July 13, 2016

Pizza Tater Tots

It's about 328 degrees here on the East Cost in good old Baltimore, so you shouldn't be wearing them - but if you are, prepare to have your socks knocked off!  Homemade tater tots are some of the easiest things that you can make to save yourself from the expense and additives (dextrose, disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate, "natural" flavoring, etc.) of store-bought stuff.  The best thing about tots is that SO MANY different things taste great with potato, you can come up with your own version of tater tots as often as you'd like!  I made Jalapeno Cheddar Tots previously (on my blog, too!), but these pizza tots may outshine them.  Between the spicy pepperoni, creamy cheese, and all those good dried spices you'd find on a pizza - you won't know if you're eating pizza rolls or tater tots.  

What You'll Need:
  • 3 pounds white baking potatoes
  • 3 cups pepperoni
  • 1 cup black olives
  • 1 tablespoon each, dried oregano, dried basil, onion powder, garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup mozzarella, finely shredded
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 6 cups vegetable oil, for frying

1.  Begin by boiling the potatoes until tender, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from water and let cool, enough to handle.  Using a box grater, shred potatoes into a bowl lined with cheesecloth or kitchen towel.  When all shredded, wrap and squeeze the towel until all the excess water is removed from potatoes.  Set aside.

2.  In a food processor, add pepperoni and pulse until chopped into a fine mixture.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl.  Add spices, cheese, and reserved potatoes and toss until full incorporated.  Sprinkle with flour and ensure mixture is nice and dry, easy to form tots.

3.  Begin to form your tater tots.  The easiest way is the slide them back and forth between your hands, and then press both top and bottom to form the cylinder shape.  (Or, if you're like my friend Jake, just give up entirely and make them into balls.)  You want the cylindrical shape so people know they're tots!  Makes about 5 dozen regular-sized tots, or about 16 MACHO TOTS (in which I stuffed with cheese -- pictured above.)

4.  Once you've formed all the tots, heat oil in a large pot to 350-degrees.  Drop your tots in batches, making sure they don't fall in and stick together.  Fry for about 3 minutes, until the outside becomes crisp and golden brown.  Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.  Sprinkle with some extra Parmesan and serve alongside marinara sauce for dipping.

June 4, 2016

Chicken Alfredo Pizza

All hail, the holy grail: PIZZA.  I live and breathe pizza.  It's like a sandwich, but better.  More versatile.  More exciting.  Easier to eat.  I am just obsessed with pizza.  And I'm obsessed with creating all different kinds.  The best part is taking everyday meals and turning the into pizza - like tacos, cheesesteaks, and pasta dishes!  Join this easy weeknight meal of chicken Alfredo, and turn it into a creamy, rich, decadent pizza that everyone will love!

What You'll Need:
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup shallots
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 16-in. pizza crust 
  • 1 cup cooked chicken, chopped
  • 2 cups Italian blend cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup cooked broccoli, chopped

1.  In a saucepan, melt butter and saute shallots and garlic until shallots become soft and translucent.  Stir in cream and heat until simmering.  Stir in Parmesan cheese, and whisk continuously until cheese has melted through and there are no traces left, or else it will clump.  Season liberally with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

2.  Baked pizza crust in a 425-degree oven until the crust starts to turn slightly brown.  Remove from oven and top liberally with Alfredo sauce.  Layer with shredded cheese, chicken, and broccoli.  Return to the oven on a perforated pan or pizza screen (or directly onto the rack for crispy crust!) Bake until edges are golden brown and crust is to your liking!  Enjoy by dipping pizza into the extra Alfredo sauce - mmm, mm!

May 29, 2016

Mexican Arancini (an oxymoron?)

Many of you may know, but recently (like, December), I applied to be on a new Food Network show called Cooks vs. Cons.  Apparently it was professional chefs taking on amateur cooks, and the judges need to decide which one is which.  Why I wasn't chosen is simply beyond me, of course, but I'm guessing it has something to do with the fact that I can't decide (and neither could the casting people) if I am considered a professional chef or an amateur cook.  I'm not a doctor or a lawyer who has a passion for cooking - which would make me an amateur.  But I also don't work on a line and cook day-in and day-out for a living.  I'm going to chalk it up to me being a confusing candidate, because there's no way it could have been my striking personality that didn't get me a spot ;-)

Anyway, when I was interviewing, they asked the typical questions: who is my greatest cooking influence, what kind of food do you like to cook, what was it like growing up, etc.  When they asked what type of food I liked to cook, Italian was the obvious, short choice.  I know it, I love it, I live it.  However, my longer answer was that I liked to take dishes that are traditional, and turn them into something else.  Something more creative.  I am always trying to figure out ways to transform the normal.  So, that's exactly what I tried to do here.  I've got a recipe on my blog already for Italian Arancini, the traditional route with meat, parmesan, and marinara.  This Mexican-take on rice balls tastes like eating a fried taco ball.  It's got hints of taco seasoning, corn instead of peas, cheddar instead of parmesan, and green onions and cilantro for the kicker.  To finish it off, instead of using marinara for dipping, I made a cool and creamy avocado cream sauce.

This recipe makes A LOT of balls.  I can't help it, I am used to cooking for a lot of people.  You can scale it if you'd like, but, after people have one or two of these, you're going to need a lot to go around!

What You'll Need:
  • 1.5 quarts water
  • 2.5 cups Arborio rice
  • 3 pounds ground beef
  • 4 tablespoons taco seasoning, divided
  • 1/4 cup Ortega taco sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
  • 3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 6 eggs
  • 4 cups panko breadcrumb, divided
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 carton liquid eggs
  • 1 tablespoon freeze-dried chives
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder

1.  In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add rice.  Cook over medium heat for about 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until water has been absorbed.  Add water as needed if rice needs more cook time.  Remove from stove and let cool.

2.  In a skillet, cook ground beef with half taco seasoning and all taco sauce until browned.  Salt and pepper to taste.  When slightly cooled, mix in cilantro, cheese, corn, green onion, eggs, and 1 cup of panko.  Add beef and rice together and mix to incorporate well.  Let cool enough that the mixture is easy to form balls.  Roll out all balls and place on a large dish or baking sheet.  Feel free to make the balls as big or as small as you'd like.  Because I am impatient, I made them bigger to go faster!

3.  Using three different mixing bowls, set up a dredging station.  Start with the first bowl being flour, the second bowl being the liquid eggs, and the third bowl should contain the remaining panko mixed well with remaining taco seasoning, salt, pepper, chives, and onion powder.  Roll the balls in each bowl, in that order, until all breaded.

4.  Heat vegetable oil in a large pot to 350-degrees.  Drop a few balls in the oil at a time, cooking for about 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown and hot all the way through.  Once out of the fryer and ready to serve, I squeezed a little lime juice over the top, and sprinkled with coarse salt.  Enjoy!

Serving it with the avocado cream sauce?  Mix 4 avocados, 1/4 cup lime juice, 2 tablespoons garlic, 1 teaspoon cumin, 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, and 2 cups of sour cream in a blender until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.

March 29, 2016

Roasted Tomato Hummus

For some reason, I like different flavors of hummus, but I'm not a fan of just regular old chickpea hummus.  Which is why this recipe, among lots of other great hummus ideas, is so fun - hummus is so versatile. There are hundreds of options of this healthy dip, and roasted tomato is just one of them!  Tell us in the comments - what are some of your favorite hummus compilations?! 

What You'll Need:
  • 4 pints cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 red onion, sliced thin
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic, divided
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ~10 cups chick peas (#10 can)
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 tablespoons honey

1.  Toss cherry tomatoes and onion slices with 2 tablespoons of garlic, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and sugar and roast in the oven on 350-degrees for 25-30 minutes, until the outsides of the tomatoes are just charred.

2.  In a food processor, mix chick peas, lemon juice, tahini, honey, remaining garlic, and the roasted tomatoes.  While the food processor is on, stream in 1 1/2 cups of olive oil, until hummus comes together and is completely smooth.  Chill for two hours.

3.  Optional: When serving, make a shallow well in the middle of the hummus and drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle the top with smoked paprika and serve with baked pita.

March 17, 2016

Nonna's Meatballs

The key to perfectly moist meatballs?  The trio of meat is decadence.  The Parmesan cheese adds the perfect nutty salt flavor.  And of course, the onion and garlic add a simple layer of texture.  But the (albeit, odd) way to keep your meatballs light and moist, instead of dense and dry - soak your breadcrumb in buttermilk!  And it's gotta be buttermilk, too, no 2% crap in these babies!  Unfortunately, I can't remember if this is the way my Nonna did it.  I also can't decide if I told her now that should should change her ways, would she hit me on the side of the head with a skillet or willingly try it?  Either way, these meatballs deserve to be donned with the name "Nonna's", because I do know one thing's for sure - she woulda loved them.

What You'll Need:
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • Dried spices, to taste: basil, oregano, salt, pepper
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and add onion.  Cook onion until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic about halfway through.  Season with salt and pepper.  When finished cooking, set aside to let cool.

2.  In a mixing bowl, toss breadcrumb with buttermilk to soak.  Go ahead and get in there with your hands so you can make sure the breadcrumb is completely wet.  Mix beef, pork, and veal with onion/garlic mix, soaked breadcrumbs, eggs, parsley, spices, and Parmesan cheese.  Mix well with your hands, careful not to overmix.  Roll meat into meatballs - mixture should make about 25, depending on the size - about 3 ounces is what I like.

3.  Heat remaining oil in same skillet you cooked the onions.  When hot, brown the meatballs on all sides.  Transfer browned meatballs to a 375-degree oven and cook about 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165-degrees.  Serve with some sweet and savory marinara sauce, and extra, extra Parmesan cheese!