Bacon Wrapped Chicken With Maple Syrup

Thursday, March 31, 2011

There are some flavors you’d never dream of experiencing together. Bacon and maple syrup were one of those combinations -- until I tried bacon wrapped shrimp with maple syrup at a restaurant. Something about the meaty taste of the bacon mingled with maple sweetness is beyond delicious. So last night, as part of my ongoing quest to get creative in the kitchen, I made a brave attempt to use the two to liven up a chicken breast. I sautéed the chicken in a pan for about 15 minutes, realizing as I did so that the bacon was getting a bit burnt. It occurred to me that this is a recipe better suited for the oven. For a trial run, though, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Take it from me, bacon and maple syrup belong with more than just breakfast!

Simple Mushroom Risotto

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I love risotto. And since I’ve given up pasta for Lent, I love it even more because it satisfies my carb cravings.

A quick Google search led me to this easy recipe for mushroom risotto from The Food Network’s website. I opted to substitute chicken stock with vegetable stock, a choice which I think might have affected the flavor.

Though the consistency turned out just fine, I must confess that my end result seemed to be missing a little something -- except when I took a bite that included mushrooms. Then…delicious! So, definitely don’t scrimp on the funghi with this recipe. More is more here, and I can’t say enough about that since my little modification of the recipe wasn’t exactly a soaring success.

Never I have been so thankful for the redemptive power of a simple mushroom!

Crock Pot Meatloaf

Saturday, March 19, 2011

One of the best culinary tips I’ve received was from my fabulous sister-in-law Barb -- get a crock pot. What better way to quiet the single gal’s popular refrain of I don’t have time to cook?

It was with great glee -- and the delight of a contented bargain shopper -- that I purchased my Crock Pot Classic for just $20. I was equally excited to discover my new gadget came with a booklet of recipes, including one for meatloaf.

For a neophyte chef, meatloaf can feel like a daunting proposition, what with having to make sure you achieve the right consistency, etc. A crock pot mercifully removes the guesswork, so I excitedly followed directions here.

1 ½ pounds of lean ground beef
2 cups bread crumbs
1 cup ketchup
½ cup chopped onion
2 beaten eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste

The recipe also called for 8 slices of cheddar or American cheese. I opted for shredded low-fat mozzarella instead and can honestly say I didn’t miss the fattier variety. After mixing all of the ingredients (minus the cheese and tomato paste) in a bowl, shape half the meat mixture into a loaf. Arrange cheese on meat then top with remaining meat. Top with tomato paste and cook on low (6 to 8 hours) or high (3 to 4 hours).

The result? A deliciously moist, flavorful meatloaf -- softer than what you’d get from an oven version but without scrimping any on taste. Mmm!

Grandpa's Vanilla Pudding

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My beloved grandfather was a wizard in the kitchen. The kind of cook that never looked at a recipe because he could trust his instincts about how to make, well, just about anything.

Along with arroz con pollo (he was Ecuador-born), one of his signature dishes was homemade vanilla pudding. I have many fond memories of standing beside him as he stirred the pot, then allowed me to taste test with a big wooden spoon. To this day, it remains one of my favorite desserts -- simple to make, heavenly to eat. Here’s the recipe:

Mix the following in a blender:
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons of Argo corn starch
Pour mixture into a pot and add 1 quart and ½ a cup of milk. Stir until ready and, after pouring into container(s), sprinkle cinnamon on top. Allow time for cooling before refrigerating.

Like I said -- heavenly!

In Praise Of Bell Peppers And Onions

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I have a confession to make - I'm a little obsessed with bell peppers at the moment. Actually, bell peppers and onions are locked in a dead heat for my affections. There's something about them. Add them to anything - meat, pasta, seafood, and it's an instant zing of flavor.

One of my favorite things to do is shred bell peppers (both red and green) and onions in the blender -- like I did before topping off the above chicken breast and baking it in the oven.

Yes, this duo never disappoints no matter what dish I throw them into. They enliven, not to mention the glorious aroma that comes when you give them a little fire in the pan. In a word, yum!

Chicken and Rice with Olive Oil, White Wine and Pepper

Thursday, March 10, 2011

As a neophyte chef, you tend to stick to cookbook recipes and shy away from experimentation (read: disaster averse). Which is why I’m proud to report that I recently crossed the threshhold of cooking sans any written guidance -- and was surprisingly pleased with the result.

I chopped half a chicken breast into small pieces and threw it into a saucepan with some white rice. Drizzled into the mix -- 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a hint of cooking white wine, diced onions and chopped green pepper. A sprinkling of ground pepper went a long way toward giving the chicken a little zest. Who knew mixing pepper varieties in one dish could be so much fun?

First-Ever Spaghetti Bolognese

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

This was by far one of my proudest accomplishments since being bitten, so to speak, by the cooking bug. Using a hearty recipe from Perfect Pasta (part of the Love Food cookbook series), I made my first-ever spaghetti Bolognese.

Ingredients included the usual staples for this beloved dish -- olive oil, chopped onions, carrots, celery, red wine, diced bacon and, of course, lean ground beef.

Little did I know when I posted my accomplishment on Facebook that it would ignite a firestorm of debate. Several of my good friends went back and forth about whether cream is or is not part of an authentic Bolognese sauce. Two of Italian descent said no way, though one managed to unearth a Wikipedia recipe that included….milk.

“Cream is for carbonara or penne in vodka sauce,” opined my friend Liz. “It doesn't belong anywhere near a Bolognese!”

Cream or not, I love me some Bolognese.

A Neophyte Chef Is Born

When you live in New York, it’s easy to put cooking on your to-do list but never actually do it. After all, Gotham is a mecca of gastronomic convenience, with enticing restaurants and delivery and takeout options on every block.

This year, though, at the tender age of 37, I've decided it’s time for me to use my kitchen for more than microwaving. Actress Billie Burke (best known as Glinda in “The Wizard of Oz”) once said age is something that doesn’t matter unless you are a cheese. Bearing that optimism in mind, I’m on a mission to develop my culinary skills as a neophyte chef. Hope you’ll join me in the adventure.

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