Thursday, March 29, 2012

Meat anyone? A Trip to Hamburg

Quick- what are the five food groups in the US?
-Protein,Grains, Fruits/Veggies, Dairy and Fats

You know what the five food groups are in Germany?
-Pork, Beef, Sausage, Beer and Cheese.

A friend told me that even vegetables in Germany are meat after her trip there last Summer.
Yeah, what that actually means is that all meals in Germany include meat, and then some more meat in case you plate starts to be a little light.  You chances of getting a full dose of veggies is pretty slim, and almost none.I do actually exaggerate here, but the portions include surprising portions of meat.

A rowdy group of us went to a Hofbrauhaus Muchen in Hamburg.  It's a pretty famous chain with a traditional beer hall atmosphere and servers in leiderhosen and dirndls carrying 4-5 beers in each hand.  Which is some feat considering the size of the beers, but more on that later.

Here is a picture of my dinner that included a pork shank as big as my head. 
Hardly joking here... 
I ordered it as a lark, because I wasn't feeling too schnitzly or into sausages.  It's an entire pork shank... um, roasted and then deep fried to make it crispy. If you like pork rinds, you will like this.
It came with a perfectly round potato dumpling with a yummy, thick texture. I wanted to hate it, but I couldn't.  Even my side of coleslaw included a topping of bacon. It was amazing, tangy with vinegar instead of mayonnaise and them liberally sprinkled with thick, chunky bacon. Of course, the meal isn't complete without a bunch of gravy.

I couldn't eat more than a third of this meal, and was duly impressed to see the woman behind me at the long table at the beer hall finished every last nugget and morsel on her plate. The bone was licked clean. Wow, wow.  I was probably 4 inches taller and 30 lbs heavier than that woman and she totally ate me under the table. I wanted to get a picture of her plate, but good manners kept me from taking a picture.  I may have stared a little though...

Now onto the beer. I mean "bring on the beer".... we may have chanted that at some point during the evening.
Everyone knows beer is big business in Germany.  Here's a photo of me toasting with my beer.  See my smile, it's actually hiding a grimace of pain that is shooting up my arm from lifting this thing.  I watched some to remain unnamed people at my table drink more than one of these.
More than three.... actually, I'm pretty sure it was four.
I assure you I ordered the ladylike size of beer after this one.

I considered hoisting that pork shank over my head for a photo opportunity, but all that drippy gravy made me reconsider.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Pina Colada Martini

Not too sweet... just the way I like it.
Usually I would never order a pina colada, even though I love fruit and coconut.  
Usually they are just too sweet.  Not this one... it's just right.
I used canned light coconut milk (from Trader Joe's- best value anywhere at 99 cents) which cuts much of the extra sugar that is added to those icky mixers.

It's the first nice day n the Pacific Northwest over 50 degrees.  
Almost Summer weather for us... hahaha.
I needed some FUN to kick off our weekend.

Not sure why I was dreaming up martinis on the drive home.  
Tough week, you say?  Maybe. 
Still, a good week and an even better one to come.  
Heading to Germany on Sunday for a business trip.  I promise to do lots of food and beverage research in addition to my real job.

Hope you like this one, I think it's a keeper.

Serves 1

1 jigger vodka (or rum, which is traditional in a Pina Colada)
1 jigger light coconut milk
2 jiggers juice, mango or pineapple
1/2 jigger triple sec, or other orange liqueur
1/2 jigger creme de banana liqueur

Pour all the ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker.  Shake. Shake, Shake.
Strain and serve.
Yum. Yum. Yum.
Enjoy. Enjoy. Enjoy.

Repeat as necessary.

Here's some more of my favorite martinis!

Burning Ring of Fire Martini
Coconut Water Martini
Honey Badger Martini

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Maui Cookies

Chewy, Crispy, Crunchy....  everything all in one cookie.
Coconut, chocolate, nuts, dried mango and dried pineapple.  Everything yummy to make a tropical paradise cookie.

It all started with a Pepperidge Farm package on a co-workers desk, it said MAUI cookies.  Yum, I thought as I walked by... what would a Maui cookie have in it?
So I started my food day dreaming on all the things I would add as I walked to my next meeting.
What a disappointment to come home and check out Pepperidge Farms site to see that their cookies have coconut and chocolate in them. And? And?  Nope, that's all.

So I kept thinking about my original idea, and decided to come up with something that lived up to MY expectations. When I was happy to my creation,  I brought in a plate to share at a meeting (call it bribery to get people to come to a meeting if you like) and they were enthusiastically received. Even those people who say they don't like coconut said the coconut wasn't over powering and get "stuck in their throats" (like some people in my extended family say about it).  Since I happen to be a major coconut lover, I really can't understand that feeling, but I am glad that everyone liked these!

About the nuts, you could definitely leave them out, but I might recommend that chopped macadamia nuts would be a fantastic addition.  I used almonds, because, dang it, I was fresh out of macadamia nuts! I do recommend that you use MINI chocolate chips... I think that big chocolate chips might over power the other flavors and textures.  The mini chips really just enhance the others.  
But really, it's all about what YOU want.  
Don't you just love it when people say that to you?

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen 2" cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour             
1 teaspoon baking soda           
1/4 teaspoon salt                      
3/4 cup butter  (1 1/2 sticks)           
1/2 cup granulated sugar            
1/3 cup light brown sugar         
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract                 
1 egg                                      
1/2 cup rolled oats, blended
1/2 cup almonds or macadamia nuts, sliced or chopped                   
1 cup chocolate chips, (I used mini chips)
1/2 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
1/2 cup dried mango, chopped
1/2 cup dried pineapple, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a blender, or a food processor, blend your oats until they are pulverized into a flour type texture.  I found that 1/2 cup whole oats equaled 1/2 cup oat flour. Whisk together the oat flour, the white flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

On medium speed, cream together the butter and both sugars together about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat to combine. On low speed, gradually add the flour until just combined. Stir in the oat 'flour', nuts, coconut, chocolate and dried fruit.

Bake for 10-11 minutes.  I froze pre-made cookie dough balls and baked frozen for 12-14 minutes, and it worked out great.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Everyone likes that Spinach & Artichoke dip, don't they?
Why not put that in chicken?  Oh yeah...

I'm giving you a simple version of spinach artichoke dip for stuffing in this chicken.
But if I had some already made (let's say that big tub they sell at Costco, or something) then I would certainly use that.  I only did 2 chicken breasts, so I had leftover filling which I promptly mixed with some leftover rice pilaf for a nice side dish.

I used my new cast iron fry pan, which I love, love, love!!!  I totally recommend you get one- try Target and not some fancy schmancy cookware store.  I paid $14.99 for my 10" skillet and I laughed all the way to the checkout since I almost bought one for twice that somewhere else!
The pan is pre-seasoned and very non-stick, which surprised me.  You just scrub it out (without soap- - -no soap), dry it off and spray it with a little oil.  That way it's ready to go when you need it next time.  I've been keeping it on top of my stove, at the ready any time.  I love it.  My poor All Clad fry pan may never see the light of day again.

(bread crumbs not shown)
Serves 4

Olive oil, for cooking
4 chicken breasts, butterflied (see below)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can artichoke hearts, chopped
1/3 cup bread crumbs
2-3 cups spinach, chopped
4 oz cream cheese (about 1/2 pkg)
1/2 cup feta, or Parmesan

Freshly ground pepper

1 bunch green onions, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes
3/4 cup white wine
2 Tbsp butter, cold

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Butterfly your chicken breasts.  To butterfly just means to partially cut them in half, horizontally, without going all the way through.  It's not hard to do, just try to get equal thicknesses on both sides of the chicken so that it cooks evenly.

I almost always use fresh spinach, chopped and steamed in the microwave instead of frozen chopped spinach.  If you have that, go ahead and use about a half box of thawed, frozen spinach. I don't like it because it's never thawed when I'm ready for it and I seem to get that stuff everywhere! I chopped up about 2-3 cups of packed fresh, baby spinach, put it in a bowl covered with plastic and microwaved for about 3 minutes. When it cools you can squeeze it dry if it has lots of liquid in in.  In the same bowl, I added the chopped artichokes, the garlic, the cream cheese and the feta and mixed to combine.

I added about 1/3 cup of filling to each chicken breast, at the fold area, and covered it up with the top layer. Carefully lay each piece in an ovenproof fry pan and brown each side of the chicken.  Be very careful when you flip it that the filling doesn't ooze out. 

When the chicken has a little brown color, pop the whole pan in the oven to finish cooking.  It should take about 20 minutes in the oven.  You don't want undercooked chicken, but overcooking it isn't nice either. I always poke it with my finger to test, it should be firm, but not hard. If it's hard, it's probably overcooked...
Remove the chicken breasts to your plates and make a quick sauce in the pan.

Here is was my pan l used to make my sauce.  Yeah, it doesn't look so good but it made a good sauce.

Add the wine and using a spatula scrape up the browned bits, and even any leftover filling.  Keep the wine handy in case you need more.  Add the tomatoes and the chopped green onions and saute until the tomatoes start to burst.  Add the cold butter and stir.  Pour over the chicken and serve!

I used about a cup of wine because my pan was a little hot and it started to cook down too quick.  So I added more!  Also, I might use halved cherry tomatoes instead next time, as these little units were super hot when we sat down to dinner, I don't recommend popping them whole into your mouth right away!!!

One more note about the wine, some astute wine drinkers may notice that I am using cheap $2 buck "Chuck" from Trader Joe's.  I know that they say to only use wine you would drink, but c'mon, if I have a nice $30 bottle of wine, I am NOT putting it my sauce. Just not gonna do it.  I use the Sauvignon Blanc from Trader Joe's, I find it reduces nicely unlike a oakey chardonnay.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Chicken, Quinoa & Butternut Squash Stew

A flavorful, delicious meal that comes together quickly, and is also gluten free. The butternut squash was a nice touch and didn't add too much sweetness to this one dish meal.

I found this recipe on another food blog called Cookin' Canuck, and I immediately saw how yummy and easy this would be.  I mostly followed the recipe, but felt it could be even better with a little lemon zest and some capers.  Either way,  this is so good.

A couple of notes:
Don't rush the stew at the end when you add the quinoa.  I served mine about 20 minutes after I added the quinoa, but the stew looked much thicker after it sat for another half hour and the grains continued to expand.  I had the leftovers a couple more times for lunches and it was so great; thick and satisfying.

I also think this would be an even quicker dinner if you used cooked, shredded chicken instead of cooking the chicken thighs yourself. 

Serves about 6

    1 1/2 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded & chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
    3 1/2 cups chicken broth, or water
    1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
    1 tbsp olive oil
    1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
    1 bell pepper (red, orange or yellow) chopped
    4 cloves garlic, minced
    1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
    1 can (14 oz) petite diced tomatoes
    2/3 cup uncooked quinoa
    3/4 cup pitted and quartered kalamata olives
    1-2 Tbsp  capers, drained (optional)
    1 tsp lemon zest (optional)
    Salt and Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Steam the butternut squash until barely tender, about 10 minutes, or microwave, covered in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for about the same amount of time. Remove half of the squash pieces and set aside.   Steam the remaining squash until very tender, an additional 4 to 6 minutes. Mash this squash with the back of a fork. Set aside.
Cut the chicken thighs into bite size chunks.  They do tend to shrink when cooked, so cutting each thigh into 6 pieces probably works great for bite size.  Working in batches, brown over medium high heat in a little olive oil, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Set aside on a plate.

In the same pan, add onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is starting to turn brown, 8 to 10 minutes.    Add minced garlic and oregano. Cook, stirring, for 1 additional minute.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add tomatoes, water (or stock)  butternut squash pieces and mashed butternut squash. Stir to combine. Add the chicken pieces (and any accumulated juices), the dry quinoa and the onion mixture. Bring to a simmer about 15-20 minutes, or until the quinoa is fully cooked.

Add the olives, lemon zest and capers into the stew and simmer, uncovered, to heat, about 5 minutes. Stir in parsley and serve.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chorizo, Chipotle Cornbread Stuffing

Sweet, spicy and a delicious side dish that totally satisfies.

It all started with a half a pan of leftover cornbread.
Leftover... and left in someone's trunk over night from the potluck the day before.
Cold, old cornbread doesn't thrill me... probably not many people.
The two of us are just NOT going to eat 8-9 pieces of leftover cornbread, even if I do make awesome cornbread.
I was poised and ready to scrape that mess into the compost bin.
But ya know, a thought came to me.
What about stuffing?  I love, love my Sourdough Sausage Stuffing that I do at Thanksgiving, and I would never replace it with something else because the way the family whines and complains when something is "different" at the blessed event.  But this stuff is good, really good... heck I may even make two stuffings this November. I can talk big in March about Thanksgiving... hahaha, come November, I will dream about running away to the Tropics and not cooking a thing.

(chicken broth not shown)

Serves about 6

5-6 cups cornbread, cubed or crumbled
8 oz chorizo
1/2 onion, chopped
3-4 small celery stalks with leaves, minced
3-4 green onions, sliced small
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1-2 cups broth
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to about 300 degrees.  Toast the cubed cornbread for about 20-25 minutes, until the cubes are getting dry and crunchy, but not browned. 

Saute the onions, celery and garlic in a pan with a little olive oil.  Add in the chorizo and break up the meat into the veggies, cooking it for about 10 minutes until the meat is cooked through and the veggies are soft. Add the minced chipotles and stir thoroughly.

Add the toasted cornbread chunks to the chorizo and veggie mixture.  Toss to combine.  Add about 1 cup of broth and stir some more.  Check the consistency to see if you want to add more broth.  You want the dressing to be damp, but not sopping wet.  You could eat the stuffing immediately, but it is really good to add to a greased baking dish and bake for another 15-20 minutes until the top gets crispy.  

Don't over think this here... go with the flow and do what feels good.  We served this will a grilled chicken breast and some roasted asparagus and it was a very nice dinner.

You could make this ahead and get it ready to throw in the oven to re-heat and crisp up for another big dinner (like Easter, or Thanksgiving).  Heck, you could throw some eggs on top of it and bake it until they are set and the stuffing is hot for a fantastic brunch dish, or simple dinner.

Here's a picture of a small baking dish of the stuffing.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Salted Cashew & Toffee Cookies

Salty cashews and toffee?  Oh yes please!

Saw this recipe on Pinterest and thought it looked great. It's from a cute little site called "Bake Up Little Suzy".  I really wanted to make another recipe with chocolate and peanut butter, but was sadly lacking in peanut butter at my house.  I am not even sure how that happened, I don't think I've ever been without peanut butter before.

When I saw this recipe I knew I had a little leftover bag of salted cashews in there and also a half bag of toffee pieces.  Bingo!  I made these.  My only change to this recipe was to add more cashews, the original one cup just didn't do it for me.  Also, I made very flat cookies, mine didn't look anything like the beautifully fat cookies in the other blog. 

I really wish I knew why my cookies are so flat. 
Don't say it's the butter/margarine/Crisco, the pans, the eggs and temperature of the butter etc.  I have heard all these pointers and tried them all too.  Not matter what, I always make flat cookies.  My hubby and son say flat cookies are their favorite, and that's enough reason for me to keep making cookies.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

    1 cup butter, softened
    1 cup white sugar
    1 cup packed brown sugar
    2 eggs
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    3 cups all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    2 teaspoons hot water
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 1/3 cups toffee pieces
    1 1/2 cups cashew halves and pieces

Preheat oven to 350.
Cream together the butter and sugars until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Dissolve the baking soda in hot water and add to batter along with salt. Stir in the flour, toffee pieces, and nuts. Drop by spoonfuls onto ungreased pans.
Bake for about 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are nicely browned.

Here's some other good cookie recipes:
Butterscotch, Almond, Oatmeal Cookies
Lemon-Lime Basil Shortbread Cookies
Molasses Cookies, Mom's
Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread- Millionaire's Shortbread

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Southwestern Chop Chop Veggie Salad

This salad has a sweet but tangy & zesty flavor.  The corn and the Jicama add the sweetness and the lime give it a lively flavor. It's perfect to serve with any kind of Mexican food, like
Chicken Tortilla Soup or Mexican Chicken Posole Stew , or anything else you can think of.  It 's very healthy and a great way to get people to eat their veggies.

Ok, so it DOES involve lots of chopping, but it ISN'T called "Chop Chop Salad" for nothing!
Really, it comes together quickly. Somehow I like chopping, it's mindless (just be careful) and what a great way to get all your aggressions out... oh, better scratch that, if sounds kind of scary!

This was intended as a salad, but I noticed that I served it many people used it as a salsa with their chips.  Whatever makes you happy, makes me happy.

In case you are not familiar with Jicama, the picture below shows only a half of one.  It's a big dull brown potato looking thing and it's probably with the tomatoes or potatoes away from the chilled areas.  It's got a slightly sweet, crunchy texture that this great for snacking on, and in salads. I love it...

This made quite a large amount of salad, so you may want to halve it if you don't need too much.

Serves about 8-10, but easy to make half recipe!

2 cups corn, thawed if using frozen
2 cups Jicama, diced
2 cups English cucumber, diced
1 bell pepper (orange, red or yellow is best- sweet & pretty)
2 jalapenos, seeded, and minced
1 carton grape tomatos, halved
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
2 limes, juiced
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 small can(s) sliced olives
1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1-2 tsp salt, or to taste

Chop the jicama, cucumber and the bell pepper in similar diced size.  Combine the chopped veggies with the corn, green onions, jalapenos, tomatoes and olives.  Add the olive oil and toss to coat.  Add seasonings and cilantro and toss again. Squeeze in the lime juice and toss again.  Let it sit for 15-20 minutes before serving... if you can wait!

Here are some other yummy veggie salads:
Southwestern Edamame Salad
Couscous Black Bean Salad
Lemon, Onion and Cucumber Salad 
Marinated Tofu and Edamame Salad
Orange, Fennel, Ginger & Arugula Salad

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kiwi Lime Pie Martini

Tangy, sweet, fresh and delicious.... just right for a tough day.

I've been thinking of a Key Lime Pie Martini for a while.
One day last week, I saw Giada DeLaurentis do a Peartini where she blended and then strained the pear into the booze.  That  got me thinking, why not a kiwi-tini?  Heck, why not a Kiwi Lime Pie Martini???

Well, today was the day... the long, crazy day at work that just lent itself to making a martini before you even thought about what you wanted for dinner.
Afterwards, who cares what's for dinner?

One note about this martini, I didn't bother to seed the kiwi's but there were a bunch of seeds left in the glass when we were done.  I didn't care, but if that kind of stuff bothers you, you might want to take the seeds out before you blend, or get a really fine sieve.

Makes one martini
1 kiwi, peeled and chopped
1/2 lime, juiced
1 1/2 jiggers vanilla vodka
1 jigger whipped cream vodka, or cupcake vodka
1 jigger simple syrup (if a sweeter martini is desired)
2 Tbsp graham cracker crumbs

Fill one medium plate with water, and one plate with graham cracker crumbs.
Dip the rim of your martini glass into the water and then dip into a plate of graham cracker crumbs.  Set aside while you make your martini.

Blend  the peeled and chopped kiwi, add all the lime juice and liquor; blend very well. 
Blend VERY well... You want it to be as smooth as possible. 
Add the blended mixture to your cocktail shaker filled with ice.  Strain into a glass and serve!

Here's some more of my favorite martinis:
Burning Ring of Fire Martini
Coconut Water Martini
Honey Badger Martini

Monday, March 5, 2012

Marinated Tofu and Edamame Salad

I know its kind of weird to be inspired by the salad bar at work...
But, it's true, it happened. It was just .... so ... dull; I needed to fix it.

But I always get the marinated tofu at the work salad bar, because I like the idea.
The firmness, the flavor (almost there...) and the pure protein. 
I haven't always been a tofu fan, but I have decided that I like the firm texture and find it's a very versatile way to make an easy meal.

First, you need to marinate the tofu. It takes a while to penetrate the tofu, so I'd plan ahead and do it the day before you want it.  You could use the marinated tofu for many things, like adding to the top of a green salad, a nibbley appetizer, on top of steamed rice or mixed into the salad below.

I used frozen, shelled edamame beans from the frozen food section, it's so easy to add protein to salads that way, and I love the taste too!

I'm not sure I can call this "vegan friendly" because I am questioning whether or not soy sauce is vegan.  If you are vegan, you probably know...

Serves 4-6
16 oz. firm or extra firm tofu, cubed
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp garlic hot pepper paste
salt and pepper

1 cup edamame beans, shelled and thawed
1 cup English cucumber, cubed
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 bell pepper, diced
5-6 green onions, minced
Salt and Pepper

Drain and cube the tofu.  Mix the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, garlic pepper sauce and sesame oil.  Gently mix and refrigerate over night.

When your tofu is marinated, combine the chopped veggies listed above with the tofu and any of the leftover marinade/dressing.  Add salt and pepper to taste, adding more sesame oil or garlic hot sauce as needed.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup

Satisfying with delicious exotic flavors. It also happens to be vegetarian and vegan friendly too.

Be sure to find mid-Eastern red lentils, they are different from the regular brown kind.  Many better grocery stores have them, check the bulk found section! I found my package at a large Asian supermarket that also has a Middle Eastern/Indian aisle.

This soup comes together in a snap, about 30 minutes from start to sitting at the table.  Served with a green salad it made a very nice dinner  with lots of leftovers to take for lunch.

This recipe was originally featured in Food & Wine February 2012.
But I made some changes, because that's what I like to do! 

Serves 6-8

2 Tbsp olive oil (or butter)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
3 celery ribs, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
2 cans (14 oz each) diced tomatoes and their juice
2 cups red lentils
Juice of one lemon
2 tsp lemon zest
8 cups water, or broth
Salt and pepper

In a large pot, add the oil (or butter) and cook  the onion, carrots, celery, jalapeno and garlic over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander and chile powder and cook until fragrant, 3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and zest, tomatoes, lentils and 8 cups of water.  Simmer over moderately low heat until the lentils are very soft, 30 minutes.

It looks pretty good as it is, I wish I had chopped the veggies more consistently, it would have been nice to eat it "chunky".  Next time?

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, or use a stick blender. Season with salt and serve with lemon wedges and warm pita. Non-vegans may want to try a dollop of plain yogurt on top of their soup.