Friday, September 23, 2011

The Sandwich Queen: Chicken Caprese Sandwich

Sometimes cooking an entire chicken can be daunting for beginner cooks. That's why I like to use chicken breasts. They are quick and easy, and the bonus part is there is no chance of encountering giblets. 

My family has always been big into sandwiches. When there are so many people at family gatherings (my mom is from a family of 8 and my dad is from a family of 9), sandwiches are easy because they are so basic. Everyone can find something they like whether it be ham, turkey, roast beef etc.  

Even at immediate family dinners, we love our sandwiches. Back in the day, my mom specifically MADE sure that my dad got her a panini maker for Christmas. One of my favorite dinners would be when my mom would come home from work with the most amazing sandwich ingredients. She would stop on her way to the train at a fancy deli and buy imported prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and bread. She would then use the panini maker and serve us homemade deli sandwiches with fresh mozzarella, basil and sun-dried tomatoes. Delish! 

I love that panini maker, but unfortunately I couldn't sneak it into the car back to school. I also don't have a beautiful deli with my favorite imported prosciutto. However, you have to make it work! I decided to be creative and make my own sandwich at school. You don't need a panini maker to make a good quality sandwich. You just have to be creative (and scared) and test out your broiler setting on your oven.  

This sandwich is inspired by a caprese salad. You can change the meat if you aren't a chicken fan, to whatever you want. Good bread really helps the quality of the sandwich as well. I bought a small loaf at a local bakehouse. You can usually ask them to slice if for you. 

Ryan and I were obsessed with the Next Food Network Star this summer. I was inspired by Jeff Mauro's (the Sandwich King) creativity with sandwiches. Maybe I'll become the Sandwich Queen?

Chicken Caprese Salad 

Tomato- Sun-dried or freshly sliced 
Mozzarella Ball
Chicken Breast 
Balsamic Vinegar

1. Preheat oven to broiler setting. Pan sear the chicken breast on the stove until cooked through. 
2. On baking sheet, take a slice of bread and sparingly put some balsamic vinegar on one slice of bread. On the other slice, place sliced mozzarella. 
3. Put the bake sheet in the oven and cook for about 1 minute 30 seconds. Watch carefully because it will cook very fast! When the mozzarella is melting, you should be good. 
4. Start building your sandwich. Put the chicken breast on the bottom of the sandwich (bread with balsamic vinegar). Place your basil and chopped tomato on top of the mozzarella. 
5. Close your sandwich. 
6. Slice and eat! 
cook in a little olive oil. Also season with salt and pepper 

Bon Appétit!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bon Anniversaire My Cooking Love Affair!: Ratatouille

It's officially been a year since I started my cooking adventures and it has changed my life for the better. I've cried tears of joy, screamed in panic and laughed my ass off and I love every minute of it. Don't worry!  I'm not even close to being done. I'd like to thank my mom, Ryan and my friends for being my taste testers and being brutally honest. Ryan who was a strictly burgers, pizza and hot dogs guy- finally eats (and constantly requests) lemon chicken! 

This adventure has led me to meeting so many people. This summer, I had the opportunity of working with Chef Gale Gand as her PR/Social Media Intern, which was/and still is so much fun. (I'll be posting her pesto sauce soon!) 

I learned one thing this year. Do what you love and happiness will come. 

Ratatouille is actually the first dish I made by myself in the kitchen, before I decided to start the cooking blog project. I had gone to the farmers market with Jen and Gwen and bought a bunch of vegetables that I had no idea what to do with. I called my mom a lot during the early kitchen days (still do when all hell breaks loose). My mom suggested trying to making Ratatouille. 

I was a dork and spent an hour trying to chop all the vegetables perfectly like the directions said in 1/2 inch pieces. Then once I started putting things in the pot- I called my mom every 10 minutes, to go over the steps again and to be reassured that if I turned the heat up to medium that the contents weren't going to suddenly blow up all over my kitchen. 

Luckily, I didn't blow up my kitchen. It came out perfectly and I was so proud of myself. My friends loved it and I explained to them about my battle in the kitchen. They encouraged me and said that I should think about writing about my silly adventures. I have learned to go with the flow and not worry if I mess a step up because with cooking there usually is almost always a quick fix. Baking, not so much though-haha. There will always be bad recipes, and really fantastic ones. 

But that's life, and I really like where this adventure is taking me. So as I said last year, watch out kitchen here I come. Happy Birthday My Cooking Love Affair! The adventure has only just begun.

A girl can dream right? (Mom said I need to work on putting my shoulders back! Mothers!)

PS- YOU DO NOT NEED TO PERFECTLY CHOP THE VEGETABLES!! If you do a rough chop, so the veggies are around the same size- you are good. 

PPS- There were no rat helpers in the making of this dish...thank god! 

Mom's Ratatouille

Cut into 1/2 inch cubes:1 medium eggplant
Toss the cubes with 
Set the cubes in colander to drain for about 20 minutes.

Heat in a heavy bottomed pot:
2 tablespoons olive oil

Pat the eggplant dry, add to the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden.  Add a bit more oil if the eggplant absorbs all the oil and sticks to the bottom of the pan.  Remove the eggplant when done and set aside.Pour in:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2 inch dice
Cook for about 7 minutes , or until soft and translucent.
4 to 6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 bunch of basil, tied in a bouquet with kitchen twine
a pinch of dried chili flakes

Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir in:

2 sweet peppers ( red ,yellow or green), cut into 1/2 inch dice

Cook for a few minutes, the add:

2-3 medium summer squash (zucchini and yellow squash), cut into 1/2 inch dice

Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in:

3 ripe medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch dice

Cook for 10 minutes longer, then stir in the eggplant and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more, until all the vegetables are soft.  Remove the bouquet of basil, pressing on it to extract all of it's flavors, and adjust the seasoning with salt.

Stir in:

6 basil leaves, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1  teaspoon dried)

2 teaspoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons tomato paste concentrate from tube

Serve warm or cold. 

Wendy's (my mom) tip: Always best the next day. 

Bon Appétit!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Searchin for my lost shaker of salt: Margaritaville Cupcakes

I can't remember the last time I sat on a beach and did nothing. The ocean surf brushing your bare toes while reading a book in one hand and sipping a tropical drink in the other. Wouldn't that be a great life. 

For most of us who are constantly on the run, the beach bum life is not always attainable. Instead, I dream and listen to Jimmy Buffett. However, why not incorporate Buffett's lessons into my baking? 

I'll always remember when Ryan took me to my first Jimmy Buffett concert. Those parrot-heads are crazy- and very amusing as well. Sometimes you need to have a little fun and let loose. So here's a dish to make them proud. 

I spiced up my friend's 21st and brought the tropical beach drink to her, in the form of a cupcake. Margarita cupcakes are simple- all you really need is tequila and lime. The lime and tequila play off each other to create the perfect Margarita flavor- in the cake. It's full of citrus and tangy zings.

There is tequila in the frosting- so if you are serving anyone underage, the frosting still is fine without the alcohol.  

Note: Make sure to ice quickly because since it is a butter based frosting- it will start to melt in the bag. 

Margaritaville Cupcakes
For the Cupcakes:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
Zest and juice of 1½ limes
2 tablespoons tequila
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
To Brush the Cupcakes:
1 to 2 tablespoons tequila
For the Tequila-Lime Frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2¾ cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons tequila
Pinch of coarse salt
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
3. In an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter and sugar together until pale, light, and fluffy (about 5 minutes).
4. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the eggs one at at time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
5. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the lime zest, lime juice, vanilla extract and tequila. Mix until combined. (The mixture may start to look curdled at this point, but don’t worry, it will all come back together, power on!)
6. Reduce the mixer speed low. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk in two batches. Mix only until just incorporated, using a rubber spatula to give it one last mix by hand.
7. Divide the batter between the muffin cups. Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until just slightly golden and a skewer shows only moist crumbs attached, rotating the pan at the halfway point.
8. Allow cupcakes to cool for 5 to 10 minutes, and then remove to a cooling rack. Brush the tops of the cupcakes with the 1 to 2 tablespoons of tequila. Set the cupcakes aside to cool completely before frosting them.
9. To make the frosting, whip the butter on medium-high speed of an electric mixer using the whisk attachment for 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low, and gradually add the powdered sugar, mixing and scraping the sides of the bowl until all is incorporated. Give it a mix on medium speed for about 30 seconds. Add the lime juice, tequila and salt mix on medium-high speed until incorporated and fluffy. If the frosting appears a bit too soft, add some additional sugar, one spoonful at a time until desired consistency is reached. Frost cupcakes and garnish, if desired, with lime zest, an additional sprinkling of salt and a lime wedge.
*Note #1: If you would prefer to not use liquor in these cupcakes, you can absolutely omit it from both the cupcakes and the frosting with no problem. If you do omit it, I would add 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract to the frosting.
*Note #2: I used a Wilton 1M tip to frost the cupcakes.

Bon Appétit!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Don't Know Much About History: Caprese Salad

Well it's back to the grind. Back to text books and the long nights of studying, but it's also back to college  fun. It's about senior year, before we have to go in the real world and be grown ups with jobs and real bills. This is the time for meeting new people, crossing off items from that bucket list, (and most of your friends are finally 21 and can go to the bars with you!) 

I can't believe it's my senior year at IU and I feel old. Really old. However at the same time, I'm ready. I've already decided to make a "Semester Year Resolution." This is going to be my year of yes. For instance, Katy and I just got back from a cardio hip hop class and I think we laughed our asses off rather than from the dancing. I'm ready to have fun and not afraid to make a fool of myself. I've had a super bad lazy kitchen week and have ate out every night! Bad Maggie! 

However, even though I'm currently making chocolate chip cookies at midnight (WITH MY BRAND NEW OVEN!!), this recipe is super easy for a snack, side, lunch or dinner. You decide.Caprese salads are nice because you just have to chop, pour and serve. 3 way too easy steps for something that tastes so unbelievably fresh and delicious. I love this dish because it really allows the ingredients shine on their own. Sometimes I think we get too enthralled when cooking with a million ingredients and trying to make a complicated and unique taste. The food loses it's natural and crisp flavors. I finally got to use my balsamic vinegar from Tenuta's

Use your basil while you can! Goodbye summer and hello senior year. Here's my mom's recipe for Caprese salad. 

Caprese Salad 

1 large tomato
1 ball of fresh mozzarella
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Fresh Basil, sliced into strips

1. Slice tomato into 1/4 inch slices.  Place on  plate in single layer. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over tomatoes.  Sprinkle a little salt and pepper.  Let sit for a few minutes.  
2. Slice fresh mozzarella into slices.  Put 1 slice of cheese on top of each tomato slice.  Drizzle just a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top of mozzarella cheese.  Top with thin strips of basil leaves.

Bon Appétit!