Chicken Kabobs for Father’s Day – Pass the Meat!

Chicken Kabobs for Father’s Day – Pass the Meat!

When I last blogged, it was to share pictures from a delightful Crepe Cake I prepared for a Mother’s Day gift. Yesterday, I invited a few father friends over to burn meat and relax over a few beers.

Kabobs are a great option when serving a group. A little meat goes a long way! And I was able to gather up a variety of veggies and grill them up for a colorful and delicious meal. Another things I really like about kabobs is that you don’t have to prepare a lot of side dishes because everything you need is on the skewer! All I added yesterday was watermelon and a side of baked beans. They guys were happy!

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Chicken Kabobs the Easy Way!

If you’ve read any of my past posts, you know I am hooked on Aldi’s for most of my shopping. It saves a ton of money and they carry a lot of neat things not found at most grocery stores. I think that’s because they originated in Europe, so the selection of some German food stuffs is pretty darned good.

To make a long story short, I purchased at Aldi’s two packages of marinated cilantro-lime boneless chicken breasts and cubed them up for the meat. Easy, right?!?!

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Veggies

I basically dug through my fridge to grab everything else added to the kabobs.

Sliced golden potatoes
Shallots
Baby rainbow bell peppers
1 orange bell pepper
Zucchini
Yellow summer squash

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Directions

Skewer the cubed meat and vegetables in any order. Lay onto a preheated grill and turn regularly until the chicken is cooked and the veggies have a nice char. Serve hot.

Happy belated Father’s Day mates! I hope you enjoyed your afternoon.

If you have any favorite kabob marinades or kabob recipes, send me the link below. I’d love to try them!

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Buon appetito!

A Crepe Cake for Mother’s Day

A Crepe Cake for Mother’s Day

I’m friends with a few moms and wanted to treat them to a special treat on Mother’s Day. I looked through several recipes and settled on a Crepe Cake. I’d never made one before, but I’ve whipped up plenty of pastry creams and millions of pancakes so I figured it would be a cinch!

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Okay, truth be told, it was not exactly a “cakewalk!” I had a few layers slide this way or that. It may not be as pretty as a pro would bake, but it tasted like a slice of heaven. And the moms I shared it with were amazed!

Step One: Make the batter.

Crepe Batter
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups whole milk
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
7 Tbsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
vegetable oil

Directions

Make batter several hours in advance.
Melt butter in a small pan until it turns medium brown.
Separately, heat milk until steaming I used a microwave).
In a stand mixer beat eggs, flour, sugar, and salt on medium speed. Slowly add the slightly cooled milk and browned butter.
Pour into a container with a spout and refrigerate for several hours.

Step Two: Make the cream filling.

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Pastry Cream

2 cups whole milk
1 Tbsp. pure Madagascar vanilla (my personal favorite)
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
3 1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Directions

Bring milk to a boil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
Fill a large bowl with ice and set aside as an ice bath for the finished cream.
In a separate heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. Gradually whisk in the hot milk and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Whisk constantly 1-2 minutes.
Scrape into a small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath and continue stirring until the temperature drops to 140 degrees. Stir in the butter. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate.

Before you assemble the layers:

2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons Kirsch

Whip the heavy cream, sugar, and Kirsch (optional – you can substitute vanilla, another sweet liquor, or even almond flavor). Fold into the chilled pastry cream with a spatula.

Step Three: Make the crepes

Bring the batter back to room temperature.
Place a 9-inch crepe pan (or non-stick) over medium heat. Brush with oil.
Pour about 3 tablespoons batter into hot pan and swirl to cover the surface.
Cook until the bottom just begins to brown, like a pancake, then carefully peel back and flip. Cook on the other side for 5 seconds.
Flip the cooked crepe onto a piece of parchment paper.
Make 20 useable crepes. (I ate my mistakes as I went!)

Step Four: Assemble the Crepe Cake

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Place 1 crepe on your cake plate. Cover with a thin layer of pastry cream (about 1/4 cup). Add crepe #2. Repeat steps until you finish with the last crepe on top.

Chill for at least 2 hours.
Set out for 30 minutes before serving.
Slice and serve with fresh fruit.

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I must say, this was one of the most time-consuming cakes I’ve ever made, but it was well worth the effort! Let me know if you have any other variations on the Crepe Cake. I have a feeling that these babies get better with practice!

Buon appetito!

Brad

Fresh Tomato Sauce Using My Food Mill

Fresh Tomato Sauce Using My Food Mill

I love the taste of pasta tossed with fresh tomato sauce. It’s one of those guilty pleasures in life worth the time and effort. Even though it’s not exactly fresh tomato season, you may want to save this article for a day this summer when you are wondering what to do with that bushel of ripening tomatoes. The beauty of tomato sauce is you can use bruised and even slightly over ripened tomatoes.

If you use several varieties of tomatoes your sauce will have a richer flavor. Another way to add flavor depth is to roast some or all of your tomatoes first. I sometimes opt to roast cherry tomatoes before adding them. They take far less time to roast.

One question I get asked a lot is whether I go to the trouble of peeling all the tomatoes before I cook with them. The answer is no. That’s because I use a food mill which removes all the peelings for me!

Ingredients

10-15 pounds fresh tomatoes
fresh basil
salt
pepper
crushed red pepper (optional)
sugar (optional, helps cut the acid)

Directions

Chop tomatoes into large chunks and add to large stock pot.

fresh chopped tomatoes

Cook down on medium heat for 45-60 minutes. This time will vary depending upon how much water is in your tomatoes and how thick you like your sauce.

In batches, run cooked tomatoes through a food mill to remove all skins and seeds.

food mill tomato sauce

Add seasoning (whatever you prefer) and simmer 10-15 minutes longer.

 

fresh tomato sauce with basilCook pasta in salted water to desired doneness. I prefer some bite to my pasta.

Toss hot pasta with sauce. Taste and season as needed. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

brad nierenberg rigatoni recipe

Less is more when it comes to fresh tomato sauce. But that’s just my opinion! If you’ve never used a food mill, they work great for sauces and soups. And, if you are ambidextrous, it counts as an arm workout too!

What’s your favorite way to prepare tomato sauce?

Experience the True Culture and Cuisine of Italy – Stay in Italian Farm Hotels

Experience the True Culture and Cuisine of Italy – Stay in Italian Farm Hotels

I have a few friends visiting Italy this spring and wanted to share some of my insight. I was lucky enough to spend close to two years living in Northern Italy back in the early 2000s. I loved it. How could you not?!?!

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Travelers flock to Italy every year to enjoy the beauty, the art, the history, and the food and wine. Unfortunately, most tourists focus on the large cities like Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice, missing the opportunity to immerse themselves in the daily life and culture of this wonderful country.

Food is a central aspect of Italian culture and it differs from region to region and even town to town. One way to get a taste of both the food and daily life throughout Italy is to avoid hotels inside city boundaries and book reservations at an agriturismo or two. These visitor-friendly working farms are located in the countryside. They range in cost and amenities. Most include breakfast and some book dinner reservations as well.

Dining at an agriturismo is a culinary delight. The menu features seasonal local ingredients, including a few raised right there on the farm. Visitors will experience the cuisine of that particular region.

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If staying in the Piedmont, truffles may find their way onto the menu along with a hearty barolo wine if you are lucky! The stunning Cascina Barac is one such farm hotel, set in the vineyard. Visitors can book reservations for a gourmet meal, taste their wines, and even tour the family-owned winery. I still make the shaved carrot recipe I was served there. The owner wrote it down for me on the back side of a business card which holds a place of honor in my recipe box to this day!

Agri-Macinello

Is Florence on your list? I stayed at the Macinello in Montegiridolfi to visit the region. Make sure you get over to Greve for some Chianti! There is also an American cemetery nearby well worth a visit.

Venice is located north of the province of Emilia-Romagna of the famed pasta bolognese, parmigiano-reggiano cheese, and lambrusco and sangiovese wines. Why not book reservations at a local agriturismo and use it as your base to visit Venice, Ravenna, Modena and other beautiful cities?

Umbria is another region in Italy often overlooked by American tourists, but honestly it was one of my favorites. Perugia (yes, the chocolate is named after this old city), Spoleto, Assisi, and many other beautiful hillside towns dot the countryside.

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I stayed at the La Quercia Gentile in Valfabbrica as my base. The owners were so nice that upon leaving they gave me a big bottle of their own olive oil to try! The region is known for its Pecorino cheese and egg pasta. Sangrantino and Orvieto are the regions most popular wines.

To really experience Italy, get out into the countryside. Book a room or suite at a farm hotel. Chat with the owners over a meal. Investigate the little villages and sip a cappuccino from the local bar. Hike. Meander. And eat where the locals dine. This way you will experience the true Italy.

Visit the website Agriturismo website to investigate properties and book your reservations.

Diet Detox – Cinnamon Rolls and Cupcakes

Diet Detox – Cinnamon Rolls and Cupcakes

I’ve had to dial back my love of home cooking for a couple of months. I need to take off about 10 pounds and so am avoiding time in the kitchen until mission accomplished. I’m trying to cook and eat healthy options, but so far am uninspired to share anything of note. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for some great looking and tasting dinners and hope to be back to my culinary roots soon!

But, as you can see by the title, I took a vacay from dieting yesterday to celebrate a friend’s birthday and thought I would share some pics and tips. After all, if you are going to fall of the dieter’s wagon, you may as well fall hard!

The morning started out with some cinnamon rolls. I confess I kind of cheated. They were a last minute idea and I used what I had in the freezer, frozen bread dough, which had been tucked away as forbidden food for the past few weeks.

I thawed two loaves overnight in the refrigerator, then got to work in the morning. No recipe is required. This is one of those “wing it” recipes!

Ingredients
2 loaves frozen bread dough
4 ish tablespoons softened butter
Cinnamon
Brown sugar

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Directions

Roll out softened bread dough into two rectangles. Spread with softened butter, leaving about 1/2-1/4″ border all around edges. Spring liberally with brown sugar and cinnamon while retaining the same clean border. Roll and seal the ends. Slice and place in a buttered baking dish.

Cover with a clean dish towel and set in a warm place to rise for 30 minute. Please in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until done. (I use the “touch with finger for doneness” test).

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Eat while warm. That’s it!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

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There is no hidden secret to these delicious cupcakes. I just wanted to share a couple of photos. I used a boxed chocolate cake mix and Ina Garten’s peanut butter frosting. Her frosting recipe is one of my favorites. It is so creamy and delicious and always gets loads of  compliments.

All 24 cupcakes were eaten in a flash. Thank goodness, because today I am back on the bandwagon.

Bon appetito!

Pork Chop Casserole – A Comfort Food Favorite

Pork Chop Casserole – A Comfort Food Favorite

I love pork chops. They are inexpensive and delicious as long as you don’t cook the dickens out of them.

We grew up eating pork chops fairly often because of the low cost. My favorite way was with stuffing and applesauce on the side. I stumbled across a recipe from one of my most tattered cookbooks the other day that put the stuffing, apples, and pork chops all together for a very easy to prepare (and tasty) casserole of sorts.

I made a few alterations of my own which I explain below. For the original Betty Crocker recipe (which is hard to improve upon) you can visit their website which is probably a bit easier than borrowing my cookbook!

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Ingredients
1 Tbs butter
3 Granny Smith apples, sliced
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
salt, pepper, garlic, sage, paprika, thyme, all spice
4-6 pork chops

Your own recipe for stuffing or use mine: 
4-6 cups cubed stale bread (I prefer sour dough)
1 pound bulk breakfast sausage with sage browned and drained
celery and onion diced and sautéed in 3-4 Tbs. butter until soft
1-3 cups chicken stock (enough to moisten)
1/4-1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
1 egg, beaten
salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, sage, fresh parsley

Mix these ingredients together until moist (not mushy) and keep tasting for right amount of seasoning.

Directions

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Brush 1/2 teaspoon butter in bottom of 13×9-inch baking dish. Spread apple slices in dish. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon over apples.

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Season the pork chops with whatever spices you prefer and lay on top of apples. I used a combination of salt, pepper, garlic, sage, paprika, thyme, and all spice.

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Cover pork shops with stuffing.

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Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes. Uncover and bake 10-15 minutes longer until you get a nice browning on the stuffing.

See how easy that is! Enjoy!

Spicy Chicken A La Diable Is A La Delicious

Spicy Chicken A La Diable Is A La Delicious

Le French Oven cookbook cover

Many thanks to a good friend who gifted me Hillary Davis’s “Le French Oven” cookbook for Christmas this year. The photos are gorgeous and I could not wait to dive in and try one of the recipes right away.

All I needed was a French oven (which I do) and a sous chef (that would be me). Most of the ingredients for this divine dish were already in my pantry and refrigerator.

Full disclosure: I know Hillary Davis’s version would be much better looking. But I intend to get better with practice!

Let me first say this chicken dish is divine. The flavors were so good I wanted to lick my plate. My dinner companions called it the most delicious chicken and biscuits they’d ever had.

Hillary Davis gets full credit for the recipe and the instructions. The photos are all mine!

Spicy Chicken A La Diable

Ingredients
1 whole chicken (organic preferred)
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
2 Tbsp olive oil
2-4 potatoes peeled and sliced into matchsticks (1/4 inch)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp stone ground mustard
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (I only used 1/8 tsp.)
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs (I wish I had made my own rather than using store bought)
2 Tbsp minced shallot
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used Riesling)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (I used homemade)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp. cayenne
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 medium tomato diced (I used 2 Romas)

Directions

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Pour 2 Tbsp olive oil into French oven. Toss in potatoes with salt and pepper. Place cleaned chicken onto potatoes. Rub with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Bake at 400 degrees 15 minutes per pound.

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While the chicken is cooking whisk together sone ground mustard, cayenne, honey, and thyme. (I misread the instructions and also whisked in the tarragon. It still turned out great.) Set mixture aside.

When chicken is ready, remove it from the oven and spread the mustard mixture all over it. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the mustard paste and pat them down.

Return the chicken to the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes longer. The thermometer should read 165 degrees F. My breadcrumbs were starting to get too brown, so I put the lid on for the last 5 minutes.

Move the chicken and potatoes to a large platter.

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Place the French oven on the stovetop. Add the shallot, vinegar, wine, half the tarragon and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes. Add the stock, garlic, 1/2 tsp. salt, Dijon mustard, 1/8 tsp. cayenne, and heavy cream. Simmer 10-15 minutes longer.

Just before serving stir in the remaining tarragon and the tomato (seeds and juices as well). Cook 2 minutes longer.

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To serve, ladle sauce on a plate and top with chicken and potatoes. I served it with roasted brussels sprouts and biscuits.

I hope to try many more of the great-tasting recipes in this new cookbook. I’ll keep you posted!