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Anybody can cook. I’ll say it again because it’s the truth, and it needs to be emphasized.

I have a coworker who by all accounts (his own included) can’t cook.  He recently mentioned that he has never made spaghetti. (To clarify, he has never boiled pasta in water-ridiculous)  Our office has been providing him various easy recipes to try, with little success on his part. Not due to his enthusiasm, as he has plenty, but rather he makes critical mistakes only one with no experience cooking could possibly make, often ending in hilarity. Kevin, another coworker who is also pretty talented in the kitchen,  recently gave him a recipe “he couldn’t mess up” – taco pie – a baked concoction of pre-made croissant dough, taco meat, seasonings, and the usual accompaniments of sour cream, lettuce and tomato.  He painstakingly wrote a step by step instruction guide. I thought he’d botch the croissant dough, but apparently that wasn’t his downfall. No, our fearless coworker followed the directions almost perfectly, but made the fatal mistake of adding the lettuce and tomato, THEN BAKING the dish. Baked lettuce. You read that right.

After the countless jokes made in his honor eventually subsided over the days, many of us took it as a challenge of sorts to get him up and running in the kitchen. Some even doomed him as  hopeless unless he received in-person instruction. Some of us weren’t ready to give up on him.  We created an office wager where different employees would provide the employee with a recipe.  Whatever recipe he successful completes and thinks tastes best, provider of said wins free lunch from other employees.

There had to be something he could pull off, apart from top ramen, that would be easy and delicious. I was tempted to recommend prepackaged shake-n-bake, but I wanted to take it a little farther and have get a little more down and dirty. Soup seemed like the best route.  So I crafted out one of my favorites that my mom and I make every once in a while, and modified it slightly to make it easier on him.

After walking through the grocery list at the end of the day at work, and answering several random questions about the process, I nervously sent him on his way.

I received a few phone calls over the evening as he first shopped, then prepared the meal.

6:17pm: “Would garbanzo beans work in place of pinto beans?”

6:26pm: I attempt to encourage him via text message with an inspirational fake quote.  “Confidence is key – Bobby Flay”

6:29pm: Coworker responds via text with “Good advice but who’s Bobby Flay?” FAIL.

8:27pm: Frantic phone call received.  “I’m screwed. I don’t have a pot big enough for soup and I haven’t even started yet.” (He had no pots at his house. That dilemma was solved when we discovered he had 4qt sauté pan he could use for the task)

9:19pm: Picture text message received from coworker showing cut chicken and ingredients stove side, with caption “Ready to go!”

I didn’t hear from him for the next hour, and finally got nervous enough where I had to call and see how it went.

“How did it go?”

“Just sitting down and taking my first bite, but it turned out really good.” You could here the excitement, and dare I say, pride, in his voice. He continued. “You should see how I presented it. I did  little cuts of avocado on top, then dollop of sour cream in the bowl. I took pictures”

Now I was pleasantly surprised and smiling a bit. Not only had he made something he was proud of, he also took pictures of it to share. Good lord. He’s moving quick into the food nerd category. Apparently it turned out pretty good. Now granted, what I told him would take thirty minutes ended up taking two hours, ten minutes, but hey, it’s a start.

So that’s my story for the evening. Anybody can cook. Give yourself some time, build up that courage, and try something new. The recipe is below. I have kept most of the original text I gave him in terms of instructions, which is dumbed down, as he had absolutely no cooking experience when attempting this. That being said,  I’m super proud of him.

Easy White Bean Chicken Chili

Ingredients

2 skinless/boneless chicken breasts, unfrozen, cut into ¾” cubes (If you can find cooked chicken that is cut into pieces for you, that’s fine)

1 large onion, chopped (cut into pieces size of thumbnail)

2 cloves garlic, finely diced (cut into half a grain of rice size)

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1 teaspoon ground cumin

32oz of chicken broth

¼ teaspoon red pepper sauce (Tabasco, or your favorite hot sauce)

2 cans (15 to 16 oz each) white kidney beans, drained, rinsed

1 can (11 oz) white corn, drained (yellow canned or frozen corn would work fine too)

1 lime, cut in half. (You are going to squeezed all the juice into the soup )

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

¼ cup instant mashed potato flakes (optional)

1 avocado (sliced)

Sour cream

Crushed tortilla chips

Making the Soup

Put pot on stove on medium heat. Put two tablespoons of oil (canola, olive or butter) into pan and put all the onions in as well. Stir the onions every minute, for 5 minutes. DON’T BROWN THEM. If they start to brown, remove pan from heat and turn heat down. After 5 minutes add your garlic, chicken, cumin and oregano. Cook and stir constantly until the chicken is done (Cut a chicken cube in half, and if there is no pink, it’s done).

Add chicken broth, hot sauce, beans, corn and lime juice. Bring to boil for 3 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

While soup is boiling, clean your cilantro. To do this, fill a large bowl with cold water, and dunk the cilantro into the water aggressively multiple times. What you are doing here is cleaning the cilantro – there is lots of dirt of the little leaves you want to get off. After you’ve dunked them a bunch, dry them in paper towels. Cut only the bushy part of the cilantro, and try to avoid the stems. The stems have no flavor, the leaves do.

Add cilantro, salt and pepper to chili mixture and simmer for another 10 minutes.

(Optional) After 10 minutes, if the chili looks a little thin for your preference, whisk in the mashed potato flakes into the chili, and simmer for another 5 minutes. This will thicken it.

Presentation

Serve soup in bowls. Place several wedges of avocado on top of chili, along with a dollop of sour cream and some crushed tortilla chips.

This weekend I made my first cheesecake. It was a gorgeous day for a Saturday in December and I’d been itching to bake all week. Smitten Kitchen’s most recent post was a decadent looking cheesecake featuring all my favorite things…Oreos, Kahlua and espresso. So why not? My friend Megan had the morning free so we spent the afternoon baking this bad boy and catching up. Perfect Saturday. 

 You can find the recipe here: Everything taste wise went off without a hitch. The only issue was after baking the cheesecake contracted a good 1/2″ on all sides of the crust resulting in a gap between the “cake” and the “crust”. Does anybody know why this happens, or how to avoid it? It was initially unsightly, but I was able to pipe frosting to camouflage the gap. Other than that, it was perfect. 

 

 

 

 

 

I got to spend Thanksgiving afternoon with my sister helping her bake a recipe she found in Bon Appetit. The recipe taunted “Cupcakes for Thanksgiving? Why not?”. It made complete sense to us so we decided to give it a whirl.

I was pretty nervous making these (honestly, I think I watched more than I contributed). The biggest concern I had was the caramel. I’ve never worked with it and have been intimidated by a process that I perceived to be extremely difficult . I was pleasantly suprised to discover that it’s not that bad – just keep a close eye. The caramel we made could not have been any better. Rich, dark and creamy, off set by the slight tang of salt and butter. It’s a winner.

Brown Sugar-Pecan Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting
From Bon Appetit – Makes 12

Cupcakes

Nonstick vegetable oil spray

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup cake flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped toasted pecans

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

2 large egg yolks

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans

cupcakes

Put rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 350°F. Spray 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray; line with muffin cups.

Whisk both flours, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt in medium bowl. Stir in chopped pecans. Beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add brown sugar; beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat in sour cream and vanilla. Add dry ingredients; beat on low speed just to blend. Divide batter among muffin cups.

Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 23 minutes. Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool. DO AHEAD Can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover; store at room temperature.

frosting

Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high; boil until syrup turns deep amber, swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, 6 to 7 minutes.

Remove from heat; add cream (mixture will bubble up). Stir over low heat until caramel bits dissolve. Whisk egg yolks in medium bowl. Very gradually whisk hot caramel into yolks. Cool to room temperature.

Using electric mixer, beat butter and salt in large bowl until smooth. Beat in caramel. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Let stand at room temperature until thick enough to spread, about 1 hour.

Spread frosting over cupcakes. Place pecans on plate. Roll edges of cupcakes in nuts. DO AHEAD Can be made 8 hours ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

The difference in texture between the ice cream and the crumbling graham cracker creates a fantastic contrast, and the caramel and spiced whipped cream only make things that much better. I’m really proud of how these turned out. Probably one of my favorite creations to date. Plus I got super lucky on how the photo turned out.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Ice Cream

Follow this recipe for the pumpkin ice cream. When the recipe calls to whisk the pumpkin mixture into the custard at the end of the recipe, ADD  approximately one cup of half & half after you cook the custard at the end of the recipe .  You want the consistency to resemble thick pudding. The original recipe produces a custard that has the consistency of wet sand – I discovered this the first batch I made and it wasnt pleasant. Half & half does the trick just fine.  Also, I used Captain Morgan’s instead of bourbon for the liquor. I’m sure bourbon would be delicious too.

Graham Cracker Crust

1 1/2 cups crumbled graham crackers (about 20 sqaures)

1/4 cup white sugar

1/3 cup melted butter

Combine all ingredients. Line a cupcake pan with liners. Put a heaping tablespoon of mixture into the bottom of a cupcake liner. Press the mixture down firmly into the bottom of the liner, it should be about 1/4″ thick. Bake at 350° for 7 minutes. Let cool.  The goal is to have little discs that you can scoop the ice cream on to when you peel off the cupcake liner.

Spiked Whip Cream

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoons white sugar

2 tablespoons Capt. Morgan’s Spiced Rum or bourbon

Whip the cream on high with an electric mixer until soft peaks form then slowly add the rum and sugar while  beating  until hard peaks form. Set aside.

Place a dollop of ice cream on a graham cracker crust. Drizzle with caramel, add a tablespoon of whipped cream, then sprinkle with a little bit of cinnamon or nutmeg. Serve immediately.

Eggs Benedict with the Italian Influence

This is my interpretation of eggs benedict with a little twist of Italy thrown in. Is it eggs benedict if it doesn’t have hollandaise sauce? I’m not entirely sure. I’m otherwise at a loss at what to name this. Moving on – egg yolk, tomatoes, basil and balsamic seems to go perfectly together. It’s light, delicious and the flavor contrast is immense. This has become one of my favorite little breakfasts to date and I thought I’d share it with the world. Also, generous thanks to my anonymous hand model.

Serves 4 

1 cup balsamic vinegar

1 Tbs. sugar

8 english muffin halves

6 Roma tomatoes

3 Tbs. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

Salt and pepper

10 big leaves of basil

8 eggs 

Preheat oven to 400°. 

In a small saucepan, bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil. Add sugar once boiling and stir until dissolved. Reduce heat and gently boil the balsamic vinegar until it is a ¼ of its original volume. Remove from heat and cool in a separate container. Be forewarned that reducing vinegar results in a potent odor that will overwhelm your kitchen and likely your house. Your roommates will hate you for it. But when they taste it they will forgive you, I promise. This reduction has a syrupy consistency and can be used on a lot of dishes. Salads, pizzas, beef, etc. But try it on vanilla ice cream with strawberries and angel food cake. Trust me on that. If you cover and chill it in the fridge, the reduction can be used for months. 

While the balsamic is reducing, slice the tomatoes into 1/3″ thick rounds. TomatoesMince the garlic and spread evenly over the tomatoes. Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in the oven. Tomatoes with garlicThe tomatoes will be done when tender and starting to give the appearance of wrinkling/wilting. 

Julienne your basil into small strips. To do this easily, place four or five basil leaves on top of each other at a time and roll tightly, like a cigar. Rolling BasilCut through the basil into 1/8” pieces- you now have perfectly julienned basil strips. Cutting BasilSet aside. 

Start toasting your English muffins while you prepare your eggs as desired. You can poach them or fry them. Typically, I fry them because it’s less work and less mess.  

Place several slices of tomatoes on top of each toasted English muffin half. Place an egg on top of the tomato slices, and then top some pieces of basil as you see fit. Generously drizzle the balsamic reduction over everything. 

Enjoy. 

Plated

Way too tired to write a description for this one tonight. But I want to publish it while it is fresh in my mind. Take my word – this is easy, gourmet, and delicious. One of the better pastas I have ever created. I have been reading Essential Pasta, a fantastic book Matt gave me for Christmas – it’s got some great recipes along with some solid techniques and foundations for preparing restaurant quality pasta. I’d recommend it to anybody. Excited to keep reading and trying recipes. However, tonight I took a few concepts from the book and made it my own. Too bad I was home alone t – would have loved to have shared it with somebody, in particular the gf. I’m definitely going to do this one again. It was damn good.

Spaghetti with Prawns, Sundried Tomato and Basil (serves 2)

2 cloves garlic, finely diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 shallot, diced

3 oz sun dried tomatoes in oil, roughly chopped

10-12 large prawn (about ¾ lb), peeled and deveined

Juice of one half lemon

1/8 c dry white wine

4 T cream

5 large leaves of basil, julienned (Check outFabulously Classic’s tip on how to do this here)

4 tablespoons coarsely shredded Parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook till al dente.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet to medium heat. Add olive oil and shallots. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, until shallots are starting to become slightly translucent. Take care not to brown them. Add the sun dried tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, sauté for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the prawns, white wine, lemon juice and cook until pink and barely translucent. Increase the heat to high, add the cream, bring to a boil, and stir constantly, for about 30 seconds. Cream should quickly reduce in volume and thicken. Salt and pepper to taste. Add basil. Turn heat to low.

When the spaghetti is al dente, drain it and add to the prawn mixture in the skillet. Lightly toss entire mixture over heat for until well incorporated. Transfer to plates, sprinkle parmesan on top, and serve immediately.

This one is a killer. The flavor is brilliant and the presentation owns. Easy to make, extremely light, yet it packs a punch. Gentlemen, take note and file this one under “baby makin meals” – if you want a quick way to impress a date, this one if for you.

Let me share some thoughts on the inspiration behind this vinaigrette. First off, I can’t stand greasy salads. There is nothing worse than an oily salad. I intentionally go light on the oil and let the citrus do the talking. Second, this dressing really accents the flavors of other ingredients in the salad without overpowering- while perfect alone with just greens, I’d highly recommend getting creative and having some fun with what you add to the greens – blood oranges, chevre, apples, dried cranberries, basil leaves, etc are excellent choices with this vinaigrette. Finally, the dressing itself is versatile. I’ve used it as a marinade for chicken and prawns. I’ve reduced it and used it as a base for sauce, thickening it with coconut milk and serving it with fish (fantastic). This dressing tends to come off pretty sweet depending on the orange juice concentrate used, so I prefer more bitter greens to contrast the sweetness of the dressing. Spinach, arugula, mixed greens, and frisee are the winners for this one. Avoid romaine or iceberg- way too bland.

Parmesan frico? What are they? Answer: crispy cheese waifs fashioned into bowls to serve your salad in. While they appear fancy, don’t be intimidated. I was taught the recipe and frico making technique by one of my mentors, Diane Runo, owner of Tastefully Yours. She runs a business from her home, teaching cooking classes and catering high end multi-course dinner parties.

Citrus Vinaigrette
1 heaping tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons white balsalmic
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1/3 c canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except salt, pepper and oil in a blender or immersion blender. Mix together well and then slowly add the oil while on high. Salt and pepper to taste.

Salad
Mixed Greens
Frisee
Handful dried cranberries
1 apple- thinly sliced (I typically go with a gala or golden delicious)
2-3 cunces chevre
Candied pecans

Parmesan Frico
2 cups shredded parmesan (no need to buy expensive stuff for this – preshredded Trader Joe’s parmesan will work fine
1 T lemon zest
2 T julienned fresh basil
Fresh cracked black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Scoop 2 tablespoons of mixture and place on a silpat on a cookie sheet. Many of us aren’t fortunate enough to own a silpat. Not to worry – line a baking sheet with tin foil, then spray lightly with cooking spray. Bake at 400 until the cheese is completely melted and starting to be golden in color. Remove from the oven and immediately flip a small water glass upside down and gently stretch and pull the cheese over the top glass (golden part of the cheese on the outside) forming a small bowl.b Work quickly as the cheese sets in a matter of minutes. Let them sit for 10 min.

Presentation

Lightly toss the greens and frisee in some of the salad dressing. For the beginners, go easy on the dressing. Start by adding a few tablespoons of vinaigarette to the entire green mixture and see if it is enough. Nothing is worse than too much! You can always add more. Add chevre to top of mixture, then arrange 2 or 3 apple slices vertically. Top with a few dried cranberries and pecans.

Quite the little salad