Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Caramel Apple Strata

This turned out really good, but how could you go wrong with the classic combo of apples, brown sugar, and caramel?

Yield: 6-12 servings, depending on whether for breakfast or dessert 

1 loaf french bread (could sub pretty much any type of bread)
6 eggs
1 cup milk

2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter 
3 large apples, peeled and sliced
2 cups brown sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy cream

Quick Caramel Sauce (or use store bought):
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt and vanilla.  Cook in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and chill for about 15 minutes to thicken.

Roughly slice french bread into 1 inch cubes and set aside.  Peel and core apples and then slice.  Melt the butter in a skillet and add apples.  Cook until soft, about 10 minutes, then add 1/2 the brown sugar (1 cup), the lemon juice, nutmeg and cinnamon.  Cook for about 5 more minutes, or until caramelized, then remove from heat.

Arrange half of the bread slices in a greased baking dish (mine was 12 x 12).  Spread the chilled egg mixture over the bread, being sure that each piece of bread has some egg on it.  Next, layer the apples over the bread and sprinkle with brown sugar, then top with remaining bread.  Repeat with egg and apple mixture.  Drizzle heavy cream over entire strata, then press down with a spatula several times to flatten slightly (this will help the egg and cream soak into the bread).  Top with any remaining brown sugar and allow to sit for about 5-10 minutes before placing in oven.

Bake the strata uncovered for 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.  Remove the strata from oven and let rest while making the caramel sauce.

To make the caramel, mix the brown sugar, cream, butter and salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, while whisking, 5 -10 minutes, until it thickens.  Add vanilla and cook for another minute or two.  Whisk in corn syrup and remove from heat.

Drizzle the caramel sauce over the strata, slice and serve while warm.  This can be reheated in the oven or microwave, or served cold.  Enjoy!

Tips:  If you are really into caramel, you can make the sauce in advance (or use store bought sundae style caramel) and drizzle this in the middle of the strata while assembling.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Panko Crusted Orange-Ginger Chicken Tenders

This didn't take very long to make and I imagine it's a bit healthier than normal orange chicken.  A tiny bit anyway... or at least that's what I told myself.

Yield:  2-4 servings (depending on whether it's an entree or appetizer)

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced into approx 2 inch thick strips
2-3 tbsp butter
1 18 ounce jar of orange marmalade
1 tbsp soy sauce 
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced (or substitute 1/2 tsp powdered ginger)
1/3 cup flour 
1 cup panko crumbs
3 egg whites, beaten
Zest of one orange
Olive oil, for frying


Prepare chicken and pat dry, then set aside to bring to room temperature.  Heat butter in skillet until just soft, then add minced garlic and ginger.  Cook for about 2 minutes, until beginning to brown, then add soy sauce.  Cook for an additional minute, then pour in orange marmalade and stir until well mixed.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.  Sprinkle in flour slowly, using a fork or whisk to mix it in, reducing any clumps.  Allow to continue cooking until caramelized, about 5-10 minutes.

While the orange mixture is cooking, heat a skillet and drizzle with olive oil.  Dip chicken tenders in egg whites, then in panko crumbs, and place in skillet.   Cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes, flipping once to ensure brownness on each side.

Reduce heat on orange mixture to low and keep warm until chicken is done cooking.  Once the chicken is done, use a fork or tongs to dip each crisp piece of chicken in orange mixture, then place on serving plate(s).  Sprinkle with orange zest and serve immediately.  Yum!

NoteMy claim about this being healthier than regular orange chicken has no evidence to back it up... I'm just guessing since it isn't deep fried.  Then again, I did add that butter, so who knows!  Either way, it didn't come out greasy, so that's a plus!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Spinach, Artichoke & Gorgonzola Omelet Pinwheels

I modified this recipe from one of Martha Stewart's (oh, Martha, how can I thank you for all the ideas and inspiration???).  This is a great way to jazz up the presentation of a simple omelet and it's surprisingly easy to make.

Yield:  6-8 servings

Cooking spray or olive oil, for pan
1 cup milk
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

8 large eggs
1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

1 cup artichoke hearts, chopped
1 1/2 cups crumbled gorgonzola cheese

1 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste 

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking or olive oil.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, allowing some to hang over on the longer ends.  Spray the top of the parchment with oil as well.

In a bowl, whisk together milk and flour. Add eggs and spices and whisk to combine.  Pour into pan.  Sprinkle the spinach and chopped artichoke hearts over the eggs in an even layer. 

Bake until the omelet is set, about 10-15 minutes (mine took exactly 13!).  Remove from the oven and sprinkle with cheese.  Return to the oven for an additional minute or two to melt the cheese.

Now you're ready to roll!  Use a spatula or butter knife to loosen omelet on all sides.  Beginning on one end, lift the parchment and roll the omelet tightly, peeling back the parchment paper as you go.  It is a bit delicate so be gentle.  Once rolled, allow to set for a few minutes - the cheese will bind the roll together.  Then slice and serve while still warm.

Here is what mine looked like before I rolled it:

This is a fun recipe and can be easily modified to your own tastes... there are a million variations you could make on this.  I'm thinking chorizo and beans next!

Biscuit Pancakes with Sausage Cream Gravy

So I turned a biscuits and gravy recipe into biscuit pancakes with sausage gravy.  I've listed the directions for both below.  Either option is delicious, the gravy is the real star here; you could practically serve this sausage gravy on a shoe and it would still be mouthwatering!

Biscuit Batter:
2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more if rolling)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold butter (1 stick), cut into small pieces
1 cup cold buttermilk

Note:  If you're in a hurry you can just use Bisquick and milk.  Add a little melted butter to it for more flavor!

Sausage Cream Gravy:
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound ground pork
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 1/2 cups heavy cream (can sub milk for less calories)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and using a mixer or pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until mostly combined.  Add the buttermilk and stir until the dough comes together.  The dough will be lumpy but that's okay!

If making pancakes, drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto a griddle at about 300 degrees and allow to cook for about 1 minute per side or until risen.  Note: for the pancake version, you may need to add more water or milk to make the batter easier to pour.

For biscuits, preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease a baking sheet.  Place dough onto floured surface and sprinkle with additional flour.  Pat the dough into an approximately one inch thick circle.

Use a round cookie cutter to cut out biscuits.  Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.  Gather any scraps and cut out additional biscuits.  Bake in the preheated oven until the biscuits have risen and are golden brown on top, about 15 minutes.

Sausage Cream Gravy:

Heat butter in a skillet until melted and then add the ground pork.  Cook until brown, breaking up into smaller pieces as it cooks.  Do not drain fat.  Reduce heat to low and sprinkle meat with flour and cayenne pepper.  Cook, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes or until flour has cooked slightly.  Gradually stir in the cream and bring to a simmer.  Cook until mixture has thickened and then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle sausage cream gravy over the biscuits or pancakes just before serving.  Yum!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chicken and Dumplings

I had never had chicken and dumplings before I tried my hand at making it, and I didn't think I'd like it (someone asked me to make it).  I was worried the dumplings would turn out mushy, or that the whole soup would be too starchy, but that wasn't the case at all.  It was actually quite yummy, kind of like dipping biscuits in chicken soup.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

2 pounds chicken breast, diced into 1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons butter

1 quart chicken stock
2 celery stalks, diced
1 cup baby carrots
1 cup baby onions

3 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 cup fresh green beans, ends removed, chopped into 1 inch lengths
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup milk


In a large pot, heat butter over medium heat.  Add onion, celery, carrot, green beans and garlic and sauté until soft.  Add the flour gradually.  Reduce heat to medium and stir for 2-3 minutes or until beginning to thicken.  Add chicken stock and bring to a boil, then add the bay leaf, peas and thyme.

In a separate frying pan, heat the remaining butter.  Pat chicken dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Brown the chicken in the butter.  Once the chicken pieces are browned, remove from heat.  Add the chicken to the pot of chicken stock.

Next, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Add melted butter and milk to the dry ingredients.  Mix gently until mixture just comes together.

Drop the dumpling batter into the soup by heaping teaspoonfuls.  The dumplings will grow larger as they cook.  Cover the pot to allow the dumplings to steam within the soup and cook for an additional 15 minutes or so

Once the dumplings have cooked fully, stir in the cream and season the soup to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve soup while hot, being sure to include a few dumplings in every bowl!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Honeyed Ginger Salmon

Yes, I know, I made something healthy. Don't be disappointed, it still has honey and brown sugar and oil and... it's healthy but not THAT healthy!  Phew!

Yield: 2-4 servings

1 1/2 - 2 pounds raw salmon fillets
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

Optional Garnishes:
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 green onion, sliced

Whisk oils, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, vinegar, and brown sugar together. Pour over salmon and marinate, refrigerated, for about 45 minutes or up to overnight.  Try not to skimp on the marinating!  It really locks in the moisture and flavor.

Preheat the broiler and place salmon on a sheet tray or cookie sheet.  Place pan directly under the broiler.  Drizzle some of the remaining marinade over the top of the salmon and cook for 8-12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.  I left mine in there probably a little longer than I should have, hoping for a more toasty glaze on the outside.  Be careful not to overcook it, as that would make it dry.

Remove the fish from the oven and drizzle with honeyed ginger glaze.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onions, if desired, and serve.

Honeyed Ginger Glaze
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

Simply mix above ingredients together and pour over warm salmon as soon as it is removed from oven.  Yum!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Spring Tasting Dinner

I had this party quite some time ago and never got around to posting it.  This was a twelve course tasting menu with paired cocktails.  It makes me tired even typing that out...  gosh, I used to have a lot of time on my hands before I decided to start my own business!

This was all small plates, each one paired with a drink.  It took about 5 hours to serve all of these courses!  It was a lot of fun to create an experience like this for my guests.

paired with

I thought this pairing was particularly inventive; a drink that is edible!  The sourness of the pinot noir, nuttines of the pecans, and creaminess of the goat cheese went very well together.  Carbonating the grapes was especially fun, you can read all about it should you dare in the post for the recipe!

paired with

This appetizer is one of my favorites to make; the flavors are intense and you can customize it endlessly (mini tostadas, tacos, crostini, etc).  And you can say the same for sangria; a couple of bottles of wine, some fruit and/or exotic juice, and voila, a sparkling and delicious drink!

Another thing that I really enjoy about making small plates or a pairing party like this one is the ability to showcase different global cuisines.  I love cooking (and therefore eating!) many different types of food: Asian, Mexican, Italian, etc, and it's fun to be able to pull those flavors together to create a really interesting and complex meal.

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Come on... how cute are those cucumber saketinis????

paired with

This is another go to recipe (hey, when you're planning 12 courses, you have to stick to some of what you know!). Not only is it a great vegetarian option, which is key when entertaining a large group, but the flavors are intense and it is easy to prepare. This is especially yummy in the summer, when the corn is so sweet it seems to melt in your mouth.

The jalapeño margarita might sound strange, but the spiciness really adds something, and it's particularly good when paired with other spicy flavors.

I tried to alternate the courses between flavor profiles to really keep this interesting, and made sure to have basically at least one dish from every food group; chicken, beef, seafood, pork, veggie, bacon (yes, that's a food group!)

I made the crust for these mini pizzas square purposely so that they would fit on this platter.  Talk about detail oriented, ha ha.  Or do they cal that OCD?

paired with

Another important thing to keep in mind when planning a meal like this is color.  I like to use vibrantly colored foods that are as attractive to the eye as to the tummy; and if the food itself is not particularly aesthetically pleasing, you can always add a colorful garnish or sauce!

paired with

This link will take you to my original recipe for these rolls, but I did make some small changes to it.  As you can see from the photos, I used penne pasta instead of regular elbow macaroni, to give the rolls a floral appearance.  To continue that theme (and the theme of spring), I rolled strips of bacon into "roses" and pressed them into the center of the mac n cheese rolls.

As far as the changes to the recipe, I added 2 cups of cooked butternut squash and swapped out the regular cheddar for white cheddar, giving it a smokier and richer flavor.  Yum!  Toasted garlic bread crumbs on top!

Bourbon!  I think cherry and bourbon go really well together, it's one of my favorite flavor pairings.  For this recipe, I infused the bourbon a couple of days in advance, then drained the cherries and coated them in chocolate.

paired with

I love these mini ramekin dishes.  They look adorable for savory or dessert dishes, and how nice is it to be able to serve something in the dish it was cooked in?!

The day after this party, I had about one of each drink left over in the fridge, just waiting in their pretty little serving glasses.  I had a lovely time finishing them off while cleaning up, ha ha.  It's always smart to allay the pain of doing housework by getting a little buzzed!

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This picture doesn't show the proportions very well, but this is a bite sized piece of tenderloin that I cut to make look like a tiny filet.  The original recipe was for a meal sized portion and I pared it down to make appetizers.

The fried basil on top was a nice addition and is very simple to do; simply slice the basil leaves into long strips and fry in hot oil for just a few seconds, then place on paper towels to remove excess oil.  The basil adds a fresh, earthy flavor to the dish, and the fried texture is a pleasant surprise.

These drinks came out looking so icy cold!  For this effect, I dipped the wet rim of each glass into water, and then into powdered sugar, and repeated.  Brrrr!

I think this was about the point that the party started to get a bit rowdy, which will explain why the quality, and quantity, of photographs declines after this point!  A crowded kitchen and hungry, drunken people can really get in the way of good food photography!
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What can I say about champagne and butter poached lobster? I think anyone with taste buds would agree that it's a great combination.

And then there were desserts!  Three courses of them, naturally.  Wouldn't you be disappointed if there were any less?!

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Blueberry and ginger go amazingly well together!

Serving this many drinks (12 courses x 20 people = approx 240 glasses!) was sure to exhaust even my prodigious tiny glass collection so in advance of the party, I went miniature glass hunting and came upon these adorable mason jars.  I thought they would be perfect to serve a drink or dessert in and I've even used a few to give gifts of homemade jam.  Home Goods is the ultimate resource for affordable little finds like this.

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I love these tasty little shooters!

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This is similar to a normal brownie, a bit less sweet with darker chocolate and a hint of coffee flavor.  What really makes this dessert special is the tiny chocolate covered coffee bean on top.  Plus, bonus, it looks cute!

And finally, the most adorable jello shot cocktail ever!

One of the best compliments I've ever gotten on a recipe was on this one. One of my guests said, "think about the incredible effort, detail and time Leah put into making this tiny dessert, just so we could all enjoy 30 seconds of exquisite flavor that we'll never forget." It was a very sweet comment!

I knew the night was a success when each and every guest was able to stick it out until the final course, which I served around 1 am. Definitely my most ambitious and challenging event to date, but lots of fun to create and plan (yes, I'm crazy!).

Here are some random pics from the party.  Cheers!