Friday, April 23, 2010

Balsamic Chicken with Garlic

This is so exquisitely easy, and my goodness does it look impressive. I've really been wanting to update consistently, but since I am about to graduate from college that can be very difficult!. Just to reiterrate how incredibly quick and easy this dish is: I did not think I would have time to cook dinner yesterday but I had a small break around three o'clock, came home, cooked it, and went back to school within an hour. Granted.... I still have some dishes to do, shhh.
Have no fear with the deglazing process! It may seem intimidating, but as long as you work quickly and take visual cues from key words like "syrupy", you'll do fine.
And look how lovely it turns out...
Balsamic Chicken with Garlic (and one heck of a pan sauce!)
adapted from Food Network Kitchens
(I did not need to make four chicken breasts at once, so I halved this recipe and it still turned out beautifully. Such is not always the case with baking so watch out.)

10 cloves garlic
Flour, for dredging
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper (possibly the best thing you can have in your kitchen)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water
1 to 2 tablespoons butter (optional)


1 frying pan, nonstick or stainless- whatever you've got
1 baking dish, the one i used is like 8 x 8 x 1.5 I think. Pretty standard size, I will have to check
Tongs are helpful for turning chicken, but a spatula works just as well.
Wooden spoon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, smash and peel the garlic. I use a big knife like you see chef's on TV do, just make sure you have good leverage so that the garlic doesn't go flying across the room. Trust me, this happens.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Regular is best for making a pan sauce, but I used my nonstick- no big deal. Put a little flour on a plate, I used about a tablespoon and a half, but keep in mind I halved my recipe. Just eyeball about how much you think will cover the amount of chicken you are using. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season all over with salt and pepper. Dredge on the flour plate and shake off any excess. Add oil to the hot pan and make sure it coats evenly. Place the dredged chicken in the pan and scatter the garlic around it.

Cook the chicken about five minutes on each side until it's a lovely golden brown. As for recipes like this, where the chicken spends the last of it's cooking time in the oven, your only chance to brown your chicken and make it look pretty is at the beginning on the stovetop. Don't be afraid to get it nice and golden, this is just the outside, the rest will be taken care of in the oven. Keep an eye on the garlic though, it will cook much faster and requires more turning.

Transfer the chicken to the baking dish and bake until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Leave the garlic in the skillet, it's still got work to do.

Pour the vinegar into the hot skillet. Use a wooden spoon to scrape down the skillet and mix up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Boil until the vinegar gets syrupy, about a minute or so. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Mix the flour and water together in a small bowl (this is what is called a "slurry"). Whisk the slurry into the wonderful garlic-y vinegar-y mixture and boil until the sauce thickens, about one minute. Stir in the butter at this point if you are using it. I did not originally intend to use butter, but the slurry decided it would stick together a little. I used just under a tablespoon and that small amount of greasiness really smoothed everything out. Season the sauce with salt & pepper to taste. Add any collected juices from the chicken into the sauce. Plate the chicken and pour the sauce over it with a clove or two (or three) of garlic.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Brownies, Brownies

Let me preface this with saying, I have never claimed to be a baker... but I try! I had a lot of brownies to make for some very special people. I combed my most trusty cookbooks and websites only to find mixed reviews or questionable methods. Solution: two kinds of brownies.

So, this post is a "learn with me/do as I say not as I do" sort of thing. I was rushing, and rushing can lead to overlooking.... like the vanilla that fell over and hid behind my recipe book stand. It never made it into the final Dulce De Leche brownie batter... alas I think the creamy wonderful Dulce De Leche might have compensated for the lack of extract. As for the Outrageous Brownies, I only had kosher salt, whereas the recipe called for fine salt. This really wasn't too bad. I really enjoy the combination of salty and sweet, and you could actually taste the salt in the final product without it being completely overpowering. I would call that more of a happy accident, at least for me, but I would recommend using regular salt as it is an unexpected flavor for most people. Also for this recipe, Mama's got a brand new pan!

And oh. my. gosh. IT'S HUGE AND I'M OBSESSED WITH IT. If you are considering getting a half sheet for any reason (that's 18 x 12x 1), do it. They are fabulous and I'm sure it will last forever.

These recipes were adapted from two of my foodie heroes: David Lebovitz & Ina Garten.

Batch 1: Dulce De Leche Brownies
adapted from David Lebovitz

makes about 12 brownies.... depending on how you like to cut :)

8 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (don't forget!)
1 cup flour
optional: 1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup Dulce De Leche, or Cajeta

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While you are doing this, I would recommend toasting the nuts. I like to place my nuts in a frying pan over medium and really keep an eye on them. They will become fragrant and darken a few shades. It doesn't normally take longer than about five minutes depending on the nut.

Apparently I just wasn't paying a terrible amount of attention to Mr. Lebovitz. He says the line the bottom of an 8 inch pan with foil and then grease the foil with non-stick cooking spray or butter, which I did not do. I did butter the pan, though, apparently I just did not even see the bit about the foil. This is the most likely reason why my brownies did not turn out nearly as pleasing to the eye as his. They were tasty, but they were definitely a carmel-y melty mess.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, then add the chopped chocolate and stir constantly over very low heat until the chocolate is melted. When it comes to chocolate- ALWAYS go low and slow. Remove from heat and whisk in the coco powder until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time (it will look a little funky at first, but have faith, by the third egg you will see the beautiful brownie batter begin to emerge), then the sugar, vanilla, and flour. Add the nuts at this point if you are using them.

Scrape half of the batter into the prepared baking pan (foil & all!) and spread out. In even dollops, drop 1/3 of the Dulce De Leche onto the brownie batter and drag a knife gently through to swirl the batter slightly. Pour the rest of the brownie mix over the top and repeat the process with the remaining Dulce De Leche. I think I may have dragged my knife too heavily, for the incredibly amount of swirl that Mr. Lebovitz had in his brownies, I would almost recommend using something like a toothpick.

Bake 35-45 minutes, allow to cool completely. He says these brownies get better the second day, which is great since I immediately had to mail them off to my lucky gent! I think they will do fine in the fridge or covered with foil at room temp, up to you and how long you think you can make them last.

I try to practice Mise En Place, which means having all ingredients measured, chopped, open, etc. and ready to go so that you can cook quickly and efficiently. It is a good habit, but sometimes it falls to the wayside. I cannot stress enough, however, the importance of thoroughly reading an entire recipe before you begin preparing it. That has really saved me (or caused me) a lot of trouble more than a few times- obviously I should have done a better job of it this time!

Batch 2: Outrageous Brownies
adapted from Ina Garden, The Barefoot Contessa

Makes a whole bunch of brownies. I mean it.

1 pound unsalted butter
1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (they are sold in 1 lb. & 12 oz. bags at most grocery stores)
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped walnuts ( I thought this was a little much, I used about 2 1/4 cups)

*Regarding the photo above with the butter and the chocolate; that melting process would have been quite a bit quicker if I had cubed the butter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a half sheet (18 x 12 x 1) pan.

Melt the unsweetened chocolate, the butter, and the 1 lb. chocolate chips in a medium bowl over simmering water. This is called a double boiler. I have an actual double boiler but the top bowl was much too small for the amount of chocolate and butter I was using. When doing this, make sure the water is just simmering, not boiling, and that the water is not touching the bottom of the pan. The only bowl I had that would fit was glass, so I was extra careful of the heat. Also, water ruins chocolate, so keep them away from each other! Once again, when melting chocolate: low & slow.

Remove the mixture from heat and allow it to cool slightly. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir (DO NOT BEAT) the eggs, coffee granules, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature. I waited at least 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir this into the cooled chocolate mixture. Toss the 12oz chocolate chips and chopped walnuts with 1/4 cup flour, this will prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the batter. Stir the chips and walnuts into the batter (don't worry about the extra flour in the bottom of the bowl, you really just need the chocolate and nuts to be coated), then pour the brownie batter onto the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the edge of the pan on the oven rack to release excess air. Careful, you may spill a little of the batter into the oven and make your kitchen a little smokey. Yep, it happened to me. Bake for another 15 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean in the middle... I should really buy some toothpicks. Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut as you please. These freeze pretty well, and they are so fudgey and lovely. Worth the effort.

Enjoy, And learn from my mishaps!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pasqua & Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Steamed Asparagus

Easter is always one of the best college breaks, and this year it was not combined with spring break so it felt like a giant bonus. The weather was perfect, and I was able to spend time with people who are important to me... and there was the food.
I did not create the lovely honey glazed ham you see here, but I did burn myself on the pan! (Ha! I reeled you in with that pic, didn't I?)

And there was plenty of "help" (sniffing, ham-gazing & dish pre-rinse attempts) from these little ladies. Anyway, cuteness aside, the main dish I wanted to share with you today was made for a certain lucky gent on Easter evening. I really enjoy a challenge in the kitchen (a la Julie/Julia), but as far as relatively simple recipes goes, this is absolutely one of my favorites right now.

Once again, this recipe is adapted from Martha's Great Food Fast. In my opinion, it is one of the best books for people who want to take the next step towards becoming a better cook, or at least want to make food that is usually easy and always looks really impressive! I think the "looks impressive" part is a great stepping stone towards trying new and challenging recipes because it builds up confidence, I promise. Even if you don't hit a home run every time, you are improving your skills and becoming more comfortable with your own knowledge of what works and what does not. No fear cooks! Just be safe, please :)

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms & Steamed Asparagus

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (go for a very medium size, about 6 oz each)
Course salt & fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound white mushrooms, wiped clean & sliced 1/2 inch thick*
4 garlic cloves, halved
1/2 cup dry white wine (optional, I've had it both ways and it's still really great whichever way you choose to prepare the chix)
1 3/4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish

*I sliced the 'shrooms myself the first time I made this, which was fine, but time consuming. This time, I bought pre-sliced mushrooms from Whole Foods. It cut my prep time in half. If you decide to do this, just make sure you clean mushrooms properly- so important. I wash mine in a colander and then wipe them clean with a paper towel. would not recommend soaking them. If you've got a sink sprayer that can be a huge help.

1. Sprinkle the chix with salt & pepper, about 1/4 teaspoon each. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the chicken; cook until lightly browned, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

2. Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the hot skillet. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover; cook over medium heat until the mushrooms release their juices, 2-3 minutes (I think it took mine a little longer, but you will definitely know when the mushrooms have released their juices). Remove the lid, cook over high heat, tossing occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden, 4-5 minutes.

3. Pour the wine, if using, into the skillet (make sure it's hot enough! Mine was not so this part took a few extra minutes), cook, stirring until evaporated. The recipe said one minute but I judged by smell and look. Add the broth & parsley; cook over medium-high heat until the mushrooms are tender and the liquid has reduced, 8-10 minutes.

4. Return the chicken to the skillet. Cover, simmer over low heat until the chicken is cooked through, 10-12 minutes. This chunk of time gives you just enough time to make the asparagus and whatever else you feel like serving. Serve the cutlets topped with the mushrooms and a drizzle of cooking liquid (yum). Garnish with additional fresh parsley.

For the Asparagus

1. Wash the asparagus and remove tough ends. I like to hold mine on both ends and then gently bend downward until the end pops off.

2. In a flat bottomed or larger skillet, lightly salt about an inch of water, or just enough to cover the asparagus. Bring to a boil, and cook asparagus for about 6 minutes until softer, but still lightly crunchy and bright green in color. You can add all kinds of seasoning to asparagus. I chose to just use pepper this time, but I am itching to try lemon & parm.... or hollandaise if I'm feeling really indulgent. Preparing asparagus this way is really kind of fool proof, it does not matter if you choose to cover the skillet while cooking, or only leave the veggies in for 2 minutes. It is all personal preference.

3. Drain, season & eat up!

One of my favorite things about this recipe is that you will most likely have lots of leftover parsley. Parsley is great on TONS of things, I put it on almost everything until I can't use it anymore.