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Friday, January 30, 2015

Cashew Chicken

What do I do when there's almost 2 feet of snow on the ground ?

I watch my dogs play in the snow.  Notice how I didn't say play together. 

Gus runs, Clyde tries to keep up until he gives up.

He then decides to lie down on the warm, cozy bed of snow. And occupy himself with the old standby, a stick to chew on.  

Until I chime in and say, "Clyde!  That's soooo not good for you!"

"Hmmph??  You wanna try and catch me so that you can take it away from me?"

"Didn't think so, hehe."

Today's recipe, Cashew Chicken, is really fast and easy to make.  Like, 15 minutes from start to finish fast.

Unless you're cooking it with kids, that is, which is what I did last night when we taped an episode of the cooking show.  In that case, it was fun and easy.  But I'll save that post for another day.

Today's Playlist
  • "Should I Stay Or Should I Go"...The Clash
  • "For Reasons Unknown"...The Killers
  • "Basket Case"...Green Day
  • "Stop Breaking Down"...The White Stripes
  • "Hate To Say I Told You So"...The Hives
  • "Highway To Hell"...AC/DC
  • "Two Princes"...Spin Doctors

Cashew Chicken (6 servings)
  • 1 1/2 lbs. chicken tenderloins, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
add-ins (optional): diced celery, chopped pineapple, diced scallions

Gather your ingredients.  The celery and pineapple are missing from this picture because they were an afterthought.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium/high heat.  I used an electric skillet and set it to 300 degrees.

If you haven't already prepped your chicken, cut it into bite-sized chunks.  I probably cut each tenderloin into 6 or 7 pieces.

Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a large ziploc bag.

Put the chicken into the bag.  Zip it closed, and shake to coat the chicken with the flour.

When the oil in the skillet is sizzling hot, arrange the chicken in a single layer.  Allow the chicken to brown without disruption.  This means no stirring or shaking!  Give it about 3 or 4 minutes.  You'll know when it's ready because the chicken will start to turn opaque around the edges.

While you're waiting for the chicken to cook, combine the sauce ingredients.  Place the soy sauce and ketchup into a small bowl.

Add the sesame oil.

Crush the garlic directly into the bowl.

Add the brown sugar.

And the ground ginger.

Whisk to combine.

Your chicken should be turning opaque around the edges now.  If so, it's time to brown the other side.

I've found that the easiest (and by that I mean least-time consuming!) way to flip all of these little pieces of chicken over is to stir them around with a spatula.  Most of them will end up face-up.  Or is it face-down?

At any rate, stir them and hope that a good amount of them flip over.  Then use tongs to flip the remaining ones.

Give them about 2 minutes to brown on the other side.

After they've browned on the other side, reduce the heat to medium/low and pour the sauce over them.  Now would be the time to add in the chopped celery/pineapple/scallions, if desired.

And the cashews, of course.

Simmer for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.

 It's ready when the sauce has thickened and the chicken is completely cooked.

Serve it over rice.  White rice or brown rice, your choice!


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Baked French Toast

When I woke up this morning, I was relieved to see that it had finally stopped snowing.  

7 a.m. this morning, Clyde the party animal was his usual "Yee-Haw!" self.  Gus was like, "It's too early, kid."

Strange, isn't it, how easily I embrace imaginary dog conversations now that my kids aren't around?

They don't even look like they're part of the same conversation in this picture.  Gus looks like he's had enough of the cold and Clyde looks like he's still ready for his close-up.

I decided to make today's recipe, Baked French Toast, because I wanted to use up a package of rolls that I had in my freezer.  It's a perfect breakfast for a snowy day!

Today's Playlist
  • "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To"...Weezer
  • "Hey There Delilah"...Plain White T's
  • "Here Comes The Sun"...George Harrison
  • "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)"...The Offspring
  • "Hello Operator"...The White Stripes
  • "For The Girl"...The Fratellis
  • "Blue Orchid"...The White Stripes
  • "Ball And Chain"...Social Distortion
  • "Santeria"...Sublime

Baked French Toast (6 servings, total time required 2 hours 10 minutes)

  • 1 loaf day old French or Italian bread (I used 4 sub rolls)
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 cups milk ( I used 1% milk, use what you have)
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted, for greasing the pan
Crunchy Topping
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark, use what you have)
  • 1 teaspoon ground vanilla bean (if you can't find this, use cinnamon)
  • 4 Tablespoons butter (1/2 stick), melted

Gather your ingredients.  Don't pay too much attention to this picture, because I certainly wasn't paying attention when I was gathering.  There's the sugar, posing so boldly, and I had no need for it.

Brush the melted butter on the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

Pour the milk into a large bowl.

Add the light cream.

Crack in the eggs and add the cinnamon.  Hard to see the eggs, they disappeared so quickly into the bottom of the bowl!

Splash in the vanilla extract.

Whisk vigorously until it's completely and thoroughly combined.

Here are the sub rolls from my freezer, they are the reason why I decided that I needed to make French toast.  You can use any type of bread--Italian, French, Challah, or large rolls.  

Anything that you can slice about an inch thick will do.

As soon as I started to slice, my dogs came to life, hoping I would drop a crumb.

Gus to my left.

And Clyde to my right.

You need to remove thin slices from the ends and discard them (or give them to your dogs).  The slices that you use need to have a flat surface, which is necessary to absorb the egg mixture.  Try to slice the bread as evenly as possible, aiming for slices that are about 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick.

Arrange the slices into your buttered pan, completely covering the bottom of the pan. As luck would have it, 3 rolls would have been enough.

Pour your egg mixture over the bread, making sure that the top of every slice gets bathed in the mixture.

Cover the pan and refrigerate until the bread has soaked up the mixture, about an hour.  You can also prepare this in advance and refrigerate it overnight.

Before you bake the French toast, prepare the crunchy topping.

Gather your topping ingredients.

I used ground vanilla beans, but if you can't find this ingredient you can substitute ground cinnamon.

Melt the butter in your microwave for 30 seconds on HIGH.  It's okay if the butter is not completely melted.

Add the remaining topping ingredients to the melted butter.

Stir to combine.

Remove the baking dish from your refrigerator.  Almost all of the liquid should be absorbed.  If there's still a little bit left in the bottom of the pan, it's okay.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Spread about a tablespoon of the topping mixture on each slice.

I leave some of the slices topping-free.  Some people prefer their French toast a little on the plain side with no crunchy topping.

I sprinkled a little bit of large-crystal sugar on the plain ones.  

Bake the French toast in your preheated 350-degree oven for about an hour.  I prefer my French toast to be crunchy and crispy so an hour is perfect.  If you like softer French toast, start checking it at 45-50 minutes.

Here we are after 1 hour in the oven, all crispy-crunchy.

I wish I had taken a picture of the crunchy-topped pieces before they were eaten.

I was too focused on the plate of plain French toast that I was about to devour.  After I doused it in maple syrup.  And sprinkled a few blueberries on top.  Some whipped cream would be nice, too.  Maybe next time.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Italian Wedding Soup

We finally got some snow this weekend.


And now the forecasters are predicting another another 2 to 3 feet is on the way, starting this afternoon.

I hope they're wrong!

Clyde has no idea what we're in for.

It's going to be hard to wag that tail, buddy, when it's buried in snow.

Today's recipe is a PERFECT soup for a snowy day!  Meatballs, cheese, escarole--a wedding of flavors that go together so well.

Today's Playlist
  • "Badfish"...Jack Johnson
  • "Short Skirt/Long Jacket"...Cake
  • "Poprocks & Coke"...Green Day
  • "The Girl Got Hot"...Weezer
  • "Dirty Little Secret"...All-American Rejects
  • "Animal"...Neon Trees
  • "In One Ear"...Cage The Elephant
  • "Fell In Love With A Girl"...The White Stripes

Italian Wedding Soup
Printable Recipe

For the meatballs
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the soup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dried orzo, or other tiny pasta (optional)
  • 1 bunch escarole, chopped (about 6 to 8 cups, loosely packed)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Gather your ingredients.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare your meatballs.  

My "Italian Wedding" meatballs are much different from the typical meatballs that I make:  they're smaller, and heavy on the cheese.

Chop the oregano.  If you don't have fresh oregano, you can substitute dried oregano (only use 1 1/2 teaspoons of dried if you are substituting).  I prefer fresh oregano because it has such a bright, mild flavor.

Place the ground beef into a medium bowl.  Add the bread crumbs.

Add the cheeses--Romano and Parmesan.

Throw in the chopped fresh oregano, and salt & pepper.

Crack in an egg.  Combine until thoroughly mixed.

And if I may add in my two cents right here...the best way to thoroughly mix meatballs is with your hands!

After the meat is mixed, I use a measuring teaspoon to form tiny, uniformly-sized meatballs, about 3/4-inch in diameter.

Don't worry about forming them into perfect, round meatballs.  Just remove them from the teaspoon onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

You will have approximately 40 meatballs.  I needed to use two baking sheets.

Place them into your preheated 350-degree oven and set your timer for 8 minutes.

Flip them after 8 minutes.  Place them back into the oven and bake them for an additional 7 minutes.

They should be cooked after 15 minutes total; if they're not, however, don't sweat it.  If need be, they can finish cooking in the soup!

After you put the meatballs into the oven, get started on the soup.  Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a 4 to 6-quart sauce pan.  Add the chopped onion and sauté until the onion begins to soften.

When the onions have started to soften, crush the garlic into the pan.  Stir for a minute or two, until the garlic becomes really fragrant.

Pour in the chicken broth.  Adjust the heat to high and bring to a boil.

Remove your meatballs from the oven and allow them to drain on a paper towel while you finish making the soup.

When the soup begins to boil, stir in the orzo.  Lower the heat to a high simmer, stirring occasionally, until the orzo is cooked al dente.

While you are waiting for the orzo to cook, prepare your next addition to the soup, the egg/cheese mixture.  Put the Romano and Parmesan cheeses into a bowl.

Add two eggs and vigorously stir with a fork to combine.

When the orzo has finished cooking, stir the chopped escarole into the soup.

Add the cooked meatballs.

While you are stirring the soup, drizzle in the egg/cheese mixture.  You want to only stir in one direction, creating a slight whirlpool.  I couldn't even take a picture of this step for you, because I needed both hands to do it--stirring with my right hand while drizzling with my left.

It didn't matter, because the ribbons of cheesy egg didn't form for me. They never do!  It doesn't stop me from trying, and you shouldn't let it stop you. This soup is so fabulous that you won't care whether your cheesy eggs are pretty ribbons or tiny little confetti.

Sprinkle a little bit of additional Parmesan or parsley on top.  Or both.

I can't even begin to describe how fabulous all of these flavors are together.  I think this soup tastes even better the next day, when the flavors have had some time to blend.  A match made in heaven.