February 17, 2017

Chicken Florentine

One of my favorite ways to procrastinate this semester is looking at all my study abroad pictures from last year. Those Facebook memories alerts are dangerous. It's hard to believe that a year ago I was trekking across Europe and now I'm drowning in work from upper-level classes and braving the Wisconsin winter, though it's almost 60 today so maybe that's not such a valid point to make. I've been reliving my study abroad memories by cooking as well as looking at pictures, and any easy weeknight recipe is much more appealing given my crazy schedule. This recipe for chicken Florentine is ready in 30 minutes and has all the flavors I loved to eat in Italy: savory chicken, fresh tomatoes, and a creamy, garlicky sauce with a handful of spinach thrown in so I don't get scurvy or something else from my college food diet.

To keep this recipe quick, I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. If you've ever read any of my other roasted chicken recipes, I almost always use bone-in, skin-on thighs since they're so tender and juicy. However, I like how fast the boneless breasts cook and when you smother it in sauce you won't notice the difference. It's easy to substitute in any other cut of chicken you want; just adjust the cooking time accordingly to make sure it's cooked all the way through. The chicken is dredged in flour, seared until brown, and roasted until crisp and juicy. It couldn't be simpler.

The sauce is what makes the dish special. Like any self-respecting sauce, it starts with the chicken drippings, which permeate the whole dish with extra savory notes. I add garlic and onions before stirring in the spinach. You can use fresh or frozen spinach since it gets wilted anyway. The tomatoes are added in next. It's February, so I personally don't think hunting down fresh tomatoes are worth it (they aren't that great-tasting right now anyway), and using canned tomatoes cuts down on your prep time. I opt for the petite diced tomatoes if I can find them since the size matches up better with the rest of the dish, but regular diced or even crushed would work as well depending on the texture you're looking for.

What makes the sauce so tasty is the white wine, cream, and parmesan, which of course make everything better. The wine is used to deglaze the pan and get any caramelized brown bits of chicken or garlic or onions mixed into the sauce. I add a splash of chicken broth for extra flavor, then stir in the cream and parmesan for a velvety richness. Once it's all heated through, it gets slathered on the chicken and pretty much consumed immediately if you're anything like me. The sauce would also be delicious on pasta, since anything with cream and tomatoes and cheese pairs well with carbs. I'd probably drink it out of a glass, but then again I'm not one to turn down pasta if it's there.

6 Boneless Chicken Breasts
1/3 Cup Flour
1 T Butter
1 Small Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Cups Spinach, Rinsed & Dried
1 Can Petite Diced Tomatoes, Drained
2/3 Cup White Wine
1 Cup Chicken broth
1/3 Cup Cream
1/3 Cup Parmesan

Heat oven to 350F. Heat some oil in a large pot.

Season the flour with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour and brown in the pot until golden, cooking in batches as necessary. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until cooked through.

Meanwhile, add the butter to the pan. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the spinach and cook for 2 minutes or until wilted. Add the tomatoes and white wine and cook for 4 minutes until reduced. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the chicken broth, bring to a simmer, and stir in the cream, and parmesan. Cook for 2 minutes until heated through and serve on the chicken.

Serves 6

February 7, 2017

Chocolate Mousse

PSA to all y'all clueless guys out there looking to woo your lady friends and significant others: Valentine's Day is only a week away! That's just enough time for my discussion crush to confess their love for me before I start shopping for cats, but that's irrelevant. All you need to worry about is crafting the perfect Valentine's Day menu, and I got you covered. I know Valentine's Day is on a weekday, but these sticky buns can be made the night before and baked first thing in the morning for a sweet start to the day. For dinner, it's hard to beat a big plate of Italian-style chicken, especially when it's ready in 30 minutes. This Tuscan chicken is sure to please, and it goes perfectly with a slice of zucchini ricotta tart.

Of course, the most important part of any meal is dessert, and chocolate mousse is a classic. I dressed up my basic recipe by layering it with a fresh strawberry compote, but you can serve it plain or with anything else you'd normally pair with chocolate. Peanut butter, other fresh fruits (cherries, bananas, or other berries), and caramel would all kick this recipe up a notch. I threw in some crushed up chocolate cookies for texture, too. You can layer it parfait-style like I did in the pictures or just drizzle it on top of whatever vessel you serve the mousse out of. No shame if you eat it straight out of the bowl.

There's a few ways people like to make chocolate mousse. Some take shortcuts by folding chocolate into whipped cream, but that's not as decadent as what I want in mousse and it tends to fall more quickly. Egg yolks solve these problems, but it's really easy to cook them and end up with clumps of cooked egg. Romantic, right? I reduce the risk of overcooking the eggs by mixing them with sugar and cream, keeping the mixture on a low heat, stirring constantly, and straining out any cooked bits at the end. I also add a splash of rum to add notes of flavor that add to complexity but aren't quite so obvious; you can swap in your favorite alcohol or one that pairs better with whatever you serve the mousse with. That custardy mixture gets combined with chocolate, which is already melted to speed up the process. Once cool, the now chocolate custard is folded into whipped cream to make it light and airy but still rich and decadent.

My biggest piece of advice for making this chocolate mousse is to use good chocolate. Don't make your girlfriend or boyfriend eat crappy chocolate for Valentine's Day. Take that bag of cheap Nestle/generic chips and throw it out the window (or just bake it into something like tollhouse pie). You have to use good chocolate here because you know what this mousse tastes like? Chocolate. Whatever your chocolate tastes like, that's what your mousse will taste like, only amplified by 10 because you have higher expectations. It's like cooking with wine; if you wouldn't drink it (or eat it in this case), don't cook with it. Beyond that, I'd say be careful when cooking with your eggs and whipping your cream because going too far will give you scrambled eggs and butter, which are delicious for breakfast but not when you're one course away from not screwing up Valentine's Day. Now go find yourself a date and make this mousse.

4 Egg Yolks
1/4 Cup Sugar
2 Cups Cream
1 T Rum
1 tsp Vanilla
8oz Chocolate, Melted

Whisk the yolks, sugar, 3/4 cup cream, rum, and vanilla together in a medium pot. Cook over medium-low heat until thick enough to coat a spoon, about 5 minutes. Strain into the melted chocolate, whisk until smooth, and chill until cool.

Beat the remaining cream until stiff. Gently fold a third of the whipped cream into the chocolate, then fold the chocolate mixture into the remaining cream. Spoon into dishes and chill, along with the strawberry compote below if desired.

Strawberry Compote:
Combine 3 cups strawberries, 1 T Grand Marnier, 1/4 cup sugar (adding more or less to taste), and 2 T water in a medium pot. Cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes or until the strawberries are soft and the juices have thickened.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Martha Stewart

January 30, 2017

Cheesy Buffalo Pretzel Ring

I'm not the most popular person in Wisconsin right now. As one of the ~5 people in Madison from Atlanta when the Falcons are in the Superbowl but the Packers aren't, people aren't exactly thrilled when football comes up. Fortunately, I have a way to regain my social standing, and it involves buckets of buffalo sauce. This cheesy buffalo pretzel ring has nuggets of fluffy fresh pretzels surrounding a pool of molten, cheesy chicken dip loaded with hot sauce. If you want even more pretzel goodness, serve it at your Superbowl party along with Pretzel Nuggets with Beer Cheese Dip. If you don't have enough time to make pretzels from scratch, these Buffalo Chicken Meatball Sliders are just as tasty. If you'd rather throw some food on the stove and pay more attention to the game, Beer Chili is always a crowd favorite. For more Superbowl bites, check out my Recipe Index.

The pretzel rolls are the same as those in the Pretzel Nuggets with Beer Cheese Dip. The dough is versatile and forgiving; it's relatively easy to make for a bread dough and is definitely worth trying if you've never baked bread before. I make little bite-sized nuggets for this dish, but you can make bigger dinner rolls or even giant pretzel buns for burgers and sandwiches.

If you aren't a fan of pretzel rolls, you can make regular rolls by skipping the boiling step. To make a pretzel, you have to boil the dough briefly in a hot baking soda solution. This gives it that gorgeous mahogany sheen, chewy texture, and signature pretzel taste. I'm pretty sure mall pretzels--though indisputably addictive--take a shortcut by just brushing on the baking soda solution, but true pretzels are boiled. Skipping it still gives you some pretty tasty bread, but there's something about homemade pretzels that makes any party better.

As for the dip, it's everything decadent and game day-esque mixed into one bubbling monster of a calorie bomb. It has a cream cheese and ranch base (I make my own ranch with buttermilk and mayo but you can sub in premade ranch dressing if you so desire... I won't judge you for not buying a quart of buttermilk if you only need two tablespoons) with hot sauce, shredded chicken, and plenty of cheese. I seared and baked my own chicken, but using a rotisserie chicken is another way to make this appetizer even easier. I shredded it pretty finely since it's going into a dip, but you can leave it as big as you want if you plan on shoveling gobs of the dip into your mouth when people are focused on the Superbowl ads instead. I used shredded pepper jack cheese for an extra kick, but really any good melting cheese could work instead. Bleu cheese would really amp up the buffalo vibes, but it's a pretty polarizing cheese so use at your own discretion.

The only way to make cheese and pretzels better is to combine them and marry them with buffalo chicken. I've taken to eating all the pretzels around the ring and leaving the dip for the rest of my family, so making some extra pretzel rolls may be a good idea. Maybe my fellow badgers will use them to mop up their tears when they don't see the Packers playing on Sunday, or perhaps I'm still gloating (even though I've been overstating how much I care about the Falcons and football in general *just* a little bit; I'm more of a puppy bowl fan).

2 1/4 tsp Yeast
1 T Sugar
4 1/2 - 5 Cups Flour
1 tsp Salt
1/2 Stick Butter, Melted
1/4 Cup Baking Soda
1 Egg, Beaten
1/2 - 1 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts (Or Rotisserie Chicken)
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/2 Cup Hot Sauce
3 T Mayonnaise
2 T Buttermilk (or 1/4 Cup Ranch Dressing)
2/3 Cup Shredded Cheese (i.e. Pepperjack, Cheddar, Bleu)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, sugar, and 1 ½ cups warm water. Let stand for 5 minutes or until foamy. Using the dough hook, stir in the butter, 3 cups of flour, and the salt. Knead for 5 minutes, gradually adding the remaining flour as necessary until it's not too sticky.

Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour. Line cookie trays with parchment or silpats. Roll the dough into nuggets, place on the prepared trays, cover, and let rise for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Gradually stir in the baking soda. Boil the nuggets in batches for 1 minute per batch, stirring to flip often. Remove with a slotted spoon and place back on the trays.

Heat oven to 375F.

Heat some oil in a pan. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and sear on both sides until brown, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the oven and bake for 6-8 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool.

Mix the cream cheese, hot sauce, mayonnaise and buttermilk (or ranch), and shredded cheese. Shred the cooled chicken and mix into the cheese mixture.

Grease a large skillet or cake pan. Arrange the pretzel nuggets around the edges; place any extras back on the cookie trays to bake separately. Pile the buffalo dip in the middle of the skillet. Brush the pretzels with the egg and use food scissors or a sharp knife to cut an x in the center of each one. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and bake for 20 minutes or until the pretzels are brown and the cheese is bubbly.