Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Greek Meal

Who doesn't love some hummus and grilled chicken in a pita? Thanks to a little restaurant chain called Garbanzo's Mediterranean Grill, Greek food is so accessible and even a little addicting. So of course while I drooled over Greek food, I plotted on how to make my own thanks to Rachael Ray!

Spicy Hummus

1 - 14.5 oz. can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
2 rounded Tb. tahini sesame paste
Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flake
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 clove garlic, crushed
Coarse salt
1/2 lemon, juiced

Chicken in a Pita

Juice of a lime or lemon
2 Tb. olive oil
2 garlic clove, peeled
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cumin
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup mint or cilantro leaves
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 Tb. chopped mint

In a blender combine juice, 1 Tb. oil, garlic, coriander, cumin, salt, pepper, and mint or cilantro leaves. Process until smooth and pour over chicken to marinate. Refrigerate chicken and allow to marinate for 30 minutes. In a small bowl stir together yogurt, cucumber and chopped mint.

In a large skillet, heat 1 Tb. oil over medium high heat. Add marinated chicken and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Heat pitas under a broiler or in a toaster oven.

Hummus, grilled chicken and pita. Mmmm!

I ended up grilling the chicken breast strips instead of cooking it on the stove. I also served up some saffron rice and grilled zucchini slices. This was such a nice alternative meal. The chicken was flavorful and the hummus was zesty and delicious. It wasn't until after did I realize that I forgot to add the Tahini paste to the hummus. Despite that, it still turned out really tasty. Although the consistency wasn't as creamy as you normally find. And even though there's red pepper flake in the hummus, it wasn't that spicy. If you're not wanting it spicy, simply just leave it out.

Tahini was a little hard to find and it comes in a large container. So you'll probably end up making a lot of hummus with the jar of Tahini you find. Hope you like hummus. But the good thing is that a can of chickpeas is inexpensive, so hummus will be a cheap snacking dip.

But I was really pleased with this meal. Easy to do and prep. Wes wasn't so excited about the cucumber yogurt dip, but I really enjoyed a little of it on top of the chicken and pita. It added a cool and refreshing sauce to the chicken. This was totally a casual meal - eating with your fingers and mixing your own ingredients to your taste.

Something fun and different to try. If you like Greek food, you'll have to give this a try!

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beer Can Chicken

The first beer can chicken I remember having was when a friend's father grilled this up for a family dinner. Except he called it a beer butt chicken. I actually don't remember much about the meal, but it's such a classic meal to grill that I had to find a recipe and give it a try myself. Enter the Neely's from Food Network.

Pat's Beer Can Grilled Chicken

Beer Can Chicken Rub:
2 Tb. smoked paprika
2 Tb. salt
2 Tb. onion powder
1 Tb. cayenne pepper
1 Tb. ground cumin
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder

For the chicken:
4 lbs. chicken, washed and dried
Vegetable oil
Beer can chicken rub
1 - 12 oz. can beer

For the rub, mix all the ingredients together. I halved the amounts so I wouldn't have any leftover. But extra rub can be stored in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

Rub the chicken and its cavity with the vegetable oil. Season the chicken with rub mixture, remembering to season the cavity. Pour out 1/4 of the beer and sit the chicken on top of the beer can. Place the chicken in the center of the hot grill and cover. Cook the chicken for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until an instant-read thermometer reads 165 degrees F. Once cooked, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Sorry I didn't get a picture of the whole chicken sitting on the can.

So the chicken took about an hour and 15 or 20 minutes to cook. The dark meat definitely takes longer to cook, so test the temperature in the thigh. And one of the legs definitely caught on fire while on the grill. But the meat turned out so moist and tender. The skin was crisp and flavorful.

Other than cleaning out the chicken (gross!) this was easy, easy, easy. If possible set the chicken on the beer can near the grill. That way you don't have to carry the chicken all the way to the grill. And we definitely leaned it against the top part of the grill just to ensure that it didn't topple over in the middle of cooking.

I think this chicken was about four pounds and there was enough for Wes and me to have leftovers the next day, which were still yummy. Give this chicken recipe a try. It's so easy and takes no time at all to prep. Yes, it's a bit gross, but the end result is worth it!

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pot Roast & Roasted Veggies

Who doesn't love a hearty pot roast. It's such a classic. I actually came across this recipe while surfing And you cook it in a crock pot so that it's basically ready when you get home. Generally I don't use a lot of Sandra Lee's recipes, but this was a good one.

Pot Roast with Roasted Root Vegetables

Pot Roast
1 1/2 lbs. beef bottom round roast
2 tsp. salt + more for seasoning
1/2 tsp. black pepper + more for seasoning
2 Tb. all-purpose flour
2 Tb. canola oil
2 carrots, cut into 2" pieces
2 stalks of celery
1 medium yellow onion
1 can (15 oz.) beef broth
1 cup water
1 Tb. minced fresh garlic
2 Tb. Worcestershire sauce
4 sprigs fresh thyme

Roasted Root Vegetables
2 carrots, cut into 3" pieces
2 russet potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
1/2 lb. turnips, cut into wedges
2 Tb. canola oil
1 tsp. each fresh rosemary and thyme leaves
1 red onion, sliced

For roast:
Season beef with salt and pepper and lightly coat with flour. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat and brown the meat on all sides. Remove to a platter and set aside.

Arrange the carrots, celery and onion in the bottom of a slow cooker and top with the seared beef. Add the broth, water, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and thyme. Set the cooker on low for 8 hours.

When finished, remove the meat. Let the vegetables and broth cool for about 5 minutes, then add to a blender. Slowly blend until smooth and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve the gravy with the pot roast and roasted vegetables

For roasted root vegetables:
One hour before the pot roast is done cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Add the vegetables to a large bowl and add the canola oil, rosemary, thyme, and onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste and arrange on a sheet tray. Roast for 30 minutes, then toss and roast another 30 minutes. Serve on a platter with roast.

These pictures don't do this meal justice.

Nothing's easier than throwing a piece of meat in the crock pot and letting it go all day. And I don't know that this hunk of meat was any different than any other slow cooker piece of meat that I've done before. What did set it apart was the gravy and roasted root vegetables.

How easy is this gravy? Take what's left in the crock pot, throw it in the blender and let it go. And I did use an onion in here because I figured it'd get blended up later and Wes would never know. And he didn't! Granted I did not use all the leftover vegetables and liquid since it would have made a lot of gravy. But this sauce adds a nice, light veggie flavor to the beef. It's not your typical brown or gray gravy.

I loved the vegetables. I only ended up using carrots and potatoes since turnips are foreign and you-know-who has an aversion to onions. I also cut the pieces a lot smaller than suggested and cranked up the heat to about 475 degrees. I originally had it at 500, but then the oil started smoking. I didn't plan ahead for the 1 hour of roasting. The result was that these vegetables were done in 20 minutes instead of an hour. And oh man, where they yummy. Crispy on one side and so full of a nice herbal flavor from the thyme and rosemary. I would make those again with anything. I think roasted vegetables are the way to go.

So an easy meal for when you don't feel like cooking. You can prep the vegetables ahead of time and when you get home or are ready to eat, throw them on the pan and dinner is done in 20 minutes (if you cook them the way I did).


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Warm Doubletree Cookies

Ever had a Doubletree cookie? They are AMAZING. At my first job, we did some offsite meetings at a Doubletree hotel, so they would occasionally send the department cookies. So delicious, we all assumed there was at least a stick of butter in each cookie. They're chocolately and nutty. Just overall yummy.

Well I had to travel for work one weekend for an event we are hosting for a diet company and I had to book a hotel. Scrolling through the list of options I saw a Doubletree. Doubletree cookie for my travels? Yes, please! Done deal. When I arrived at the hotel, around 7:30 PM local time, the front desk girl checked me and and said, "And here are your warm Doubletree cookies." I told her that was why I booked there. I'm not ashamed.

I quickly devoured the first cookie before I even had dinner. Don't ever pass up a warm cookie! I texted my friend from my old job about the cookies and she commented that shouldn't I be counting my calories since I'm going to this diet company's event tomorrow? Nope! I'm not an attendee!

Just look at these babies! I unselfishly saved the second cookie for Wes. I don't think he appreciated them as much as me. This is not a plug for Doubletree, but if you ever get a chance to stay at one, get a cookie! -Or two.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bolognese Sauce

I've talked about my love of pasta and carbs right? Well, I love a good meat sauce with my spaghetti. So why not try and make my own? I looked up a lot of recipes and many of them incorporated pork and beef. That's a lot of meat. Luckily, the Pioneer Woman had a guest blogger and fellow cook over at her house. And he made Bolognese Sauce. If there's a difference between bolognese sauce and meat sauce, I couldn't tell you. Pastor Ryan has his own blog here, but here's also the recipe on the Pioneer Woman's site. And here's the recipe:

Bolognese Sauce

1/2 cups olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
1 whole large red onion, diced
2 lbs. ground beef
2 Tb. dried oregano
2 Tb. dried basil flakes
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 cups red wine
2 Tb. Worcestershire sauce
2 cans (28 oz. each) whole tomatoes - I used a can of diced tomatoes
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or skillet over medium heat. Add grated carrots (I grated my own carrots, but you can buy a bag at the grocery store) and onions and cook for a few minutes. Make a well in the center of the mixture, and then add in ground beef. Cook for a few minutes until brown, gradually stirring it into the carrot mixture.

Throw in oregano and basil. Use fresh if you have it; if you don't it's fine. (If you use fresh herbs, double the amount.) When the meat is browned and combined with other ingredients, make another well. Add tomato paste and let it heat. Add garlic and stir to combine.

Make a well in the center of the mixture and add red wine. Stir together. Add Worcestershire and stir. Add canned tomatoes. Finally pour in milk, stir and let simmer for 30 minutes to 2 hours - however long you need. Taste here! I found out it needed some salt.

Serve with pasta and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

Look at that melted Parmesan cheese!

Ok, I was giddy with how this turned out. I halved the recipe since as it's written above is for 8 servings. And this recipe was super easy! Definitely let the sauce simmer for a while so some of the liquid cooks out. Unless you like a runnier sauce. But the outcome was thick and beefy and so delicious. It stuck to the noodles like a good sauce should.

As I mentioned above, definitely taste the sauce. It ended up needing some salt to give the flavors an extra boost. And once that salt was added, it was so much better. I skimped on the onions for reasons we all know and didn't have any red wine. I almost ended up using red wine vinegar which would've been a big no no. Instead, I substituted some sherry, which I had. If you use red wine, the sauce would probably be a little more robust. If you're not a wine drinker, go buy the little travel/airplane size bottles that you can find. That way you're not left with a big bottle of red wine that you won't drink.

Loved this Italian meal. Of course I served this with some garlic bread, you know, for the added butter and carbs. Forget a nice green salad. Although that would've been refreshing. If you do decide to make the whole 8 servings, you probably could freeze half of it for later. The amount I ended up making was enough for dinner and lunch leftovers for both Wes and me, plus a little extra.

So, so easy and a classic. Hope you give it a try!


Friday, September 17, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Hi there, ever'body! It is I, the Younger Brother, here to guest-blog every once in a while. You will, of course, excuse me as I get used to the medium.

Let's talk about Scott Pilgrim vs The World! Here's the plot you probably had in mind from the trailers: Scott Pilgrim, a twenty-something slacker in a band, spots the lovely Ramona Flowers at a party and pursues her! But if they are going to continue dating, Scott will have to defeat Ramona's Seven Evil Ex's. And that's all you really need to know! Also, it happens in Canada. Also, it's an adaptation of a 6-book series written by Bryan Lee O'Malley. And it's directed by Edgar Wright, the man who brought you Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, and Spaced (but not in that order).

If you ended up in the theater on the advice or kidnapping of friends without having seen the trailers or any other kind of preparation, the Universal Studios logo appearing as an 8-bit render, with an 8-bit fanfare, goes a long way towards shaping your expectations: this is a movie for the first generation to grow up with video games.

Scott's confrontations with the League of Evil Ex's are heavily informed by arcade fighting games, visually reproducing the "Vs" screen, continuous hit & combo counters, reversals, and including the awesome "K.O.!" announcement that we all know and love. On top of that, the Evil Ex's respond in defeat in a way that will be familiar to anyone who's ever jumped up to punch a floating block with "?" printed on it.

I'll be honest with you. I watched the trailer because I heard it was Edgar Wright. And then I read the series because I watched the trailer. And between those three (trailer, director, series), I was pretty certain I was going to love this movie. And I do.

I love the fight scenes with the Evil Ex's, especially the choreography, and especially the choreography for Evil Ex #4. I enjoyed the acting, both from the Evil Ex's, and from Scott & the people in his life - to call them Scott's supporting cast is accurate, but if you read the comics, you'll get a better sense that these people all have full & complete lives outside of what's happening with Scott Pilgrim.

If there was anything that didn't sit well with me, it's that Scott & Ramona's romance doesn't get enough time to develop properly, and by the end, you kind of feel like maybe Scott & Ramona don't quite belong together. The other bit is that the movie starts to feel like it's gone on a bit too long: there ARE 7 evil ex's we have to get through and still get the girl, after all. There's a little too much material for one film, and not quite enough for two.

Minor quibbles, easily overcome by the Epic Epicness of the film. It's true, Scott Pilgrim vs The World isn't for everyone, but if you tried to get Mario to jump farther on your NES by leaning your whole body & the controller to the side & almost falling off the couch, you'll "get" this movie. Laughs all around!

~Rambling Little Brother

PS: If you liked the movie, read the book!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The American

Seen the trailer for this movie? It doesn't tell you a whole lot. And it looks like an action movie. But it has George Clooney in it, so it must be decent right? Nope. Ever see a movie called Men Who Stare At Goats. It had George Clooney AND Ewen McGreggor and it was terrible. Nonetheless, Wes and I went to go see this. Although we could've gone to see Eat, Pray, Love. But I digress.

Since I had no clue what this movie was about, I can't give a synopsis before I write my review. So I'll just go right into it. At the theatre, I ran into one of my co-workers who warned me that another co-worker had seen it and said that this is not an action movie. He likened it to more of a love story. Armed with that knowledge, we still bought tickets for this movie. Showing in one of the theatre's largest houses, this theatre wasn't near to being full.

The movie opened, it climaxed and it ended. And that's about all you need to know. This movie, an action movie it is not, is incredibly slow. Hardly any speaking, music or action. I think they put all the action scenes in the trailer, just like they put all the funny scenes in the trailer for comedies. Clooney's character was stoic the entire time. And I'm still not sure what his character's profession was. Was he an assassin? Did he build guns? Did he do both? It wasn't very clearly explained.

The movie slowly, almost painfully builds and actually by the last 30 minutes, it got fairly interesting while still maintaining little speaking, action, or music. Surprisingly I didn't fall asleep. It's definitely a different movie. George Clooney did a fine job I suppose. He didn't have to say a whole lot. I like to play a game during Clooney movies to see how many times he tries to hold back a smile/laugh during a scene. He was pretty successful at keeping this movie to a low number.

More of an artsy movie, I guess. I noticed that this was produced by Clooney (the movie is actually based off a book). I really think it was his excuse to "work" while really vacationing in Italy.

If you're really curious about this movie, definitely Red Box it. I guess it's worth a $1 to see. Oh, and be forewarned, there's a lot of nudity in this movie and one graphically violent scene.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pesto Cheese 'n Chicken Bundles

When I saw this recipe on Pillsbury's site, I knew I was going to like it. However, I hesitated to make it because of the jalapeno element. What to do? Omit it. Problem solved. With familiar flavors, this is yummy and easy meal; courtesy of Pillsbury.

Pesto Cheese 'n Chicken Bundles

1 - 8 oz. can Pillsbury Refrigerated Crescent Dinner Rolls
1/3 cup light cream cheese with roasted garlic
1/4 purchased pesto
1 Tb. jalapeno or hot pepper jelly
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 cups cubed cooked chicken
3 Tb. crumbled feta cheese
1 Tb. water or as needed

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Separate dough into 4 rectangles. Firmly press perforations to seal. Cut each rectangle in half crosswise to make 8 pieces; press each to form 4" square.

In medium bowl, combine cream cheese, pesto, jelly and 2 Tb. of the bread crumbs; mix well. Stir in chicken and cheese.

Place 1/4 cup chicken mixture in center of each square. Bring 4 corners of each square up over filling; twist firmly to seal. Brush top and bottom of each bundle with water; coat with remaining bread crumbs. Place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 375 degrees for 14 to 22 minutes or until deep golden brown. Serve warm.

Don't these look yummy?

While I'm sure the jalapeno would've added a nice kick to this dish, I was very happy that I omitted it. You just can't go wrong with pesto, feta, cream cheese and chicken. While the presentation may look involved, don't be intimidated. This is actually a pretty easy dish to make.

I had some frozen chicken breasts that I thawed, seasoned with salt and pepper and popped in the oven at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes or so. Then I just chopped them up. If you have a rotisserie chicken, you could use that or any other cooked chicken. The chicken mixture you can definitely make ahead. Softening the cream cheese will allow you to incorporate the filling easily.
Do not soften the crescent rolls. They will get stickier and a little harder to work with and to press out into a larger square.

These little chicken bundles were very yummy. I might have added a smidge more pesto for a more prominent flavor. But Wes thought it was fine the way it was. Now, these bundles aren't very big. So definitely plan for two or three chicken bundles per person. Love the sweetness and buttery flavor of the crescent rolls against the creaminess of the chicken filling.

You can definitely tweak this dish to your liking. You could probably even use the bleu cheese and pesto mixture in this chicken dish to give a different flavor. Or you could sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top of the bundles as well. Lots of things you can do. But something easy and looks impressive. Hope you'll give it a try.

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thai Chicken Wraps

I've never had Thai food before. And now that I think about it, it's surprising that I would have saved this recipe considering that until recently, I didn't really like cucumber, still not a huge peanut butter person and all these flavors were some what foreign.

But tastes and recipe reading has evolved, so I tried this recipe out one day. No idea where it came from, but here it is:

Thai Chicken Wrap with Spicy Peanut Sauce

3 - 6 oz. chicken breasts
1 Tb. soy sauce
1 Tb. vegetable oil
1 Tb. grill seasoning

1/2 seedless cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced on an angle
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1 cup shredded carrots
3 scallions, sliced on an angle
12 basil leaves, chopped or torn
3 Tb. chopped mint leaves (4 sprigs)
1 Tb. sesame seeds
2 tsp. sugar
2 Tb. rice wine vinegar or white vinegar

Spicy Peanut Sauce:
1/4 cup room temperature chunky peanut butter
2 Tb. soy sauce
1 Tb. rice wine vinegar or white vinegar
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tb. vegetable oil

12" flour tortilla wraps

Heat a grill pan over high heat. Toss chicken with soy and oil and grill 6 minutes on each side.

Combine cucumber, sprouts, carrots, scallions, basil, mint and sesame with a generous sprinkle of sugar and vinegar. Season salad with salt to taste.

Whisk peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar and cayenne together. Stream in vegetable oil.

Slice cooked chicken on an angle. Toss with veggies and herbs.

Heat tortillas. Pile chicken and veggies in wraps and drizzle liberally with spicy peanut sauce before wrapping and rolling.

Love all the colors in this wrap.

So I tried the salad before putting it in the wrap and I really liked it. I tried the peanut sauce and it was ok, but I went with it. I was pretty conservative with the peanut sauce. The recipe says to add it liberally. Try the sauce after you make it. And if you like it, go ahead and go crazy. I almost tossed the chicken, salad and peanut sauce together and am so glad I didn't.

The peanut sauce was just a little too peanut buttery for me. I didn't use the chunky stuff either. I stuck with the smooth kind. Granted, if I was going to make a PB&J, I like the chunky stuff. Anyway, not being a big peanut butter fan, I wasn't too wild about the sauce. And it wasn't that spicy. Maybe I needed to add more cayenne. But the peanut butter flavor was just too overpowering for me to enjoy.

I did like the textures of this wrap. There was the chicken and the nice crunch of the carrots and cucumber. The salad added a nice refreshing aspect to the wrap. The salad called for three tablespoons of chopped mint. I only used about 1 tablespoon. While it wasn't a standout flavor, there did become a hint of mint at the end of the bite. And the mixture of mint with basil and the other vegetables with the dressing, just didn't do it for me. So, go easy on the mint would be my suggestion. It definitely does add an interesting flavor mix in the salad.

Not a fan of this wrap. So much so, that I didn't even finish one half of the wrap. Luckily the sweet potato fries were able to tie me over. Wes was a little gentler on the reviews, but I don't think he was a fan either.

If you like Thai food, you might enjoy this wrap. Let me know if you do try it and like it. Then tell me where I went wrong!