Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Glorious Rotisserie Turkey

There we we were, standing in the deli section of the grocery store with no idea what to have for dinner. We were standing right next to the rotisserie stand- with the juicy, tasty chicken going around on the spits. The air is filled with that home cooking scent only arrived from baking chicken or turkey; not quite the full chicken soup smell, but the aroma of the salty, cracklin' skin is right on the tongue.

One time during my tenure as a restauranteur, my partner and I ran out to pick up groceries. Having only time for bites of cold cheese and meats while running around for twenty hours a day; it was a rare occasion to sit down to a hot meal. This particular day we were so hungry we couldn't resist the magnetism of the roasted chicken as we walked in to the store. It's like the aroma grabbed us by the nose and dragged us across the floor, knocking over the canned beans display, to the rotisserie stand where a fresh roasted chicken hopped right into our basket. So we bought it, headed straight out to the car and sat there ripping the chicken apart with our fingers and shoving the meat into our mouths like ravenous vultures. Our cheeks and face covered in wonderful cheap grease chicken. There was a mob of onlookers around our car starring at us in complete disgust. That might have been the best chicken I've ever had.

Why they couldn't put a turkey on those spits, just small one - about the size of a chicken would do. Even a Capon would work! See, I only have memories of the roasted chicken...Dave doesn't eat chicken it's not something that finds its way in my basket any more. That finger licking greasy roast fun has alluded me for years (or exactly two weeks.)

Until now. Today I salute the rotisserie master who put turkey on the spit. For there in front of me was a roasted turkey in all its glory- under the plastic dome with the condensation building and dripping down the inside. That bird was my dinner tonight, along with a side pasta topped with a goat cheese and Havarti cheese sauce. I was happy, real happy tonight. It didn't top that day in my car, with chicken remains strewn on the inside of the windshield... but it was good and I look forward to many more! Get yourself a roasted bird and be fat and happy my friends, be fat and happy.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chopped Salad

The past few weeks have been filled with many many party festivities; which included an abundance of food and drink. My body is now craving some healthy food; even Dave is saying he needs some 'green stuff' as he calls it and that is a rare comment from him.

In general, I think salads get a bad rap for not being interesting or creative or not filling enough. The big media push now is how fattening salads can be. Sure, a salad can be fattening when you add a deep fried Twinkie on top of it! Come people, as with anything else - everything in moderation!

One good healthy salad option is a chopped salad. Have you noticed how many menus have a chopped salad on them these days? I adore a good chopped salad; you get an abundance of flavors in every bite, it takes less dressing and you can lighten up on the cheese and other 'fatty' ingredients that tend to push the salad over the edge. The idea behind this salad is that you can include many ingredients, they just need to be chopped much smaller than how a typical salad is served. And I find that this salad gets back to the classic fresh, crunchy salad ingredients, like carrots and broccoli - a nice change from all the fruit and nut salads that reign on menu as of late. Don't get me wrong, I make my share of fruity salads, but there is nothing like a fresh, crunchy bite of classic flavors.

One key point to keep in mind when making any salad: Toss the salad and salad dressing in a big bowl with a pair of tongs a few minutes before serving. This helps distrubute the dressing (coat all the layers) - so you can use less, and gives all the flavors of the dressing and ingredients a chance to meld together.

Overall, have fun with this salad. I tend to make this when there is a lot of little left over veggies in the fridge, it's a great garbage salad where anything goes. So feel free to add whatever you have laying around (tomatoes, leftover fresh or canned beans, zucchini, etc). I do keep softer items like oranges or cooked veggies and the like out of this salad- but test it for yourself and see what you like. Because this is made with crunchy fresh veggies, it can hold up to the dressing for a day, so you can have leftovers at lunch the next day. Use this as a base for meats or grilled kabobs. It's a simple tasty salad that offers wonderful flavor without all the fatty extras! Chop, eat and be fat and happy!

In a big bowl, add:

2 cups crispy lettuce (choose a hearty crisp romaine over a leaf lettuce. This is also one of the rare times I would say you could include iceberg lettuce.)

add: 1/4 to 1/2 cup of each of the following, chopped small
red pepper
green pepper

add but do not mix yet: 1/4 cup of the following, chopped small
green onion
green and black olives (use a mixture of the good deli olives!)
cheddar cheese

For the dressing, whisk together in a bowl or shake in a sealed jar:
4 Tbls olive oil
2 Tbls fresh lime juice
4 Tbls pineapple juice
3 Tbls balsamic vinegar (use a good one, don't skimp on this)
fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste.

Pour the dressing over the salad, start with about 1/2 of the dressing. Depending on how much salad you have made, you may not need all of it. Toss gently and allow to sit. Toss one more time just before serving.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Crabs in Annapolis!

Who has the crabs!?
How often have you heard that one?

One look around Cantler's in Annapolis, MD, and you will realize every person in the joint has crabs!

By way of boat, Cantler's is just around the corner from the Naval Academy; a little tougher to get to by car, but only if you don't know where you are going.

This place is exactly what you would expect, more of a hole in the wall than anything, but a comfortable place where everyone feels at home with long tables that everyone shares with trays of crabs running the length. Blackboards with hand written notes describing how to crack and eat a crab; and one that tells what crabs are available (small, medium or large). As Dave noted, this is the only restaurant we've been in where ALL the kids were extremely well behaved; I equate this with the idea that they have something to occupy their time - mainly pounding on crabs with little mallets. Hell, I was pretty damn happy too!

We ordered a round of hush puppies and a bowl of mussels as well. The mussels were outstanding in a white wine sauce. And the crabs were good too- but you learn why crab meat is so expensive to buy; it's a lot of work for a little amount of crab. Look on the wall to see what they are serving today and what the price is. We went with the Medium size crabs - which ran us about $55.00 for a tray of a dozen crabs. Not a bad deal. If someone in your party is a little squeamish, they do have a few other options like deep fried fish and clams.

You can even walk down the steps to the river and look at your dinner before your meal. Theresa decided to get friendly with her crab prior to eating it! Not sure who is more afraid, her or the crab!

Next time your in the Annapolis vicinity - stop by Cantler's. You'll have a blast .... you'll smell like crab for a couple of days, but it's worth it! Crack, smash, eat and be fat and happy!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwich

A cookie bake off challenge. You know exactly how these things get started... a bunch of people are sitting around and someone says they have come across the greatest peanut butter cookie recipe ever. Not to be outdone, another person chimes in that their Grandmothers peanut butter cookie recipe is the best ever! And yet another proclaims that their cookie recipe would knock the competition out of the kitchen. Before I realize what is happening, I'm in the middle of cookie bake-off challenge!

The challenge: Who can make the best peanut butter cookie
The rules: Peanut butter must to the star, you have to taste it in every bite.
Competitors: Four office mates
The Judges: The entire rest of the office.
The results: Technically, I was tied for 1st, and the Executive Vice President was called in to break the tie. I lost on a technicality - that their was chocolate in my cookie. But, the entire office agreed that my cookie was the best overall cookie. So I pushed the envelope a little on the rules - there was peanut butter in every bite, just enhanced by chocolate. Now I will tell you that the last time I made these cookies I used peanut butter chips rather than chocolate. The store I went to(at 8:30 pm the night before I needed them)
didn't have them. They are hard to find; and I didn't think about this aspect until after I got to the store. By that time it was too late! So if your not a chocolate fan (whatever) or you find yourself in a peanut butter cookie contest, try these using peanut butter chips instead of chocolate - they are tasty!

Seriously, this little cookie contest spurred more office discussions than the Obama-Hilary debate! The debate over whether people could/should actually vote for the cookie with chocolate spurred discussions that was passed from group to group until the final decision lay with the big guy! I suspect we will have more of these challenges and I'd also wager that due to the success and 'controversy' of the first one, I'll be seeing more challengers as well! Bring it on, it will keep me on my toes. And I'll keep pushing the limits of the rules even if that means I don't win. Because as long as I'm cooking and baking, I am fat and happy!

Preheat the oven at to 350 degrees (my oven temp seems to be lower, so I did set mine up to 365 degrees.)

In a mixer, beat until creamy:
3/4 cup Powdered Sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (packed, and heaping)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, (easiest to use if is room temperature)

Then add (mix to blend between each addition, but don't over beat)
1/2 cup peanut butter (I use creamy for these cookies)
1/2 cup Crisco
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg

Now add the dry ingredients (it's good to premix these in a bowl prior to adding)
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder (heaping)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Finally, add either 1 cup of min chocolate chips (or use peanut butter chips!)

Drop small scoops of cookie onto an ungreased sheet pan (I used my smallest cookie scoop). Bake for about 12 minutes, until just lightly golden brown. You don't want to over-bake these or they will be too crumbly; they will almost seem not quite done when you take them out. Let them sit on the pan for about 5 minutes before you move them to a cookie rack to cool.

In the mean time make the filling:
In a glass bowl, place:
1/2 cup chocolate (or peanut butter) chips
1/2 cup peanut butter (use creamy for the filling)
1/4 teaspoon salt

heat to a boil:
6 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream
Pour into the glass bowl - stir until chips are melted and everything is creamy.
Place this in the fridge until cooled, but spreadable.

Once your cookies and filling are chilled, assemble by spreading filling between two cookies!

Turkey Stuffed Roasted Yellow Pepper

Remember those great yellow peppers I mentioned on sale for .10 cents at Stanelys (see my post (titled Spinach and Yellow Pepper Salad)? These were the perfect size for a stuffed pepper! I find the larger size just too big. You can never eat it all and a stuffed pepper is really best the night you make it. Reheating does not really do this justice.

Using a roasted pepper will give you much more flavor to your dish. You will find the little smoky-charred flavor give some character and depth to your pepper. You can roast peppers on your outdoor grill (personally my favorite way as I feel this offers the best flavor), under your broiler or just on top of you gas stove, as shown to the right.

There are so many options of what to stuff the pepper with- sausage and rice, bread crumbs and cheese, hamburger mixture....really it's endless!

I chose to create a turkey-couscous mix with vegetables for a healthier option. But as always, feel free to add in something extra if you have, try to shake it up a little! Your the master of your tastes, so vary my recipes to your liking! No matter what you end up, just enjoy the fact that you made it, and be fat and happy!

This is another real simple recipe to put together.

Prepare 1 cup of couscous according to the directions.

Begin to roast your peppers. Simple place them directly onto the grates above the flame, nothing else is needed. Leave the stems on to turn. Turn as each side begins to brown/blacken.

At the same time:

Sautee for a couple of minutes in a drizzle of olive oil and 1 tbls butter (ground turkey is really bland and needs extra flavoring from the butter, you can omit if counting calories):
1/4 cup yellow onions, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped

add and continue to sautee a few more minutes:
1/2 cup broccoli, chopped.
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, chopped or minced

Add this to the couscous, set aside. Now sautee 1/2 lb ground turkey (use the same pan you just had the veggies in.) Add salt, lots of black pepper, 1/2 tsp of red pepper and about 1 tablespoon of ground (or leaf) thyme. Ground turkey meat is dry and bland, so i like to add a little olive oil to the pan and I tend to over season for my tastes. Once the meat is all browned, add to the couscous and toss.

Cut out the stem and middle sections of the peppers. Now fill the peppers with the couscous-turkey mixture. Place them gently into the meat pan and put in the oven for about ten minutes of final heating and to let the flavors meld. You could serve without placing in the oven unless you want to add cheese, then you will definitely need to put them in the oven to give the cheese a chance to melt. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Grilled Blue Cheese and Bacon Potato Salad

Hello, my name is Monique and I'm a wimp. I blame it on 15 years of living the good life in Denver. The weather was so warm, dry and balmy year round that I forgot what it meant to live in the Midwest. I'm not necessarily proud of this and I've received a lot of flack over it. I remember my first winter in Denver when I brushed the snow off the sidewalk with a broom (as opposed to shoveling it) while wearing flip flops (as opposed to sorels!)

My first Christmas Holiday in Denver was spent downhill skiing one day and golfing the next. I traveled back to the Midwest a few days later to bone chilling cold - 35 below, without the windchill. The idea of 'getting out of the house' meant going to the garage to bring the beer in so it didn't freeze. The Midwest winters mean you give up some things for many months at a time.

This past winter in Chicago was brutal. I longed to grill something, anything... even grilled snow would have sufficed.  Now the weather is reaching the 60's and we've been grilling for weeks.

Grilling offers a fabulous way to make super simple salads while keeping the heat out of the house. Warm grilled potatoes and onions begin to just melt the creamy blue cheese which mixes with the olive oil and creates its own sauce ... ah it's scrumptious! You won't be able to stop eating it.  Put on your flip flops, celebrate the return of warm weather and master your salad-grilling skills.  Now that's a reason to be fat and happy!

Tips and Techniques:  This salad is best when served warm.  Plan the rest of your grilling around the potatoes.  For a super tasty spread option, omit the potatoes and pulse the remaining ingredients together in a  food processor.

Grilled Blue Cheese and Bacon Potato Salad

10 mini or 5 small red potatoes
4 cloves garlic
1/2 of a medium sized red onion
4 slices of smoky or peppery bacon
4 celery stalks, chopped large
1/2 cup of creamy blue cheese (I've also made this with a smoky Gouda cheese which yielded superb results as well)
Olive Oil
Fresh black pepper and salt

Scrub the potatoes, cut in half and toss in a bowl with 2 - 4Tbls olive oil and fresh ground pepper. Thread the potatoes on kabob skewers for easier handling on the grill. Add the garlic cloves on the skewers too. Place the skewers on the grill, cut side down, on the upper grate if you have one. Turning them once during cooking until just done, you want a firm cooked potato rather than a mushy one.

Coat the red onion in the remaining olive oil, try to keep the onion together.  Place this on the grill. Only grill for about 5 minutes to keep the onion crisp-tender, avoid overcooking.

Cook the bacon on the grill by folding a little pan out of tinfoil, folding the edges up will keep the bacon grease from dripping into the grill and causing flare ups.  Cook the bacon until desired crispiness.
 In the meantime, chop the celery (on the large side) and place back in the olive oil bowl.

Remove the onion, chop, and add to the celery. Remove the bacon, let cool slightly, then chop or crumble into large pieces and add to the celery bowl. Sprinkle the cheese into the bowl.  Dice up the garlic and add to the bowl.

Add the potatoes to the bowl straight off the grill. Add  lots of fresh ground black pepper and a pinch of salt. Toss. Serve immediately.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Roasted Yellow Pepper and Spinach Salad

There is an amazing fruit and vegetable stand just across the river from me, called Stanley's. Stanley's has the best prices and the freshest produce I've seen; it's better than a farmers market. You can even find organic there as well. Stanley's is always completely packed, but I walk out with bags of produce for a third of the price I would have paid at a regular grocery store. Truly, this place is a little gem.

Last week they had a sale on yellow peppers - you are not going to believe this, .10 cents a pepper - ten cents! They were a small to medium size pepper, but they packed a punch as they were really tasty peppers. I stocked up.

So because I have so many yellow peppers I'm using them on everything. This is a really simple, extremely flavorful little salad, I added butter with the olive oil for more flavor. It could be paired with a meat or fish dinner; in this case, I used it as a brunch salad to go with the Biscuit Egg Sandwich. It's marvelous. If you are in Chicago, go check out Stanley's, get some fresh veggies and be fat and happy!

Start with
1/4 cup chopped onions, 2 tbls butter and olive oil, sautee

Sautee this for about 5 minutes on low heat (you don't want to burn the onions, just soften them)
Now add 1 small roasted yellow pepper (see my posting on roasting peppers on your stove top!), chopped and two cloves of minced garlic. Sautee this until your onions begin to caramelize.

Now add about 2 cups of spinach. Toss everything in the pan a few times to coat all the spinach. Leave this on the stove only long enough for the spinach to slightly wilt. Salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Parsley Pesto Potato Bites

I had about half an hour to whip up an appetizer before our friend Sean came over. Our plan was to meet up at our house, watch the Cubs game and then head to Looptopia. Looptopia is a great idea based on the vibrance of European cities, the artistic aspect, the energy and the excitement of thousands of people in the heart of the city after hours. The idea is great, the execution could use a bit of help though. This was the second year, and we found less artists, less interesting dancers or musicians and just more young kids running through the streets.

What to make? I hadn't planned anything so I really needed to just pull an idea out of my head. With a handful of baby potatoes and fresh bunch of parsley, this came together so nicely that I'm thrilled with it and so excited to make it again. It's completely simple and you can use this as a topping for many different uses, cracker dips, pizza topping, a pasta sauce or even a sandwich spread.

To start, wash your potatoes and bake them until soft. I used about ten potatoes, and these are the mini red potatoes.

Blend a small cuisinart or blender:
2 cups of curly or Italian parsley
2 Tbls fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 Tbls cheese, use a hard cheese like a Parmesan
Fresh ground black pepper
Olive oil, use enough to make the pesto into a bit of a sauce consistency.

Cut the potatoes in half, scoop out the tiny center of the potato so you have a place to put the pesto. Fill the potato halves with the pesto and top with toasted pine nuts and a sprinkling of cheese. Now place these back under the broiler until the cheese is melted . Serve immediately.

Your going to love the hint of mint in this, it gives a great little unexpected flavor explosion! You can whip this up in no time, it's that simple. We went on to Looptopia, acted silly and we were fat and happy!

Shrimp Pizza and Spinach Bacon Pizza

Everybody loves pizza; as the saying goes- even bad pizza is still pizza. Actually, the truth is I think that phrase is usually about sex....

I will admit, I'm pretty tired of the typical pizza that is found at nearly every pizza place out there. How many times have you seen a Margarita pizza on the menu, with the words "our specialty" or something to that effect written by it? Making my own pizza gives me the option to be creative and fun. And it's also a great chance for Dave and I to cook together. We can either make our own little pizza's or do half and half; it's just about being together.

For the dough, you have a few choices: make your own or buy a premade dough (either a frozen dough or you could use one of the boboli crusts.)

I have previously posted a quite nice thin crust pizza dough if you want to tackle a homemade crust. It's easier than you think and you should try it sometime. No matter which dough you go with, add a little corn meal to the bottom of the pan, this will give that pizza parlor feel and help keep the crust crisp. If you have a pizza stone, be sure to heat that in the oven first. Just have fun with it, and vary the spices to your liking. Add more cheese or more spinach. It's just pizza - as we always say, even bad pizza is still good! Next time your craving pizza, stay home, open a bottle of wine, make a night out of it and just be fat and happy!

Below are two versions of pizzas, both very good and each very different.

Garlic Shrimp Pizza

2 cups of tiny shrimp, peeled and deveined.
4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup goat cheese (choose a flavored goat cheese, like herbed, for extra flavor)
Olive oil
fresh ground black pepper
Parsley Pesto

Warm the olive oil in a large frypan. Add the garlic and shrimp. This will only take a minute or two on each side, shrimp really cooks quite quickly. Spread the parsley pesto onto the prepared dough, add the cooked garlic shrimp and the cheese. Bake until dough is crispy on the edges.

Spinach Bacon Pizza with Red Wine Sauce

Sautee in olive oil
3 Tbls finely chopped onions

2 cloves finely chopped garlic
2 tsp dried oregano
1 Tbls tomato paste
1 tsp sugar
sautee a few more minutes, then add:

1 small chopped tomato, skinned
3/4 cup dry red wine
salt and pepper to taste

Let this all simmer together until thickened.

For the pizza topping,
Cook 5 strips of bacon and one-quarter of a white onion, sliced until bacon is desired crispiness, set aside. Now take 2 big handfuls of spinach (about 3 cups) and give them a rough chop. Sautee this in your bacon pan, don't wipe out the grease as this will give great flavor to the spinach.

Top your rolled out pizza dough with the red wine sauce, the bacon the spinach and now add grated cheese. I used a simple pre-shredded Italian mix. Bake until browned and bubbly.