Friday, May 28, 2010

I'M BACK... and with Mac & Cheese

I am not sure if enough people read this yet to have noticed, but I was away for a bit.  I took a road trip to FLA with my parents to visit my brother, sister-in-law, & niece in Orlando and my cousin's graduation in the West Palm area.  Two weeks on the road & in hotels with the family and we all survived!  Mostly thanks to the super swanky digs my brother booked for us... having a brother who works for Loews has its benefits.  He even got us the hospitality suite at the Royal Pacific where he works.  Everything at the Royal Pacific & Portifino is first class and I'll be posting soon about all the goodies we were treated to during our stay.

I came back in time for a couple of real special goodies here.  From goodLife{eats}, I won a $75 variety box of meats from U.S. Wellness Meats.  It was a big meaty present of NY Strip Steaks, Free Range Chicken Breasts, Shredded BBQ Beef, and Nitrate Free/MSG Free Beef Sticks & Summer Sausage.  I also got a jar of Cherry Pistachio Salt by Secret Stash Salts (and a small baggie of Lavender Rosemary Salt).  On top of all that, I was just a couple days away from my CSA's first delivery!  It was an awesome welcome home!

The first thing I tore into was the beef sticks and they were tasty.  Tonight I made one of the four chicken breasts that came in the pack with lots of CSA & farmers market goodies.  I made chicken lettuce spring rolls and asparagus & tomato mac & cheese.  The mac & cheese looks darker than the average mac & cheese because I use a cheddar cheese that is made with Guiness Beer & I add in tomato paste to give it some extra tomato flavor.

(measurements are only approximations)
1/2 lb whole wheat elbow macaroni
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 cup 2% milk
1/4 lb Cahill Guiness Cheddar grated (it was all they had left at Salumeria in RTM - I love this stuff!)
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 pint grape tomatoes halfed
1 bunch asparagus cut in about 1-1 1/2 inch pieces
salt & pepper to taste

After tossing the macaroni in about 5 cups of boiling water, start the butter melting in a good sized saute pan (I use this oven safe pan from IKEA - so later I don't need to dirty another pan) over med/high heat.  Also preheat the oven to 350.  Stir in  the flour to the butter and let it cook for a few minutes (you just made a roux!) and then stir in the tomato paste, cooking another few minutes.
The macaroni should be ready to be drained about now.
Slowly stir in the milk into the roux.  Once the milk is fully incorporated into the flour add the cheese and stir gently till it completely melts.  Add the spices and salt & pepper to taste.  Fold in the drained macaroni and then the tomatoes and asparagus.  Gently fold together till mixed evenly.
If your pan is oven safe pop it in the oven for 30 minutes.  If not, put it in a baking dish then into the oven for 30 minutes.

1 chicken boneless skinless chicken breast slice into 1/4 inch thick strips
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lime halved
1 red bell pepper
2 medium carrots
4-5 scallions
handful fresh cilantro rough chopped
1 tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 head green leaf lettuce
kosher salt & pepper

Season the chicken with salt & pepper.  Heat olive oil in a pan over high heat.  Add the chicken to the pan.  As the chicken cooks squeeze half a lime over chicken.
While the chicken cooks, peel the pepper & carrots with a vegetable peeler.  You won't be able to peel where the pepper curves in so use that curve as the natural line to cut the pepper.  The pieces will come apart easily and you can peel the bits of skin left.  I also like to remove all the ribs - the peeler works nicely on that too.
Chicken should be just about done.  When it is, just put it on a plate and set aside.
Julienne the peppers and carrots by cutting the peppers into thin strips long ways.  Slice the carrots on an angle and then stack the slices and cut down the stack to create "match sticks" (or you could grate the carrots with the biggest grater holes).  Slice the scallion into small rounds (about 1/4 inch) all the way up the greens.  Toss the veggies & the cilantro in a bowl and add in the vinegar, soy sauce, & sesame oil and toss to coat.  Adjust the seasonings and salt & pepper to your taste.
Cut the base on the head of lettuce so all the leaves are free.  Gently rinse & dry (best in a salad spinner).  Holding a leaf in your palm, add in the veggies and then the chicken.  Fold over the sides of the leaf.

And now... ENJOY!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bad Day/Good Cupcakes

My day started at 5:30am when I was woken up by a wicked bout of heartburn.  Next I missed the bus to South Philly, leaving me to wait in the rain for the next.  Finally at my volunteer gig, the seniors were more ornery than usually, leaving me dazed as I left.  And just for good measure, just a few blocks from my apartment building I lost my footing on some uneven sidewalk and went down like a sack of potatoes... lovely.

I finally got out of the hot sticky weather and into my cool safe apartment about 2pm.  I vowed not to leave my apartment for 24 hours till what ever hex that was plaguing me had passed.  I needed a project that was guaranteed to bring happiness and joy - CUPCAKES!  One small issue, I swore not to leave my apartment for fear that I would end up chased down to the Delaware River by a rabid pack of pit bulls (this is Philly so it is within the realm of possibilities) and I had no eggs or milk for my batter.  This is where bribery comes in very handy.  Using the promise of cupcakes, I was able to obtain a couple eggs & some milk from Dan.

I made a simple vanilla cupcake batter (upping the vanilla extract to a tablespoon) and mixed in mini dark chocolate chunks.  In 20 minutes they rose up nice and light & fluffy with dark chocolate specks.  For the frosting I was torn between a classic butter cream and cream cheese frosting.  That's when I realize - I didn't have enough confectioner sugar for any frosting.  I would have to go to the corner store if I wanted to frost my cupcakes (and is that really optional? no way!).  I was convinced that with the way my day was going I would end up walking in just as the place was being robbed.  Luckily I was able to get to the store and home without indecent.

I decided to make cream cheese frosting and leave some plain, and add coco powder to some.  I added both batches to the pastry bag to pipe onto the cupcakes giving them a nice chocolate/vanilla swirl effect.  The frosting was very easy:

Let a stick of butter and a brick of cream cheese come to room temperature and drop them into the mixer bowl.  I whipped it up with the whisk attachment.  Then I added some vanilla extract and a touch of milk and whipped it some more.  I slowly added the confectioner sugar until it was as sweet as I wanted it.  Then I scooped some out before adding the coco powder & whipping it into the frosting.

And as an added bonus, after frosting 20 cupcakes, I still have a bunch of frosting left over.  I'll have to think of something creative & yummy for the leftovers.

After a cupcake or two, tomorrow is looking a lot brighter.