Thursday, January 14, 2010

Herbed Balsamic Chicken with Blue Cheese

My husband had long wanted a grill even before moving into our grill-friendly house over a year ago. He finally got an outdoor gas grill the Christmas before we moved into the house and less than a month later he had it set up in our new backyard. Ever since, he has loved to grill.

So I'm always looking for fun, easy recipes for him. Usually I prepare the food in the kitchen and he takes it outside to cook. We have grilled everything from kebabs, corn on the cob, salmon, steak, chicken. And it's all been delicious. Something about grilling over an open flame really adds flavor to whatever you're cooking.

And, just in case you were wondering, here's another fun fact about us: We absolutely love, adore and cherish balsamic vinegar. In everything. So when I found this recipe in an old issue of Bon Appetit, I knew it would just be a matter of time before we were making it.

The balsamic marinade gave this chicken amazing flavor and the blue cheese added a tangyness that just put it over the top. My only critique would be the addition of the dried herbs. Frankly, they got even drier and slightly burnt on the grill and only added a bitter flavor and paper-y texture to the chicken. I ended up scraping the herbs off and enjoying the chicken much more without them. If you have fresh herbs to add, I might suggest that or adding the dried herbs to the marinade. But the dried herbs directly on top of the chicken just didn't work on the grill.

Herbed Balsamic Chicken With Blue Cheese

(Recipe adapted from
Bon Appetit, June 2009)

6 skinless boneless chicken breast halves (5 to 6 ounces each)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons
olive oil
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground
black pepper, divided
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning blend

1 3-to 4-ounce wedge blue cheese, cut into 6 slices

Place chicken in large resealable plastic bag. Whisk vinegar, 3 tablespoons oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in small bowl. Add to chicken; seal bag. Chill 2 hours, turning bag occasionally.

Prepare grill (medium-high heat). Brush grill rack generously with oil. Arrange chicken on grill. Sprinkle with herbes de Provence, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
(Note: I didn't use herbes de Provence because I didn't have any. Instead I substituted Italian seasoning, which was fine.) Grill chicken until cooked through, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer to plates; top each with slice of cheese.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Chicken in Puff Pastry

This is such a simple and tasty meal. It started when I went to one of my (still) favorite lunch places in college. It's called the Wine and Cheese Gallery and it's in Gainvesille, FL. It's a great wine shop and they only serve food for lunch but everyday they have the most amazing salads, sandwiches, quiches, etc.

One day they had a special. It was chicken, cheese and herbs in puff pastry served with a spinach salad. It was wonderful and had me hooked! From then on I always looked at their specials first to see if their puff pastry special was being offered that day. If it was there, my lunch choice was made! They also served it with shrimp which was also amazing.

A while after we moved to Orlando, I bought puff pastry for something else I was making. Since puff pastry comes in packages of 2 at a time, I had to think of something to do with the unused sheet. I remembered the amazing dish at Wine and Cheese and decided to attempt to recreate it!

The original dish used fresh herbs but I didn't have any so I threw in pesto instead. It was absolutely delicious! If you have fresh thyme, basil, oregano or parsely, throw those in because they would work well with this. Otherwise, feel free to use store-bought pesto. I also decided to saute some mushrooms and throw those in for more flavor. (Also, since Brad isn't a huge fan of veggies, I try to throw them in wherever I can!)

For the most part, I just threw this together based on my memory of the dish. I didn't really measure as I went along and just added what sounded good to me. I tried to estimate as best I could for the recipe below. Be warned, the recipe below makes quite a bit of filling. If you don't think you'll use it all, cut back on the cream cheese and the rest of the ingredients to reduce the amount of the filling. Or just refrigerate the leftover filling and make these again for dinner later in the week!

Chicken in Puff Pastry
(Original recipe, inspired by Wine and Cheese Gallery)

1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 small onion, finely chopped

3/4 cup sliced mushroom
8 oz. cream Cheese, softened
1 cup shredded or diced cooked chicken (NOTE: Can be pre-packaged fully-cooked chicken like this or leftover grilled or rotisserie chicken)
1 Tbsp Dijon-style mustard
2 Tbsp tore-bought pesto (This is my favorite brand.)
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 sheet of puff pastry

1 egg
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 400 F. Thaw puff pastry sheet at room temperature for 30 minutes. Beat egg and water together in a small dish and set aside.

Add onion and garlic to a medium saute pan over medium-high heat and cook until onion starts to soften and turn translucent. Add mushrooms and cook until tender. Remove from heat and strain. Combine cream cheese, chicken, mushroom mixture, mustard, and pesto. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently to combine. Refrigerate 30 minutes to an hour to allow the mixture to firm up. (Note: This is optional but I found that making the pastries was easier when the stuffing was less runny and more firm.)

Unfold on puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll out slightly to create a 14" rectangle. Cut pastry in 4 squares and lay each square of pastry onto a baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray.

Fill the center of each square about 1/4 to 1/3 full of cream cheese mixture. Brush the sides of the pastry squares with the egg wash and fold in half diagonally to create a triangle shape. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal. Once all of the pastries are finished, brush the tops with more egg wash and use a sharp knife to cut 2-3 slits in the top of the pastry to allow the steam to vent. Place in oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the pastry has puffed and is golden brown.

I served this dinner with a side salad dressed with a vinaigrette. While these little pastries taste amazing, they can me quite heavy and are almost a meal to themselves!


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Homemade Bread

I have been absolutely dying to try baking bread. My husband and I love bread plus we are carb-a-holics and the thought of warm, home-cooked bread right out of the oven for dinner sounded amazing to me. The only thing holding me back was the fact that I had a minor fear of working with yeast. Or more specifically screwing it up. I also worried that baking bread would be time-consuming and something that you would have to plan way in advance and then stick to a strict time table if you wanted to enjoy it. But I had heard rave reviews about the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. I've read about it on several blogs and I thought it would be a great book to try out getting started with yeast. The recipes in this book are very user friendly and allow you to make the dough and bake bread in as soon as 2 hours or up to 2 weeks later! I was hoping to get for Christmas but I didn't. But I did get gift cards so I ordered it right away! Should be here Monday!

However, I was too excited to wait and the master recipe from the book is available all over the internet. It's called a boule, which is just the French word for "ball" and is a traditional rustic loaf shape. I tried this for dinner recently and
we were both blown away by how great it was! Please try it! It's amazing and so simple to do.

Simple Crusty Bread
(Recipe adapted from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, published by NY Times)
Yield = Four 1-pound loaves.
Recipe can be
easily doubled or halved.

3 cups lukewarm water (a little warmer than body temperature, about 100ยบ F)
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (or 2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt

6 1/2 cups
unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method
Cornmeal for the pizza peel.

1. In a 5-quart bowl, mix the yeast, water and salt. Add all the flour, then use a wooden spoon to mix until all ingredients are uniformly moist. It is not necessary to knead or continue mixing once the ingredients are uniformly moist. This will produce a loose and very wet dough. (Note: You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches of flour. Dough will be wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container.)

2.Cover with a lid (not airtight). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, about 2 hours, but no more than 5 hours.
After rising, the dough can be baked immediately, or covered (non completely airtight) and refrigerated up to 14 days. (Note: The dough will be less sticky and easier to work with after at least 3 hours refrigeration.)

3. Before baking, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the bread from sticking when you transfer it to the oven. Uncover the dough and sprinkle the surface liberally with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough (serrated knives are best). Store the remaining dough in the bowl and refrigerate for baking at another time.

4. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won't stick. Create a smooth ball of dough by gently pulling the sides down around to the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out during resting and baking. (Note:
The entire process should take no more than 30 to 60 seconds.)

5.Place the dough on the pizza peel. (Note:
If you aren’t planning on baking the bread on a pizza stone, just let the dough rest on a cornmeal-covered cutting board.) Allow the loaf to rest for about 40 minutes. It does not need to be covered. The bread may not rise much during this time.

6. Twenty minutes before baking, p
reheat oven to 450 F. If using a pizza stone, place on the center rack of the oven. Remove any upper racks. Place a broiler pan on a rack below the pizza stone or on the floor of the oven. When the dough has rested for 40 minutes, dust the top liberally with flour, then use a serrated knife to slash a 1/4-inch-deep cross or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top.

7. Slide the loaf off the peel and onto the baking stone with a quick jerking motion.
(Alternatively, butter a Pyrex dish or baking pan and place the bread in the pan.) Quickly but carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow the bread to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack.

One final note! As a result of the baking frenzy this holiday season, I was starting to run very low on all-purpose flour. So about 1/4 of the flour I used for this recipe was whole wheat flour, rather than all purpose. The bread was still amazing but I have a feeling it was slightly denser than if I had used all AP flour . . . which I will do next time since I have finally replenished my stock. Oh, and yes, there will definitely be a next time!