A taste of comfort…

Sometimes, comfort food is needed.  When you had a rough day at work or the changes in weather call for it, a simple dish can lift your spirits.  Granted, my Friday went well, and with the weather getting cooler, my taste buds were craving a dish that was soothing and flavorful.

Enter Chicken Pot Pie.  I did not have a lot of time to devote to making the original version, but I found a simple version that only took me five minutes to prepare and thirty minutes to bake.  It was healthy and comforting at the same time.

Chicken Pot Pie (adapted from Paula Deen’s Hurry-Up Chicken Pot Pie)

2 c. chopped, cooked chicken breasts

2 c. mixed vegetables

1 can of Reduced Fat Cream of Chicken soup (I used Cream of Mushroom)

1 c. chicken broth

1 tsp. thyme

1 tsp. sage

1 tsp. tarragon

1 1/2 c. Instant Biscuit Mix

1 c. Milk

Preheat oven to 35o° F.

In a greased 13 X 9 casserole dish, layer cooked chicken and frozen vegetables.  In a bowl, combine soup and broth with seasonings.  Pour soup mixture over the chicken and vegetables.  In another bowl, combine biscuit mix and milk.  When it is mixed, spoon  over the chicken mixture.  Bake for 30-35 minutes.

 

Giving cupcakes a special buzz…

I have hit my baking groove once again, and my oven must be either loving or hating me for the extensive use this week. This week was rough and stressful. When I got home at night, I either fell asleep on the couch or went into the kitchen to start on a list of recipes. Monday’s stress/boredom session brought about banana oat bread, which was okay…but nothing to write here about. I also made homemade tortilla chips seasoned with Penzey’s Spices Arizona Dreaming seasoning, which complemented the fresh salsa I had on hand well.

While I was looking through recipes yesterday, I found the one my boyfriend’s mom recently sent to me: Honey Lavender Cupcakes with Honey Vanilla Buttercream. Something about this recipe intrigued me, and soon before I knew it, I was whipping up these cupcakes. There was something I didn’t expect while baking…that I was going to have a lot of cupcakes leftover. Instead of jumping right into the recipe, I should have cut the ingredients in half for less cupcakes. However, they turned out being a hit and voila! people loved them.

You might be asking…where can I find lavender? Well, there are several places in Northern Virginia. First, you can pick your own at Seven Oaks Lavender Farm in Catlett, Va., which is located outside of Warrenton. The other place to find it would be Penzey’s Spices. You will have to ask for it. I bought mine at Penzey’s, since I did not have time to pick my own. However, I would be tempted to do so at a later time.

Also, you might be asking whether you should use local honey or store-bought honey. While I prefer the taste of locally harvested honey, the mere convenience of the store-bought variety sometimes wins over. Since I am out of my jar of local honey (thanks to my seasonal allergies), I used clover blossom honey from an organic grocery market. It yielded similar quality.

Honey Lavender Cupcakes with Honey Vanilla Buttercream

(Recipe adapted from Ohio Magazine, July 2011 edition)

Cupcakes:

5 c. all-purpose flour

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tbsp. dried lavender (8 oz. fresh lavender…see note)

2-1/2 c. sugar

3 c. vegetable oil

2 c. buttermilk

2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp. bourbon vanilla extract (if you have Madagascar or Mexican vanilla, you could use either one as well)

4 eggs, at room temperature

3/4 c. honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda by hand. Set aside.

Note: If using dried lavender that has been processed, mix with sugar. If using fresh lavender: pulse lavender in food processor. Transfer to a mixing bowl and combine with sugar. Mix the lavender sugar with the flour mixture.

In a mixer, combine the vegetable oil, buttermilk, apple cider vinegar, vanilla extract, eggs, and honey. Slowly add in the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined.

Portion batter by filling cupcake liners 3/4 full and bake for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

Yields 3-1/2 dozen cupcakes

Honey Vanilla Buttercream

1 lb. butter, softened

seeds of 2 Vanilla Beans

1/4 c. honey

2 tsp. dried lavender or 2 tbsp. fresh lavender (pulsed in food processor)

1 lb. powdered sugar

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the butter with the vanilla bean seeds. Add the honey and lavender and mix at medium speed until combined. Gradually add the powdered sugar until ingredients are thoroughly combined and a spreadable consistency.

Spread on cooled cupcakes.

20110805-102132.jpg

Leftovers? There’s a solution.

Lately, I have been making a conscientious effort to limit eating out at restaurants and to start eating healthy. Even though, I have a busy schedule and a tight budget, there is no doubt that I have found ways to eat great food that is healthy and budget friendly.

Last week, I made an awesome stuffed peppers dish that used lean ground beef, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. The meat had an amazing flavor, and since there was more meat than peppers, enter leftovers. As I was racking my mind on what I would do to utilize the meat, one recipe came into mind: Sloppy Joes.

With the leftover meat, I added some Elmer’s “It be bad” barbecue sauce. Tribe guy’s Mom brought me a bottle of this sauce during Easter, and it was awesome, since it added a sweet and spicy kick.

Overall, I thought this is one way to create a new spin on leftovers.

Stuffed Peppers

4 Red or Green Bell Peppers
1 lb. Lean Ground Beef
1 can of diced tomatoes with onion and garlic
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 onion, diced
1 pkg. of instant cooked rice (like Uncle Ben’s microwaveable rice)
1 tbsp. Smoked Paprika
1 tsp. Cumin
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the top off the peppers and remove the seeds, discard.

In a skillet, heat 1 tbsp. Olive oil with minced onion and garlic. After the onions and garlic begin to soften, add ground beef. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, and smoked paprika. Once the meat is brown, add tomatoes and rice.

In a 13 x 9 baking dish, make sure that the peppers are facing up and fill with meat filling. Top each filled pepper with a slice of smoked mozzarella. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, remove foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

When finished, remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes, serve immediately.

Sloppy Joes

With leftover ground meat mixture, warm it in skillet. Once meat is reheated, add 1/2 – 3/4 C. Barbecue sauce of your choice. Heat until bubbling. Serve with sandwich buns or Texas Toast.

20110718-083054.jpg

It’s Summertime in the city…

Since I have been on vacation or busy with work, I have not had time to update Charm Offensive Cooking.  However, I am planning to add more throughout the week.

My boyfriend came over to my apartment, and we cooked dinner together.   We had bratwurst, blackberries, yellow and orange peppers to use, so we decided to make a german-style feast of sorts.  First, I made a blackberry crisp, which was amazing served with vanilla ice cream.  While the crisp was baking, I helped my boyfriend with dicing up some peppers, onions, leeks, and peppers for the brats and potato dish.  First, we sliced the yellow and orange peppers in thin slices and diced the leeks.  This was going to be sauteed with butter, ground mustard, and a sea salt mixture with smoked paprika and fresh ground pepper.  Then, I sliced the onions and potatoes in small slices.  I added this to butter for frying.  After a bit, I added some dill, bacon bits, celery salt, fresh ground pepper and some sea salt.

While the veggie dishes were cooking, I removed the blackberry crisp and set up another pan for the bratwurst.  Next up were the bratwursts.  The brats were poached with a bock style beer and a special ingredient, which might not seem so complimentary….sweet pickle juice.   Once the brats were finished, the sauce in the pan was too good not to write about.  This sauce was a beer-amel (a caramel that tasted like a sweet beer).  It went beautifully with the brats.

Overall, the menu was great and it just complemented the relaxing weekend.

The brats were taking a beauty bath in the bock/pickle juice mixture.

Brats in Beer

a package of bratwurst

1 bottle of bock style beer

1/3 c. sweet pickle juice

Poach the brats in beer and pickle juice mixture.  Do this until the brats are done and the sauce is a thick consistency.  Serve the brats with the sauce immediately.

The potatoes were awesome..bacon makes everything taste better

Who thinks vinegar and mayo-based potato salads are overrated Salad

4 Red potatoes, thinly sliced

1 vidalia onion, thickly sliced

2 tsp. dill

4 tbsp. butter

1/4 c. bacon bits

2 tsp. celery salt

freshly ground sea salt and pepper

In a saute pan, melt butter.  Add potatoes and onions.  Saute for a while, then add dill, celery salt, sea salt, pepper.  Cook until potatoes are fork tender.  Serve immediately.

Brats are not awesome without peppers and onions.

Awesome Sauteed Peppers and Leeks

1 leek, diced

1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp. ground mustard

2 tbsp. bock style beer

1/2 tsp. sea salt/smoked paprika mixture (like Penzey’s Smoky 4S seasoning)

freshly ground pepper

3 tbsp. butter

In a saute pan, melt butter, then add peppers and leeks.  Cook until peppers start breaking down, then add pepper, sea salt/paprika mixture, ground mustard, and beer.  Once the peppers and onions are tender and broken down, serve with the brats.

Last but not least, I am star of the show...dessert

Blackberry crisp was the perfect way to end the meal.  Of course, I had to share this recipe on Crystal Clear Conservative, since we all know dessert is the best part of any meal.

With every season, there’s a cake!

Every season has a dessert that pairs well with it. For winter, there is always the infamous Red Velvet Cake (if you are from the South) or Gingerbread cake. For spring, coconut cake and any cake that uses a seasonal fruit generally rules. Fall always brings apple cake or cakes involving pumpkin. These cakes are generally the “little black dresses” for each season.

However, summer generally follows the spring trend of cakes utilizing seasonal fruit. That was until Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe that should be the cake of summer. When you think of summer, you think of fruity beverages, like Piña Coladas and Margaritas.

I made the Piña Colada Cake for a family gathering, and it is an easy recipe to make.  This cake received rave reviews for the most part, and it definitely will be in my collection for summer desserts.

As a twist to this recipe, I added 1 tbsp. Cream of Coconut and 1 tbsp. Pineapple Juice to the Powdered Sugar for the glaze.  The only thing that could have made this cake better was increasing the rum in the cake batter.  I used Dark Rum for the cake, and I realized that I could increase the tropical feel by adding Coconut or Mango rum to the mix.

Otherwise, this was a great cake recipe.

The Unofficial Start of Summer

Lately, I have been on the road traveling to visit family, but also getting away from it all. Needless to say, I have been yearning for a weekend to cook at home and enjoy the company of friends to balance the chaos that has been occurring in life lately. Well, I have finally had the opportunity to jump back into the kitchen to prepare a good meal.

This weekend, my boyfriend and I decided to have a mini picnic at a local park to celebrate the beautiful weather we had over the weekend. For starters, our menu included homemade guacamole, burgers, Italian Sausage with peppers and onions, and rum-soaked berry shortcake. Along with the meats, guacamole, and shortcake, we had great wine and conversation.

We started with the guacamole. I love guacamole, as it is a cool, refreshing dip with a lot of healthy stuff in it. Paired with a multigrain tortilla chip, you have a good nutritional snack. We also had deviled eggs, which I ate, since BF does not eat them. Deviled eggs mark summer picnics, and Whole Foods has some of the best.

Before leaving, I began to prep the rum-soaked berries. After removing the stems and halving strawberries, I added blueberries to be combined with 2 oz. dark rum and 1/4 c. sugar. After stirring the berries with the rum mixture, it was off to the refrigerator to chill until later in the evening.

After preparing the dessert, I moved on to working on the peppers and onions. I started off with 2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil to heat in a skillet. Once the skillet was warm, I added the onions (coarsely sliced), one red bell pepper (sliced), and one green bell pepper (sliced). I cooked until the peppers and onions were soft. The onions were beginning to caramelize.

While the peppers were cooking, I diced an onion and combined it with a pound of ground beef. In addition to the onion, I added some bread crumbs, Penzey’s Smoky 3S seasoning, and pepper.  I made mini hamburgers that I would be taking with us (along with the sausages), since the apartment complex does not allow grills.

Thankfully, our friend came to join us for the picnic, because we could not eat all of the food alone. Our friend brought a bottle of wine as a gift. Monte Ducay Tinto Pergamino is a smooth tasting wine with hints of cherry. This wine was a beautiful red that paired well with the two meats, but it was perfectly fine to drink alone.

I also had some leftover Church Creek 2009 Cabernet Franc. Two weekends ago, I traveled to the Eastern Shore of Virginia to visit three wineries and enjoy some time away from the hectic pace of the DC Metro area. The Church Creek label is made by Chatham Vineyards, and this winery offers great wines. The Cabernet Franc is a smooth tasting wine with hints of raspberry. It was aged in French oak for nine months. This wine pairs well with Italian dishes, in addition to some good barbecue. We had the wine with the burgers, and it was a great way to finish the bottle.

Overall, you can’t complain about the unofficial start of summer. Picnics, good food, great wine, and tons of great company create memories to come.

Guacamole

2 ripe avocados, mashed
1 lime
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 c. Vidalia Onion, diced
1 jalapeno, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp. cumin
Cilantro to taste

First, cut avocados and scrape the avocado out into a bowl, mash the avocado and squeeze the juice from the lime onto the mashed avocado. Add the minced garlic clove, onion, tomatoes, diced jalapeno, cumin, and cilantro. Continue to combine all ingredients, and promptly serve.

Have a great summer! I will try to have some more updates in the next few days from my travels, including two winery reviews and some more innovative ideas from the kitchen.

I feel bad for neglecting you…

Here it goes…I’m sorry that I have not updated this site for a while. This stuff happens when you are too busy with life, work, writing for two additional websites, studying for class, and nursing an injury. Due to this long list of excuses unforeseen circumstances, it has impacted my cooking/baking. Not to worry, we still have wine reviews.

Let’s start with Easter dinner. My boyfriend and I hosted dinner at my apartment for our families. It was their first time meeting each other. The food was delightful, and I didn’t even have to cook, as my boyfriend prepared the meal. Our menu included: Country Ham basted in Dr. Pepper, Macaroni and Cheese, Easter Bread, and two salads. If I can get the recipe for the ham, I’ll include it in a follow up. Right now, we are finding creative ways to eat ham.

One way is to fry it like bacon and season it accordingly. My boyfriend likes to season it different ways using herbs. For one variation, he created a savory version using sage, thyme, rosemary and dill. This was my favorite version. Another variation was a more sweet-heat version, using cumin and Penzey’s Baking Spice. There was a barbecue version using smoked paprika, chipotle hot sauce, brown sugar, and cumin. This was awesome and made me crave some Riscky’s BBQ…can’t wait for Texas. The curry version was also yummy.

Aside from ham, I haven’t done much in terms of wine tasting. The day after Easter, my boyfriend and I wanted to try two awesome wineries near Front Royal. Philip Carter Winery was our first destination. When we arrived, we noticed that it was closed, despite what the website said. We decided to travel to Fox Meadow Winery instead, and it was well worth the trip.

Fox Meadow Winery offers some of the best red wines in the region. They were all so good that we had a tough decision to make. We loved their Syrah, which paired well with a good sharp cheddar. We also loved their Freezeland Red, which is a semi-sweet wine. The Cabernet Franc was out of this world and would have paired well with a steak. I also liked their Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

The atmosphere was great, and the owner of the winery did a superb job explaining the food pairings for the wines.

I’ll have more later. Hopefully, I’ll make that Piña Colada Cake over the weekend that I have been promising my boyfriend.

Lemon Meets Blueberry: A Love Story for Foodies

This morning, I looked in the pantry for breakfast food, only to come out disappointed as there was nothing. I had the coffee, but nothing good to accompany the taste of a bold Italian Roast. Off to Starbucks I went…since I was running late for my friend’s bridal shower. At Starbucks, I broke away from my diet for a Caramel Frappuccino and a slice of Very Berry Coffee Cake. The cake was amazing and sent me dreaming of a recipe for tomorrow’s breakfast. I was craving blueberries, and since I had lemon in the fridge, I started thinking of a quick bread involving the two ingredients.

After my friend’s bridal shower, which was lovely and based on a tea party (not the political type), I came home with a quest to find a recipe. Enter Lemon Blueberry Muffins, a recipe that I found on Pillsbury.com.These muffins looked yummy, and since I had two of the ingredients available to me here at home, it was off to Trader Joe’s for the rest of them. They had a great selection of organic blueberries and they looked fresh (which can be hit or miss for my local store). I picked up blueberries.

I figured fixing these muffins would brighten my spirits, since I was in the midst of preparing my taxes. Baking always is a good therapy for a bad mood (and so is a glass of good wine). I adapted the recipe slightly from the original recipe, but they were scrumptious.

Photobucket

Lemon-Blueberry Muffins

1/3 C. Milk
1/4 C. Canola Oil
1 Container Greek Yogurt
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
1 3/4 C. All-Purpose Flour
1/4 C. Sugar
1 tbsp. Grated Lemon Peel
1 tbsp. Lemon Juice
2 1/2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. Blueberries (I used fresh, but you could use frozen)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease the bottom of the muffin tins or use paper liners.

Combine all of your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt). In another bowl, combine lemon peel, lemon juice, milk, oil, greek yogurt, vanilla and egg. Whisk well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir until well mixed, then fold in 1 c. blueberries.

Place muffins in the oven for 16 minutes. After you remove the muffins from the oven, let cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from pan. Place on a nice serving dish and drizzle with lemon glaze.

Ah yes…I didn’t mention the glaze. After all, presentation is key…right?

Lemon Glaze

2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. sugar

In a small bowl, combine the two ingredients until smooth looking. Drizzle over warm muffins.

So, here is the story how lemon met blueberry, thus creating a sweet and sour medley for the taste buds. I can’t think of a better way to wake up on a weekend morning.

Snow = Baking Storm

With a snow storm in our midst, I had the chance to catch up on baking.  I love to bake.  It is one thing that gives me great joy to provide a warm treat for loved ones and friends.

Tonight, I made some Cranberry Bread.  I had a box mix to use up from Christmas, so I decided to bake it as a surprise for my boyfriend, who sprained his ankle.  It was flavorful and moist.  Granted, I could have doctored it up a little by adding some almond extract or almonds to the mixture, but I wanted to keep it simple not to overpower dinner.

The main star was tonight’s dinner.  I made a chicken rice casserole that was perfect for the snowy evening.  This casserole was simple and easy to make.  In fact, you could even make it ahead of time too.  The casserole begins with cooked chicken (I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts) seasoned with garlic.  The sauce has a Cream of Mushroom base, and you can adapt the seasonings to taste.  It is a healthy, comfort food dish.

Chicken Rice Casserole

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cubed)

2 cans of Cream of Mushroom Soup

1 c. Milk

1 tbsp. minced garlic

1/2 c. slivered almonds

1 tbsp. tarragon

2 packs of microwaveable brown rice (unseasoned), cooked

1/2 c. dry bread crumbs

2 tbsp. Grana Padrano or Parmesan cheese, grated

**Note:  I used 2 tbsp. Grana Padrano and 2 tbsp. Raspberry Cheddar Cheese

1 tbsp. melted butter

1 tsp. Smoked Paprika

First, saute the chicken in garlic and olive oil.  Cook until chicken is no longer pink.

Second, stir together two cans of cream of mushroom soup with 1 c. milk.  Once combined, add the chicken, almonds, tarragon and rice.  Stir together and place mixture in a greased 13X9 baking dish.

Third, combine bread crumbs, melted butter, smoked paprika, and cheese together.  Spoon bread crumbs over chicken rice mixture.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.  Let cool a bit before serving.

If you are looking for a wine to pair with this casserole, I would pick a Pinot Grigio or a light red, like a Sangiovese. Three Fox Vineyards has two great offerings. Their Appassionata Vidal Blanc is a really good white, as it sweet and crisp. The Il Volpe Sangiovese is a light red that would pair well with meats and cheeses. With cherry and spice notes, this wine is 75% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Chambourcin.

Salmon with Chardonnay Pan Sauce

Salmon is one of my favorite seafood dishes. When I visited Montana a few years ago, I had the best cedar plank salmon dishes at Montana’s Rib and Chop House. It was enough to swoon this Maryland native to adopt a new fish with its mild taste that could adapt to any rub or pan sauce.

Imagine my surprise while I was shopping and found Honey Smoked Salmon fillets that were ready for searing. I immediately picked up a package of the fish for dinner Monday night, since I had Jasmine Rice on hand to use. This turned out to be a great dish that paired well with Chardonnay, and I figured that I would reduce some of it along with some butter, dill, and tarragon to create a pan sauce. You could drink it as well, since it is the perfect pairing.

Honey Smoked Salmon with Chardonnay Pan Sauce
1 package of precooked Honey Smoked Salmon Fillets
1/4 c. Chardonnay (I used Knapp 2009 Reserve Chardonnay)
2 tbsp. butter
2 tsp. Dill
2 tsp. Tarragon

First, lightly sear the salmon fillets in olive oil. After fish is cooked, remove from heat.

In a pan, melt butter. Once butter is melted, pour in Chardonnay, Dill, and Tarragon. Cook until chardonnay reduces. Immediately serve over salmon.