Thursday, February 28, 2013

Nutella Chocolate Mousse

This stuff is crack. Oh Nutella, how I love thee. Just when I thought peanut butter was my best friend, you come around to remind me just how good you are.

I know, I know... I always say I'm not a dessert person, but Nutella desserts are beyond resistance for me. I had the ladies over for Oscar night and had to make something chocolatey and luscious. Nutella indulgence whilst judging the outfits of others? Count me in! Anne Hathaway what on earth were you thinking?

This mousse is rich in flavor, but manages to stay light in texture. As a pudding, it's easy to make ahead too. I was just hanging with my besties, so I kept it casual in lowball glasses, but you could definitely class it up by serving in Champagne flutes or martini glasses.

Chocolate and Nutella are definitely the stars of this dessert, with cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla bringing it all together.

You'll need to separate eggs for this one, since each component plays an important -- and very different role. The yolks will thicken the chocolate mixture and give it body, and the beaten whites will then fluff it up.

Melting chocolate is as simple as popping a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water. No need for a fancy double boiler pot. Just don't use it glass bowl... it will crack.

Butter, chocolate and Nutella will start coming together over the simmering, moist heat. Just keep things moving in the bowl to avoid burning.

Off the heat, you'll add the egg yolks and whisk vigorously to combine. This mixture will be very thick and may even appear dry.

In a separate bowl, you'll beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. See how the below point holds its shape? That's how you know you have a stiff peak (that's what she said... couldn't resist). Separate from the egg whites, you'll also whip the cream to soft peaks, meaning the top of the peak with lop over rather than stand up.

Once the egg whites and cream are whipped into shape, you'll combine with the chocolate mixture. To ensure the chocolate doesn't deflate the eggs, add just a few tablespoons to loosen it up. Then you'll fold in the rest egg whites, followed by the cream.

Fold just until combined and be sure to taste to make sure things taste okay. It is your duty as a maker of dessert.

Spoon into the cups of your choice and inevitably make a mess of your kitchen whilst doing so. Refrigerate for a spell and enjoy with your girls. Contemplate how on earth she could have chosen THAT dress. Oy!

Nutella Chocolate Mousse
1/2 cup Nutella
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Fill a pot with about one inch of water and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Cover pot with a metal bowl and add Nutella, butter and chocolate. Stir until just before melted. Remove from heat and stir vigorously until chocolate is fully melted, then add egg yolks one at a time.

In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to beat half the sugar with the egg whites to stiff peaks. In another bowl, beat cream, remaining sugar and vanilla to soft peaks.

Stir a few tablespoons of egg white into chocolate, just until loosened. Fold in remaining egg whites, just until combined, then fold in whipped cream. Spoon into serving glasses and refrigerate at least an hour or two before serving.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Simple Secret: Roasted Garlic

One of the many perks of being married is not having to worry about your breath. No, I'm haven't let myself completely go. I still shave my legs and close the bathroom door...ahh romance. Back to the breath, there is a rational explanation here. The reality is, when you're married you're usually eating the same at-home meals. Heretofore (I've been doing a lot of contracts at work) you have the same nasty-ass breath as the dude you're making out with. Boom. Married. Awesome.

So when you're totally down with bad breath, you can enjoy the pleasures of roasted garlic. Melty, soft and hot with flavor it is heaven on warm bread. Hea.Ven. Annnnnd it's about the easiest thing to make when guests are coming over. Put it on an antipasto platter, ohmygahhhhh. Spread on cooked pizza dough, my life is complete.

So yeah, I really like roasted garlic. My husband will have bad breath for the rest of his life. Deal.

Simple Secret: Roasted Garlic
1 head garlic

Preheat oven to 400. Slice off the top of a head of garlic using a very sharp knife. Wrap in aluminum foil and bake in oven for about 30-40 minutes. Serve hot and use a cheese knife to spread.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Vegetable Lasagna

I don't actually watch that many cooking shows. For some reason they never cook on them anymore, but rather endure some sort of extreme cupcake challenge, whilst displaying distasteful hairstyles and an unsafe amount of cleavage (watch out for a boob grease burn). I know, I sound like such an old crank, but where did all the cooking shows go? Even holy Ina has sold out.

Once more, public broadcasting comes to my rescue. Without fail, every Saturday, the geniuses at America's Test Kitchen grace the airwaves with practical, technique-driven cooking programming. Ahhhh...cue to chorus of angels. Their recipes are certainly not exotic, but focus on the best way to prepare American favorites. They seriously test everything.

I usually watch to pick up good tips and technique, but after seeing this Vegetable Lasagna, I actually followed a recipe. Well...almost. They've officially solved the mushy veggie lasagna epidemic. This popped with bright flavor and the layers held up beautifully.

It all starts with some gorgeous fresh ingredients. Take a moment to smell the fresh basil, it has probably been months since you had it. You'll instantly be transported to the stuff of Caprese dreams.

Technique comes in to play immediately. Eggplant has a tendency of getting watering or bitter. By salting and cooking the microwave (atop paper towels) before adding to the lasagna, you remove all of the excess moisture, but none of the flavor or meaty texture.

After a run in the microwave, the eggplant is combined with zucchini and yellow squash in a quick saute, adding a flavor infused oil at the end for fresh herb flavor.

In another round, spinach is sauteed and again drained on a paper towel. Is this methodical? Yes, but it really does work to take out the extra water that ruins a typical well-intentioned lasagna.

Separately, ricotta, parmesan and half and half form a simple cream sauce. This is one area I strayed from the America's Test Kitchen recipe. Maybe I'm a purest, but I do prefer the authenticity of good ricotta, as opposed to cottage cheese. I also figured half and half would give me the same effect with, you guessed it, half the fat of cream. 

The original recipe also called for a no-cook tomato sauce. Maybe I'm conceited, but I thought my homemade marinara would just be better. I had the time, so I made a big batch and now my freezer is stocked up for hectic weeknights. Worth it.

Now you've got all of your components ready, so set up to assemble. This is the fun part after all.

Look at those lovely layers! While I didn't follow the recipe to the tee, I learned some valuable techniques to improve on any lasagna. Plus I didn't have to see Christopher Kimball's boobs.

Vegetable Lasagna
3-4 cups homemade marinara
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles

For Cream Sauce
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For Filling
1 1/2lbs eggplant, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon salt
1lb zucchini, diced
1lb yellow squash, diced
5 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon thyme, minced
12oz baby spinach
3 cups shredded mozzarella
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine cream sauce ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss eggplant with salt. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and microwave for 10 minutes, tossing halfway through. Return eggplant to bowl and add zucchini and squash. In a small bowl, 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic and thyme; set aside.

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat (a nonstick skillet is ideal, since eggplant can stick) and add vegetable mixture. Cook for about 6-7 minutes or until vegetables are softened. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to do this in two rounds. You want to avoid the veggies being piled on top of one another. Once vegetables have softened, push to the sides of the pan and add oil, garlic and herb mixture to the middle of the pan. Cook for 30 seconds before tossing ingredients together in the pan. Remove vegetables from pan and reserve.

Heat remaining olive oil in pan and saute spinach for three minutes. Remove from pan to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Combine with eggplant mixture.

Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray and prepare your ingredients for assembly. Start with 1 cup of marinara sauce at the bottom of the dish. Next add a layer of noodles, followed by half the veggie mixture. Cover with half the cream sauce mixture and then half of the mozzarella. Repeat with sauce, then noodles, then veggies, then cream sauce and cheese. Top with a last layer of noodles, 1 cup of sauce and then remaining cheese.

Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 20-25 minutes before serving, letting the lasagna set. Sprinkle with fresh basil before serving.

Original recipe from America's Test Kitchen

Monday, February 25, 2013


You've heard me talk about him - okay like a lot. One year ago today we adopted the most wonderful little dog, our Howard. Never in the history of dogs has there been a more loving, snugly pupper.

After the loss of my elderly (and contrary to popular opinion, sweet) cat in late 2011, The Husband and I decided to be stereotypical newlyweds and get a dog. This was a much thought decision and we carefully considered what size, age and energy level would be appropriate for our lifestyle. Given our work schedules, we sought something small, low energy and adult (a puppy seemed pretty daunting). That fateful Saturday we headed to PAWS, a wonderful no kill shelter here in Chicago.

I wish I could say I picked him, but he picked me. From the moment he curled up in a tiny ball in my lap, I knew he was our dog. Oh and I was a crying hot mess. No joke.

This scruffer had been picked up as a stray and in addition to multiple infections, was a too thin 7lbs with fur matted to the skin. After a good groom, an improved diet (he's a healthy 11.5lbs these days) and lots of belly rubs he has turned into a hilarious, cuddle loving cutie with some serious bounce in his step. Who knew such a tiny creature could teach you so much about love, patience and laughter?

If you are thinking of bringing a pet into your family, please consider adoption. So many wonderful pets out there need homes. It was truly one of the best decisions we ever made.

Happy anniversary buddy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Poblano Leek Soup

Do you ever have menu regret? You know, when you wish you'd ordered something at a a restaurant and can't stop thinking about it. Just me? Am I really that 1) neurotic and 2) obsessed with food? Well, the Husband and I went to Mexique on Saturday and had a delicious meal, but I wasn't quite hungry enough to take on their Poblano Leek Soup. So many pork distractions!

So what's a girl to do? I created it myself the next day. 

One of the things I love most about cooking is that you can take a basic recipe and make it your own with a twist or two. I started with Julia Child's Potato Leek Soup and simply added roasted poblanos. 

The ingredients are simple. Start with these lovelies and add just a bit of water, salt and cream.

Leeks have a wonderfully delicate onion flavor and are oh so versatile. They do take an extra prep step though. Since they grow in sandy soil and have many layers (just like my SOUL...get deep guys), they need a good rinse after slicing. Simply float in a big bowl of water and swish around. Let the sand settle and scoop out the leeks from the top of the bowl. 

For the poblanos, roast in a very hot oven until they look blistered and scary. I'm for realsies. 

When they are hot out of the oven, wrap in foil and put into a plastic bag. Close and allow to cool in the bag. The steam is a good thing... it will actually help the meat of the pepper separate from the skin.

Once the pepper has cooled, those peps will slip right out of their skin. Straight strippin'

Simmer potatoes and leek together in water for about 40 minutes, until everything tenders up.

Once the potatoes and leeks are cooked, add chopped poblanos and get after it with your immersion blender. You could also do this in a food processor or blender, but I was excited to use my new toy.

Garnish with a bit of cilantro to finish. Don't live with menu regret, figure it out on your own. You're smart like that. Also, menu regret doesn't seem like a productive use of time, am I right?

Poblano Leek Soup
1 large Russet potato, diced
4 leeks, trimmed, sliced and thoroughly rinsed 
2 poblano peppers (or 1 if you don't like to get too spicy)
5 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons cream
Cilantro, chopped for garnish

Combine leeks and potatoes in a large dutch oven and simmer for 40 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 450. Roast poblanos until skin is blackened; about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove peppers from oven and wrap in aluminum foil and place in a sealed plastic bag. Once cooled, remove from bag and peel off skin using fingers. Slice off tops and discard stem and seeds. Roughly chop peppers. 

Once potatoes and leeks are tender, add poblanos and salt. Use an immersion blender to puree soup. Just before serving stir in cream. Garnish with cilantro and serve warm.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kitchen Gear: Immersion Blender

Ooooh... Ooooh... I got a new toy! After begrudgingly moving liquids from pots to food processor, usually in several batches, I got an Immersion Blender! It was actually a gift from my Mom for Valentine's, so really an extra special treat. She picked out the Calphalon 2-in-1 Immersion Blender for me.

I've purchased several Calphalon products in the past and been impressed with the quality. My favorite copper skillet is Calphalon and has held up well, under heavy use, for more than five years.

This guy comes with the stick attachment and a mini chopper bowl. I've got a recipe coming your way using the stick attachment tomorrow. Overall the motor was powerful and the attachment was easy to clean. I've yet to try out the mini chopper, but think it will be nice for smaller batch items, like pesto or vinaigrettes.

Admittedly, I was hesitant to bring another appliance into my teeny-tiny kitchen. Given the frequency that I use my food processor, I felt I could justify a smaller version with the versatility to handle liquids in the cooking container.

New toy, new toy lalalalaala. Coordinating recipe coming up.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chicken and Root Vegetable Pot Pie

I wasn't feeling like myself. In fact, I hadn't cooked since late-January. When work and life get in the way, our hobbies are the first thing to go. For me, that meant no time in the kitchen for the past few weeks. But just like riding a bike, you get back to feeling like "you" in no time when it's your favorite thing to do. 

Yesterday I was looking for comfort and a dish that would give me something to "do" in the kitchen. For the first time in weeks, quick and easy wasn't the goal. So, I luxuriated in chopping and relaxed into dough rolling. With some good tunes, there's nothing better. 

It's days like this that I'm reminded that I truly LOVE this. The goal for the day was just to enjoy myself. At the end, we were had a warm and cuddly bowl of Chicken Pot Pie. 

The basis for this pie are tasty root vegetables, including potatoes, pearl onion, sweet potatoes and flavor-packed parsnip. Above ground peas, mushrooms and thyme complete the pie. 

The majority of prep time is spent chopping up all of the veggies. Do your best to get things about the same size. This will ensure things will cook at the same rate.

Cooking is quite simple for this dish, just an easy simmer in chicken stock and wine. This also keeps the fat low, since you're not browning or sauteing any ingredients. Good quality stock (preferably homemade) and white wine add lots of flavor.

Mid-way through the cooking you'll add chicken and continue to simmer until cooked through. Then using a slotted spoon, you'll remove the vegetable mixture to a bowl. The cooking liquid will be the basis of a creamy sauce.

To avoid clumping, whisk together the milk and flour before adding to the hot stock and wine mixture. Ahh...doesn't it feel so good to be back in a cute apron? So much more like you than a business suit.

Cook the cream sauce until thickened. A good indicator of thickness is when it is viscous enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Vegetables and cream sauce united!

Roll out thawed puff pastry. Feel the grit of flour in your fingers and feel like you're finally home. With any luck, you'll have some on your face.

Baked to oooey gooey perfection. Relax you're back. You're you again.

Chicken and Root Vegetable Pot Pie
4 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
2 cups white wine
2 cups frozen green peas, thawed
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
4-5 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 (10oz) package frozen pearl onions
1lb cremini mushrooms, quartered
1lb skinless, boneless chicken breast, cubed
2/3 cup flour
1 1/2 cups fat free milk
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Cooking spray
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring chicken stock and white wine to a boil in a large dutch oven. Add peas, potatoes, parsnips, onions and mushrooms. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add chicken and simmer for another 10-15 minutes; cook until potatoes have softened and chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken and vegetables to a bowl, using a slotted spoon.

In a bowl whisk together flour and milk, taking care to avoid lumps. Increase heat to medium and whisk in the milk/flour mixture. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened. Add chicken and vegetable mixture to cream sauce and stir in thyme, salt and pepper. Spoon into greased individual oven-proof bowls or a 9x13 baking dish.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon flour over a clean surface. Roll out dough to and cut in individual squares to cover bowls or an 11x15 rectangle. Brush beaten egg around edges of baking dish (or dishes). Place dough on top of dish and press into egg-washed edges. Brush top of dough with egg wash. Cut slit into the top of dough to allow steam to escape. Place on a foil-lined baking dish and bake for 30 minutes; or until filling is bubbling and dough is golden brown.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sweet Potato Black Bean Enchiladas

I should be writing about brownies, adorable hand-made candies or even aphrodisiac red wine and oyster concoctions. Alas, I'm getting into the Valentine spirit with the least romantic of cuisines.... Mexican and beans. Well, if you're interested in saying "fuck it" and farting on the couch all night, whilst cursing and watching Bridget Jones' Diary, you're all set. 

I'm actually not a Valentine hater. The lovely husband always makes me feel special and we have a date night planned. But after all of my crazy work and travel, this was the last recipe left in my queue. So let's just embrace the anti-romance, shall we?  

Mexican food does seem to get a bad wrap, both for its date-friendliness and ill reputation for health. I mean, you social handling of digestion is your business, but Mexican food doesn't have to be bad for you. While many restaurants express these famed flavors in a bath of cheese and lard, at the core there are many fresh ingredients bathed in flavor. These enchiladas are plumped full of sweet potatoes, black beans and spinach. With minimal cheese they're not so decadent, but the chipotle sauce provides the fullest bite.

Roasting the potatoes does dirty another dish, but the flavor benefits are worth it. Forgoing boiling also keeps things from getting too starchy.

The sauce is chock-full of flavorful goodies -- like chipotle chilis, adobo sauce, tomatoes, garlic and onion. Not to mention cumin and cayenne.

After the potatoes have roasted, saute together onion, green pepper, black beans, corn and spinach. Such a colorful enchilada party.

A bit of sauce at the bottom of the pan will keep things from drying out.

Rolled and ready. When I made these I made two full pans and froze one for a later dinner. If you're freezing,line the pan with foil, leaving 2-inches on each side, then assemble. Freeze in the dish and once frozen solid remove using the foil handles. Wrap carefully in plastic and keep in the freezer. When ready to bake, just unwrap and pop back into the same pan you froze it in.

Serve with cilantro, lime and a bit of avocado. Thank your cat for tolerating your gas and for being the bestest Valentine ever. You're a beautiful, smart woman... don't even let this damn holiday get you down. Another round of enchiladas on the house!

Sweet Potato Black Bean Enchiladas
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 teaspoons chili powder
3 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt, divided
Fresh ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz can fire roasted tomatoes with green chiles
1 small can chipotle chilis in adobo sauce (3-5 chopped chilis and 2 tablespoons adobo)
1 cup chicken stock
1 green pepper, chopped
1 15-oz can black beans
1 cup corn
1 cup spinach, drained
12-15 corn tortillas
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Minced cilantro, for garnish
Sliced avocado, for garnish
Sliced lime, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss sweet potatoes in 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Roast in oven for 25-30 minutes until potatoes have just begun to soften.

While potatoes bake, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add 1/2 chopped onion and saute until translucent, then add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add tomatoes, chipotle chilis, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin and chicken stock. Simmer for 10 minutes and remove from heat. Allow to cool for 5 before pureeing in a food processor or blender.

Wipe out dutch oven and heat remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add remaining onion and green pepper; saute until softened. Add remaining chili powder, cumin and salt and once fragrant add black beans, corn, spinach and sweet potato; stirring until combined.

In a 9x11 baking dish spoon out 1 cup of sauce, spreading to cover the bottom of the dish. Fill individual tortillas with vegetable filling and place seam side down in the dish. Once dish is full, cover with remaining sauce and cheese. This will easily fill two 9x11 baking dishes, depending on how filled each enchilada is. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until cheese begins to brown.

Serve with a sprinkling of cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice and sliced avocado.

*This dish freezes very well. Assemble and freeze in foil-lined dish. Once frozen solid, remove from dish and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. When ready to eat, replace in dish and bake for 1 hour.