Zita's Red Raspberry Pie

Monday, June 30, 2014

This past Christmas, my sisters-in-law found a bunch of handwritten family recipes, scanned them, and shared them with the rest of us. Most of them are desserts that my husband cherishes from his childhood - his grandma's chocolate cookies with white frosting were the first item we recreated. For Father's Day this year, I made him his great-grandmother Zita's red raspberry pie. Since this does not require the use of the oven at all, it could be a perfect addition to any Fourth of July spread.

Full disclosure: you're supposed to serve it with whipped cream. I attempted to make whipped cream from scratch and it just wouldn't inflate. Next time!

Since history is fun, here's the actual recipe:

Here's how, with J's help, I translated that:

2 cups raspberries (I went with three cartons of fresh)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Pre-baked pie crust (make from scratch or go with a grocery store cop out, like I did)

Dissolve cornstarch in 1/4 cup water. Once dissolved, add everything else into the pan.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until thickened. Remove from the stove and let it cool, then gently pour into your pie crust (I chose graham cracker).

Even with a 1/2 cup of sugar, this pie has a strong footing on the tangy end of the spectrum. And it's HOT PINK. And you get pie without having to turn on your oven in the middle of an 85 degree 90% humidity summer day! As always, I'm convinced I will screw up pie dough made from scratch so I wussed out with store bought, but someday I'll get there. Today is not that day. However, the pie is delicious, my husband's face lit up with childhood memories bite after bite after bite, and, you know, it's hot pink. I love pretty food.

Smitten Kitchen's Chopped Salad

Friday, June 27, 2014

Earlier this month, I saw a chopped salad recipe post on Smitten Kitchen. I flashed back to my first taste of what basically amounts to a bread-less Italian sub - my college-era waitressing job at California Pizza Kitchen.

I remember being initially gobsmacked - deli meat in a salad!? What a genius idea! I've eaten multiple iterations of this classic over the years and Deb's recipe inspired me to make one myself. Here's what I used:

1 head of radicchio (about the size of a baseball)
1 romaine heart
1 can Goya low sodium chickpeas
5-6 pieces of salami (they were small)
2 slices provolone cheese
5 orange peppadew peppers
1/2 shallot
1/3 lb green beans (eyeballed - I bought a 0.66 lb box by weight and used half)
10 sweet 100s quartered and de-seeded
(I ended up not using the avocado that's pictured)

As far as salads go, this one actually took awhile to prepare because I so thinly sliced as much as I could. I cut the radicchio and romaine slaw style and I loved the long, skinny pieces. Everything but the chickpeas went under the knife.

I went closely with SK's dressing recipe, but for the first time in my life I cut down the garlic.

2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons oregano
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 c red wine vinegar
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

In her recipe, she directs you to grind the garlic and oregano together into a paste-like consistency. Mushing the garlic and oregano together seemed useless, but I went for it and it ended up being genius. You know how you make a sauce or a dressing and it's better as time passes? The best example of this is, of course, the widely accepted law of physics that Cole Slaw Is Better The Next Day. Somehow, grinding the two flavors together tasted as if I'd let them marry for a day or so in the fridge. I have to try this technique with other dressings I'll make this summer.

So colorful! I mixed everything but dressing in my huge wooden salad bowl and realized that I would not be eating the entire thing myself. I served about 1/3 of it into a serving bowl and dressed it there. Yes, I prefer to eat salads in MASSIVE bowls so I can toss everything together.

This is a hit - totally worth the prep time. It's crunchy, it's got zing from the hot peppers and the raw garlic, it has perfect salty bites from the cheese and salami. I think my favorite addition was the sliced green beans - a nod to the Niçoise salad, yes, but they brought such a crisp, sweet texture to the mix that could not be beat. I kept the remaining 2/3 of the un-dressed salad in a Ziploc. Two nights later, I tossed it up with the remaining dressing and it was still as crunchy and delicious, but with the added bonus of Second Day Cole Slaw deliciousness!

Wine Wednesday: 2009 Alderbrook Chardonnay Russian River Valley

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Today's Wine Wednesday post features 2009 Alderbrook Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley.

Look at that bright golden color! It's like Belle's ballgown. I really enjoyed this wine. A little more expensive than I'd buy for a weeknight ($20 range), but the flavors were so on point. A lot of bright fruit on the nose and then a really buttery caramel flavor once you sip. Mainly, it makes me want to hop on a plane back to California for an RRV wine tasting trip with my LA friend Laura!

T's Tomatillo Slow Cooker Chicken

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sometimes, I find a recipe I want to make, I take a bunch of pictures with the intention of writing it up and posting it here, and then the end result is terrible. Most of the time, it's terrible because I've messed something up, but in the case of this recipe, I'm pretty sure it just needed edits.

Along that vein, do people really cook boneless skinless chicken breasts on the stove top in a pan? Sure, pound them out thin and you can get some scallopini going, but a full, juicy chicken breast? On the stovetop? And what is this tip: "Don't pull at it or mess with it until it pulls away from the pan easily." This has never happened for me. Ever. 100% of the times that I've tried pan cooking BSCBs, they have stuck to the pan and ripped, no matter how long I leave it alone to cook.

The bottom line here is this: I loved the flavors and wanted them again. I'd never cooked with tomatillos but they have such a bright green zingy flavor - kind of like green bell peppers but different. I decided to make the delicious sauce a night ahead and use it over chicken in the slow cooker. I'd promised my friend T that I'd develop a suitable Taco Tuesday slow cooker chicken for her without red salsa, so I hope this fits the bill!

Take off the papery outside covering - they're sticky inside and it weirded me out at first, but the internet assured me that it's normal and to not rinse it too hard since it adds to the overall flavor. Then, roast them whole, alongside garlic cloves and halved jalapeños. Take out the ribs (the white part inside) and seeds if you want a less spicy sauce. The first time I made it, I just went with those, but the second (successful!) time, I also used up a half red onion lounging around in the fridge. I'd highly recommend including it, I loved the flavor addition.

Our oven heating element is on the bottom, so instead of broiling I just set it to 500° and roasted the veggies on the bottom-most rack for 10 minutes, turning everything over once halfway through.

Let them cool a few minutes, then add into a blender with stock, a bit of flour, and fresh cilantro. I know that people are sometimes ANTI cilantro, so leave it out if you're on that side of things.

I did this in two batches and netted a little bit more than 4 cups of sauce - this bottle I stored it in overnight is 32 ounces and the overflow went into the random orange cup, in case you needed any reminding that I am a scrappy home cook.

I covered the orange cup with plastic wrap and refrigerated both vessels overnight. The main flavor component of the dish is now done. You could use this sauce in a ton of different ways. For one, you could simply pour the sauce over chicken breasts and bake them til they're cooked through. Or, do as I did, and cover a bunch of bone-in chicken thighs with the sauce in the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 - 10 hours.

I served this dish both times over cauliflower rice. I used Gina's recipe, went WAY overboard with lime one of the times, but otherwise love this stuff. It's a good low-carb swap and we're pretty huge cauliflower fans to begin with, so this was a win-win.

Next time, I'd reserve some of the sauce from the slow cooker and reduce it on the stove top for the final plate. The beautiful green color faded somewhat in the slow cooker, but I could also remedy that with a fresh herb garnish.

All in all - don't be scared by the weird papery green tomato-lookin' things in your produce section. Try them out in this sauce!

Sweet Potato Stacks + Old Bay Pork

Monday, June 23, 2014

I am a meat and potatoes kinda girl. Sure, I can get down with a kale-spiked smoothie and consider hummus and carrot sticks a well-balanced meal. But when push comes to shove, a hearty plate is what makes my heart sing.

This recipe for Rosemary Sweet Potato Stackers caught my eye. I didn't use as much cheese or the coconut oil (I used vegetable), but otherwise the recipe is pretty simple. Slice sweet potatoes thin (I used my mandoline), toss in oil, season with fresh rosemary, layer them in greased muffin tins, and bake!

I'm really glad that she notes in the recipe that the rounds will shrink down once you start baking. I worried I'd bought sweet potatoes that were too chubby for the muffin tins.

You cook these up for 45 minutes or so at 375 degrees. I also threw in a marinated pork tenderloin simultaneously on the second rack.

The pork recipe comes from my friend B who writes Classic Annie. Her sweet mom cooked up Crab Chicken and the second I read the recipe, I knew it would be a regular addition to our lineup (and it is!). There are three ingredients: olive oil, apple cider vinegar (I've used red wine vin in a pinch), and Old Bay seasoning. We've made it with chicken but I also love it with pork.

I also sautéed some spinach with mustard seeds and garlic to add some extra vegetable goodness to the plate. Now, for the closeup once again:

The stackers are perfect - they have crispy edges and fluffy centers. They weren't as cheesy as the recipe likely intended, but I didn't miss it. I kind of loved the textural differences of the crunchy vs. soft and you cannot beat potatoes covered with the incredible aroma and flavor of the fresh rosemary. I also cannot say enough good things about the Old Bay marinade - if you're unfamiliar with Old Bay, go buy some and try this recipe. This entire dish will definitely appear on our menu again!

Five On Friday: Summer Cocktails!

Friday, June 20, 2014

I promised my friend, new mom April, that I'd share a delicious cocktail recipe, but decided to share five different drinks with TCK readers today as a part of her link up. Since tomorrow is the official start of summer, what better way to herald in a new season than by clinking a bunch of unique and delicious drinks?

1. Roman Holiday
This recipe comes from Katie At The Kitchen Door. I had to look up Amaro. Have you heard of it? I hadn't. The article I found about it likened it to sweet vermouth, which I love, so I planned on just swapping that in the recipe. Then, at our friendly neighborhood liquor store after a happy, energizing day at work, I spotted a gorgeous, almost vintage-looking bottle on the shelf. I must have been caught up in a Gregory Peck daydream because I bit the bullet on Amaro Montenegro.

The drink is a mix of rosemary-infused lemon-honey simple syrup, amaro, and prosecco. I knew April would love this - I learned about rosemary simple syrup from her ages ago!

Love, love, love La Marca. My mom bought it for me and my bridesmaids to sup upon while prepping for my wedding and it is crisp and refreshing and affordable.

It is PHENOMENAL. It's bubbly and refreshing, floral from the lemon and herbs, with an wonderfully rich, bitter undertone from the Amaro. I also highly recomment Food & Wine's excellent article about amaro that includes a very comprehensive run-down describing the different variations. (I know this because, four sips in, I nerded out and searched the whole web for info on amaro. I've used it other cocktails since and my love for it continues to grow.)

2. Tuscan Rosemary Lemon Drop
What to do with leftover rosemary... make more cocktails! The Nest mixed two of my favorite flavors - rosemary and lemon - in a delicious and refreshing beverage.

Their recipe calls for a plain simple syrup. I used more of the fresh rosemary and made a rosemary-infused simple syrup (I used 1/4 cup sugar and water). Then, mix in a shaker:

1 1/2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce limoncello
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce Rosemary Simple Syrup

I garnished with a slice of lemon. This is delicious. It's tangy and sweet all at the same time, with the great flavor and aroma from the rosemary. Definitely a winner!

This would also be outrageous in bulk for any kind of outdoor summer event. To lessen the alcohol component (or stretch your ingredients), you could also add in lemon-lime seltzer for a more refreshing twist.

3. Ginger Peach Iced Green Tea (non-alcoholic)
This recipe came about because I'm high maintenance. First, I have a tea obsession. It's Republic Of Tea Ginger Peach. Second, I'm pretty sensitive to caffeine so I opt for the decaf version. Lastly, I try to choose green tea when I can for both antioxidants and fewer-tooth-stain reasons. Let's call that "health" instead of "vanity", yes? I decided to DIY a caffeine-free green tea version of this flavor combination.

The ingredients:
12 cups of water
13 tea bags (I used decaf green by Twinings)
3 yellow peaches, pitted and sliced
1" knob of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
Lemon & honey to taste

Bring water to a boil in large pot. While water heats, embrace your OCD and tie one of the tea bag strings around the remaining 12 strings. It'll be easier to fish these out of the pool later on.

Once boiling, turn off heat and add tea bags, peaches, and ginger. Steep 10 minutes, then strain out the floaters.

Sample and season with honey and lemon to taste. Cool and then refrigerate until ready to serve.

I took a Tupperware bottle of this to my office and it's a really refreshing pick me up. Best of all, it hit all of my annoying must-haves - decaf, green tea, and the delicious spicy ginger and sweet peaches. I'll certainly be making more batches of this as summer wears on.

4. Mi-Madras
I'm taking a trip to The Cape in August and I cannot wait. A quaint little beach house a block from the beach, a big back yard with a grill, and all the fabulous beach cocktails I can stand. This basically means I'll revert to my college-era drink choices and opt for fruit juices glugged with vodka.

The Madras is one of my favorite cocktails - orange juice, cranberry juice (cocktail), and vodka over ice. I took inspiration from the fizzy Roman Holiday above to try a mimosa-esque twist.

I made a simple syrup from cranberries and orange juice (plus some zest). Once it steeped and cooled, I mixed it with an ounce of vodka and topped off the glass with prosecco (gasp, more La Marca). If you don’t want it to be quite as strong (sue me - I like alcohol in my alcoholic drinks) you could certainly swap club soda for the prosecco.

This drink was fruity, refreshing, and I loved the bubbly fizz. Plus, it's pink and pretty drinks are tastier, right?

5. Maker's Mademoiselle
Of all places, I found this recipe on the Pottery Barn website! It basically adds fresh citrus juice to a Mint Julep and I am now obsessed with this drink.

I didn't make a mint syrup - I simply ripped off a handful of fresh mint and muddled it in the bottom of a cocktail shaker with about a tablespoon of granulated sugar.

I also doubled all of the proportions to end up with two drinks. Finally, I added about 1/4 teaspoon of honey to the cocktail shaker to smooth out the bright citrus flavors.

I served it in my best ever antique store find - I got 11 of these coupes for $50. As such, the proportions of booze/juice to club soda had to be tweaked. I filled the glass about 3/4 with the mixture and then added a floater of the club soda on top. I loved the fizziness and lightness it brought to the drink, but also loved that the bold bourbon and zesty citrus flavors could take center stage.

Three cheers to the summer solstice! Make sure you can check out more cocktail concoctions on my Happy Hour Pinterest board!

Pretzel-Stuffed Chicken With Honey Mustard Sauce

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When I first saw a recipe for Pretzel-Crusted Chicken, my eyes grew wide. It’s like a crunchy chicken tender, but covered with that miraculous gift from the Salt Gods called pretzels? I want it.

I’ve tried a few different versions of Pretzel Chicken in the past, but I could never get the crust to stick. Or, I'd bake it and the pretzel crust on the bottom would get soggy and the top would be crisp. I all but gave up on a meal whose flavors I really do adore, until inspiration struck one day - why not put the pretzel crunchies on the inside?

I started with two boneless skinless chicken breasts and pounded them thin. Putting them between sheets of plastic wrap before pounding prevents your entire kitchen from being covered raw chicken splatter. (Raw Chicken Splatter, a weekend heavy metal band whose members are all Purdue farmers M-F. I could get behind this.) Separately and not photographed, I put about two large handfuls of pretzels in a zip-top bag and pounded them into mini chunks and crumbs. I skipped salt and pepper since the pretzels are already salty enough and liberally covered the pounded chicken with a good crust of pretzel. Then I rolled them up and tied with some pieces of kitchen twine. In the interest of not getting salmonella all over my iPhone, this is not documented either.

I knew these babies needed a sauce. Pretzels beg for mustard, crunchtastic chicken deserves honey mustard, and the following sauce was born:

1/4 c grainy mustard
1/4 c honey
1/2 c Dijon
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

The sauce is GOOD. The Dijon in my fridge is aggressively on the spicy side, so this sauce packed a punch. If you're making this yourself, feel free to adjust the proportions to your tastes. I drizzled about half of the sauce across the pretzel chicken bundles (also topped with some errant pretzel pieces) and baked them at 350° for about 25 minutes (a meat thermometer should register 165°).

Stunning. I served this with the same Brussels sprouts salad I posted on Monday and another hearty drizzle of the honey mustard sauce.

This is a winner. The sauce is so tangy yet sweet and was a perfect addition to the crunchy and tender chicken. I even used the leftovers a few days later on top of salmon. The combination of the grainy and Dijon mustards is such a great boost to the flavors. Again, this had a serious kick of heat to it because my Dijon is spicy, but it hurt so good. If I were making this for a crowd or especially if for kids, I'd temper down the heat with some more honey.

What did it look like when sliced?

Yup. Pretty much perfection. I doused every bite in the incredible sauce and loved every salty, crunchy morsel.

Lamb Loaf with Harissa Yogurt, Fresh Veggies, & Naan

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

So let's talk about these lamb sliders from yesterday.

J and I split the order of three at Five Mile Stone on 85th and Second a few weekends ago. The worst thing about them? There were only three. And I only ate one and a half. They were outrageously delicious. They came topped with very thinly sliced red onions, feta cheese, and harissa aioli. One spice in particular really shone through the gorgeous mix of flavors in the ground lamb - cumin. I knew that my Five Mile Stone-inspired lamb dish would definitely include it.

The next morning while drinking coffee and catching up on emails, I had Food Network playing in the background. Alton Brown, Jedi Master of food, put on an entire Good Eats episode about lamb. The culinary gods smiled down upon me and my lamb loaf meal was born.

You start off zapping a diced onion in the food processor and then squeezing all of the liquid out. Use of your NYC skyline tea towels optional, but beware - this process gave me the WORST Onion Eyes of my life. After a solid wringing out, I put the onion back in the food processor with 1 ¼ pounds ground lamb, two diced cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon ground cumin (Alton asks for marjoram here), 1 tablespoon dried rosemary, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. And to aid in my whistling while I worked, Pandora on the iPad in the background.

You pulse all of this until everything is very finely chopped and it starts to come together in a sticky lump. Then, put the lump into a loaf pan and mush it with your hands until it fills all the corners and the top is generally flat. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 60 - 75 minutes (this was closer to 60 since there was less meat than in the Alton recipe). I'd honestly planned this as a weeknight meal but thankfully read the recipe front to back when making a grocery list. When we get into the "bake for an hour plus" range, I bumped it to the weekend. Once it's out of the oven, let it cool briefly, and then pour off any excess fat. You can see how much the lamb shrinks up when it cooks.

Not the prettiest, but the kitchen smelled incredible. While the lamb cooked, I prepped the rest of the spread. At Five Mile Stone, they served the sliders with a harissa aioli. I turned this into a harissa yogurt - one cup of 2% Greek yogurt and a heaping tablespoon of harissa paste. It wasn't hot spicy, but just added some peppery zing to the already tangy yogurt (if you want it spicy, clearly just add more harissa). For freshness, I de-seeded and diced a cucumber and tomato. Lastly, once the lamb came out of the oven, I popped two pieces of garlic naan into the oven to warm up a bit. I love the pillowy, chewy dough and thought it would be perfect with this meal.

It was.

I tried to make a little pizza-style bite: rip off a piece of naan, spread some harissa yogurt on top, lay on a forkful of sliced lamb, pile on the veggies, and try to bite without dropping it all over the place. You wanted all of these components in every bite - they brought out the best in each other.

My first reaction? “Yum.”

My second reaction? “Mhmmmhhmmmm, mmm, mmmmhmm, mhmm!” (Translation: "This is so $#!&@ delicious!" while chewing.)

It was the most dense and delicious meatloaf I've ever eaten. The cumin gave it such a juicy flavor that played with the tangy, peppery yogurt. The whole dinner really contained all the basics for my perfect meal: rich, hearty meat; fresh vegetables; a flavorful sauce; and carbs. We had leftover lamb and veggies the next day and they were wonderful to snack on cold for lunch.

Not only will I certainly making this loaf in the future, but I'll definitely order the Five Mile Stone lamb sliders again (and again)!
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