Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Triple Layer Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Filling & Chocolate Ganache Frosting

I know what you are thinking- Isn't tomorrow Thanksgiving?  Shouldn't this post be about turkey, or mashed potatoes, or stuffing or even pumpkin pie?  Well, it's not.  It's about Chocolate Cake.  Awesome chocolate cake.  Dense, rich, chocolaty deliciously awesome chocolate cake.  Truly awesome chocolate cake.  Did I mention awesome?  Cause it is, for sure.  In my Husband's family Thanksgiving isn't just about Thanksgiving, it's also about Birthday's.  His two brothers and sister are actually triplets, and their birthday is the same week as Thanksgiving, so Turkey Day is a good day to celebrate, since the whole family has a chance to be together.   I offered to make the birthday cake for tomorrow, so tonight, instead of sharing a traditional Thanksgiving recipe, I'm sharing my Chocolate Cake.  I found this recipe online at a few years ago and it's become my go-to cake for birthdays, holidays, any special occasion.  It's not very sweet, in fact all the coffee and semi-sweet chocolate gives it a rich dark chocolate flavor and as you might have guessed, I think it's awesome.

I've made a few tweaks to the original version.  My version is a triple layer cake and has a raspberry filling between the cake layers.  I also finish the cake off with a ring of fresh raspberries around the top and the base (which quite nicely disguises my amateur cake decorating skills).  But the basic cake recipe is almost the same as the original.  Chocolate lovers rejoice- this is quite possibly the best chocolate cake ever.  And if you don't like chocolate?  Stay far far away.

Triple Layer Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Filling & Chocolate Ganache Frosting
3 9" round cake pans
waxed paper
baking spray with flour
Fresh Raspberries
For the cake:
3 ounces of good quality semisweet chocolate 
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (do not use cake flour)
1 1/2 cups good quality unsweetened cocoa powder (not the Dutch process kind)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup canola oil (or whatever vegetable oil you have handy)
1 1/2 cups well-shaken low fat buttermilk 
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Ganache frosting:
2 (12 ounce) bags of good quality semisweet chocolate chips (Guittard brand is especially good)
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
2/3 stick sweet cream butter
For the Filling
1 large jar of raspberry jam

Make the Cake Layers First-
  1. Prepare the Cake Pans. Spray the pans with baking spray (the kind that has flour in the spray), line the bottoms of the pans with wax paper and spray the waxed paper as well. If you only have 2 cake pans, it's not a problem, 1/3 of the batter can sit, covered, while the first 2 layers bake and cool.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees
  2. Melt the Chocolate in Hot Coffee.  Finely chop the semisweet bakers chocolate bar and then combine with fresh hot coffee in a medium sized bowl. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
  3. Sift the Dry Ingredients.  Sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. 
  4. Mix the Wet Ingredients.  In another large bowl beat the eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a stand mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add the oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate/coffee mixture to the eggs, beating until combined well. 
  5. Add the Dry Ingredients to the Wet.  Add the sugar/flour mixture into to the wet ingredients and beat on medium speed until just combined well. 
  6. Add to Cake Pans & Bake.  Divide the batter between the 3 pans and bake in the middle of the oven until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour.
  7. Cool Cake Layers.  Cool the layers in their pans on a cooling rack for about 20 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the pans and invert the layers onto the cooling racks. Remove the wax paper and let the layers cool completely on the wire racks. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
Make the Ganache Frosting:
  1. Heat up the Cream, Sugar & Corn Syrup.  In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring the cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until the sugar is dissolved. 
  2. Add in the Chocolate & Butter.  Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the chocolate chips, whisking until the chocolate is melted. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to frosting, whisking until the ganache is smooth and shiny.
  3. Cool.  Transfer the frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on the chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill the frosting until it is a spreadable consistency). There will be lots of extra frosting left over (Yay!).
Assemble the cake:
  1. Trim Cake Layers.  If the tops of the layers rounded up when they baked, trim the top so that the layers are flat and level. 
  2. Cover Layers with Raspberry Jam.  Spread some raspberry jam over the leveled layers. 
  3. Build the cake and Frost.  Place the bottom layer on your cake plate.  It helps to put some waxed paper around the bottom of the cake, so that you can frost it easily, then slide the waxed paper out and not have a messy cake plate. Spread some ganache over the raspberry jam covered bottom layer. and put the next layer on. Spread some ganache over that raspberry jam covered layer as well. Once the top layer is on, pour the ganache frosting over the top and allow it to go over the sides. Use a large wide frosting blade to spread the sides and top with the ganache. Be careful when working on the top & sides to not let the raspberry seeds show through the frosting.
  4. Add the Raspberry Decorations & Finish Chilling the Cake.  Let the ganache set in the fridge for about 15 minutes and then ring the top of the cake with 1 row of raspberries.  Add a second row around the bottom of the cake.  Put the cake back in the fridge, covered, for at least an hour, so that the ganache can finish setting up.
  5. Serve!  Bring the cake to room temperature before serving.  This cake screams for a glass of milk along side, it is very very rich.
The cake keeps in the fridge, covered, for several days.  There are a lot of steps to making this cake, but I usually make the cake layers one day and then make the frosting and build the cake the next day so it doesn't seem so time consuming.  If you have a stand mixer, it's actually pretty quick and easy to make the cake part.  I've also used this same cake recipe to make cupcakes too, with great results.

If your curious, I did make a traditional dish today to bring to Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow as well. A year ago I found this amazing recipe on Bay Area Bites for a Sweet Potato Gratin.  Check it out, it's delicious!

I hope everyone has a very happy Thanksgiving tomorrow, full of family, friends, good food and good wine.
Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Honey Dijon Chicken fillets with Maple Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Ah the Brussel Sprout, so misunderstood. I used to think they were just horrible. Bitter, sometimes even slimy, pale yellowish green heads. Yuck. Then, one day my brother the chef sliced them up into thin strips, sauteed them with bacon & shallots and added some aged balsamic vinegar. They were ridiculously delicious and I became a brussel sprout convert. Now, when they are in season and the giant stalks fill up the produce stands I actually pick some up instead of running past them in horror. My brother showed me that it's all about how they are cooked. Brussel Sprouts just need some extra attention to transform into something yummy.

This past month, in one of the food magazines I subscribe to I swear I saw a recipe for roasted brussel sprouts with maple syrup. Mmm, sounds delicious! Only problem is that now I can't remember where I saw it. It might have been Martha's mag, but I recycled the November issue already and can't find it online at her website. I can't seem to find the recipe in the other foodie magazines I still have laying around the house either. So I was on my own to come up with some roasted brussel sprouts with a maple syrup kicker. I have to say, they came out awesome.

I served them along side my version of chicken schnitzel. I use mustard instead of dredging the cutlets in flour & egg to hold the breadcrumbs on and instead of pan frying them I bake them in the oven. The mustard gives the chicken great flavor and I like to think makes them just a wee bit healthier, as does the baking instead of frying. One thing's for sure though, It is a really quick dinner to prepare, and gives me a chance to whack at something with my meat mallet, which is exactly what is needed after a long day at work.

Maple Roasted Brussel Sprouts
8 to 10 fresh brussel sprouts, ends trimmed off & outer leaves removed, cut into quarters
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh thyme, stems discarded (leaves from about 4 or 5 sprigs)
1 to 2 tsps Maple Syrup

  1. Prep the Brussel Sprouts.  Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Trim off the stalk end of the brussel sprouts and remove any of the outer leaves that are discolored.  Cut the bulbs into quarters through the root end of each one, so that you have little wedges.  In a small bowl toss the brussel sprout wedges with some olive oil, salt, pepper and the leaves from about 4 or 5 thyme sprigs.
  2. Roast the Brussel Sprouts.  Spread the brussel sprouts out in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Roast the Brussel Sprouts for about 30 minutes, until they have caramelized slightly.
  3. Add the Maple Syrup.  Remove the baking sheet from the over, drizzle the maple syrup over the brussel sprouts and give them a stir.  Place the baking sheet back in the oven and continue to roast for another 5 minutes.  A little maple syrup goes a long way, and it has a pretty strong flavor.  You may not need to use all 2 tsp of the the syrup, it just depends on how many brussel sprouts you chopped up.
  4. Serve!  Tonight I served them along side my honey dijon chicken schnitzel, recipe below.

Honey Dijon Chicken Schnitzel
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin to about 1/3" thickness
2 Tbsps Honey Dijon Mustard
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
olive oil (if you go the pan frying method)

  1. Prepare the chicken cutlets.  Place the chicken cutlets between 2 sheets of wax paper and using a meat mallet pound the chicken breasts until they are uniformly flat, about 1/3 to 1/4" thick.  Using a silicon pastry brush (or something similar) spread both sides of the flattened chicken breasts with the mustard and then dredge them in the breadcrumbs.  Make sure the breadcrumbs completely coat the chicken.
  2. To Fry or Not to Fry, that is the question.  Once the cutlets are ready to be cooked you have 2 options.  You can either pan fry them in a little olive oil or put them on a baking sheet and cook them in the oven.  They will get a little crispier if you go the pan frying route, but are almost just as good baked in the oven.  If you decide to bake them, put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 F.  If you are making the brussel sprouts above everything can just go in the oven together.  If you decide to pan fry them, heat up a little olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.  When the oil starts to shimmer add in the cutlets and pan fry, about 3 or 4 minutes a side.
  3. Serve! Serve with the maple roasted brussel sprouts.  For tonight's dinner I also threw some quartered yukon gold potatoes, tossed with some olive oil, salt, pepper & garlic powder, onto the corner of the baking sheet that had the brussel sprouts and served those as well.  We drank a MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coat Pinot Noir with dinner.  Yum Yum!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seafood Fettuccine

I haven't had a chance to post to the blog this past week.  It was the busiest week of the year at my job.  Our Year-End Awards Dinner was held which takes months of preparation, plus, I had to get the house ready for a house guest this weekend.  Between those 2 things, and just regular day to day stuff, there was just no time to write, or even cook anything remotely worth blogging about. Thankfully, last night I finally had a chance to get into the kitchen and get my knife a' choppin.

My good friend's daughter, Brooke, is staying with Pancho and I for a few days. She's 19 and on a fall break from College.  I've known Brooke since she was in kindergarten, and watching her grow up into an amazing young woman has been a gift.  She lives in Colorado, where I lived for over 15 years- up until 2005.  I miss her, and her family terribly, so having her come out and visit is always a special occasion.  Last night for dinner I wanted to make something special, that was easy to make, didn't require a lot of kitchen clean-up and would incorporate one of Brooke's favorite food groups- seafood.  Seafood Fettuccine was the perfect answer.  I've been making this pasta dish for years.  It's easy to make and everyone that has had it loves it.  I often joke that this is the dish that made my husband want to marry me.  You can use almost any type of seafood, my usual combo is jumbo shrimp, scallops, and clams.  Crab goes great as well, as do mussels or any type of firm white fish.

Seafood Fettuccine
Olive Oil
2 large shallots, sliced
4 to 6 big cloves of garlic, minced
6 crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp red hot pepper flakes
1 bay leave
salt & pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1 can minced clams, with juice
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 lb jumbo or colossal shrimp, peeled & deveined
1/2 lb scallops, patted dry
fresh basil, finely chopped
shaved Parmesan cheese
1 box fettuccine pasta

  1. Sauté the shallots, garlic & mushrooms.  Run some olive oil around a large sauté pan and heat up over medium heat.  Add in the shallots & cook for 3 or 4 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and  continue to cook for another minute, then add the mushrooms to the pan.  Season with 1 Tbsp of the oregano, 1 tsp hot pepper flakes, some salt & pepper and the bay leaf.  Continue to cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, until the mushrooms just start to release their juices.
  2. Add in the wine & clams.  Once the mushrooms have started to release their juices, turn the heat up to high and add in the wine and the can of minced clams, along with the juice.  Cook over high heat until the liquid has been reduced by about two-thirds. 
  3. Add in the tomato.  Reduce the heat down to medium low and add in the entire can of crushed tomatoes.  Add in the remaining oregano, and, if you like your sauce spicy, another tsp of hot pepper flakes.  Stir well, and let the sauce simmer over low heat while the pasta water comes to a boil.
  4. Add the seafood to the sauce while the pasta cooks.  Once the pasta water has come to a boil, add in lots of salt and the pasta, and cook according to the package directions.  When you add the pasta to the boiling water, turn the heat under the sauce up to medium and add the shrimp and scallops to the simmering sauce.  The shrimp and scallops will cook while the pasta is boiling.
  5. Drain the pasta and mix with the sauce.  Once the pasta is done, drain it and transfer to a large serving bowl.  Pour the sauce with the seafood over the pasta and toss to coat the pasta.
  6. Serve!  Garnish with some chopped fresh basil and some shaved Parmesan cheese.  We drank another Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay with dinner last night.  It was delicious!
Bon Appetit!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Grilled Salmon with Balsamic Glaze over Swiss Chard & Israeli Couscous

Pancho and I had a  free Sunday today.  Sure, there was a long list of things I should have done, like get some work done ahead of the insanely busy week coming at my job, do laundry, clean the kitchen floors, clean the bathrooms, etc. But, it was almost 75 degrees out today, not a cloud in the sky and not a wisp of that cold pacific wind blowing in from the west.  It was just too nice to stay inside doing anything that was remotely like work.  It was a late night last night too, a good friend turned 40 and to celebrate we spent Saturday night playing Beer Pong and Flip Cup, doing shots of Jägermeister, and belting out some righteous karaoke. Basically pretending that we will still in our 20's and not facing the big 4-0.  Getting up and actually being productive this morning was just not in the cards.  We ended up having a late breakfast and then taking the dog on a 3.1 mile lap around Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland.  It was a great way to spend a couple of hours on an absolutely beautiful Sunday Afternoon.

On the way home we stopped at the store and wild Sockeye Salmon was on sale for $8.99/lb.  Since the weather was so nice turning on the grill seemed like a great idea and instantly I knew what was for dinner- Grilled Salmon with a Balsamic glaze over some Swiss Chard & Israeli Couscous.  I can't take any credit for this salmon recipe, it's from the July 2001 issue of Bon Appetit and the original recipe can be found on the Epicurious website here.  It's probably my favorite salmon recipe.  The glaze is so good, and so easy to make.  There isn't a thing that needs to be tweaked with the recipe, it's perfect as is.  The Israeli Couscous recipe is my own and goes great with the salmon.

Grilled salmon with balsamic glaze 
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
2 Salmon Fillets

  1. Make the Glaze.  Combine the balsamic vinegar, wine, lemon juice & brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Boil the sauce until it's reduced to about 1/3 cup and coats the back of a spoon when you stir it.  It will take about 17 to 20 minutes. Season the glaze to taste with salt and pepper.  You can make this glaze up to a week ahead of time, just keep it covered in the fridge.  When you are ready to use it just rewarm over low heat.
  2. Prepare the Salmon.  Lightly coat both sides of the salmon fillets with olive oil, salt & pepper.  Heat your grill to medium high heat and then grill the salmon until it's opaque in the center, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Serve.  Drizzle the salmon glaze over the salmon and serve over some Israeli Couscous with Swiss Shard.  You will most likely have a ton of the balsamic glaze left over.  It will keep in the fridge for a few days.
Israeli Couscous with Swiss Shard
1 cup Israeli Couscous (also called pearled couscous)
1 1/2 cup chicken broth/stock
Olive Oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch Swiss Chard, stems removed and chopped into strips
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper
  1. Cook the Couscous.  In a small pot bring the chicken stock to a boil.  Add in the couscous and cook over medium high heat for about 6 or 7 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed.  Remove the pot from the heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Prepare the Swiss Chard.  Whlile the couscous is cooking heat a little olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan.  Add in the shallots and sauté over medium heat for a few minutes.  Add in the garlic and continue to sauté for another minute.  Add in the Swiss Chard and continue cooking until the greens cook all the way down.
  3. Add the Pine Nuts & Parmesan.  Once the greens have cooked all the way down toss in the pine nuts and stir well.  Add the Parmesan cheese, stir the mixture and remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Add in the Couscous.  Once the couscous is done, stir it into the swiss chard, season with salt & pepper.
  5. Serve!  place a few spoonfuls of the couscous/swiss chard mixture on a plate and top with a grilled salmon fillet.  Drizzle the balsamic glaze over the salmon.

We drank a Wente Vineyards Riva Ranch Chardonnay with dinner tonight.  We're big fans of big oakey chardonnays and this one fits the bill perfectly.  It's also a bargain at only $14 a bottle!

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chicken Noodle Casserole

My husband loves tuna casserole.  When he thinks comfort food, I am pretty sure it's at the top of his list.  Me?  The only way I am eating warm tuna is if it is in steak form, and warm from being quickly seared on a very hot grill.  I certainly don't want it anywhere near an oven, I won't even force down a tuna melt.  But, as they say, marriage is all about compromise.  So I set out to find a way to satisfy his yearning for noodles baked in a creamy sauce with veggies, substituting tuna with something we could both agree on.  Here comes leftover roasted chicken to the rescue!

Yup, I still had some chicken left over from Sunday's Herb Roasted Chicken.  Not a ton, but just enough to add into a casserole and finally be done with the bird.  We almost always have bunches of fresh broccoli & mushrooms in the fridge too, add them together with some whole wheat noodles, a lightened up cream sauce that uses Greek yogurt instead of Sour Cream and...Presto!  A new & improved Chicken not Tuna Noodle Casserole.  Happiness prevails in the Munoz Household!

Chicken Noodle Casserole
1 pkg whole wheat wide egg noodles (or regular if you don't want to use whole wheat)
1 small onion, sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 large or 2 small heads of broccoli, cut into small florets
1 to 2 cups roasted chicken, cut into cubes
1 can 98% fat-free condensed Cream of Mushroom soup
3/4 cup lowfat milk
3/4 cup nonfat or lowfat plain greek yogurt (you can sub light sour cream)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsps shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs (I love the ones you get from Vital Vittles, available at my much loved/mentioned Dan's Fresh Produce here in Alameda).  Regular bread crumbs will work too.
Salt & Pepper

  1. Cook the noodles.  Cook the egg noodles according to the package direction.  Once done, strain the noodles into a colander, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and drain thoroughly.  I like to use the whole wheat noodles for 2 reasons.  One, they are better for you than the regular variety and Two, the whole wheat noodles seem to stay firmer when you bake them in the oven.
  2. Sauté the Veggies.  Add a little olive oil to a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add in the onions and mushrooms and let them sweat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add in the garlic and continue to let cook for another minute.  Toss in the broccoli and season with salt & pepper.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and put a lid over the pan so that the broccoli can steam for 5 or so minutes.  Once the Broccoli has steamed, toss in the chicken, stir, and remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Prepare the Cream Sauce.  In a mixing bowl or large glass measuring cup add the can of condensed soup, the milk, the Greek yogurt & the Parmesan cheese.  Mix well.  Season with a little salt & lots of pepper.
  4. Mix it all Together & add the Topping.  In a casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray mix together the cooked noodles, the veggie/chicken mixture and the cream sauce.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs and the remaining Parmesan cheese over the top of the casserole.
  5. Bake.  Bake the casserole in a 350 F oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until it's bubbly and the topping has browned.  
  6. Serve!  A few minutes to cool down and dinner is ready to go!

So that's it for the roast chicken, no more leftovers to figure out what to do with, and no more leftover chicken recipes to post, at least until the next time I make a roast chicken!

Bon Appetit!

Chicken Pot Pie

This is technically what was for dinner at the Munoz's house last night.  I am a little late in getting it posted...

So Sunday night I made a Roast Chicken, which was delicious!  And, as there usually is, there were a ton of leftovers.  2 people can only eat so much of an entire bird at one meal.  After the initial dinner, I am always stuck with the question of what to do with all the leftover meat.  In the summer time salads or even tacos are the easy answer, but in the fall & winter, a casserole is hard to beat.  And the king of casseroles, at least in our house is chicken pot pie.

There are probably a hundred different ways to make a Pot Pie.  It's basically a casserole surrounded by dough.  My version is fairly quick to make and uses one of my favorite root vegetables- parsnips.  I've mentioned it before, but my husband and I both dislike the flavor & texture of cooked carrots.  Nothing wrong with a raw carrot, in fact I love them raw, but add heat and, well, yuck.  It was just another reason I knew our relationship would work when I discovered Pancho shared my love for the raw, but disdain for the cooked, carrot.  In almost all recipes where carrots are called for (to be cooked) I'll substitute in the carrots better cousin- a parsnip.  I hear that parsnips are richer in vitamins & minerals than carrots, are especially high in potassium and are a good source of dietary fiber.  Seems like a good trade off to me.

I also use just a top layer of store bought puff pastry, rather than making an actual pie, in order to save time & effort.  The dish is seasoned with some sweet wine, and Herbs de Provence which are available at the grocery store these days.  A little bit of a béchamel sauce gives it some creaminess.  I happened to have some leeks that I picked up at the Produce Stand, so I threw those in as well.  If you don't have any leeks or don't want to deal with cleaning them, you can just use more onion, although leeks give the dish an extra depth of flavor.

Chicken Pot Pie
1 to 2 cups leftover roasted chicken, cut into bite sized cubes
1/2 small onion, halved, then sliced and 3/4 cup sliced leeks, or a whole small onion, halved & then sliced
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 yukon gold potatoes, diced into 1/2" cubes
1 parsnip, diced into 1/2" cubes
1/2 cup Madeira, Marsala or Sherry wine
1 tsp Herbs de Provence
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 cup milk (1% or 2% preferrably)
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed

  1. Cook up the veggies.  Run a little olive oil around a large sauté pan and turn the heat up to medium.  Once the pan has warmed up add in the onions & leeks and cook until they start to soften.  Add in the mushrooms, parsnips & potatoes and season with salt & pepper.  Stir in the Herbs De Provence and continue to cook over medium heat for about 5 to 7 minutes.  The Parsnips and Potatoes should just be starting to soften, but not browning.  Add in the wine, and let it cook down until it is reduced by at least half.  Stir in the chicken and remove the mixture from the heat
  2. Make a Béchamel Sauce (white sauce).  While the wine is cooking down, in a small pot melt 1 tbsp butter over medium high heat.  Add in 1 tbsp flour and stir constantly for a minute or so until the flour paste is cooked but not browned. Whisk in the milk, bring it up to a boil, then continue whisking over medium low heat until the sauce has thickened, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the Parmesan Cheese, season with a little pepper and remove the sauce from the heat.
  3. Prepare the Casserole.  Spray a square 8 x 8 deep sided baking dish with non-stick spray.  Add in the chicken & vegetable mixture and then pour the béchamel sauce over the top.  Give the mixture a gentle stir so that the béchamel sauce gets down into the mixture.
  4. Cover with the Puff Pastry.  Take the sheet of thawed puff pastry and lay it over the casserole.  There will be lots of overhang.  Take a pizza wheel cutter, or a knife, and run it around the edge of the dish, cutting off the overhang.  Tuck the edges down into the sides of the baking dish.  Make a few slits on the top of the puff pastry to allow steam to escape.  Save the leftover puff pastry for a future use.
  5. Bake the Pot Pie.  Put the pot pie into an oven that has been preheated to 350 F and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.  The Puff Pastry should be nicely browned and the sauce should be bubbling away underneath the crust.
  6. Serve!  Take the pot pie out of the oven and let it sit for about 5 minutes to cool slightly.  Open up a bottle of Pinot Noir and enjoy leftovers, elevated to something far more delicious!
Fresh from the oven, yum!
If you don't happen to have leftover roast chicken, you can use the chicken from a store bought rotisserie chicken, or even brown some cut up boneless, skinless chicken pieces before step 1 above.  It's really easy to turn this into a vegetarian dish as well- just double up the mushrooms and leave out the chicken.  Unless you are a devoted carnivore like Pancho, you probably won't even miss it.

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Herb Roasted Chicken

It's been a cold & rainy day today, and it's Sunday, so from the moment I looked out the window this morning I had a craving for roast chicken.  It's the perfect thing to make for Sunday dinner, goes great with Pinot Noir, my favorite wine, and on a crappy weather day like today it's a great excuse to get the oven going & warm up my normally chilly kitchen.

Whole chickens have been on sale at Safeway too, last week they were $.49/lb, pretty hard to beat.  This week they were $1.29/lb, still pretty darn good.  I got a 6 lb chicken for a little under $8.  I usually manage to get 3 different dinners out of 1 chicken, plus about a gallon of chicken stock.  All in all, it's the cheapest way to feed my husband and I for almost a week.

Tonight is a 2'fer, since after I roasted the chicken I made a giant pot of chicken stock.  I love making my own stock, and it's another money saver.  I can usually get around 20 cups of stock out of one chicken, and if you've purchased chicken stock at the grocery store lately, the equivalent would cost you at least $20.  I divide the stock up into 4 cup containers and freeze it.  That way I always have fresh homemade stock on hand for soups, risotto, polenta, whatever I may need it for.  It's easy to make a roast chicken, and stock, however it is time consuming.  It's not something you can whip up after work on a weekday, but, on a rainy Sunday, it's so worth the time and effort.

Herb Roasted Chicken
1 fresh whole roasting chicken, neck & giblets removed and saved for stock
Olive Oil
Bunch of fresh sage
Bunch of fresh thyme
6 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
1 lemon, quartered,
1 celery stalk, cut into 3 pieces
1 small onion, quartered
Salt & Pepper

  1. Prepare the Herb Spread & Aromatics.  In a small food processor blend together about 10 sage leaves,  the leaves from about 6 sprigs of thyme and 2 cloves of garlic.  Transfer the herb blend to a small bowl and stir in about 1/4 cup olive oil, season with salt & pepper.  This mixture will be spread on the outside of the chicken.  In another bowl, toss the quartered lemon, the quartered onion, the celery, 4 cloves of garlic and the rest of the sage & thyme with some olive oil, salt & pepper.  This mixture will be stuffed inside the chicken.
  2. Prepare the Chicken.  Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F and position a rack in the bottom 3rd of the oven.  Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Fill the main cavity with the seasoned aromatics and close up the chicken using a lacer.  Place the chicken breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan, tuck the wing tips under the breast and tie the legs together.  Season the chicken with salt & pepper.  Spread the entire chicken with the herb spread.  You can put about a teaspoonful of the spread under the skin over the breast meat as well.  Finish off the chicken with a sprinkling of paprika.
  3. Roast the Chicken.  Put the chicken into the 425 F oven and roast for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 350 F and continue to roast the chicken until done, about another hour.  A thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the thigh should read 170 F when the chicken is done.
  4. Let the Chicken Rest.  Remove the chicken from the oven, tent with foil and let it rest for at least 10 to 15 minutes.  The internal temperature should continue to rise to 180 F while the chicken is resting, and the juices should be absorbed back into the chicken.
  5. Serve!  Once the chicken has completed its resting, carve the chicken and serve immediately.  Some roasted potatoes and green beans go great on the side. And to drink, nothing goes better than a delicious Pinot Noir.
Herb spread
Aromatics ready to be stuffed

All tied up and ready for the oven

Resting comfortably and ready to be served!

After dinner, be sure to carve all the chicken off the bone and save the carcass and bones to make stock.  Here's my recipe for that

Chicken Stock
Leftover chicken carcass/bones from roasted chicken, aromatics & skin removed from carcass
Neck & Giblets from chicken
1 small onion quartered
4 cloves of garlic, peeled & smashed
2 stalks of celery, leaves attached, cut into 2 pieces
1 parsnip, cut into 3 or 4 pieces (or 1 carrot)
fresh sage
fresh thyme
2 tsp salt

  1. Fill up the Stock Pot.  In the largest stock pot you can find, put all the above ingredients into the pot and then fill the pot up to about 1 1/2" from the top with water.  Be sure to remove as much skin from the carcass as possible to cut down on the fat in the finished stock.  We can't stand the flavor of cooked carrots in our house, so instead of using the standard carrot for the stock, I use a parsnip.  Feel free to go the traditional route if you are a fan of the cooked carrot.
  2. Bring to Boil & then Simmer.  Bring the stock to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, cover and then let stock simmer covered for a few hours.
  3. Strain Stock and store.  Once the stock has simmered away for 3 or 4 hours, remove from heat and scoop out the large pieces of bone, celery, onion, etc.  Be careful, they will stay very hot for a very long time. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer so that you are left with nothing but clear broth.  Divide finished stock into small 2 or 4 cup containers and store in fridge (if you plan to use within the week) or in the freezer.  You should end up with between 16 & 20 cups of stock.
Stock, simmering away after dinner

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Black Bean & Squash Tacos

I can't quite figure out when "Taco Tuesday" became a thing, and I don't know if it is a nationwide phenomenon, but here in the Bay Area, everyone I know seems to participate in "Taco Tuesday".  So, since it's Tuesday, dinner at the Munoz's is of course Tacos.  Although, these aren't your standard tacos.  As much as I love the old seasoned meat, cheese, tomato & lettuce in a crispy corn shell combination, I've eaten enough of those in my lifetime where it just seems so boring.  These tacos, with smoky black beans and spicy roasted squash have a ton of flavor, can be made in no time flat, and combine 2 of my favorite ingredients- black beans & butternut squash.

Today is also Election Tuesday, and all I will say on this subject is Go Vote.  I could say a lot more, but I don't think I want to use this blog to jump up on a political soap box.  I could go on about how I am a die-hard democrat.  About how I believe in universal health care, in social security & medicare & even welfare, although I do feel that the current welfare system needs a really good tune-up.  About how I have liberal social views- I firmly believe in gay marriage, women rights, abortion rights, a strong separation of Church & State.  About how I am pro-military, I believe choosing to serve your country in the armed forces is one of the greatest things someone can choose to do, or about how I believe we need to stop the current tax & spend system and learn to live within our national budget.  Or about how I believe in a persons right to bear arms, although, why someone needs a machine gun to defend their home or practice their sharpshooting skills escapes me.  I could go on about all these things, but instead of getting into a political debate on a blog, I went to the polls and voted for the candidates that best supported my ideals.  And whatever you believe in, whether you agree or disagree with me, you too can go to the polls and vote for the person that you feel best represents your ideals.  That's how it works in this democracy and it's just one of the things that make our country great.

Anyway, enough of that, I am stepping down from the political soap box I had no intention of stepping up on and getting back to something that everyone can agree on- the awesomeness of tacos.    And these tacos, while far from traditional, are seriously, seriously delicious.  No matter if you are a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian or even a sign carrying member of that wacky Tea Party, I guarantee you will agree.

Black Bean & Roasted Butternut Squash Tacos

1/2 cup 2% plain greek yogurt*
Lime juice
fresh cilantro
Chili powder
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 can seasoned black beans (I like Bush's)
1 cup fresh or frozen sweet corn
1/2 can of Mexican style stewed tomatoes
1 small Jalapeño, seeded & diced
2 1/2 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Chipotle powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Spicy roasted squash cubes (I used the extra's I made from last night's Squash & Sausage Risotto)
Cotija Cheese*, crumbled
Corn Tortillas

*You can use sour cream instead of the Greek Yogurt, but the yogurt really gives the sauce a great flavor and is much healthier than sour cream.  Cotija cheese is basically the Mexican version of Feta so if you can't find Cotija you can substitute with Feta.
  1. Make the Cilantro Lime Sauce.  In a small bowl mix together the yogurt, lime juice, some finely chopped fresh cilantro and a little chili powder in a small bowl.  Season with some salt & pepper.  How much cilantro, lime juice and chili powder you use is really up to you.  I like a lot of lime (the juice from 1/2 of a big lime), not a lot of cilantro and just enough chili powder to give it a small kick.  Keep the sauce refrigerated until ready to use. 
  2. Prepare the Beans.  In a saute pan cook the onions in a little olive oil, over medium heat, for about 5 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute.  Add in the corn & jalapeno and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the can of seasoned black beans (undrained) and the stewed tomatoes.  Add the chipotle powder, cumin, salt & pepper and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
  3. Heat up the squash.  If you are using previously prepared roasted squash, pop them in the microwave for a minute or so to heat up
  4. Assemble the Tacos.  Warm up the soft corn tortillas and fill with the black beans and the squash.  Top with the cilantro lime sauce and a little bit of cotija cheese.
  5. Serve!  I usually make some Spanish rice to go along with the tacos, and to drink, some cold Mexican beer, Negra Modelo or Pacifico are always good.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do have one confession to make.  While this is a vegetarian dinner, my husband thinks that a dinner without cooked animal meat is an abomination.  To satisfy him, I just brown a package of ground turkey with a packet of store bought taco seasoning.  When I assemble the tacos I put a layer of the Turkey in the bottom of his taco.  He's happy and I can have my vegetarian variety.  

Bon Appetit!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Squash & Sausage Risotto

I know I said in a previous post that I love fall, and I do. But...  November sometimes feels like the one month out of the year that has it out for me.  There is always so much going on.  Thanksgiving looms large on the calendar at the end of the month which normally means a trip home to New Jersey to be with the family, or the family coming in to be with us.  And once Thanksgiving arrives, well, Christmas & Hanukkah are just a hop, skip & a jump away.  I always feel like I need to get the house "ready" for the holidays.  I like to tackle any and all projects that have lingered through the winter, when it was too cold to work on them, spring, when it was too rainy to work on them, or summer, when it was just too nice outside to work on them.  I end up spending a lot of November weekends and evenings  reorganizing closets, rearranging furniture, deep-cleaning the carpets, things like that.

On top of all that, November is the busiest month of the year at my job.  I work for a small non-profit membership association.  So small in fact, that due to cut-backs over the years, I am now the sole paid employee.  The last one standing, so to speak.  11 months out of the year it's not that bad.  I've learned to adapt to being the only one in the office, and I've figured out how to manage the workload just fine.  Except for November, when I really miss having co-workers, and having people to share the workload with.  I could use about 4 of me, just for the one month.  There are meetings on top of meetings in November- Board Meetings, Delegates Meetings, Committee Meetings, and our year-end Trophy Party. Organizing the hundreds of trophies that get handed out at the party could be a full-time job on it's own in November.  November is the month we prepare the budget for the next year.  It's the month we prepare our annual publication, with all the information our members need to participate in the association the following year, and I have learned that printers do not like it when you miss their deadlines.  It's the month we finalize our event calendar for the following year- over 850 events that need coordinated between government agencies and local organizations. It's insanity really.

So yeah, November often feels like it's out to get me.  Thankfully, I can retreat to my kitchen when I need a stress break and whip up something delicious (and hopefully something quick) with my favorite fall ingredients.  Squash, root vegetables, greens, apples, pears, nuts- they are all in season and the produce stand is full of them.

Tonight's dinner at the Munoz's utilizes probably my favorite fall ingredient, butternut squash.  I can eat roasted cubes of the orange goodness all day long, it's like candy.  I've got a slew of recipes that call for it.  Tonight I am making a double batch, some to use tonight in my risotto, and some to use for Taco Tuesday.  Stay tuned for that recipe tomorrow, but for now...

Roasted Squash & Sausage Risotto
1 large butternut squash, or 2 small, peeled, seeded & cut into small 1" cubes
Olive Oil
1 Tbsp dried thyme
Cayenne pepper
Salt & pepper
1 pkg sweet Italian turkey sausage
2 shallots, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup arborrio rice
½ cup marsala wine
5 cups chicken broth
½ cup grated parmesan cheese

  1. Roast the squash.  Preheat the oven to 350 F. Toss the cubed squash with olive oil, thyme, cayenne pepper (how much depends on how spicy you like things), salt &pepper and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet (you may need 2) lined with parchment paper. Roast the squash for about  45 minutes, until it is softened and slightly carmelized.  Take half of the roasted squash, put it in a container and refrigerate for use in a later recipe.
  2. Cook the Sausage.  While the squash is roasting, cook the whole sausage links in a pan until browned & cooked through.  Remove from pan, let cool slightly and slice into ¼" rounds. Cover to keep warm.
  3. Warm up the chicken broth.  While you are cooking the sausage, bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a small pot.  Keep the chicken broth gently simmering while cooking the risotto.
  4. Get the Risotto going.  Run olive oil around the bottom of a risotto pan (dutch oven type pot). Sauté the shallots over medium heat for a few minutes until they start to soften, then add in the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the rice and continue to sauté over medium heat for another 2 minutes or so. Season with salt & pepper. Add the marsala wine and stir gently until almost all the wine has been absorbed. 
  5. Add in the chicken stock, a little at a time.  Once the wine has been absorbed, start adding the hot chicken broth, ½ cup at a time, gently stirring over medium heat until almost all the liquid has been absorbed before adding more broth. Continue this process until the risotto is done, about 20 minutes.  You may not need to use all 5 cups of the chicken broth.  You'll know the risotto is done when it gets creamy looking and the grains are soft but still a little firm (al dente) when you bite one.
  6. Add in the sausage & squash.  Once the risotto is done, remove from the heat, stir in ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, the sliced sausage & the roasted squash cubes.
  7. Serve!  Serve immediately.  A nice merlot goes great with this dish.

Regardless of what you may have heard, risotto is actually really easy to make, and pretty quick to make as well.  Usually risotto recipes call for lots of butter, but I leave it out completely.  I find a little olive oil works just as well, and the chicken broth adds enough richness that I don't miss the butter at all.  You could also use regular Italian pork sausage if you wanted, but I use the Turkey variety to help keep the dish a little lighter.  Just make sure you use the sweet Italian variety- it plays off the spicy squash really well.

Bon Appetit!