April 9, 2018

Chicken Marsala Pasta Bake

I'm feeling pretty conflicted right now, and it's surprisingly not because I have to graduate in a few weeks and enter the real world. No, it's because it's April and the outdoor farmers' market starts next week and, of course, it's supposed to snow tomorrow. I can't keep up with this crazy flip-flopping weather (sadly, no more flip flop weather since spring break ended last week), and it's confusing my diet as much as my wardrobe. It seems like one day I'm needing a cozy bowl of hot soup to warm me up and the next Spring is peeking through and I want to break out all my fresh springtime recipes.

Chicken Marsala is traditionally a lightly breaded chicken cutlet with a luscious Marsala wine and mushroom sauce. It's a great weeknight dish since it can be made fairly quickly and is just the thing to keep your warm and full. So how can you make it better? I'm always up for some pasta, and some extra bacon never hurt anyone. I crisp up some bacon, cook the chicken in the drippings, and make a mushroom and Marsala pan sauce. That velvety sauce gets tossed with the chicken, pasta, and plenty of cheese for a tasty spin on an Italian classic.

Most chicken in Chicken Marsala gets dredged in flour and pan-fried, but here I take advantage of all that flavorful bacon fat for just a quick sear. Thin boneless, skinless chicken breasts work best for quick cooking, and they can be easily cut up into bite-sized pieces for easy eating. The sauce is built on the drippings of the bacon and chicken, since those brown bits are the key to a well-rounded flavor. I start with onions then add garlic, herbs, and plenty of mushrooms. I typically go for sliced baby portobellos, but crimini, porcini, or whatever mushrooms you can find would also work. I deglaze the pan to scrape up the last of those brown bits, and of course you have to use Marsala wine here. Anything else would give you a perfectly delicious sauce, just not Chicken Marsala. Once the alcohol cooks off, butter and flour help to thicken the sauce, and I whisk in some chicken stock to achieve a silky texture that's just liquidy enough to coat the pasta.

I'm not particularly picky about which pasta to use here, but I do prefer one with lots of twists and turns and nooks and crannies to catch the sauce, the bacon, and the mushrooms. I cook the pasta until barely al dente since it will cook more in the oven and I still like it to have some texture. The cooked pasta is tossed with the sauce, chicken, bacon, and cheese and is topped with even more cheese. Since everything in the dish is already cooked, it only needs a little bit of time in the oven to melt the cheese and give the flavors a chance to meld together. It's a little more portable and rounded than a typical Chicken Marsala, so you'll want to make it for weeknight meals and leftover lunches all Spring.

8 oz Pasta
1/4 lb Bacon
1 lb Chicken Breast
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
12 oz Mushrooms, Sliced
3 Sprigs Thyme
1/3 Cup Marsala
1 T Butter
1/4 Cup Flour
1 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock
2/3 Cup Grated Parmesan
6-8 oz Mozzarella

Heat oven to 375F and grease an 11x7" baking dish.

Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente according to package directions.

Cook the bacon in a large pot until crisp. Remove and chop.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown in the bacon drippings until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the prepared dish and bake for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Shred or dice when cool.

Cook the onion in the drippings for 4 minutes or until tender and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper, then add the garlic, mushrooms, and thyme. Cook for 8 minutes until the liquid evaporates. Add the marsala and cook for 6 minutes or until reduced.

Stir in the butter. Once melted, add the flour and cook for 3 minutes or until thick. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock and cook for 6 minutes. Add the chicken, pasta, and 1/3 cup parmesan. Transfer to the prepared dish and top with the mozzarella and remaining parmesan. Bake for 18 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

March 29, 2018

Chocolate Peanut Butter Biscotti

I am currently sitting in a fluffy robe looking out onto some palm trees in the Bahamas after a long day of poolside reading. Sounds perfect, right? Yes, except for one thing. I am starving. With personal pizzas at $20+ and sodas at $6 and some inexplicable hostility towards snack-sized portions so you HAVE to buy full-sized meals, it's going to be a long weekend. And for me, the travel is just beginning. I'll be in 6 cities in the next 6 weeks or so, so I'm going to need some good snacks. One of my family's go-tos is biscotti. Any flavor will do, as long as they're sweet, crunchy, and made in dozens.

Normally biscotti are relatively healthy for a dessert. There's minimal fat since eggs are the main liquid and binder, and dried fruits and nuts are filling and healthy. This peanut butter biscotti recipe does stray a bit, but the flavors are worth it. There's peanuts, peanut butter, and mini chocolate chips, and you can up the chocolate flavor by dipping or drizzling with more chocolate or even subbing in some cocoa powder for part of the flour.

The recipe starts by combining the butter and sugar. You don't need a stand mixer or even a hand mixer to do this since the butter is melted, but, like most biscotti doughs, it will become extremely thick later so a stand mixer is still helpful. I then add the eggs and a splash of vanilla before adding plenty of peanut butter. I typically use smooth peanut butter when baking so I can control the crunch by adding the peanuts separately, though crunchy peanut butter would still work. The dry ingredients are pretty simple: just flour, baking powder, and salt. Those are mixed in until just combined, and then it's time for the chunky bits. I use chopped roasted peanuts and mini chocolate chips so that there's the peanut and chocolate flavors I promised and it's all evenly distributed so each bite is perfect.

What makes biscotti so special is that they are baked twice. The first round is when the dough is shaped as loaves that take a while to bake. The second is when the loaves are sliced into the shapes you're more familiar with eating, and their size depends on how wide your initial loaves are. This dough does spread a bit, so make it more narrow than you'd like the final product to be. Make sure it's cooked through and reasonably cool before cutting into slices. If you're going to dunk them in chocolate or add a nice chocolate drizzle, make sure your slices are cooled completely and always temper your chocolate if you don't intend to eat it immediately. It's worth the hassle for shiny, snappy chocolate.

This biscotti, like other recipes, is great for taking on the go because it's perfectly portioned and takes forever to stale. If peanut butter and chocolate aren't your favorites, I also have recipes for gingerbread biscottiorange almond biscotti, and pumpkin white chocolate biscotti. Even if you aren't traveling soon, these make for great gifts and also great snacks to have on hand for gatherings like Easter. If you're looking for some cookies to hold you over through Passover, nosh on these chocolate pecan thumbprint cookies for a few days first.

10 T Butter, Melted
2 3/4 Cups Flour
2 3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
3 Eggs
1 1/4 Cups Sugar
2 tsp Vanilla
1/2 Cup Smooth Peanut Butter
2/3 Cup Roasted Peanuts
3/4 Cup Mini Chocolate Chips

Heat oven to 350F and line three cookie trays with parchment.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.

Combine the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and peanut butter. Mix the flour in until just combined. Fold in the peanuts and chocolate.

Divide the dough in half and place each in the center of the baking sheets. Shape into logs. Bake until set and golden brown around the edges, 25-30 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325F.

Once the logs are cool, cut into 1/2" thick slices. Spread onto the trays and bake for 8 minutes; flip, then bake 8 minutes more.

Makes ~4 Dozen
Recipe Adapted from Food Network

March 12, 2018

Chocolate Fudge Pecan Pie

Underrated food holidays are the best. Yes, I love cooking for Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, Independence Day, and pretty much every other holiday (except Passover. Screw you Passover). But sometimes I just want something like a chocolate chip cookie or some mashed potatoes and just don't have an excuse to cook them. Enter random food holidays, which completely and totally justify my decision to bake brownies at approximately 10pm on December 8. For the record, that's National Brownie Day. Luckily, some of these food holidays are catching on, specifically Pi(e) Day, March 14, a.k.a. 3.14, which is the number pi for all you non-STEM people out there.

For me, the Pi(e) Day craze started back in high school because some teacher had the brilliant idea to fuel bored yet somehow incredibly hyper students with tables and tables of pie. There was apple pie. There was oreo pie. There was peanut butter pie. One of the least popular varieties? A few sad slices of pecan pie left behind among empty scattered cans of whipped cream. 'Twas a sad sight to see. This recipe for chocolate fudge pecan pie is here to save your pecan pie woes. Whether your family has grown tired of the same saccharine pecan pie served once a year just at Thanksgiving or the only way to get you to try new foods is to douse them in chocolate, this pecan pie is for you.

I almost always make my own crust, aside from that one time my friends and roommates convinced me to make Thanksgiving dinner for 10 in our tiny apartment kitchen. There's no shame in using premade dough, but I'll just throw it out there that nothing beats my buttery, flaky crust recipe. It's nothing out of the ordinary, just cold butter cut into flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt with an egg yolk and some liquid to bind it together. Keep it cold, work it as little as possible, and make the edges pretty and you'll have the perfect crust. I've found that commercial doughs are simply inherently overworked and you won't get the same flakiness. This crust is also sturdy enough to stand up to all the filling without breaking.

The filling is essentially a cross between a chocolate chess pie and a pecan pie. You get chopped pecans scattered through the filling and a gorgeous arrangement of whole pecans on top, which is enough for my taste but certainly not on the level of a regular pecan pie which is basically all pecans with just enough sugar syrup to hold it all together. However, this isn't a regular pecan pie or even a regular chocolate pecan pie; it's a chocolate fudge pecan pie, which means I want an exceptionally rich, velvety, dense filling and I want there to be lots of it. The trick to such a filling is plenty of good quality chocolate (pardon my Ina Garten moment, but if it's the key player it needs to taste good), a few eggs, lots of butter, and the right ratio of corn syrup to brown sugar. Don't fear the corn syrup; it's just another form of sugar and it is completely necessary in some recipes for the right texture. It's definitely not the healthiest recipe, but you have to live every Pi(e) day like it's your last, right?

There are just a few tricks to ensure this simple recipe turns out right every time. As I mentioned before, don't overwork the dough, and be sure to keep the ingredients and the dough cold. Building on that principle, only add the filling to the crust once it's cooled to room temperature or you'll ruin all that effort and end up with a soggy crust. I've found that it's best to save your pretty pecan halves to decorate the top and throw all the ugly and broken pecans in the filling since they're just chopped up anyway. The worst thing that could possibly happen with this pie is getting halfway through the decoration on top and realizing you're out of pretty pecans. Honestly though, that's not even that big of a crisis in the grand scheme of things because that is precisely the reason why whipped cream and ice cream exist.

1 Recipe Sweet Pie Crust Dough (See Below)
8 oz Semisweet/Dark Chocolate
1 Stick Butter, Softened
3/4 Cup Corn Syrup
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
4 Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla
4 oz Peans, Chopped & Toasted (1 Cup)
1/2 Cup Pecan Halves

Grease a 9" pie plate. Roll out the pie dough to fit the pan, press gently to adhere, and crimp the edges as desired. Chill until firm.

Heat oven to 325F.

In a glass bowl set over simmering water or in a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter together, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and gradually stir in the corn syrup, brown sugar, and salt. Cool slightly, then add the eggs one at a time and the vanilla.

Spread the chopped pecans over the bottom of the pie crust. Pour the chocolate mixture on top and decorate with the pecan halves. Bake the pie for 55-60 minutes or until puffy and just set, covering the edges of the crust as necessary. Cool completely before serving.

For the crust:
Pulse 1 1/4 C flour, 1/4 C sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt in a food processor until combined. Add 1 stick chilled and cubed butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine the an yolk with a tablespoon of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from Love and Olive Oil