Sunday, May 30, 2010

Foodbuzz 24x24: He Picks, She Cooks - A Beer Pairing Dinner

I love cooking and entertaining, and Joey loves well, beer.  In the past few years he's really gotten into microbrews, and we wanted to have a party to showcase some great ones.  Wine pairing dinners are pretty popular, but beer pairings are on the rise.  We thought it would be a lot of fun to have a beer pairing party, but with a twist:  Joey would choose all the beers, and I would choose a dish to pair with each one. Typically when I throw a party, I plan the menu first, and then choose drinks that will work around those dishes. However, with this beer pairing dinner, Joey chose the beer, and the food revolved around that. We aren't one of those couples that likes to cook together (Joey would have to cook for that to happen), so this was a great chance for us to work together.  I am thrilled that my proposal was chosen to be a part of Foodbuzz's 24x24 blogging event, so thanks to Foodbuzz for sponsoring the event!

Joey took his role as "beer sommelier" very seriously, and he did a lot of research for his choices.  He wanted to have a good variety of lighter and darker beers, and we planned the menu to go from lightest to heaviest beer.  When I started researching beer pairings, I read that you should consider the Three C's:  Complement, Contrast, and Cut.  I tried to abide by this guideline when choosing dishes to pair with each beer.  I also wanted to have a good variety of heavy and light dishes, since we would be eating five courses, plus trying five beers.

I had originally planned to have the tables set up outside on the deck, but there was a good chance of rain in the evening.  We made the decision to move everything inside, and I'm actually really glad we did - it started raining about halfway through dinner.  We set up two tables in the dining room; I used empty beer bottles as vases for flowers, but kept the decor minimal other than that.

Joey put together a great beer guide for the party.  He used a picture of each bottle and listed the rating, brewery location, style, alcohol content, retail price, and the commercial description.  The guide was really helpful for learning a little about each beer before the course.  We planned it so that Joey poured the beer as I plated the course, and he took a minute to explain the beer and allow everyone to taste it before the food.  Then as I brought out the food, everyone was able to try the beer and food together. 

Joey chose 5 beers to pair, but we decided to have a "bonus" course as an appetizer as everyone arrived.  One of Joey's favorite beers is a local Atlanta brew, Sweetwater 420, but we didn't really have a place to feature it in the menu.  So we paired it with black eyed pea hummus and cornbread sticks for our friends to snack on while everyone arrived.

The first beer was Allagash White, from Portland, Maine.  It is a Belgian style wheat beer that, to me, is the perfect summer beer.  It is light and refreshing, with just a hint of spice, yeast, and lemon.  There were a few people at the party who aren't huge beer fans, but this one was really enjoyed by everyone.  I paired it with crab and shrimp campechana.  I had never heard of campechana, but it is apparently a popular appetizer in Mexico and Texas.  Campechana is basically a seafood cocktail:  shrimp is sauteed with onions and pepper, then simmered in a spicy tomato sauce and chilled before serving.  Finished with some horseradish, lime, and cilantro, it has a lot of the flavors of a Bloody Mary.  But served with avocado and tortilla chips, it is a perfect summer snack.  I can easily envision sitting on the patio, drinking Allagash and eating campechana (and I plan to do just that this afternoon!).  This was a nice and refreshing pairing, and my personal favorite beer.

The second beer was Victory Prima Pils, a pilsner bottled in Downingtown Pennsylvania.  It is hoppy and slightly bitter, with a subtle malty flavor.  I paired it with a southern-inspired dish:  fried green tomatoes topped with a scoop of pimiento cheese and bacon vinaigrette.  While this was probably my least favorite beer, it was actually my favorite pairing.  The creamy cheese and tangy tomato cut through the bitterness of the pilsner, and the food actually made the beer taste better - which was kind of the whole point of this dinner, right?  The fried green tomatoes were a table favorite, and I'm glad I made a few extras - they definitely didn't go uneaten!

I mentioned Sweetwater earlier in the post, and it is one of our favorite breweries.  Its right around the corner from Georgia Tech, so we have spent many an afternoon taking the tour and tasting the beers.  While 420 is probably their most popular beer, their IPA the highest rated.  Its really a great IPA, brewed with premium hops, and it has a very strong grapefruit flavor.  Its light, but still robust, finishing with a light floral note.  IPA's pair really well with spicy foods, so I chose to make jerk chicken sliders, and topped them with pineapple-papaya salsa.  This was a fun course, because really, who doesn't like burgers and beer?  I used habaneros in both the burgers and the marinade, and they had a nice kick, but it was tamed by the salsa and beer.  This was a good example of contrasting flavors in the food and beer:  the spicy burgers contrasted nicely with the citrusy beer.

Schneider Aventinus Wheat Doppel is the only imported beer that Joey chose, and the highest rated according to  It is brewed in Kelheim, Germany, and is a Weizen Bock with a full-bodied, but still light and delicate taste.  It has a clove-like aroma, and a hint of caramel.  It tastes surprisingly light given how dark it is.  It pairs well with roasted meats, Mexican food, and fruit.  I chose to serve it with molasses-ginger glazed pork loin over Mexican corn salad.  The glaze was nice and sweet, but with a spicy kick from the serrano chiles.  Several people mentioned that the pork was reminiscent of Korean BBQ.  The molasses gave it a great caramelization, and the corn salad was nice and fresh to go along with the pork.  This pairing was also a favorite, and the beer was a favorite as well, especially with the men.

The final course was dessert, and Joey chose Ommegang's Three Philosophers.  It is brewed in Cooperstown New York, and is an astounding 9.8% alcohol.  This beer has the most interesting backstory, as it was brewed based on a homebrewer's description of his ideal beer.  It is a smooth beer, characterized by dark fruits and toffee, with just a hint of spice and bitterness.  I paired this with cherry, brie, and chocolate paninis served with homemade chocolate ice cream.  The brie and chocolate went really well with the beer, and the cherry preserves in the paninis definitely complemented the cherry flavor in the beer.  The star of this course was actually the chocolate ice cream though.  Rich, smooth, and creamy, this ice cream basically tastes like pure chocolate.  It was really interesting how much the chocolate changed the flavor of the beer.  It really enhanced the cherry flavor, and we all know how chocolate and cherries are a match made in heaven.  It was most definitely the perfect way to finish the meal.

Our friends really got into the tastings, and they took great notes for us to refer back to later.  Even some self-proclaimed beer-haters enjoyed tasting different styles and types, and I think everyone found something that they'd like to drink again.

Joey and I had a great time planning the meal, and I had a great time cooking for the party.  I felt very "Top Chef" as I presented each course, and it was fun to hear feedback on the beer, food, and the pairing.  I'm really pleased with how everything came together, and I can't wait to plan another beer-pairing party!  In the meantime, I'll be posting the recipes for each course in the coming weeks - so stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Strawberry-Rhubarb Sorbet

One of my favorite things about summer is most definitely ice cream!  Last summer, I bought The Perfect Scoop, and every recipe I've made has been outstanding.  So I'm really looking forward to trying out many more as this summer progresses.  I realize that I've posted several recipes featuring strawberries lately (and there are more to come), but its hard not to when they are so beautiful and sweet (and cheap) this time of year.

I've had my fair share of sorbets, and this is by far my favorite.  The strawberry flavor is prominent, but the rhubarb contributes a nice tartness to contrast with the sweetness.  It is completely irresistible, and quite honestly I am surprised that I didn't polish it off within a few days.  Its also a gorgeous red color, and you all know how much I love pretty food. 

Strawberry-Rhubarb Sorbet
makes about 1 quart
David Lebovitz, The Perfect Scoop
  • 12 ounces rhubarb
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 10 ounces fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Wash the rhubarb and trim the stem and leaf ends.  Cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Combine the rhubarb, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the rhubarb is tender and cooked through.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Roughly chop the strawberries, and puree them in a blender or food processor until smooth with the rhubarb mixture and lemon juice.

Chill the mixture thoroughly, then churn according to your ice cream maker's instructions.  Freeze until ready to serve.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bay Scallop Gratins

Its crazy to think that until about a year ago, I didn't really care for scallops.  I pretty much only liked them if they were chopped up and incorporated into a dish - I never ate them on their own.  Now, I can't get enough.  They are easy and fast to cook, and they can be served in so many different ways.  Even though I typically just sear them, this was a really fun and elegant dish.    They are incredibly easy, but they seem really fancy and elegant.  This would be a perfect meal for entertaining, because the gratins can be assembled and refrigerated, then just baked off in the oven. The scallops stay nice and sweet through the baking, and the proscuitto, lemon, garlic, and white wine give them tons of flavor.  The top is nice and crispy, and the result is a truly delicious dinner.

I divided one serving between the two of us for the first course of our anniversary dinner, and now I can't wait to make them as a stand-alone entree.

Bay Scallop Gratins
adapted from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
makes 3 gratins
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 ounce thinly sliced Proscuitto, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Panko
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 pound bay scallops, patted dry
  • Lemon, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425.  Place 3 gratin dishes on a sheet pan and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Place 1 Tablespoon of white wine in the bottom of each dish.

In a small bowl, combine the butter, garlic, shallot, 1 Tablespoon of the white wineproscuitto, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Use a fork to combine, mashing as you go.  Drizzle in the olive oil, and continue to combine.  Fold in the panko and set aside.

Use a paring knife to remove the muscle from each scallop.  Divide the scallops evenly among each gratin dish, and spoon the butter mixture over the tops.

Bake 10-12 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and sizzling, and the scallops are just barely done.  For a crispier top, turn on the broiler for the last 1-2 minutes.

Remove from oven and finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and the remaining parsley.  Serve immediately with crusty French bread.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chubby Hubby Cupcakes

When I was pregnant with Caroline, we would go to Coldstone Creamery when the craving for ice cream hit.  My favorite combo was banana ice cream with Reese's peanut butter cups, and as far as Joey was concerned, I might as well have been eating pickles with it.  I'm not sure why it grossed him out so much - I'd still gladly eat that combo today!

I'm not sure where I got the idea for these cupcakes, but I've been talking about  making them for months now with my friend Michelle.  I only just realized that its basically the same combo as my favorite pregnancy treat.  They are based off of the popular Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavor, which is vanilla ice cream with chocolate covered pretzels and peanut butter.  When dreaming up these cupcakes, I for some reason thought they had banana in them, but it turns out I was just combining Chubby Hubby with Chunky Monkey.  So maybe these should be called Chubby Monkey?  Or Chunky Hubby?

No matter what you call them, they are quite a tasty treat:  banana cupcake filled with chocolate ganache, and topped with peanut butter frosting.  I dipped some pretzels in the ganache to top some of the cupcakes with, and I topped the rest with banana slices.

Chubby Hubby Cupcakes
makes 12-15 cupcakes (and can easily be doubled)

Banana Cupcakes
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup + 1 Tablespoon buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon banana extract
  • 3/4 cup mashed banana (about 1 1/2-2 bananas)
Chocolate Ganache
  • 4 ounces bittersweet, chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, at room temperature
Peanut Butter Frosting
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
For the cupcakes, Preheat the oven to 350.  Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.   Add the banana and mix until well combined.

Combine the buttermilk and banana extract in a liquid measuring cup.  Over low speed, Alternately add the flour mixture with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour.  Mix until just combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins, filling each one 3/4 full.  Bake 20-25 minutes, or until firm in the center and a toothpick comes out with only a few crumbs attached.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in pans 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the ganache, place the chocolate in a medium bowl.  Bring the cream to a gentle boil in a small saucepan.  Pour it over the chocolate, and allow to sit for 3-4 minutes.  Add the butter to the bowl, and whisk until smooth.  Allow to sit at room temperature until it reaches a consistency suitable for piping, or refrigerate, being sure to stir every 10 minutes.

For the frosting:  Place the confectioners' sugar, butter, peanut butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the sides as needed.  Add the cream and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.

To assemble, use a small paring knife to cut out a small cone from the top of each cupcake.  Fill a pastry bag fitted with a round tip with the ganache, and pipe each cupcake full of ganache.  Frost as desired with peanut butter frosting.

source:  cupcakes adapted from Half Baked, via Annie's Eats, ganache from Tartelette, frosting adapted from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa at Home

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Lettuce wraps are one of those foods that seem really healthy, but the calories and sodium are actually pretty shocking.  You figure, its meat wrapped in lettuce, how bad can it be for you?  Well, I'd venture to say close to 1000 calories for an order from some popular chain restaurants.

These, however, are nice and light.  I really liked the sweet-spicy-salty combo of these, and Joey said he really enjoyed them too.  Even Caroline couldn't get enough.  She gobbled the chicken and rice up like you wouldn't believe.  This dinner comes together very quickly, so its perfect for a weeknight meal.  I served it with steamed broccoli and grilled pineapple slices, and it was a really delicious dinner!

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps
serves 4
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup short-grain rice, such as sushi rice, rinsed
  • 3 Tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus 2 teaspoons grated lime zest
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 pound ground chicken or turkey
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 Thai or jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin
  • 12 Bibb or Boston lettuce leaves (about 1 head)
Bring the water and rice to a boil in a medium saucepan set over high heat.  Cover, reduce to low, and cook for 10 minutes.  Remove rice from heat and allow to sit, covered, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, and cornstarch together in a small bowl. 

In a medium bowl, mash the ground chicken using the back of a spoon until smooth and no strand-like pieces of meat remain.

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat.  Add the chicken, chile, and lime zest, and cook, breaking up the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until the chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

Whisk the fish sauce mixture to recombine, and add to the skillet.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened, about 45 seconds.  Remove from heat, and stir in the basil and scallions.

Transfer chicken to a serving bowl and serve with rice and lettuce leaves.

source:  Cook's Illustrated, Light and Healthy 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

Shrimp and Feta Macaroni and Cheese

So my child not only looks nothing like me, but she also doesn't like macaroni and cheese.  Had I not birthed her myself, I would seriously wonder if she was really mine.  I'm definitely not complaining though - she'd rather eat fresh fruits and veggies than pasta smothered in a cheesy sauce - just because I can't comprehend that gives me no room to judge, right?

She really doesn't know what she's missing out on though.  This version of macaroni and cheese tastes so light and fresh, and has become one of my favorite dinners.  I'd venture to say that its more of a grown-up version than the typical noodles and cheddar.  It has chunks of shrimp, feta cheese, fresh herbs, lemon, and is topped with a crunchy breadcrumb topping.  I made a few small additions, such as adding white wine to the sauce, fresh oregano from my garden, and crushed red pepper flakes for a bit of heat.  I also used whole wheat pasta and skim milk.  I've gotta lighten it up where I can when it calls for over a pound of cheese, after all!

Shrimp, Feta, and Fresh Herb Macaroni and Cheese
  • 1 pound pasta shapes
  • 1 pound raw shrimp (31-40 count), peeled and deveined, tails removed, and cut into thirds
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 10 ounces feta, crumbled
  • zest of 1 lemon, divided
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped and divided
  • 5 Tablespoons butter
  • 4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 8 ounces Gruyere, shredded (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and cook pasta until just short of al dente, about 8 minutes.  Drain well, and toss with the shrimp and white wine in a large bowl.  The heat from the pasta will partially cook the shrimp.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400.  In a small bowl combine a small handful of the feta, the panko, a pinch of the lemon zest, 2 teaspoons of the parsley, and 1 Tablespoon of melted butter.  Mix well with a fork and set aside.

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the flour and whisk constantly to form a light golden-brown paste.  Whisk in the milk, and stirring frequently, cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. 

Remove from heat and stir in the feta, Gruyere, parsley, oregano, dill, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, salt, and pepper.  Stir to melt the cheese, and pour over pasta and shrimp.  Stir well to combine.

Pour the pasta into a lightly greased 3 quart baking dish.  Sprinkle the panko topping over the pasta, and bake 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbly.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

adapted from Annie's Eats, originally from The Perfect Pantry

Friday, May 14, 2010

Anniversary Dinner Menu

Joey and I celebrated our third anniversary this week, and I wanted to create a menu that was romantic, seasonal, decadent, and of course delicious.  I wanted to serve dinner in courses, so the portions were small, but we were still completely stuffed!  I spent most of the afternoon prepping, so when it was time to eat, there was minimal work for each course.  And we had fun just enjoying each others' company while I cooked.  Joey said it was one of the best meals he's eaten - restaurant or at home - so I'd say that everything was a success!

Of course I pulled out the wedding china for the occasion.

 We snacked on steamed artichokes while Caroline ate her dinner, then we went for a walk through the neighborhood.  It was the perfect low-key start to the evening.

I made Ina's Bay Scallop Gratins for the first course.  Since we still had much more food coming, I prepared one  "serving," and split it between two small creme brulee dihes.  The scallops were soft and sweet, and the bread crumb topping was perfect.  Its a classic Ina dish.

I served the gratins with a rose' that we bought when we visited the Biltmore Estate last year.  When we did the wine tasting there, we were less than impressed with most of their wine offerings, but we did enjoy the Century Rose'.  However, it wasn't as delicious as we'd remembered.  Still, we did like it, and it was great paired with the scallops.

For the main course, I wanted something truly special.  I've eaten duck out at restaurants before, but had never made it myself.  I was very nervous to cook it, but in the end, its no different than cooking chicken breasts, really.  You just don't cook them nearly as long.  I was a little disapointed that I overcooked them just a tad, but it was still incredibly tasty.  The raspberry rose' sauce was a perfect complement to the duck, and I served it with roasted asparagus.

I was especially excited about the wine for this course.  Van Duzer Pinot Noir is one of my absolute favorite wines.  We both really love Oregon Pinots, and this is one of the best we've tried yet. 

We finished the night on a decadent note, with chocolate truffle tartlettes.  A chocolate shortbread crust, chocolate truffle filling, and topped with chocolate ganache.  I added a chocolate covered strawberry to each one, since I had a little ganache leftover and some freshly picked strawberries in my refrigerator.  I just couldn't resist. 

Everything went very well together and I was really proud of how it all turned out.  I'll be posting the recipes for each dish in the next few weeks.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Strawberry Wine Coolers

Wine coolers are such a great idea, but somewhere along the way they've gone horribly awry.  Fruit + wine should be delicious, but a commercial wine cooler is cloyingly sweet and artificial tasting.  And just yucky.

The genius Lee Brothers, Matt and Ted, set out to right the wrong, and created these delicious, fruity, and balanced drinks.  These are incredibly simple and fresh:  strawberry puree, a splash of vodka, and a dry Reisling.  They are incredibly refreshing, and have a nice sweetness, but not in an overpowering way.

When I have friends over for dinner, or throw a party, I like to have kind of a "signature drink," whether its a mixed drink, special bottle of wine, or a fun and fruity frozen drink.  I think this would be ideal, because the fruit mixture can be made ahead of time, and when its party-time, just mix it with wine and you're good to go.  In fact, the longer you let the flavors meld in the refrigerator the better.  I can't wait to play around with more fruits this summer.  I think peach would be especially delicious!

Strawberry Wine Coolers
Simple, Fresh, Southern by Matt Lee and Ted Lee
serves 6
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
  • 2 ounces vodka
  • generous pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 750-mL bottles off-dry white wine, such as an American Reisling, chilled
Keep 6 strawberries for garnish, and combine the rest in a blender with the vodka, salt, and 2 scant cups of the wine.

Puree on the highest setting for about 1 minute, or until the mixture is frothy and smooth.

Strain the puree through a fine-mesh seive  into a pitcher (and eat the pulp!), pressing the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1-2 hours.

To serve, fill wine glasses with ice, and divide the mixture among them, filling each glass about half-full.  Top with remaining white wine, and stir.  Garnish with the reserved strawberries, and serve.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies

These cookies are really insanely delicious.  They are a homemade version of Nutter Butters or DoSiDo's.... but better.  Imagine that, a homemade cookie that tastes better than a mass-produced out of a box cookie. 

The oatmeal peanut butter cookies are nice and soft, and the peanut butter filling is so good you could eat it straight (umm, not that I did or anything).  My daughter goes insane for peanut butter, and loves oatmeal, so its really a shame she's allergic to eggs.  This would probably be her favorite thing ever.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies
from All Recipes, as seen on Annie's Eats
makes about 18 sandwich cookies

For the Cookies
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter,at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
For the Filling
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons heavy cream 

Preheat the oven to 350. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, peanut butter, and sugars over medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Add the egg and vanilla, and mix well.  Lower the speed to low,  and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until just incorporated.  Gently stir in the oats with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Use a small cookie scoop to portion out the dough (about 2 teaspoons per cookie). Arrange evenly on a baking sheet, and bake 10 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.  The cookies should be light golden brown and puffed.  Allow to cool on the sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat with remaining dough.

To make the filling, cream the butter and peanut butter.  Slowly add the sugar, then mix in the heavy cream.  Mix until smooth and fluffy.

Pair the cookies by size, and spread or pipe filling on one cookie, pressing the second cookie down to spread the filling to the edges.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu

Its no secret that I love grilling, especially in the spring and summer.  Its low maintenance, easy clean-up, and creates unbeatable flavor.  Chicken Cordon Bleu is such a traditional dish, and I was excited to see a new spin on it.  The chicken breasts are stuffed with ham and swiss cheese, brushed with Dijon mustard, and grilled.  They are then topped with a flavorful honey-mustard vinaigrette.  Served with fresh grilled asparagus, this is an incredibly easy and delicious weeknight meal.

The recipe claims that wrapping the cheese with ham will keep it from leaking out, but mine still did.  However, even though I was sad to lose cheese (what a waste), the chicken was still really tasty. Joey commented that the sauce makes the dish, and I have to agree.  Of course the chicken was still nice on its own, but the addition of the sauce really put it over the top.

Grilled Chicken Cordon Bleu
Cuisine Grilling
serves 4
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 6-8 ounces each)
  • 4 oz thinly sliced deli ham
  • 4 oz Swiss cheese, cut into blocks about 1 inch wide, and a 3-4 inches long (should resemble a stick of string cheese)
  • Dijon mustard
  • kosher salt and black pepper
For the vinaigrette:
  • 2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper
Preheat the grill to medium-high heat for at least 15 minutes.

Cut a pocket into each chicken breast by inserting a knife blade into the thick end of the breast.  Sweep the blade back and forth, cutting the opening larger, being careful not to cut through the end, top, or bottom.

Wrap a slice of ham around each block of cheese and insert into the pockets.  Brush each breast with Dijon mustard, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Grill chicken 7-10 minutes per side, or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette.

To serve, slice the chicken into pinwheels and drizzle with vinaigrette.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Stuffed Poblanos

This is a vegetarian meal that even my husband can get behind.  Poblano peppers stuffed with a black bean and cornmeal mixture, topped with cheese, then baked in a spicy tomato sauce.  These guys are packed with flavor, and the great thing is that they are open to so many adaptations.  Add more veggies.  If you HAVE to have meat, you could add some grilled chicken or ground beef.  Stuff them with rice.  The possibilities are endless.

They can also be made ahead of time, so dinner can be on your table less than an hour after you get home.

Stuffed Poblanos
adapted from Everyday Food:  Fresh Flavor Fast
serves 4
  • 1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice
  • 1 jalapeno chile, ribs and seeds removed, minced
  • 2 small or 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, 2 crushed, 1 minced
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 (19 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2-3 Tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 cup shredded Pepperjack Cheese
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 cup water or broth
  • 4 poblano peppers, halved lengthwise, ribs and seeds removed
Preheat the oven to 425.

Combine the tomatoes, jalapeno, 1 onion, and 2 cloves of garlic in a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Process until smooth, and season with salt and pepper.  Pour into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, spreading to cover evenly.

In a medium bowl, combine the beans, cornmeal, 1/2 cup cheese, remaining onion, garlic, cumin, cilantro, and the water.  Stir to combine, and season with salt and pepper.

Evenly divide the stuffing among the peppers, and lay in a single layer in the baking dish.  Top with remaining cheese, and cover with aluminum foil.

Bake 45 minutes, or until poblanos are tender.  Remove foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is browned.  Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Blackberry Thyme Margaritas

I'm super jealous of my sister.  She lives in Oregon, and always says that if you pay for blackberries in the summer, you've done something wrong.  I love going to visit her for many reasons, but a plethora of blackberries is certainly up there.  Here, blackberries are one of the more expensive fruits, but I love them so much, I buy them anyway. 

When I was searching for a margarita recipe to make over the weekend, I came across this one.  There were several "interesting" combinations, such as celery, jalapeno, and pineapple-chile.  This one was certainly different, but I was intrigued.  The thyme was very understated, and I think just added a nice fresh and herbal note to the drink.  The blackberries gave the drink a gorgeous hue, and you can't go wrong with tequila, right? 

Blackberry-Thyme Margaritas
adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2007
makes 2 drinks 
  • 18 blackberries
  • 3 small sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 cup crushed ice
  • 1/3 cup tequila
  • 1/4 cup simple syrup
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 Tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
  • 1/4 cup sparkling wine or sparkling water
Place 16 of the blackberries in a food processor with the thyme leaves.  Pulse 30 seconds.  Push the blackberry puree through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl to remove seeds, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible.  

Combine the blackberry puree,  ice, tequila, syrup, lime, Cointreau, and sparkling wine into a blender.  Puree until smooth and well combined.  Divide between glasses, and garnish with additional thyme and the reserved blackberries

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Cinco de Mayo Ideas

With Cinco de Mayo coming up this week, I thought it would be fun to focus on some Mexican recipes for the next few days.  We absolutely love Mexican food in our house, so there is no shortage of dishes to choose from.  These are some of my favorites, that would make fantastic dinners on the big day, whether you are staying in for a low-key celebration, or going all-out and hosting a big fiesta.  Stay tuned, because every day between now and Wednesday I'll be posting a Mexican-inspired recipe. 

 These Chicken Enchiladas are the most popular recipe on my blog, and for good reason.  They're awesome!  They are seriously life changing, and I can't believe I lived almost 28 years without them.  Even if you're not having a big party, I highly recommend that make a pan of these enchiladas.  I also recently made a dip using the filling, so stay tuned for that amazing dish!

If you want to provide a choice, or want something a little different, chicken enchiladas verdes might be what you're looking for.  I love the tang of the tomatillos, and they are a fun and delicious twist on traditional enchiladas.

If you want to go lighter, chipotle bean burritos are a delicious option.  Add whatever extra veggies you want - peppers and onions would be great - or add some grilled chicken or ground turkey for a meat option. 

Another great light option is black beans and rice with red chile chicken.  Or, leave out the chicken and make it as a side dish.  I've done this several times, and its just great that way.

If you're looking for a side, cheesy creamed corn is pretty awesome.  

No matter what you decide to make as your main dish, I highly recommend that you make rustic roasted salsa.  Rick Bayless is the king of Mexican food, and his salsa certainly reflects that.

And finally, margarita cupcakes are the perfect way to end your meal.