Monday, May 26, 2014

Savory Pimento Cheese Macarons


A few years ago, Joey and I started a birthday tradition.  On my birthday, we make a reservation at a nice restaurant, book a hotel room, and make a weekend out of being tourists in our own city.  It is such a fun weekend for us, and one that I look forward to all year long.

This year we went to Restaurant Eugene, which I had been wanting to try for years.  It was by far the best meal I've ever had in Atlanta, and one that I will certainly remember for years to come.  We went all out and ordered the chef's tasting menu, complete with wine pairings.  In between courses, we were treated to several "gifts from the chef."  Little bites and small dishes meant to cleanse the palate or give you a little surprise.

The most memorable one?  A savory macaron with pimento cheese filling.  Yes, really.  It was a subtly sweet macaron shell, spiked with a hefty dose of black pepper.  Inside was a creamy and sharp pimento cheese filling.  This fusion-style French cookie combined my love for macarons with my undying love for pimento cheese, and I immediately knew that I MUST recreate this amazing cookie in my own kitchen.

I used my standard macaron shell recipe, decreased the sugar just a bit, and added black pepper, salt, and a pinch of cayenne pepper and dry mustard powder.  For the filling, you could certainly just slather pimento cheese on the cookies, but I pureed some pimento cheese with a  bit of heavy cream and piped it on.

These cookies are unique and novel.  There's just  hint of sweetness in the macaron shell, which plays nicely off of the spicy pepper and sharp cheddar filling.  These would be just lovely set out as part of a cheese tray, or to serve at a brunch, shower, or party.  They are rich and bold, so you really won't eat more than one at a time, which makes them perfect for a party.  I always like to serve something a bit unexpected and unusual, and these pimento cheese macarons fit the bill perfectly.

Savory Black Pepper and Pimento Cheese Macarons
macaron shell adapted heavily from these vanilla bean macarons

  • 110 g almond meal
  • 175 g sifted confectioner's sugar
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • pinch dry mustard powder
  • 100 g egg whites, aged at room temperature for a day (about 3 eggs)
  • 30 grams granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup pimento cheese
  • 2-3 Tbs heavy cream
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. 

In a medium bowl whisk together the almond meal, confectioner's sugar, pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, and mustard powder.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until foamy, then gradually stream in the granulated sugar and continue to whip until a shiny, glossy meringue forms (but not dry).

Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, and add the almond mixture.  Using a rubber spatula, briskly and quickly fold the almond meal into the egg whites.  After a few brisk strokes, slow down and then gently incorporate the rest into the batter.You want a batter that flows and "ribbons" for at least 5 seconds.

Pour the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip.  Pipe the batter into 1 1/2-inch rounds, spacing them about 1-inch apart.

Whack the baking sheets on the counter a few times, then allow to sit at room temperature 45 minutes-1 hour, or until a hard shell forms.

As the shells rest, prepare the filling.  Add the pimento cheese to the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times.  Add the heavy cream, one tablespoon at a time, until it is smooth and thinned to a pipe-able consistency.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Bake the macarons 8-10 minutes, depending on size.  Allow to cool completely on the pan before using a small spatula to remove them.  Match the cookies according to size and pipe filling on half, using the other half to form a sandwich.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bourbon-Brown Sugar Grilled Chicken


Ahhh Memorial Day weekend.  The unofficial start of summer.  Despite having such a horrendous winter, I feel like the summer really snuck up on us.  But here we are, on the last day of school, staring summer right in the face.  To the lazy mornings, afternoons spent at the pool, impromptu trips to the ice cream shop, and evenings playing outside:  I welcome you with open arms!  And to grilling dinner every night:  I welcome you with open arms as well!

And to incorporating bourbon into dinner:  Joey welcomes that with open arms!  He is definitely a bourbon and scotch guy, so I knew this dinner would be a home run with him.  Spoiler alert:  it was.

It's also super easy and low-maintenance.  You mix together  super simple marinade, let it do it's thing for several hours, then grill it up.   Thanks to the brown sugar and sugar from the bourbon, you get gorgeous grill marks, and amazing caramelization on the chicken.  It's good stuff.  If you want another punch of bourbon-brown sugar flavor (which, I'm sure you do), you can boil the marinade and thicken it it into a luscious sauce.  For spooning over the chicken.  Or for eating by the spoonful.  I won't judge.

Don't like chicken?  This would be fantastic with pork tenderloin, steak, or even salmon.  Go wild!

Bourbon-Brown Sugar Grilled Chicken
adapted from Southern Living, All Fired Up
serves 4-6

  • 2 lbs boneless-skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup minced green onions, plus more for serving
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • large pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
Trim the chicken of any visible fat.  

In a gallon-sized freezer bag, combine the brown sugar, green onions, bourbon, soy sauce, mustard, and peppers.  Close the bag and shake to mix well.  Season the chicken lightly with salt, and add to the bag with the marinade.  

Seal the bag and chill in the refrigerator for 8 hours, or up to overnight.

Preheat the grill to 350-400 degrees (medium-high heat).  Reserve the marinade, and grill the chicken about 7 minutes per side, or until it registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer.  Remove the chicken from the grill, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

As the chicken rests, pour the marinade into a small saucepan and whisk in the cornstarch.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes.

Slice the chicken, drizzle the sauce over the top, and sprinkle with sliced green onions.  Serve.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Baked Penne with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Goat Cheese


Some flavors and ingredients just inherently go together, and in my humble opinion, roasted red peppers and goat cheese are one of them.  I've been making this pasta for the past two years, and I'm sorry to say that I'm only now sharing it with you.

The sauce is a simple roasted red pepper sauce, with the addition of some cheese, shallots, herbs, and a little lemon.  A pinch of red pepper flakes give it just a hint of spice, and the luxurious and vibrant sauce coats the pasta beautifully.  A mixture of goat and ricotta cheeses dot the top of the baked pasta dish, and the creamy cheese with the bold sauce just work.  I always add a little shredded chicken for some extra protein, but this is great as a vegetarian meal as well.

This baked pasta dish is super easy to prep, and is perfect for serving to guests.  Something about this dish seems just so "springtime" to me, so that's when I make it the most.  Therefore, I of course always serve it with simple roasted asparagus, and a light white wine.

Roasted Red Peppers + Goat Cheese = True Love Forever.

Baked Penne with Roasted Red Peppers and Goat Cheese
adapted from Pasta Revolution
serves 4

  • 8 oz (2 1/2 cups) dried penne pasta
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) ricotta cheese
  • 4 oz goat cheese, softened
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups roasted red peppers, patted dry and chopped coarse (3-4 peppers)
  • 2 oz Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 tsp minced fresh thyme
  • 1 Tbs fresh basil, plus more for serving
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
Heat the oven to 450 degrees and lightly grease an 8-inch square baking dish.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, season with 1 tablespoon of salt, and add the pasta.  Cook until it is just shy of al dente, 8 to 9 minutes.  Drain the pasta and return to the pot.

Meanwhile, mix the ricotta, goat cheese, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of oil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a medium bowl.  Set aside.

In a food processor, combine the peppers, Parmesan, remaining 5 tablespoons of oil, parsley, shallot, thyme, garlic, basil, lemon juice, and roasted red paper flaws,  Season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.  Puree until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary.  Taste and season with additional salt and paper as needed.

Add the sauce to the pot with the pasta, and stir in the chicken.  Mix well to combine.  Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish, and drop dollops of the cheese mixture over the top.

Bake until bubbly and browning, about 15 minutes.  Allow to cool 10 to 15 minutes, sprinkle additional basil over the top, and serve.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Butterscotch Pudding Popsicles

Sweet summertime is so close I can almost taste it.  Admittedly the idea of four kids all day every day all summer is a bit daunting, we have a lot going on this summer, and I feel pretty confident that we'll have a great time together.  Caroline told me last night that she needs to make a list of all the things she wants to do this summer (list making - definitely something she inherited from me!).  When I asked her what she wants to include on the list, she rattled off a few things, and then said "and eat a LOT of ice cream!."  Done and done, sweet girl.

While these pudding pops aren't technically ice cream, neither Caroline or I will quibble over it.  In fact, we will (and did) enthusiastically demolish them in record time.  Growing up, butterscotch was always one of my favorite flavors, and butterscotch pudding was one of my favorite desserts, so these popsicles were definitely a nostalgic blast.  Kind of like eating a frozen Werther's Originals.

 I foresee a lot of popsicles and ice cream in our near future.  Get ready.

Butterscotch Pudding Popsicles
barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup tightly packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt (fleur de sel)
  • 1 Tbs cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups milk

Combine the cream, brown sugar and butter in the bottom of a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally in the beginning, and more frequently as it reduces and thickens. You’ll know it’s done when it darkens a bit, thickens, and begins to smell toasty.

Stir in the cornstarch and slowly whisk in milk. Increase heat to medium. Cook, stirring frequently, until it thickens slightly, anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla and sea salt. Taste mixture and adjust salt, if needed.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl.

Cool mixture to room temperature before pouring into popsicle molds. 

Pour into popsicle molds and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Deconstructed Falafel Salad

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit how much queso I've consumed in the past week.  It's staggering.  I'm equal parts proud and disgusted by myself, but I have definitely come to the conclusion that I need to lighten things up quite a bit.  Is it just me, or anytime you make a conscious decision to eat more vegetables, or salad or just healthier in general, all you want is major comfort food?  Like the deep-fried kind?

Falafel is definitely comfort food to me.  I love to eat falafel piled high with lots of other toppings - tomatoes, lettuce, sometimes even tzatziki sauce.  And of course it's all wrapped up in a big, soft, warm pita.  Ahhhhh.

Well, let me be clear and tell you that you won't think you're eating a falafel when you eat this salad.  However, it's really really good in its own right.  It's not so much meant to taste like a falafel, but to mimic some of the flavors.  In the healthiest way possible, of course.

This chopped salad has chickpeas, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lots of fresh herbs.  It's dressed in a lemon-cumin-tahini dressing that is so good you'll want to eat it by the spoonful.  And then it's tossed with some crispy baked pita chips to round the whole thing out.

This is a pretty substantial salad, and I served it on it's own for dinner one night.  Especially for a vegetarian salad, this was surprisingly filling, and wouldn't you know?  I didn't even crave a fried sandwich that night.

Deconstructed Falafel Salad
barely adapted from Weeknight Wonders

I prepped everything in advance, then at dinnertime I simply tossed it all together, making this one of the easiest and quickest dinners ever.

  • 3 whole wheat pita pockets (each 6-8 inches in diameter)
  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 medium lemons
  • 3 Tbs Tahini
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 (15-oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups halved or quartered grape tomatoes
  • 1 large English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 4 scallions
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  

Cut each pita into 2 rounds.  Using 2 tablespoons total of the oil, lightly brush the pita rounds with the olive oil.  Cut each round into 8 wedges, and arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.  Sprinkle very lightly with salt.  Bake the pita triangles for about 8 minutes, or until they are lightly crisped and beginning to brown.  Allow to cool at least 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, juice the lemons into a large bowl (you need about 1/3 cup of juice).  Add the tahini, the remaining tablespoon of oil, the cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and cayenne.  Whisk well to combine.

To the bowl, add the chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, cilantro, mint, and parsley.  Add the pita chips to the bowl, and gently toss to combine everything with the dressing.  Serve immediately.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Tequila-Infused Chorizo Queso Fundido

I'm going on the record as saying that it is impossible to eat at a Mexican restaurant and NOT order a bowl of cheese dip.  Fact.  It's also a fact that no matter how big the bowl is, or how many of you there are at the table, the dip will be absolutely demolished.  You'll be scraping the bowl for any little vestige of melted cheese you can get on your chip.  I know I'm not the only one.

So now that it's out there what a big fan of queso dip I am, let me tell you another fact.  This tequila-infused chorizo queso?  Blows all other cheese dips out of the water.  Like, majorly.  It's the stuff Mexican food dreams are made of.  What, you don't have dreams about Mexican food?

In case you can't tell, I really really love this dip.  Melted cheese is pretty fantastic on it's own, but adding tequila?  And chorizo?  That turns it into perfection.

I don't care what your plans are for this weekend, or for Cinco de Mayo.  But please promise me that you'll make this dip?  I'm contemplating making it Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night.  Overkill?

Tequila-Infused Chorizo Queso Fundido
adapted from Fiesta at Rick's
serves 4ish

  • 6 oz fresh chorizo, casings removed
  • canola oil
  • 1 large tomato, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • 1 jalapeƱo pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped (optional - the chorizo may be enough spice for you on it's own.  Just use your judgment based on your spice preferences)
  • salt
  • 3 Tbs silver tequila
  • 8 oz Mexican melting cheese, such as chihuahua or quesadilla, or Monterey Jack
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro, divided
Heat an 8 to 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat, and crumble the chorizo into the pan.  Cook, stirring often to break up the chunks, until the chorizo is cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the chorizo to a paper towel-lined plate.

Add enough canola oil to have a total of 1 tablespoon of fat in the skillet, and add the onion, tomatoes, and chile peppers.  Season lightly with salt.  Cook, stirring often, until the onion begins to soften and brown, about 5 to 7 minutes.  

Add the tequila and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tequila has reduced to a thick glaze, about a minute or two.  Stir in half the cilantro.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the cheese, a handful at a time, stirring well to melt the cheese.  As soon as the cheese is melted, remove the skillet from heat, sprinkle the chorizo and remaining cilantro over the top, and serve with tortilla chips and/or warm flour tortillas.