Friday, April 29, 2011

What's for Dinner: Honey Pecan Crusted Chicken

Pecans, honey and chicken. My goodness, what a good combination. I've tried this recipe before using the original recipe, which calls for tilapia, but after a season of  fish frys, we were feeling a little fished out. The  chicken worked really well with it, with only a few modifications (a little time in the oven was necessary to make sure the chicken was cooked through). I served it with couscous and roasted carrots, but I think this recipe is really flexible - I imagine it would be just as tasty with pasta or on top of a salad.

Honey Pecan Crusted Chicken
adapted from Steamy Kitchen
6 to 8 chicken cutlets
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup crushed pecans
salt & pepper
3 eggs, beaten in bowl

Honey Glaze:
3 tablespoons honey mixed with 2 tablespoons hot water
3 tablespoons olive oil, for frying
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pat chicken cutlets dry. Using a brush, brush both sides of chicken with honey. Generously salt and pepper both sides of the cutlet.
  2. Combine the panko and crushed pecans. Lay out your ingredients in this order: chicken, egg mixture, panko/pecan breading. Dip the chicken in the egg, coat with panko/pecan breading on both sides, set aside. Repeat with all cutlets.
  3. Heat a large fry pan over medium heat. Add olive oil. Once the oil is hot, turn down to medium low. Add the chicken to the pan, make sure the cutlets don’t touch each other. You may have to do this in separate batches. Fry for 2 minutes until the underside is golden brown. Turn. Fry another 2 minutes. Transfer cutlets to a parchment lined pan and put in the oven until cooked through.
  4. Pour the honey glaze over the chicken.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's for Dinner: Lighter General Tso's Chicken

We recently discovered, to our delight, that my formerly incredibly picky daughter has developed a taste for Asian food. This is indeed wonderful news for my husband and I, who have a serious appetite for it. I've been experimenting with more recipes as a result, and this one was a big hit.

The sauce, made with fresh ginger, was a standout. You can adjust the heat level to your taste - I kept it pretty mild for the kids. While it's not exactly like what you might get at a Chinese restaurant, this General Tso's has enough of the flavors to make it a passable substitute for the real - and much unhealthier - thing.

Lighter General Tso's Chicken
from Everyday Food  
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 pound snow peas, trimmed and halved crosswise
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated and peeled
3 tablespoons light-brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes (more or less, depending on your taste)
2 large egg whites
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as safflower
  1. In a large bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1/2 cup cold water until smooth. Add snow peas, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, and red-pepper flakes; toss to combine, and set aside.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together egg whites, remaining 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add chicken, and toss to coat.
  3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. Lift half the chicken from egg-white mixture (shaking off excess), and add to skillet. Cook, turning occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate; repeat with remaining oil and chicken, and set aside (reserve skillet).
  4. Add snow-pea mixture to skillet. Cover; cook until snow peas are tender and sauce has thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Return chicken to skillet (with any juices); toss to coat. Serve with rice.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What's for Dinner: Ziti with Asparagus, Smoked Mozzerella and Prosciutto

I love asparagus. I love mozzarella. I love prosciutto. So when you combine the three of them together? Perfection. This recipe, from Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Italian, is my absolute favorite recipe from her books. It is wickedly easy to prepare, with minimal ingredients and minimal clean up. The asparagus cooks with the pasta, and then it's all tossed together with prosciutto and fresh basil. Smoked mozzarella (yes, did I mention this is smoked mozzarella? One word: scrumtrulescent) and some of the pasta water combine to create a wonderfully silky sauce.

It is a perfect weeknight meal. Fast, simple and delicious. You need to make this. Now.

Ziti with Asparagus, Smoked Mozzarella and Prosciutto
from Everyday Italian

8 ounces dried ziti or other tubular pasta (I used penne)
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
3 ounces smoked mozzarella cheese, diced (about 1/2 cup)
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into strips
3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
  1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the ziti and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the asparagus and cook until the pasta is tender but still firm to the bite, and the asparagus is crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain the pasta and asparagus, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
  2. In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over a medium flame. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the pasta, asparagus, 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and the 1 cup of reserved cooking liquid, and toss to coat. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the mozzarella, prosciutto, and basil and toss to combine. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the pasta to shallow bowls and serve. (Serves 4.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sweater Wars IV: A New Hope

I really shouldn't be looking for patterns to use with yarn that is already in sweater form, right? But I can't stop myself. I am leaning toward frogging my Radiate sweater. I keep looking at it, and I just don't think the yarn is right for the pattern. The yarn has a nice drape to it, but in this sweater, it looks a bit droopy and floppy, especially in places where you really do not want droop or flop.

I came across this pattern first - the Heliotropic Pullover in the Spring 2011 issue of Interweave Knits.

I think it caught my eye because it has a similar slipped rib pattern, although on this top it has a nice radiating look. I also prefer that it is done on stockinette, versus the reverse stockinette on the Radiate. It's knit in the round, which would be a nice departure from all the straight needle knitting I've been doing lately. I think the stockinette a-line would be a good match for the yarn as well.

But... this pattern is done with a lighter, DK weight yarn. My yarn, Berroco Weekend, is worsted weight. I can try to use smaller needles to see if I can match the gauge, but I don't know how that might impact the drape of the yarn if it is knit on smaller needles. This is where being a novice at all this sweater knitting stuff is really causing problems.
As I'm contemplating all of this, KnitBits - Berroco's weekly e-mail newsletter pops up in my e-mail, and it is featuring a free pattern for Weekend yarn.

The pattern, Quonset, is a button-free cardigan, and I kind of like it - though not at much as the pullover. But this one would definitely work for my yarn because it's written for the yarn. I'd want to knit the sleeves a little longer to 3/4 length. I don't know why, but that length really draws attention to her elbow skin. Yes, the appearance of flabby elbow skin is important when considering sleeve length. Make a note of it.

In the meantime, I'm moving on to another sweater project - my second attempt at a Featherweight Cardigan. I'm using a beautiful yarn I picked up at the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival - Abuelita Baby Merino Lace. And this time, I am keeping it stored away where nothing can damage it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What's for Dinner: Pad Thai with Grilled Chicken

I love Thai food, so I generally jump at the chance to enjoy it whenever I can, even if it means making it myself. When I came across this recipe for Vegetable Pad Thai in Everyday Food, I knew I'd have to try it out. The magazine paired it with an Asian Beef Salad, but we're not huge beef eaters. Grilled chicken seemed like a good alternative.

I'm happy to say that everyone loved it. The recipe was really easy, and very flexible. I omitted the scramble eggs, and next time, I think I'll add some carrots, mushrooms and peppers to the noodles.

Vegetable Pad Thai
from Everyday Food

8 ounces dried, wide, and flat rice noodles
2 tablespoons dark-brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus wedges for serving
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 large eggs (optional), lightly beaten
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped roasted, salted peanuts
  1. Soak noodles according to package instructions. Drain. In a small bowl, whisk together brown sugar, lime juice, and soy sauce.
  2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add scallion whites and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add eggs (if using) and cook, scraping skillet with a rubber spatula, until eggs are almost set, about 30 seconds. Transfer egg mixture to a plate. Add noodles and soy-sauce mixture to skillet; cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are soft and coated with sauce, about 1 minute. Add egg mixture and toss to coat, breaking eggs up gently. Serve noodles with lime wedges, topped with scallion greens, cilantro, and peanuts.

Monday, April 11, 2011

If you want to destroy my sweater...

I have a bit of a secret. I finished my sweater. The sleeves are seamed. The button and buttonhole bands are done. The buttons are sewn on. Everything is finished, short of weaving in the ends. And here's where the much darker secret comes in. I think... I... really dislike this sweater. And I'm ready to cry over it. I don't want to weave in the ends because that means I'm truly finished with a sweater that I am really not happy with. The buttonband seems too loose, and it has that oh-so flattering button gaping going on. I'm not happy with the length although I added several inches to the pattern. Will blocking fix this? Should I try it? And if I am still not happy with it, is the yarn even salvageable? The mere thought of frogging this thing and starting another sweater with this yarn sends my stomach into somersaults.
I am thinking that if I just get rid of the buttons, I might be happier with it just being an open cardigan. Or maybe just one button at the top? I don't know. I need to think about it.
In the meantime, look at this. I am ashamed. So... ashamed...

Sure, I tell myself that I need to stop buying yarn. That I need to use what I have first. And then Sugar'n Cream goes on sale for a buck each, and wham - I'm buying 12 balls of it. The colors just looked so bright, I thought they'd be great for market/beach bags. Do I need four brightly colored market/beach bags? That question is best left unanswered.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What's for Dinner: Fish Tacos

Last week was my birthday, so my goal was to cook as little as possible. I was actually quite successful in that endeavor, but it doesn't make for a lot to post about. I did have a few meals I prepared-- starting with this recipe. It's not really a full on recipe per say. It starts with already prepared panko breaded tilapia. I get mine at Costco -I love having them on hand. I added a creamy lime sauce from Everyday Food, some shredded cabbage and prepared ranchero sauce.

On the side, I have Mexican rice, based loosely on this recipe from After making this, I will never go back to a box of Mexican or Spanish rice again.

Fish Tacos with Creamy Lime Sauce
4 panko breaded tilapia fillets, cut in half diagonally
8 corn tortillas
1/4 head of green or red cabbage, shredded
1/4 cup sour cream
1 lime, half finely zested and juiced, half cut into wedges
Hot sauce, such as Tabasco
Prepared salsa or ranchero sauce
  1. To make the lime sauce, combine sour cream, lime zest and juice, and a few dashes hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. To prepare the tacos, warm corn tortillas one at a time in a nonstick skillet set at high heat, until they are soft and flexible. Fill with 1 tilapia piece, and top with cabbage, lime sauce and salsa. Serve with lime wedges, if desired.

 Mexican Rice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1 teaspoon cumin (can go less on this, depending on your love of cumin)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 chicken bouillon cubes 
  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add rice. Cook, stirring constantly, until puffed and golden. While rice is cooking, sprinkle with spices and salt. 
  2. Stir in tomato sauce, 2 cups of water and bouillon cubes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What's for Dinner: Cashew Chicken

I have tried at least a half dozen versions of Cashew Chicken,  both from recipes and thrown together based on what I had on hand. This time around, I opted to dust off a cookbook I've rarely used - Rachel Ray's 30-Minute Meals - and try out her version.

As a rule, I do not like Rachael Ray recipes. I will admit that I have enjoyed food produced from Rachael Ray recipes, but not enough to really try a lot of her recipes out. I tend to like a lot of order to my recipes. I am not one for pouring a couple of glugs of anything into a recipe. My glug might be different than your glug. Give me tablespoons. Give me cups. Don't give me glugs. I need exactness.

Still, when I first received the book and thumbed through it, I made a note that she had her own version of Cashew Chicken -- the name so cutsie, I refuse to post it here. Not into cutsie in my cooking (baking excluded - give me a bunny shaped cake anytime). Yet another strike against her.

But you know what? It turned out great - definitely one of the better Cashew Chicken recipes I've made at home. I'll admit that I was a little heavy handed with the Sriracha on my portion, but it was a decent recipe that actually took about a half hour altogether, even with the chopping involved (I haven't been so lucky with the few other recipes I've tried - a two hour "30 Minute" Chicken and Dumpling recipe springs to mind). As a bonus, the kids loved it too. I'll be holding onto this one. Here's the recipe - glugs removed.

Cashew Chicken
(adapted slightly from Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals)

1 cup jasmine Rice
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced & mashed
2 tablespoons rice wine, rice vinegar or dry sherry (I used rice vinegar)
2 pinches crushed red pepper (more or less to suit your taste)
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon oil (recipe called for sesame oil, but I've always read that it's more of a flavoring oil, not a cooking one)
1 large carrot, peeled and diced into small cubes
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 can (7 oz) sliced water chestnuts, drained and coarsely chopped
3 heaping tablespoons hoisin sauce
A couple of handfuls unsalted cashews
3 green onions, thinly sliced on an angle 
  1. Cook the rice according to package directions.
  2. In a large bowl, combine chicken with 1 tablespoon sesame oil, garlic, rice wine, crushed red pepper and black pepper. Set aside and let it hang out.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in wok or large nonstick skillet over high heat until it smokes. Add carrot and stir-fry for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the coated chicken and cook another 3 or 4 minutes. Toss in the bell pepper and water chestnuts. Heat through for 1 minute. Add the hoisin and a handful of the cashews and toss to coat evenly. Place chicken on a bed of jasmine rice and top with additional cashews and green onions.