Thursday, April 17, 2014

Shrimp & Pesto Pizza


I read in a Martha Stewart Home Living issue that cast iron skillets are the perfect medium for making pizzas at home. Now even though I am a pizza fanatic, I never really thought about making my own pizzas until I read her article and then discovered that my local grocery store sells pizza dough. So I picked up some dough and decided that homemade pizzas had to happen. I may not have a pizza stone or even a pizza roller but I had a skillet and pre-made dough so I was set!

But then I kind of forgot about the dough and realized it's expiration date was approaching right before a snow storm. I didn't have time to run out and get what I needed to make my favorite kind of pizza (margherita) so I decided to just use what I had on hand. I discovered some store bought pesto right next to a bag of shredded mozzarella. Seemed pretty legit. But what would I top it with? I opened the freezer hoping to find some chicken or sausage but all I had was shrimp. When I thought about shrimp and pesto, it sounded good to me so I got busy. The results?? Well you see the picture! It was so simple and delicious, yet unique. Plus I got lots of assistance from the grocery store so this pizza came together in minutes, making it the perfect weeknight meal! Do try this!

Ingredients: (serves 4)
1lb store bought pizza dough
3 heaping tablespoons store bought pesto
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 lb raw shrimp, peeled, deveined (if large, give them a rough chop)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, for brushing and sautéing 
Salt and pepper, to taste
Red Pepper Flakes, to taste

Special Tool: Cast Iron Skillet

Directions:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Once oven is hot, place your cast iron skillet in the oven to warm up (this step is optional but will help create a crispy crust) While skillet is heating, sprinkle shrimp with salt and fresh cracked black pepper and, in a small sautéed pan, cook shrimp in a tablespoon of olive oil for just a few minutes on each side (barely cooked through). Remove from heat and set aside. 

Then, on a cutting board, roll out your dough into a circle about the same size as your skillet. You can use a rolling pin if you have one. I didn't so I used my fists to press it out. 

Right when you're ready to assemble your pizza, remove the hot skillet from the oven (using a pot holder of course). Brush the pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil, and place the dough into the pan, pressing it out to the edges of the pan if necessary. 

Then use the back of a spoon to spread the pesto onto the dough leaving about an inch around the edges for the crust. Next, sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the pesto, but don't get heavy handed. You want a thin layer of cheese and you even want to see some of the pesto peeking through. Next arrange the cooked shrimp over the cheese in an even layer and sprinkle red pepper flakes over the entire pizza. Brush the crust with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, place the pizza into the oven and bake for 20 mins. 


Remove the pizza from the oven and, using a spatula and tongs, gently move the pizza from the skillet to a cutting board. Immediately cut the pizza into 8 slices using a pizza roller or sharp knife and serve!


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stuffed Chicken Breasts


This recipe for Stuffed Chicken Breasts came about one blah weeknight.  I was too tired to really cook and planned to simply grill some boneless skinless chicken breasts, throw them on a salad and call it a night.  But once I discovered the goat cheese and peppers in the fridge, (both of which I probably would have added to my salad anyway) I decided to use them to stuff the chicken.

My dinner came out great and because I felt like it was such a simple and delicious way to transform chicken breasts, which everyone always has on hand, I decided to send the recipe to Ebony.com.  Click HERE to view the recipe or scroll below to see the process.  When I took the pictures, I was actually trying to do a Roulade or roll the breasts around the filling.  But that was kind of a disaster so the next time around, I stuffed the breasts as the directions explain.  Enjoy!

Ingredients: (makes 4 servings)

·       ¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
·       4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
·       ½ Red Bell Pepper, sliced
·       ½ Small Red Onion, sliced
·       2 Cloves Garlic, minced
·       Salt & Pepper, to taste
·       Oregano or Italian Seasoning
·       Paprika, to taste
·       4 ounces Goat Cheese or Feta Cheese

Directions:


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Make the filling by sautéing the red bell pepper and red onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle veggies with salt and pepper to taste, a few pinches of oregano and stir to combine.  Then, Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds more.  Remove filling from the heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, season both sides of each chicken breast generously with salt, pepper, oregano and paprika.  Then, insert a pairing knife into the thickest part of each chicken breast and slice lengthwise until you have made a 4 inch long and 3 inch deep pocket.  You want to be able to lift and fill the pocket, but not completely split the breast in half.



Now the pepper mixture should be cool enough to handle. Divide it into 4 portions and do the same with the goat cheese or feta.  Then, stuff each chicken breast with a portion of the pepper mix and top with a portion of the cheese.  Try to press the mixture into the pocket leaving nothing hanging too far out.

Side Note: Another cooking method for this recipe, as you see pictured above, is the roulade where you roll the filling inside the chicken breast.  However, if you do this method, I would suggest using toothpicks to hold everything together because all of mine fell apart, except for the breast that's sliced and pictured.  Oops!



Heat the remaining quarter cup of olive oil a skillet (can be the same one you cooked the veggies in) and when the oil is hot, gently add in each breast and sear for 5 minutes or until brown.  Using tongs and a spatula gently flip each breast over and sear for 5 minutes more. Transfer the breasts to the oven to finish cooking (about 12 minutes).  Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Serve each breast whole or for dramatic presentation, use a sharp knife to make 2 inch slices at an angle.  Then, fan out the slices when plating.  I served my breasts with a lightly dressed salad, keeping the dinner carb-free yet satisfying. 



Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Best Roast Chicken Ever


Best Roast Chicken Ever

It was the Wednesday before payday, checking account balance was super low and I just wanted to make a dinner that would get me to Friday.  I decided to roast a chicken because whole chickens are usually on sale at my grocery store and the leftovers can be very versatile.  So I enlisted the help of one of my Instagram followers who always posts amazing looking roasted chicken.  He shared his rub recipe with me and then I turned to Julia Child for some roasting tips.  With both of their help, my chicken came out perfect and worthy of the title: “The Best Roast Chicken Ever.”

These ingredients totaled $21! Served the rice & asparagus on the side. Reeses for dessert!

There was no way I could keep the recipe for the “The Best Roast Chicken Ever” a secret.  However, I learned the hard way that roasting a chicken is a lengthy and involved process (not sure what I was thinking doing it on a weeknight) and I felt that, if I am going to share my process, I have to REALLY share it.  In other words, break it all the way down!  So that’s what I do below; I give you every ingredient, every spice (my IG follower may sue me), every trick, every technique.  It’s all there below so that you too can make “The Best Roast Chicken Ever."

To start you will need a whole raw chicken (mine was a little less than 5 lbs) and a hot oven. Begin by preheating your oven to 450 degrees.

"Clean" the Chicken
While holding the chicken over the sink, take it out of the wrapper, pour off excess liquid, remove the giblets and place the chicken on a plastic cutting board.  At this point, some suggest that you wash the chicken but I have heard so many chefs and food professionals say not to. They say that when you do, there are so many opportunities to spread bacteria around your kitchen. So I don't wash, I simply pat the chicken dry with paper towels and dispose them.  Then I allow the chicken to come to room temperature while preparing the other ingredients.

Prepare the "Stuffing" and Rub
For the stuffing you will need:
Rub on the left, aromatics for cavity on the right!
  • 1 head of garlic,
  • 1 carrot (I had baby carrots on hand and just used a few of those)
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 lemon
  • 1-2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2-3 sprigs of parsley.  
Prep these items by slicing the top off the garlic, cutting the carrot and celery in thirds and cutting the lemon in half.  
Then, in a small bowl, mix together the rub:
  • 2 tbsp fresh thyme (1 tbsp if using dried)
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika 
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon (couple pinches) cayenne pepper

Season the Chicken

Start on the inside by sprinkling a generous amount of the rub into the cavity of the chicken.  Then move to the outside and rub the rub (ha!) all over the chicken, being sure to get into all the nooks and crannies.  Lift the wings, the legs, and gently lift the skin to rub some seasoning directly on the breast (be careful not to rip the skin).

Now stuff the prepared items into the cavity. (celery, carrot, garlic, lemon, rosemary and parsley) 

Truss the Chicken
Ok this is the part where I let you down.  I definitely trussed this chicken but I cannot explain to you how I did it.  One thing I can say is that I once read that the goal of trussing is to bring all of the pieces as close to the middle or carcass of the chicken as possible.  If you look at a chicken that's not trussed, the legs and wings are hanging away from the middle, so you have to use the kitchen string to bring it all in. This is basically what I did and had beginner’s luck I guess.

Seasoned and trussed bird before the oven.
But if you really need instruction, I recommend you watch a trussing video on youtube (I actually watched one to learn how to carve) OR you can simply tie the legs together and wrap a string around the tail end of the chicken to tuck the wings in and tie it at the bottom.

Prepare Chicken for Roasting 
Ok before you roast the chicken, you have to figure out what you're going to roast it in.  Thanks to my roommate, I had a roasting pan with a rack.  If you don't have one, you can use a glass baking dish, or even a skillet (oven safe or cast-iron) but you have to find a way to keep the chicken from sitting on the bottom and roasting in it's own juices.  

Alot of people spread root vegetables on the bottom of the pan and set the chicken on top (it's a win because you can eat the vegetables).  Another option (that I saw a New York City chef do) is slice a crusty loaf of bread into 2 inch slices and place the chicken on top of those (and again, you can eat the bread).

Once your chicken is arranged in the center of your roasting pan or skillet, drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over the chicken, and on the bottom of the pan. 

Roast the Chicken
Now is the part where you throw the bird into the oven and I wish I could tell you that you can forget it, but in order for this bird to turn out good, you are going to go be busy for the next 90 minutes.

First, allow the chicken to roast at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, then, using a spoon, baste the chicken with the juices that have already began to gather in the pan.  Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and roast the chicken for 1 hr and 10 mins more (70 mins), basting the chicken with it’s own juices until the last 15 minutes.  For the last basting round, use melted butter for extra golden and crispy skin.

After a full 90 minutes, the chicken should be done but you're looking for your meat thermometer to read 158-160 degrees when inserted into the thigh.  You'll also know it's done when all of the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and thigh.

Let the Chicken Rest
Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest for at least 15-20 minutes or longer if you’re not serving immediately. 

Carve the Chicken
Like I said above, I learned to carve a chicken from this wonderful YouTube Video from the French Culinary Institute.  I don’t have the chef’s fork so I used another knife and even though it was a struggle, I got the pieces off the carcass and had a lovely platter of roast chicken ready to serve.

My birdy all carved up!

So that’s it! As a footnote, I have to shoutout one of the best chef’s on Instagram @chefpornardee for sharing the rub with me.  And even though this process wore me out, I realized the importance of every step and how they all contributed to The Best Roast Chicken ever.  For example, I always wondered: Why do you stuff the cavity with all the aromatics?? Well, when I was basting and saw the juices coming out of the cavity, I realized they were being flavored by the carrots, celery, lemon, garlic on the way out.  THEN, when basting, I was pouring those same juices back over the chicken and I knew that it was all an amazing process that ends in The Best Roast Chicken Ever.  

Not sure who we have to thank for this technique (probably the French) but I hope you all give it a try.  Do it the next time you have company! Your whole place will smell amazing and the platter of carved chicken definitely has that wow factor.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Seafood Paella



This recipe for Seafood Paella is such a gem that I knew I had to send it to my editor at Ebony.com  She posted it recently and now I'm so excited to be able to share it here.

There are so many ways to make Paella and so many recipes out there, but I am especially proud of this one because I think it's simple enough for the average home cook.  You don't need a special pan or special rice; just a few ingredients that can be found in most grocery stores.  And when all these ingredients come together, you have an amazing dish that is sure to spice up any weeknight.  This Seafood Paella is also good for entertaining because it presents beautifully and appears to be challenging but is actually quick and easy.

So please do me and your taste-buds a favor and hop on over to Ebony.com to get the recipe and give this dish a try!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Valentine's Day Dinner for the Girls


This Valentines Day my single girlfriends and I decided to have a girl's night that would include a home cooked dinner (made by me), games and lots and lots of wine. As we were planning it, I felt like such a cliche. But then I realized what we were NOT doing was an "I hate valentines day" sort of function. In fact, all of us loved Valentine's day so it just made sense that, since none of us had dates, we just spent the evening together instead of alone. It ended up being a great idea and I adored the dinner I made for the girls so I decided to immortalize it here.

I didn't intend to make 4 courses but it all 

began with a request for my Tortellini w/ Spinach and Mushrooms: an easy breezy semi-homemade dinner I created last year that ended up being pretty popular with my followers and my girlfriends as well. Of course I would oblige the request, but then, as I was thinking about how rich this pasta dish is, I decided to make a really yummy salad to go with it.

The salad I made was kind of two recipes in one. First, I came across Rachael Ray's Heart-y Salad and I loved the idea of a heart themed salad. But I'm not a big fan of hearts of Palm, so I decided to keep the Romaine Hearts and Artichoke hearts and search for an amazing dressing and...I found one!! In Emeril Lagassi's Romaine Salad is an amazing recipe for a lemon Dijon vinaigrette. This dressing...so good I almost poured it in a cup to drink it.

In the end, I did a mash up of Rachael and Emeril's salads and created my own Simple Salad with "Lots of Heart."  It included hearts of romaine (chopped), canned artichoke hearts (drained), halved cherry tomatoes with chives and grated pram for garnish. I actually marinated the artichokes and tomatoes in the dressing and drizzled more over the greens right before serving. I also made the croutons in Emeril's salad recipe and I must say that using Creole seasoning on the bread was genius! Thanks Emeril!

So now I had planned out two courses and I realized this was turning out to be a vegetarian dinner. GASP!! Something had to be done about this! :) I decided my first course would be a Quick Shrimp Scampi Appetizer to go along with the Italian theme I had going on. My shrimp scampi is really simple and always a crowd pleaser:

Ingredients: (Serves 4)
4 slices crusty bread
1 lb jumbo shrimp (deveined, peeled, tails on)
2 tbsp butter 
2 tbsp evoo
2 cloves garlic (minced or grated)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (couple pinches)
5-6 basil leaves (chiffonade or thinly sliced)
Salt to taste

Directions: Preheat oven to 450. Brush both sides of bread with evoo and toast in the oven for about 2-3 mins on both sides. Arrange bread on a plate. Then, in a small roasting dish, toss all of the remaining ingredients together and place into the oven for 6-8 mins or until shrimp is pink and tender, the butter has melted and is bubbly. Pour the shrimp and all it's juices over the bread and serve piping hot.  (Variation: If you're not a fan of basil, parsley is the herb used in the classic scampi recipe)


So now I had 3 courses but no Valentine's day dinner is complete without dessert. I decided to go the semi homemade route again and use a
Tastefully Simple boxed Salted Caramel Creme Brûlée.  This box mix was a great option for creme brûlée lovers who want to attempt the dish at home. But I think Tastefully Simple may operate like pampered chef where you can only buy through a distributor/salesperson. So if you can get your hands on this great, but if you can't and want to try to recreate this dinner, I suggest making my Tiramisu because you can make it in advance, or grab your favorite store bought dessert. The other homemade courses will make up for it.
    
So that's it! 4 amazing courses. Pulled all of it off in about 2.5 hrs and my grocery bill was a mere $45. 4 courses for 4 people for 45 bucks!! Granted, I did have my Kitchen Essentials on hand but you can't beat it! I hope you all enjoyed your Valentine's Day as much as I did and I wish you lots of love this and everyday! Xo

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Jerk Chicken Burgers





I don't know about anyone else, but this winter is killing me.  Perhaps I've been spoiled with mild winters the last few years or maybe the thick skin that I'd built up living in NYC has finally worn off but I'm sick of being cold and I'm sick of snow and ice.  I share all of this because, my winter blues certainly inspired my latest and greatest experiment in the kitchen.  

It was an unusually cold day and my thoughts travelled to summer and the cookouts I threw at the pool in my apartment complex.  Last summer, for the first time, I made jerk chicken on the grill and it was a smash hit.  This spicy Jamaican entree was fresh on my brain when a follower of mine on Instagram posted a picture of Jerk Turkey Burgers.  They looked really good and I knew this was the perfect way to get my jerk fix, but I decided to use ground chicken because "Jerk Chicken Burgers" sounded like victory to me.

So even though I'd never worked with ground chicken before, I picked some up along with Grace's Jerk Seasoning; my favorite brand. (I don't bother to make jerk from scratch, waayyy too many ingredients and way too many opportunities to royally screw it up. Plus this lady Grace does it so well, why bother?) 

Once I had those two ingredients, I realized that what really makes a burger great, is what you put on it so I wanted to make a nice refreshing topping to cool down the spiciness of the jerk seasoning.  I'd had mango salsa in mind but when I didn't see any fresh mangos in the produce section, I decided to go with pineapple salsa. Plus, I'd discovered that in the refrigerated section, my grocer had a nice sized pineapple chunk already cored and sliced in into rings, saving me a few steps already.

So I went home and got busy!  What I will say is that even though I love jerk, these burgers really did blow my head off and I decided when I wrote the recipe (And when I make them again very soon) I would decrease the amount of Jerk seasoning.  But my roommate has a higher tolerance for heat than me and she absolutely loved the burger.  She even said it was one of the best things I've made for her.  

So below is the recipe along with plenty of pictures.  These burgers really spiced up a cold winter weeknight for me and I want you to experience the same.  Enjoy!

Jerk Chicken Burgers

Ingredients: (Makes 4 burgers)
1 lb Ground Chicken (mix of white and dark meat)
1-2 tablespoons Grace's Jerk Chicken Seasoning*
1 small shallot (or red onion), grated
1/2 cup Plain Panko Breadcrumbs
4 fresh hamburger buns (I used Italian Potato Rolls)
Mayo for topping
Sliced Ripe Avocado for topping
Pineapple Salsa, for topping (recipe below)

*When it comes to jerk, I found (the hard way) that a little goes a long way. One tablespoon is perfect for medium heat, but if you want HOT, add the second tablespoon.  I wouldn't go past that though.


Directions:

Add ground chicken to a bowl along with the jerk seasoning and then grate in the shallot, up to two tablespoons.  Add in panko bread crumbs  and then, using your hands, mix everything together.  This mixture will be very wet and if you feel compelled to add a bit more panko that's fine. What I did, after mixing in about two handfuls of panko, was form 4 patties and allow them to set in the refrigerator, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.

While the burgers are setting up, you can make the pineapple salsa (see below) and slice the avocado, being sure to toss the slices in fresh lime juice to keep them from browning.

Next, remove the patties from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.  Preheat your indoor grill pan to medium heat and begin by toasting the buns for a couple minutes on each side and arrange on a serving plate.  Next, gently place the 4 patties on the grill pan.  Loosely cover the pan with foil and allow the patties to cook for about 5-6 minutes.  Then flip them over and grill for 5-6 minutes more, still covered with the foil.  Remove the patties from the grill pan, place them on a plate and cover with the foil and allow them to rest for another 5 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, spread each side of the toasted buns with mayo.  Then, place a patty on each burger bun bottom.  Place 2 avocado slices on top of patties as well as 1-2 tablespoons of the pineapple salsa.  Cover with the top bun and serve immediately.



Pineapple Salsa

Ingredients: (makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups)
4 1 inch pineapple rings
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/3 cup red onion, finely diced
2-3 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
1 lime, juiced
Salt, to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Directions: I grilled my pineapple rings on the indoor grill pan for about 4-5 minutes on each side, however this step is optional.  Dice pineapple and add to a mixing bowl.  Add in the diced bell pepper, red onion, chopped cilantro, juice of one lime, salt to taste and a pinch of cayenne.  Using a spoon, toss everything together, cover with saran and refrigerate until ready to serve.  The longer this sits, the better it is so feel free to make up to a day in advance.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

RIP to my Twitter




This blog is for cooking.  It's called April's Cookin, it should be about food, I get it.  But those of you who know me, know that I'm a teacher by day and serious foodie by night.  I've always been transparent about this and today I have to use this blog to discuss the non-foodie side, the teacher side. 

I've been teaching for 7 years and therefore I think it's safe to call this a "career."  Though I have to admit that this career has been oh so rocky and bumpy and HARD. The drama is constant, and this is not just the daily drama of managing 20-30 hormonal teenagers.  I'm talking about drama on top of the drama.  I could regail you all with some of the wild stories I've built up from working in the schools, but this post is going to be about progression so I'm not going to re-gress back into my past. Unfortunately, I will have to share with you the latest drama so that you can see how I am going to use my setback to move forward (plus I think this is a great cautionary tale for teachers), but as for the rest of it, maybe after my cookbook is published I'll get tapped to do a memoir.  Never can tell.

So anyway, over the past two years I've found a comfy home, great entertainment and actual connections on twitter.  I wouldn't be here, literally, in this place in my life as a serious home cook, food blogger and food entrepreneur if it wasn't for twitter.  I found a space where I could share my life in the kitchen as it was happening and the people I've met (some of you may be reading this as subscribers) have been just AWESOME! But how does the saying go? All good things must come to an end?  Well, it seems like my students agree with this saying because they discovered my twitter page and made every tweet that could be interpreted as inappropriate and embarrassing public knowledge to not only other students but to my administrators as well. 

Now to be clear, I'm not blaming 15 & 16 year olds for my choices.  I am taking responsibility. People warned me long ago to go private but I didn't listen. I liked being public because the foodies could find me, see my work, see my tweets and jump on board.  I figured if I didn't include my full name, I'd be fine.  Plus I was very niaeve in my understanding of the nasty side of twitter and how a seemingly innocent tweet (a mere 140 characters) can be miscontrued, misinterpreted and literally used to bring you down.  So trust me, I know where I went wrong and I learned many lessons from this experience.  I know I'm lucky to have my job still (people get fired for things like this).  Though I cannot sit here and tell you that having to delete my twitter wasn't heart breaking. It's been a week and I thought it would be getting easier, living without it, but those urges to tweet don't go away.  I still have my Instagram and Facebook (both tightly secured) but on one I can only post pictures and on the other I don't feel comfortable sharing all my inner thoughts about cooking and eating and anything else that I love.

So here's what I've decided.  I'm going to use my blog for all of my shameless sharing for the next month.  It won't be the same as Twitter of course but I need to create a better blogging routine anyway and I figured that now would be a great time to start.  I cook about twice a week and in the past I would share what I was doing in real time on twitter, so I will keep to that schedule and post bi-weekly or so here on April's Cookin'.  I will continue to post pictures on Instagram because, as a self-proclaimed food pornographer, I cannot help myself.  But I will bring all the thoughts, questions, successes, errors, accolades and anything else I can think of to the blog.

Then, once February is over and my students have moved on to destroying someone else's social media life, I will see if I can sneak back on twitter quietly and keep the blogging routine going as well.  Now at this point, you may be judging me and wondering why can't I just stay away from the twitterverse?  Well, all I'll say is that it's bad for business to stay away.  When I return alot of things will be different but I don't let a bunch of teenagers run my classroom, I certainly wont let them think they can run my twitter page!

See you all soon! Happy cooking and happy 2014 to you all! xoxo