New York Style Cheesecake

Today is Lauren's birthday (Happy Birthday!) and the (ridiculous) tradition at her work is that you bring in a treat for the office on your birthday. That seems like a kick in the crotch to me, but whatever. We debated making mini-cheesecakes (Lauren's specialty) but decided against it because of the rather large amounts of cooling and storage space needed to make enough for an office. Instead we settled on one 10 inch New York Style cheesecake. My problem with it is that it is so rich that about 25% of it gets wasted by people whose eyes are bigger than their stomach. It doesn't matter how many times you warn them, at least one person cuts into it like its a slice of pizza.

Its been since Christmas since we've made a cheesecake, a fairly long drought by our standards. So I really want a piece of this one. Lauren has agreed to cut us a slice after she presents it to her office. On to the recipe:

To make a New York Style cheesecake you're going to want to use a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. Other recipes can be made with a powered hand mixer, but this one is so cream cheese intensive that you'll risk burning out your motor. Trust us, its happened before.

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 7 packages cream cheese (8oz, room temperature)
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream (room temperature)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 large egg yolks and whites (separated)
  • 1 stick (4oz) unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1 sleeve graham crackers (crushed)
  • 1 sleeve/row Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies (crushed)
  • Large sheet, heavy duty aluminum foil
  • 1 disposable turkey roasting pan (or 13 x 9 in glass pan)
  • 1 10 inch spring form pan
Preheat the oven to 350, and boil a large pot of water (approximately 6 quarts). Wrap the exterior bottom of a 10 inch spring form pan with your aluminum foil in a such a way that you believe the seams of your pan are "sealed" from water. Basically you want to wrap one solid layer on the bottom of your pan around the seams, and then 2-3 more sheets half way around the bottom and up the sides so that your flat sheet is insulated from the water. When you get to the water bath step you're going to want your water about halfway up the side of your pan, so wrap your foil above that area. Mix the cookies and graham crackers with the melted butter and press into the bottom of a foil wrapped 9-inch spring form pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes-15 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Take your 7 blocks of cream cheese, add them to your mixing bowl and beaten until no lumps remain. The beaten cream cheese will be sticky and firm, like spreadable cream cheese. Whisk together your flour and sugar, then on low speed add the sugar mixture to your beaten cream cheese in a slow steady stream (or multiple installments). As this mixes in, the batter should become softer and smoother. Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape the sides, checking for any lumps of unmixed cream cheese.

Next add the sour cream and vanilla, mixing on low speed until smooth. Add the egg yolks one at a time on low speed, until just mixed (you see no yellow streaks). Be careful not to overmix at this point, lest your cake become dense, heavy and prone to cracking.

Transfer your cheesecake filling to a large mixing bowl and clean out your stand's mixing bowl. Using the whipping attachment, whip your egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. By hand, fold the egg whites into the cheesecake filling.

Transfer your completed cheesecake filling into your spring form pan, leaving a small amount of space (1/8th inch) between the filling and the rim of the pan, so your cake can crown early in the bake without overflowing. Shake the pan side to side a little to remove any large air pockets. If you have extra filling that will not fit, that is ok. Sometimes it all fits, other times it does not. It sort of depends on how much air you leave in the batter. In batter form this cheesecake filling may not taste as sweet as you might expect. That is normal. Your finished cheesecake will not taste exactly that way.

Take your boiling water and pour it into your roasting pan. You'll want the water to rise halfway up your spring form, or at the very least not higher than your aluminum foil. If you are not using a roasting pan or your spring form will not fit, pour the water into a 13 x 9 inch pan and place that pan on the rack below your cheesecake. Should you decide to use a glass pan, make sure the water and the glass are of a similar temperature before you pour the water in. Also worth noting is that if your cheesecake and water bath are separate, make sure you use a little less water so that it still boils off and evaporates. The moisture from the evaporating water will keep the cake moist.

Bake your cheesecake in the center of the oven at 350 for 45 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 325 for an additional 30 minutes. When the top is golden brown and the center is firm but slightly jiggly to the touch, turn the oven off, leave the oven door ajar and let the cheesecake sit for one hour. After one hour remove the cheesecake, let it cool completely (about 2 hours, uncovered). Refrigerate the cake (in the pan) for 4-6 hours or overnight. Before removing the spring form ring, run a knife around the outside of the cake to prevent sticking.

You'll notice the lack of baking soda, baking powder and (relatively speaking) flour. The absence of these things makes cheesecake baking a fairly inexact science. It is entirely possible that your cheesecake may require closer to double the amount of baking time. That is fine. It is pretty difficult to overcook a cheesecake. So long as your top isn't splitting while its baking, you can give or take an extra 20-30 minutes of bake time in lieu of resting it in the oven with the door ajar. If your top starts browning severely, lay some aluminum foil over the top of it. If you notice your cheesecake growing a top hat (aka separation between the crowned filling at the top of the spring form ring exposing the pure interior around the edges, don't worry. As the cake cools, the top will deflate and the "hat" will disappear.

Further proof that cheesecake is an inexact science lies in these pictures. The rich, dark brown top you're seeing is the result of a mistake with the oven. "We" set the temperature to 425 for the first hour, before realizing the temperature should be 325 or 350. The result was an overdone top, but as you can see that didn't affect the lower portions of the cake. The superficial remedy for this mistake was to fill the center of the cake with sauteed/caramelized apple slices and decorate the outer edges with whipped cream (not pictured).

I am sure there are dozens more tips and tricks I could offer, but this is neither the first nor the last cheesecake I'll have on this blog, so for now I'll just leave this post as is.

Tomato & Asparagus Shrimp Scampi

To make this, we used the same recipe as the Shrimp Scampi with Fettuccine but made some slight alterations (shown in red):

1 pound linguini
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley leaves
1 lb aspargus (thinner stalks, if you can find them)
2 cans diced tomatoes (drained)

Cook pasta in boiling water 6 - 8 min or to desired doneness.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the asparagus, shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes (if using) until the shallots are translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper; add them to the pan and cook until they have turned pink, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan; set aside and keep warm. Add wine and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons oil. When the butter has melted, return the shrimp to the pan along with the tomatoes, parsley and cooked pasta. Stir well and season with salt & pepper, sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

As an appetizer, Lauren made us a Caprese Salad (mixed greens salad with tomato and fresh mozzarella) with a balsamic vinaigrette. I could have eaten an entire bowl of this. Fresh mozzarella is so good, but I never buy it because I'm scared that I would sit down and eat it like a popcorn ball.

Chicken Parmesan Sandwich

This was very simple:

Preheat the oven to 350.

Make a simple egg wash from 3 tbsp Italian dressing + 1 beaten egg.

Dip your boneless, skinless chicken in the egg wash, the roll in Italian seasoned bread crumbs. For good measure I added some extra basil, oregano and rosemary to my crumbs.

Take a large skillet, add 2 tbsp olive oil and slowly heat on medium-high (4.5 out of 6 on our burner's dial) until the oil is very lightly (almost imperceptibly) smoking.

Add your chicken and cook for 4 minutes per side.

When the chicken is finished on both sides, stick it in the oven at 350 for 15 minutes.

Take a small sauce pan, and heat (to a simmer) 1/4 cup of your favorite tomato sauce.

Take your favorite artisan bread (we were hoping to use rosemary focaccia, but the grocery store was all out) and "freshen" in the oven for 5 minutes. If you time it right the chicken and the bread should finish at the same time.

Turn your oven to broil. Split the bread, spoon the tomato sauce (not all of it, I was making two sandwiches) on one half, then top with mozzarella cheese. On the other half place your chicken breast, topped with mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

Broil approximately 5 minutes, or until the chese starts to brown.


The only issue I had with this was that the sandwich was too big to fit in my mouth. What I had to do was cut it into sandwich strips and eat it that way. Ideally I would have liked to pound the chicken breast to thin it out, but I couldn't find a meat mallet. Of course if you decide to make this with thinner chicken breasts you're going to have to adjust your cooking times. Like maybe 3 minutes per side in the skillet and 10-12 minutes in the oven.

Egg Salad

I've made this quick egg salad a few times, but always forget to include it here. Frankly I find it pretty difficult to trust other people's egg salad. I'm not sure why, but it just seems like one of those things that could spoil without anyone really noticing. So the only way to guarantee that its fresh is to make it yourself. The recipe comes from the Food Network Kitchens:

  • 1/2 medium red onion, chopped
  • 12 large eggs
  • 1-2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

In a small bowl soak the onions in cold water for 15 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, place the eggs and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Cover the eggs, remove from the heat, and set aside for 8 minutes. Drain the water from the pan and cool the eggs in the pan under cold running water. Peel the eggs and cut into sixths.

In a large bowl, mix together the onion, celery, mayonnaise, dill, mustard, lemon juice, and salt.

Add the eggs to the mayonnaise mixture and gently mix them together. Season with pepper, to taste. Use in sandwiches, with lettuce and tomatoes, or in a salad.

I don't always use the onion, sometimes I sprinkle in some paprika like a deviled egg and I usually put it on toasted whole wheat bread with some provolone cheese. Generally I'll make it on a Monday or Tuesday night, stick it in a tupperware and have it for lunch a couple of times during the week.

Black Bean Sliders

The plan for tonight was a broiled chicken parmesan sub. Unfortunately I got overruled. Lauren plays volleyball on Monday nights and when her games start late she usually wants lighter fare for dinner. So when I emailed that idea she countered with Black Bean Croquettes, which sounded totally unappealing given the photos and memories of the failed texture of our previous attempt at making them.

Then we remembered that Rachel also made these and made some slight alterations to give it the crunch we had been looking for and since she was kind enough to email those changes to me, all I had to do was search my gmail to recall what they were. So Rachel, thanks. These are partly your creation.

Base recipe is the same as before:

  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup plain dry breadcrumbs, divided
  • 2 cups finely chopped tomatoes
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 425°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Mash black beans and cumin with a fork in a large bowl until no whole beans remain. Stir in corn and 1/4 cup breadcrumbs. Combine tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder and salt in a medium bowl. Stir 1 cup of the tomato mixture into the black bean mixture.

Mix the remaining 1/3 cup breadcrumbs, oil and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon chili powder in a small bowl until the breadcrumbs are coated with oil. Divide the bean mixture into 8 scant 1/2-cup balls. Lightly press each bean ball into the breadcrumb mixture, turning to coat. Place on the prepared baking sheet.

We also added some diced red and yellow bell pepper, a half cup of parmesan cheese and used a full can of corn. We were also afraid that our mixture wouldn't bind, so we added an egg. The result was a pretty wet mess. So we added an extra 1/4 cup of bread crumbs to the mixture and an extra half cup to the dredging bowl.

We scooped the mixture in 1/4-1/3 cup balls (making approximately 14), heavily rolled them in bread crumbs (until dry on the exterior) and then flattened them out into patties. We took the patties and cooked/seared them 3 at a time in a skillet with 2 tbsp olive oil (medium-high heat, 3 mins per side). That gave us the crisp exterior we have been hoping for. We took the seared patties and then stuck them in the oven at 400 for 17 minutes.

For buns we took some brown & serve dinner rolls, toasted them in the oven for 6 minutes and then split them in half. Unfortunately my patties were too large to be sliders and we didn't have any other buns. The biggest problem was that even in the end the patties are so delicate that everything outside the bun kind of fell apart as soon as you started eating it. Later I found out that if you let them rest for about 5 minutes after they come out of the oven, the firm up enough to make that problem manageable.

Though they came out bigger than I had intended, the taste and texture were everything I was hoping for.

To top the burgers we had three choices: the cilantro-lime mayonnaise from out blackened salmon, sour cream and salsa or some guacamole with lime. I chose the mayo, while Lauren chose the sour cream and salsa. By all accounts we both made a solid choice.

Dog Treats

Also on the agenda last night was learning how to make some dog treats for Jocelyn, Lauren's dog. She's usually well-behaved and deserves an occasional treat for having to lay on the kitchen floor, watching us cook all the food you see on this blog and never getting to eat any of it (aside from what might fall off the counter). These treats smell awesome and you'll see from the ingredients that they are edible for humans too, but don't let your nose fool you:

Peanut Butter Puppy Poppers

  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup peanut butter (chunky or smooth)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp honey
Preheat oven to 375'F. In a bowl, combine flour and baking powder. In another bowl, mix peanut butter, milk and honey, then add to dry ingredients and mix well. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness and use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Bake for 20 minutes on a greased baking sheet until lightly brown. Cool on a rack, then store in an airtight container.

We didn't have a bone shaped cookie cutter and the dough was pretty fragile so we rolled it into little balls.

Regarding the taste of these dog treats, as it turns out fat (butter/shortening) and sugar are what make cookies awesome. Leaving them out gives you a chew-activated flour bomb, waiting to absorb every last drop of moisture in your mouth. Joss likes them though. Or at least I think she does. Its hard to tell if she eats it because its food and a human is giving it to her, or if she would steal them off the counter when nobody is looking. Case in point, she eats carrots, celery, apples and tomatoes, but only if you throw them to her.

Later, Lauren made a second batch of treats using a different recipe. They smell better and taste worse. And yes, they are every bit as hard as they look.

Apple Cinnamon Drops
  • 1 large apple
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/8 cup whole wheat flour
Preheat oven to 350 ° F (180 ° C).

Core, slice and mince the apple (use a food processor if you have one). In a large bowl, combine the minced apple bits, honey, water, cinnamon, and oatmeal. Gradually blend in the wheat flour, adding enough to form a stiff dough.

In a small bowl, add 1/8 cup wheat flour. Spoon the dough by rounded teaspoon onto ungreased baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches (5cm) apart. Using the bottom of a glass dipped in the wheat flour (to prevent sticking), flatten each spoonful of dough into a circle. Adjust the size of the drops based on how big a treat you like to feed your dog.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and flip each cookie to brown evenly on both sides. Reduce oven temperature to 325 ° F (180 °C). Return to oven and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Let cool overnight.

And once again, Jocelyn loves them.

The Unnamed Chicken Stir-Fry

Last night we made a chicken stir-fry with the wok set Lauren got for Christmas. It was our second or third time using it. The first attempt was unspectacular and the second was fairly encouraging. This third attempt was extremely encouraging but we seem to be unable to achieve the desired stir-fry glaze. We usually end up with thin liquid that pools at the bottom of the wok in an attempt to avoid coming into contact with the rest of the food. This time around we were on track to avoid that, but the "classic stir-fry" glaze we chose had a very heavy soy sauce flavor. So we had to thin it out with some orange juice and zest, lemon juice and brown sugar to sweeten it. As for the rest of the meal this is what we did:

  • Saute onions and bell peppers in olive oil until slightly caramelized (6-7 mins)
  • Cut 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast into strips.
  • Add chopped asparagus and mushrooms (5-6 mins)
  • Prepare one package of Wel Pac Chow Mein stir-fry noodles per instructions
  • Saute chicken in stir-fry sauce in a separate pan (8-10 mins)
  • Add cooked noodles to stir-fry.
  • Add chicken to stir-fry.
  • Heat thoroughly.
It was very easy and very good. Next time around we're going to have to choose a better sauce though. The noodles were awesome. I am thinking about buying them again so I can figure out some kind of high end Ramen noodle dish.

Alton Brown's Curry Chicken Pot Pie

Friday night we took the easy way out and ordered a pizza. Lauren was sick, we received a couple of dvds in the mail and decided that was enough. Saturday was a little different. After running a few errands we happened to catch the chicken pot pie episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Knowing that its getting warmer by the day, we decided to take one last run at winter comfort food with chicken pot pie. However, Bobby Flay's chicken pot pie recipe from Throwdown is not available on the Food Network website, because its a recipe he serves at one of his restaurants. So we got online to research what Good Eats had on the topic, which is how we came to the Curry Chicken Pot Pie:

  • 4 cups frozen vegetable mix, peas, carrots
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 2 cups cubed cooked chicken
  • 1 package puff pastry
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss frozen vegetables with canola oil and spread evenly onto a sheet pan. Place into oven and cook until golden brown.

In a saute pan heat 1 tablespoon of butter and sweat the onion and celery. In another saucepan, heat the broth and milk. Add 2 more tablespoons of butter to the celery mix and cook out the water. Add the flour and curry and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the hot milk mixture and cook until thickened. Add the parsley, salt and pepper. Toss the browned vegetables and the chicken. Pour into a shallow baking pan, or a large terra cotta pot base, lined with foil, and top with 6 to 8 circles of puff pastry. Place into the oven and cook until puff pastry has browned and the mixture is hot and bubbly, about 25 minutes.

We made two changes to the recipe. First, we didn't roast the vegetables. We used frozen peas and canned corn, fresh carrots and potatoes (blanched, about 1.5 cups of each) and mushrooms. If you're going to do this though, you'll probably really want to consider adding at least 50% more liquid (milk/cream or chicken stock) than the recipe is calling for. Our potatoes sucked up all the extra moisture immediately and made the filling less of a thick soup and more of an actual pie filling. The filling made enough to fill a 13 x 9 pan, so plan on that. For the chicken we just picked up rotisserie chicken from the deli section at Meijer, then shredded it by hand.

Our second alteration was that we didn't use puff pastry because of our experience with the last pot pie. We instead made some sweet potato biscuits from scratch, an idea stolen from Bobby Flay but again not listed on the Food Network website (which makes us think he serves this at one of his restaurants). Luckily Paula Deen bailed us out with a recipe for her own sweet potato biscuits:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 heaping tablespoons sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) softened butter
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons milk (depending on the moisture of the potatoes)
Directions Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate, large bowl, mix the sweet potatoes and butter. Add the flour mixture to the potato mixture and mix to make a soft dough. Then add milk a tablespoon at a time to mixture and continue to cut in. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and toss lightly until the outside of the dough looks smooth. Roll the dough out to 1/2-inch thick and cut with a biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on a greased pan and coat tops with melted butter. Bake for about 15 minutes. (Watch your oven: If the biscuits are browning too fast, lower the temperature.)

Rather than lay the sheet of dough flat over the entire casserole we cut the biscuits into rounds and hoped they would expand. They didn't they grew up way more than they grew out, so we ended up with a 12 piece chicken pot pie, each with its own sweet potato biscuit yarmulka. Given that the filling was already cooked, we baked the dish per the biscuit instructions (450 for 15 minutes).

As far as the taste, it was surprising how far a teaspoon of curry powder goes for flavor. I figured that with all the milk, cream/butter and potatoes it would kind of get washed out but it didn't. So definitely don't add any more curry powder than it calls for. The pot pie was very good and a nice contrast to the cream heavy pot pie we made earlier from Paula Deen. The biscuits stole the show though. They were awesome. I can't wait to make something else we can use them in.

By the way, the picture above is not ours. I forgot to take a picture of it. But, it is a picture of the same curry chicken pot pie recipe that another food blog made.

Turkey and Bean Burrito Burgers

This is another recipe I saw on Food Network during the past weekend. We made it last night. It was very simple and very delicious.

Turkey and Bean Burrito Burgers

1 cup cold leftover white or brown rice
1 pound ground turkey
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
3 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1 tablespoon grill seasoning, (recommended: Montreal Seasoning by McCormick)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ripe avocado
1 clove garlic, grated or finely chopped
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup sour cream

4 red leaf lettuce leaves
1 ripe tomato, sliced
4 crusty rolls, split

Combine rice, meat and beans with spices and grill seasoning. Form 4 big patties from the meat and bean mixture then heat 1 tablespoon oil, a turn of the pan, in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook patties 7 to 8 minutes on each side.

While burgers cook, combine avocado with garlic, lime zest and juice, jalapeno and red onion. Mash to roughly combine, then stir in the sour cream.

Place burgers on buns with lettuce and tomato and top with sour cream guacamole.

We made quite a few changes. We seasoned it with what we had and what we liked. So we reduced some of the chili powder and went with some cayenne pepper and garlic powder. We didn't have coriander so we used thyme. Those sorts of things. The one significant addition we made was that we added the diced red onion to the turkey mixture rather than the guacamole, figuring it would not overpower the burger the way we figured it could with the guacamole.

For the guacamole we skipped the ripe avocado and just picked up a container of guac from the dairy section. Then we added the sour cream and lime juice. We also left out the serrano/jalapeno pepper, and just used dried cayenne pepper.

The final result came out to be 5 patties rather than 4. Cooking was very simple, 7-8 minutes per side was pretty accurate, even though it doesn't look like it will cook all the way through when you go to flip it.

Lauren left the kaiser buns from the salmon sandwiches at work, so we used some sourdough foccacia rolls instead, which may have been a blessing in disguise.

Blackened Salmon With Cilantro Lime Mayonnaise

About twice a year I get a craving for a fish sandwich. This weekend I was watching Food Network and was basically forced to have one of them. I don't know if it was related to Lent or what, but every show I watched seemed to be preparing fish or some type of seafood.

Along the way I saw Paula Deen making blackened tilapia with cilantro lime mayonnaise. So I took that recipe to the grocery store and wound up making Blackened Salmon Sandwiches with Cilantro Lime Mayonnaise. Fresh salmon fillet was on sale for $6.49/lb, and much to my surprise 1 lb of salmon goes about twice as far as the same amount of chicken. So for about $9 we got 1.32 lbs salmon and made four blackened fillets, with a side of Zatarain's Yellow Rice and some steamed asparagus. As I recall from the show, Paula said her main reason for choosing tilapia was that it is relatively inexpensive, so we figured salmon we be an acceptable substitution. We also couldn't find fresh tilapia and were wary of defrosting frozen fish.

On to the recipe:

1/4 cup sweet paprika
2 tablespoons ground thyme
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
4 (10-ounce) tilapia (or salmon) fillets

4 Kaiser buns, split, buttered and toasted

Cilantro Lime Mayonnaise

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lime

In a shallow dish, combine first 6 ingredients.

Pour melted butter into another shallow dish. Dip fish fillets in melted butter and coat with seasoning mixture.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Cook prepared fish, in batches if necessary, 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Spread Cilantro Lime Mayonnaise evenly over toasted buns. Place blackened fish on bottom half of bun, top with mango salsa, and cover with top half of bun.

Now I don't know what sweet paprika is, but I couldn't find it at the store so I used paprika. The rest of the recipe is solid. We didn't bother with the mango salsa, though it would have been awesome. My best suggestion is that if you aren't using cast iron, which we weren't, you may want to consider either pouring the seasoning mixture into an empty spice jar and shaking it on your fillets or taking a pastry/basting brush and lightly brushing away any extra spice mixture that isn't adhering to the butter after you dredge it through the seasoning. Dredging the fish as though the seasoning is flour is a bit of overkill, and I don't think a normal skillet has enough heat to completely blacken it without burning the fish.

Chicken Cranberry On Challah Bread

Saturday night for dinner Lauren and I made an attempt to recreate her favorite sandwich from a local restaurant, Marie Catrib's. The chicken cranberry sandwich on challah bread. Traditional challah bread is a three piece braid eaten mostly as a breakfast bread. Marie Catrib takes that same challah dough and makes it into a loaf.

We basically cheated by using a bread machine. So I won't pretend like I know what I am talking about and tell you exactly how to make it. Here are the basic ingredients. I am drawing a blank on the actual recipe we used because I had to adjust for what I thought the bread machine could handle. Almost everything I found on the internet was for making it by hand:

1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
1 package active dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups bread flour

1 1/4 cups wheat flour
1/4 cup olive oil

2 eggs + 2 egg yolks

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Here is a complete recipe that I have not tried. I am not sure what would make this challah bread since we weren't braiding it, because the ingredients are pretty common to wheat bread. But thats what they call it at Marie Catrib. Oh well.

Two and a half hours later we had bread with no mess which I later determined to be dumb luck. I don't know if it was the eggs or the olive oil, but Sunday I tried making a loaf of wheat bread with the same amount of flour, 3 less eggs, honey instead of olive oil and butter instead of sugar, and the loaf blew up on me. It totally overflowed the bread machine and there was a faint smell of smoke because the dough was touching very hot metal. Back to the sandwich.

Next we took a thin cut chicken breast, marinated it in balsamic vinaigrette and sauteed it for 4 minutes per side over medium-high heat in a non-stick skillet. For the cranberry part of the sandwich we took a can of whole berry cranberry sauce, heated in a sauce pan and added a splash of white wine, two tablespoons of brown sugar and the juice of one orange. Once everything was warm and mixed well we poured it into a bowl and stuck it in the freezer so it would thicken.

We then sliced our challah bread, grilled both sides of both pieces in a buttered skillet, added provolone cheese to the top slice and cream cheese to the bottom half. On top of the cream cheese we spread our cranberry sauce, and then laid down our chicken. On top of the provolone we added some baby spinach, then pressed the two sides together and we were done.

The sandwich was easy to make and turned out great. Again, I don't know that what we were calling challah bread made a great deal of difference in how it compares to the real sandwich, because I've never had it. I think the simple fact that we made fresh bread probably made as much a difference as it being this kind of bread instead of that kind.

So if you wanted to make this sandwich with some of your favorite wheat bread I think it would probably turn out fine.

Belgian Waffles

I finally got around to it. This morning I woke up at 10am, went the store to buy some milk because I didn't have enough and then got on with the recipe.

3 cups warm milk (105 to 115 degrees)
1 envelope active dry yeast
1 1/2 sticks of butter, melted then cooled to lukewarm
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups all-purpose flour

Add the yeast to the warm milk and let stand for 5 minutes. I am pretty sure if the milk is too warm it will hamper the yeast's activity. So I used a small thermometer to make sure I was at least near the right range. Unlike a yeast dough recipe you're not going to see the yeast foam after 5 minutes but that is ok. Whisk the milk until smooth. When your melted butter is lukewarm, add that to your milk and whisk.

Add the sugar. When you add the sugar you should be able to hear the yeast crackle in celebration. The sugar is food for them. If that doesn't happen, you might be in big trouble. Add the egg yolks, whisk, then add the salt and vanilla and whisk until smooth.

Then you need to add your 4 cups of flour in three installments. Beat until smooth between each addition. Your final batter should be thicker than waffle batter but still pourable. You'll be able to scrape it away clean from the sides, as it will stick to your beating spoon like a runny dough.

Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 1- 1 1/2 hours, until the batter has doubled in size. Beat your 3 egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form (aka really foamy). Remove the plastic wrap from your batter and fold in the egg whites with a large spoon.

Fire up the waffle iron and enjoy. This makes 12 delicious, but pretty heavy waffles. I think you can store the batter, provided you let it come to room temperature before you use it again. The waffles taste similar to a waffle cone. At least that is what Lauren says. I topped mine with strawberry syrup and whipped cream.

Chicken Wings!

Twice this week and once about three weeks ago I saw an episode of Good Eats about how to make chicken wings. Tonight Lauren and I decided to make it happen. The picture you see here is the finished product. The rest are a photo blog of how the chicken wings came to be. At the bottom of this entry is the chicken wings episode of Good Eats, which we followed pretty much step for step.

In order to create our steaming rack, we bought two flat splatter screens ($4 each) and some U-bolts with nuts ($3).
With some scissors, we made holes in the outer edges of the screens to give them some height and make them stackable.This allowed us to place two trays of wings inside the 5 gallon stock pot I normally use to brew beer. If you aren't in to building anything, you could also use a stainless steel colander provided that the bottom half, where you'd lay the chicken, fits inside of your pot and you're able to cover the top sufficiently. Though as you'll see later the entire process is kind of lengthy, and doing it in small stages will only make you wait longer.
As for the wings, we bought a 5 lb family pack of chicken wings at Meijer. On Good Eats Alton Brown mentions that due to high demand for breast meat in the US, the chicken wing has remained relatively cheap. This is true. Our package of wings cost $8.95 for approximately 15 whole wings, which I "butchered" (a normal person might say cut) into the 30 "wings" you'd be charged for in any bar or restaurant. Here is a quick how-to on that:
Cut off the tip and throw it in the trash. Then squeeze the remaining wing like a pair of pliers. This will reveal the softest point (the joint) between the flat and drummette. Cut through it. There, you're done.5 lbs of chicken wings cut up and ready to go.
Arrange the wings on your steamer tray, bring a couple inches of water to a boil and set the tray inside your steaming pot for 10 minutes. If you're wondering why you have to steam them, the episode explains that it helps remove some of the fats and oil that would otherwise cause major smoke issues in the oven.When 10 minutes is up, remove your steamed chicken wings (the skin will be slightly tacky) from your tray and set them (uncovered) on cooking/drying racks atop a paper towel lined baking sheet. Preferably one with a lip.Place your baking sheets on the bottom shelf of a cold refrigerator (30-35 degrees). Both of these details will help prevent any salmonella issues both with your chicken and anything else in the fridge. As it turned out, our nifty steaming rack also served as a shelf so we could stack our chicken wings in the fridge. Leave the chicken in the refrigerator for 1 hour.The rest is easy. After your hour is up, remove the paper towel from beneath the racks, replace it with parchment paper and bake your chicken wings for 40 minutes at 425 degrees in the center of the oven. At the 20 minute mark flip your wings. If you are cooking two trays at once make sure to rotate the trays at this time.

Once 40 minutes is up grab the biggest bowl you can find and toss your wings (while they're hot!) in your favorite sauce. 1/2 cup of sauce per dozen is a pretty good ratio to use. We used Sweet Baby Ray's Buffalo Wing Sauce on one half and Sweet Baby Ray's Honey BBQ Sauce (+1 tbsp Honey, +1 tbsp brown sugar) on the other.

They were so awesome. A little time consuming, but well worth the effort. Its pretty easy to see that they're quite a bit meatier than what you'd normally get at restaurant, but for what its worth we had 30 wings between us and only finished about 18.

Until tonight, I've always been mildly annoyed that I can't fully enjoy bone-in wings at a restaurant because I'm afraid of making a mess of myself. This took care of that. And I didn't have to mess around with the hazards of in-home frying.

Pork Chops

I've finally gotten back into the swing of making new meals. This week I picked up two packs of boneless pork chops. For one I had a plan and for the other I decided to improvise. And by improvise I mean "grab boxes of side dishes and 'just add___' meals from my parents' kitchen so that I don't have to go to the grocery store". The first meal I made was Tuesday night. It was ridiculously simple:

Pork & Beans

One 9x9 casserole dish
1 can (28oz) Bush's baked beans

Bacon (how much is up to you)

1 lb boneless pork chops
1 medium onion

Fry the bacon, cut it into pieces. Cut your onion into chunks. Add the baked beans, bacon and onion to the casserole dish. In a skillet, pan fry the pork chops with a couple tablespoons of olive oil for 3 minutes per side over medium-high heat. If you have thick pork chops, you're going to want to reduce heat to medium and increase the cook time to maybe 4-5 minutes per side. Set the pork chops on top of the baked beans and bake at 350 for 16-20 minutes. If the heat isn't conducting well enough to heat the beans *and* finish the pork chops you may need to turn the broiler on for the last 5 minutes or so. Plate and serve.

Red Curry, Rice & Pork Chops

This one is technically cheating, but it really wouldn't be that hard to replicate if you were planning a trip to the grocery store. We used an Archer Farms Indian Inspired Red Curry meal kit and added to it ourselves. However I am going to post the ingredients as if we made it ourselves, because we threw away half the sauces and soups it came with.

1 lb boneless pork chops
3 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

Salt & Pepper
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs (seasoned to taste)

1 egg + 1 tablespoon water (beaten)
1 cup uncooked white rice

Curry Sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 lime, juiced

Rub the pork chops with salt and pepper to taste. Add 3tbsp Worcestershire sauce and let stand for 10 minutes. Dip the pork chops in your egg wash, followed by bread crumbs. We mixed in some Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning with our bread crumbs, though I am not sure if it made much of a difference. Pan fry the breaded pork chops with 3 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat for 3-4 minutes per side, then finish in the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Cook the rice per the instructions on the package. For the curry sauce, place a small pot over medium heat and coat with the oil. Stir the red curry paste into the pan and fry that up until aromatic. Slowly pour in the coconut milk and continue to stir to incorporate. Add the lime juice (and 1 of the squeezed out halves for added flavor) and cook for 5 to 10 minutes to thicken. Plate the rice, top with curry and serve with pork chops on top or on the side.

We also made a box of couscous because the rice portion included in our meal box was very small. The couscous was ok, but it didn't really fit.

An alternate approach to making this meal would be to cut the uncooked pork chops into strips, saute them for approximately 5 minutes total and then finish them off in a 5-10 minute high simmer of curry.


Well, I had hoped to be posting about Belgian Waffles right now but my weekend didn't really work out like that. Lauren had to go into work Saturday morning and I had soccer at 12:30 so there was no opportunity for an elaborate breakfast.

Sunday brunch was the next plan, so I made sure to pick up eggs, flour, syrup and toppings from Meijer. But when I opened my cook book I realized I had already made a terrible error. Belgian waffles, true Belgian waffles, use yeast. Which means the batter needs time to proof. The recipe is something like this:

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3 egg yolks
2 3/4 cups warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3/4 cup butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 egg whites
Activate the yeast in the warm milk, set aside for 5 minutes. Then combine only the wet ingredients, followed by only the dry ingredients, then add the ingredients together and let sit for an 60-90 minutes until doubled in size.

But we were hungry now, so we scrapped the Belgian waffle idea and just made regular waffles from scratch:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted, plus more for brushing the iron
  • 1 large egg white, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
We mixed a mashed banana and chocolate chips into our batter. The result was great. It was also cool to be able to use a waffle iron in the comfort of my own kitchen and not the breakfast area of a hotel lobby with a hundred kids in soccer gear wreaking havoc in every direction.

I am going to try to talk Lauren into Belgian Waffles for dinner later this week, but I suspect I'll have to wait for Saturday morning. What I really want is to try chicken and waffles.