Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Goodness, That's GOOD! Basil Green Goddess Dressing...

I don't normally post during the middle of the week, but I have one last Barefoot Contessa recipe that I made over the weekend that I really wanted to make sure I shared with y'all before the weekend arrives and I focus on other recipes. I've started making my own salad dressings lately, because most bottled dressings just don't cut it for me...the only bottled salad dressings I buy are Newman's Own. To me, they taste most like something I could have whipped up in my kitchen. If I have time, I really enjoy making my own flavored vinaigrettes.

When I was looking at Ina Garten's recipes last week to plan Saturday night's dinner, I came across a recipe for a gorgeous Basil Green Goddess dressing. Green Goddess was evidently a very popular dressing back in the day. Then Ranch came along and sort of pushed it aside, and its popularity has gone down in recent years. However, I'm going to stage my own personal one-woman campaign to bring it back!! Last year, Michael and I were fortunate enough to eat at Thomas Keller's amazing ad hoc in Napa Valley. The salad course that night featured an Avocado Green Goddess dressing that Michael and I went absolutely crazy for.

Ina's recipe doesn't have any avocado, but it is the most lovely shade of green thanks to the basil! I might tweak the recipe next time and add a half of a ripe Haas avocado to see if I can replicate the dressing we had at ad hoc. But...for now, we really loved the great, bold flavors in this dressing! I made a half batch, which is 1 cup of salad dressing. After using it on our salad that night, I've been using the leftovers as a dip for snacks this week.

One caveat: this dressing has a very pronounced garlic flavor. If you're not a garlic lover, you might want to cut the amount below in half!

Basil Green Goddess Dressing
adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

  • 1/2 cup good mayonaise (I only use Hellman's)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (I use Daisy Light brand)
  • Milk
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions (about 3-4)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Step 1:  Place the mayo, sour cream, green onions, basil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper in a blender or food processor. 

Step 2:  Blend until combined and the dressing is a lovely shade of green. I found it effective to pulse at the start, and then let it go on regular speed for about a minute. If it looks a little thick, add a bit of milk until you get the consistency you're looking for. I think I added about 1/3 cup of milk to make it pourable. It all depends on the thickness you prefer!

Step 3:  Place the dressing in a plastic container and refrigerate until you're ready to use. I think that preparing the dressing a few hours ahead is best, because that will allow all of the flavors to combine well.

When you're ready to serve, put some salad greens in a bowl and toss well to combine. The original recipe recommends using Bibb lettuce and diced tomato. I simply tossed some organic baby field greens with the dressing, along with a bit of good parmesan cheese.

Monday, September 27, 2010

(Mis)Adventures in Baking...Lemon-Glazed Pound Cake

As I’ve mentioned in here on numerous occasions, I don’t bake that much…with good reason! Oh, I have a sweet tooth for sure…it’s no coincidence that my brother-in-law’s nickname for me is Cookie!! When I DO make a dessert, it’s most likely going to be something like ice cream, a fruit crisp, or a no-bake pie. Otherwise, it’s easier to let a bakery do all the work for me and concentrate on the rest of the meal. However, I recently vowed to use this blog as a way to force me outside of my cooking comfort zone…so I try my hand at baking once in a while.

I found two great Barefoot Contessa pound cake recipes when planning this Saturday’s citrus-themed dinner menu. I couldn’t make up my mind which one to try, so I decided to take the best components of both recipes and combine them into one amazing cake! I baked Ina’s Vanilla-Honey Pound Cake, but used the lemon simple syrup and lemon glaze from her
Lemon-Yogurt Cake. The end result was FANTASTIC…a little tart, a little sweet, with a great texture. However, much hilarity ensued while actually getting from Point A (the baking) to Point B (eating the cake)!!

I have issues with exact measurements in cooking, but I know that it’s vital when it comes to baking. So, I carefully measured all the ingredients I needed and had everything ready to go before setting up my Kitchen Aid. I followed the recipe directions to. the. letter…go me! When it came time to add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients? That’s when Mishap #1 happened. I thought I was moving the little lever on the mixer toward the off position as I raised the paddle up to add the dry ingredients…but I turned it up instead!! I have fairly quick reflexes, but not quick enough. Needless to say…my face, hair, and tee shirt were covered in splatters of cake batter!

Truthfully? I was just thankful that the batter was only on me, and not all over my kitchen (…and that Michael wasn’t home to witness the entire spectacle)!! I quickly ran to the bathroom and promptly had a good laugh at the batter-splattered reflection that was staring back at me. I looked like the culinary equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting! Go ahead and laugh…it was straight up like something out of a bad sitcom!! And no…I didn’t snap a picture!! After a brief encounter with a washcloth, I went back to the kitchen to conquer the cake batter. Once I got the cake into the oven, I had an hour to kill while it baked. I took a shower, washed the cake batter out of my hair, and changed clothes. Thirty minutes later, I felt and looked like a new woman…and my kitchen smelled pretty darn good!

The cake came out of the oven and was a lovely shade of deep-golden brown. I admit that I was feeling pretty impressed with myself and thought that
 just maybe I might eventually earn my baking stripes! Then Mishap #2 brought me crashing back to reality within minutes. The recipe said to cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes…so I made the lemon simple syrup and the lemon glaze while the cake did its thing. Then it was time for the moment of truth: I inverted the loaf pan onto my serving plate and heard a comforting plop…whew! My cake had released from the pan…rather, 95% of it had. Yep…part of the bottom of the cake was still inside the pan. Proving that I have a sense of humor when it comes to my baking limitations, I had a good laugh and placed my slightly-angled cake onto the serving platter.

I poked holes on the top of the cake with a fork and poured the simple syrup on top so the cake could soak it in. After a few minutes, I spooned the glaze on top of the cake. The end result? The cake tasted good…really good, actually!! Granted, it wasn’t exactly the supermodel of pound cakes…but it sliced very nicely and made a great dessert that night topped with some Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla. While I’ll never be a master baker -- say that three times fast, folks -- I promise to keep trying my hand at baking from time to time! I hope you enjoy the recipe…mishaps not included!!

Lemon-Glazed Pound Cake
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 350. Grease the bottom of a loaf pan. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream 2 sticks of room-temperature butter and 1 1/4 cups sugar for 4 minutes, until light and fluffy.  NOTE: It takes about an hour for the butter to come to the proper temperature after coming out of the fridge.

Step 2:  Add the following ingredients to a large measuring cup, but do not combine: 4 large room-temperature eggs, 2 tbs. honey, 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract, and the zest of one lemon. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the mixture -- one egg at a time. Scrape down the bowl after each egg is incorporated. 

Step 3:  Sift together 2 cups cake flour, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. baking powder. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients a little at a time, until just combined. This is where I got into trouble and ended up wearing cake batter, so proceed with caution! Here's how the finished cake batter looks:

Step 4:  Finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula and pour it into the prepared loaf pan. 

Even out the top, tap the loaf pan on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles, and bake for 50-60 minutes. I turned the cake around in the oven about halfway through baking. The cake is ready to come out of the oven when a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Let the cake cook in the pan for 15 minutes.

Step 5:  Meanwhile, make the lemon simple syrup and lemon glaze. To make the simple syrup, combine 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about two lemons, depending on size).  Microwave for a minute or two to dissolve the sugar, stirring well. To make the lemon glaze, combine 1 cup confectioners sugar and 2 tbs. fresh lemon juice. I had to add a bit of water to make the glaze the right consistency.

Step 6:  After 15 minutes, turn the cake onto your serving platter. Hopefully you won't have the issues I did with sticking! Poke holes in the top of the cake with a fork and spoon the simple syrup on the top of the cake. It soaks into the cake pretty quickly. I waited five minutes, then spooned the glaze on top of the cake, letting it drizzle down the sides.

When you're ready to serve, slice the cake with a serrated knife. The cake is great as is -- the simple syrup makes it moist, and the glaze gives the outside a sweet-tart flavor. That said, a scoop of vanilla ice cream is a nice compliment as well!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pucker Up...Time for Chicken Piccata!

This weekend's featured meal is courtesy of Ina Garten, also known as Barefoot Contessa. I've watched her show on Food Network for years, but until last night I'd never actually tried out any of her cookbooks or recipes at home. I checked out a couple of her books from the library and decided that she's my kind of gal: for the most part, she loves to keep her recipes uncomplicated...but with lots of bang for your buck taste-wise!  I was really excited when y'all chose her in last week's poll as favorite celebrity chef, because it meant I would finally get a chance to try some of her recipes!! Last night's dinner came mainly from her Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook.

My dear friend Debbie (we were college roomies in in The Big 80s!) raves about Ina's chicken piccata, so I knew immediately which entree I wanted to try. From the way she talks about this dish, I knew it would be good. She didn't steer me wrong...this is truly fantastic. It has all the things that I love best in a recipe: it's quick to make, the flavor is amazing...especially if you love citrus, and it has a lot of WOW Factor. I'm putting this recipe into the regular dinner rotation at Casa's simple enough to make on a work night, but fancy enough to serve to company.

I kept the sides fairly simple last night so the chicken would be the focus of the meal. I made herbed basmati rice and field greens tossed with Ina's amazing green goddess dressing. The dressing is super-easy to whip up in a food processor, so I'll share the recipe later this week. For dessert, I combined two of Ina's cake recipes and made a glazed lemon-honey-vanilla pound cake. Yes, I baked. Said baking resulted in much hilarity, which I'll share in tomorrow's post. For now? I'll leave you with the chicken piccata recipe. I made this one pretty much by the book...the only significant alteration I made was to add some grated parm-reggiano to the bread crumbs since I had less than the recipe called for. Sometimes a gal's gotta improvise ;)!

Chicken Picatta
adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

  • 4 pieces boneless chicken breasts (unless the package you bought only has three pieces when you get home :lol:)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan reggiano
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbs. butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (about two lemons)...reserve the lemon halves
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Chopped flat-leaf parsley
Step 1:  Preheat oven to 375. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or foil. Place each chicken breast between two pieces of parchment of plastic wrap and pound to 1/4-inch thick. OR you can just do what I did: buy the chicken already in cutlets ;)! Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Step 2:  Combine flour, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper in a large plastic zip bag. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs with 1 tbs. water. In a second bowl, combine the bread crumbs and the parmesan. Shake each breast in the flour, and shake off the excess. Dip in the egg wash, and then dredge in the bread crumb-cheese mixture. Place the chicken pieces on a plate.

Step 3:  Heat 2 tbs. olive oil in a skillet over medium heat for about five minutes. Add two chicken breast pieces and cook for two minutes per side, until nicely browned. Put the first two breasts in the oven while you make the next batch of chicken. Let the pieces finish cooking in the oven while you make the sauce.

Step 4:  Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. On medium heat, melt 1 tbs. of the butter. Then add the lemon juice, white wine, reserved lemon halves, and salt & pepper to taste. Cook on high for about two minutes...until the sauce is thickened and reduced by about half. Remove from heat and toss the lemon halves. Swirl in the remaining two tbs. of the butter.

Step 5:  Remove chicken breasts from the oven and put on a serving plate. Pour the lemon-butter sauce over the top and garnish with the chopped parsley and thin slices of lemon. 

I'm not exaggerating when I say this is hands-down THE best chicken dish I've tried in ages. I can't wait to make it again. By the way, the pucker reference in today's title has two meanings. Sure...the lemony sauce might make you pucker a wee bit. But you also just might get a smooch from whoever you serve this dish's that good!! last thing: Go Houston Texans!!!