March 19, 2017

Broccoli-Cheddar Lasagna with Chicken

This recipe is detailed and has lots of parts, but none of them are hard at all, so have no fear.  The hardest thing about this recipe is that is just a little time-consuming.   Besides that, it's your perfect next weeknight meal (because you can set it up before you cook it!), and it hits all the high points -- cheddar, broccoli, pasta, protein, and deliciousness!  Let me know how it turns out for you.

What You'll Need:
  • 2 1/2 pounds chicken, mix of breasts and thighs, thinly sliced
  • Salt, pepper, and paprika
  • 2 heads broccoli, cut into florets
  • 24 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
  • 15 ounce tub ricotta cheese
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1/2 quart heavy whipping cream
  • 1 pound box Lasagna noodles

This lasagna consists of four layers, alternating.  There is the cheddar bechemel, the noodles, the chicken-broccoli mix and the ricotta cheese.

1.  Season chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika.  Saute on medium-high heat until chicken is cooked through.  Depending on how thin your chicken is, this should only take 5-8 minutes.  Chop chicken and set aside.

2.  Cook broccoli in boiling water until soft.  Remove from water, run under cold water to stop the cooking, and finely chop.  Add 1/3 of the shredded cheddar, chicken, and broccoli together, and toss to combine.  Set aside.

3.  In a mixing bowl, whisk ricotta cheese, eggs, salt, pepper, and garlic.  Set aside.

4.  In a saucepan, melt the butter.  Whisk in the flour and cook until the flour is cooked to golden brown.  Add onion powder, and slowly pour in the heavy cream, whisking continuously to avoid lumps.  Whisk in the second 1/3 of the cheddar cheese and stir until completely melted. 

5.  Cook lasagna noodles, but not all way, about 5 minutes.  Drain and wait until cool enough to handle.  Now let's assemble...

Spoon cheddar bechemel on the bottom of a baking dish.  Line up partially-cooked lasagna noodles to cover.  Top with a layer of ricotta, then sprinkle with chicken-broccoli cheese mixture.  Go again - a little cheese sauce, some noodles, ricotta, then chicken mix.  Repeat until you've used all that you can.  It should be pretty hefty.  Top the final layer with the remaining 1/3 of cheddar cheese and cover with foil (spray the foil with cooking spray to prevent the cheese from sticking).  Cook on a 375-degree oven for at least 1 hour, or until warmed through and bubbling.  Remove foil and cook another 10-15 minutes so the cheese on top can brown slightly.  Remove from oven and -- here's the important part -- let it rest on the counter for at least  30 minutes.  If you cut into it right away, everything will spill out everywhere.  Enjoy!

February 24, 2017

Steak Panini with Dijon Mushrooms

Yay for paninis.  Seriously... delicious stuff between buttery bread, grilled until it's glued together with melty cheese?  It's all very technical ;-)  This panini pairs such tangy mushrooms with creamy Vermont white cheddar cheese, with added kale for a touch of green and change of texture.  Enjoy!

What You'll Need:
  • 1 1/2 pounds skirt steak
  • 2 tablespoons Montreal steak seasoning
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces sliced white mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons sherry wine
  • 1 cup frozen kale
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 slices Italian loaf
  • 6 slices white Vermont cheddar

1.  Pat steaks dry and season liberally on both sides with steak seasoning, about a tablespoon per piece of steak.  In a grill pan (or on the grill outside if you can!), heat oil over high heat.  Quickly sear steak in pan for 2 minutes on one side, then flip and sear 1-2 minutes on the other side depending on desired temperature and thickness of steak.  Set steak aside and rest for 10 minutes until ready to use.

2.  In the same pan, mix mushrooms, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce.  Saute 5 minutes, then deglaze with sherry wine.  Add kale to the pan, and continue to cook about 2 minutes, until kale is wilted and warm.

3.  Butter each slice of bread.  Slice steak on an angle to make thin slices.  Build your sandwiches with cheese (one slice on top, one slice on bottom to "glue" the sandwich together), steak, and mushrooms.  Grill butter-side-down, on medium heat, for 3-4 minutes per side, until cheese has melted.  Slice and serve!

February 15, 2017

Peanut Butter and Fluff French Toast

Turns out this mom thing isn't that hard.

HA.  Just kidding.  With all the cliches that your veteran mom-friends tell you, there is one thing that has merit -- it does get easier.  You learn to live without sleep.  You learn your baby isn't as fragile as you assumed.  You learn that no matter how important your career is to you, leaving your baby at 6 weeks old because your job doesn't support maternity leave, will be extremely hard, even though you know it'll be nice to finally talk to some adults during the day.

As it has gotten easier, I've been able to get back to some cooking.  I guess I'm a little rusty, because not many recipes panned out to be blog-worthy, but this morning's recipe worked out even better than I thought it would.  For anyone that remembers "fluffernutter" sandwiches as a kid, this recipe is for you.  It's really simple, but chock full of sugar, so feed to your kids sparingly ;-)

What You'll Need:
  • 4 slices white bread
  • 3 tablespoons peanut butter, your favorite kind
  • 3 tablespoons marshmallow fluff
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch allspice
  • Pinch ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Confectioner's sugar, syrup, toasted pecans - all optional for toppings

1.  Start by making two sandwiches.  Divide and spread peanut butter and fluff on bread and set aside.

2.  In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs, milk, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, vanilla, and both sugars together until eggs are scrambled.

3.  Dunk both sandwiches in egg mixture until coated liberally on both sides.

4.  Melt butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Place sandwiches in pan and grill until both sides are crispy and no longer soggy, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Inside, peanut butter and fluff should be nice and ooey-gooey.

Serve with toasted nuts, syrup, butter, powdered sugar, or whatever toppings you like!

January 4, 2017

Parmesan Polenta Cakes with Sausage and Peppers

I've never been a big polenta fan, simply because my Pop-Pop Gino would always say how terrible it was while we were growing up.  He would tell us, "listen to how it's said - poollleeenta - it just sounds bad!"  As I continued on cooking throughout the years, obviously I learned to make my own assessments on lots of stuff - polenta being one of them.  Granted, I'm still not a fan of polenta when it's prepared like grits, but loaded with butter and cheese and then fried up until crispy golden brown?  I'll take it!  (And I bet he would have loved it if I got to make it for him like this.) My favorite way to eat it this way is with a really delicious mushroom duxelle on top (another recipe for another day), but this sausage and peppers version is perfect for a weeknight family meal, because it serves quite a few people.  The directions below look complicated, but if you just read through a couple times and set yourself up well with preparation, you'll find it's not that hard at all.

For the Polenta:
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 2 cups polenta (corn meal)
  • 1 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt, pepper, fresh parsley
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, for dusting

For the Sausage and Peppers:
  • 2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup yellow onions, sliced
  • 2 green bell peppers, sliced
  • 2 red bell peppers, sliced
  • 2/3 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup prepared marinara sauce
  • 5 large basil leaves, chiffonade

Make the polenta:

In a medium-sized pot, bring vegetable stock to a boil.  Pour in polenta and whisk until incorporated with the stock.  Add heavy cream and let simmer for about 20 minutes, continuously stirring to keep from burning or sticking.  Remove the polenta from the heat and using a wooden spoon, fold in Parmesan cheese and butter until mixed through.

Temper your eggs:  Whisk eggs together in a small bowl, and slowly spoon in hot polenta about a tablespoon at a time, about 2-3 tablespoons.  You are doing this so when you pour your eggs into the polenta, they don't scramble by hitting the hot pot.

Whisk tempered eggs into polenta pot and add salt, pepper, and parsley to taste.  Grease (generously) a half-sheet pan or baking sheet.  Pour polenta mixture on baking sheet, spread into a thick layer, and chill for at least 2 hours, until polenta is very firm.

Make the sausage and peppers:

Brown sausage links in a 400-degree oven until the inside is no longer pink and the juices run clear, about 30 minutes.  Turn the oven on broil (high), and finish cooking about 5-8 more minutes, turning often to brown all sides of the links.  You could also grill the sausage on a grill or cook it in a pan - but the broil method gets the best crisp skin on the sausage.  Slice cooked sausage links into "coins", on an angle.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add celery, garlic, onions, and peppers and saute until soft, about 20 minutes.  Deglaze your pan with red wine, and reduce by half.  Add marinara sauce and cooked sausage coins and stir all ingredients well to incorporate.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Finish with beautiful basil leaves.

Finish the cakes, assemble the dish:

Using a round or triangular cookie cutter, or simply using a small paring knife, cut the polenta cakes to your desired size and shape.  I used a knife to cut mine into large triangles.  Coat polenta cakes in flour and fry in a 350-degree deep fryer until golden brown.  Arrange on a large platter.  Spoon the saucy sausage and peppers on top the polenta cakes - you can either spoon it onto them individually and make it a pretty single serving each, or you can go rustic and just pour it all around, covering the cakes with the sausage.  Finish with more chiffonade basil, a little extra Parmesan cheese, and serve!

January 3, 2017

Iron Rooster

50 Shawan Road, Cockeysville, Maryland 21030

When you pull up to the newest Iron Rooster in Hunt Valley, which I initially thought before arriving, was a small mom-and-pop place to grab some brunch, you may think the owners hit the jackpot.  Aesthetically, this restaurant is huge, bright, and modern.  It reminds me of the Miss Shirley's downtown, except much larger and easier to maneuver.  When you walk in, there's a large open area with seating for waiting -- because chances are, you'll need to wait for a table.  To your left, a self-seated bar with additional host-seated high-tops.  The restaurant itself has room for over 200 guests, booths and tables alike, and plenty of large windows to let in natural light. 

I'm mad at myself for NOT letting my server know I "checked in" on Facebook and Instagram, because I definitely missed out on my free jar of bacon!  And I am still waiting to see if any of my pictures were a "favorite shot" of the week!  Let a sister know, Iron Rooster!

On the morning of New Year's Eve, I was seated after about 15 minutes at a high-top in the bar.  It was a Saturday morning, and the place was packed, but the wait wasn't nearly what I thought it would be.  I was dining alone, and felt bad I was taking up a four-top just for myself, but there weren't many smaller tables anyway.  Not to mention my server, Charlie, made me feel welcomed from jump.  I should have assured him I'm no regular one-top, and I'd probably be spending as much as a four-top would anyway.

After looking through the menu, I needed to have savory and sweet.  It was a clear necessity, despite the "sweet" aspect being severely overpriced.  (Just like the $5 chocolate milk I ordered that was served in a cup smaller than a kid's cup.)  I opted for one of their famous Benedict dishes, the "Fried Chicken Benny", as well as the "Big Belgian Waffle".  The "benny", complete with buttermilk-marinated fried chicken, housemade biscuit, poached eggs, and a black pepper pan gravy, is a generous dish that is accompanied with hash browns.  They've put all their work and concentration on the main aspect of the dish, because the hash browns left so much to be desired.  They were pretty soggy with no seasoning, however, what they lack in hash browns, they make up for in a homemade biscuit.  The best part of the dish - the fluffy and moist biscuit, paired with the spicy and crunchy chicken tenders and the gravy on top, came together with a perfectly-poached egg to create a well-balanced, well-seasoned dish that I devoured!  Subsequently, my $10 waffle was a waffle.  It was slightly overcooked, making it tough and crunchy, while I prefer soft and fluffy.  It did, however, come with a maple-bourbon butter that I would happily slather on my shoe and eat it.  So, I wouldn't pay $10 for a waffle again, but for the extra $6, I'd gladly pay $16 for a huge homemade biscuit, two eggs, two pieces of chicken, scratch gravy, and hash browns.  And maybe some toast with that delectable maple butter.  Yes, please.

This is the type of special place you take your out-of-town family members, or a group of your girlfriends for an awesome meal and cocktails, but it's not somewhere you can frequent on a regular basis.  Unless you have a separate savings account dedicated to brunch.  Which, if that's the case, call me.  Let's be friends.  Ultimately, Iron Rooster is all things I believe it strives to be.  According to their website, they aim to provide "a new twist on traditional comfort food, legendary hospitality, and a real sense of community."  I don't think they have much to worry about in the way of comfort food, their service was quick and friendly, despite the packed-house, and their sense of community will continue to shine through, so long as they keep choosing really great locations -- and I doubt Hunt Valley is the last place you'll see these guys pop up.  I'll keep you posted on going back for lunch or "supper".