Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chicken with French Style Pan Sauce

For Christmas last year, my good friend Emily got me a subscription to Cooking Light magazine.  I have LOVED receiving a brand new issue each month chock full of yummy recipes to try!  Normally, I'm not a big fan of chicken... I just feel like it's boring, but I saw this recipe and thought that it looked absolutely delicious!  I decided to take a chance on chicken and make this recipe... it serves 4 and only has 239 calories per piece of chicken.   Also, it was SUPER easy!  So without further adieu...

Chicken Breasts with Classic French Pan Sauce

* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 4 bone-in chicken breast halves
* 5/8 teaspoon salt, divided
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 1/4 cup dry white wine ( I had pinot grigio, so I used that)
* 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
* 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream ( I used fat free half and half) 
* 1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour

First, I preheated the oven to 350.  In a pan, I heated up the oil over medium heat.  I patted the chicken dry and seasoned it with salt and pepper.  When the oil was hot, I put the chicken breasts in the pan, skin side down and let them brown up.  After the skin side was nice and brown, I flipped them over and let them brown on the other side.   Since my pan is pretty small, I did it in two batches.


Once the chicken breasts were nice and brown, I set them on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven for about 30 minutes.  They didn't have to be cooked all the way through, you brown them just to lock in the flavor and give them a nice crunch.  They will be cooked the rest of the way in the oven.  I used a meat thermometer to make sure the chicken was cooked all the way through, then placed them on a cookie sheet to rest for 10 minutes, while I made the pan sauce.

The pan that the chicken was browned in has all sorts of little brown bits on the bottom.  I used to think that this was burned stuff on the bottom, but really, it's a bunch of yummy flavors and juices trapped and just waiting to be used!

I added the white wine to the pan to start the sauce.  The wine deglazes the pan, meaning that as the sauce forms, the little flavorful brown bits will become unstuck from the pan and incorporate into the dish.  Just stir the wine and the browned bits until everything is released from the bottom and nothing is stuck. 

Then, add in the mustard and stir it all up until it is incorporated really well.  Next, in a measuring cup, I mixed the fat free half and half and the flour until there weren't any little flour lumps in it.  Once the mustard was all incorporated, I slowly poured in the half and half/flour mixture.  I used a little baby whisk and the wooden spoon to mix everything together.  I let it all cook together a little bit until it thickened up a tiny bit... then Voila!

I served the chicken with a little bit of the sauce and also added a slice of whole wheat French bread that I had just picked up from Whole Foods while it was still warm :)  I also made some creamed kale to go with it.  I wasn't a huge fan of the creamed kale... I much prefer the taste and texture of the creamed spinach  in my Thanksgiving posting.  Overall, the dish was really yummy though!  I think that I'll have to definitely make this again sometime!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Martha Stewart Challeng #1 - Pastitsio

This week, I decided to do a Martha Stewart Challenge of my own... I decided to open to a random page in the Martha Stewart Cookbook and choose one recipe that I hadn't had before.  The choices were : Linguine with two-olive tapenade, oyster mushroom and chard ravioli, and pastitsio.  Of the three of them, pastitsio seemed like the best option.  I'd heard of pastitsio before, but I'd never had it and I wasn't quite sure what it was.  It turned out pretty well, just like Martha would have liked, I think. :)

Here goes!

Martha Stewart's Pastitsio

For the Meat Sauce

* 2 tablespoons EVOO
* 2 white onions, diced
* 2 lbs ground lamb
* 2 tsp coarse salt
* 2 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
* 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
* 1/2 cup red wine
* 1 (6oz) can of tomato paste
* 2 bay leaves

For the Bechamel Sauce

* 6 tbs unsalted butter
* 9 tbs all-purpose flour
* 2 tsp baking powder
* 3 cups milk
* 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
* 2 tsp coarse salt
* 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
* 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
* pinch ground nutmeg

To assemble

* 1 pound elbow macaroni

So I wasn't too sure about how much I would like this... the cinnamon and nutmeg were kinda throwing me off... I love cinnamon and nutmeg, but I wasn't sure about ground lamb with it.... but I figured that I committed to the idea, so I was going to go through with it!  Also, I didn't look at the recipe well enough, so I only bought 1 pound of ground lamb, so I cut this recipe in half... I didn't worry too much about it because this original recipe serves 10-12, so if it didn't turn out well, I wouldn't be stuck with a ton of it!  Luckily, that wasn't a problem.

Basically, you need to make 2 different sauces for the dish.  There's a meat sauce and a bechamel sauce.   For the meat sauce, you heat the oil in a saucepan and add in the onions.  You have to cook the onions until they are pretty soft.  Like I've said before, Curt doesn't really like onions if he can feel the texture, so I made sure to cook them until they were pretty soft.  Then I added in the ground lamb, salt, cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg.  

I waited a while until the ground lamb was pretty much cooked all the way through.  Then I added in the red wine.  Curt and I had opened a bottle of Shiraz the night before, so that was perfect for this dish.  I was supposed to wait until the red wine had evaporated, but I didn't remember that part... I immediately added in tomato paste, bay leaves, and the water.  Then covered and simmerred for 30 minutes, while I was preparing the bechamel sauce.  I also had the elbow macaroni cooking too, so I could have everything ready to go after the bechamel sauce was ready.

I was a bit nervous about the bechamel sauce because I hadn't really made one before and I tend to burn white sauces.  It turned out really well though!  First, I melted the butter in a pan over medium heat.  Once the butter was melted, I added in the flour and baking powder.  You have to add it in slowly and make sure you whisk it all together continuously or else it will burn and taste gross!  This time, though, the sauce turned out really well!  

Once the butter and flour were well combined, you have to "cook" the flour/butter mixture... you have to cook it  a bit so that it doesn't taste too much like raw flour.  After a minute or so, you slowly pour in the milk while whisking.  I started getting nervous because the sauce started clumping a little bit, but just keep pouring in all the milk and keep stirring and it all works out and turns into a nice smooth sauce.   Keep stirring the sauce until it thickens a bit and then remove it from heat, and add in the Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper.  Whisk it all together until you have a smooth, semi thick sauce.  Then remove it from heat. The sauce tasted really yummy... I'm definitely going to have to make it again and use it in other dishes.

By now, you should have everything all set for the dish... you should have the lamb red wine sauce and the creamy bechamel sauce!  You'll need to preheat the oven to 375 and butter a casserole dish.

Take this time to add the pasta to the meat sauce.  I don't think I mentioned it before, but you should have cooked the pasta al dente... so cook it before it is completely finished because it will continue cooking in the oven.  Mix the pasta and meat sauce together until it is well combined.

At this point, the dish reminded me of a fancy sort of hamburger helper (don't tell Martha I said that!).  It smelled really good, though! 

Once the pasta/meat sauce was in the casserole dish, I poured the bechamel sauce over the top.  Then I tapped the dish a little bit to make sure it was all evenly distributed. 

Then, once the oven was to temperature, I threw the dish in and waited.  The dish needed to cook for 45 minutes, so I made a quick trip to the gym (I knew I was going to have to work off the calories in this dish!).  By the time I came home, it was time to take out the pastitsio.  When I walked into the house, I was hit by the smell of nutmeg, lamb, and cheese.... it was heavenly!  I opened the oven and this is what I found!

The pastitsio was perfectly browned on the top and smelled delicious.  You have to let it sit and rest for 10 minutes... I tried to let it rest, but Curt was getting antsy, so I scooped out a decent sized serving, and onto a plate it went.   Again, I was somewhat nervous about the cinnamon and nutmeg with the lamb, but it turned out really well.  It had a nice flavor and the bechamel sauce on top was a little bit crunchy, which I think added a nice texture to the dish.

After Curt had 1 bite, he added a LOT more to his plate... he told me again, "This is one of the best meals I've ever had." So I know that he really did like it. 

And... this is how much he had for lunch the next day.  Overall, I'd say my first Martha Stewart Challenge went pretty well!  I don't know that this would be one of my all time favorite dishes, but it was pretty good and it was something that I don't think I ever would have made otherwise.  Curt liked it so much though, that I think I'll have to make it a few more times :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Turkey Cutlets

Ever since reading an article about how many chemicals and artificial hormones and junk is fed to poultry and beef, I've been trying to buy organic meats. It's tough to shop organic... there isn't much of a selection and the prices are higher than non-organic meat... but it's our health we're talking about, so I figure it's worth the expense.  Sometimes, though, I can't always find organic, so I go for the "natural" brand... it's not classified as organic, but they are more stringent in their requirements that the farmers can't use certain artificial hormones or chemicals... and that's how we come to this posting. 

I was shopping at our friendly local grocery store and found some Nature's Promise turkey cutlets.  The package said 99% fat free... not too bad, huh?  I didn't really have much of an idea of what I would do with them, but I threw them in my cart.  I perused my fav food websites and decided that I would just make up a recipe (surprise, surprise).  I decided on Italian breaded turkey cutlets. 

I made this on a weeknight, when I didn't have much time to cook, so I cheated and used store bought pasta sauce... but hey, I decided it was worth it to go to the gym and use store bought sauce rather than skip the gym and make the sauce from scratch. So here you have: Turkey Cutlets!
The ingredients are pretty simple

* 1 lb whole grain angel hair pasta
* 3/4 cup whole grain bread crumbs (I make these myself, regular breadcrumbs would work just fine)
*1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
* 1 lb thinly sliced turkey cutlets
* 1 tbs dried oregano
*1 tbs dried basil
*2 tbs canola oil
*2 tsp garlic powder
* 1 jar of your fav pasta sauce

First, on a plate, you mix the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, basil, oregano, and garlic powder.  Over medium heat, add the canola oil to a saucepan and let heat.  While waiting for the oil to come to temperature, take each individual turkey cutlet and cover them in the breadcrumb mixture.

Breading the turkey cutlet

Typically, you want to have 1 "wet hand" and 1 "dry hand."  This means that you use one hand to touch the raw turkey and turn it over, and you want to use the other hand to cover the turkey with the breadcrumbs.  By using this method, your hands don't get as messy as they could if you used both hands to do both jobs.

Once the oil has heated thoroughly, gently place the breaded turkey cutlet in the pan. 
waiting to get nice and brown
You want to make sure the temperature isn't too high, or the outside breading will brown too quickly and the inside will stay raw.  You also want to make sure that you don't crowd the pan, if you add too much meat to the pan, it will lower the temperature of your oil, which will result in your food not turning a lovely brown color.  Luckily the first scenario isn't much of a problem, since the turkey cutlets are really thin, it doesn't take long for them to cook the whole way through.  When you notice the bottom start to brown up, flip them.  Don't flip them too many times though.  I'm not sure if this is an actual strategy... but I try to only flip the meat once, rather than flipping them over and over again.  Once both sides are nice and brown, remove the cutlet to a plate lined with a paper towels.  This allows the excess oil to drain from the turkey cutlet, allowing it to remain as crispy and crunchy as possible.
just draining the excess oil

While I was cooking the turkey cutlets in batches, I heated up the pasta water and cooked the angel hair (whole grain, of course).  I also heated the pasta sauce over the stove.  I added some random spices and herbs to the sauce to give it a bit of flair... I always add at least 1 extra ingredient to pasta sauce to make me feel like I helped make it taste better. :) 

Once the pasta was done, I piled it on a plate and topped it with a large amount of pasta sauce -Curt LOVES lots of sauce on his food, no matter what it is.  Then I added a few cutlets of turkey (they were small, so 3 worked pretty well).  Then, just for good measure, I grated just a bit more parmesan cheese to dust over the top of the dish.

nice, homecooked meal

Voila!  The food was great!  Curt loved it and had seconds... a sure sign he really liked the food.  He seemed to really enjoy it and I wrapped up the rest for lunches for the rest of the week. 

Overall, I think this was a great dish... it was relatively simple and it had a lot of flavor to it.  I'll definitely be adding this to my repertoire of recipes!


Stay tuned... remember my last posting about trying random recipes from the Martha Stewart Cookbook?  Yesterday, I opened to a random page and had 3 recipes to choose from... I decided on Pastitsio... I'm not really sure what it is, but it involves ground lamb and elbow macaroni... I plan on making it on Wednesday night for date night with the hubs!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Julie and Julia... and Jenn?

So... I'm watching Julie and Julia for the first time ever.  A lot of people thought I started this blog after watching the movie.  In actuality, I never thought about watching it, but last week on TV, what do you think was on?  Julie and Julia!  So far, the movie is pretty good! 

For those of you who don't know, it's about a girl, Julie, who decides to write a blog for one year, and catalog her adventures in the kitchen as she cooks each and every recipe in Julia Child's book : Mastering French Cooking.  Now, I'm not one for French cooking, as I don't really know much about it.  I do like the idea though.  Through her year of cooking, Julie cooks some food that she's never had any interest in trying before (think bone marrow and whole roasted duck).  I like that she is somewhat forced to try making foods that she hasn't had before. 

I don't have a Julia Child cookbook, but I do have a Martha Stewart one!  It's one of her many, many cookbooks.  I don't want to cook the entire cookbook and totally copy Julie and Julia, but I think, from now on, I'll try at least 2 new recipes a month.  One a day definitely won't happen, but who knows, maybe I'll find something yummy and new!

Additionally, I'm going to make a Wish List.  These are things that I want to try my hand at, but haven't yet!

1- Boston Creme Cake (the hubby's a Sox fan... it's only appropriate!)
2- shrimp and turnip cakes (anyone who's had dim sum should know about these yummy little morsels!)
3- Beef wellington
4- ribs
5- fudge (I haven't been able to make this well at all)
6- banofee pie (it sounds so good!)
7- crown pork roast
8- chocolate souffle

I know there's more I will add soon... any ideas of stuff I should try?