Friday, January 29, 2010

Signs Of A Chef-To-Be:

A Culinary Dry Run
Getting acquainted with pots and pans at an early age. Perfect primer.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pulled Chicken [Sandwiches]

For one year, when I was in college at UConn, my childhood friend Evan's apartment was right down the road. It was always fun having him around, but one of my most memorable weekends was when a huge storm rolled through. Forecasters promised 18"-24" of snow. The plan? Get lots of beer, get snowed in, and go riding around in Evan's Jeep Wrangler the next day. Really, I couldn't think of a better way to spend a snow day.

The only thing missing was the perfect meal. Something easy, warm, filling, and containable... pulled pork. It was the icing on the cake, really.

It dumped 1/2" of snow in the 15 minutes I was in the food store today. Nothing says crock-pot meals like a snow squall. I worked all weekend, I worked today, I've been running around like a crazy person... this meal plan is perfect for today.

Now, my recipe has (thank God) evolved a bit from my days at UConn, and there are even a few different variations.

I wanted to go for the epitome of hot/sweet/smoky, and so I concocted a Pineapple-Habanero Barbecue Sauce. Keeping with the healthy, I pulled chicken instead of pork. But no matter how you slice it, this is a damn good dish.

Pineapple-Habanero Pulled Chicken Sandwiches
You can cook this in a crock pot on high or low heat (preferable), but if you're short on time you can do it in a dutch oven on the stove.

5 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
1 15oz. can Crushed Tomatoes
1 Habanero Pepper
1 can of Pineapple Chunks (if you can go fresh, by all means, go for it)
1 Sweet Spanish Onion, chopped finely
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce
2 Chipotle Peppers (or 2 tblsp. Chipotle Seasoning)
3 tblsp Vegetable Oil
Juice of 1 Lime

Romain Lettuce, Pepper-Jack or Cheddar Cheese, Fresh Cilantro, Bulkie Rolls

1) Put 2 tbsp. vegetable oil, 1/2 the chopped onion, 1/2 the pineapple chunks (with liquid), habanero pepper, and chicken in a crock pot (or dutch oven) set to low, and place the lid on.

2) In a sauce pan, saute the rest of the onion, chipotle peppers, and pineapple in remaining oil until the onion is soft.

3) Add tomatoes, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and lime juice, bringing to a boil.

4) Reduce to a simmer with the lid off, let the sauce reduce until it is thick and all of the ingredients are fully married, about an hour. (Taste to test. It should be tangy with a little kick, subtly smoky, and not too tomato-y).

5) Add the sauce to the chicken, which should be fairly well cooked by now. Let the chicken cook in the sauce until it is very tender and pulls apart easily (about an hour on the stove, two in the crock pot set on high).

6) Shred the chicken breasts by pulling apart with two forks. Keep going until all of the chicken is thoroughly shredded, and there are no big chicken pieces left.

7) If you are using the crock pot, drain some of the liquid and continue to cook. On stove top I like to keep it simmering with the lid off for another 30-40 minutes so that the chicken is thickly coated in the sauce.

8) Serve on toasted bulkie rolls with lettuce, pepper-jack cheese, and cilantro.

I'm telling you: Light a fire, turn on a game. It's cold outside, you're warm inside. Plus, you've got a dynamite sandwich.

Jenny 1 : Winter 0
Bring it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

Sometimes the meals that have true "romantic dinner" potential sneak up on you. Take today for instance: I woke up, did some research, went to the chiropractor, and thought to myself, "Hey, I should do a new sandwich post today."

I happened to be right by Stop and Shop.

The suspense is killing you, right?

Well, while I was perusing the isles, trying to remember what exactly my chicken cutlet sandwich consisted of, I saw it... Already cut, peeled, and neatly packaged right in front of me: Butternut squash. What a great wintery vegetable. I threw it in my cart figuring I could always find something to do with it, and went on my way.

Turned a corner, and BLAMMO! I was face to face with lamb rib chops. On SALE. When does Stop and Shop have rib chops? When are they on sale!?!? It came to me in an epiphany. I was tempted to scream "eureka!" and run like Archimedes, naked through the isles.

Rosemary Braised Lamb Rib Chops
Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto
Roasted Asparagus with Truffle Oil

Feast fit for a king... or in this case, my family.

I've said this before and I'll say it again, you know what's more exciting than getting flowers on Valentine's Day or your birthday? Getting them when you're not expecting them, for no reason at all, just 'cause.

The same goes for dinners like this one. Sure, I could make my Dad lamb chops on his birthday, but a meal like this on a Tuesday night? You'd better believe he was the happiest guy in town.

So happy, he made his Robert De Niro Face

His favorite part of the meal? Surprisingly, it was the risotto. A risotto done well is always satisfying. I have to say... it's a labor of love. If you aren't going to be patient and take the time to make any risotto the right way, you'd better put down that spoon. This rice takes commitment!

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto

1 Butternut Squash, cut, peeled into 1"-2" pieces
4 tblsp Olive Oil
1 tblsp Sea Salt
1 tblsp Light Brown Sugar

2 cups Arborio Rice
1 Shallot, minced
1 Clove Garlic, minced
4 tblsp Unsalted Butter
1 cup White Wine (I used Pinot Grigio because it is light)
6 cups Chicken Broth
1 cup Parmesan Cheese, finely grated + extra for serving

Preheat oven to 400*f

1) Place the squash in a bowl or large Ziploc bag and add the olive oil, sea salt, and brown sugar. Mix well until all of the squash is coated evenly.

2) Spread out all of the squash on a baking sheet*, and place in the oven to roast. You can keep it there basically for the duration of the cook-time. It will take the squash about 20-30 minutes to become very soft.

3) Meanwhile, in a 2 qt. pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat.

4) Add the shallots and garlic. Saute and let them cook until they are fragrant and soft, about 5-7 minutes.

5) Add the rice to the pot and stir so that the rice is fully coated and combined with the butter and shallots. Add the wine.

6) Once the wine reduces and is absorbed by the rice, add the chicken stock 1 cup at a time, each time waiting until the prior cup has been almost completely absorbed. Stir constantly. Continue this measure until the rice is thoroughly cooked and creamy.

7) Add the Parmesan cheese and stir to combine.

8) Finally, add the roasted squash to the pot. Reduce heat to low and stir well, smashing the squash into the rice until it is more or less uniform.

9) Serve with extra cheese!

Intrigued? You don't even know! This rice is the perfect accent to a succulent meal. It's warm and timeless. The squash flavor isn't overwhelming, and just adds something special to a very basic (but still tasty) risotto. It goes great with lamb or beef. Along with our truffled asparagus and a good glass of red, if I closed my eyes I would have thought I was at a cozy homestead restaurant. Bon Appetite!

*I used the Bar Pan from Pampered Chef. I love it because it a) holds seasoning, b) adapts the exact temperature from the oven, so it cooks uniformly, and c) cooks the bottom and top at the same time. It is my favorite thing in my kitchen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

and We're Back!

Sorry for the delay, folks. My entire life has been in transition (and still is), but if you would please remain seated and return your trays to the upright position, we can get this show back on the road.

So, it's January again. January, synonymous with new beginnings and resolutions. I promise you, I have a few myself. When inquiring about the resolutions of my friends and family, I frequently get the same two answers: 1) Be Healthier 2) Save Money.

How convenient that their resolutions fit so nicely with my first post of the new year, and hopefully a recurring "segment" on the RD3 site...

"The Brown Bag"
Now, there are a ton of financial benefits to bringing your own food to work. I don't even want to think about how much I was spending on take out, pizza, and deli sandwiches during my long weekends at work.

Packing a lunch sound unappealing? Well, its not like there is a rule that says you are to be forever limited to rubbery left-overs and tuna salad sandwiches. You can still eat well, bring your lunch, and save some cash.

Shhhh, let me show you how with...

The Sandwich of the Week
Prosciutto, Mozzarella, Arugula and Basil, with a Balsamic Reduction on Ciabatta Bread

Ciabatta Loaf
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Mozzarella, sliced
Arugula Leaves
Fresh Basil
Balsamic Reduction (below)

1) Cut ciabatta the length of your sandwich and then into halves lengthwise. Drizzle each half with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

2) Assemble the sandwich with arugula on the bottom, prosciutto, mozzarella, balsamic reduction, and finally the basil on top before closing it up.

To make the balsamic reduction:
1 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 cup balsamic vinegar

- In a small pan, melt butter slowly over low heat with a clove of smashed garlic.
- Once the garlic begins to brown, and the butter begins to clarify, remove the garlic.
- Add balsamic vinegar and raise heat to high **just until it simmers**
- Bring heat back down to low and let the vinegar cook down until it is reduced and has a syrup-like consistency

This sandwich is delicious and savory. Reduced balsamic vinegar is so great. That sharp vinegar taste is cut, and replaced with a little bitter and a little sweetness that compliments the spice of the arugula so well. Between that and the smoky prosciutto and sweet basil, you really can't go wrong.

Expensive ingredients? Touche. But the fact of the matter is that you can make quite a few of these gourmet goodies with your purchase. Plus now you have all this left-over mozzarella, prosciutto, basil, and arugula. Pick your poison, there are a ton of dinners you can use those ingredients in.

It's in the bag!

As an aside, this balsamic reduction would be great with a Caprese salad. Hey! You could totally make that to go with your dinner. Good thing you have leftover arugula and mozzarella cheese!