Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Too Much Good Food: Lemon Vinaigrette Dressing

I don't know about you, but my stomach is still full from all the Easter festivities. On Sunday, I went to breakfast after church with my family, then to an endless buffet with Ryan's family and then back to my house for Easter dinner. I have not heard my stomach rumble or even a small grumble since.   




However, I still need to eat as I have already had two final projects due this week. Salads are always a great way to keep your diet light and healthy. Also, depending on what you mix in, you can add some protein, whether it be steak, chicken, or in my case some shredded Parmesan cheese. 


I love salads because there are an infinite amount of ways that you can spice it up depending on what you pick from the endless possibilities of various vinaigrette/dressing recipes. 


In this case, I made a very simple lemon vinaigrette dressing with some grated Parmesan. I used a spring lettuce bag- (a mix of Spinach and Arugula- my favorite!) I also paired it with a small cup of tomato soup. My mom likes to send me back to school with freezer bags full of homemade soup- so all I have to do is heat it up in a pot. It's my version of a microwave meal. 
AMAZING tomato soup- spicy with a strong depth of flavor and my favorite soup
Lemon Vinaigrette Dressing

  • Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions
  1. Whisk all ingredients together 




Happy Dead Week (translation: last week of classes before finals week)

Bon Appétit!
Chef Maggie

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hoppy Easter: Julia Child's Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs and Egg-Dye

Around this time of year, my family still comes together and dye eggs, an Easter tradition. Yes, even though I'm 21 and my sister is 17- you can never be too old to spill dye all over the table. However, the Easter bunny doesn't hide the eggs for us anymore after the incident when we lost one of the eggs and couldn't find it for a couple days... 

I'm not sure there is an art to Easter egg dyeing, unless you have a lot of time on your hands. I think that the "mistakes" are what give them personality. Call it shabby chic if you will. You know there is always at least one that turns brown and by the end all the containers are the same muddy brown dye. However, as we have grown older we have learned to master the art a "little" better. This year we experimented with scotch tape and rubber bands, which actually kind of worked!

The art of the perfect Easter egg is not necessarily it's decoration, but rather the quality of the inside. Julia Child believes there is an exact timing when making the perfect hard-boiled egg. The good thing about this recipe is that the shell easily comes off and you don't have to pick the egg apart. 

Usually my mom makes them for us and then we go crazy, but this year I was in charge of making them. Unfortunately, since our family will be eating them during tomorrow's crazy festivities, I had to master the art of making 30 hard-boiled eggs, at once. I only cracked two eggs, I'd call that a success. 

Now I got to go prep the house with my mom for 30 people! ahhhh!  

Julia Child's Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

Ingredients:
1 Dozen eggs (or more)
Water
A really big pot 

Note: water should cover the eggs by 1 inch, so use a tall pan, and limit
 cooking to 2 dozen eggs at a time. (I definitely didn't do this and turned out fine) 

1.  Lay the eggs in the pan and add the amount of cold water specified.  Set
 over high heat and bring just to the boil; remove from heat, cover the pan,
 and let sit exactly 17 minutes.
 
 2.  When the time is up, transfer the eggs to the bowl of ice cubes and
 water.  Chill for 2 minutes while bringing the cooking water to the boil
 again.  (This 2 minute chilling shrinks the body of the egg from the shell.)
 
 3.  Transfer the eggs (6 at a time only) to the boiling water, bring to the
 boil again, and let boil for 10 seconds - this expands the shell from the
 egg.   Remove eggs, and place back into the ice water.
 
 
 4. Chilling the eggs promptly after each step prevents that dark line from
 forming, and if time allows, leave the eggs in the ice water after the last
 step for 15 to 20 minutes.  Chilled eggs are easier to peel, as well.
 
My work station- I LOVE my mom's kitchen (so much SPACE!!!)
Hot to cold to hot to cold! 

Here are some crazy pictures of my sister, her boyfriend and I mastering the art of egg decorating! 


That is a Jesus egg...

Source: RecipeSource

Happy Easter and 
Bon Appétit!
Chef Maggie

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Feast without Yeast: Matzo Toffee and Charoset

Passover celebrates the story of the Exodus and how the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt. I can't say I know much about Passover. I was born and raised a Catholic girl, however I'm always open to learning about new cultures. 

My childhood friend is Jewish and when we were little I remember getting really excited about going over to her house this time of year and eat the best snack ever, Matzo. I thought they were "special crackers" and she was so cool that she got to eat those all the time! (Kate you're cool without Matzo as well!) 
I realize now that there are lot more rules than just getting to eat Matzo. How strict you follow these rules depends on your background and how conservative you are. 


There are different ways to keep Kosher. 


Keeping Kosher for Passover means you are supposed to stay away from corn syrup, breads, grains or "anything that contains barley, wheat, rye, oats, and spelt, and is not cooked within 18 minutes after coming in contact with water. No leavening is allowed. This signifies the fact that the Hebrews had no time to let their bread rise as they made a hurried escape from Egypt." Click here for more info on the rules. Some Jews will scrub down their kitchens completely (ovens, countertops, fridge, shelves, etc) to eliminate any traces of grains. It's similar to a spring cleaning. 

However, many Jewish families follow Kosher laws at all times of the year. Here are some of the straightforward rules:
  1. Certain animals may not be eaten at all. This restriction includes the flesh, organs, eggs and milk of the forbidden animals.
  2. Of the animals that may be eaten, the birds and mammals must be killed in accordance with Jewish law.
  3. All blood must be drained from meat and poultry or broiled out of it before it is eaten.
  4. Certain parts of permitted animals may not be eaten.
  5. Fruits and vegetables are permitted, but must be inspected for bugs (which cannot be eaten)
  6. Meat (the flesh of birds and mammals) cannot be eaten with dairy. Fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and grains can be eaten with either meat or dairy. (According to some views, fish may not be eaten with meat).
  7. Utensils (including pots and pans and other cooking surfaces) that have come into contact with meat may not be used with dairy, and vice versa. Utensils that have come into contact with non-kosher food may not be used with kosher food. This applies only where the contact occurred while the food was hot.
  8. Grape products must be made by Jews. 
Everyone has different ways of observing. It depends on how you were raised and how religious you are. 


Kat commented on one of my posts and asked if I was up for the challenge to make a Kosher/Passover dish. I must say, challenge accepted. I called up my friend Abby, (yes who's Jewish) and asked her for some help. I was an idiot and thought it would be a good idea to make latkes. Abby nicely informed me that I probably wouldn't want to do that since they are traditionally served at Hanukkah. 
We're Jewish stars? 
Abby came over last night and taught me how to make her Matzo Toffee that she likes to snack on during Passover. It's absolutely delicious and if you are Jewish or whatever- you definitely will enjoy!  

We also decided to make Charoset (also called charoses), which is traditionally found on a seder plate. I leaned that the different items on the seder plate have a significance in telling the story of the Israelites. 

For instance, Charoset represents the bricks used by the Jewish slaves to build houses for the Egyptians. Abby likes to put Charoset on top of Matzo. I found that it's a good snack plain or you could put in a sandwich. Delicious! 



Matzo Toffee

Ingredients 
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 cup of brown sugar 
Chocolate chips ( you can use Kosher chocolate)
Matzo 
Chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions
  
  1. Cover the bottom of a baking sheet with foil. Place full sheet of Matzo on pan. I could only fit two across. Preheat the over to 350 degrees
  2. Melt butter and brown sugar together in a saucepan. Mixture is ready when it is slightly boiling and coats the back of a spoon.
  3. Pour brown sugar mixture onto the matzo and then spread evenly. 
  4. Place into over for about 4-5 minutes. Check often because it will burn easily. When it starts to bubble take it out. 
  5. Cover with chocolate chips and place back into oven for 2-3 minute (until they start looking shiny and easy to spread)
  6. Take baking sheet out and use mini spatula to spread evenly. 
  7. Chop nuts and place on top. (optional)
  8. Freeze until hard. 





Charoset

Ingredients
3 Gala apples
1-2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/4 cup of grape juice/red wine
1/4 cup of  finely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Directions
  1. Cut apples into small pieces. Mix ingredients together. Add more for juice/wine for stronger taste.


L'chaim!-(translation: "To Life!") 







Bon Appétit!
Chef Maggie

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When Life Throws You a Lemon I Make: Chicken Piccata

To be completely honest with you...when life throws me a lemon, I'd rather chuck it right back (haha). However, in tonight's case, I decided to not waste a lemon and make a damn good Chicken Piccata instead. Thank you Barefoot Contessa.
Sad, but also really funny. I can't help it!

Some people just don't know how to appreciate a simple meal and get lost in the frenzy of ingredients just for the fun of it.

I sometimes go through this stage, in fact just this week. I followed a tip to substitute tarragon with fennel seeds in a chicken salad recipe. I thought I was so cool and smart, until I tasted it. It was god awful to say the least. It completely threw off the texture as well as gave it a weird licorice-like after taste. Nasty, especially when combined with chicken and mayo. I should have stayed simple and either not included the tarragon (it only required a couple teaspoons) or waited to make the recipe until I had it. Substitutes are great when used properly, but one wrong choice can change the dish entirely (and in my case- a not so good way).

I love Ina Garten's recipes because they are simple. You don't always need a million ingredients to make an amazing and impressive dish. She's utilizes a small amount of complimentary ingredients which accent the flavors in a well-done dish.


Citrus, especially lemons, always seems to go well with chicken. In my case, it made even more sense since lemons are one of the last fresh ingredients I have left in my fridge.


This is a super easy meal to throw together. It's a lot like my Parmesan Chicken Fingers recipe where you batter the chicken by coating it in flour, then dipping into the egg mixture and lastly covering it with the seasoned bread crumbs before you cook it.




It was very simple and super fast (my speciality). Only took about 15 minutes for prep AND cooking time.

I also would like to share that I have made progress! I used a rolling pin to flatten the chicken rather than my fist. I guess I'm too busy chucking lemons to take my anger out on my poor chicken.

Jen Tip: You definitely should make this with a pasta dish (specifically linguini she says)


Chicken Picatta



Ingredients
  • 1 chicken breast (divided- cut chicken breast in half)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons of water
  • 1/2 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • Good olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (1.5 lemons), save the lemon halves
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine- I used a Chardonnay
  • Chopped fresh parsley leaves, for serving -unfortunately I didn't have any.
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. Place each chicken breast between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap and pound out to 1/4-inch thick. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. Mix the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a shallow plate. In a second plate, beat the egg and 1/2 tablespoon of water together. Place the bread crumbs on a third plate.
  4. Dip each chicken breast first in the flour, shake off the excess, and then dip in the egg and bread crumb mixtures.
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium to medium-low heat.
  6. Add the chicken breasts and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until browned. Place them on the sheet pan and allow them to bake for 5 to 10 minutes while you make the sauce.
  7. For the sauce, wipe out the saute pan with a dry paper towel. Over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and then add the lemon juice, wine, the reserved lemon halves, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Boil over high heat until reduced in half, about 2 minutes.
  8. Off the heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and swirl to combine.
  9. Discard the lemon halves and serve.




Based on: Barefoot Contessa recipe

Bon Appétit!
Chef Maggie


Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Icing on the Blog: How to Royal Ice a Slingshot SEO Cookie


This past weekend, I attended the PRSSA Social Media convention as if I weren’t already addicted to Facebook, Twitter and blogging.

I may write a food blog, but this post is for an iPad 2 haha. I’m shameless, I know.

I have still included my how-to below and my first attempt at professional cookie decorating. I was embarrassed at first about how some of them came out, but my blog is not about showing you perfect and beautiful all the time. This is what a real first attempt looks like- and I think they turned out great.

 This post isn’t about how I got more frosting all over the walls, the floor, and myself than the actual cookies, but rather the importance of search optimization for companies and the little people like me!

I attended a break out session at the PRSSA Social media convention with Jeremy Dearringer , who is the co-founder of Slingshot SEO. Dearringer talked about how much the search optimization market has changed and the impact of Google and social media platforms.  It doesn’t hurt that he’s giving away an iPad to a blogger that reviews his talk.

Everybody (unless you live under a rock) knows about the impact Facebook and Twitter has had on marketing campaigns, but recently there has been a lot in the news about how to maximize your search, which is referred to as search engine optimization or SEO for short.

---
Awesome points/tips I learned from Dearringer:
-Social media has influenced search since 2003.

-Remember Lycos or when Yahoo! Search controlled the entire market? The world changes quickly- you need to anticipate it!

-LINKS ARE IMPORTANT!!

-There were 10 billion searches conducted on Google sites in the US during February 2011 alone.

-I want to pass on this article that he shared with us.  "What Social Signals Do Google and Bing Really Count". If you are a blogger or interested in getting high ranks on Google/Bing search results; this is a definite read. It gives the inside information on the factors that their formulas use to rank sites.

-Facebook shares and tweets definitely help optimize search results, especially if you can get an "authority figure" account on twitter to start tweeting about you (I wonder if they count Charlie Sheen in this category?).

-Google Plus 1 might be another game changer. It's interactive and similar to a "like" on Facebook.

-There are 460,000 new twitter accounts daily. Facebook has 500 million active users (log-in at least once a month, 50% log in daily) - Huffington Post.

-Be ready- because mobile is on its way to be the next big thing.

-Giving away an iPad is definitely awesome (just want to make sure you’re still paying attention)

-I could have a new possible career path in SEO (so what if I Google my blog and freaked out when it finally ranked number 1)
---
The only thing that I did not like about Dearringer's session is that he believes it's fine to have inappropriate pictures tagged on Facebook (ex. crazy drunk college pictures) because it makes you human. This might be ok when you are the co-founder of your own company and you make the rules, however the rest of corporate America is not necessarily so forgiving.

Actually, Dearringer should check out this story from NPR headlined, "A Social Media Makeover", about how there is now an emerging market for fixing and cleaning up ruined online reputations.

---
However thanks to Dearringer I can hopefully get some more hits by...
- Getting a share feature bar for Facebook and Twitter on each blog post. (check!)
-Invest in a flip cam, or now a substitute since Cisco has shut the division down.  Dearringer used one during his presentation and I never thought that maybe I could add more multimedia features to the blog.

How To Royal Ice A Slingshot SEO Cookie
For sugar cookie recipe refer to: All I Want for Christmas is Sugar
Wilton Royal Icing Recipe:
Ingredients
4 cups (about 1 lb.) confectioners' sugar
6 tablespoons warm water
Directions
Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (7-10 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty
mixer, 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer).
Thinned Royal Icing: To thin for pouring, add 1 teaspoon water per cup of royal icing.
Use grease-free spoon or spatula to stir slowly. Add 1/2 teaspoon water at a time until you
reach proper consistency.

How to Ice:
Use your first batch of "thick" royal icing and outline the shapes in the cookie you want to separate for different colors.
Let the outlines dry for around a half hour or until hard. Then add a couple teaspoons (one at a time) to your icing and mix well. The icing consistency will be very loose and liquid-like. Slowly "flood" the inside of the outlined shapes.
Some people use piping bags, but I find bottles easer to ice cookies



The final result: beautiful Slingshot SEO and Little 500/spring themed cookies. Not too shabby for a first time royal ice-r?


Happy Little 5! Bike on!

Bon Appétit!
Chef Maggie

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Olive you: Steak Picadillo Soft Tacos

Confession: I may be Italian, but I can't stand olives (or well used to)

My mom's side of the family is where I get my Italian blood. My mother's maiden name may be Fisher, but my grandma is a Lencioni with ties to the Tuscany region in Italy. She's starting to teach me the famous family pasta sauce recipe. (Best grandma ever award for sure)

By the way, large family means that my immediate family alone is crazy big. My mom is  from a family of eight, plus marriages, babies, and that's not even getting into the extended family category FULL of second cousins, great aunts/uncles, etc. In addition to that my dad is also from a big family of nine siblings. I have always loved family gatherings on both the Fisher/Lencionis and the Dunphys and appreciate how lucky I am to have so much love involved in my life. 

While the Fisher side of my family loves each other, we also LOVE good Italian food as well. I always look forward to holidays when we go all out for appetizers. We go to our Caputo's deli and go crazy with Italian meats such as Prosciutto (my favorite!), but we always get lots of olives (which I used to think were blahhh). I gave up trying olives a long time ago, finding the texture and taste just off.  However, my New Years resolution has been to try new things. So instead of trying to eat them straight up, I decided that a recipe that included them in limited quantity would be a start. 

Every week, a couple of my girls and I have a tradition where we always hang out on Thursday nights and go out for a drink. Last week, before we went out I made Steak Picadillo Soft Tacos for them and it was a major hit. The olives were hidden in the steak filling. I hate to admit it, but I might just actually be starting to like olives...a lot. The olives along with the spices gave the meat a whole new level of flavor like a mix between a salty, yet spicy blend.  

Note: Back off on the spices if you have a low heat tolerance. 
Our beautiful set up


Now if only- I could get the courage to start trying to eat fish. 

Steak Picadillo Soft Tacos




Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 12-ounce strip of skirt steak
  • 1/2 cup 1/4-inch squares green bell pepper
  • 3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes with green chiles
  • 1/3 cup halved drained pimiento-stuffed green olives plus brine from jar
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • Chopped fresh cilantro (for garnish)


Directions
  1. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle steak with salt and pepper. Add to skillet; sauté 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to plate. 
  2. Add bell pepper to skillet. Sauté 2 minutes. 
  3. Add tomatoes with green chiles, olives, raisins, tomato paste, cumin, and allspice. Simmer until sauce is thick, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and olive brine.
  4. Cut steak into 1/3-inch-thick slices on diagonal across grain. Add steak and any juices to sauce in skillet; toss to blend.
  5. Char tortillas over gas flame or in broiler (I used my broiler) until blackened in spots, 15 to 20 seconds per side. Divide filling among tortillas. 
  6. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.




I couldn't resist taking a bite


Source: Bon Appetit Magazine


Also, Spanish rice complements the dish well! 




PS- Thanks to Nicole and Kamilla for helping me take pictures.


Bon Appétit!
Chef Maggie