There’s something about…

Imagetraveling that makes you want to be at home, being surrounded by family holding vigil for a loved one, and something about baking that soothes/heals the soul.

Last week, I traveled to Texas to be with a loved one, who had a medical crisis, and I was reminded of the strength of family.  Whether or not, you are from a tight knit family, it is always amazing to see how family cares for each other in times of need and how prayer can make a difference.

While I did not do any baking in Texas, I made up for it in my apartment kitchen last Saturday.  I whipped up a batch of Graham Cupcakes and Key Lime Buttercream.  Perhaps, it was the warm weather that inspired me to make these delicacies or the fact that my boyfriend and I were visiting with my Dad, who loves key lime pie.

The cupcakes were easy to make, and the buttercream was awesome.  You can find the recipe over at Ming Makes Cupcakes.

In the meantime, enjoy these cupcakes with your loved ones and bring a smile to their face.

Off the Rack…Wine Review for the Weekend

In the past, I have been kind of neglectful when it comes to posting.  It is sad, but of course, life happens…which is good, right?  Well, there are times for relaxation in my world through running, yoga, and entertaining.  Entertaining is one of my favorite things to do, and so one night, my boyfriend decided to bring a bottle of wine over that was reminiscent to the one we had on our first Valentine’s Day together.  This is the basis for the Wine Review for the Weekend series.

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Source: Trump Winery

This week, the wine of the weekend is Kluge Estate (now Trump Winery)’s New World Red.  It is one of the best red wines I have tasted, and it is versatile enough to pair with steak and chocolate.  While the wine we had on our first Valentine’s Day was from the Kluge Estate repertoire (Albemarle’s Simply Red), this red was full bodied with hints of oak, black cherry, and currant.  Of course, we chose to celebrate Valentine’s Day with chocolate and this wine.

There is no doubt that we will be adding more bottles of this, and the Albemarle Simply Red to the wine rack shortly.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Everything fell out of line this week.  My boyfriend is out of town, and since he comes over for dinner during the week, I was left to my own defenses.  Since I had class every night after work, I fixed a pot of chicken tortilla soup that I could heat up once I got back home.  The Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food.   Although the recipe was vegetarian, I added cooked, shredded chicken to the recipe for protein.  I also omitted the chili powder for Penzey’s Spices Arizona Dreaming Blend and Chipotle Tabasco Sauce for heat.  It was super easy.

Chicken Tortilla Soup (Adapted from Everyday Food)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded

1 T. Olive Oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp. Arizona Dreaming seasoning

1 tsp. cumin

1 tbsp. Chipotle Tabasco Sauce

1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes in juice

2-15 oz. cans of black beans, rinsed and drained

1 can. reduced sodium chicken broth

1 pkg. frozen corn kernels

Coarse salt and ground black pepper

1 C. Crushed tortilla chips, plus more for serving

1 tbsp. lime juice, plus lime wedges  for serving

Avocado slices for serving

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium.  Cook garlic, Arizona Dreaming, chipotle tabasco and cumin until fragrant.  It will only take a minute, then add the tomatoes with sauce, beans, broth, corn, and 1 C. water.  Season with salt and pepper.

Bring soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Add tortilla chips, and cook until softened.  Remove from heat, and add lime juice, season with salt and pepper.  Serve with crushed chips, sharp cheddar cheese, avocado slices, and lime wedges.

This should serve 4 people.

Bulgogi Made Easy

I have been trying to eat healthier lately.  In fact, one of my Lenten goals was to focus on being healthier, in terms of my mind, body, and spirit.  However, there are times when you crave comfort foods to soothe your soul during difficult situations.   Last Sunday, I was scouring through my Google reader and came across a great recipe for a healthier version of Bulgogi.  Bulgogi is a food that I would often eat during my college years with friends, and I was excited to see a healthier remake of the recipe on Honey, I Shrunk the Gretchen!   This turned out to be great, and while Gretchen made it more healthier by serving with brown rice, I opted for Portuguese rolls instead.  I also served the Bulgogi sandwiches with Roasted Brussels Sprouts.

I also added diced red bell peppers to the saute pan with the onion that the recipe required.  After they were softened, I added the marinated beef.  The marinade for the shaved beef consisted of:  Tamari Sauce, Sesame Oil, Sugar, Minced Garlic, a pinch of ground ginger, and some freshly ground black pepper.

The dish was a success, and my boyfriend asked me to make it again for him.

Suggested Drink Pairings:

Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Dortmunder Gold

Shiner Bock

Rappahannock Cellars (Va.) Noblesse Rouge

Chrysalis (Va.) Vineyards Rubiana

Cinnamon Rolls Made Easy

Last weekend, I was craving something sweet to serve for a Saturday brunch that was easy to make and wouldn’t make a mess of the kitchen.  I decided to try a recipe for cinnamon rolls that did not require yeast.   At first, I was pretty skeptical about not using yeast, and I was worried that without yeast, it would compromise the quality of the rolls.  However, these cinnamon rolls were perfect and my guests raved about them.

Cinnamon Rolls (Adapted from Recipe Girl)

Filling:

4 tbsp. softened unsaltened butter

1 C. Light Brown Sugar (you can use dark brown sugar, per the original recipe’s instructions)

3 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice (original recipe calls for cinnamon, but I used what was available)

Dough

2 C. All-Purpose Flour  (make sure you have some more for rolling)

2 tbsp. sugar (the granulated stuff…no Sugar in the Raw, just rely on the Domino or whatever’s available)

3 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

3 tbsp. unsalted softened butter (room temperature)

3/4 C. Milk

1 egg, beaten

Glaze

1 C. Powdered Sugar

2 tbsp. milk (or more depending on the consistency)

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray your muffin tin with nonstick spray.

Prepare the filling:  Combine filling ingredients with a fork until a crumble like mixture is formed.  Set bowl aside.

Let’s work on the dough:  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  With clean hands (or that wonderful tool known as a pastry blender…man, I miss mine.  It got lost during a move), work the butter into the flour mixture.  Add the milk and egg, stir to combine.

Now comes the *fun* part:  Roll the dough out onto a floured surface into a large rectangle.  Sprinkle the filling over the surface of the dough (make sure it’s even).   I promised you the fun part, which is roll the dough into a roll.  Cut the rolls into 12 pieces.  Place the pieces into the muffin tin.  Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.

While the rolls are baking, let’s go over the glaze.  It’s easy peasy to make this glaze.  In a small bowl, combine the sugar, milk, and vanilla.  Stir until the glaze turns into a frosting consistency.   After removing the rolls from the oven, move the rolls onto a plate, then drizzle the glaze over them.

Totally yummy and the kitchen…well, it was a bit messy!  Cleaning is the fun part of cooking, right?

Busy…and running out of options

Last week, I had an extremely busy week at work, and with yoga class after work, I did not have much time to spend in the kitchen.  When this happens, I am normally at a loss of inspiration until I decided to take a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and make baked chicken fingers.  I paired this with kale chips, and it was pretty remarkable by the healthiness of the meal.  In a pinch, try the Kale Chips I featured in an early post.

Baked Chicken Fingers

1 1/2 c. Panko Bread Crumbs

1 tbsp. Buttermilk Ranch Seasoning  (The one I used was from Penzey’s)

1 tsp. Smoked Paprika

1/2 tsp. Chipotle Tabasco Sauce

2 eggs

1/2 c. buttermilk

2 tbsp. grated parmesan reggiano cheese

Salt and Pepper for the chicken breasts

2 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into strips

In a medium bowl, beat eggs, buttermilk, chipotle tabasco sauce together.  In a 8 x 8 baking dish, combine the panko, spices, and grated cheese.  Dip the chicken strips in the egg mixture, then take each strip and transfer to the panko mixture.  Make sure that the panko mixture coats the chicken strip.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until the chicken temperature reaches 180 degrees and when cut shows no pink.

Since this dinner was made for two people, it can be easily doubled for a family of four.

Maple Bourbon Pork Chops and Cheese Grits

One evening last week, I had a craving for something sweet and savory.   After looking in the refrigerator, I saw a package of boneless pork chops that looked ready for a cast iron skillet and some 1 on 1 time in the oven.  However, fear came across me.  How do I transform pork chops into something sensational for a weeknight?  Enter a recipe I found on How Sweet Eats that incorporated the sweet flavors of maple syrup and bourbon.  It was easy to prepare for the most part (that is until I saw the blue flame from the alcohol cooking off in the sauce…I honestly don’t know why I freaked out).  All in all, the pork chops were phenomenal.  They just demanded something decadent to join them.

Enter Cheese Grits.  Granted, I did not grow up in the south.   As a Marylander, I was not exposed to the delicacy of consuming grits.  In fact, my Mother hated them and refused to cook them.  However, I felt it was time to give Grits a chance.  While shopping at Trader Joe’s, I noticed they had a bag of quick cooking grits.  I bought a bag and transformed instant grits into a masterpiece.

Cheese Grits

Pkg. of Quick Cooking Grits

1/2 c. Shredded Quattro Formaggio Cheese

1 tsp. sage

1 tsp. thyme

1 tsp. rosemary

Follow the directions on the package of grits for the most part, with the exception of water.  You want to use chicken broth, in place of water.  Add the thyme, rosemary, and sage while cooking.  Once the grits are finished cooking, fold in cheese over low heat.  Serve warm.

From Drop Box

Beautiful Mornings…

I love when the birds are chirping,  the weather is warm (especially in March), and enjoying freshly baked blueberry lemon muffins with a cup of coffee.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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I must admit the wrappers are pretty sweet.  After all, you can’t beat monkeys and bananas.  The muffins are the star of the show, and there is no doubt you can tailor these to your dietary needs.

Introducing Blueberry Lemon Muffins (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line your muffin tins with cute liners (you could use the plain ones, but that is no fun…is it?).  Put those to the side.

In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Make a well in center of flour mixture; set aside.

In a small bowl combine egg, milk, oil, and vanilla extract.  Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture.  Stir until moistened.

Now comes the fun part…fold in 3/4 cup of frozen blueberries (you can use fresh) and the zest of half a lemon. 

Spoon batter into muffin cups, filing two thirds full.  Note:  I love big muffins, so I always go three fourths full and bake a little longer.  Also, I use nine liners instead of twelve.  Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over muffin batter (I use Penzey’s Spices Cinnamon Sugar, because it rocks).  Bake in a 400° oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden.  Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Remove from cups; serve warm.

Totally delicious…and it pairs well with black forest bacon. 

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.

 

Makeover, Travels, and a Massive Storm

Well, first and foremost, do you like my new look?  I think this best reflects Charm Offensive Cooking’s real mission to share food and travel experiences.  It’s also bright too…yay!

Since I am done with raving over the new look, I guess I should tell you about my travels.  Recently, my boyfriend and I attended his friend’s wedding in Colorado Springs.  We had a great time visiting Colorado, even though there were a few snags with our airline and rental car.  Colorado was amazing, as we enjoyed great weather and beautiful scenery.  Between visiting Pike’s Peak and Garden of the Gods, we were certainly hungry and thirsty too.

Since Colorado has a lot of great breweries, we decided to visit Colorado Mountain Brewery in Colorado Springs.  This restaurant has some amazing brews on tap and great food.  However, it took forever for us to get a table (especially considering that we were not there during peak hours), and the waitress made an error with entering in our appetizer.  It was no big deal though, because the food and beer were worth the wait.

My boyfriend had the 7258 Blonde Ale.  It was a crisp tasting blonde ale that did not have a hoppy taste.  I had the UniBrau Hefeweissen.  This Hefeweissen was great and had citrus hints that made this stand out from the other hefeweizen beers that I have had in the past.  Little did I know that the beers we had selected would pair amazingly well with our food order.

For an appetizer, my boyfriend and I decided to order the Venison Eggrolls, which were filled with venison sausage, black beans, Monterey Jack cheese, peppers and onions.  They were amazing and were complimented by the two sauces served alongside of them.  They were so good that we ate them all before taking a picture.

Scenes before we ate dinner...soon there would be nothing left.

My boyfriend ordered an amazing burger, which was served with some awesome sweet potato waffle fries.  This burger was referred to as a Fourteener, and my boyfriend chose the Uncompaghre Peak, which was a ground angus burger with cotija cheese, sliced avocado, tomatillo, and charred Anaheim chili salsa.  It was probably the best burger that my boyfriend has ever had, and the quality of this burger far surpassed the ones here in the DC market.

I ordered the BBQ Bison Tacos, which were phenomenal.  You could tell that everything was freshly prepared.  The pulled BBQ Bison was combined with the brewery’s own black bean salsa.  They were topped with melted Pepper Jack cheese and charred tomato salsa.  Additionally, they were served with homemade guacamole, which was the best I have had, and tortilla chips.

The food was super yummy.  For dessert, we ordered their ice cream floats.  I ordered a coke float, while my boyfriend ordered a float with their Monumental Stout, which reminded me of Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, with coffee and chocolate hints.

The wedding was amazing.  The food was all homemade and consisted of a garbanzo bean salad, BBQ beef, chicken, and grilled fingerling potatoes.  It was simple, and this is something that I really liked about their reception.  Additionally, they had a bar that featured some of the many breweries throughout Colorado.  They had Fat Tire (and yes, Fat Tire has made its way East to Virginia), Shiner Bock (My boyfriend and his friend attended college together in Dallas), a Colorado Springs microbrew, and the traditional Coors Light.  I had a Fat Tire and a bottle of the microbrew, which was comparable to the Hefeweissen I had at the brewery the previous evening.

We had a great time in Colorado, and I look forward to making a return visit in the future.  Hopefully, the next time, my boyfriend and I will be able to tour Breckenridge Brewery and New Belgium Brewing Company.  Breckenridge has an awesome Vanilla Porter (made with real Vanilla Beans), and it has now become an inspiration for another cupcake recipe that will be featured here within the next few weeks.

After the celebrations, we headed to visit my boyfriend’s family in Texas.  I love Texas!  However, we had some snags with the airline again.  This caused us to be stranded overnight in Memphis.  It was too late to go downtown and visit some BBQ joints.  Since we were tired and cranky, we hung out at a restaurant near the airport.  The food was so-so, but I enjoyed my Chicken Lettuce Wraps.   The wraps featured Kung Pao chicken on a bed of cellophane noodles.  My boyfriend ordered a ham and cheese panini with onion soup.  It was okay, but we both thought my dish was a lot better.

The next morning, we headed straight to the airport early and boarded a flight to Dallas/Fort Worth.  I was looking forward to eating a great meal and hanging out with my boyfriend’s family.  We ate at the Baja Grill in Keller, and it was a great restaurant.  My boyfriend and I ate brisket tacos, as well as enjoying an awesome frozen margarita.  It was the first time I have ever had brisket tacos.  The brisket was fork tender and served on flour tortillas with a mild cheese.  The tacos were accompanied by refried beans and rice.

While we were in Fort Worth, we visited Rangers Ballpark, Kimball Art Gallery, the Omni theater, and visited with my boyfriend’s niece and nephew.  It was a great time.

Aside from the fun times, we also went to The Gingerman, which is a great pub in Fort Worth.  This pub has one of the best selections for craft beer.  I ordered a bottle of Wild Blue Blueberry Lager, which was a little sweet (Blue Point Blueberry Ale is one of my favorites) for my liking, and my boyfriend had Maredsous #6, which was a great Belgium ale that has some spicy hints with a caramel like sweetness.  Once we were finished with our beer, we decided to try some other ones.  I sampled 512 Pecan Porter, which had a smoky hint and rich taste, but I settled on a pint of Breckenridge’s Vanilla Porter.  My boyfriend ordered New Belgium Brewing Company’s Sunshine, which is a wheat beer with coriander and orange peel.

Later that afternoon, my boyfriend decided to spoil me with going to Razzoo’s, which is a local Cajun restaurant in downtown Fort Worth.   The only Cajun food that I have had was Zatarain’s Jambalaya, so it was great to finally have some really authentic cuisine.  My boyfriend insisted we order Gator Tail, which was a deep fried alligator tail.  It was really unique tasting, and it was served with a sweet/spicy cocktail sauce.  My boyfriend ordered Crawdaddies 2ways (crawfish etoufee and crawfish tails).  This dish also had dirty rice, fries and pups.  The etoufee was great, and the crawdads weren’t bad either.

I ordered the Oyster Po’Boy, which was deep fried oysters on top of french bread with a garlic spread, lettuce, tomato, and onion.  This Po’Boy came with fries and pups (jalapeno hush puppies).  The oysters were very good, and I really enjoyed the texture of the french bread.

Overall, I feel like I have picked up ten pounds from this trip, but the memories will last forever.

Last but not least, Hurricane Irene is coming for a visit.  Depending on whether or not power outages happen, I might make a super yummy treat that involves peanut butter, chocolate, and caramel.  However, I hope everyone is prepared for Irene and stay safe.