Thursday, October 14, 2010

Easy Chicken Cacciatore

Both my husband and I work full-time. We have a toddler (15 months today... woot!). We have a house, three cats, and an hour commute, each way, to and from work. So sometimes, I don't have the energy to be a gourmand.

I came up with this recipe because I almost always have the ingredients on hand, and because it only takes about half an hour from start to finish. I also tailored it to feed two because my son doesn't always eat what we do for dinner. The flavors are bold and it's the perfect quick and satisfying meal for two after a long day.

Easy Chicken Cacciatore
Serves 2
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

3/4 pound boneless chicken breast tenders, pounded thin
1/4 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon capers, with liquid
1 tablespoon shaved or shredded parmesan cheese
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Chicken should be pounded into very thin filets. Season each side of chicken with salt and pepper.

Chop onions and pepper into approximately one-inch pieces (same size as they have about the same cooking time).

Heat oil in large pan/skillet. When hot, place chicken in pan. Turn after 2 minutes, toss in onions, peppers and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, capers, small amount of liquid from jar and butter, cover, allow to cook for 15 minutes. When finished, top with parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper and serve immediately.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gamberi e mitili in brodo del vino (Shrimp and mussels in wine broth)

Growing up, I was willing to try pretty much anything, especially when it came to seafood.

My dad and I could have eaten some type of seafood everyday, and whatever he was having, I was having. I remember sitting down with him to share a lobster when I was about 8, just because I wanted to try it. I ate shrimp by the handful and steamers by the bucketload. If it was seafood, I was IN.

So as an adult at a restaurant, I'm instantly drawn to the seafood section of the menu. At a particular Italian eatery, my husband and I love a dish of mussels and broth. We end up eating it very quick and using our bread to soak up the buttery broth every single time.

But since we can't afford to go out to eat every night, I had to figure out a way to make the dish at home. And since mussels, while delicious, aren't all that filling as a dinner meal, I tossed in some shrimp. Next time I'd also like to add some scallops; I think they'd add even more flavor to the dish.

You can serve the broth separate like I did here, or pour it over the shellfish. I've done it both ways, but separated it here to show you what it should look like. I highly recommend serving this with some bread -- once you try the broth, you won't leave a single drop in the bowl.


Gamberi e mitili in brodo del vino (Shrimp and mussels in wine broth)
Serves 4-6

2 pounds of live mussels (approximately 75 shells), scrubbed, debearded*
1 pound of peeled, deveined raw shrimp
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion or shallot
4 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup white wine
3 tablespoons garlic*
1 tablespoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

wire/bristle brush
large sautee pan with lid

With sautee pan on medium heat, melt butter, then add lemon juice, salt, pepper and wine (carefully). Toss in onion and cook until translucent. Add half of the garlic to the broth and watch to make sure it doesn't burn. Cook until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.

Toss mussels into pan, distributing as evenly as possible around the pan. Spoon remaining garlic and olive oil over shells and cover. Cook for 15 minutes.

Remove lid and toss shrimp on top of mussels, cover. Cook for additional 5 minutes or until shrimp turn pink. Remove from heat.

Spoon shrimp and mussels onto large platter.

Before serving, ensure all shells have opened -- discard mussels that remain closed. Top with broth from pan or serve with broth on the side (you can add any other flavors you like -- parsley, red pepper flakes, basil, etc., at this time).

Mussels -- At our supermarket, you can buy a 2 lb. bundle of mussels in the seafood department. Though it won't look like it at first, this is about 75 mussels.

The tricky thing about mussels, and the reason many people don't cook with them, is that they do require a fair bit of preparation. When you unbundle them, you have to scrub them, as they accumulate a fair amount of dirt/sand on their shells. Then, and if you're squeamish, look away -- you have to "de-beard" them. What's a beard you ask? It's a group of fibers the mussel has used to hold on to rocks in the ocean.

You have to grip the beard and yank it out of the shell. The creepy thing (for some, I'm past it!), is that as the mussel is live, you may feel it... "tug" back a little. Certainly, once you begin to pull the beard and let go, you will see a portion disappear back into the shell. In any event, you want to remove this beard, or as much of it as you can, because what you don't clean off the shells and out of them is going to end up in your mouth.

The other tidbit about mussels... you have to quite literally trust your gut. The LAST thing you want to eat is bad shellfish, and so you have to apply the open-closed theory of discarding the "bad" ones -- if you see shells OPEN before you cook the mussels, throw them out. If any remain CLOSED after you cook them, throw them out. If any shells have chunks mussing or exposed mussel showing, throw them out. Trust me on this one -- better safe than sorry!

Garlic -- Just to restate what I've said in almost every recipe I've made using garlic, you can feel free to use jarred or fresh garlic. I prefer to use the jarred as it keeps longer, I don't have to cut it up, and it seems to be more flavorful. If you use the jarred garlic, use 3 tablespoons. If you use fresh garlic, use 4-5 cloves, depending on their size.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pumpkin ice cream and affogatos

I have a confession to make: As much as I enjoy laying out in the sun and getting (my VERY LIGHT shade of) tan, as much as I enjoy my hair being blonde, as much as I enjoy the heat... I adore the fall.

Having grown up in New England, I was born and bred with an addiction to autumn. I love the sights, the sounds, and the tastes of fall. So naturally once the calendar page flipped to October, I ran right to the store and picked up one of the most classic fall flavors -- pumpkin.

I wanted to do something different with the pumpkin besides the standard pumpkin bread or pumpkin roll, so I decided to go in a different, chillier direction with ice cream. To take the fall flavor even deeper, I went with an affogato, made with cinnamon Starbucks coffee.

Before about two years ago, I'd never heard of an affogato. I tried one on our trip to the Berkshires, and was instantly in love. "Affogato" is Italian for "drowned," and this ice cream treat is literally drowned in espresso. In place of espresso, I used coffee, but trust me -- it may sound odd, but once you combine the raw coffee flavor with the sweet creaminess of the ice cream... yum. You won't regret it.


Pumpkin Ice Cream and Affogatos
Yields about 10 half-cup servings

Ice cream

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean (pod and beans)
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 15-ounce can of pure pumpkin
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar

Starbucks cinnamon coffee
cinnamon stick (garnish)

Cuisinart ice cream maker
medium saucepan
mixing bowl
glass bowl (for chilling)

In saucepan, combine milk and cream. Cut open vanilla bean, toss seeds into cream mixture. Once seeds are removed, add pod to mixture. Heat cream on medium-low for 30 minutes and remove from heat.

In separate mixing bowl, combine egg, pumpkin, sugars, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and sugars. Beat with whisk until smooth.

Using a ladle or spoon, add a small amount of the heated cream to the pumpkin mixture. Mix until combined, then add another spoonful. This will temper the mixture so the egg doesn't scramble when exposed to heat.

Pour all of the pumpkin mixture into the saucepan with the cream, and mix until smooth. Pour into glass bowl, and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, up to overnight. At the same time, place bowl of ice cream maker into the freezer -- the liquid in the bowl (what chills the ice cream) must freeze before ice cream can be made.

Once bowl is frozen, assemble machine and turn switch to on. Pour cream mixture into bowl and allow to mix for 25-30 minutes or until desired texture is reached.

You can freeze the mixture for longer if you want firmer ice cream.

To create affogatos, scoop some ice cream into a glass, and top with prepared coffee. Garnish with cinnamon stick. Enjoy!

Vanilla bean -- This is the first time I've ever actually used a REAL vanilla bean for flavoring. I'm not going to lie, they aren't cheap -- for this ONE in a jar, it was $7.49 at the grocery store -- but they are so worth the flavor.

In case you've never seen a vanilla bean pod cut open, here's what the inside, complete with itty-bitty seeds intact looks like.