Recipes

Chicken Scampi Twist: Creamy & Spicy!

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I made shrimp scampi last weekend and it was A. May. Zing. This is not that recipe, but I will add that soon.

Since the shrimp, however, I’ve been craving scampi again, but my boyfriend isn’t much of a seafood guy. So, I relent: I get to make scampi and he gets to eat it with chicken.

The thing about Shrimp scampi is that it’s lighter to accentuate the natural flavor of the shell fish. Chicken is versatile because it’s natural flavor is next to nil. The simplicity of the basic shrimp scampi sauce is too delicate and and dry for chicken, so I decided to make a bit of a creamy base and a dash of red pepper to give the chicken a bit of an oomph.

My first pet peeve of standard chicken scampi: ghostly chicken. I like my chicken browned.  On top of being more visually appetizing, browning the chicken will leave delicious brown bits in the pan that I can add to flavor sauce. This doesn’t cook the chicken through!I I’m just browning it. As I’ve mentioned in other recipes, I also don’t like when things are needlessly oily or fatty. Yes, butter is totally marvelous, but that doesn’t mean we have to drown in it. I’m not even referring to this in a healthy way; too much is just not appetizing. With this recipe I reduced  the oil and butter significantly: Your average scampi calls for 2 cups of butter or 1 cup butter with a 1/4 olive oil. This recipe uses a mere 4 TBSPs of butter and 1 TBSP of olive oil. And it was freakin’ awesome.

I took…

8oz chicken tenderloins, rinsed and dried

2/3 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 TBSP olive oil

I mixed together the salt, pepper, and flour, and dredged the chicken tenders in it, shaking off an excess. I then browned the chicken over medium high heat in oil, about 2 minutes per side.

After my chicken was golden and piled high, it was time to start on the sauce!

1/3 cups milk

4 TBSP butter, tossing two TBSPs in the left over flour dredge

3 cloves crushed garlic

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp parsley

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 lemon

salt

black pepper

I Then deglazed the pan in a way I’ve never done before: Turning off the heat I poured 1/3 milk into the pan, whisking constantly – I wanted to deglaze, not cook my milk. Once the bubbling subsided, about 30 seconds, I whisked in the butter coated in flour. This was the start of my sauce. Turning the heat back on to medium I added the rest of the butter. Immediately followed the wine, stock, garlic, red pepper, and parsley. Then I reincorporated the chicken to continue cooking through while in the the tweaked scampi.

After 7 minutes, I removed the chicken, now cooked through, and reduced the sauce. I whisked in the Parmesan cheese, squeezed in the juice of 1/2 lemon, and added salt and pepper to taste. Served with 8oz pasta, garlic bread, and steamed asparagus, this was an exciting, flavorful, and filling twist on basic scampi. It was so delicious, I’m not sure I’ll have scampi with with shrimp again.

*Side note: Seriously, this was fantastic. It came out so good that even 24 hours later I can’t stop thinking about it.

*T-Rex also enjoyed the scampi

Sugar Cookies with Spice!

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When I need something to do I write or cook. I’m not a big baker, but every once in a while I try a new kind of cookie, because….well, why the hell not.

Sugar cookies can be a bitch to make. Too crunchy, sometimes flavorless, a good, chewy, and creamy sugar cookie can be harder to achieve than you might think. So, I looked at this as more of an afternoon science experiment than a baking endeavor.

The flavors I picked are what I gravitate toward on a perfect autumn day. Naturally, I picked an 80 degree day in January to bake them. You see, Austin no longer has seasons; I just have to pretend that there’s fall and winter. It’s been years since I made a good stew, because I struggle to see the point. Sometimes I think I gotta move back to New England…and none of that has anything to do with cookies.

So for this I just took a very basic sugar cookie recipe, blended it with tips from America’s Test Kitchen, and added some spunk in the form of flavors I personally like.

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 oz. cream cheese

6 TBSP butter, melted

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tsp lemon zest

1 egg

1 TBSP milk

An additional 1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp ginger to roll onto cookie dough.

The beginning was the usual mundane of baking cookies: I preheated the oven to 350.

I mixed the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. I threw  the 1 1/2 cups sugar, the cream cheese, and spices in a large mixing bowl with the melted butter. The warm butter helped breakdown the cream cheese. I stirred this together and then added the egg and milk and blended until incorporated. Finally, I dumped in the flour mixture and stirred everything until it formed a smooth dough.

I then rolled the dough into 24 balls and rolled those into the 1/2 cup of sugar mixed with cinnamon and ginger. I placed 12 on a cookie sheet sprayed with cookie spray, and pressed the cookie dough balls down evenly until they were about 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches in diameter. I sprinkled just a little more of the sugar mixture over the top of each smooshed cookie and baked for 11 minutes. I made sure not to allow the edges to become golden brown; I wanted enjoyable cookies, not sugary crackers.

The cookies came out perfect. Sweet without being too sweet, flavorful, crunchy on the outside and just soft enough in the center. And they’re perfect with a cup of tea or coffee, like an American biscotti or biscuit without the over abundance of crumbs. Excellent for pretending it’s fall or winter when global warming is totally against you.

I’d Love Something Fried, Thanks for Asking!

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Me an’ zucchini are like this.

We work well together and always have. I respect Zucchini’s freshness, beautiful color, versatility, and moisture content. And Zucchini respects that I eat him all the time.

I first met Zucchini when I was a child and he was nothing but a deep fried stick. We knew almost instantly that our love affair would be anything, but brief. Growing up in an Italian household, Zucchini was always grown in backyards and used in abundance in everything from snacks, salads, sautes, and sauces. Naturally as I child, my favorite of his forms was when he was crispy and fried, but as I grew up I found my tastes and needs changing. The fried sticks no longer worked for me when I craved him fried; thick crusts and undercooked vegetable were a turn off, I needed layers of flavor that aided only in enhancing the natural flavor of the deep green squash.

Ever understand Zucchini was happy to accommodate.

As an adult I’ve settled – for the time being – on zucchini fritters. A pinch of red pepper flakes and a hint of sweet sauteed onion adds new depth to fresh flavor of the grated, drained zucchini.

I used:

2 zucchinis

1/2 yellow onion

1 egg, beaten

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1/4 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 flour

2 TBSP panko bread crumbs

2 TBSP fresh chopped parsley

I shredded the Zucchini with a regular cheese grater, tossed it with a 1/4 tsp salt, and placed the zucchini in a colander to drain for 10 minutes or so. While I was waiting for it to give up its excess water, I finely chopped 1/2 an onion and sauteed it over medium heat in 1/2 tbsp butter, 1/2 TBSP olive oil, and 1/2 tsp salt, until the onion was translucent and just beginning to brown. The bit of butter adds a little richness to the sweet onion while the olive oil keeps the butter from burning while sauteing.

In a large bowl I mixed together the egg, cheese, flour, panko, red pepper, and 1 TBSP of the parsley. The mixture was very thick. I then squeezed out any excess liquid from the zucchini and added it to the mixing bowl. Just between straining and then squeezing, I got over a 1/4 cup and 1 TBSP of bright green liquid from the Zucc. Again, the mixture is very thick so I found ti easiest to mix everything with my hands.

I love the flavor of olive oil, but when it comes to frying – even pan frying as these fritters are – I find it to just be too heavy. In a medium skillet over a medium high flame, I heated 3 TBSP of vegetable oil. Once the oil moved freely around the bottom of the pan, but wasn’t smoking, I placed heaping tablespoon dollops of the zucchini mixture into the pan and flattened each to about 1/4 inch thick. They took 5-6 minutes, about 2-3 minutes per side, to brown nicely. The key was getting them to cook through, crisp, and yet not linger in the oil so long that the fritters absorbed it rather than cooked in it.

Once golden, I placed the fritters on a plate with a paper towel to drain, sprinkling each with salt while it was still hot.

Served with merely a sprinkling of lemon juice, these zucchini fritters were the perfect lunch, though not necessarily the healthiest, and would make an excellent appetizer.

I want Eggplant in Garlic Sauce, Damnit!

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It’s my ultimate geek dream to one day work for America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country, but without a culinary degree I may be shit out of luck. I am, however, a huge fan of their work and find their recipes simply the tastiest and – most importantly – fail safe.

There are times, however, when a craving I have lacks a recipe through them. Undeterred, I simply make up something myself because it is my personal belief that one should never fear the kitchen.

Here’s my one simple kitchen rule:

Keep a fire extinguisher and a take out menu within reach, and nothing will go wrong.

With that in mind, I dove into creating Eggplant in Garlic sauce.

I took 1 eggplant chopped in roughly 1 inch wedges. Wedges, not cubes, because it’s cylindrical. Duh. And I minced 3 huge cloves of garlic. This is Eggplant in Garlic sauce, not Galickish sauce. I find this dish at many Asian restaurant to be oilier than I would like it to be; making this at home meant I got to change that aspect of it.

The sauce itself went like this:

1 1/2 TBSP low sodium soy sauce

1/2 TBSP brown sugar

2 TBSP white wine (I was out of rice vinegar and cooking sherry, either of which would have probably made this better, but sometimes you just have to improvise.)

1 TBSP Sesame Oil

1 tsp cornstarch (as a thickener)

a pinch of red pepper flakes

And 1 of large garlic cloves, minced.

I whisked everything together. I wanted to get my eggplant going first. I left the skin on because I’m hardcore, but you certainly don’t have to. I tossed the chopped eggplant into a cast iron pan over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of oil. I wanted it tender, a little brown, but not mush, yet I knew to sauce would take mere minutes to become a rich, syrupy coating over the eggplant, so the eggplant had to start first. Letting it sit on the hot pan for 2 minutes before stirring ensured the golden brown color I was looking for. I then added 2 of the minced garlic cloves, and stirred allowing them to warm and release some oils, an addition 2 minutes.

At that point I added the sauce, which, thanks to the cornstarch and brown sugar, thickened almost instantly. Stirring constantly for an additional 2 minutes I let everything mix and mingle in beautiful garlicky harmony. Then it was time to plate and eat.

The eggplant was sweet, spicy, smokey, and, of course, garlicky. It was tender on the outside and just firm enough in the center. Thanks to that little bit of brown sugar parts of the skin on the eggplant had even become crispy and caramelized. This was a super quick recipe to appease a craving.

I did have to sprinkle a little salt on top, once it came out of the pan; I had thought the soy sauce would add enough salt, but, as mentioned above, I used low-sodium soy sauce and the difference was noticeable.

Over all I was very happy with the way the eggplant turned out. It was the perfect lunch with half a grilled cheese and I’m already excited to use the leftover eggplant on a white pizza at some point later in the week!

Ribs, Ribs Everywhere, So Let’s All Sit & Eat!

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I love ribs. I love eating them so much that it’s been many a year since I’ve been able to see my own, if you catch my drift. And after two hours of hitting the ultimate frisbee field I want to gnaw on ribs a whole hell of a lot more.

I maintain my love of ribs by having them once every two months or less. As we all know, absence makes the heart grow fonder…or less clogged with rib fat, one of the two. The real problem with ribs is that from the moment you decide you’re going to cook them, you hunger for them, and they are not the fastest meal to be had. And there’s a million ways to flavor and cook them!

Should I baste with beer? Apple juice? Cider?

To mop or not to mop?

To grill or use ye olde oven?

What’s a girl to do?!

Well, this girl likes her ribs differently than her boyfriend, so it’s easy. Every time my guy and I make ribs, we make two racks and cook them completely differently. And then we share because that’s true love.

I love St. Louis ribs. This is a particular cut that’s a little less fatty than the spare rib cut, but still thick and meaty. Chip, the aforementioned boyfriend, prefers spare ribs, but today he decided to go with a baby back rack. I like my ribs moist but not sauced so I use a mop. Chip prefers his ribs juicy, but likes a smokier flavor, so he sticks to a grill and periodically uses a spray bottle to wet his ribs, using less liquid and frequency than my mopping.

These are my ribs (in the rub) versus Chip’s naked baby backs.

We’ll start with the break down of my St. Louis cut ribs:

Rub:

1 TBSP Paprika

1 TBSP Garlic powder

1 TBSP salt

1/2 TBSP ground pepper

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 TBSP Ginger

2 TBSP brown sugar

To prep my ribs I washed and dried them. I did not trim them at all, choosing to leave the silver skin on the bottom of the ribs keeps the ribs together while I slowly cook the crap out of them. I then rubbed every last molecule of the spice mixture over the back and top of my ribs; I want a nice crust.

After the rub, came the assembling of my mop.

Playing off the Asian theme the ginger in the rub adds, I went with…

The juice of one lemon

The juice of one lime

1/4 cup Rice vinegar

1/4 cup white wine

To cook my ribs I went with a fairly unorthodox method. As I mentioned, Boyfriend does his ribs on our gas grill. I’m not anti-grill, but I do like slow and low ribs – slow cooked at a low temperature. I don’t want to meat to fall off the bone; I want it to pull away. But I also like a dark crust. Remedy: I got my ribs all rubbed up and put them meat side down on a hot, hot grill for 5 minutes. That’s all it takes. Put those ribs down, close the lid, and don’t touch for 5 minutes.

Once they got a char I pulled them, put them meat side up in a cookie sheet on a flat rack and mopped away, about 2 tablespoons of my mop to coat the ribs. This means I’ll have char, I’ll have a crust, and the rib coating will be glossy and tasty. I put an additional 3 tables spoon of my rub onto the cookie sheet and covered in tin foil in order to maintain a moist cooking environment. You can also use beer or apple juice; either, like my mop, will add extra flavor.

After the 5 minute stint on the grill I baked my ribs at 500 for 15 minutes and then turned the oven down to 250. I continued cooking for an addition 1 1/2, mopping every 20 minutes. You want the internal temperature of the ribs to be 180-200 degrees. Yes, I spent the afternoon being a slave to my ribs.

And it was worth it.

And then there were Chip’s ribs, the man ribs. Chip cooked his baby backs on a hot gas grill. Prep went the same way: wash, dry, and season; he seasoned, meaning he sprinkled each on top of the rack, rather than making a thick rub. Chip season with…

1/2 TBSP of the following: Paprika, salt, black pepper, and garlic.

Then Chip made a moisturizer:

1/4 cup apple juice

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

3 TBSP yellow mustard

1 1/2 TBSP ketchup

He whisked everything together and poured into a spray bottle. To create a moist and smokey environment on the grill, Chip put mesquite chips into a small tin pan and soaked them in red wine, which he placed on the bars directly above the burners at the back left of the grill. The grill was heated to 500 and he placed his ribs meat side down, closed the lid, and let them go for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, Chip turned the heat down to 400, flipped the ribs meat side up, sprayed them with the moisturizer and closed the lid. Every 15 minutes Chip sprayed.

…And there was one flare up, but he kept the paparazzi at bay.

Chip is no stranger to fire. Below is a picture of a tater tot from the last time he made them with dinner. It was honestly glowing red hot when I found it.

Because Chip’s baby back rack was smaller and he used a higher heat, they were only on the grill for 1 hour and fifteen minutes. Again, he went with internal temperature over a specific cook time.

So, that’s it! We cooked the crap out of our ribs, two separate ways, both came out delicious. We ate entirely too much with salad as a side, and beer for refreshment.