Sunday, October 22, 2017

Ina Garten's French Chocolate Bark {Perfect for Halloween}

If I had I had a dollar for every time I've heard Ina Garten declare "How Easy Is That?" then I would have a fat stack of bills in my wallet. Ina repeats this catch phrase over and over again on her hit cooking show, but what's more is that she actually proves it, by showing us how easy it is to cook her five star dishes.

This recipe for French Chocolate Bark is an example of just how foolproof and easy Ina's recipes are. A handful of quality ingredients, a set of simple instructions, and voilĂ have yourself a five-star chocolate bark that would rival anything you could find at an upscale chocolate shop!

This chocolate bark calls my name with all the delicious toppings: roasted and salted cashews, sweet dried cherries, and beautiful orange dried apricots. The colors just scream Halloween to me and makes this perfect for taking to any upcoming Halloween celebrations. The textures and flavors are out of this world: crunchy and salty cashews with sweet and chewy bits of dried fruit and creamy chocolate. Wow! Your taste buds are in for a special treat with this one!

French Chocolate Bark
Adapted from Back To Basics
by Ina Garten
Makes 18 to 20 pieces

1 cup whole salted, roasted cashews
6 to 7 ounces very good semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 to 7 ounces very good bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup dried crystallized ginger, 1/2-inch diced*
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried apricots, 1/2-inch diced
1/4 cup golden raisins

*Note: I omitted the crystallized ginger and raisins simply because I didn't have them on hand. I used Ghiradelli chocolate with great results.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Using a pencil, draw a 9 x 10-inch rectangle on a piece of parchment paper placed on a sheet pan, then turn the parchment paper over. 

Spread the cashews in one layer on another sheet pan and bake for 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.  

Place the semisweet chocolate and half the bittersweet chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave on high power for 20 to 30 seconds. (Don't trust your microwave timer; time it with your watch.) Stir with a rubber spatula. Continue to heat and stir in 30-second increments until the chocolate is just melted. Immediately add the remaining bittersweet chocolate and allow it to sit at room temperature, stirring often, until it's completely smooth. Stir vigorously until the chocolate is smooth and slightly cooled; stirring makes it glossier.

Pour the melted chocolate onto the parchment paper and spread it lightly into the drawn rectangle. Sprinkle the top evenly in the following order; first the ginger, then the cooled whole cashews, the cherries, apricots, and raisins. Set aside for 1 to 2hours until firm. Cut the bark in 18 to 20 pieces and serve at room temperature.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Ina Garten's Engagement Roast Chicken {The Very Best Roast Chicken}

Long time watchers of  Ina Garten's cooking show, Barefoot Contessa, know that she is The Queen of Roast Chicken.  Ina has many recipes for roast chicken and countless others celebrating chicken. Her inspiration behind these recipes is her husband, Jeffrey. Chicken is Jeffrey's favorite and Jeffrey is Ina's favorite.

These two things, Ina's love of Jeffrey and therefore chicken, are apparent to anyone who catches a few segments of her tv show. In fact, my husband has surmised as much after only seeing a few snippets here and there. It's so evident that for years we've had a running joke about Ina and Jeffrey and Friday night chicken dinners.
Weeks ago my husband called me laughing when he saw the text that my newest cookbook, Cooking For Jeffrey was set to arrive in the mail. He said, "it's about time she wrote a book dedicated to cooking for Jeffrey." So, my husband was delighted when on Friday I sent him a text to let him know that I was making Ina's Roast Chicken for dinner, Jeffrey's favorite. Let's just say he had high expectations because he knows that Jeffrey gets only the best!

This recipe started off just like all the rest, but Ina throws a few wise tips in. Namely, the size of the pan and the reason why it's so important. The chicken is nestled with two sliced onions and lemon wedges. The pan needs to be somewhat of a tight fit or the onions will burn. This was most helpful for me because in the past my add ins (onions, garlic, lemon, potatoes, carrots, etc) have all been in a pan that was too large which resulted in burning and scorched tasting gravy, etc. The second, and equally helpful tip, was to cut the slices of onion thick so that they would hold up in the oven. The result was perfectly cooked onions and delicious gravy. Score!

Ina says to use a 9 x 11 roasting pan and you can definitely do that, but I prefer to use my cast iron whenever possible so I went ahead and used my 12" cast iron skillet. It was the perfect fit!

There is a reason why this chicken is called Engagement Roast Chicken. The word is that the chicken is so delicious it earns marriage proposals! While I think that is somewhat of an exaggeration, I can understand the name. This is quite simply THE VERY BEST ROAST CHICKEN I've ever made! We found this to be the ultimate in chicken, tender and juicy with a perfectly crisp and golden brown skin. The onion gravy is equally delicious, with a fresh pop from the lemon, and really elevates the chicken to another level. All in all, this was divine, exceeding all expectations. From now on, this is my one and only roast chicken recipe. Five stars, Ina!

Engagement Roast Chicken
Recipe found on Food Network
by Ina Garten
Serves 4

1 (4 to 5 pound) roasting chicken
salt and black pepper, to taste
2 lemons
1 whole head garlic, cut in 1/2 crosswise
good olive oil
2 onions, peeled and thickly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Remove and discard the chicken giblets. Pat the outside dry.  Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Cut the lemons in quarters, place 2 quarters in the chicken along with the garlic and reserve the rest of the lemons.  Brush the outside of the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken.  Place the chicken in a small (11 by 14") roasting pan (if the pan is too large the onions will burn - I used a 12" cast iron skillet). Place the reserved lemons and the sliced onions in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then season with salt and pepper, to taste. Pour the mixture around the chicken in the pan.

Roast the chicken for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and a thigh. Remove the chicken to a platter, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the sauce, leaving the lemons and onions in the pan. 

Place the pan on top of the stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the wine (I didn't have wine so I subbed in extra chicken broth in it's place) and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits. Add the stock and sprinkle on the flour, stirring constantly for a minute, until the sauce thickens. Add any juices that collect onto a platter and serve with the lemons, onions, and warm sauce.

Cooking with Alliums @ IHCC

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Ina Garten's Cheese Straws {For Mom}

I started my cooking blog almost ten years ago and my mom was with me, tasting and testing recipes, every step of the way. Rightly so, because she was the reason I loved cooking to start with. She had me working beside her in the kitchen as soon as I was able to stand. My short legs were no match for the counter, so for years she kept my little stool by the kitchen counter so I could sprinkle salt and pepper, roll dough, and cut with my plastic knife. 

When I was a bit older and could reach the counter on my own, I can remember asking question after question. "Mom, can we add this spice? Can we add that spice?" She would always say, "We can add whatever we want because it's our kitchen and we make the rules." Cooking was art and the kitchen was our studio.

Like many women of her generation, my mom was never really one to follow a recipe. She never set a timer or made a recipe the same way twice. In fact, she was this way in all aspects of life, not just in the kitchen. She always said, "I like to walk my own path" and boy oh boy was she right about that. On the other hand, I've always been one to follow the rules and so we would banter back and forth, all in fun. She would tell me to loosen up and not be so straight and I would suggest that she set a timer or write her recipes down so that I would know how to duplicate them in the future. We would always meet somewhere in the middle. A perfect balance.  

Over the years we cooked side by side, sharing recipe after recipe. When my husband and kids snarled their nose at some of the dishes I made, because they were too fancy or had ingredients they didn't like, mom was always there. She was never picky and always gave compliments on everything that came out of my kitchen. My biggest fan. My best recipe taster, always encouraging me to try everything. On an off chance that she didn't like a dish, she always had kind and constructive feedback and we would always laugh and joke and talk about how our failures were always our biggest lessons.

A few weeks ago my mom, who was so full of life, lost her battle with cancer. She was only 64. I am so sad that our time was cut short, but am beyond thankful for all the time that we did have. I know that we lived it well, together. There are no words to express how very much I will miss her, and all of our kitchen adventures. My last promise to her was that I would be okay, and one of the best ways I can think to honor that promise, is to keep writing this blog. So keep cooking I must.

I chose this recipe because mom and I both loved cheese and anything bready.  I can see her now using Ina's recipe as a guideline and telling me that she was going to use more cheese and seasoning than the recipe called for because she liked to be a rebel. So more cheese and more seasoning it is, because I know that would make mom smile. I also decided that I didn't want to season the straws with thyme so I swapped out the thyme for Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Oh, and I didn't thaw the puff pastry overnight in the fridge either.  I thawed it right on the counter, last minute. How's that for being a rebel?

The results were delicious and we all enjoyed them. The only problem is that we have leftovers and that, my friends, is going to take some time to get used to.

Cheese Straws
Adapted from Food Network
by Ina Garten
Makes 22 to 24 cheese straws

2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry (such as Pepperidge farm), defrosted overnight in the fridge
1 extra-large egg
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan*
1 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese*
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves*
1 teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper, to taste

*Note: Feel free to swap out the cheese and the seasoning in order to suit your taste buds. I used Parmesan and Gruyere because they're my favorites. However, I swapped the fresh thyme for Italian seasoning on one batch and red pepper flakes for the other. Half of the fun in this recipe is making different versions every time.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Roll out each sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured board until it is 10 x 12 inches. Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of water and brush the surface of the pastry. Sprinkle each sheet evenly with 1/4 cup of the Parmesan and 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, 1/2 teaspoon of the thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper, to taste. With the rolling pin, lightly press the flavorings into the puff pastry. Cut each sheet crosswise with a floured knife or pizza wheel into 11 or 12 strips. Twist each strip and lay on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned and puffed. Turn each straw and bake for another 2 minutes. Don't over bake or the cheese will burn. Cool and serve and room temperature.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

My Top Five Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Favorites!

Oh Hugh, my time with you was short, but we were able to have some great kitchen adventures and make some memorable dishes together. These five are my top favorites and are all dishes that I will be making over and over again for years to come!

{Click on the recipe title to be directed to the original recipe and post}

I originally decided on this recipe solely because someone had given me a whole box full of garden-fresh tomatoes. I was expecting for it to be good, but instead the final product was downright mind-blowing! This was easily the best tomato sauce I've ever tasted and will be my perfect recipe for tomato sauce going forward. I am already waiting for next year so I can make batch upon batch and learn how to can it!

Again, I made this recipe based on the need to use up some puff pastry, and some beautiful rainbow Swiss chard, and did not expect to fall head over heels for this tart, but fall I did! I should have known better. I mean who doesn't want to wake up to flaky puff pastry with eggs, greens, and cheese. Two slices, please!

Welsh Rarebit is essentially cheese sauce over toast and let's face it...who wouldn't like that? Well, I can tell you that I had attempted it several times in my kitchen and wasn't a fan until now.  Previous versions resulted in a grainy cheese sauce that was just unpleasant. Hugh's version, on the other hand, was luscious and creamy and somewhat addicting. Expect to eat more than one slice!

People can hate on kale all they want, but I love it. In fact, I crave it. Everyone else can eat macaroni and cheese and plain old spaghetti, but I'll be eating this Cavatappi with Kale Ragu.  Holy cow...this is one of the best pasta dishes around. Make this if you love greens like me, and I promise you won't be disappointed!

And, finally, Hugh's Herby, Peanutty, Noodly Salad because who doesn't love a good noodle salad? Especially one that is so full of good-for-you green stuff and crunchy delicious peanuts? Perfect for any lunchbox!

Stay tuned! I Heart Cooking Clubs will be cooking with the one and only Ina Garten for the next six months! I can hardly wait to get started!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Out-Of-This-World Roasted Tomato Sauce

You know those recipes that are pure perfection? Well, this is one of them! Seriously though, I made this recipe because I had fresh ripe tomatoes coming out of my ears, and it totally caught me off guard how dang delicious this Roasted Tomato Sauce was! Perhaps it was because I had some really good garden-ripe tomatoes, I'm not sure, but this is my new go to recipe for making tomato sauce.

Things started out beautifully with a gorgeous display of fresh cut tomatoes glistening on the roasting sheet. A hefty scattering of garlic and a few herbs, salt and pepper really jazzed things up! I popped it into the oven and within a few minutes I began to worry.  I could smell garlic and not in a good way.  I felt like the garlic was going to burn and ruin the sauce, but it was too late to do anything about it so I left it all to roast.

Then I had another moment when I was pushing the tomatoes through the sieve and the sauce was nothing but pure liquid but I forged on. Hugh talks about the different consistency and suggests cooking the sauce down on the stove top to thicken it so I did just that.

The sauce was cooking down when my husband walked in and said "wow, what is that delicious smell?" Now, my husband is not fond of tomato sauce, unless it's covering a plate of pasta, so it was huge when he stuck a spoon in the sauce and started swooning. He said, "that sauce is incredible, it's perfectly seasoned." Of course I stuck my spoon in immediately after and discovered he was right. In fact, we both poured a little bit in a small cup and sipped it like a soup. Roasting those tomatoes really brings out the flavor! We debated eating it as a soup right then and there, but decided to save it for pasta.

The tomato sauce was heavenly over some pasta, but it was even better the next day when my mom and I got the idea to make some Italian-inspired Parmesan-Basil Fried Green Tomatoes (click on the link for the recipe-) and dip them them into this roasted tomato sauce! Doubling down on tomatoes was even better than we imagined and we now have a new favorite snack! I can't wait to get a new batch of tomatoes so I can make both the sauce and the fried green tomatoes again. It was a lovely combination. A summertime delight for sure!

Roasted Tomato Sauce
Adapted from River Cottage Veg
by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Makes around 2 cups

3 to 4 pounds ripe tomatoes, larger ones halved
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A couple sprigs of marjoram
A few sprigs of thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lay the tomatoes, cut side up if halved, on a baking sheet. Scatter over the garlic and herbs, and trickle over the oil. Season with plenty of salt and pepper.

Put the baking sheet in the oven for about an hour, maybe a bit longer, until the tomatoes are completely soft and pulpy, and starting to crinkle and caramelize on top.

Set the tomatoes aside to cool for half an hour or so.  Then tip them into a large sieve set over a bowl and rub the pulp through with a wooden spoon, or use a food mill. Discard the skins and seeds. The sauce will seem like liquid, and that is fine, you can cook the sauce down on the stove until it thickens, if you desire.

Theme: Dippity Do Dah! @ IHCC

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Pan-Roasted Asparagus with a Crispy Fried Egg {Perfection On A Plate}

This recipe is all about texture and flavor.

Crunchy, cheesy, herbaceous breadcrumbs with the kick of red pepper flakes and a hint of lemon zest sit atop a crispy-bottomed fried egg that oozes with yolk down over the tops of pan-fried asparagus spears. I'm telling ya....this is the perfect breakfast or brunch dish. This is really the perfect anytime dish. 

I was wowed by how good this was! In fact, this was so good, I instantly felt mad at myself for not making it sooner. Do you ever do that? I do. After that first bite I found myself thinking "why oh why did I allow this to sit on my "to make list" for so long? Nonsense I tell ya.

There's just something about the crunch of the breadcrumbs and the oozing egg yolk that is the perfect topper for the asparagus. It just really wakes up those taste buds and keep you wanting more.

It's one of those dishes that is kinda naughty but kinda angelic. Widely satisfying, but still light. You know, one of those rare dishes that strike the perfect balance. The kind you make again and again and highly recommend. Perfection on a plate.

Pan-Fried Asparagus with a Crispy Fried Egg
Adapted from Food Network
by Giada De Laurentiis
Serves 4

Breadcrumb Gremolata
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon lemon zest (1 lemon)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 pound thin asparagus, trimmed
salt and pepper, to taste
4 large eggs

For the Gremolata: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and olive oil and toast, stirring often with a wooden spoon until golden brown. Place in a small bowl and while still hot, add the lemon zest, red pepper flakes and salt. Mix together and cool the mixture to room temperature. Stir in the parsley and cheese.

For the Asaparagus: Wipe the pan with a clean dish towel. Place over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the asparagus and salt to taste.  Cook, stirring and flipping often with tongs until the asparagus is bright green, cooked through and slightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes.

Divide the asparagus among four serving plates. To the same pan, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and place over medium-high heat. Crack 2 of the egg into the pan, being careful as it may splatter, sprinkle with salt and reduce the heat slightly and cook until the edges are light brown and crispy and the whites are just set, 2 to 3 minutes. The yolk should still be runny. Repeat for the remaining 2 eggs. Using a slotted spatula, slide an egg on each plate. Sprinkle each dish with the breadcrumb gremolata and a drizzle of olive oil if desired.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Just For Kicks {Spicy Favorites From the Stirring The Pot Kitchen}

Over at I Heart Cooking Clubs we're celebrating spicy dishes that give either a little bit, or a lot of kick! I'm having company this week and didn't have enough time to throw together a new dish, so I'm recapping with five of my favorite spicy dishes, as well as a shout out to a dish I've mentioned before, that are perfect for the summer months!

Here in the Stirring the Pot household, we love spicy dishes! They are simply are favorites. I've mentioned this dish several times on my blog, but Madhur Jaffrey's Delicious Chicken Bits is hands down our favorite dish I've ever shared on this blog. It's spicy mainly because it has quite a bit of cayenne pepper in it, but also because it is full of other spices like cumin, paprika, garlic powder, turmeric, black pepper, salt, and thyme. It is a celebration of spices and is a must make for fans of spicy food.

And now onto my five favorites, in no particular order: (click on the link to be directed to the original post and recipe)
This whipped cream cheese is heavenly. Chopped up serrano pepper and garlic give it a truly wonderful flavor profile and it is remarkable and addictive on bagels for breakfast. Of course, this cream cheese is wonderful on just about anything. Trust will not last long!

Light and delicious veggie enchiladas with a super-fiery-not-for-the-faint-of-heart habanero salsa to set your mouth on fire! The avocado is not's necessary to cool your mouth down!

This burger is a wonderful mix of flavors: chorizo, chipotles in adobo, poblano chiles, onions, and garlic.....and ooey gooey Monterey jack cheese. A tasty way to enjoy a burger this summer!

A lovely and unique meal for the slow cooker, this chicken is flavored with tomatillos, jalapeno, onion, cilantro, and a splash of jalapeno pickling juice. The chicken is fall off the bone tender and this is a light and fresh meal that is perfect for spring and summer.

 A light and easy tomato sauce made with a hint of garlic and pickled jalapenos is the perfect way to jazz up fish for a nice light summer meal. This was a very pleasant dish and a great way to add a little kick to your regular old weeknight dinner routine. The potatoes really round it out and make it a nice little meal. 

What are some of your spicy favorites?