Friday, April 29, 2011

Easy Weekend Meal: Chicken Potpie Empanadas

Sometimes you just need a recipe that is quick and easy to throw together.  As much fun as it is to spend a couple hours in the kitchen working on a grand masterpiece, it can also be just as rewarding to mix together a few ingredients and get back to relaxing!  If you don't already subscribe to Real Simple's recipe of the day, you should!  I have discovered several super easy recipes this way and they are great to pull out when I want something tasty but quick to make.  Today, I am sharing with you a recipe for chicken potpie empanadas.  It uses a premade pie crust, shredded rotisserie chicken and a mix of frozen peas and carrots.  Ain't no shame in keepin' it simple!

Chicken Potpie Empanadas
from Real Simple

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon flour
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 10-ounce box frozen peas and carrots
1 3- to 4-pound store-bought rotisserie chicken, meat shredded
kosher salt and black pepper
2 refrigerated 9-inch piecrusts (from a 15-ounce package, such as Pillsbury)

Heat oven to 400° F. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes.

Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

Slowly stir in the broth. Cook until thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the peas and carrots, chicken, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Cut each piecrust in half. Spoon the chicken mixture over one side of each half-circle, leaving a ½-inch border.
Using your fingers, wet the border with water. Fold the crust over the chicken. Press to seal. Make three 1-inch slits in the top of each.
Transfer the empanadas to a baking sheet. Bake until golden, 15 to 18 minutes.
This recipe could easily be adapted to make it a bit fancier.  I would like to try it with rosemary roasted chicken and maple glazed sweet potatoes in place of the peas and carrots next time.
If making for children, you can cut each piecrust into thirds and to make smaller servings (they were quite filling!).
Hope you all have a great weekend!  What's your favorite easy recipe?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Love and Pavlova

With the Royal Wedding less than 24 hours away I think most of us have weddings on the brain.  Although tomorrow morning we will be celebrating the wedding of William and Kate, Greg and I celebrated another English wedding almost two months ago, and I must say it will be difficult for William and Kate to top it!  Greg's brother Michael and his (now) sister-in-law, Tabatha were married in small church on the English countryside that was over 700 years old!
As I sat watching the ceremony, I thought about all of the weddings throughout the centuries that must have taken place at the church and all the love that filled this sacred space.  That day, Michael and Tabatha made their love for one another official when they said their vows and became husband and wife.  I am so blessed to be a part of Greg's family and really excited to have a new Mrs. P around!  I wanted to share a sweet reading from the day of the wedding which still makes me tear up when I read it:
From The Velveteen Rabbit:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Ok, here I am, welling up again!  Anyway, here's to love!

So what does all this have to do with pavlova?
Well, in addition to the lovely traditional wedding cake we shared, we also had individual sized pavlovas at the end of our meal.  Let me just say, I had never tried pavlova before, and I went absolutely nuts after I took my first bite.  A thin, crisp outer layer envelopes the melt-in-your-mouth center of this sweet dessert and the fruit compote takes it over the top.  It's hard to believe that such a simple recipe can produce such amazing results but it's true!

Now after doing some research, I found that pavlova actually originated Australia or New Zealand, but I will forevermore think of England when I taste this treat!  I have to admit, my "pav" didn't turn out nearly as delicious as the one I had that day, but for a first effort I was pretty happy.  For my next attempt I will make sure to do it on a cool, dry day and I will whip my egg whites a little bit longer to ensure they hold their shape.

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar OR 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar OR distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup (6 ounces, about 6) large egg whites, preferably room temperature
Pinch salt

2 pints fresh or frozen berries
1/4 cup sugar
Whipped Cream for topping

Place rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 275°. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour the vanilla and vinegar (if using) into a small cup. Stir the cornstarch into the sugar in a small bowl.

In a large bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, fitted with whisk attachment, whip egg whites, cream of tartar (if using) and salt, starting on low, increasing incrementally to medium speed until soft peaks/trails start to become visible, and the egg white bubbles are very small and uniform, approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

Increase speed to medium-high, slowly and gradually sprinkling in the sugar-cornstarch mixture. A few minutes after these dry ingredients are added, slowly pour in the vanilla and vinegar (if you didn't use cream of tartar.) Increase speed a bit and whip until meringue is glossy, and stiff peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 4 to 5 minutes.

Pipe or spoon the meringue into 8-10 large round mounds that are 3 inches wide on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon liner. With the back of a spoon, create an indentation in the middle of the mound for holding the filling once meringue is baked.

Place baking sheet in the oven. Reduce oven temperature to 250°F. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the meringues are crisp, dry to the touch on the outside, and white -- not tan-colored or cracked. The interiors should have a marshmallow-like consistency. Check on meringues at least once during the baking time. If they appear to be taking on color or cracking, reduce temperature 25 degrees, and turn pan around.

Gently lift from the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack. Will keep in a tightly sealed container at room temperature, or individually wrapped, for up to a week if your house is not humid.

If you want to make a berry sauce, heat a couple pints of fresh or frozen berries in a medium saucepan with about a quarter cup of sugar. Heat on medium heat, stirring once or twice, for about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how much the berries are falling apart. Remove from heat and let cool.

If you want a step by step photo tutorial head on over to Simply Recipes!
Really good!

Hope you enjoy!  

Is anyone getting up early (or staying up all night) to watch the Royal wedding?  I'm aiming to get up at 5 am but we'll see what happens!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Crispy Fried Avocado Salad

With Cinco de Mayo just around the corner I've had Mexican food on the brain.  Ok, who am I kidding?  I always have Mexican food on the brain.  While my parents were visiting, we decided to have a little fiesta one night, which included this Crispy Fried Avocado Salad.  I've heard of fried avocado before but never actually tried it, so I figured this night was as good as any to give it a try.  I think they turned out really good - warm and crunchy on the outside, cool and refreshing on the inside!  
Crispy Fried Avocado Salad
inspired by Emeril 
Serves 4

1 c. buttermilk
2 tbsp. hot sauce (I used Cholula)
3 firm-ripe avocados (You don't want them too ripe or they will turn to mush)
1 c. yellow cornmeal (You may not need this much)
1/4 c. creme fraiche (or sour cream)
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp. hot sauce

1/2 chopped tomato
1/2 finely chopped jalapeno
1 slice of red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
3-4 tbsp. vegetable oil for frying

Here's a quick tutorial for cutting avocados.
             Cut                               Wack (carefully!)

             Slice                                    Scoop

In a medium bowl, combine buttermilk, 2 tbsp. hot sauce and avocado slices. Soak for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the creme fraiche (or sour cream), lime juice, cilantro, and 1/2 tsp. hot sauce.  Chill until ready to use.

Combine chopped tomato, jalapeno, red onion and cilantro.  Set aside.

Fried avocados:
Put cornmeal in a shallow bowl.  Dredge soaked avocado slices in the cornmeal, shaking to remove excess cornmeal.

Heat several tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat.  Place one layer of avocado slices in the pan for about 1-2 minutes on each side until crispy and golden.  I had to repeat the process twice to fit all of my avocado.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.  Arrange on salad plates, drizzle with creme fraiche sauce and divide pico into the center of each salad. 

Notes:  Use more hot sauce if you like it really spicy!
            Serve with dipping sauces on the side if you prefer to pick them up and dunk.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Boeuf en Croute

Holiday dinners are a time when I like to go out on a branch and give something new a try.  Even if it's a total flop, I know my family will still love me (right, family?).  I've got plenty of time to spend in the kitchen and if I'm lucky an extra set of hands to help get the job done (thanks Greg!).  This year I was randomly watching the Cooking Channel a couple weeks before Easter and caught this episode of French Food at Home.  I instantly thought, "This would be a perfect menu for Easter!" and bookmarked the recipes.  In the end, I decided to stick with the Boeuf en Croute and Green Beans with Hazelnuts and Creme Fraiche.  Greg contributed his famous sea salt and rosemary roasted red potatoes and Mom made her classic Deviled eggs.  I chose Spring Berry Tart for dessert and we called it a meal!  I apologize in advance for the lighting in these pictures but you can't always plan your cooking around the sun:)  Here is the recipe and some pictures that I hope will help you if you ever want to make your own Boeuf en Croute.
Boeuf en Croute
from French Food at Home


1 1/3 pounds beef tenderloin
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
3 tablespoons butter
Olive oil, for drizzling
2 shallots, minced
1 pound mushrooms, very finely chopped (We used about 12 ounces)
1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup Madeira
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
Handful chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 (1 pound) packages puff pastry or frozen puff pastry, thawed (This part was confusing to me, I ended up using one and a half packages of pastry, but I think if you rolled out two sheets to be a bit thinner they would be able to fit around the beef, also mine turned out a lot more "puffy" than the one pictured with the recipe so rolling it thinner might help with this)
1 egg
1 teaspoon water


Season the beef with salt, and pepper. Melt a tablespoon of butter with a drizzle of the olive oil in a saute pan until hot, then sear the beef on all sides. Remove from the pan to a board, and let cool completely, then wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

In the same pan as the beef, prepare the mushroom duxelles: Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and fry the shallots until translucent. Add the mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf, and cook until very tender. Pour over the Madeira, and bring to a boil, and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Add the creme fraiche and cook down to a very thick paste. Season the mixture with salt, and pepper. Stir through the chopped parsley.

Roll out one block of pastry to a rectangle large enough to fit the meat with a roomy border. Place on a baking sheet.
You can see here where I added a portion from another piece of pastry.  In the future, I would roll one piece a bit thinner to make it fit.

Remove the fillet from the refrigerator, and unwrap. Spoon the mushroom mixture into the center of the pastry and set the meat on top. 
Roll out the second sheet to fit over the whole fillet generously. In a small bowl, beat together the egg and 1 teaspoon water. Brush the margins of the bottom pastry with egg wash, then drape the second sheet over, pressing to seal well. Trim the edge to a 1-inch border. Crimp the edges with your fingers. Refrigerate until ready to bake.
I cut off about 2 inches of pastry on the long sides.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Brush the whole surface of the pastry with egg wash and make two slits in the top with a knife to allow steam to escape. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees F, and continue to bake 20 minutes, depending on how well you like your meat done. Remove from the oven and let stand about 10 minutes before serving in slices.
Here is the link for the green bean recipe.  They were very flavorful and a great accompaniment to the beef.

Hope you enjoy these recipes!

What is the fanciest meal you've ever made?  Was it for a special event or just for fun?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spring Berry Tart

Another holiday weekend has come and gone, but we had a great time.  My parents were able to come to town, we explored the city, rode out a horrible tornado, planted flowers and herbs (parsley, rosemary and cilantro, yay!) between storms, and most of all, ate...a lot.  
 Over the next few days I will be sharing our Easter dinner and dessert, plus a restaurant review from our fabulous dinner at Five Bistro.  My favorite thing to do is visit with my family while I work in the kitchen.  There's nothing like it!  I spent a lot of time on Easter Sunday prepping in the kitchen and while our schedule planned for dinner at 6:30, I think it was closer to 8:00 by the time we ate.  Luckily, everyone forgave me after they took the first bite of their meal.  Although we saved dessert for last, I'm starting this series with the star of the show, Spring Berry Tart!

This tart starts with a sweet shortbread crust that melts in your mouth.  It is filled with smooth vanilla pastry cream and topped with a crown of fresh berries.  What's not to like?  Once again, this recipe comes from my current favorite cookbook from Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours.  It is seriously one of my all-time favorite desserts, try it today!
Spring Berry Tart
from Baking: From My Home to Yours

About 1 1/2 cups Pastry Cream, cooled or chilled (Recipe Below)
1 9" tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough (Recipes Below)
Fresh raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, or strawberries, or an assortment of berries
1/3 cup red currant jelly mixed with 1 tsp of water, for glazing (I used strawberry and it tasted great)

Smooth the pastry cream by giving it a couple of strong turns with a whisk. Spoon enough pastry cream into the tart crust to come almost to the rim, then even the surface with a rubber spatula. Carefully lay the berries on the cream, arranging them in any pattern that you like.  I used blueberries, raspberries and sliced strawberries.

Bring the jelly and the water to a boil in a microwave oven or on the stovetop. Working with a pastry brush or a pastry feather, dab each berry with a spot of jelly. Or, if you like, you can glaze the entire surface of the tart, including the bit of pastry cream that peeks through the berries.
Sweet Tart Dough
Makes 1 9" Crust

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick plus 1 TBSP (9 TBSP) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in - you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses - about 10 seconds each- until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change- heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

 Don't worry if the dough seems crumbly.  Once it is pressed into the pan it will be fine.

Butter a 9" fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. (If you don't have a tart pan a pie pan would probably work too)  Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Don't be too heavy-handed - press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

Preheat the oven to 375. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon.

Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.   

Pastry Cream

Makes about 2 cups
Storing: The pastry cream can be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 TBSP unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature

Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk- this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won't curdle. (It helps if you have an extra set of hands for this part since you need to whisk and pour at the same time)  Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get into the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl. You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold, or, if you want to cool it quickly - as I always do- put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.
I hope you all had a wonderful Easter weekend.  What was the best thing you ate over the holiday?

Friday, April 22, 2011

St. Louis Foodie Finds: Mokabe's Coffee House

The first coffee shop Greg and I ever visited when we moved to St. Louis was Mokabe's Coffee House.  We were sleeping on an air mattress and living out of our suitcases while all of our belongings made their way south in a huge moving truck.  It was a bit stressful to say the least.  So what do two people do while they wait in an empty house with their two freaked out cats?  Coffee!  Of course.

There is something about wrapping your hand around a piping hot cup o' joe that lets you know everything will work out just fine.  So, with our laptop in hand (they have free wi-fi!) we made our way to this local coffee joint. 

We were just recently back and had another great experience.  Both times I had the exact same meal: a vanilla latte with extra foam and the Irish Oatmeal with fruit, fills the belly and comforts the soul.  While we have been there for breakfast both times, they have an extensive menu if you want to stop in for a casual lunch or dinner.  I am definitely interested in trying the Blue Mac burger next time!  Oh, and the soft pretzel because what's not to love? 

Mokabe's has abundant seating too.  You can relax at an outdoor table, sit at the counter and watch the magic of coffee drinks being made, study at one of the tables on the first floor, or get lost in a good book in your favorite corner booth of the lofty upstairs.  

Whether you are on the run and want to stop in to satisfy your early morning coffee fix or in the mood to linger with a good friend while you catch up over lunch, Mokabe's in the place to be.

Mokabe's Coffee House
3606 Arsenal St
St Louis, MO 63116
(314) 865-2009

What is your favorite coffee shop?  What keeps you coming back?  I love a good menu and friendly service!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cherry Walnut Chocolate Biscotti

Before we moved, I worked at a bakery back in Milwaukee.  Over the summer, there was a period of time that I was in charge of opening in the mornings.  I would stumble into the darkness and make my way to the lights.  The entire bakery illuminated in the glow of overhead lighting and my morning had begun.  The opening was down to a fine science, if I did everything in a certain order, the bakery was ready to open right on time for that first customer (and there was always one waiting on the stoop for me to unlock the doors).  Usually the coffee finished brewing and the ovens went off just in time for me to bring out a steaming basket of bread and a plate of fresh cinnamon rolls for the first rush of customers.

However, every once in awhile, I finished early.  These were the best days as I would be able to enjoy the early morning silence, the sort of magical time of day when the sun is just starting to peek out and the rest of the world is starting to come alive.  In this time, I would sometimes sit with the newspaper - I loved Wednesdays for the food feature - for about five minutes. 

And if I was really lucky, I would be opening on the day after biscotti baking.  The end pieces were always set aside and were fair game to us.  I would dunk the end of the biscotti into a steamy hot mug of foamy vanilla latte until it was dangerously close to crumbling into the bottom, before letting it melt in my mouth.  Pure bliss!

My love for biscotti grew on those early summer mornings, but I never actually made my own, until now.  I decided I wanted a decadent breakfast treat for Easter weekend and biscotti fit the bill.  Not only are these a tasty treat, they also stay fresh for a week or more, perfect for a holiday weekend when I don't want to spend the entire time in the kitchen. 
Cherry Walnut Chocolate Biscotti       
from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan (get this book today!)


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbsp instant espresso powder (You can leave this out but I think it adds a depth of flavor.)
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped nuts (I used 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup dried cherries.)
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat.

Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Jasmine wanted to be on the blog so she did her cute flop and roll in the background.

Cream the butter and sugar on medium speed about 2 minutes, mixture may be crumbly. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes; don't worry if the mixture looks curdled.  Reduce the speed to low and mix in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until a dough forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix in the chopped nuts, chocolate and dried fruit.

This is the part where I try not to eat the entire bowl of dough - I have no fear of raw eggs.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead in any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.  Divide in half and shape each portion into a 12 inch log. Flatten each log with your hand so they are about 1 inch tall and 2 inches wide.  Place each log on the baking sheet and sprinkle with a little sugar.  Bake for about 25 minutes, until slightly firm.
These look like giant Tootsie Rolls,  mmmm Tootsie Rolls.
Be sure to leave plenty of space between the logs since they will expand quite a bit.

 This is what they look like after the first round of baking.

Remove the sheet from the oven and let it cool on a rack for 20 minutes. (Leave the oven on.)  Using a serrated knife, cut each log into slices between 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.  Leave the slices standing up and arrange on the baking sheet. Return to the oven for another 10-15 minutes.

Transfer biscotti to a rack to cool.

These make a great gift and travel well if you are heading to Grandma's house for Easter - Enjoy!