Monday, September 1, 2014

Chef for a Day

I would like to start by thanking my husband, Paul, for being the biggest supporter of this little blog of mine. He is one of its main recipe taste testers and promoters. Because of him, my Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf was chosen as a featured item in a special lunch event called Chef for a Day where he works. Since Paul submitted the recipe, he got to wear an apron and chef’s hat as well as serve the dish to customers in the cafeteria. The event was a success with batches selling out in just over 1 hour! Pretty good performance considering it was only one of many lunch options.

I was not present, but I would like to share some pictures taken on my husband’s cell phone.

This is Paul waiting for the hungry crowd. Doesn’t he look like a proud papa?

Paul standing behind food counter in the cafeteria

Do these meatloafs look good or what?! They were served long with a Ceasar salad and rolls, a delicious lunch indeed.

A tray of two Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf

A food counter with a bowl of Ceasar salad, a bowl of  rolls, and a tray of Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf

Here’s Paul again, serving meals with lightning speed and a smile. Hmmm…how to get him to do more of that at home?...

Paul serving up plate of food

Before I leave, I would like to give a special shout out to Susan for being a big fan of this meatloaf and for recommending it to pretty much every one she knows. Lastly, a special thanks to Kim, the general manager of the cafeteria, for allowing this event to happen and to Chef Mark who recreated my recipe so expertly.    

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Caramelized Apple Bread with Cinnamon Sugar

Caramelized Apple Bread with Cinnamon Sugar

It has been feeling like autumn lately here in the Northeast with daytime highs of 70’s and nighttime lows of 50’s. In fact, some of the foliage on the trees has already changed color! Truth be told, I don’t mind the fall-like, dry, crisp weather. It is very much smack dab in the middle of my comfort zone. However, this cooler climate makes me think of seasonal dishes, and what’s a better prelude to autumn cooking than with apples?

Caramelized Apple Bread with Cinnamon Sugar

What inspired me to make this bread was a recent trip to a local fresh produce market. It was there that I had apple cider donut straight from the fryer and dipped into cinnamon sugar. It left me wanting more of the taste of fall, so I decided to dedicate the next post to apples. But rather than doing another deep fry recipe after I just posted one (and I wanted to avoid making another baked donut at this time), I decided that bread would be great option. And how good it is! With layers of caramelized apples, the sweet scent of spice, and sugar in the raw and cinnamon sugar topping, this bread is a beautiful thing.

Is your mouth watering yet? I certainly hope so!

Caramelized Apple Bread with Cinnamon Sugar

Caramelized Apple Bread with Cinnamon Sugar:

For the Bread:
1 large apple
5 tbsp. room temperature butter, divided
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, divided
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup water

For the Cinnamon Sugar Topping:
2 tsp. sugar in the raw
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Peel and quarter apple. Cut into 1/8-inch slices. Preheat a large skillet on medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter. Once melted, add apple, keeping it in a single layer as best as possible. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Turn apple slices over. Cover and cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes or until apple slices are tender yet maintain shape. Remove from heat and leave uncovered. Note: if apple browns too quickly during cooking, reduce heat. Cooking time will vary depending on the type of apple: softer ones like McIntosh cooks faster than harder ones like Fuji.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add butter, sugar, and egg. Beat on high for a minute or until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla and water. Beat, starting on low and gradually increase to medium high, until mixture is smooth. Add flour mixture, one-third at a time and blend just till combined using a rubber spatula.

Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 loaf pan. Place one-third of the batter on the bottom followed by a layer of apple slices, using only one-third. Repeat layering two more times. Slightly press the top layer of apples into the batter. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until tooth pick comes out with a few crumbs when inserted into the center. Cool at least 15 minutes before unmolding, then cool completely on rack. Makes about 12 servings.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Crispy Chicken Tenders with Sweet Pepper Relish Dip

I have made numerous versions of breaded chicken tenders for my family, but this one has got to be my favorite to date. The breading is light and crispy with the help of my secret ingredient, butter flavored crackers—it provides the crunch factor while keeping the breading light and airy. I also use an unconventional coating technique which keeps every bit of the cracker crumbs in place without building a thick gloppy coating. The chicken is dipped into a flour mixture, followed by an egg wash, and then dipped into cracker crumbs. But that’s not all—it then gets coated with a layer of cooking spray (I never said this was a light recipe!), followed by a misting of the flour mixture.  The result is a delicious light and crispy breading on the chicken.

Crispy Chicken Tenders with Sweet Pepper Relish Dip

To accompany these glorious tenders, I serve them with my sweet pepper relish dip. I know! How good is that!? It’s a piece of cake to assemble and takes these tenders over the top.

Crispy Chicken Tenders with Sweet Pepper Relish Dip

Make them and watch them fly off the plate!

Crispy Chicken Tenders with Sweet Pepper Relish Dip:

For the Chicken:
40 butter flavored crackers (I use Ritz)
1 cup flour
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 heaping tsp. garlic powder
1/2 heaping tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. smoked paprika
2 eggs
3 tbsp. milk
2 lbs. chicken tenderloins (about 12 to 16 pieces depending on the size)
Cooking spray
2 1/2 cups canola oil

For the Sweet Pepper Relish Dip:
3/4 cup sweet pepper relish
1/8 cup sour cream
1/8 cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup ketchup

Note: You will need a small metal fine mesh strainer for this recipe.

Place crackers in a large plastic bag. Lightly smash into coarse crumbs using a rolling pin or the bottom of a sturdy cup, being careful not to take it to the powder stage. Place on a plate or a wide shallow bowl.

Combine flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika in a plate or a wide shallow bowl. Blend well with a fork. In wide shallow bowl, add eggs and milk. Whisk thoroughly.

To bread chicken: Dip into flour mixture, shaking off excess. Dip in egg mixture. Next, dip into cracker crumbs, patting crumbs onto chicken. Place on a flat surface. Continue breading the remaining chicken.

Place oil in a medium frying pan or heavy bottom saucepan. Preheat to 360 degrees F. Whatever size pan you use, make sure to add enough oil to cover at least 3/4-inch deep.

Spray a coat of cooking spray on tenders. This will help the top layer of flour adhere. Pour some of the left over flour mixture into a fine mesh strainer. Shake on a light coat of the flour over tenders, just enough to cover all of the crumbs. Turn chicken over and coat with cooking spray. Shake on flour mixture flour.

Place about 4 tenders into the hot oil. Don't pack theme in too tight. Cook about 3 to 5 minutes total, depending on the size, turning over once. Done when the outside is golden brown or when there is no pink in the center when sliced through. Place on paper towels to drain off oil. Continue cooking the remaining chicken.

To make sauce, combine red pepper relish, sour cream, mayonnaise, and ketchup in a small bowl. Serve alongside chicken tenders. Best eaten immediately—the coating will lose crispiness when stored. Makes 4 servings.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Serendipity3’s Frrrozen Hot Chocolate

Serendipity3’s Frozen Hot Chocolate

I have always believed that bigger, more expensive is not necessarily always better as I rediscovered on my recent trip to New York City. My husband, our friends, and I have dined at a couple of well-known and expensive steakhouses during our occasional NYC visits over the years. We had high expectations for these restaurants, mainly because they were rare treats and because they were extremely expensive. Naturally, we expected the food, especially the steak, to be out of this world. It wasn’t the case in both instances. Don’t get me wrong, the food was very good, but it didn’t WOW our socks off. What took us by surprise (pleasantly) were the little simple things we had elsewhere. One of these serendipitous surprises was the Frrrozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity3. (Pun entirely intended. Sorry!) It is a gloriously chocolaty, rich-but-not-too-rich, thirst-quenching, sweet tooth satisfying, smooth, endorphin stimulating liquid ambrosia in a giant goblet. I knew as soon as I had it that I had to share it on this blog.

Serendipity3’s Frozen Hot Chocolate

I debated over creating a copycat version or searching for the secret recipe. I quickly decided that I had to have the original (or as close as possible). Well, thanks to Todd Wilbur, the author Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3, here it is…and it tastes just like the one I had at Serendipty3! And it's as close as you can get to the real thing. According to Todd, the recipe that the restaurant gave to Oprah, which was featured on one of her shows and posted on her site, is not THE one. The ingredients don't match the ones on their frozen hot chocolate mix that you can purchase. He deciphered their hidden little secret, and thanks to Todd, I can mix up this special treat (inexpensively) in my own home any time I want. If you have not discovered this elixir of life, now is the time.  Join me. Pull out the blender and start mixing!!

Serendipity3’s Frozen Hot Chocolate

Serendipity’s Frrrozen Hot Chocolate:
Recipe from Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder
2 tablespoons Ghirardelli cocoa powder
1 tablespoon Hershey's cocoa powder
1 tablespoon Scharffen Berger cocoa powder (see note below)
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
3 cups ice
2 or more cups whipped cream (I prefer homemade)
1/2 ounce shavings from a semi-sweet chocolate bar

Combine the first 6 dry ingredients in a small bowl. Pour milk into a blender. Add the dry ingredients, followed by the ice. Blend until the ice is crushed and the drink is a slush consistency. Pour into one 30-ounce or two 15-ounce goblets. Top with whipped cream and a sprinkling of shaved chocolate. Serve immediately.

Note:If can’t find the Scharfffen Berger cocoa, use 3 tablespoons Ghirardelli cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon Hershey's cocoa powder. Use a vegetable peeler to scrape off chocolate shavings. 

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Friday, August 1, 2014

Pickled Carrots and Daikon

Pickled Carrots and Daikon

Pickled carrots and daikon is a popular Vietnamese condiment that adds crunch, tanginess, and a punch of color to banh mi and many other dishes. It is fabulous with my Fried ShrimpBanh Mi. What I am sharing is a basic recipe that can easily be enhanced. You can get fancy and customize with other flavoring—add garlic and/or chili peppers, for example. For maximum flavor, marinade overnight. But if you are really impatient, you can eat it after 1 hour of pickling.

Pickled Carrots and Daikon

This condiment is so simple to make. The most time-consuming part is the cutting of the vegetables. I usually go old-school choosing to julienne the carrots and daikon by hand, but you can certainly use a food processor with a shredding attachment to accomplish the job. If you choose option B, this recipe will take no time to make. Easy peasy…piece of cake...easy as pie. Okay, you get the point.

Here’s how to make it.

Pickled Carrots and Daikon

 Pickled Carrots and Daikon:

1/4 lb. carrot (1 small)
1/4  lb. daikon
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
1/3 cup rice vinegar

Peel and cut carrot and daikon into matchstick size. For a shortcut, shred them in your food processor. There should be about 2 cups total. Place in a bowl. Sprinkle and rub salt into carrot and daikon. Let sit for 8 to 10 minutes to soften. 

Meanwhile, dissolve sugar in 1/4 cup of boiling water. Add cold water and vinegar.  After the carrots and daikon have sat for 8 to 10 minutes, rinse and pat dry. Place in a jar equipped with a tight lid. Pour enough vinegar solution to cover vegetables. Cover with lid. Marinade for at least 1 hour before serving, best overnight. Keep unused portion refrigerated for a couple weeks.