Thursday, January 29, 2015

Loaded Chicken "NOTchos"

I've noticed that over the past few years that more and more friends have redefined their diets in an attempt to live healthier lives. While that's a big "yay!" it can make it interesting to entertain and feed everyone things that fit into their food lifestyle. Vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy intolerant, Paleo, Whole 30 or just "health conscious"... there's always something to consider when preparing dishes for friends.

It can be tricky when your goal is to serve something that the masses will enjoy all while "keeping it clean." Luckily, I'm always up for the challenge!

Many of you will be throwing or attending Super Bowl parties this weekend and you may be finalizing your menus and grocery lists and finding yourself in the same food-prep predicament. Before you write "tortilla chips" on that little piece of paper, consider this: Chip-less nachos.

Or, as I like to call them, "NOTchos." Because they're NOT what you're used to. They're better {for you}!

Who doesn't love a platter piled high with crispy tortilla chips, gooey cheese and all those hearty toppings while they're watching some football? {My husband, that's who. Not a fan of nachos. But we already knew he was weird -- the man hates chocolate.}

The problem is, when you serve up a mountain of naughty nachos to friends who are trying to keep things healthy, not only will you get the stink-eye, but you'll also end up eating most of them on your own. Not good.

These "not-chos" are the perfect solution! A game day favorite, healthied up by using crisp, fresh peppers as the vehicle for all the stuff you want to shove in your face. So smart, right?!

Topped with shredded chicken, black beans and all kinds of good stuff, you won't even think about the fact that you're not eating traditional nachos. I swapped out the sour cream for thick, Greek yogurt and used just a tiny sprinkle of cheese for decadence. The black olives and pickled jalapenos give these a briny zing to keep it interesting.

These are totally customizable and can be made to fit in to any specific diet preference. Leave out the yogurt and cheese for non-dairy eaters. Sub out the chicken for shredded lettuce or chunky salsa for veg-heads. The rest is totally up to you! There's no wrong way to pile on the goodness.

Your game day will be guiltless, and your friends? They may never leave. Serve with caution. ;)

Loaded Chicken "NOTchos"

This recipe is more of a suggestion as you can top these with whatever you'd like! Each pepper makes 8 "NOTchos", so plan accordingly & adjust the topping amounts to suit your serving size.

2-3 red peppers, sliced in half, seeded and diced
Shredded chicken
Black beans
Mexican shredded cheese blend
Plain Greek yogurt
Pickled jalapenos
Sliced black olives

1. Cut red pepper halves in quarters to form 8 little pepper cups. Place on a foil-lined baking pan.

2. Top pepper pieces with a mound of shredded chicken and a scoop of black beans. Sprinkle with cheese.

3. Place in the oven under the broiler for 2-3 minutes or until the cheese is melted. {Keep an eye on them, I tend to forget when things are under the broiler!}

4. Remove from oven and top with a dollop of Greek yogurt, pickled jalapenos and black olives.

Enjoy without guilt!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Valentine's Day Desserts with Chef Johnny Iuzzini | Macy's Culinary Council

Gentlemen, listen up: Impressing your lady this Valentine's Day isn't as difficult as you think.

Sure, you can go the safe route, make dinner reservations and show up with a bouquet of roses. {::yawn::} Oh, excuse me. I fell asleep for a second.

OR... you can get your gal to brag on you to all of her girlfriends by sweetening up the evening with HOMEMADE DESSERT. {Yes please!}

Before you get all frazzled about the prospect of stepping foot in the kitchen and wielding your spatula, I've got good news for you. There's an expert who wants to show you how to wow your woman and he's coming to town to share his arsenal of sugary secrets. Who better to learn from than a master chef with award winning dishes??

Macy's Culinary Council Chef Johnny Iuzzini will be at Macy's Aventura on Saturday, January 31 at 1pm and he'll be demonstrating how to make some dazzling Valentine's Day desserts that you can recreate at home!

Chef Johnny was given the title of "Pastry Chef of the Year" by the James Beard Foundation in 2006, and it's easy to see why when you flip through his cookbooks, Dessert FourPlay: Sweet Quartets from A Four Star Pastry Chef (2008) and his more recent work, Sugar Rush: Master Tips, Techniques, and Recipes for Sweet Baking.

Whether you're looking to schmooze your sweetie or just want to learn a little from a master chef, this event is for you! I'll be attending and I can't wait to try out some of Chef Johnny's decadent creations.

While I wait {im}patiently, I'm trying my hand at one of his recipes and sharing it with you today!

These Balsamic Cherry Crisps are such a fantastic treat for two {or more!}. Sweet and tart cherries get a kick from rich balsamic vinegar. For a little texture, a combination of oats and almonds {and a surprise cameo from chili powder} creates a crunchy crumble topping that works perfectly with the tender cherry filling.

Hope to see you at Macy's for this sweet celebration of Valentine's desserts!

Disclosure: I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere has provided me with compensation for this post. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

Balsamic Cherry Crisp
Adapted from Reader's Digest

Crisp Topping:
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup rolled oats
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of chili powder
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Cherry Filling:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups frozen cherries, thawed and drained
1/3 cup powdered sugar
3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water

For Crisp:

1. Combine almonds, oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, chili powder and salt in a food processor or blender and pulse until coarsely ground.

2. Pour mixture into a bowl and stir in melted butter. The mixture should resemble wet sand and form small clumps. Set aside.

For Filling:

1. In saucepan over medium high heat, melt butter and olive oil together. Add thawed cherries and powdered sugar and allow to come to a bubble. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the liquid has slightly thickened.

2. Remove from heat and stir in balsamic vinegar and vanilla extract. Cool slightly, and then add slurry of cornstarch and water. Stir until well incorporated.

For assembly:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Divide cherry mixture among 4 ramekins. Divide crisp topping evenly among ramekins.

2. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until the tops are just starting to become golden and the filling is bubbly.

3. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Serve warm. {With a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top is even better!}

Monday, January 12, 2015

Baked Rosemary Parsnip "Fries"

Oh, hi. Remember me? I took a little blog break because I had a baby...two months ago. I had grand plans to have some guest posters fill in for me in my absence, but guess what? It never happened because I gave myself a few too many projects and ran out of time to organize guest posts before the little one arrived.

I am still wrapping my brain around the fact that he's actually here. I think it takes a while to truly grasp the immensity of this kind of event. I mean, I'm responsible for a brand new little person. Who came out of me. Crazy. {More on my very, very lonnnnng birth story in a later post.}

And speaking of "crazy", I got back into the kitchen just days after giving birth. Did you really expect anything less? {P.S. I don't actually recommend this, ladies. You do need rest.}

I started out slow with simple meals and worked my way up to bigger projects like my annual biscotti-baking tradition for Christmas. Nothing too complicated. Because you probably shouldn't be playing with sharp knives and hot burners when you are functioning on zero minimal sleep. Thank God for sweet friends and family bringing over food to keep us going when we couldn't muster the energy for more than just a quick reheat.

Babies are some serious work, y'all.

But, it's kind of amazing how quickly you begin to adapt to the insanity that is parenthood. Your body, your mind and your routine all go through a period of shock, followed by a quick recovery so that you can do what you gotta do.

And you gotta do a lot.

Well, sort of, but not really. It's the same five things on repeat 24/7. Like Groundhog Day.

Feed. Burp. Change. Cuddle. Attempt to sleep. Repeat. Somewhere in that firestorm of milk and poop you're supposed to still find time to be, like, human.

It does not make for the most entertaining of days, but it is a necessary rite of passage for keeping a tiny person alive and happy.

Except, pardon me for saying so, but I think mamas need to be happy, too. Because I think happy mamas make happy babies.

So, even though I know that moms are supposed to be all, "I haven't showered or shaved in 3 weeks." "I've decided to wear diapers instead of actually take time for a bathroom break." "The only meals I've eaten are handfuls of crumbs out of an old box of cereal." for the first few months of their babies' lives... I've still managed to carve out a few seconds for those little things like hygiene and sustenance. Most of the time, anyway. I'll warn you before you come too close if you happen to catch me during one of those "no time for bathing" spells.

I'm not gonna lie, you've got to squeeze these activities in MUCH faster than you did in the pre-baby days. And maybe you only get to drink half of your coffee piping hot in the morning before you have to put on your cape and bring your crying child back from the brink of starvation. But it's doable. Except if you have twins. Then all bets are off.

Anyway, it is thanks to an iron will and Pandora's lullaby station that I've been able to get in the kitchen a few times and make stuff. Because being in the kitchen is part of what keeps this mama sane, as crazy as that may seem to some.

With the holidays behind us, many of us are focused on being on our best eating behavior. Especially those of us who are still trying to lose a pound or two and fit into our jeans without having any excess pudge spilling over the top.

Like I said, most of the things I've been making have to fit into the brief moments when I'm not tending to the kidlet. These Rosemary Parsnip "Fries" fit the bill. The only real work required is peeling and chopping, which is a welcome break from wiping and pumping.

A quick toss with olive oil and seasonings creates a surprisingly flavorful snack. And you don't even have to feel guilty because they're veggies and they're oven baked, so you can still fit them into your healthy eating resolutions. Score.

If I had time to make these with a brand-spankin' new little one beckoning me every few minutes, then, surely, you can too.

But you certainly don't have to. Especially if you're among the "haven't showered in 3 weeks" crowd. Because in that case you might want to prioritize a little differently. ;)

Baked Rosemary Parsnip "Fries"

1 lb parsnips, peeled and cut into "fries"
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Sprinkle of rosemary

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking pan with foil.
2. Place parsnips on baking pan and drizzle with oil. Toss to coat and spread them out so they have room to crisp up.
3. Sprinkle with onion powder, garlic powder and rosemary.
4. Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until parsnips are browned and crisp.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Chocolate Dipped Maraschino Cherry Cookies

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to take part in this year's Food Blogger Cookie Swap with a tiny one in tow, but I'm sure glad I signed up despite my initial doubtfulness. I mean, who wouldn't want to be part of something where you get cookies in the mail??? AND help out a great cause, to boot!

I have to admit, finding time to bake with a baby who is just a few weeks old was a challenge. But after some browsing through holiday baking magazines, I found a great, easy recipe that was totally doable... even between feedings, diaper changes and all those other baby odds and ends that need to be constantly tended to.

Chocolate Dipped Maraschino Cherry Cookies

These simple cookies get a festive look from chopped maraschino cherries {an ingredient I almost never have, but happened to find from another project in my pantry}. The red speckles give the cookies a decorative touch without much effort. To fancy them up, a little dip in a melted chocolate bath give them a luxurious feel that makes them gift-worthy!

If you're short on time but need pretty cookies for a holiday gathering or for gift giving, these are the perfect solution.

I was a lucky girl to be matched with Plating Pixels, The Housewife in Training Files and Authentic Suburban Gourmet as my cookie-sending pals.

From Plating Pixels, I received these amazing Almond Tangerine Butter Cookies. They were pure citrusy perfection!

From The Housewife in Training Files, I got these incredible Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies. So rich and chocolatey, it's hard to believe they're made without any flour!

And from The Authentic Suburban Gourmet, these Cranberry & Orange Shortbread Cookies arrived on my doorstep. The combination of zesty orange and chewy, tart cranberries tastes like a holiday, for sure.

A big thank you to these three bloggers for making my mailbox a little merrier!

It's officially time to crank up those ovens and get to baking for the holiday, and now you have a few great recipes to get you started!

If you're a food blogger and you'd like to participate in next year's Food Blogger Cookie Swap, make sure to sign up on their website to receive info about how to get in on the fun next time around!

Chocolate Dipped Maraschino Cherry Cookies
Adapted from Land O Lakes Recipe Collection Holiday Cookies Magazine

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup chopped maraschino cherries {rinse and drain before chopping}

3.5 ounces dark chocolate, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

2. Cream together butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy.

3. Add egg and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again until well-combined.

4. Slowly add flour, baking powder and salt, mixing at low speed until just incorporated. Stir in cherries until well distributed throughout the dough-- if you mix too much your cookies will be completely pink.

5. With a cookie scoop or a tablespoon measure, scoop dough and drop onto prepared baking pan leaving about 1 1/2 to 2 inches between cookies. Bake for about 9 to 11 minutes or until cookies are set and edges just begin to brown.

6. Remove from oven and cool completely.

7. When ready to dip, prepare a baking pan with a piece of parchment or silicone baking mat. Dip each cookie half way into chocolate, allowing excess to drip off. Place on prepared baking pan and allow chocolate to set -- you can do this even quicker by placing it in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes.

When chocolate is set, they're ready to package!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Castello Aged Havarti & Dill Crackers | Sponsored Post

I love easy recipes for entertaining. I've done the whole fussy hors d'oeuvres thing -- the kind that practically take tweezers and a magnifying glass to perfectly place the garnish atop the tiny, mutiple-step bite. As beautiful as those types of appetizers are, let's be real: Who has the time?! 

For that very reason, I love a good cheese board. So much so, in fact, that I wrote a whole post last year about how to create the perfect one for holiday entertaining. I mean, who doesn't love cheese? It's one of the few things you can get away with plopping on a plate as is and still manage to receive compliments about.

It's the easiest option whether you're throwing your own shindig or attending someone else's, and I highly recommend it especially if you're running a little short on time. 

But if you really want to impress, you can step it up a notch with the cheese love and make your own cheese crackers.

You heard me! It's really not as hard as it seems. 

These Aged Havarti & Dill Crackers are the savory equivalent to Christmas cookies. They sort of come together like pie dough with just a handful of ingredients, and yet, the final result is an irresistible, buttery cracker bursting with flavor.

The Castello Aged Havarti cheese I used for these crackers is delicious on its own, too, so don't be afraid to make it the center of a cheese board and surround it with tasty accoutrements for your holiday festivities. Aged for a year, this cheese gets a rich flavor and unique crystallization {think: amazing little crunchy bits, sort of like a good Parm} that make it a delight to munch on. The buttery taste shines through and is enhanced by fresh dill... you won't be able to stop at one.

Since chances are that you're already busting out the rolling pin for holiday baking, why not give these savory crackers a try? The holidays are never a bad time to be over-the-top cheesy. :)

Disclosure: Compensation for this post was provided by Castello Cheese via Honest Cooking. As always, the opinions here are all my own!

Aged Havarti & Dill Crackers
Makes about 28 two-inch round crackers

4 tablespoons cold butter, diced
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 cup Castello Aged Havarti Cheese, finely grated
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely hopped {or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill}
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream or half & half, cold

1. In the bowl of a food processor or blender, pulse together butter, flour, salt, onion powder and dill.

2. Add cream or half & half and pulse a few more times until the mixture begins to form a ball or looks like clumpy, wet sand.

3. Turn mixture out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and pat into a disk. {I like to roll my dough out at this point by covering the dough with a second sheet of plastic wrap and rolling to desired thickness. I find it easier when the dough is soft.} Wrap well and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

5. Remove dough from refrigerator and roll out to about 1/4 inch thickness {or thinner if desired} if you haven't rolled it out already. Using a cookie cutter or a pizza cutter, cut out or slice into desired shapes. Place on prepared baking pan. Prick the tops of each cracker a few times with the tines of a fork.

6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the tops begin to turn a light golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool before serving.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cooking with Ming Tsai | Macy's Culinary Council

I get to do some pretty fun things thanks to the blog. Remember a while back when I attended a Macy's Culinary Council cooking demo with Chef Marcus Samuelsson? Well, guess what? I get to do it again, this time with celebrity chef Ming Tsai!

I have even better news: You're invited, too! 

Next Friday, December 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, Ming Tsai will be serving up his favorite holiday dishes and teaching us how to whip them up for family and friends! This will all take place in the culinary kitchen of Macy's Dadeland. 

I had heard of Ming Tsai before being invite to this event, but I discovered even more about him when I read his bio. The guy graduated from Yale with a degree in Mechanical Engineering... AND attended Le Cordon Bleu during the summers of his schooling. Did I also mention that little Master's degree in Hotel Administration and Hospitality Marketing he picked up at Cornell University?! No big deal...

It's obvious he wasn't just smart, but also motivated and talented enough to open not one but TWO award winning restaurants -- Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA and Blue Dragon in Boston. 

If that's not enough to make you want to learn from this fella, he's also the host of several TV cooking shows like East Meets West with Ming Tsai, Ming's Quest and Simply Ming. He's also the author of five cookbooks! 

I'm looking forward to learning some pro tips from Chef Ming Tsai! If you'd like to join me, head over to the Eventbrite page to RSVP for a seat... spots are limited! 

If you can't make it but want to check out the event, make sure to follow me on Instagram where I'll be posting pics live from the demo! 

Hope to see you there! xo

Disclosure: I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere has provided me with compensation for this post. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Speculoos Whiskey-Ginger Truffles featuring Templeton Rye

It's been 9 {almost 10} long months of soberness for this gal.  Now that the bun is out of the oven, a whole new world of cocktails and spirit-infused goodies are back on my radar. {That is, with some careful planning between feedings.} Just in time for the holidays, too! Good timing.

When it comes to cocktails, whiskey is my liquor of choice. This often comes as a shock to people because it seems that somewhere along the line the idea of being a whiskey drinker was solely reserved for big, burly men. I'm here to tell you that petite women can be fans, too!

So, I was quite excited when I received an email asking if I was interested in playing around with Templeton Rye Whiskey in a truffle recipe. Um, whiskey AND chocolate?! Yes, please! However, it was while I was still pregnant, so I set the bottle aside and started dreaming up ideas to try out after the little tot arrived.

Fast forward to last week, I finally popped open the bottle of Templeton Rye and went to town with creating boozy confections. The goal: to create a truffle that was perfect for gift giving and spreading holiday cheer. For that, I knew I'd need some flavors that bring to mind images of cozy winter sweaters, crackling fireplaces and twinkling Christmas trees.

Along with the bottle of whiskey, I also received some Simply Organic from Frontier Coop ground ginger and vanilla extract. Both actually fit right in with my truffle idea.

The flavors of floral vanilla and spicy ginger were a fantastic complement to the butterscotch and toffee notes of the whiskey. To give the truffles a little extra zing, I coated them in a fine dusting of cocoa powder and pulverized Speculoos cookies. {I haven't been able to get them off my mind ever since I used them in the crumble topping for this pie.}

These truffles taste like the holidays to me; full of spice and warmth, and of course, concealing a boozy kick.

What flavors would you infuse into your homemade truffles? Cheers to homemade holiday goodies!

Disclosure: I was provided with whiskey, spices and a whisk to use for the creation of this recipe, as well as compensation for purchasing the ingredients. As always, all opinions seen here are my own!

Speculoos Whiskey-Ginger Truffles featuring Templeton Rye

For truffles: 
Scant 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 {3.5 oz} chocolate bar {I used Lindt Excellence 70% Cocoa}, roughly chopped
1/8 teaspoon Simply Organic ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon Simply Organic vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Templeton Rye Whiskey

For coating:
About 1/3 cup crushed Speculoos cookies
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Place chopped chocolate in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. In a small microwavable measuring cup, pour just under 1/4 cup heavy cream and heat for about 1 minute on high or until just starting to come to a bubble. Pour hot cream over chocolate.

3. Add ginger, vanilla and whiskey and stir together until the chocolate is completely smooth and melted.

4. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours until firm, or overnight.

5. When the mixture has firmed up, scoop by the heaping teaspoonful and roll into a ball. {This is much easier with cold hands!}

6. Place each ball in the bowl of crushed cookie and cocoa mixture; roll around to coat. Continue with remaining ganache.

Keep refrigerated. Bring to room temperature about an hour before serving.