Monday, March 22, 2010

Coffee Table Book: Jane Austen's "Persuasion"

When I moved to Stafford, I was lucky enough to find a great group of wives through my husband's particular school. I learned that many of those wives were also part of QOSO: Quantico Officers' Spouses' Organization. It was through QOSO that I joined my very first book club.

March's book is Jane Austen's "Persuasion." I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I'm not particularly fond of Austen's writing style. I read "Emma" in college and while it wasn't awful, it was only really tolerable because I kept comparing it to the movie "Clueless" (R.I.P. Brittany Murphy).

Having finished the book this evening, all I can say is "finally." Thank goodness the Kindle has a "percentage finished" so that I could keep my carrot a-dangling!

I digress. While I had intended to write about the plot, characters, blah, blah, blah, I will leave it at this: It wasn't until the "95% complete" mark that the major climax occurs and even then, it's lukewarm at best. Austen's voice in this book as well as others seems be that of a high-schooler dawdling on about mundane nothings. The only reason I'm at ease with the time spent reading this novel is because I do like the idea of someone finding love even if it means going against the grain or past decisions (the age-old second chance at love story). Unfortunately, not even the love letter at the end was enough to make this, in my opinion, a recommendable read.

Do me a solid -- instead of reading this, read just one other classic book that you've always wanted to.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

BBQ-Spiced Chicken with Salsa Salad and Polenta

After seeing polenta on Top Chefs' menus week after week on the Food Network, my husband and I decided to do some research on this yellow porridge-y goodness. It was then that we decided to add it to our "culinary bucket list."

We've made homemade polenta a few times, but after flipping through a handful of recipes that called for quick-cook polenta, it was time to try it the easy way. Rachael Ray's "Big Orange Book" (see below) is a new cookbook in our home and we're still testing it out. This recipe was another test and what a tasty success! The original recipe is for pumpkin-chipotle polenta, but if you want to cut time, or (in my case) can't find pumpkin puree or chipotle in adobo sauce, no worries.


Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp grill seasoning
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 3 tbsp dark brown sugar, packed
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 4 tbsp EVOO
  • 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • juice of 2 limes
  • handful of fresh chopped cilantro leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 C chicken stock
  • 1 C milk (or half-and-half)
  • 1 chipotle in adobo, finely chopped, and 2 tsp adobo sauce
  • 3/4 C quick-cooking polenta
  • 1 - 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp butter
Directions:
  1. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat or heat an outdoor grill.
  2. Mix the grill seasoning, chili powder, cumin, coriander, and brown sugar in a large resealable plastic bag. Coat the chicken with 1 tbsp of the EVOO and add it to the bag, turning to coat the chicken evenly in the spices. Let the chicken hang out for a few minutes.


  3. Chop and combine the tomatoes, bell pepper and onions in a salad bowl.


  4. Place the chicken on the grill plan or grill and cook for 6 to 7 minutes on each side.


  5. Dress the salad with the lime juice and the remaining 3 tbsp of EVOO. Add the cilantro and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Heat the stock and milk (or half-and-half) in a large sauce pot with the chipotle and adobo sauce. Whisk in the polenta and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to thicken, then stir in the pumpkin puree and heat to warm through. Stir in the honey and butter and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Serve the polenta topped with the chicken and with the salsa salad alongside.
Et voila!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Erin Go Bragh! Corned Beef, Cabbage, Irish Soda Bread and Cupcakes


Without fail, my momma made corned beef and cabbage every St. Patrick's Day when I was a kid. The first year that I had a grown-up kitchen (read: not a microwave stacked on top of a mini-fridge in a dorm room), I attempted to make my very own St. Patrick's Day feast. Unfortunately, as usual, my then-boyfriend/now dear husband was my first victim, er, guest. I made the most horrific dish to date, some foul conglomeration of rock-solid potatoes and really clammy cabbage. Don't ask.

Thankfully, I re-attempted the feast this year and was finally successful. Surprisingly, I also managed to do it the same day as surviving an emergency root canal and multiple fillings. I watched a crock-pot tutorial that was corned beef-specific and got to work before the dentist did. This recipe is so easy, relatively inexpensive and a great way to celebrate the awesomeness that is being Irish.

Ingredients :

  • 1 - 12 oz. bottle of Guinness
  • 3 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered
  • 3 1/2 lbs corned beef brisket (and included spice packet)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
  • 6 shallots of peeled garlic
  • 1 small head of cabbage, cored and quartered 
  • 5 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 5 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 3/4 water
Directions:
  1. Set the crock pot to low. 
  2. Add the brisket to the pot and sprinkle included spice packet over it. Add peppercorns and bay leaves. Circle the pot with Guinness. 
  3. Cover and let simmer on low for five hours. 
  4. Pierce cabbage and onion chunks with toothpicks. (This will help keep the vegetables together when you remove them later.)
  5. Add cabbage, onion, potatoes, carrots and water to pot.
  6. Cover and simmer for an additional hour.
  7. Remove vegetables and place on platter. Let the meat and extra juice cool for about six minutes.
  8. Remove the brisket and place on cutting board. Slice into thin strips against the grain.
  9. Serve with reserved juice in gravy boat. And a cold Killian's (or Guinness).

But wait! My favorite part of the feast isn't the meat and potatoes. Or the beer. It's the soda bread! I learned about soda bread when I was managing my mom's gift store during my college days. I had a "regular" pop by the store one St. Patty's Day and ask me what my plans were. I explained my intentions for my first feast and, bless her heart, she got so excited! She told me the menu wouldn't be complete without traditional (new to me) soda bread. Would you believe she drove all the way home and back to the store to give me a copy of her handwritten recipe card? This was my third time making it and I'm convinced it just gets better. 

Ingredients:
  • 4 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 C cold butter or stick margarine
  • 1 C (or more, if you're so inclined) golden raisins
  • 1 3/4 C buttermilk
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375. 
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  3. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. 
  4. Add raisins.
  5. Stir in the buttermilk until just moistened. 
  6. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead 8 times.
  7. Place onto an ungreased baking sheet and pat into a 7" round loaf.
  8. Using a sharp knife, cut a 1" cross about 1/4" deep on top of the loaf.
  9. Bake for 43 minutes or until golden.

And finally - as if all that didn't send you straight to the couch for a food coma - my Pillsbury cupcakes! (Hey, a chef's gotta catch a break where she can find one!)


Monday, March 15, 2010

Chicken-Zucchini Alfredo

When I first moved in with my husband (then boyfriend), I think I nearly killed him with pasta - namely chicken alfredo. It was the only thing that I could figure out how to throw together quickly and tastily. And how could I forget? Cheaply! I think it goes without saying that I needed to take a good, long break from it before he realized how little I could cook. 


To sneak it back into our repertoire, I had to make an outstanding version of it, and without warning. 


I gave full credit to the March (2010) edition of Food Network Magazine. (And a special thanks to the local auto shop for making me wait a full hour for an emissions test and, thus, encouraging me to read all the fine print to pass the time.)


Ladies and gentleman, a tasty dish and a simple way to try making alfredo sauce from scratch!


Ingredients:
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tbsp EVOO
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 zucchini, thinly sliced into half-moons
  • 4 4-oz. thin skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 12 oz. fettuccine (preferably whole wheat)
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 C cold low-fat milk (1%)
  • 1/2 C evaporated nonfat milk
  • 3/4 C freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 C chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Directions:
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat 1 tbsp EVOO in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 clove garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add the zucchini, cover and cook until tender, stirring, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.


     

  2. Heat another tablespoon oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper and cook through, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Cook the pasta in the boiling water as the label directs. Drain, reserving 1/2 C cooking water; return the pasta to the pot.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk the flour and low-fat milk in a bowl. Place the remaining 1 clove garlic and 1 tbsp oil in the skillet and cook over medium-high heat, 30 seconds. Add the flour-milk mixture and bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add the evaporated milk, 1/2 tsp salt and the cheese; stir to melt, 1 minute.
  5. Cut the chicken into strips. Toss with the pasta, sauce, zucchini and parsley, adding the reserved pasta water to loosen.
Et voila!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The BUZZ! ::konnichiwa!:: and Frozen Coffee Pie

I'm increasingly nervous about telling anyone that I have a "secret" as being a 20-something stay-at-home Marine wife makes people immediately assume I'm pregnant. Sorry to disappoint, kids. Even more exciting (well, indeed more welcome) is the fact that husband and I received orders to move to Okinawa, Japan!

Now, I knew we'd be finding out any day last week. The TBS Marines (mine included) were in the field for the whole week, cell phones prohibited. It was through a desperate phone tree of other wife-to-husband texts that I got word to my husband that I knew he had received his orders with our new duty station. Apparently not, though. After everyone found out on Monday night, I pretty much gave up hope of hearing anything until Friday when he returned home.

Thankfully, I had kept myself preoccupied that day by preparing the house for family coming over. Unfortunately, I was too busy rushing through the steps of dinner to take pictures, but for my husband, dad, his girlfriend (and now dear friend of mine) and little brother I made Cuban-style Black Bean Soup and Charred Beef Medallions with Seranno-Tequila Sauce with Mexican Rice. Dad and brother started on the beer and chips/queso/salsa while the "other K" and I indulged in a tasty glass of "Jim Jim" Australian shiraz. A short while later, husband walked in the door, caked in mud, looking a little more than exhausted, but cheesing nonetheless to have family filling the living room and a big ol' secret that only he knew.

As we sat down to eat, we all made small talk over soup. Then came entree time. I never thought my brother (or dad) would be able to stare down a medallion of filet mignon then put both fork and knife down and wait. For anything. First it was little brother. Then daddy. Then me. Finally K. Secret-keeping husband realized that we were all boycotting eating dinner until he spilled the beans. He tried to casually carry on with conversation, but he eventually gave up. Then the prodding began: "So, where ya going? How's the weather in California? What do you want to see most in Cherry Point?" His response? "Well, I really just want to see what Kaylie looks like in a kimono."

Bam! There you have it. :)

We celebrated that night with a favorite of my husband's from our dating days: Frozen Coffee Pie. You'll have to forgive me (or should I say, "sumimasen!"), but I forgot to take a picture of the final product when I pulled it out of the freezer to serve after the big news. This is a great treat in the dead of winter or in the hot dog days of summer. SO easy, cheap and refreshing!

(Serves 8)
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 C hot fudge sauce
  • 1 prepared 6 oz./9" chocolate-flavored crumb crust
  • 1 3/4 C cold milk
  • 2 pkgs (~ 4-serving size each) Jello vanilla pie filling
  • 2 tbsp instant coffee crystals
  • 1 - 8 oz. tub, thawed Cool Whip
Directions:
  1. Heat sauce. Pour into crust. Freeze for 5 minutes.



  2. Pour milk into large bowl. Add pudding mixes and coffee.
  3. Beat with wire whisk for 1 minutes. Stir in Cool Whip. Spoon mix into crust.



  4. Freeze for 4 hours. 
  5. Remove and let stand 10 minutes before serving.
P.S. For your viewing pleasure, a little taste of island life...
(Photo found on Google image search. Copyright JTA 2005 - Photo by Masaru Arai.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spiced Cauliflower Soup

[I'll keep this short and sweet since "the cafe" is a-buzz with news!]


I was never a huge fan of vegetables as a kid and teenager. I sat at the kitchen table for hours while my momma waited for me to finish my brussel sprouts (and without gagging or sassing). I was grossed out by watching my step-dad and brothers butter their peas. You get the idea. 


I get on my husband's case for always trying to get me to try the sames things I don't like (read: salmon) over and over again in the hopes that one day I might just actually discover a love for it. When we lived in Blacksburg (Go Hokies!), India Garden was the only Indian restaurant in, oh, at least a one-hour radius. Needless to say, when I didn't feel like cooking that cuisine at home, it was our go-to spot. Their lunch buffet featured a decent array of the standard stuff: fresh naan, chicken korma, samosas, murg saag, and a variety of vegetable curries. After finishing my first plate (no judging!), I went back for seconds of one of the vegetable curries and, to my surprise, found how much I enjoyed the cauliflower taste with the potatoes. 


Still on my soup kick, I decided to try a, dare I say it? Cauliflower soup (thanks to my trusty "India's 500 Best Recipes" cookbook). Spices unique to Middle and South Eastern food always warm my thoughts and tummy. And, let's be honest, who doesn't love a yummy way to get your veggie count up?


Ingredients:
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh root ginger
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 4 C vegetable stock
  • 1 1/4 C Greek (plain) yogurt
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • fresh coriander (cilantro) or parsley, to garnish
Directions:
  1. Put the potato, cauliflower and onion into a large, heavy pan with the oil and 3 tbsp water. Heat until hot and bubbling, then stir well, cover the pan and turn the heat down. Continue cooking the mixture for about 10 minutes.


  2. Add the garlic, ginger and spices. Stir well, and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the stock and season well. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.


  3. Puree with immersion hand blender (or in a food processor or blender in small batches, then return to the pan). Stir in the yogurt, adjust the seasoning and serve garnished with coriander or parsley. For a twist, try it chilled.

    Et voila!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sweet-and-Sour Balti Chicken

Growing up in Northern Virginia, you'd think I would have at least tried a good number of different ethnic cuisines. Truth be told, my momma was more of an "American" kinda cook so we had meat loaf, chicken turnovers, pot roast and pork chops more than anything else, with a bonus treat of the occasional pizza delivery or Chinese take-out.

On my third date with my now-husband, I was treated to my first-ever Indian experience - yes, experience. Between our sopping-wet run to the parking garage from the Baltimore Aquarium and our lecture by a homeless man about the genocide of blacks in Baltimore County, I was kind of hoping our date would be on its way to a nice, quiet ride home. Nope!

Adam delightfully surprised me with dinner at Kumari Restaurant and Bar. Like two little lovebirds, we were nestled up in a window seat overlooking the rainy, sparkly street below. I won't go into all the mushy details of staring into his deep blue eyes or admiring him trying to hide his smile ::sighs::, but I will say it might have been the first night that I've ever enjoyed a new food so fully. (Come on - if you've tried fresh naan or good chicken korma, you know what I'm talking about!)

Since then, I've tried a handful of Indian dishes at home, all from "India's 500 Best Recipes" by a collection of authors. This is one of my go-to recipes when I'm craving a quick (and cheap) Indian fix.


Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp Greek (plain) yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 tbsp mango chutney
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white sugar
  • 4 tbsp corn oil
  • 1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken, cubed
  • 2/3 C water
  • 2 fresh green chillies, chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • 2 tbsp light cream
  • Rice (instant white or basmati if you have time)
Directions
  1. Mix the tomato paste, yogurt, garam masala, chilli powder, crushed garlic, mango chutney, salt and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Stir well.



  2. Heat the oil in a karahi, wok or deep pan. Lower the heat slightly and pour in the spice mixture. Bring to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the chicken pieces and stir until they are well coated.
  4. Stir in the water to thin the sauce slightly. Continue cooking for 5-7 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked and tender.
  5. Make sure you've got your rice ready to be plated.
  6. Finally, add the fresh chillies, coriander and cream to the spice mix. Cook for another 2 minutes over low heat, then serve on rice bed.



    Et voila!