September 19, 2010

...Chicken Stuffed with Spinach, Feta, and Pine Nuts

Family Dinner... September 2010.  Nearly a year after I start the blog and I have a full house for dinner.  So much fun... tight quarters, but fun!  I decided to try a new recipe, which is usually a risk for company, but what better guinea pigs than family, right? 

A bit of a Mediterranean spin on standard baked chicken: spinach, pine nuts, feta and garlic... all stuffed into a pocket (this time on the side of the chicken rather than the top...lesson learned).

And while the chicken bakes: wine... we never forget wine...

Great flavors, but it was missing just a little something... a sauce... more seasoning... not sure.  I'll have to work on this one a bit.  The currant couscous was a great side, though!  All in all, a good choice for a fun, family dinner.

Chicken Stuffed with Spinach, Feta, and Pine Nuts
serves 4

5 ounces fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 (6 ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a large nonstick oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat.  Add spinach to pan; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts, tossing constantly.  Place spinach in colander; press until barley moist.  Wipe pan clean.

Combine spinach, cheese, nuts, thyme, juice, and garlic.  Cut a horizontal slit through the thickest portion of each chicken breast half to form a pocket.  Stuff 3 tablespoons filling into each pocket.  Seal with wooden picks.  Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in pan over medium-high heat.  Add chicken; cook 3 minutes on each side or until brown.  Add broth, and cover pan.  Place pan in oven.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until done.  

Taylor's Notes:

This was a really easy one, especially since I was sure to prep everything before I started cooking.  I knew I'd be distracted with all the company and was sure I'd forget something (which I still did) and wanted to be sure to be able to enjoy my family while I cooked (which I still did).  I missed adding the lemon juice to the spinach / cheese / nut / garlic mixture.  Maybe that's what the end result was missing... I'm sure it would have brightened it a bit, not sure if it would have made all the difference.  

Since there were several of us, I baked the chicken in a 9x13 pan rather than in the skillet that I browned it in.  Other than being one more pan to clean (which Mom did... thanks Mom!), it worked out perfectly.  

I would definitely recommend this recipe... let me know what you think and if you decide to add a little something extra.


September 12, 2010

...Blueberry Crumb Bars

I seem to be making quite a liar out of myself with this "I never make bars" talk.  Delicious recipes seem to be popping up everywhere I turn and I can't help but want to make them for myself.  When I saw these posted on one of my favorite blogs and realized that she had gotten the recipe from another one of my favorite blogs, I decided it was kismet and I must make them, too.  It starts out similar to these with a basic crumbly dough recipe.

Then you add plump, juicy, fresh blueberries... pop it in the oven and Voila!

It just so happened that I was planning to go to the K-State football game and that I'd promised to bring a dessert... and the fact that this dessert is purple and so are the Wildcats... well, again, kismet.

Blueberry Crumb Bars
makes 24 bars

1 1/2 cups white sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold unsalted butter
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest and juice of one lemon
4 cups fresh blueberries
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a 9x13-inch pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder.  Mix in salt and lemon zest.  Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg.  Dough will be crumbly.  Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice.  Gently mix in the blueberries.  Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust.  Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

Bake in a preheated oven for 45 minutes or until top is slightly brown.  Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Taylor's Notes:
Another easy recipe... and fun, too, because you can get your hands dirty by using your fingertips to blend the butter and egg into the flour mixture.  I used a fork to get it all started and then used my fingers to really get it all blended together.

I bet you could use frozen-then-thawed blueberries for this recipe when fresh aren't in season, but, as I'm sure you know, fresh always tastes better.  Deb from Smitten Kitchen says that she substitutes other fruit during the year - like cranberries in the fall - and uses orange zest and juice in place of the lemon.  Sounds delicious to me!

These didn't keep as well as I'd hoped.  The crumb topping got a little soft after a day or so, but they're still quite tasty and will be wonderful warmed up for breakfast!


September 9, 2010

...Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce

Ok, whoever came up with the idea of breakfast for dinner is brilliant.  I mean, the kind of brilliant that deserves a medal.  Or a hug, a big, big hug.

Today was a dreary, drizzly, kind of cool, almost Fall kind of day... the perfect kind of day for comfort food.  And so it became clear, on my drive home, that I should make pancakes.  And I should make them with a wonderfully decadent blueberry sauce.  And so I did.

And it was the best decision I'd made all day.  Even the dogs agree!

Now, there's really not much to making pancakes and I would assume that most people have their favorite recipe.  So, I'm not going to tell you how I used Aunt Jemima mix, added and egg, some milk, and a little oil and had the best pancakes I've ever made.  But what I can do is give you a few tips and tricks to help you get great pancakes on your plate every time.  
  1. If you can get my dad to make them for you, do it.  He's the best pancake maker ever.  Seriously.
  2. If you can't, follow these simple rules...
    1. Make sure your pan is hot enough.  Heat it over medium to medium-high heat.  Not too hot or your pancakes will be crisp on the outside and gooey in the middle.  Yuck.  A good trick is to sprinkle water on the pan.  When the water bubbles up and sizzles away, your pan is hot enough.
    2. Don't crowd your pancakes.  Depending on the size of your pan, only pour the batter for two or three at a time.  
    3. Let them be!  Your batter will bubble up and you'll be able to see the edges start to form.  Only then should you flip them.  And when you do, they'll be a beautiful golden brown.

Now don't get me wrong, I love a good pancake with butter and syrup just like the next girl, but sometimes you just want a little something extra.  Take a look at this and tell me if that's not a little something extra...

1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups berries or other ripe fruit - apples, pears, bananas, peaches, etc...

Combine 1/2 cup water with the sugar and butter in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, shaking and stirring, until the mixture is thick and syrupy but not browned.

Toss in the fruit and cook over low heat until the fruit begins to break up and release its juices, about 2 minutes for berries, longer for other fruit.  Press fruit through a fine-mesh strainer or run it through a food mill to puree and remove any skins or seeds.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  This sauce keeps well, refrigerated, for up to a week.

Taylor's Notes:

I had no doubt that I'd find the recipe I needed in my How to Cook Everything cookbook.  That book should seriously be in everyone's cookbook collection.

I followed the recipe exactly (with the exception of halving it) and it came out perfectly.  Oh, I also didn't press the fruit through a strainer or puree it as I wanted some whole fruit on my pancakes.  But other than that, I followed the other steps to a tee.  

Getting the butter / sugar / water mixture to thicken took about 5 minutes after the butter melted.  As you can see in the pictures above, it'll all melt, then foam, and then thicken.  I added the blueberries and tossed them around for about two minutes and then took the pan off the heat and let it set until my pancakes were done.  

It was easy and then end result had me wishing I hadn't fed the rest of the pancakes to the dogs. 


September 7, 2010

...Pepper Jack, Chicken, and Peach Quesadillas

Oh, wow.  This is a new favorite recipe.  If you know me very well, you know that I'm not a girl who enjoys leftovers.  I made this for dinner last night and again for dinner tonight.  Enough said.

The minute this recipe appeared in my inbox I knew I had to try it.  This is the perfect time of year, too, when the peaches are ripe, juicy and fragrant.  The blending of the spicy pepper jack cheese and the sweet peaches is, well, perfect.

I literally just finished dinner (yes, I had this for the second time this week and, yes, it's only Tuesday) and now these pictures are making me hungry for another.  No... I'm not having another tonight... but there's always tomorrow.   

Pepper Jack, Chicken, and Peach Quesadillas
serves 4

1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
4 (8-inch) flour tortillas
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeno peppers
1 cup chopped, skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
1 cup thinly sliced peeled firm ripe peaches
4 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro

Combine honey and lime juice in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk.  Stir sour cream into honey mixture; cover and chill until ready to serve.

Place tortillas flat on a work surface.  Sprinkle 3 tablespoons cheese over half of each tortilla; top each tortilla with 1/4 cup chicken, 1/4 cup peaches, and 1 teaspoon cilantro.  Fold tortillas in half.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Coat pan with cooking spray.  Place 2 quesadillas in the pan, and top quesadillas with a cast-iron or other heavy skillet.  Cook 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until tortillas are crisp and lightly browned.  Remove quesadillas from pan; set aside, and keep warm.  Repeat procedure with the remaining quesadillas.  Cut each quesadilla into wedges.  Serve with sauce.

Taylor's Notes:

These were so good and easy.  The pepper jack cheese and the sweet peaches... rotisserie chicken, (hello! time saver), and the honey-lime sour cream... definitely don't skip that part!  

A tasty, quick, and simple meal that's easy to make for one or more - just reduce (or eyeball as I do) the ingredients based on how many you're serving.  Or, be sure you have plenty of ingredients on hand so you can have it again and again... and perhaps, again!


... Peach Shortbread

Bars are never something that I think about too much when I'm in the mood to bake.  I'm not sure why... there are so many varieties and they're usually pretty easy to make (and the fact that I just posted on Lemon Bars kind of makes this whole paragraph a lie... but we won't go there).  Regardless, when I came across this recipe I knew it was definitely one I wanted to try.

Peaches, shortbread, brown butter... love, yum, ok!  I've never had anything bad from her site so I had no doubt this time would be any different.

And I was right.  These were easy as... well, I would say pie... but these are way easier than pie.

Peach Shortbread

1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter
1 large egg
2 peaches, pitted and thinly sliced (between 1/8- and 1/4-inch thick)

Brown your butter:  Melt butter in a small/medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty.  Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do.  Keep your eyes on it; it burns very quickly after it browns and will the very second that you turn around to do something else.  Set it in the freezer until solid (about 30 minutes).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a 9x13 inch pan, or spray it with a nonstick spray.  In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, baking powder, flour, salt, and spices with a whisk.  Using a pastry blender, fork, or your fingertips, blend the solidified brown butter and egg into the flour mixture.  It will be crumbly.  Pat 3/4 of the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing firmly.  Tile peach slices over crumb base in a single layer. Scatter remaining crumbs evenly over peaches and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until top is slightly brown and you can see a little color around the edges.  Cool completely in pan before cutting into squares.

Taylor's Notes:
I'm still getting the hang of browning butter, so I keep trying knowing what an incredible difference it makes.  It's certainly something that takes some practice and patience to get it brown, but not burn it.  You can make this recipe with softened butter instead and it will be good, but man, what a difference brown butter can make.

I definitely think the best way to blend the flour mixture with the butter and egg is to start with a fork and then use your fingertips.  It's messy, yes, but isn't that the fun of baking??  


September 6, 2010

...Renee's Lemon Bars

One of my all-time favorite desserts has always been lemon bars.  Gooey and tart, buttery and sweet, what more could you want?  I've decided that I'm going on a mission to find the best lemon bar recipe.  Come with me, won't you?  This is number one of, well, I don't know how many, but I bet it'll be fun to find out!

I found this recipe in a Nordstrom Friends and Family cookbook that I've had for years.  And, for years, have been wanting to try it.  Don't ask why it's taken me so long.  Based on the outcome, that was a silly move.

Renee's Lemon Bars
makes about 18 bars

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for preparing baking pan
1 cup powdered sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour

4 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

more powdered sugar for dusting

To make the crust, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium-low speed, cream together the 1 cup butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl once.  Add the flour and mix until well blended.  Spread the mixture in an even layer on the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan.

Bake the crust until lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool completely.  Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

To make the filling, in a bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium-high speed, beat the eggs until well blended, about 2 minutes.  Add the granulated sugar and beat until thick.  Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, flour, and baking powder and beat until well blended and pale yellow.  Pour the filling over the baked crust, and use a rubber spatula to spread it evenly.

Bake until the filling is set - firm on the edges, but still a little soft in the middle - 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool slightly.  Using a fine-mesh sieve or a sifter, dust the top with powdered sugar while still warm.  Cut into bars about 3 by 2 inches and serve warm.  Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Taylor's Notes:

These were very easy to make and I think they were a perfect choice to start the lemon bar mission.  I baked them for 15 minutes and would probably leave them in for another minute or two if/when I make them again.  The edges were set up perfectly but, although they were only a little soft in the middle, they were somewhat runny when I cut them.

I didn't try them warm, as I took them to work the following day, but they were delicious at room temperature and even better chilled.  They kept well for a couple of days in the refrigerator, even uncovered.