February 20, 2018

Mustard-Crusted Salmon

I am all about the quick and easy dinners right now. I recognize my college diet of frozen pizza, delivery pizza, and pasta aren't ideal, so I love when I have quick, easy, and healthy recipes on hand. I frequently make salmon, but that's usually just seasoning it and throwing it in a pan. There are so many other simple but delicious ways to make salmon that don't take much more time, and this is one of them. A dollop of roasted garlic dijonnaise (just a fancy word for mustard and mayonnaise) and a sprinkling of crispy panko elevate a regular piece of salmon into a stunning dinner without sacrificing all your calories for the day.

The only time-consuming part of this dish is roasting the garlic. Fortunately, all that entails is breaking a head of garlic into cloves, seasoning them, and popping them in the oven for a while. The sharp garlic flavor mellows into sweeter notes, and the soft roasted cloves blend seamlessly into the dijonnaise. I will eat roasted garlic on anything, so I'll typically make a bunch of it just to have on hand.

The dijonnaise consists of mustard and mayonnaise as well as a splash of Worcestershire and all that lovely roasted garlic. Yes, this recipe does call for a whole head of garlic, but roasting it cooks it down and gets rid of that astringent flavor, so it's not as much as you'd think. If you're still concerned, add a few cloves at a time until you get the right flavor.

Once your dijonnaise is to your liking, just spread some onto the fish and give it a handful of panko. Panko work so much better here than regular breadcrumbs because they're so much more crunchy. I toss them in a bit of oil to make sure they get extra crispy and golden. Depending on the thickness of your salmon, it should cook through in less than 15 minutes and the breadcrumbs won't burn. The dijonnaise infuses the fish with tons of flavor and keeps it moist and juicy while the panko's crunch adds textural contrast. This dish goes with all sorts of side dishes, making it a great addition to your weeknight dinner lineup.

1 Head Garlic
2 T Olive Oil
2 T Oil
1 tsp Worcestershire
3 T Dijon Mustard
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
1 1/2 lbs Salmon
2/3 Cup Panko

Heat oven to 375F.

Break the garlic into cloves and spread onto a small baking dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes or until caramelized.

Press the roasted garlic out of the cloves. Whisk with the Worcestershire, mustard, mayo, and salt and pepper.

Spread the mustard mixture onto the salmon. Toss the panko with the oil and salt and pepper. Sprinkle onto the salmon and press gently to adhere.

Bake the salmon for 12-14 minutes or until golden.

Serves 6

February 12, 2018

Mini Chocolate Bundt Cakes

I have a week of chocolate planned ahead, guys. Food Science Club has our annual chocolate dipping social on Wednesday, where we get to dip approximately 20 pounds of various snack foods and fruits in chocolate under the guise of student involvement. I also have a competition for passionfruit confections on Thursday, which means making all sorts of caramels and ganaches and covering them in chocolate beforehand. However, I understand that not everyone has access to vats of molten chocolate and absolutely no self control, as fun as that would make all of your Valentine's Days. In that unfortunate case, I propose an alternative: individual chocolate cakes. You can have one like a stable adult human, share two with your Valentine, or eat the entire batch alone while watching Netflix with your cat because, hey, at least you proved to yourself and your ungrateful ex that you can, in fact, bake things without burning down the house. Whatever floats your boat, man.

Honestly, one of the reasons I love this recipe so much is because of the pan. I had a treat yoself moment with my Hannukah money over winter break and decided to buy a good NordicWare cake pan, but instead of buying a big fancy bundt cake pan like a normal person, I bought one for teeny tiny mini cakes. I soon realized the cakes weren't nearly as teeny as I thought they were; one cake is a very generous serving for one, or maybe 2 depending on how hangry you are. If you don't have a mini bundt cake pan, these would make great mini loaves, or a regular cupcake pan would do in a pinch.

Looking at the ingredients list, you might be a little surprised if you're familiar with my other baking recipes. There's no buttermilk. It's either a sin or a misprint, right? Wrong. Here, sour cream maintains the acidity and moistness just as well as buttermilk ever could. Also different from my other chocolate cake recipes? I use actual butter instead of oil, but it's melted so you don't have to go through the whole softening and creaming process that honestly takes way too long in my opinion. I just want some cake; don't make me wait all day for it.

I combine the dry ingredients first: flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. There's plenty of cocoa here, and make sure you use the good stuff because that's the main thing you'll be tasting. I'm not getting paid to say this, but I will admit I do prefer Ghiradelli or Hershey's over Nestle. Once those are combined, I whisk the butter and sugar together. This is a pleasantly dense cake, so there's no need to cream them together and whip a bunch of air in. I also add eggs and a nice splash of vanilla. As with most of my cake recipes, I alternate the wet and dry ingredients to prevent lumps and avoid overbeating the flour. The dry ingredients are the flour mixture from before, and the wet ingredients are sour cream (again, for acidity and moistness) and coffee (for a subtle flavor that really brings out the cocoa).

Once the batter is just combined, I spoon it into my pan. I never make bundt cakes because I'm always terrified the cake will stick and fall apart and implode and make everyone sad. To combat this, I got a really good pan (and treat it properly, i.e. no dishwasher) and greased it well with a baking spray. I normally give it a spritz of original nonstick spray and get on with the baking, but here I use the special baking nonstick spray. It has flour in it that does a fabulous job of making things not stick to the pan, and I haven't had any sticking issues yet. I make sure to fill the pan most of the way up, leaving some space for it to rise. The toothpick test does the job just fine to indicate when it's done; as soon as a toothpick comes out clean, you're ready to go.

As you can see from all these lovely pictures, I garnished the cakes with a dusting of powdered sugar and some fresh berries. If you go the powdered sugar route, make sure you do it just before serving so that it doesn't absorb moisture and become all pasty. A velvety chocolate ganache would also be fantastic, and you can add a splash of your favorite liquor for extra flavor. I had some strawberry sauce leftover from a cheesecake, which paired beautifully as well. As long as it goes with chocolate, it can go on this cake. I might have to bring some to my chocolate dipping social this week because nothing goes better with chocolate than more chocolate.

1 1/2 Cups Flour
3/4 Cup Cocoa Powder
3/4 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 Sticks Butter, Melted
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
2 Eggs
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
3/4 Cup Sour Cream
3/4 Cup Coffee, Cooled

Heat oven to 350F and grease 10 mini bundt cake pans.

Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Combine the sour cream and coffee.

Whisk the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the coffee mixture in 2 additions.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans (~2/3 cup per pan) and bake for 16 minutes or until cooked through.

Serves 10

February 5, 2018

Mushroom & Prosciutto Stuffed Chicken

Despite having absolutely no free time this month, I do love making fancy dinners. There's something to be said for coming home from a long day in the lab and having something homemade and classy to dig into instead of yet another frozen pizza. This is especially important for those of you who would like to make your significant other something special instead of resorting to takeout or whipping up a fancy bowl of cereal for dinner on Valentine's Day. Chicken is one of the easiest, most versatile proteins to cook, but if you dress it up with a bit of cheese, mushrooms, and prosciutto you'll have quite an impressive meal.

Butterflying the chicken here is a must. That sounds intimidating if you've never done it, but it's really quite easy. To stuff a chicken breast, you need to have a large, thin piece of chicken so you can roll it into itself. Yes, they sell thin chicken cutlets pretty widely now, but those pieces are too small for this. You want to buy big chicken breasts here and cut a slit most of the way through the middle hamburger-style (not hot dog style) so that when you open the flaps it looks like a butterfly (or a heart, since it's almost Valentine's Day and all). From there, it's probably still too thick, so take a meat mallet/tenderizer or rolling pin and hit it a few times until it's about 1/4" thick and even. Just don't overdo it to the point where it starts to fall apart; you still need this thing to hold together when you stuff it.

The stuffing is really easy since the only thing you have to cook is some mushrooms. I dice some baby portobello mushrooms and throw them in a pan with some garlic and herbs. You can use other fancy mushrooms here, but they would probably go further in the sauce. I cook mine until the liquid evaporates since you want them to be tender and dry enough to roll up without falling/oozing everywhere but not so much that they turn to complete mush in the oven.

The first layer of the filling is the prosciutto so it can infuse both the chicken and the rest of the stuffing with porky goodness. This recipe doesn't require much of it, especially if you cut it in half for just two people, so I usually go to the deli counter instead of buying a big package of it. The cheese comes next; I like a good mild, melty mozzarella or provolone but if you like stronger cheeses then feel free to swap one in. As long as it melts well, you can use it. A layer of the mushrooms goes next. Just remember that as you roll the chicken, it tends to move out towards the edges, so leave a border, especially on the end that will become the seam.

To finish the chicken, I start at the ugliest, most uneven long side and start rolling it into itself. I secure it with either toothpicks (soaked in water so they don't burn) or butcher's twine then sear it off in a hot pan to get a nice golden crust. Since the thin piece of chicken has now rolled into something much bigger, it will take more time to cook, so I finish it in the oven. All the worst Valentine's Day stories involve food poisoning of some sort, so make sure you cook it properly.

While the chicken cooks, it's time to whip up the sauce. At this point, I've committed to mushrooms, so I decided to make a nice gravy. I take the chicken drippings--minus any cheesy bits--and saute more mushrooms, a shallot, and some herbs until tender and fragrant. This is where you want to use nice mushrooms, if you have them. If not, I used more baby portobellos and it still turned out fantastic. I then build a roux by adding flour; this thickens the gravy so it's perfectly velvety. Chicken broth is gradually stirred in until it forms a sauce, which I then simmer with another pat of butter until the chicken is ready.

Valentine's Day is still over a week away, so there's time to build a menu around this (or another dish, if you're not feeling the mushrooms. Some of my favorite appetizers include some corn & tomato salsa, a decadent French onion tart, and a zucchini ricotta crostada. Some equally fancy main course ideas are chicken Florentine, scallops with purple cauliflower, and spinach and prosciutto stuffed shells. Those would be great alongside some mushroom soup, zucchini fritters, or focaccia. As for dessert, I'll be publishing a recipe later in the week, but you can get started with a buttermilk pie, maple apple spice cake, or a blueberry almond tart. For more recipe ideas, see my recipe index. Happy cooking and happy Valentine's Day!

8 oz Mushrooms, Diced
12 oz Mushrooms, Sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
6 Sprigs Thyme
4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts (2 lbs)
8 Slices Prosciutto
8 Slices Mozzarella
4 T Butter
1 Small Shallot, Diced
1/4 Cup Flour
2 Cups Chicken Broth

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced mushrooms, garlic, and 3 sprigs thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 6 minutes or until tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside.

Butterfly the chicken breasts. Pound to ~1/4" thick and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Top with two overlapping slices of prosciutto each, 2 slices mozzarella, and some of the mushrooms, leaving a 1/2" border on one of the long ends. Roll lengthwise so the border acts as a seam and secure with kitchen twine or toothpicks. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

Heat oven to 425F.

Heat some oil in a new large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sear on both sides until brown, about 8 minutes total. Transfer to an oven-safe baking dish and roast for 15 minutes or until cooked through. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove any melted cheese from the chicken skillet. Add 2 T butter and melt over medium-high heat and add the sliced mushrooms, shallot, and remaining 3 sprigs thyme. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 4-6 minutes or until tender. Add the flour and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth. Simmer until thick and reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 T butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve over the chicken.

Serves 4
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit