers. I think the thought process behind it is that because it can be kept for up to 2 months, you’ll be bringing it out and using it on other meats for the rest of the summer. In defense of this thought process, the sauce is quite delicious. I could best imagine it going on grilled chicken. By itself it is incredibly spicy, but spread only on the buns and the burgers, mounded with cheese, vine ripened tomatoes and crisp lettuce, an overbearing spiciness wasn’t a factor. In fact, I didn’t really even get the spiciness when eating it. It also wasn’t overbearingly barbecue-y — okay, not a word. What I mean by that is, with any other barbecue sauce, especially jarred, I’m always railroaded by an overbearing tangy zing that dominates the meat. In the case of store-bought sauces, the sauce becomes the star and the meat is sort of an afterthought. With this little bit of added sauce, everything is complimented and the flavors of the meat and vegetables really shine through.

Nice work, Chef.

As if you had any doubts as to my cooking method, I made this on my George Foreman and it came out beautifully. The grill was set to high heat and I toasted the buns first, then I put a bit of vegetable oil on the grilling plates before adding the patties.

Flay - Burger Patties

During the cooking process, I kept the Foreman open, not closed. This meant a longer cooking time, but I was fine with that. I actually think it came out better this way, because compacting your hamburger can often lead to poor results.

Flay Patties with BBQ Sauce

Cooking these on an open Foreman actually worked out well. I used a beef with 20% fat, which both Bobby Flay and America’s Test Kitchen recommends.

Of course, off the top of my head I can’t remember why, but I’m pretty sure it’s a good reason. It ended up being one delicious burger, so they’re definitely on to something.

Flay - Patties with Cheddar and Scallions

I served my burgers with a glass of red wine from Francis Coppola’s vineyard and baked onion rings by Alexis, which are typically found in the organic section.

Beef Burgers with Peanut-Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Fool for Pho

Citizen Chef and I share several passions. Good cooking, fine dining, a nice wine, those he and I share in common.

The obscene man-crush on Fabio from Top Chef isn’t a shared feeling; though I do feel that Fabio is a great chef.  (news on the Fabio front)

Another thing that we share is our inspiration for, and enjoyment of, is Pho. Pho (pronounced “Fuh” by most people – actually, the pronunciation is a variable as far as I can tell, as no one pronounces it the same way twice) is a world famous Vietnamese noodle soup involving beef and beef related products swimming with some rice noodles and a nice clear beef broth. That is Pho Bo (aka Beef Soup). There is also a chicken related Pho, but that could be another post. So for our purposes, we are going to concentrate on the beef soup.

This is the Pho I made!
This is the Pho I made!

Now you may be asking yourself, “Self, why would Squidlegs really like a Vietenemese dish since he is not, pretty obviously, from said region of the world?” And you would be asking yourself a very good question. And I have an answer for you… And yourself. Recently on the wonderful “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” there was an episode where he and his old boss from his restaurant in New York got up early just to go eat a good bowl of Pho for lunch. Yes.. There was that much waiting around. But they both agreed that it was worth it. If Tony says something is that good, I gotta go try it. I was inspired. I ran right out and… Well I totally forgot about it. Forgotten, until Citizen Chef came back from vacation, talking about Pho and how it was pretty darned good.

So then he and I had to try it together. On his home turf, we made arrangements to go try a good Vietenemese place near by. But it was closed the night we were going out. So his town actually had a second Vietenemese restaurant. Off we went. And it was pretty darned good.With some spring rolls and slow food delivery, we made a good time of it and enjoyed the food. We also made commitments that he would try the place we were going to be trying and that I would try the one restaurant in my neck of the woods. I managed to pull one over on Citizen Chef though, because two nights later, I went to other restaurant in his town and tried Pho again. Sneaky, aren’t I? It was pretty good. I thought that the broth, one of the key components, was a little lacking, but I did get this batch of Pho to-go, so I may have missed some of the nuances in the really hot broth or fresh noodles. I also tried the restaurant in my home town and, again, while good, wasn’t great! so the quest continued.

Now, all of the above was a set up for me telling you that I have the secret to good American Pho. I say American Pho as I am sure many of our Vietnamese readers or friends will tell you that no one over here can really get the ingredients or knows the secrets of real Pho. But this stuff is pretty damned good if I do say so myself. I found this recipe online (please check out the full page for the recipe… it’s somewhere in the middle.) All of the pictures in this post are from my attempt at cooking this, but the writer of the blog above also has some great pictures.

Finished Broth
Finished Broth

THE BROTH
2 onions, halved
4″ nub of ginger, halved lengthwise
5-6 lbs of good beef bones, preferably leg and knuckle
1 lb of beef meat – chuck, brisket, rump, cut into large slices [optional]
6 quarts of water
1 package of Pho Spices [1 cinnamon stick, 1 tbl coriander seeds, 1 tbl fennel seeds, 5 star anise, 1 cardamom pod, 6 whole cloves – in mesh bag]
1 1/2 tbl salt
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 inch chunk of yellow rock sugar (about 1 oz) – or 1oz of regular sugar

Char: Turn your broiler on high and move rack to the highest spot. Place ginger and onions on baking sheet. Brush just a bit of cooking oil on the cut side of each. Broil on high until ginger and onions begin to char. Turn over and continue to char. This should take a total of 10-15 minutes.

Parboil the bones: Fill large pot (12-qt capacity) with cool water. Boil water, and then add the bones, keeping the heat on high. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse the bones and rinse out the pot. Refill pot with bones and 6 qts of cool water. Bring to boil over high heat and lower to simmer. Using a ladle or a fine mesh strainer, remove any scum that rises to the top.

Boil broth: Add ginger, onion, spice packet, beef, sugar, fish sauce, salt and simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the beef meat and set aside (you’ll be eating this meat later in the bowls) Continue simmering for another 1 1/2 hours. Strain broth and return the broth to the pot. Taste broth and adjust seasoning – if you want a little more flavor, add a few dashes more of fish sauce, large pinch of salt and a small nugget of rock sugar (or large pinch of regular sugar).

Everything ready for the broth
Everything ready for the broth

THE BOWLS
2 lbs rice noodles (dried or fresh)
cooked beef from the broth
1/2 lb flank, london broil, sirloin or eye of round, sliced as thin as possible.
big handful of each: mint, cilantro, basil
2 limes, cut into wedges
2-3 chili peppers, sliced
2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
Hoisin sauce
Cock sauce (Sriracha)

Prepare noodles & meat: Slice your flank/london broil/sirloin as thin as possible – try freezing for 15 minutes prior to slicing to make it easier. Remember the cooked beef meat that was part of your broth? Cut or shred the meat and set aside. Arrange all other ingredients on a platter for the table. Your guests will “assemble” their own bowls. Follow the directions on your package of noodles – there are many different sizes and widths of rice noodles, so make sure you read the directions. For some fresh rice noodles, just a quick 5 second blanch in hot water is all that’s needed. The package that I purchased (above) – needed about 45 seconds in boiling water.

Ladling: Bring your broth back to a boil. Line up your soup bowls next to the stove. Fill each bowl with rice noodles, shredded cooked beef and raw meat slices. As soon as the broth comes back to a boil, ladle into each bowl. the hot broth will cook your raw beef slices. Serve immediately. Guests can garnish their own bowls as they wish.

Everything needed to make a good bowl of Pho
Everything needed to make a good bowl of Pho

There are a couple of notes about the recipe above.

  • I used flank steak and I got a little over a pound. I used half for the broth and then shredded it for the actual bowl and then thin sliced the other half for the “raw’ portion that gets cooked by the broth.
  • The broth is really fatty if you use soup bones, so at one point my kitchen looked sort of like the soap-making scene in “Fight Club,” but without the chemical burns. Just fair warning, you will want to use a ladle and get the first inch to two inches of liquid off the top of the broth before proceeding to the second 1-1/2 hour simmer. I actually poured the liquid into a seperator and out of 4 cups of liquid, had less than a cup of broth, all of the rest was fat.
  • It doesn’t say to, but I toasted the spice pack before I put it together. I recommend that. It was really nummy!
  • This is not a race, take your time. It will take a whole afternoon to make this.
  • While I was at the store getting items for this dish, I found some beef/tendon meatballs in the asian frozen food section. I highly recommend that in addition to the other meat in the dish. You boil them for 15 minutes right out of the freezer and cut them in half and put it in the soup bowl, as I did. I really encourage you to add this, as it brings a great flavor and texture to the game.
  • There are a couple of other condiments that you should consider.
    • Chili Garlic Paste (found in asian sections of big grocery stores, or oriental food markets
    • Beef Paste, found in the same place
    • Fried Minced Garlic, which I actually didn’t find, so I didn’t try it, but I have had it in a restaurant and it adds another layer of flavor.
  • About the hoisin and “cock” sauce (so called because of the rooster on the bottle, get your minds out of the gutter!), you don’t see it in the photos, but I did add it. It is about a tablespoon of each, but that will spice it up, so you may want to use less of the cock sauce.

So that’s it. The secret to great Pho. It was awesome and I am not just saying that because I gloating. Though I am. It was just really, really good. And once the excess fat was removed, it is even pretty healthy. I hope you try it and enjoy!

Squidlegs

Weeknight Cooking: Chicken Pot Pies with Phyllo

Citizen Chef is still out on vacation and will be until next week, but he took a quick break between the restaurants and wine tastings so we could catch up. When I told him I was making a serious attempt at cooking up Ellie Krieger’s James Beard nominated book, The Food You Crave, I backed up my actions by saying we had wanted to start cooking healthier food. His approbation was given in the utmost sophistication when he said, “And she’s hot, too!”

So last night I cooked up another Ellie creation: Chicken Pot Pies with Phyllo Crust.

Chicken Pot Pie - Ellie Krieger

My mom never made chicken pot pies when I was a kid, but when I moved out and into my own apartment, I discovered the microwavable versions. They made me so happy. They were also really fattening, so after a while I had to stop eating them. Chunks of chicken and vegetables with a salty, savory broth are hard to pass up, and when I saw Ellie Krieger’s healthier version that is topped with phyllo dough instead of a biscuit, I had to try them.

Chicken Pot Pies with Phyllo Crust
Courtesy of Ellie Krieger
Serves 4

Cooking spray
1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 leeks, bottom 4 inches only, washed well and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 medium potatoes cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
3 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

Once again, you know I was only serving two, so I cut this in half. I also only used one chicken breast.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 4 individual-sized baking dishes with cooking spray.

Season the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few turns of pepper. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of the oil over a medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the pan and cook for 5 minutes, turning once. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Bawk! Bawk!

Add 2 more teaspoons of the oil, the leeks, and the celery to the pan and cook until vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the potatoes, green beans, garlic, and remaining salt and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes.

Sauteeing Greens - Pot Pies

Add the milk to the pan. Stir the flour into the chicken broth until dissolved and add to the pan. Cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Stir in the reserved chicken, peas, parsley, and thyme.

Simmering Broth - Pot Pies

Stir in the reserved chicken, peas, parsley, and thyme. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dishes.

Two Servings - Pot Pies

Put the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil into a small bowl. Unroll the phyllo dough and cut it into quarters. Place a quarter sheet on top of each baking dish and brush with olive oil. Repeat with remaining 3 baking dishes. Tuck the edges of the phyllo into the dish rim. Top each pie with Parmesan.

My phyllo wasn’t big enough to cover the whole bowl so I criss-crossed them when I went through the layering process.

Oil & Phyllo - Pot Pies

Place on a baking sheet and bake until the filling is bubbling, about 30 minutes.

Finished Chicken Pot Pie

I broke this open so you can see what’s inside — the fluffy, crispy phyllo makes a great crust over the pot pies, which look beautiful inside. Be careful when seasoning this, right before you plate them into the bowls. Eating the top half tasted a little bland, and I didn’t really enjoy this until I got to the bottom, where the salted sauce had collected. It was healthy and good, and I loved the presentation, but I’ll probably only make this again if I get a total craving for pot pies.

Weeknight Cooking: B
Overall Dish: B

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Roasted Grape Tomatoes

By now you’ve probably noticed that we haven’t declared an April 2009 Magazine of the Month. After covering the Cook’s Illustrated Best Of, CC and I were enamored with such success since “Best Of” magazines theoretically deliver what their name says: The best.

Keep in mind I said “theoretically”.

Best Of Cooking Light Volume 10

So as I was rushing through my grocery store, I saw the Cooking Light Best Of Volume 10: One-hundred and twenty-five of their best recipes of the year. I thought of the success we had with CI, and I was thinking about my vow to start cooking healthier, and picked it up. After a cursory flip through (the pictures look great), I decided to bring it home and give it a whirl for the MoM segment.

CC and I had a brief discussion on who got to cook what. He won out on the Pink Peppercorn Mahi Mahi with Tropical Salsa, since he promised he’d post about it. Sucker that I am for promises of a post, I compromised and picked Grilled Chicken with Roasted Grape Tomatoes.

CL - Grilled Chicken with Roasted Grape Tomatoes
Photo Courtesy of Cooking Light Magazine

Despite it being spring everywhere else, the current temperature in western New York is 45°F and snowing. Needless to say, I didn’t drag out my grill and go to town. Instead, I resorted to my trusty George Foreman, my trusty indoor grilling machine.

Grilled Chicken with Roasted Grape Tomatoes
Courtesy of Cooking Light

Chicken:
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts or 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray

My grocery store was out of skinless, boneless chicken thighs, so I used breasts. Also, I have a lot of chicken breasts in the freezer and wanted to use what I had on hand. The trick with breasts is making sure they don’t dry out, because breasts have a tendency to do that if you’re not watching them closely enough or cook them for a minute or two too long. From the ingredient listing, I could tell that was going to be a clincher, since the finished chicken is pretty natural — no sauces, no breading, just chicken and (hopefully) delicate lemon.

Step 1: Prepare the Foreman. (Alternatively, prepare the grill.)

George Foreman
He’s always ready for action.

Step Two: To prepare chicken, combine first lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and chicken in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken to bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 25 minutes, turning the bag occasionally. The original recipe calls for a 15 minute marinading time, but since I was using breasts, which are larger and dry out more easily during cooking, I left it in longer.

Lemon Zest

Step Three: Remove chicken from bag; discard marinade. Sprinkle chicken evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Grilled Chicken with Lemon & Garlic 1

Whenever I take my meat out of the marinade, I’m never sure if I should wipe the marinade off or not. In this case, I guessed not because I wanted more of the lemon and garlic to get into the breasts while they cooked.

Step Four: Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 5 minutes on each side or until done.

Even on the Foreman, I should have used cooking spray. I didn’t in this case, and some of my chicken stuck. It wasn’t a big deal — just surface-level stuff, but it was a little ugly when I flipped the breasts.

I watched these pretty carefully and, when in doubt, I made an incision in the thickest part of the breast to make sure they were done. As I said earlier, I did not want them to dry out.

Grilled Chicken 2

While that’s cooking, get your roasted grape tomatoes ready.

Roasted Grape Tomatoes

2 cups grape tomatoes
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon capers
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Combine tomatoes and 2 teaspoons oil in an 8-inch square baking dish; toss gently. Bake at 425° for 18 minutes or until tomatoes are tender. Combine tomato mixture, parsley, and remaining ingredients, stirring gently. Serve with chicken.

Roasted Grape Tomatoes

The chicken turned out moist with a nice lemon flavor and, when slightly salted, was decent. The AwK admin even had no gripes about it, which surprised me because he isn’t a fan of lemon. He wasn’t in love with it, but he didn’t hate it. It was just okay. The look of the chicken wasn’t fantastic, and could have benefited from being sliced on an angle and served over rice or pasta with some flat leaf parsley. But that’s not what the recipe indicated, and I felt I should do it straight the first time through.

What really bothered me was the roasted tomatoes with capers. Because the chicken was plain and basic, there was no crunch. The tomatoes were soft and tangy, mixed with the brine of the capers… It was all just really soft. The tomatoes made me feel like I was 87 years old and had no teeth, so I was being served something institutional that I could gum on before swallowing. Rather than the roasted tomatoes, this would have been better served with a salad that had some crunchy elements — sliced celery or cucumber or whatever. The chicken was fine, but it was plain, incredibly basic, and totally uninspired. To make it worse, the tomatoes had no business being on the plate.

When I start out with a magazine, I really want to be wowed right out of the gate and, if I’m not, I have a hard time wanting to go back and cook more. Cooking isn’t necessarily cheap, and if I’m not going to be happy with what I ate the first time, there’s nothing really coaxing me back. When CC comes back from vacation and gives us his report on the mahi mahi, hopefully it’s good. If it is, then we’ll continue to share more from the Cooking Light Best Of. If not, I’m kicking it to the curb. We’ll keep you posted.

Weeknight Cooking: C
Overall Dish: D+

Whole Wheat Pancakes with Strawberry Sauce

Though I’m fighting a battle with flab, I’m not into diets. Never have been. Probably never will be. I’m much more interested in overall healthier living, rather than sporadic dieting. Why deprive myself? There are plenty of ways to eat healthy and yet enjoy really good food.

That’s why I’m glad Ellie Krieger feels the same way. I’ve spoken about her in the past — she’s the nutritionist and cook from Food Network’s “Healthy Appetite” and released a cookbook just last year called The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life.

Her philosophy of food is that a person really shouldn’t have to sacrifice the things they like to eat, because there are ways to make them healthy. Case in point: Pancakes.

Whole Wheat Pancakes with Strawberry Sauce

I love pancakes. Fluffy, delicious, swimming in sweet syrup pancakes — but without the fat? Seems like a tall order. Well, I happened to have a small carton of strawberries in my fridge that I didn’t want to go to waste, so when I saw this as the very first recipe in the book, I stopped right there and made them for dinner. That’s right, dinner. Because I’m just that bad ass.

Come on, I know I’m not the only one out there who would eat breakfast any time of the day.

Our dear web admin was not as enthused. He was worried that it was a lot of sugar for dinner. “Nope,” I said, “there’s no sugar except for the two tablespoons of pure maple syrup and sprinkle of powdered sugar on top.” Once he was on board, I set up the kitchen and started making breakfast.

Ellie includes nutritional information with each recipe. Here’s how this stacked up:

Serving Size: 3 pancakes and 1/3 cup strawberry sauce
Calories: 310
Total fat: 3.5g (1 sat.)
Protein: 13g
Carb: 59g
Chol: 110mg
Sodium 420mg

Whole Wheat Pancakes with Strawberry Sauce
Adapted from Ellie Krieger’s Healthy Appetite & The Food You Crave

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-grain pastry flour or whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
3/4 cup nonfat milk
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking Spray
Confectioner’s Sugar (optional)
Strawberry Sauce (recipe follows)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a medium bowl, beat together the eggs, buttermilk, nonfat milk, honey, and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing only enough to combine them. The batter will be somewhat lumpy.

Whole Wheat Pancake Batter

Coat a large nonstick griddle or skillet with cooking spray and preheat over medium-low heat. Use a 1/4 measure to ladle the batter onto the griddle or skillet. Flip the pancakes when they are golden brown on the bottom and bubbles are floating on top, about 1 1/2 minutes.

These fluff up really nicely in the pan. I was elated to see that they became these puffy clouds — I hate flat pancakes. At the time, I was worried about cooking them on medium-low, but they did quite well and cooked pretty quickly on that setting. I played with the heat a bit to see what might work better, but in the end I thought medium-low worked better, as they cooked just as quickly and the ends didn’t darken as much as when I had it up higher.

Whole Wheat Awesomeness 1

Cook the other side until golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes.

I know it looks delicious, but please stop licking the screen.

Keep the pancakes warm in a 200-degree F oven as you finish cooking the remaining ones.

A trick my mom used to do is she would cover the pancakes with a damp towel and put them in the oven. The steam from the towel would keep the pancakes from drying out. That method works well for me.

Strawberry Sauce
2 pints (16 ounces) fresh strawberries, hulled, or 4 cups frozen unsweetened strawberries, thawed
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Place the strawberries in a food processor and process them into a chunky puree.

Strawberry Puree

Stir in the lemon juice and maple syrup.

Plate, sprinkle with powdered sugar, eat, enjoy. Lick plate clean.

I suggest the powdered sugar for anyone who is used to high sugar content. If you are a person who is trying to change your palette into something a little more healthy and needs something that’s got a hint of sweetness in it, put a shake or two of powdered sugar on top. I put a few spoonfuls into a sifter and just shook it over the pancakes. What you’re seeing in the picture is a bit much — I’d cut that down to half for the right amount of sweetness without making the healthier pancake a moot point. It’s like going to McDonald’s and ordering a diet coke with your burger and fries.

Whole Wheat Pancakes with Strawberry Sauce

I really enjoyed the pancakes and strawberry puree together. Let me explain — I didn’t like them separately. I tried the pancake alone. It was okay, but some of the ingredients were a little odd just plain. The strawberry puree alone was also a little funky. Somehow the syrup in the puree really threw me off because, although there wasn’t much in there, I could taste a lot of it.

Together, it all worked. I spread some of the puree on the pancake, and really liked how the fruit and hint of sweetness in the strawberries brought out the different flavors inside the pancake. It was a light meal, and I was happy to know that I was eating something nutritious. Next time I probably won’t put as much confectioners’ sugar on it, but I do believe it required a tiny bit for additional sweetness. These pancakes were a fun and healthier option of the regular smothered in sugary syrup breakfast — or dinner, whatever your poison.

Lots of dishes involved in this one, because there’s mixing and pouring and pureeing. The taste was delicious and it’s something I will make again as a fun and tasty treat, and is even something I would serve to guests. It’s not what I’d consider five-star, so I do have to knock it down for that, but the healthy component and the fact that it’s tasty enough to be served at a quaint, country bed and breakfast support a positive rating.

Weeknight Cooking: B+
Overall Dish: B+

Top Chef Season 5, Final Part of the Final Episode: Death by Sous Vide

All hail King Hosea, who hath defeated Stefan the Knave in spatula’d combat!  I liked Hosea from the get-go, and was rooting for him until it was obvious that his best was just not quite good enough for some reason.  I think if Stefan would have made a decent dessert, like any of his other desserts, he would have won.  Do I think Hosea “wussed out” by not doing a dessert?  No.  In a 5 course menu, maybe.   Even if it was 4 courses.  But with 3 it’s a pretty short arc even if you don’t limit yourself to 2 savory dishes.

Carla.  Carla Carla Carla.  The thing that makes this so tragic is she knows she blew it.  She knows she let $100 grand slip out the window because, in the end, she didn’t trust herself.  It was truly painful to watch, and took some of the shine of the fact that Stefan lost.  I won’t belabour the point by wondering why “well I’ve never done it before…” would ever cross your lips during the final.  But I will share a story.  A story of the BEST DINNER PARTY EVER IN THE GALAXY.

It was Squidlegs (mumble mumble)ieth birthday, and he for some damn reason wanted to throw a dinner party.  For 30 people.  Fun!!  Oh and my birthday was around the same time, so would I sous chef for him, and make one dish?  Sure!  Well that “one dish” quickly became an amuse, an app, the original dish, and a dessert.  The only saving grace was that he was making all that stuff, plus 2 gumbos, a salad and the main course.  So let’s go through the thinking process of choosing these dishes, since it’s the same process that Carla should have gone through.

  1. The dishes had to be as fool-proof as possible.  Now obviously the Top Chef people have a larger repertoire of dishes in this category than I do.  But the dishes had to be something I felt very comfortable doing, since even then I could screw it up.
  2. The dishes should have components that can be made ahead of time, if possible.  This not only takes some of the time crunch away from the actual event, but it would allow me to taste things before-hand, and remake it if need be.
  3. This one is a bit counter-intuitive but I needed dishes with non-seasonal ingredients.  Normally you would think just the opposite, and in the Top Chef’s case, they have the skills to see what’s good and then decide what to make.  I didn’t have that luxury and the last thing I wanted was to come up with an awesome fig dish and then not be able to find figs.

My “signature” dish is green onion risotto.  I’ve made it many times and when it works it is really really really good.  So I’ve already got a timing issue here, since I have to make this right before service.  I also have a scaling issue.  I’ve made a double batch of this recipe a few times, but it changes the chemistry of the situation enough for me to realize I didn’t want to more than double it.  Was this going to be enough to feed 30 people?  Luckily this was a 12 course meal, so I went with the tasting menu philosophy.

Mrs. Squidlegs offered to make home-made broth, did I want to use it for the risotto?  Well I would be crazy not to, wouldn’t I?  It must be superior to the stuff in the box I usually use, right?  “I’ve never used real broth but…”  WRONG WRONG WRONG.  Thank you very much, but no I’ll go with the boxed stuff because I KNOW WHAT IT TASTES LIKE.  And I wasn’t even cooking for $100 grand. 

So, an amuse.  This was the closest thing I did to a Citizen Chef original.  I had made Black Sea Bass with Sweet Parsnips, Arrowleaf Spinach, and Saffron-Vanilla Sauce from the French Laundry cookbook one New Year’s Eve for my family, with varying degrees of results.  The butter sauce broke, the spinach was meh, but the parsnip puree was awesome.  And I could make it ahead of time!  I decided to put a quenelle of that on… something.  I tried a bunch of stuff, and a bosc pear worked the best.  You got a hit of the parsnip and vanilla, then the bosc pear, then they merged into something else.  Did I mention I could make it ahead of time?

Appetizer.  I agonized over this one quite a while, but ended up going with soft scrambled eggs with fresh ricotta and chives.  This was pretty pedestrian but it is also phenomenally good.  Something else I would have to make as we served, but oh well.

Dessert.  The flashiest dessert I had was a chocolate mint napoleon.  I tried a few others, including a really good brownie, but in the end I went with the napoleon because it looks cool as hell.  And I could make all the components ahead of time.

So, 4 dishes, only 2 of which I couldn’t make the night before, none of which require any hard to find ingredients.  How did it go?  Well I made twice as much scrambled eggs as I needed, 10 more people than we counted on showed up, so the risotto portion was 3 spoon fulls, and I also had trouble finding parsnips and vanilla bean.  But it turned out fabulous.  Everything was ridiculously good.  I mean every single item.  All the stuff squidlegs cooked was great as well, and he had more work to do than I did.  If we did that same menu 100 times, it would not have turned out that good on 90 of them.  Because even if you plan everything out, things still go to hell when you least expect it.  I never got “in the weeds”, but I came close. 

Squid and I talk a few times a week, and every month or so, we reminisce about that night.  And we congratulate ourselves profusely and with great enthusiasm.  And we realize it was a complete fluke and we must NEVER have another dinner party again because the next one will suck. 

So what’s my point?  My point is if a chuckle-head foodie like me has learned these lessons after cooking in public ONCE, any professional cook who hasn’t doesn’t deserve to win Top Chef.

 

~Citizen Chef