Monday, October 11, 2010

Eat Pray Love

As you know, I'm a food lover. So when the title of the movie has the word "eat" in it, I'm pretty tempted to go see it. Heather and I were able to go to the movies one night -- part of their frugal fall furlough (say that ten times fast).

This move is based off a woman's memoirs to "find herself." And the three titular elements are what help her find her balance in life. Julia Roberts plays Liz who ends her marriage and goes off to travel the world to find who she is and what's important in life.

Most of the women I talked to gave good reviews to this movie. And Julia Roberts' movies usually don't disappoint. I had never read the book before. But remember it getting good reviews when it came out. In Liz's first venture, she goes to Italy and rediscovers the joy of eating and the community that she builds there. It's the first step in changing her thinking about life. She then ventures India to learn how to pray. Finally she travels to Bali to relearn how to love. The scenery and backdrop of this movie are beautiful. It's always fun to see different places.

I don't know how invested I was in watching Liz try to find herself. Personally, I thought it was a little extreme the extents she went to to find meaning in her life again. Julia Roberts did a decent job. I think she shines most when her character was in Italy and seemed to be really enjoying herself. Roberts does her best work when her characters are happy and sunny.

Not a bad movie. Unless you're a big fan of the book or of Roberts, this movie can definitely wait to be rented and viewed at home. Of course, if you are a fan of the book, chances are the movie won't live up to the book.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Rolls

Like I've mentioned before, I like to drool over The Pioneer Woman's cooking blog. More often than not, there's probably a pool of drool right in front of my keyboard. This was no exception with Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Rolls. And so happy was I when I got to actually test this recipe out on the wonderful VanHorns. Always glad to have an excuse to make some sweets! Courtesy of The Pioneer Woman, here is her recipe for chocolate chip cinnamon rolls:

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Rolls
- serves 24
I halved the recipe and there was more than enough left over.

4 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup canola oil - I used vegetable oil
9 cups all-purpose flour
2 packages (4 1/2 tsp.) active dry yeast
1 tsp. (heaping) salt
1 tsp. (scant) baking soda
1 tsp. (heaping) baking powder
1 stick butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips or chunks
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
1 stick of butter, softened
1 cup whole milk

Mix milk, 1 cup sugar, and canola (vegetable) oil in a pot. Heat until very warm but not boiling. Allow to cool until slightly warmer than lukewarm.

Sprinkle yeast over the surface of the liquid, then add in 8 cups flour. Stir gently until totally combined. Mixture will be very wet and sticky. Cover with a tea towel, keep in a draft-free place, and allow to sit for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, add in an additional cup of flour, as well as the salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix until combined. Refrigerate dough, covered, until you need it. (Refrigerating the dough helps make it easier to handle.) I made the dough the night before and made the rolls in the morning.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread melted butter in the bottom of pie pans or 9x13" baking dishes.

Divide dough in half. Store one half in the fridge for another use. Turn the other half of the dough onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle, about 24 inches wide by 10-12 inches deep. Add vanilla to melted butter, then drizzle mixture all over the surface of the dough. Use fingers to spread evenly. Mix sugar and salt and sprinkle it evenly over the butter. Follow with the brown sugar, chocolate chips, and chopped nuts if using.

Beginning at the side furthest from you, roll dough toward you until it's in the shape of a tight log. Pinch the edges to seal. Slice into 1/2" to 3/4" thick rolls and lay, cut side down, in buttered baking dishes. Allow to rise for 20 minutes, then place in oven and bake for 14 to 20 minutes, or until deep golden brown on top.

Make icing: Mix butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and salt in an electric mixer or until smooth and pourable.

Remove rolls from oven and allow to sit five minutes before drizzling icing all over the rolls. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Does your tooth hurt from looking at all the sugar on this plate?

Holy moly were these yummy and full of sugary goodness. And it made a lot -- two baking dishes full! So definitely halve the recipe, unless you're literally feeding an army. Each person ate about two rolls. Between four adults and two toddlers, we barely finished one pan.

The dough was light and fluffy with a nice golden crust on the top and sides. I really liked that in almost every bite was a little bit of melted chocolate. The icing wasn't super thick. If you like a thicker icing, don't add all the milk right away. Just add enough until you get the consistency you like.

These sweet treats are definitely not diet food. With the whole milk, all the butter, and the pounds of sugar, don't make this recipe if you're trying to keep your figure. They actually hold up well for the next day. Just 'nuke them in the microwave for about 15 seconds, and you're back to the sense of out-of-the-oven rolls.

In terms of difficulty, this was probably more of an intermediate level recipe. If you've worked with yeast and dough before, then this will be pretty easy. But it can be somewhat intimidating if you're unfamiliar with homemade dough. But have no fear, just follow the recipe and directions and you'll end up with a wonderful sugar comma for breakfast.

Or if you're really ambitious, heat a roll up in the microwave and add a scoop of ice cream for dessert. Just don't do it right before bed, because you'll for sure end up with a sugar-rush.

Happy cooking!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oven Fried Chicken

The VanHorn family took a "Frugal Fall Furlough" to Denver the other weekend and stayed with us while enjoying some free activities. We were happy to host them and their twin girls, as that gives me an excuse to cook and serve some food for friends. I believe this recipe came from Martha Stewart's Real Food magazine and I love it. Who doesn't love fried chicken? And this one is a little healthier since it's "fried" in the oven.

Oven Fried Chicken

1 whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces
1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt & pepper
Breadcrumbs - make your own or use store-bought

Remove skin from chicken. In a large bowl, toss chicken with buttermilk, garlic, 2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes (or refrigerate up to overnight.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Set a wire rack over a baking sheet.

Working once piece at a time, life the chicken from buttermilk mixture (letting excess drip off) and dredge in breadcrumbs, pressing firmly to adhere. Transfer chicken to rack.

Bake, without turning, until cooked through, 30-40 minutes, tenting with foil if browning too quickly.

Homemade (healthy) KFC.

So I used two frying chickens and cut them up. I didn't exactly end up with 10 pieces each since I forgot the thighs on once and left all of the chicken breasts intact. Theoretically, you could cut the breasts in half since they are huge. But you should have, chicken breasts, legs, thighs and wings if you cut the chicken correctly. Or, see if the butcher at the grocery store will do it for you. Save time and the ick factor.

I also suggest using flavored breadcrumbs or heavily season plain breadcrumbs. This is what makes the chicken super flavorful. The buttermilk definitely infuses into the chicken meat while it's marinating, creating moist and delicious meat, but you also want that spice flavor from the "batter" too.

Yummy, yummy chicken. And super, duper, SO EASY! The hardest part is cutting up the chicken. But like I said, get your friendly butcher to see if s/he will help you out. Or buy a chicken already cut up if they're available.

A must try and hopefully a staple to your recipe repertoire.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Grilled Flatbread with Beef, White Bean Puree and Sun-Dried Tomato Chutney

Normally I'm not a fan of Bobby Flay. And I'm not sure how I found this recipe, but when I read it, I decided to give it a try. Gotta give Food Network's grill master at least one try before I completely count him out. I personally think he could've came up with a better name for this meal than simply listing out the ingredients. But nonetheless, here it is:

Grilled Flatbread with Beef, White Bean Puree and Sun-Dried Tomato Chutney

1 - 8 oz. beef tenderloin (I used two tenderloins)
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

White Bean Puree:
1 cup cooked white beans, plus 1/4 cup cooking liquid or 1 - 15 oz. can white beans, slightly drained
3 cloves garlic, smashed
3 Tb. olive oil
2 Tb. lemon juice
1 Tb. fresh thyme leaves
Salt & pepper

Sun-Dried Tomato Chutney:
6 sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained and julienned
2 Tb. olive oil
2 Tb. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1/4 chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 1/2 cups warm water (105 - 110 degrees F)
1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tb. olive oil, plus more for bowl

4 roasted shallots, sliced thin

To roast shallots on the grill: place the shallot in the center of a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bring the edges of the foil together and scrunch to seal tightly. Place on a hot grill, close the cover and "roast" for 25 to 30 minutes or until soft. Remove the skin and slice.

For flatbread: Mix water and yeast in a large bowl and let stand 5 minutes to proof. Gradually pour in 2 cups of the flour and stir to incorporate. Mix for about 1 minute to form a sponge. Let stand, covered, for at least 1 hour.

Put sponge in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook, add the salt and oil, then add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to form a dough. Remove from bowl and knead. Place in a clean oiled bowl and let rise, slowly, about 2 1/2 hours. Divide dough into 4 balls, if desired, let rise again for 1/2 hour and then roll out as desired.

For beef: combine meat, olive oil, and garlic in a large resealable plastic bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.Preheat the grill to high. Grill on both sides for 3 to 4 minutes, for medium-rare. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes and then slice thinly.

Puree the beans, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and thyme in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix together tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, honey and parsley. I ended up just using dried parsley. So I used half the amount the recipe suggests. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Heat grill to high.

Flatten flatbread dough and gently press into a large rectangle ad throw on the grill. Grill on 1 side until golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from grill, turn over and spread each flatbread with a thin layer of white bean puree, sliced beef, roasted shallots and tomato chutney. Return to grill, close cover and cook 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Fanciest pizza I ever did see.

So this meal seems pretty involved. It's actually not too hard to make, just a lot of steps. I made the tomato chutney and white bean spread ahead of time so that it was ready to go that night. I also made the flatbread dough ahead of time and just kept it covered with saran wrap in the refrigerator until I was ready to roll it out. Of course the marinating takes planning ahead.

When I was ready to make the meal, the meat definitely took longer than the 3 to 4 minutes on each side that recipe suggests. Granted, I like my meat a little more well-done than rare. The flatbread, once rolled out, took no time at all to cook. I ended up making 4 flatbread and each one was about half the size of a baking sheet. With all the ingredients piled on each flatbread, it was more than enough for one person.

So this meal didn't turn out as mouth-watering yummy as I had anticipated. The white bean puree got a little lost as the base. To me, it almost blended in with the bread so much, that it tasted a little like I was eating raw flour on the bread. A part from the bread though, the puree was delicious! The tomato chutney definitely gives this meal the flavor kick with the sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. There might have been a little more flavor and texture difference if I had used fresh parsley instead of dried. The meat was a very tender piece of meat. And even though it got cooked to well-done, it wasn't try at all.

Again, with the flatbread being so big, it was a little awkward to eat. You could eat it like a pizza or cut into it with a fork and knife. Wes did the former. I did the latter. If I were to make this meal again, I might even plate the different elements differently which might enhance the dish a little more for me.

Overall, not a bad meal. But not one that stands out as being amazing. It definitely takes a lot of planning and it helps if you make things ahead of time. I'd have to say that Bobby Flay is 0 and 1 in my book for his recipes. But not a bad meal to try if you're looking for a fancy, impressive meal.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Town

Apparently there's a town in the surrounding region of Boston that outputs the most robbers in the country. That's the premise of The Town. Ben Affleck and his buddies are professional bank robbers. One heist goes wrong and they end up kidnapping a bank employee. To ensure she doesn't, Affleck must make sure that this bank employee didn't see anything and doesn't go to the FBI/police.

Preliminary reviews for this movie came back mostly positive. The trailers certainly looked enticing and this movie wasn't disappointing. The plot was actually really good and developed along nicely. The nice thing was that the characters were pretty compelling. They weren't just simple bank robbers with one thing on their mind. Other factors in life steered the decisions they made. Ok, maybe that was just Affleck's character, but he's the focus anyway.

I liked Rebecca Hall as Claire, the kidnapped bank employee. She has such a innocence and sweetness in her voice. Maybe she's just good at playing "the victim" like she did in The Prestige. Jeremy Renner also did a good job as the thug of the movie. He might be the so-called "villain" as his character's main drive is greed. He and Affleck were believable as childhood pals who got wrapped up in the world of thievery. I feel like Renner likes those kinds of tough-guy roles since he was sort of a rebel in The Hurt Locker. And let's not forget Mad Men's Jon Hamm as the FBI agent hot on the gangs trail. He did a commendable job, but his character seemed to get lost among all the other stars of the movie. And then there's Blake Lively who plays Renner's character's sister. She somewhat of a prostitute and definitely hooked on drugs. Lively had a lot of buzz about her performance and she did an incredible job as playing a strung out, high 20-something.

Overall, a great movie. One of my co-workers said that this and Inception were at the top of the movie list this year. And I wouldn't disagree. If it's still playing in the theatre, go see it. Of course you could wait until it comes out on video, but as much of an entertaining movie as this was, I wouldn't wait.