Gluten-Free Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprints

IMG_1146Peanut butter and jelly. Apply between two slices of bread. Consume with a glass of milk, if desired. Suddenly, I’m happy. This flavor combination is classic, because it is sweet and salty. It transports us back to the time where we’d open our lunchboxes and eat a PB&J sandwich at lunch. Wasn’t life was a lot less complicated as a child? Even now in my thirties, when I come home and too lazy to be bothered to cook anything, I’ll prepare a PB&J sandwich. If I’m reading through a menu and I see PB&J in any item, it’s pretty certain that I’ll order it.  I love peanut butter and jelly.

These thumbprints are gluten-free, so you can get your peanut butter and jelly sandwich experience, without the bread. Sadly, I couldn’t figure out how to make this recipe calorie-free.

Gluten-Free Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprints
 
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Gluten-Free Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprints
Recipe type: gluten free, peanut butter and jelly, dessert, snacks
Serves: 1 dozen
Ingredients
  • 1 cup natural peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar (golden or dark)
  • ¼ tbsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 whole egg
  • ⅓ cup of jam
  • ½ cup of sugar for tossing the thumbprints
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • small pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Open can of peanut butter and remove any oil that collected on the top.
  3. In a bowl, combine the peanut butter, ¼ cup granulated sugar, ¼ cup brown sugar, whole egg, salt, vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg. Mix by hand until all the ingredients are combined and the dough comes together.
  4. Use a small ice cream scoop to portion out the dough balls. Toss the dough balls in the sugar and then place on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Arrange the dough balls about 2 inches apart.
  5. Using your thumb, press down into each of the dough ball to make a small indentation.
  6. Fill each indentation with jam.
  7. Bake in the over for about 9-12 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Makes approximately 1 dozen thumbprints.

 

 

 

 

 

Cocozia

DSC00087Recently, I was contacted by Epicurex, LLC to do a review of their product, Cocozia. It’s an all natural, 100% organic coconut water. There’s a lot of hype out there on the internet regarding the almost “magical” properties of coconut water. One article gave a list of 8 benefits of coconut water:

  1. Aids in weight-loss efforts
  2. Picture-perfect skin
  3. The ultimate hangover remedy
  4. Facilitates digestion
  5. Boosts hydration
  6. Reduces blood pressure
  7. Rich in Nutrients.
  8. Compatible with human blood.

Most of those benefits could be achieved by just drinking water! However, a more balanced and credible article pointed out that coconut water does provide an all-natural way to “hydrate, reduce sodium, and add potassium to diets. Most Americans don’t get enough potassium in their diets because they don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, or dairy, so coconut water can help fill in the nutritional gaps.” Seems like a great alternative to consuming a sugary sports drink after working out to keep hydrated.

I myself am not a big fan of coconut. However, I am a big fan of pina coladas, coconut creme cakes and coco jam. Growing up in a filipino house, we always had toasted pan de sal and coconut jam spread. It’s pretty amazing. Not to mention lambanog, a seriously strong coconut liquor that will mess you up. I’ve never had it, but what I hear about it frightens me.

But I digress. Cocoa comes in 11 oz TetraPaks so they’re easy to take with you on the go. Poured in a glass, you’ll notice the water is a bit cloudy and smells like coconut. In the Philippines, I’ve had coconut water straight out of the coconut and Cocozia smells exactly the same way. Rather than going through the hassle of finding a machete to hack open a coconut, you simply use the attached straw, puncture the opening in the top of the box and drink away.

I preferred the taste of Cocozia compared to other coconut waters that I’ve tried. It is not sweet but you definitely get the coconut flavor as you drink. There was also no off-putting aftertaste in my mouth after drinking Cocozia, which sometimes occurred with other coconut water brands.

A single serving of Cocozia has only 70 calories, but also gives you more potassium than if you were to eat an entire banana. Additionally, Cocozia gives you magnesium and other electrolytes to help maintain body hydration and muscle function, which I think is good after a workout.

For the past three months I’ve been doing my best to exercise and eat well. I started doing Focus T25 workouts for the physical exercise component. For the nutritional component, I bought a Vitamix and have been making smoothies almost daily. I thought Cocozia might be a great addition to a smoothie. When using frozen fruits like I do, I often need to add a liquid component to help the viscosity of the smoothie; otherwise I end up with what is essentially ice cream.

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Here’s the recipe for the smoothie I made with Cocozia:

Strawberry Banana Pineapple Smoothie with Cocozia Organic Coconut Water
 
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A refreshing smoothie to help you stay hydrated and cool after a good workout!
Recipe type: Smoothie
Serves: 1-2 people
Ingredients
  • 1 box of Cocozia 100% organic coconut water (11 oz box)
  • 1 cup frozen (or fresh) strawberries
  • 1 cup frozen (or fresh) pineapples
  • 1 banana
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of Non Fat greek yogurt (Chobani vanilla flavor)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 cups ice (not needed if you use frozen fruit)
Instructions
  1. Add all the ingredients to your blender and blend until the ingredients are combined and smooth.
  2. Pour into a few glasses and enjoy!

Even if you don’t like Coconut water, or coconut flavor, you won’t be able to detect it in this smoothie. The strawberry, banana and pineapple flavors, combined with the yogurt and honey for a touch of sweetness will be what you taste and enjoy the most. Not only is this smoothie cool and refreshing, but it will also help you keep hydrated after a long workout!

Porcini Risotto with Grilled Chicken Thighs and Asparagus

I’ve been busy the last several weeks with work. It’s been keeping me out of the kitchen. Tonight, however, things slowed down enough where I felt like getting back into the kitchen and doing a bit of cooking. When I get super busy, my body instantly craves carbs. Maybe it’s the idea that carbs equal comfort. And of all the carbs, rice is my go-to comfort food. Yes, even more than french fries.

I decided that I’d make a risotto. With mushrooms. And not just any mushrooms. Porcini mushrooms. Sadly, when I went to Whole Paycheck today, there were no fresh porcinis. There were some dried porcinis so I got those instead. I also swung by the meat section and grabbed some boneless chicken thighs. I was going to simply put some of my favorite chicken rub on the thighs, let them marinate while I made the risotto and then I’d throw them on my Weber charcoal grill with some asparagus. I needed to get some rice for the risotto. I swung by the rice aisle and contemplated between Carnaroli, Arborio or Vialone Nano. These are the three main types of rice used for risottos. I grabbed a box of Vialone Nano and headed to the register.

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Risotto takes around an hour to prepare, but it’s worth the constant stirring. If you’ve got someone else in the house to help you, get them to grill up some chicken thighs while you prepare the risotto.  

This was my second time making risotto and I think it turned out rather well. The rice wasn’t overly gloomy nor was it dry. I rehydrated the porcinis in the chicken stock while it warmed in a pot so as to infuse the stock with the porcini flavor. Next time, I’ll be straining the stock through a coffee filter so that any grains from the dried mushrooms don’t make it into the risotto.

I used a combination of Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver recipes when I made my risotto dish, so credit goes to them for helping me make this recipe.

Porcini Risotto
 
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Risotto with porcini mushrooms, served with grilled chicken thighs and asparagus
Recipe type: Italian
Cuisine: Dinner
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 2 cups Vialone Nano or Arborio rice
  • 1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
  • ½ cups dry white wine
  • 3½ cups chicken stock, hot
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • ½ cup parmigiano-reggiano
  • salt and pepper
  • dried thyme and dried oregano if desired
Instructions
  1. Finely dice the onion and celery and set aside.
  2. Put the chicken stock into a small sauce pan and heat over medium low heat. Add the porcini mushrooms to the stock to rehydrate and infuse with mushroom flavor.
  3. In a 12 to 14-inch skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until soft and translucent, but be watching so that it does not start to brown. This will take about 8-10 minutes. Add the rice to the pan and stir until the rice is lightly toasted and opaque, approximately 3-4 minutes.
  4. Add the ½ cup of wine to the rice, and then add a ladleful of stock and mushrooms. (I recommend you pass the stock through a coffee filter to catch any granules from the dried mushrooms to prevent any grit from making it into the risotto). Stir until the liquid is absorbed. Continue adding the stock one ladleful at a time, making sure that the liquid is absorbed by the rice before adding more.
  5. Cook until the rice is tender and creamy, and just a little al dente, approximately 15 minutes. Finish the risotto by stirring in the butter and cheese until incorporated.
  6. Serve the risotto with grilled chicken thighs and asparagus if desired.

 

Lasagne Bolognese al Forno

IMG_8905This is one of my most favorite things to cook. And yet, this also is one of the most tiring things to cook. Lasagne isn’t something you simply make on a whim and expect to be eating within an hour. If you want to eat around 6:30pm, expect to start cooking around 3pm.

Every time I have made this dish, it has taken a lot of effort. The trip to the grocery store to gather the myriad ingredients from across the store takes time. The preparation of vegetables, meat, tomato sauce, and the slow simmering of the ragu takes nearly two hours. The making of the béchamel sauce takes additional time. The assembly of the lasagna is repetitive and meticulous. And then, after assembling the layers of the lasagne, you still have to throw it in the oven to bake for 35-40 minutes. Turning away from the oven, you see the sad state of your kitchen. It looks like a tornado joined forces with an earthquake and unleashed hell onto the food preparation area. Sorry friend, nature is not to blame. You are the one who made the mess so while the lasagne bakes, you begin to clean up the mess you made. Have I given you enough reasons not to make this dish?

Here’s the reason why you should make this lasagne. Look at the picture above. The lasagne looks simple and comforting, doesn’t it? Just look at it… all portioned out on a plate with a piece of garlic bread and some vegetables (for health). It’s classical comfort food. But making it was not comforting. It took a lot of time to prep the vegetables, build the ragu, simmer it down, make the béchamel, assemble the lasagne, bake it and then serve it. So much time and effort! That time and effort are the special ingredients that cannot be bought in a store, cannot be rushed, cannot be substituted, cannot be short-cutted. The hours of work you put into making this dish is what makes this comfort food so comforting. Not just when you eat it, but when others eat it as well. I enjoy seeing the look on people’s faces when they eat my food. I like when my food brings joy to people. I like seeing their stress fade away, if only for a moment, and be replaced with comfort because the food tastes good. It tastes good because you took the time and the effort to make it taste good.

And for the love of God, please don’t put ricotta in your lasagne. I like ricotta, but not in my lasagne. Traditionally lasagne was made with béchamel, and for good reason too, as it adds a creaminess and a richness to the lasagne that you simply won’t get with ricotta.

The “sauce” is ragu bolognese which is just a combination of carrots, onions, celery, pancetta, ground meat simmered with tomato sauce and wine. Combine this ragu with béchamel and you’ll never want lasagne with ricotta again.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Lasagne Bolognese al Forno
 
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Recipe type: Comfort Food, Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
Ragu Bolognese
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 medium size carrots, peeled
  • 3 ribs celery
  • 1 yellow or red onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground veal
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb pork (or mild italian pork sausage)
  • 4 oz pancetta, diced
  • 2 cans San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
  • ½ tube tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp dried italian herbs (oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, parsley, etc.)
  • ½ tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
Bechamel Sauce
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 3 cups milk (whole)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • black pepper (optional)
Lasagne
  • 2 boxes no boil Barilla Lasagne sheets
  • Grated Parmesan cheese (I like the asiago, fontina, and parmesan cheese combination from Whole Foods)
  • 1-2 cups shredded mozzarella (or as much as desired to top the lasagne)
Instructions
Prepare the vegetables
  1. Roughly chop the onions, celery and carrots before putting them into a food processor. Pulse the vegetables until they are very finely chopped. Heat a large dutch oven over medium high heat, add extra virgin olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onions, celery and carrots and season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and dried herbs. Cook until the vegetables start to brown, approximately 10-15 minutes. Add the veal, pork, beef, pancetta to the pot over high heat to brown the meat. Add the tomato paste, canned tomatoes, wine and simmer over medium-low heat for 90 minutes. Stir occasionally, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.
For the Bechamel sauce:
  1. Place the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat to warm until just about to boil. While the milk is heating, in a medium saucepan, heat the butter until melted. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the butter and flour combination turns light golden brown, 6-7 minutes. It should smell like popcorn.
  2. Now, add the milk to the flour/butter mixture, 1 cup at a time while whisking until smooth. Continue until all the milk has been added, then bring the sauce up to a boil. Cook for an additional 30 seconds, then season with salt, nutmeg and ground pepper if desired. Remove from heat.
Assembly of the Lasagne
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a lasagne pan, spoon in some of the sauce and spread evenly along the bottom. Add a layer of the lasagne pasta, then a layer of ragu, a layer of béchamel, a sprinkling of the grated parmesan cheese. Repeat as desired, then the top layer should be the pasta, béchamel, grated cheese, and some chopped parsley. Sprinkle a layer of shredded mozzarella cheese on top of the lasagne, then bake in the over for 35-40 minutes until the top is lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cook for about 10 minutes before serving

 

 

 

Brined and Grilled Pork Chops

IMG_8891Earlier this week, I was watching an episode of Chopped in which the judges were competing against each other. For the entree round, one of the basket ingredients was a rack of Berkshire pork. Berkshire Pork is a heritage breed of pig from England. Known for its fatty richness, unique texture, marbling, juiciness, tenderness and distinctive flavor, some call it the Kobe beef of pork. Chef Alex Guarnaschelli decided to make double cut pork chops. It dawned on me that I had never made pork chops. So I made that my cooking challenge for the week.

Whole Paycheck doesn’t sell Berkshire Pork, but they did have center cut pork chops on sale for $5.99/lb. Driving home I knew that I was going to brine the chops overnight to ensure that my chops were juicy, flavorful and tender. I prepared a basic brine: water, kosher salt, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, peppercorns and bay leaves. Once the brine was ready and chilled, I submerged the pork chops, put it in the fridge and let it swim overnight.

Before cooking dinner tonight, I was poking around online to see how other chefs cooked their chops and what sides they would serve with the chops. I came across a video of Gordon Ramsay making pork chops with apples and radicchio. I had never thought of combining apples and radicchio together, but it seemed interesting and easy enough to do so I decided to make that too. Watch the video, it’s only two minutes long. I love the style, the pacing and the simplicity of how he “teaches” you to cook the dish.

I made the sides: the apple and radicchio salad, haricot verts sautéed with garlic, simple sautéed mushrooms and sweet potato mash with a little bit of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. I put my favorite meat rub on both sides of the chops and then headed to the backyard to the grill.

Here’s some tips on grilling the chops. Pile your coals onto one side of the grill. Sear the chops for 2-3 minutes on both sides, then move them to the cooler side of the grill where there are no coals. Cover and let the chops continue cooking for approximately 10-12 minutes until their internal temperature hits 135°F, then allow the chops to rest for another 10 minutes. This method of grilling the chops helps keep the meat from getting too tough from the exposure to direct heat.

When I cut into the chops, they were juicy and tender. Not tough and full of that savory, porky flavor. The apple and radicchio salad was finished with a little bit of apple cider vinegar so it complemented the richness of the pork. The sweet potato mash was a nice sweet counterbalance to the saltiness of the pork chop.

Next time, I will try smoking the pork chops in my Traeger grill. I think I’ll be able to achieve a nice smoky flavor on the pork and the “lower and slower” cooking method might even help the chops be even more tender.

One final note: if you’re used to pork chops being white throughout, you’re used to eating overcooked pork. The USDA has revised the recommended internal temperature for pork to be 145, not 160. At 145, it will be a little pink, but still tender and juicy. If you took the time to brine your pork, even if you did overcook it to 160, the brining will help the pork retain some moisture.

Pork Chops with Apples and Radicchio, Sweet Potato Mash, Sautéed Green Beans and Mushrooms
 
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Brined and grilled pork chops, served over a sweet potato mash with a sweet and tangy apple and radicchio "salad", and sautéed mushrooms and green beans
Recipe type: Dinner, Pork
Cuisine: American
Serves: 4
Ingredients
For the brine:
  • 4½ quarts water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
For the chops:
  • 4 pork chops (1½" inch thick)
  • Salt and pepper (or your favorite meat rub)
For the Apple and Radicchio salad:
  • 3 Braeburn or Fuji Apples, sliced thinly
  • 2 heads of Radicchio, chopped thinly
  • 2 teaspoons of thyme
  • 1 splash apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper
For the Sweet Potato Mash:
  • 3-4 sweet potatoes (garnet yams)
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
For the green beans:
  • 16 oz haricot verts
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
For the sautéed mushrooms:
  • 1 lb sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • garlic powder
  • splash of worcestershire sauce
  • dry thyme
Instructions
To make the brine:
  1. The night before, combine 2 cups of water, the kosher salt, brown sugar, peppercorns and bay leaves in a small sauce pan.
  2. Bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the salt and sugar.
  3. Pour into a large pot or plastic container and then add the remaining 4 quarts of cool water.
  4. Stir to mix well and set into the fridge to chill. Once the brine has chilled, add the pork chops, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Apples and Radicchio:
  1. Begin by slicing the apples. Cut the apples in half, and then into quarters. Remove any part of the core, stem and calyx (bottom). Slice thinly.
  2. Remove the core from the radicchio heads, and slice thinly. In a frying pan heat the olive oil and butter over moderate heat.
  3. Add the apples and fry for 5 minutes, turning them occasionally until they begin to soften. Add the radicchio to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes until they begin to wilt. Add the thyme and a splash of the apple cider vinegar and let it reduce over high heat for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  4. Remove the apples and radicchio to a plate.
Sauteed Haricot Verts:
  1. In a frying pan, heat the butter and olive oil. Add the haricot verts to the pan until they are lightly toasted. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Add the garlic and oregano and cook for another minute.
  3. Add 1-2 tablespoons of water to the pan, cover and let the beans steam for 3-4 minutes over medium low heat. Check the beans for doneness, and if necessary, cook for a few more minutes until the beans are tender, but still crunchy.
  4. Remove to a plate.
Sauteed Mushrooms:
  1. In a frying pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms to the pan and toss to coat in the oil and butter. Season with salt and pepper, thyme and garlic powder.
  2. After the mushrooms have cooked for about 6-7 minutes and are beginning to get golden brown, add a splash of worcestershire sauce, stir and then remove the mushrooms to a plate.
To prepare the pork chops:
  1. Remove the chops from the brine and discard the brine. Rinse the chops, then pat dry with paper towels. Season the chops on both sides with kosher salt and pepper or apply your favorite meat rub.
  2. On your grill, sear the pork chops over high heat (2-3 minutes per side). Lower the heat to medium (350-375), or move the chops to the cooler side of the grill. Glaze with a BBQ sauce if desired. Cover and cook for 10-12 minutes or until the chops hit an internal temperature of 135.
  3. Remove the chops to a plate and let them rest for 10 minutes until they hit an internal temperature of 145.
  4. Serve the pork chops with the sweet potato mash, the apples and radicchio, green beans and mushrooms.

 

 

Pasta e Fagioli

IMG_8881This is that pasta dish with the funny looking and funny sounding name, but it doesn’t taste funny; in fact, it’s quite delicious. Pasta fagioli means pasta with beans, and is traditionally served without meat. I’m not gonna do that.

If you look at the picture you’ll notice the fagioli aren’t visible. It’s there, but it’s mixed in with the sauce. I thought the recipe was crazy when it said to take the beans and puree them before adding them to the sauce. But, like the good ISTJ that I am, I followed the recipe and I’m glad that I did. It made the sauce thick, smooth, creamy without the calories from adding cream. Plus, cannellini are protein-rich, high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. The fiber in particular helps to promote healthy cholesterol levels and lower cholesterol.

And while we’re talking about health, there’s also tomatoes, celery, carrots, onions and spinach in this dish. Lots of veggies for health. I opted to use chicken sausage for this dish to continue the healthy eating theme here. This pasta fagioli is not only good for you, but it tastes real good as well.

It’s packed with vegetables, packed with fiber and packed with flavor. Eat up!

Pasta e Fagioli
 
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Chicken Sausage and orecchiette pasta, in a tomato cannellini bean "bolognese" sauce, with spinach
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian, Pasta
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 lb chicken sausage (mild or spicy)
  • 1½ cups mirepoix (chopped celery, carrots and onions)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½ tsp italian seasoning (or just thyme, oregano and basil)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 small pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1-2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 14-ounce can cannellini beans
  • 1 qt chicken broth
  • 1 lb small pasta (orecchiette, ditalini or tubetti)
  • 8 oz fresh baby spinach
  • shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for topping
Instructions
  1. Remove the chicken from its casing, then brown the chicken sausage over medium high heat in a heavy bottom casserole. Remove the sausages from the pan to a bowl with a slotted spoon, discard the extra fat.
  2. Next, puree the San Marzano tomatoes and sauce in a food processor and return back to the can for use later. Drain the cannellini beans, then puree them in the food processor until very smooth. If the bean puree is still too chunky, add a ½ cup of water and puree until smooth.
  3. Saute the mirepoix (carrots, onion, celery), italian herbs, salt, pepper, bay leaf, red pepper flakes (optional), in a little olive oil until the vegetables become soft and fragrant, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  4. Add the pureed tomatoes, pureed beans, tomato paste and chicken broth to the casserole. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Add the chicken sausage and pasta and then simmer for another 15 minutes or until the pasta has reached al dente stage.
  6. Add the spinach, mix well and let the spinach leaves wilt into the pasta and sauce.
  7. Serve with shaved cheese and enjoy.

Recipe adapted from A Pinch of Yum.

Bruschetta

bruschetta

Let’s say it together, correctly: Brew-sket-tah. Not brew-shet-tah.

bro͝o-skĕtʹə. /brʊˈskɛtə/.

Cleansing breath. Minor pet peeve done. 

Several years ago after an exhausting day of doing music at church I was driving home and wanting something substantial, but not heavy. I knew I was going to be eating Enguerra family dinner later that evening. And when the Enguerra family eats, we EAT. However, the feasting was still hours away and I needed something to tide me over until then.

The sun was out, the weather was warm, and the idea of tomatoes and mozzarella popped into my mind. What follows is the conversation between my stomach and my brain:

Stomach: “FEED ME. Pizza.”

Brain: “Nope, try again. Here’s some additional ideas: tomatoes, mozzarella, basil.”

Stomach: “Margherita pizza.”

Brain: “Yeah, but no. The following are also allowed: bread, garlic.”

Stomach: “Bruschetta.”

Brain: “Approved.”

After a quick detour to the grocery, I had the produce and the bread I needed to make bruschetta at home. It takes a few minutes to prepare, and both your brain and your stomach can be happy at the same time. My bruschetta has all the standard ingredients: tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, garlic, crusty bread. I like to also add balsamic vinegar as it seems to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes, adds a little bit of tanginess, and balances out the sharpness of the garlic. And while we’re on the subject of garlic, there is such a thing as too much garlic, especially for this kind of application. I have made this bruschetta before and been too heavy-handed with the amount of garlic and it threw the entire balance of the dish way off, not to mention my breath. Everlasting garlic taste for the rest of the day, and well into tomorrow. Not fun times. Don’t let this happen to you.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Bruschetta
 
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Diced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar served over lightly toasted baguette slices.
Recipe type: Appetizer, Snack
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 baguette, regular or sourdough, cut on the bias (diagonally)
  • 1-2 small cloves of garlic, finely minced (you have been warned)
  • 5-6 roma tomatoes, diced
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 container of fresh mozzarella (large balls or pre-sliced)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the baguette slices on a baking pan and toast in the oven for 3-5 minutes or until lightly crunchy.
  2. In a medium size bowl, combine the diced roma tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, basil, garlic and balsamic vinegar. Mix together and adjust seasoning as desired. If you have extra time, let this mixture sit for about 15-20 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.
  3. Place a slice of mozzarella (about ¼-inch thick) on each of the bread slices, then top with a spoonful of the tomato mixture.
  4. Finish with a light dusting of kosher salt, black pepper and grated/shaved parmesan, if desired.

 

Biscuits and Gravy


IMG_8847

This is my ideal breakfast. Soft, fluffy buttermilk biscuits with Jimmy Dean Breakfast sausage patties, creamy scrambled eggs and white sausage gravy. To be clear, this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a healthy breakfast. Don’t get any blood work or cholesterol screenings within a week of consuming this. Health warnings aside, this is a fantastic way to start a Saturday morning.

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Let’s talk biscuits. Specifically, the flour for making biscuits. Many recipes I read called for White Lily flour as a must when making biscuits. It is a soft wheat flour that is also a self-rising flour. My local grocery doesn’t stock White Lily, but I did have cake flour. After doing some research online, I decided to try a mix of cake flour and all-purpose flour instead. I’m glad I did because the biscuits came out soft and fluffy. My previous attempts at biscuits resulted in tough, crunchy discs that were essentially crackers. I think this new blend of cake flour and all-purpose helped to keep the biscuit soft and tender. I also increased the amount of buttermilk a little to ensure a moist biscuit. And since my cake flour and all-purpose flour are not self-rising, I added baking soda and baking power to help the biscuits rise. I was not disappointed at the end result.

Now, on to the gravy. Alton Brown has a great Sawmill Gravy recipe that I enjoy and so I incorporated into this recipe. I made a small tweak to it by seasoning my gravy with a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Beyond biscuits and gravy, I like to serve mine with scrambled eggs and Jimmy Dean sausage patties. I did say that this wasn’t healthy. But it sure tastes good. Definitely not something to eat regularly, but when you do make it, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re still feeling guilty, I suggest going for a run before making breakfast or take a long walk after breakfast.

Biscuits and Gravy
 
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Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: Southern
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • Buttermilk Biscuits
  • 1¼ cup cake flour
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ cup butter, cut into small cubes, kept very cold
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • White Sausage Gravy
  • 1lb breakfast sausage
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cayenne pepper (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Cut butter into small cubes, place into a small bowl and put back into the fridge.
  3. In the bowl of your food processor, whisk together the cake flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and kosher salt until well blended. Add the butter cubes to the food processor. Pulse the flour and butter together just until it resembles crumbs.
  4. Add the buttermilk to the food processor and then pulse again until the dough comes together into a ball, being careful not to overwork the dough. Remove from the food processor onto a surface that has been lightly floured.
  5. Gently fold the biscuit dough onto itself several times. This helps to create a flaky texture to the biscuits. Then, gently flatten out the biscuit dough until it is about ½" thick.
  6. Cut the flattened out biscuit dough into rounds using a biscuit cutter (or the mouth of a glass turned upside down). When cutting, press down directly onto the dough; don't twist the cutter. Remove the cut rounds from the dough. You can re-fold, flatten and cut into the dough scraps to get a few more rounds.
  7. Remove the biscuit rounds to a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Place the rounds so that they are gently touching each other. This helps them to rise a little higher, and to have softer sides. If you prefer them to be crusty, place the rounds about 1 inch apart.
  8. Bake for about 11-13 minutes until the biscuits are a light golden brown color on top and bottom. Do not over bake.
  9. When done baking, remove from the baking tray and place in a bowl or basket with a towel to keep the biscuits warm.
  10. Make the white sausage gravy.
  11. Cook the sausage in a cast iron skillet, set to medium high heat. When the sausage is browned, remove the sausage from the skillet with a slotted spoon, leaving 2 tablespoons of fat. If there isn't enough fat, you can use butter.
  12. Set the heat to medium and whisk the flour with the butter/fat to cook out the floury taste, approximately 5 minutes. You do not want to brown the flour.
  13. Remove the skillet from the heat and whisk in the milk in stages, allowing the mixture of milk and flour to smoothen out before adding more milk.
  14. When all the milk has been added, increase the heat to medium-high and stir while the gravy comes back to a simmer and thickens. Before serving, return the sausage crumbles to the pan. Stir together to combine, and season with salt, pepper (and cayenne pepper if desired) to taste.
  15. To serve, cut the biscuits in half, place a sausage patty on the bottom piece, then some scrambled eggs. Top with a spoonful or two of the sausage gravy.

Applewood Smoked Chicken Breast

DSC_0614I’ve already posted about my Traeger smoker before. I’ve already talked about the magic it imparts to anything that is cooked on it. Well, here’s more proof. Tonight, as I have done many times before, I made grilled chicken breasts. And pretty much every time, they turn out delicious. Even that one time when I burned them. Even if you don’t have a smoker, you can do these on a grill or in an oven. Total cooking time is just over 30 minutes, but the results are outstanding.

Applewood Smoked Chicken Breast
 
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Bone-on chicken breasts smoked with applewood pellets
Recipe type: BBQ, chicken, smoked
Cuisine: BBQ
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 2 Bone-on Chicken Breasts (with the skin)
  • Olive Oil
  • Your favorite chicken rub
  • Your favorite barbecue sauce
Instructions
  1. Place the chicken breasts on a cutting board and lightly coat both sides of the breasts with olive oil.
  2. Apply your favorite chicken rub to both sides of the breasts. Don't lightly coat the breasts, get a decent amount of rub on the breasts.
  3. Wrap the breasts with saran wrap, and let them sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Before cooking,
  4. Heat your smoker, or grill to High. While your smoker or grill is preheating, remove the breasts from the fridge and allow them to come up to room temperature.
  5. When ready to cook, remove the saran wrap from the breasts and lay them bone side down onto the grill. Roast at High (425 F) for about 12-15 minutes, being sure to not burn the skin.
  6. After roasting, reduce the heat to Medium (or 375 F) and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the internal temperature hits 160 F. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, you can apply your favorite BBQ sauce to the breasts to create a nice glaze.
  7. Remove the breasts from the grill, and allow them to rest for at least 5 minutes.
  8. Serve and enjoy!

 

Baba Joon’s Chocolate Chewies

DSC_0616If I want a cookie, it must be chewy, chocolatey, buttery, and making me want to eat another one. Or three. If you gave me a gluten-free, dairy-free cookie, I’d be preparing my tastebuds to encounter something akin to eating a wafer of compressed sawdust. When I tried these Baba Joon’s Chocolate Chewies, I thought I was eating a real cookie or brownie. When you taste these, you won’t be missing the gluten or dairy components found in traditional cookies. It looks like a cookie, tastes like a cookie and has a texture like a chewy cookie. They are chocolatey, chewy and most importantly, delicious.

I sampled four flavors: Coconut Almond, Apricot, Orange Almond and Walnut.

Coconut Almond: It’s like eating an Almond Joy candy bar. I liked the almond and coconut flavors in this chewie.

Apricot: Most people aren’t familiar with apricots, and so the flavor will be unusual for some. I have an apricot tree in my backyard and the flavor of apricot came through very clearly and worked well with the chocolate in this chewie.

Orange Almond: This one tasted like those orange chocolate balls that you slam onto a hard surface and eat the pieces. It had a great chewy and sticky quality when I bit into it, and the almonds added a nice crunchiness to the chewie. I helped myself to a few more of these chewies.

Walnut: This one was my favorite. Just like a chocolate brownie with walnuts. I know this is a dairy-free product, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy these with a large glass of milk. Because I would do just that.

For those of you who are gluten-free and dairy-free, these are wonderful. For those of us who aren’t, these are also wonderful. Come on…it’s chocolately, it’s chewy, and it’s delicious. So, if you’re craving chocolate cookies do yourself a favor and grab a bag or a box of these things.

Baba Joon’s Chocolate Chewies
4 out of 4 stars. Highly recommended.

Order online at http://www.chocolatechewies.com/