Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Heart Shaped Pizza - Happy Valentine's Day

"You got a pizza my heart!"
 AJ and I started a new Valentine's Day tradition a few years ago. Now every February 14 we eat heart-shaped pepperoni pizza! There is a local pizza chain called Pizza My Heart that serves up heart-shaped pies. The tradition is so popular that you can get the heart shape whenever you want! I love celebrating holidays with special traditions like this. 

"I love you mer-lot!"
My mom and dad got AJ two 375ml bottles of Jarvis winery's Merlot, which paired nicely with our pizza (you have to have wine with pizza). If you are looking for wineries to tour in Napa, Jarvis has an amazing cave tour. Plus their wines are incredible!

So what are some of your Valentine's Day traditions?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Superbowl Treats - Homemade Hostess Cupcakes

Homemade hostess!
Let's be honest, the Super Bowl is almost as much about the food as it is about the football game (and I can say that because I am a big NFL fan). According to the Huffington Post, an average of 1,200 calories are consumed during the game - that's over half of your daily caloric intake! This year I was asked to bring dessert.  I hadn't baked any over the top treats since Christmas, so AJ encouraged me to "go all out."

The Super Bowl is all about simple comfort food, so I didn't want to do anything too gourmet. I thought about making whoopie pies until I stumbled upon a recipe for homemade hostess cupcakes. Now, I have never been a huge fan of hostess goodies - they were dry and a poor substitute for my mom's homemade baked goods. However, the homemade version of hostess cupcakes was something I could get behind. 

Combining the cocoa mixture with the butter-sugar mixture.
The first step is to choose a good cake recipe. I heard good things about Martha's devil's food recipe, and I am a big fan of her one bowl chocolate cupcakes, so I decided to try them out. The recipe was pretty easy to put together. Honestly, the hardest part of making cupcakes for me is pouring the batter into the tin evenly. Using an ice cream scoop helps though. :)
Adding the dry ingredients, alternating with sour cream.

Oh hello cuppycakes!
When the cupcakes have cooled you can start on the frosting and filling. The filling is one of the most important aspects of the hostess cupcake. Now some recipes say that you can use marshmallow fluff, but I wanted to do these totally from scratch. The perfect homemade filling is a 7-minute frosting. Several recipes called for cooking the filling mixture over the stove and beating it with a hand mixer. I have attempted this before and it is a crazy, hot mess (not unlike myself after a night of drinking). I have a kitchen aid standing mixer and I needed a recipe that didn't need the use of a hand mixer being plunged into boiling syrup. After a minute or two of googling I came across this one which is perfect for the standing mixer, with the added bonus of keeping scalding hot syrup from getting all over your skin. This turned out mounds of fluffy, white, marshmallow-y filling (for detailed instructions see here). NOMS!

Marshmallow-y goodness.

After the filling, comes the chocolate ganache frosting. I had the luck of having a sous chef who could make this for me (thanks honey)! I used the frosting recipe in the hostess cupcake blog. The trick with this one is to make sure you don't scald the cream. Then let the ganache cool a bit before proceeding to filling and frosting the cupcakes.

I used the cone method for filling these. Which is basically what it sounds like. First, cut out a cone from the cupcake, creating a hole inside (Note: I often carve out a little more from the cupcake to make a bigger hole). Cut off the tip of the cone. Place a teaspoon of filling inside the cupcake and then place the top back on. Drizzle ganache on top and repeat with remaining cupcakes. Save some of the filling for decorating with those trademark squiggles. I used a sandwich bag and it worked well.

Ready for my close-up!

These cupcakes were gobbled up at the Super Bowl party faster than the lights went out at the Super Dome! They were even better after a day in the fridge. Hmm next up hostess cupcake pancakes?
Oh my goodness.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Chicken Coconut Curry Soup

The East coast has been hit with a major cold spell over the past week, and it's had me craving hearty comfort food. After having beef stew last week, I really wanted to switch gears and try something on the more exotic side. I love Thai food and curries, so I thought a coconut curry soup would really hit the spot after the snowy weather we've been experiencing.
Although this soup requires a handful of ingredients you may not have sitting in your pantry, it's well worth it to run out to the store and stock up.  Most grocery stores these days carry a wide variety of international food items raning from Asian, Indian, Spanish, Middle Eastern and beyond.  I didn't have any trouble finding eveyrthing I needed at the local Giant and Whole Foods. Once you have all your ingredients laid out, the process of making the soup is really quite simple. First I cooked rice (I made 2 cups cooked rice but you only need one cup for the soup) and roasted chicken breast in the oven.  My mom taught me how to roast chicken from a recipe she has used from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Ina Garten has some of the best recipes, and she's pretty fabulous. If you don't believe me, then maybe you'll trust Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy in this 30 Rock clip:
Once you have the rice and chicken ready, you just chop up the onion, bell pepper and carrots ( I cheated and bought matchstick carrots) and sautee in a sauce pan.  I added two cloves minced garlic and a half tablespoon grated ginger. After sauteeing for 5 minutes, you add the chicken, rice, curry paste, sugar and fish sauce and stir for a few minutes until incorporated. Then you add the the chicken broth and coconut milk and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  I served the soup with cilantro, lime wedges and pineapple chunks (some family members may have opted for a pineapple free soup, so serving on the side made it easy to dress up the soup to individual's preferences).
If I were to personify this dish, it would be the Sofia Vergara of soups!  Spicy, sassy, bold, and gorgeous. The rich and creamy coconut milk marries beautifully with the heat of the red curry paste.  The fish sauce brings an added depth of that umami flavor. It's really doesn't have a 'fishy' taste, but rather a complexity of sweet, salty and sour.  The chicken and rice add heartiness, and the veggies add earthness and texture.  Cilantro, lime and pineapple bring a touch of brightness, tang and sweetness that contrasted with the spiciness of the curry paste. Pair this soup with a bright and slightly sweet riesling, (Kung Fu Girl Riesling is excellent) and you have a delicious and satisfying meal.

Chicken Coconut Curry Soup
(from the Savory Sweet Life Blog -

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, peeled, finely chopped (I used store bought matchstick carrots)
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 cup cooked chicken meat (I used 1 package of chicken tenderloins which I drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted at 350 F for about 20 minutes or until cooked through)
1 cup cooked rice (I used Jasmine)
2 tablespoons red curry paste (use more or less depending on how spicy you'd like)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
13.5 oz can Asian coconut milk or cream - unsweetend (I used reduced fat and it didn't notice a difference)
21 oz chicken broth
Optional: 2 tablespoons fish sauce, cilantro
Reserve some coconut milk, carrots and bell pepper for garnish
(I added pineapple chunks and served lime wedges and cilantro on the side)

In medium sauce pan, heat olive oil on medium heat and cool chopped onions, carrots, and red bell pepper for approximately 5 minutes. Add curry paste, brown sugar, chicken, rice and fish sauce stirring and sauteing everything until curry paste is completely incorporated (approx 2-3 minutes). Pour chicken broth and cooconut milk into the pan and give it a good stir for a half minute. Reduce heat to a medium and allow the soup to cook for 15-20 minutes. Serve with a spoonful of coconut milk added on top with a few match stick carrots and slice of bell pepper for garnish or add pineapple and cilantro and lime wedges!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Is It Local? - Roasted Lemon Chicken (aka Colin)

Close-up of the roast chicken.
Sunday dinners are the night when I generally have the most time to prepare a meal. AJ and I have been doing a pretty good job of hitting up the local farmer's market each Sunday, so I always have tons of fresh produce and inspiration to draw on for dinner that night. We have passed by the chicken producer for the past few weeks and finally decided to buy a chicken! If any of you watch Portlandia, I couldn't help but be reminded of the "Is it local?" sketch about eating an organic chicken. We named our chicken "Colin" in honor of Portlandia. Although you may think it odd to name the chicken you are going to eat, it certainly made me appreciate the meal more. Sure, Portlandia goes a bit over-the-top. But after all, if you're going to eat meat, why not embrace the fact that this was once a living creature? 

Getting ready to roast Colin.

"He looks like a happy little guy that runs around." "I don't know if I can speak to that intimate knowledge about him, but they do a lot to make sure they are happy." Portlandia does a great job of pointing out the fallacies of the humanely-raised argument. Does it really matter if you raise a "happy" animal if you are just going to kill it and eat it? It is certainly an interesting argument. I have to say I lean toward supporting it. I feel a lot better about killing an animal that has been raised in a cage-free, "natural" environment than one that is so overweight it can no longer walk. Omnivore's Dilemma and Food, Inc. outline this issue very well. I may have to reread Omnivore's Dilemma!

Blood capillaries, cavity, and all. You can see the lemon.
Stepping off the soap box. Ok, back to Colin. The roast lemon chicken recipe is one my mom passed down to me, and it may be the easiest recipe you've ever made. First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Second, cover the skin with a few teaspoons of oil and season with salt and pepper. Third, prick a lemon with a fork and stick the lemon inside the cavity of the chicken (I used toothpicks to close up the cavity). Lastly, toss sliced onion, potatoes, and carrots in olive oil, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper and put them on the pan next to the chicken. Cook for 1 hour and 40 minutes (or until meat is 160 degrees F). My bird was smaller than your Perdue chicken, so it only took 1 hour or so. I also made sure the temp was 160 F. This makes for a juicy, lemony bird. Thanks Colin!

Homemade honey whole wheat bread!
And because this recipe was so easy I decided why not make my own bread while I'm at it. In retrospect this wasn't the smartest thing to make at the same time, seeing as my kitchen isn't Rachel Ray's. Where is my second oven at? Luckily, the hardest thing about baking bread is the waiting. I had to wait 1 hour and 40 minutes for this bread to rise! I used a simple whole wheat buttermilk recipe and with my kitchen aid dough hook this came together quickly (seriously that dough hook is genius). Fast forward 3 hours later and dinner was ready! Who says no one has time to make dinner...wait... So just make this dinner on Saturday or Sunday when you have a lot of free time. :) 

The bread didn't rise as high as I would have liked, but it was tasty. My coworkers said it tasted better than store bought, so there you go. I froze the second loaf for when I am in need of sandwich bread or something to serve alongside soup.

Dinner is served. Don't those potatoes look tasty?