Monday, August 22, 2016

Penne Pasta with Rotisserie Chicken

Recently (finally) Costco opened a new store close to us.  This meant that all those lovely things that I wanted to buy at Costco, were finally in my reach!  Most important of all those things were the lovely, gigantic, $4.99 rotisserie chickens.  The first couple of times that I went to Costco I left the store with at least 2 chickens (one time I left with 5).  I've since calmed down and sometimes I don't even get a chicken!

Since I've had all this chicken coming into my home I have come up with some quick dinner recipes including said chicken.  This is a fast, simple pasta dish which is light on sauce and can be adjusted to your taste.  In my home I can use all the quick recipes I can get.  I like the little tang that the balsamic carries but if you and your family aren't fans you could leave it out, or if by chance you are a huge fan of balsamic you could add more and kick the flavor up a notch!  Like I said, this recipe can be adjusted to your taste and your needs.  

Penne Pasta with Rotisserie Chicken

1 16oz box penne pasta
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, sliced thin
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
2 red bell peppers, cleaned and chopped
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
2 cups cubed/shredded rotisserie chicken
2 Tablespoons balsamic or white balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, season (I always season with 1-2 tablespoons salt) and add pasta. Cook to al dente.

Heat a large dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.  Add the onions and carrots, cook for 2 minutes and add the tomatoes.  Once the tomatoes are soft enough to burst, about 2-3 minutes, crush the tomatoes with the spoon.  Add the chicken, peppers, balsamic and chicken stock.  Cook for 3-5 minutes until the peppers are tender but still crisp.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in the penne pasta.  The pasta is best topped with crumbled feta cheese. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Cream Puffs with Vanilla Cream Filling

Vanilla Cream Puff
 Have you ever watched The Great British Baking Show?  If not, you should.  It's classy, funny and has very talented contestants.  They find ways of teaching you things without feeling like your in a class and it's a competition without all the intense, mean attitudes we typically see.  It's become a mommy-daughter favorite for me and Lily.

Lily wants to try and make everything they make on the show, which, while adorable is mentally exhausting!  So far we have had quite a lot of fun making desserts and breads like the ones on the show.  I learned what I was doing wrong when making doughnuts and so when we were snowed in with my family we made a gazillion doughnuts.
Choux dough

My favorite, perfected "bake" as they call them in the show is cream puffs.  I've made choux dough many times and it always turned out pretty well, however, improvements can always be made.  It really helps to hear the judges critique on the show and get a feel for what a perfect cream puff should be like.  Don't let cream puffs scare you away!  They really are fairly easy to make and are a very impressive goodie to serve friends.

cream puff
So, to get to the actual cream puffs.  The shell is crisp and light, just as it should be.  For the filling I do a vanilla patisserie cream lightened by folding in whipped cream.  You can serve them just like that or you can dust them with powdered sugar.  My personal favorite is to dip them in a chocolate glaze.  Essentially this is the same process as making an eclair, just a different shape.

Please go make these!  You will feel so proud of yourself for making a fancy schmancy patisserie.  And they will be delicious which really is the important part.

Cream Puffs

1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
1 cup water
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.  Prepare a pastry bag with a medium star tip.

In a mixing bowl whisk together the flour, sugar and salt.  Combine the butter and water in a medium sized saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil.  As soon as mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat and dump the flour mixture in all at once and mix well until combined.  Return mixture to the heat and stir well until the mixture is smooth, thick and forms a ball (at least 1.5-2 minutes).  This step is important to cook the flour.  Remove from heat and dump the mixture into the electric mixer and beat on low speed to allow to cool for about a minute.  You can use an electric hand mixer.  Once the dough has cooled some turn mixer up to medium-low and add in one egg at a time in, mixing completely with each addition.

Scoop the mixture into the prepared pastry bag.  Pipe the dough out into 1-inch rounds, making sure to swirl the dough upwards to create some height.  Use a wet finger to smooth down any peaks that are left as you pull the tip away (they will burn too quickly).

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until very crisp and golden.  If after you finish baking them you realize they are too soft as they cool, you can bake them further to dry them out.

Prepare the pastry bag by fitting it with a small round or star decorating tip.  Fill the bag with the cream filling.  Pipe the cream into the cream puffs by gently pushing the decorating tip through the side of the cream puff and squeezing the cream inside.  Dust with powdered sugar and serve!

Cream Filling

Patisserie Cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
pinch of salt
2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar

Whisk together the sugar, corn starch and salt in a saucepan.  Whisk the milk and egg yolks in a bowl.  Add the milk mixture and butter to the saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently until the mixture comes to a boil.  Boil, stirring, for 1 minute and remove from heat.  Add vanilla.  

Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap all the way down so it rests directly on the cream.  Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.  

Whisk the heavy cream and sugar with an electric mixer until stiff.  Fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream until smooth and light.  Chill until ready to pipe. 


Cream Puffs- Joy of Cooking (I doubled it)
Patisserie Cream- Martha Stewart

Monday, February 29, 2016

Homemade Tortillas

diy tortillas

All around the food blogger universe I hear praises being sung for homemade tortillas; how amazing they taste, how easy they are to make, how store bought tortillas don't even compare.  Truthfully, this devotion was always a little lost on me.  Tortillas were always merely a utensil of little importance to me.  They held the innards of a taco or burrito; where the filling was what I was truly interested in.  Then a couple of months ago I invited my sisters family over for dinner, planning to make tacos, and then realized that I had 2 tortillas in my refrigerator.  Rather than load the kids in the car and embark in the fiasco of going to the grocery store, I made the executive decision to try my hand at making homemade tortillas.

I found the recipe at one of my favorite, tried and true food blogs, Annie's Eats, and got to work.  It didn't take me long to figure out that making tortillas was in fact as easy as all those food bloggers had been saying and that they weren't even in the same category as store bought tortillas.  These were GOOD.  They very quickly became the star of taco night.  I am by no means against buying store bought tortillas and other baked goods, but making something by hand is always special.  I've never had a time when I didn't feel the extra work was worth it.

After making these tortillas a few times I have figured out a few essential tips: 
1- Have good baking powder.  If you want fluffy tortillas with those quintessential bubbles you need to have good leavening. 
2- You need a consistently hot stove.  I have a gas stove and it worked far better on my stove than on my moms flat top ceramic stove.
3- A non stick skillet or cast iron pan are the way to go.  Stainless steel tended to give us a lot of burnt build-up.
4- to avoid using excess flour when rolling the dough out, roll it out on a silicon mat.
DIY tortillas

Homemade Tortillas

Yield- 12 8- inch tortillas

3 cups unbleached flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 heaping tsp salt
5 Tbsp shortening
1 cup water

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and shortening in the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse the food processor for about 10 seconds until combined and no chunks of shortening are remaining.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Run the food processor and pour the water in, in a very slow stream the until the dough sticks together in a ball (mine never gets to an actual ball but ends up more like 2 masses).  You may not need all the water. 

Knead for 30 seconds more, if the dough seems too sticky to handle, even with lightly floured hands, add a little more flour.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide into 12 equal pieces.  Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and rest for 10 minutes.  Resting is important as it keeps the dough from springing back as you roll it out.  
Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Working with one dough ball at a time and keeping the others covered, pat the ball into a disc.

If you are rolling on a silicon mat you will not need to add flour when rolling but if you are not using one you will need to lightly flour the surface.  Roll each ball into an 8-inch circle.  

Carefully transfer the shaped tortilla to the heated skillet and cook each side for 10-20 seconds, just until bubbles form and are lightly browned.  Be careful not to overcook and make sure your skillet is hot enough to cook each side in a maximum of 20 seconds or the tortillas will end up stiff.  Remove the tortillas to a plate and cover promptly with a kitchen towel to prevent drying out.  Repeat with the rest of the dough.  

Source: Annie's Eats

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Perfect Caramel Corn

Today I am going to share a recipe with you that is so effortless and wonderful that it would just be cruel not to share it with you.  I'm talking about a caramel corn recipe that doesn't even involve you turning on your oven OR stove.  A gourmet tasting recipe that is completely made in the microwave?  I'll take it!

That little hand couldn't resist sneaking in the picture to grab a sweet treat!
This recipe comes from a family friend who is as effortlessly perfect as this recipe.  This caramel corn is crunchy and tasty in all the right ways.  Whenever I have made caramel corn before it ends up being sticky and forming huge clumps that are impossible to break apart.  Not this one, this one has every piece of popcorn coated in a perfect, crunchy shell of caramel.  It's perfect for gifts or just munching on by the handful.  

Ready to get started?

Perfect Caramel Corn

3 quarts popped popcorn
1 cup light brown sugar, packed lightly
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

Dump the popcorn in a large paper grocery bag.  

Combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup and salt in a large microwave safe bowl.  Microwave for 3-4 minutes or until the mixture has been bubbling rapidly for at least 2 minutes.  Remove from microwave and rapidly stir in the baking soda.  

Pour the caramel into the popcorn in 2-3 batches, shaking and stirring the popcorn between each.  After all the caramel is in the popcorn and the popcorn is well coated, fold the bag down.  Microwave for 1.5 minutes.  Remove from microwave with pot holders and open bag. Stir well.  Return to the microwave for another 1.5 minutes.  Remove with pot holders, stir again.  Pour contents of the bag onto cookie sheets and spread out to cool.  After the popcorn is cooled, break it up in small pieces and place in a air tight container for storage.