Sunday, April 18, 2010

Herb Herb Herb, Herb Herb's the Word

For the longest time, whenever a recipe called for fresh herbs, I always used dried (1 tablespoon fresh = 1 teaspoon dried). The more I've used fresh herbs, the more I've realized they add so much more FLAVOR than dried. Actually, dried herbs are best in dishes like soups and stews, where they are simmering in a sauce. That's how they add the best flavor. If a recipe calls for fresh herbs thrown in at the end, the best results are ALWAYS with fresh herbs! I remember I made a recipe with dried basil because I was out of fresh one time, and I couldn't believe the difference compared to previous times. Since then I've always tried to use fresh herbs when a recipe calls for it.

The problem, of course, is herbs are EXPENSIVE. In fact, most of the time, you can buy a potted basil plant for LESS than you can buy a tiny package of basil. And since I don't cook on a daily basis, I always end up throwing the packages away.

The solution: grow your own herbs!

It's easier than it sounds. I don't have a backyard, so I can't plant them in a yard. Instead, I have two large pots where I plant 3 herbs each. This pot has oregano, thyme, and cilantro.

Oddly enough, I used to HATE cilantro. I thought it tasted like soap. Now I can't get enough!

And below I have rosemary, basil, and parsley.

And I also have mint, in its own separate pot. Mama's got have her mojitos.

Herbs are really easy to grow. I'd recommend getting a Miracle Grow potting soil or liquid fertilizer. I actually had to cut down my herbs last year because they were growing so fast! They need lots of sunshine and LOTS of water. Living in a place where it rarely rains, I have to water the plants every day. But it's SO worth it - I've definitely saved money, plus it's super convenient to just go out to our deck and snip off a few leaves when making dinner!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Crunchy Baked Pork Chops

Source: Cooking for Two

First of all, I continue to be THRILLED with every recipe from this cookbook. I've bought 3 cookbooks this year, and I keep turning to this one when looking for new recipes on the weekend. It hasn't disappointed me so far. I have LOVED everything I've made!

It's been a LONG time since I've made pork chops. At one point, I mentioned them and I remember my husband saying that he hated them. But, there have been a few things he has CLAIMED he hated, until I made my, rather, some cookbook or online source's version. No matter! I love pork chops and the combination of ingredients seemed like they'd be really good. Plus, I've never had pork chops with any sort of breading before.

The only thing I might change for next time is to increase the egg white/mustard/flour combo by one third. I thought there wasn't enough coating for the chops. Part of that may have been the size of my egg whites - if using normal sized eggs, add an extra egg white. Then again, I lack reading comprehension and bought bone-in pork chops.

A note about pork chops: most pork chops now, because they're very lean, are injected with a solution which is meant to increase flavor and juiciness. I prefer to buy "natural" pork, which means there are NO added ingredients. To ensure the pork is juicy, dissolve 2 tablespoons of salt in one quart of cold water and let the pork chops sit in the mixture, refrigerated, for a half an hour. The result is somewhat similar to enhanced pork, but the true pork flavor is a little better. Okay, how many freaking times have I said pork in this paragraph? Porky pork pork.

Crunchy Baked Pork Chops

2 slices high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into 1-inch pieces
1 small shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Pinch dried thyme
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large egg whites
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 (6 to 8-ounce) boneless center-cut pork chops, 3/4 to 1 inch thick, sides slit (slits prevent pork from curling, cut 2 slits, 2 inches apart, on one side of the chop)

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pulse the bread in a food processor to coarse crumbs, about 8 pulses. Toss the crumbs with the shallot, garlic, oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, then spread them on on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake the crumbs, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown and dry, about 15 minutes. Let the crumbs cool to room temperature and toss with Parmesan, parsley, and thyme.

2. Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow dish. In a second shallow dish, whisk the egg whites and mustard together until combined, then whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons flour until almost smooth, with just a few pea-sized lumps. Spread the prepared bread crumbs in a third shallow dish.

3. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Spray a wire rack with vegetable oil spray and place over a rimmed baking sheet. Pat the chops dry with paper towels, and season with salt and pepper. (If you have previously brined the chops, season with pepper only.)

4. Using tongs, dredge the pork chops in the flour and shake off the excess. Coat the chops with the egg mixture, allowing the excess to drip off. Coat all sides of the chops with a thick layer of bread crumbs, pressing to help them adhere. Lay the breaded chops on the wire rack.

5. Bake the chops until the centers register 140 to 145 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the chops from the oven, and let rest on the rack until the centers register 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sesame Chicken

Source: Good Things Catered

I love chicken, but it's easy to get bored with it. It had been awhile since I'd made anything with Asian flavors, so I browsed through my Reader and this recipe caught my eye.

I LOVED the chicken! Garlic chili sauce (in the Asian section at your grocery store) has great flavor and kick! That, combined with the bread crumbs and sesame seeds, made for a very flavorful chicken. The noodles were flavorful, too...but just not my bag, baby. I like tahini in hummus, but I'm really not a huge fan of peanut butter in general. I think if you like those flavors, though, go for it! Next time I think I will make the noodles with the veggies and sesame seeds, and then splash on some soy sauce for flavor. Yum!

Sesame Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tsp sesame oil
1 heaping tablespoon Chinese garlic chili sauce
1 c. bread crumbs
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 Tbsp black sesame seeds
1 tsp olive oil

-In medium bowl, combine chicken, sesame oil and garlic chili sauce.
-Toss to combine well and place in fridge.
-Marinate chicken for at least 20 minutes and up to 2 hours.
-Remove from fridge when ready to cook and place a nonstick pan on stove over medium heat.
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-Place olive oil into pan and heat until almost smoking.
-Meanwhile another shallow bowl, add bread crumbs, garlic powder, salt, pepper, sesame seeds and toss to combine.
-Using tongs, place chicken breast into bread crumb mixture and coat well.
-Place into hot pan and repeat with remaining chicken breasts.
-Cook until golden in color on one side, about 2-3 minutes and flip.
-Cook an additional 2-3 minutes and place pan into preheated oven.
-Bake until internal temperature of 160 is achieved (do not over cook) and remove, about 10-15 minutes.
-Place chicken on warm serving plate, let rest for at least 10 minutes and serve.

Sesame Noodles

1 (8oz) package whole wheat thin spaghetti
1 large carrot, ends removed and sliced into thin matchsticks
1 heaping Tbsp tahini
1 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
1/2 tsp good quality sesame oil
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
6 green onions, sliced thinly, dark green ends removed
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 c. reserved pasta water

-Cook pasta according to package directions.
-Meanwhile, in large bowl, combine tahini, peanut butter, sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce and green onions.
-Stir to combine well and set aside.
-In last 2 minutes of cooking time, add matchstick pieces to boiling water.
-Remove 1 c. pasta water from pan and set aside.
-Drain pasta and carrots and place into large bowl along with other ingredients.
-Add 1/2 of reserved pasta water and toss to combine all ingredients.
-Add sesame seeds, let sit for 1 minute and add additional pasta water to obtain desired consistency.
-Serve warm or cold.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Garlic Cheese Bread

Source: The Pioneer Woman

When we go back to Michigan, there are 2 places I absolutely HAVE to eat: Bravo Cucina Italiana, which is a chain, but makes the most A-MA-ZING chopped salmon salad (blackened salmon, field greens, tomatoes, asparagus, feta, Parmesan, and balsamic vinagrette). I also have to get pizza and three-cheese bread from Hungry Howie's. It's funny, there really aren't that many good pizza places that I've found in California, whereas Michigan is nothing BUT pizza. I love Hungry Howie's pizza, but even more I LOVE their three-cheese bread. In a line up of my favorite indulgences, it would come out number one, every time. I've tried other versions, like Domino's, but they're just not the same.

I saw this recipe and thought, "I have my dupe!" It was pretty close, but no dupe. First off, it's made on French bread, which is good, but just not the same as pizza dough. Secondly, though I typically love the taste of green onions, I did not like them in this recipe. As we've learned, I'm a carbs and cheese purist. Do NOT get in the way of my cheese flavor!

Another suggestion is do NOT refrigerate the cheese mixture. Or, refrigerate it, and then take out awhile before you're making the recipe. Similar to spreading cold butter on just doesn't work. Soften up that mixture first!

Garlic Cheese Bread


3-½ cups Grated Cheddar Cheese
¾ cups Monterey Jack Cheese, Grated (mozzarella would be a good substitution)
½ cups Grated Parmesan Cheese
½ cups (real) Mayonnaise
4 whole Green Onions, White And Light Green Parts Minced
1 dash Salt
1 loaf Crusty French Bread
1 stick Butter
4 cloves Garlic, Finely Minced

Preparation Instructions

1. Mix cheeses with the mayonnaise and the green onions. Add dash of salt to taste and set aside or keep in fridge until you need it.

2. Cut loaf of bread in half, then each half into half again.

3. Working 1/4 loaf at a time, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet and add 1/4 of the minced garlic. Place 1 of the 1/4 loaves face down in the skillet, swirling it to soak up the butter and garlic. Allow bread to toast in the skillet, removing garlic if it starts to get too brown.

4. Repeat with remaining butter, garlic, and bread.

5. Spread cheese mixture on warm loaves and bake in a 425 degree oven until cheese is hot and bubbly, about 10 minutes.

6. Slice and serve. And then get on the Stairmaster. Pronto!