Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thai Basil Chicken Stir-fry

My favorite pan-Asian restaurant in Chicago is pingpong, found in the Lakeview neighborhood. They have the best stir-fry's and Pad Thai that I have found in the city so far. Lesley (my former roommate) and I discovered the restaurant 6 years ago when we first moved to Chicago and I have been going back ever since. I love that their stir-fry's are full of fresh vegetables, they offer brown rice on the side, and the dishes don't taste too oily. Plus they give you chocolate fortune cookies which are amazing!

I usually order the same thing, the Spicy Garlic Chicken, because I love it so much. Brady tends to switch up his order more often, therefore allowing me to try the other dishes on the menu.  Recently he got the Thai Basil Chicken and it was so good, I have been craving it ever since! I found a similar recipe online this week and we gave it a try. We both really liked the dish. It had a great flavor. I think we were both in agreement though that it could have had a bit more sauce so I have doubled the sauce ingredients listed below. If you like a less saucy stir-fry just half the sauce ingredients.

** The picture doesn't look like much but I promise it tastes good! 

Thai Basil Chicken Stir-fry
** adapted from Tastes of Home: Easy Asian Homecooking Recipes
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Serves 2
Prep/Cook Time: 20 minutes

2 chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
handful of basil
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 shallots, sliced thinly
2-3 Serrano chili peppers, seeded and chopped
3 T. fish sauce
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
2-3 T. sugar- (start with 2 T and you can always add a little more)
cooked brown jasmine rice
* I would also suggest adding a sliced red pepper, we didn't have one but I think that would have been a nice addition.

Heat up a wok or large skillet until almost smoking. Add some cooking oil and swirl to coat. Turn heat to medium and add the chicken. Stir-fry till about browned on the outside (not fully cooked). Remove skillet from the heat and put chicken on a plate.

Heat up the pan again, and add a little more oil, swirling to coat. Turn heat to medium and add shallots, garlic, and chillis. Fry to aromatic. Turn heat up and quickly add chicken chunks.

Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. Stir chicken well to coat evenly. Continue stir-frying until chicken is cooked through. Do a taste to check and see if you need more fish sauce or sugar. Quickly add in the basil and stir well to coat. Remove from the heat and serve over rice.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Black Bean Soup

I love Trader Joe's boxed soups. I make homemade soup all the time, but sometimes for convenience sake it's nice to just pick up a boxed soup. I really like the Latin Style Black Bean Soup, it has great flavor. My only complaint is that the consistency is very thin. I have bought this soup a few times now and doctored it up with whatever I have in the fridge and pantry to give it a more homemade taste. I think the addition of the black beans is a must because the soup is so thin but the rest of the ingredients were just things I had on hand, although I have to say it turned out really well!

Black Bean Soup

Prep/Cook Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4
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1 box of Trader Joes Latin Style Black Bean Soup
2 chicken sausage links, cut into small pieces (I used the Spicy Jalapeno variety from Trader Joe's)
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
suggested garnishes: shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa verde, chopped cilantro

Pour the soup into a large soup pot. Heat on medium high heat. Stir in the chicken sausage and black beans. Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium high heat and spray with PAM. Saute the red onion and jalapeno for a few minutes, until slightly browned. Add the onion mixture to the soup pot. Simmer the soup for about 20 minutes. Garnish soup as desired.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rosemary Focaccia

It's hard to beat homemade bread. It tastes good and makes the house smell amazing. The thing about bread is it really isn't that difficult and it's incredibly cheap, it's just a little time consuming. Like it or not, time is something that I have a lot of right now. I am momentarily at a standstill in the job application process so I thought why not make homemade focaccia bread for our Friday night pasta dinner. I thought the bread turned out well, it could have been a little softer (I may have over kneaded the dough), but I loved the addition of the rosemary and it went great with the pasta.

Rosemary Focaccia
** from

Prep/Cook Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Serves: 8

1 1/4 c. boiling water
4 T. chopped fresh rosemary, divided
1 T. honey
1 T. garlic, minced
1 package dry yeast
3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
3 T. olive oil, divided
1 tsp salt
1 tsp water
1 egg yolk
1 tsp sea salt
4 garlic cloves, chopped

In a glass measuring cup, combine boiling water, 2 tsp rosemary, honey, and minced garlic; cool to 100-110 degrees. Pour mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle yeast over the mixture; let stand 5 minutes. Add flour, 2 T. oil, and 1 tsp salt to the mixer. Attach a dough hook to the stand mixer and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If you don't have a stand mixer or a dough hook, knead bread by hand. If dough is sticky, add 1 T. of flour at a time until smooth.

Transfer dough to a well oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled in size. Punch dough down. Spray a baking sheet with PAM and pat dough into a 9x12 rectangle on the prepared baking sheet. Cover and let rise 20 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 350. In a small bowl, combine 1 T. olive water, water, and egg yolk; set aside. Uncover dough. Make indentations in the top of the dough using the handle of a wooden spoon or just use your fingers. Brush egg mixture over dough. You don't need to use all of the egg and oil mixture, just enough to coat the top of the bread. Sprinkle bread with remaining rosemary, sea salt and chopped garlic.

Bake at 350 for 22-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rigatoni with Vegetable Bolognese

Exactly a year ago I cooked for Brady for the first time. We had been dating for about a month and I wanted to cook something special so I made homemade bolognese. It was awesome, if do say so myself, and I am pretty sure that dish helped me win Brady over. There is definitely some truth to the saying "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

I wanted to make the bolognese for us last night but the recipe calls for three different kinds of meat - not exactly Lent friendly. I did some searching and came across a Giada De Laurentiis recipe for a vegetable bolognese that sounded delicious and got tons of reviews so I gave it a try. I thought the dish turned out great, very different from my original bolognese, but I loved that it was hearty and filling even though it was meat free.

** I linked my original bolognese recipe in case anyone is looking for a good classic bolognese recipe or has a man that they want to impress :)

Rigatoni with Vegetable Bolognese
** modified from Food Network, courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis
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Serves 4-6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (I only used 1/2 ounce)
1 1/2 cups hot water
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves
2 T. olive oil
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano leaves
2 tsp salt
1 tsp finely ground black pepper
5 ounces assorted mushrooms (like shiitake, cremini, and brown), stemmed and chopped
2 T. tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1 pound whole wheat rigatoni pasta
1/4 cup Parmesan

Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with the 1 1/2 cups very hot water. Set aside and let the mushrooms soften.

Finely chop the carrots, onion, bell pepper and garlic. Place the olive oil in a large skillet or dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper and cook until tender, about 6 minutes. Strain the porcini mushrooms, reserving the mushroom liquid. Add the porcini mushrooms, fresh mushrooms, and tomato paste and continue cooking, stirring to dissolve the tomato paste, until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the porcini mushroom liquid and red wine. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and let the sauce simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the mascarpone cheese and stir just until the cheese is incorporated.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid (which while typing this I now realize we forgot to do). Toss the pasta with the sauce mixture. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid if necessary. Serve garnished with fresh Parmesan.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mahi-mahi with Spicy Citrus Salsa

I am trying to use up the huge bag of frozen mahi-mahi that I bought months ago at Costco. I really like mahi-mahi and it's easy to prepare but I have gotten a little tired of the usual ways that I prepare it. I recently came across a recipe for mahi-mahi on foodgawker that sounded perfect for the onset of spring, combining fresh produce and grilled mahi-mahi. I thought it turned out great, it was light but the citrus salsa really added a kick to the mild fish.

Mahi-mahi with Spicy Citrus Salsa

** adapted from Indonesia Eats
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Serves 2
Prep/Cook Time: 20 minutes

1 grapefruit
1 orange
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup avocado, diced
2 tsp jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and minced
2 tsp lime juice
1 T. chopped cilantro
2 mahi-mahi fillets

Cut the grapefruit in half, cut between the membranes to remove the segments. Add the grapefruit to a bowl. Peel the orange, cut each orange segment in half and add to the bowl. Next combine the avocado, jalapeno pepper, lime juice and cilantro in the bowl and stir to combine. Cover until ready to use.

Heat a grill pan over medium high heat. Spray the pan with PAM and then cook the fish for about 5 minutes on each side or until flaky. Serve the fish over a large spoonful of the citrus salsa.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Asian Chicken Salad

I love Corner Bakery's Asian Wanton Salad. I have been wanting to recreate it for a while now but just haven't gotten around to it. Now that I am done with student teaching and have a little more time on my hands I decided it would be a good week to make my own version of the salad. I didn't have a recipe, I just went off the ingredients listed on Corner Bakery's website and tweaked it to suit my taste.  Normally I would make my own dressing but I found a light dressing on sale that sounded good and went with that for convenience sake. I thought the salad turned out great plus it was incredibly easy to throw together and made a ton so I will be able to eat it for lunch all week.

Asian Chicken Salad
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Serves 6
Prep Time: 10 minutes

rotisserie chicken, meat removed from the bone and cut into strips
8 oz. mixed greens
1 head of napa cabbage, chopped
1 red pepper, cut into small strips
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup shelled edamame
1 cup cherry tomatoes (I omitted this)
1 cup chopped cucumber (I omitted this)
Kens Light Asian Sesame with Ginger and Soy dressing
crispy rice noodles for garnish

In a large bowl combine chicken through cucumber. Drizzle with Kens Light salad dressing and toss to combine. Garnish with crispy rice noodles.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sicilian Chicken

Last night I stumbled upon what turned out to be another great Cooking Light recipe. I wanted to make something using a few of the random ingredients that I already had on hand. After searching the internet for a bit, I came across this recipe for Sicilian Chicken. The dish was incredibly simple to make and it only took about 20 minutes. I loved that despite the fact that it's healthy (300 calories/6 grams fat), the dish had tons of flavor. This is a great week night recipe for when you want something fast and healthy.

Sicilian Chicken
** adapted from Cooking Light
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Serves 4
Prep/Cook Time: 20 minutes

4 (6 oz) skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 T. olive oil
1/2 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. sliced Sicilian or Spanish olives
1/4 c. golden raisins
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
1 (14.5 oz) can diced no-salt added tomatoes, undrained
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Add wine; cook 1 minute. Add olives and the next 4 ingredients (through tomatoes); bring a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer 8 minutes or until chicken is done. Serve garnished with chopped basil.

** I served mine with a side of orzo and a big salad. If you make orzo, I suggest boiling a pot of water while you cook the chicken. The water will be boiling about the same time you start adding the remaining  ingredients to the chicken and everything will be done at the same time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Apple Cider Braised Pork Shoulder

I have been wanting to make this recipe for Apple Cider Braised Pork for a very long time. My mom and I went to a Chopping Block class two years ago and this was one of the dishes that we made. My mom has made it for company on numerous occasions and it's always a huge hit. I finally made it this past weekend and I can't believe it took me this long, it is so good and incredibly easy.

I think a lot of people are scared by the word braising. It sounds complicated and one might think it requires a lot of cooking experience. The only thing that it requires is a little extra time, so perfect for a weekend meal. The great thing is that most braised dishes take a cheap cut of meat which gets incredibly tender after a few hours of cooking in the braising liquid.

I served the pork with a root vegetable smash and a great winter salad that Brady found. The pork recipe makes a lot but the leftovers are just as good the next day and I am guessing that most people eating this dish will go for seconds, I know we did!

Apple Cider Braised Pork Shoulder
** recipe from The Chopping Block
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Serves: 6
Prep/Cook Time: 2 1/2 hours

3 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 2 inch pieces
salt and pepper
2 T. grapeseed oil (I would suggest investing in this because it has a higher heat factor that regular evoo)
1 onion, sliced
1 c. hard apple cider, I used Woodchuck Amber
1 c. apple cider
1 c. chicken stock
1 T. rosemary, chopped

Heat a heavy dutch oven over medium high heat and add oil. Season the pork with salt and pepper. In a couple of batches, sear the pork on all sides until golden brown. Remove the pork from the pan and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium and saute the onions until lightly caramelized. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Deglaze the pan with the ciders and reduce by half. Add the stock and pork to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook covered until the pork is fork tender, about 2 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with rosemary.

Root Vegetable Smash
** recipe from The Chopping Block
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Serves: 8 (you can easily halve this, I did and it turned out great)
Prep/Cook Time: 30 minutes

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 pound rutabaga, peeled and cut into a large dice
1 pound turnips, peeled and quartered
1 T. sea salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1-2 cups milk (I used skim)
salt and pepper to taste

Place the sweet potatoes, rutabaga and turnips in a large pot of salted water, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the root vegetables are tender when pierced with a knife.

Drain vegetables thoroughly and return to pot. Add butter and mash partially with a potato masher or immersion blender. Add milk 1/2 cup at a time and continue mashing until desired consistency is reached. Season with salt and pepper.

See link for the salad we made,

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Anniversary Dinner at Sprout

 This past weekend Brady and I went to Sprout in Lincoln Park to celebrate our anniversary. Top Chef contestant Dale Levitski opened Sprout last year and I have been wanting to go ever since. I was not disappointed, I loved the restaurant. The food was amazing, the restaurant was gorgeous, and the bartender threw in a free glass of champagne for us since she overhead us say it was our anniversary (I may start dropping the anniversary line more often if it means free champagne!)

Sprout has a prix fixe bistro menu and we decided to add wine pairings so not only did we get to experience great food but I also tried some fun wines that I wouldn't necessarily have ordered on my own. For a starter I had the citrus, which was a salad composed of greens, citrus fruits and a mustard dressing and Brady had the duck, which was served two ways. I liked what I ordered but I really liked Brady's duck.

For my main course I had onaga, which is a Hawaiian fish similar to snapper. It was served in a miso broth with edamame and butternut squash. I absolutely loved the dish and plan to try and recreate it. I thought the combination of the edamame and butternut was really unique but worked really well together. For Brady's main course he had the quail with stuffing and fois gras. It was really good too, it's hard to beat good stuffing in my opinion!

There were intermezzo's served between the starter course and main course and then before the desert course. The first was a green soup, I honestly can't remember if it was made with leeks or peas but it was very tasty. Then for the second intermezzo we had melted cheddar cheese in between two Parmesan crisps served with raisin jam on the side. It was incredible. Crispy cheese plus melted cheese, what's not to like???

Picture of the "Grilled Cheese" taken off of Sprouts Website
For dessert Brady got the corn, which was perfect considering his love for popcorn. It was a mix of brioche, popcorn and corn kernels, vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. I can't remember the name of what I had. I should have been taking notes, although I am not sure how precise they would have been after the wine pairings... Forgotten name aside, my dessert consisted of a waffle, vanilla ice cream, candied bacon and a bourbon/syrup sauce- YUM! The food was really as great as it all sounds and I thought Sprout was the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Asian Potsticker Soup

This past weekend Brady's family was in town. We had a great weekend. We went to Table 52 and it was honestly just as amazing the second time around. Their food is so great and the restaurant is beautiful. We also went to De Cero, a Mexican restaurant in the West Loop that has fun a la carte taco's and great margarita's. To top off the weekend we went to the David Gray concert at the Chicago Theater- it was AMAZING and a dream come true for me. I loved every minute of it.

The downside to the weekend was my wallet was stolen (big sob). Cash, gift cards, credit cards, the nice wallet I got for Christmas, all gone. Very depressing and a huge pain to deal with. I am not sure who stole it, probably the guy that kept bumping into me at the bar, but I really hope he had fun wracking up $200 at 7 Eleven and is enjoying my new Coach wallet.

After the busy weekend and the upsetting wallet situation I decided I needed something nourishing and warm for dinner this week. I found a recipe for Asian Potsticker Soup in Brady's Trader Joe's Cookbook (it's still at my place so I figure why not use it). I had all of the ingredients so no grocery shopping this week. I thought it was really good. Super simple and perfect for a night when you want to throw everything in a pot, let it simmer for a few minutes and have a nice warm and comforting meal.

Asian Potsticker Soup
** from The I Heart Trader Joe's Cookbook
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Serves 4
Prep/Cook Time: 20 minutes

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 T. rice vinegar
1 T. soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 (16 oz) package frozen chicken or vegetable potstickers (about 12)
1 (20 oz) bag stir-fry vegetables
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons sesame oil
dash of crushed red pepper flakes

In a medium saucepan, combine broth, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic. Bring to a boil. Add the potstickers and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 4 minutes. Add stir-fry vegetables and simmer until vegetables are tender and potstickers are cooked through, about 3 minutes. Garnish with green onions and a drizzle of sesame oil. Sprinkle a few crushed red pepper flakes on top.