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 A month ago, my boyfriend and I went out to dinner at a restaurant called Bin 100 here in Milford. Bin 100 is an interesting sort of fusion between Asian, Italian, and everything else. It sounds weird, but it’s really good. My main dish was a pork tenderloin with peppers, balsamic vinegar reduction, salty shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and a side of baked cheese polenta, which was buttery and fantastic. It was a terrific meal. Steve got some sort of sausage and orichette dish, which he said was also really good. All in all, a tasty experience.

The amuse bouche that night was a cold chickpea salad on some sort of crispy little square. I was mildly terrified when the waiter placed it before us–chickpeas scare me–but I made myself try it, reminding myself that I could always make Steve eat it if it was gross. Well, it wasn’t gross–it was delicious. And ever since then I’ve had it in my head that I wanted to try and replicate the chickpea salad on a side dish scale.

It’s been a while so I can’t remember exactly how accurate my attempt is, but I do know that it is delicious. The raw garlic adds a zesty spiciness. The lemon and parsley add a bright, fresh tone to the dish. The bell peppers and onions are crunchy and refreshing, and the chickpeas themselves lend a filling and substantial body. The chicken, too, is moist and delicious. Serve with some grilled pita brushed with oil and sprinkled with oregano and you have a really great Mediterranean meal that’s quick, easy, and doesn’t require heating up your oven.

  

  

  

Lemon Garlic Grilled Chicken

  •  1 pound chicken tenders
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 C olive, canola, or vegetable oil
  •  1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • salt and pepper
  1. In a large ziplock bag, combine chicken, oil, juice and zest of one lemon, oregano, and garlic, finely grated or minced. Massage the marinade into the chicken and refrigerate for 1-3 hours.
  2. Remove chicken, shaking off excess marinade. Season with salt and pepper and grill approximately 4 minutes per side, or until chicken is cooked through. Let sit for 10 minutes and serve.

  Chickpea Salad  

  • 2 14-oz cans of chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely zested
  • Zest of one lemon, juice of 2
  • 1/3 C olive, canola, or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 C parsley, chopped
  • 1 very small yellow onion, diced small
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  1. Rinse, drain, and lightly dry chickpeas and place in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Let sit or serve immediately.
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This post is really evidence of how well I’m progressing along my journey out of picky eater-dome. I used to hate eggs. I would eat them from time to time because they were part of a few family traditions, but I really didn’ t like them. They were bland and mushy, the thing I had to suffer through before I could scarf my bacon and cinnamon bun. When I studied abroad, I was on a really tight budget, but, being the devout lover of breakfast that I am, I sought to find a way to have hearty breakfasts on the cheap, and eggs were the answer. Somewhere along the line, I began to more than tolerate them, and now I really like them.

Tomatoes, even more so than eggs, were the enemy. I couldn’t eat them without gagging, even bright jewel red cherry tomatoes. While I’m still a little iffy about raw tomatoes, less and less cooking time is required to make them palatable, and I can’t get enough of them when they are roasted.

Granted, tomatoes and eggs are pretty benign stuff. Still, the fact that I would willingly make a dish that incorporates both elements and–GASP!–enjoy them, really shows me how far I’ve come. I couldn’t be prouder. 

 

 

Caprese Frittata

  • 1/2 C cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 4 large leaves of basil, cut into chiffonade
  • 1/2 C fresh mozzarella, cubed
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. milk or cream
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  1. Heat a medium sized oven-safe skillet with a metal, not plastic handle over medium heat. Spray generously with cooking spray and sautee tomatoes until just softened, about 2 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs and milk. Add salt, pepper, cheese, and basil and mix well (reserve a handful of cheese and basil). Pour over tomatoes and raise temperature to medium high, cooking until frittata is set, but the top remains raw.
  3. When mixture is almost cooked, sprinkle with remaining cheese and cook under the broiler, set to high, until the fritatta is cooked and the surface is brown. Do not leave unattended or it will burn. Remove from pan, sprinkle with remaining basil and serve.

(Total time: 15 minutes. Servings: 6 slices, which really serves 3-4 people) 

Corn Muffin Recipe

My favorite corn bread recipe is adapted only the slightest bit from this recipe for Homesteader Cornbread from Allrecipes.com. All I do is bump the sugar up to 3/4 of a cup, because I like my corn bread about a step away from cake. To make this into 12 muffins, I just halved the recipe and cooked them for 20 minutes. The toothpick won’t come out totally clean, but I promise you they’re done. This recipe is amazing, but the secret is definitely that overcooking will kill your bread, and that’s no fun for anyone.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 C white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). In a small bowl, combine cornmeal and milk; let stand for 5 minutes. Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix in the cornmeal mixture, eggs and oil until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean.

Here’s my latest cake! It’s kind of an inside joke, but I think you can enjoy it even without the backstory:

It’s a giant cannoli! With a “Welcome to New Jersey” highway sign, which has a cereal treat interior and is covered in green fondant. The cake itself is half chocolate, half vanilla. The frosting is a very light cream cheese buttercream. There are nice big chocolate chips on the end (to make it a chocolate chip cannoli) and the “shell” is rolled out fondant.

It also had sparklers on top, which, yes, I did light. I think Duff would be proud 🙂

Anyway, I haven’t done a ton of 3-D carved cakes before, so I was a little nervous making this, but I was really happy with the way it came out and thought I’d share it with you all. Hope you like it as much as I do!

 

 

Some recipes are born from a concrete concept or list of ingredients; other recipes are born from miscellaneous pantry items and the need to go grocery shopping.

This Mexican Chicken Vegetable Soup is one of the later.

My mother has a habit of not warning me that I am expected to make dinner until the meal is upon us. Not that I mind, but I do like a little advance notice. We’re not the kind of house that has all the ingredients of a successful supper on hand at any given time. We’re more the kind of house where someone is invariably sent to the grocery store for a crucial missing ingredient at least once a week.

I was planning on making Chicken Tortilla Soup, but upon the realization that we were out of rice, I changed my plans slightly. Our lack of rice was ultimately fortuitous. Not only is this soup awesome, it’s made all the better for you with the extra vegetables and black beans I added to compensate. It looks like a lot of ingredients, but it’s a really great clean-out-the-fridge dish and you can substitute pretty much anything you want.

Mexican Chicken Vegetable Soup

  • Oil
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 2 bell peppers (red, orange, yellow, or a combination), diced
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken broth or stock
  • 4 bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 ear of corn, kernels removed
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 C fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  1. In a large pot, combine onion, 3 tbs. oil, and a pinch of salt. Sweat over medium low heat until translucent. Add garlic and turn heat to medium, stirring occasionally until softened. Add zucchini and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are lightly browned and cooked though. Add peppers and cook until softened.
  2. Add cumin, chili powder, and red pepper flakes. Stir and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, 1/2 tsp. salt, and chicken stock. Raise heat to medium high and cover. When mixture comes to boil, cover and let simmer for at least 20 minutes.
  3. While soup simmers, drizzle chicken with oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake at 374 until chicken is just cooked through. Remove from oven, cool, and shred with fingers, discarding bones, skin, and excess fat.
  4. After soup has simmered, add corn, black beans, and shredded chicken. Simmer for 15 minutes then add cilantro and lime juice. Check for seasoning, adjusting as needed, and serve with sour cream, tortilla chips, and/or chunks of avocado, or, alternatively, in addition to small mexican appetizers, such as empanadas or taquitos.

 

 

If there’s one food I could eat for the rest of my life (besides pizza or bread, but let’s not go there), it would be chocolate chip cookies. If there’s one way to make chocolate chip cookies even better, it’s adding chocolate covered caramels to the mix.

 I first made these for this past Valentine’s Day. They got rave reviews, but I didn’t think to make them again until just last week, when I was looking for a way to step up my normal chocolate chips for a special occasion. It may have been the best choice I made all week. The combination of the soft and chewy caramel-esq brown sugar base with the caramels and the smooth dark chocolate chips is positively addicting. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

Chocolate Caramel Chip Cookies 

(Originally adapted from the classic Nestle Tollhouse recipe) 

  • 1 C butter, softened
  • 1 C brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 box milk chocolate covered caramels, cut into bite-sized pieces (like Junior Caramels, Rolos, or Milk Duds)
  • 1 1/2 C dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips (I sprung for the Ghiardelli 60% cocoa chips this time–I’d highly recommend it)
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Cream butter and sugars. Stir in eggs and vanilla.
  3. Combine dry ingredients and slowly add into butter/sugar/egg/vanilla mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and candies.
  4. Let mixture chill for at least 10 minutes. Roll into balls roughly the size of golf balls and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, or until centers are set and edges are brown. 

 

 

We are getting closer and closer to the season finale! I’ll be sad to see the competition to end, but it’s all very exciting nonetheless. The only bad thing is that I now really, really like all of the remaining contestants. I’m going to be so sad to see them gradually eliminated.

On that note: Brianna has become the most recent competitor to be eliminated from the competition. I can’t say I’m all that sad to see her go. She was clearly a phenomenal cook, but she lacked the personality to be a star. And, to be honest, she kind of scared the crap out of me. I had a feeling that her number was up this week, so the decision didn’t come as a surprise in the least. What I was really surprised about this week was Arti’s poor performance and, consequently, placement in the bottom two. You knew she wouldn’t be eliminated, but, as the competition nears a close, no one is safe any more. She’s really going to have to step it up and regain her confidence in order to be safe next week. I wish her well.

But Arti wasn’t this week’s biggest surprise–that honor goes to Brad and his unusually stellar performance. Brad is adorable. As I think I mentioned last week, he reminds me of a little puppy dog, something I mean to be a compliment. He’s sweet and I’ve really wanted to like him. But every time the camera turns on, he loses all his sparkle. Not the case this week! Brad really turned up the charm, starting with the camera challenge, where he pulled off his assignment to make Bachelorette Party food with humor and charisma. Then, at the star challenge, he really channelled Frank Sinatra, former owner of the Palm Springs estate where this week’s challenge took place, and charmed the guest judges and selection committee alike. He clearly has the culinary chops. If he keeps this up, he’s one to watch in this competition.

Bye, bye Brianna--Brianna becomes the latest contestant eliminated from Food Network's The Next Food Network Star (All photos courtesy of foodnetwork.com)

 

Confession: I am a self-professed pizza junkie. As much as I always want to claim something highbrow and extravagant for my favorite food, I am always forced to admit that there is little on this earth that makes me happier than a good pizza. Key word being “good”; I also am a self-professed pizza snob. The one single complaint I had about my four fantastic years at Ithaca College was how mediocre the pizza up in central New York was. While I won’t turn down pizza in any way, shape, or form, I will moan bitterly about the inferiority of less-than-stellar pizza to anyone who is indulgent enough to listen to me.

I know grilled pizza is kind of an “in” thing at the moment, but I feel obligated to tell you that I actually started it. Ok, so I wasn’t literally the first person to ever grill a pizza (far from it), but I did start grilling pizzas way before there was any bandwagon to jump onto. Got it? Good.

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, I will give you one piece of advice regarding grilled pizzas: go make one. Right now. While I generally eschew trends, this is one worth following. If you already love pizza in the oven, pizza on the grill will blow you away. I blame my pizza-snobbery entirely on being raised in close proximity to New Haven, CT, home of the original Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napolitana, aka the best pizza in the entire universe. Pepe’s pizza has thin, crispy, chewy crust, simple sauce, the perfect amount of cheese, and deliciously burnt edges (known by true fans as “char”). I’ve been trying to replicate it for years and grilling my pizza is the closest I’ve gotten. It is that good.

The use of the red onions and roasted peppers arose entirely out of a vegetable crisper scavenger hunt (i.e. What in here isn’t bad or going bad?). The sauce on the pizza is just a can of crushed tomatoes run through a fine mesh sieve and mixed with a pinch of salt. Roast the peppers by grilling on one side until the skin is charred and blistering and turning until all four sides are cooked, removing the skin, and chopping as desired. The crust, as you will see below, is a mixture of bread and whole wheat flours. The onions are raw. It was definitely missing a little something (an herb, I think–basil would have been nice), but it was a pretty delicious combination nonetheless.

For your own pizzas, feel free to get creative. One of the most enjoyable parts about making grilled pizzas, since they are individual sized, is customizing your pizza to your own personal tastes. The possibilities are endless. Have fun and enjoy!

 

Grilled Pizza

  • 1 batch of homemade dough (see below) or 1-2 balls of store-bought pizza dough
  • 1 can of crushed tomatoes, strained
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
  • Oil or cooking spray for the grill
  1. Preheat grill, setting on medium high heat.
  2. Divide dough into equal parts approximately the size of your fist. Re-roll and shape into flat, round discs, either using your hands or a rolling pin.
  3. Oil grill and place pizzas over hottest points. When bottom is cooked and showing dark, defined grill marks, (about 3 mins.) remove to a greased cookie sheet, cooked side up.
  4. Top pizzas with sauce, mozzarella, and your favorite toppings
  5. Return pizzas to grill, topping side up, and cook until bottom is done and cheese is melted. (Note: Be sure to check frequently to make sure bottoms of pizzas are not burning too badly, but leave lid down whenever you are not checking or the cheese will never melt!)

Wheat Pizza Dough (adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 packet rapid rise yeast
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (see yeast packet for exact temperature)
  • 1 tablespoon oil or cooking spray
  1. In a large bowl, combine bread and wheat flours, yeast, and salt.
  2. Stir in water (I strongly, strongly advise using a candy or fry thermometer to check your water temperature to avoid yeast inactivation and crushing pizza heartbreak) until dough just comes together.
  3. Turn dough out onto lightly dusted surface and knead 7-10 minutes, or until dough is smooth, pliable, and not sticky in the least.
  4. Place dough in a well-oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, which should take about 2 hours. (Fun fact: I usually turn on the oven and leave the door open to help dough rise, but I didn’t want to heat up the house on this 90 degree day, so I left the dough in the garage. It worked like a charm.)

(Makes 3 medium pizzas or 4-5 generously portioned individual pizzas)