Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Shepard's Pie with Lamb and Rosemary

There is something so comforting about a warm plate of meat, potatoes and vegetables. And comfort was just what I needed when I whipped up this generous batch of Shepard's Pie.

I wouldn't argue that this is a traditional Shepard's Pie, mostly because I'm not exactly sure what that would be. I have zero Irish heritage in my bloodline, and I'm OK with that.

Not to hate on the Irish. I REALLY enjoy their soda bread, potato pancakes ("boxty"), whiskey, and coffee. I have lots and lots of Irish friends (I live in Boston after all!), and the movie P.S. I Love You makes me sob like a baby.

Alright, let's get down to business. I was inspired to make Shepard's Pie by my friend Ashley over at The Vegetable Life. This recipe is approachable, delicious, and fit to feed a crowd!

I love lamb and rosemary together, and I knew that was the direction I wanted to take this meal. Ground lamb is something I absolutely love. It's a great way to introduce yourself to lamb at home without worrying about overcooking a leg or burning a roast.

Start by sauteing a large onion in butter and olive oil. Add in the ground lamb until browned and crumbly (I can usually always find this at Whole Foods).

Plenty of veggies make this hearty and robust.

A bit of flour thickens together with vegetable broth into an irresistible gravy that is rich and flavorful.

Mashed potatoes are a must.

Finally, layer the meat mixture into the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes on top. Gently glide a fork on the top to create ridges in the top (just for fun!). Olive oil gets drizzled on top and the whole thing is baked until the top is crispy and the inside is hot and bubbly.

Nothing about this meal doesn't scream "comfort food." The lamb is tender and flavorful. The piney rosemary is rustic and homey. Soft vegetables and creamy gravy with fluffy mashed potatoes...it's a meal that will keep you coming back for seconds (and thirds, but I won't tell!)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

White Chocolate Chocolate Pudding Cookies

I think we need to talk about cookies today. Rich, fudgey, chocolatey cookies. The softest cookies of your dreams, with sweet white chocolate chips dancing throughout.

Has anyone introduced you to pudding cookies before? I first heard about the idea from Two Peas and Their Pod. They always have good ideas over there...

Adding a package of pudding mix to this cookie batter leaves you with a soft, pillowy cookie. I just made up the word pillowy. Let's go with it.

Soft, pillowy, sweet...these cookies are easy to make and, dare I say, easier to eat. Cory came home from work yesterday and went to town on about four of these. They are the perfect marriage of cake and cookie. If you are a soft cookie lover, this recipe was made for you!

I love the idea of white chocolate chips in a chocolate cookie batter; something about the contrasting sweetness leaves me wanting more. White chocolate is just sweet enough but doesn't overpower the fudge flavor from the pudding mix.

The recipe isn't too daunting -- it takes all the basics from various cookie recipes out there.

Whisk together dry ingredients, cream butter and two types of sugar together. Add an egg, vanilla extract, and a package of pudding mix to the butter mixture.

Slowly add dry ingredients to wet, allowing everything to incorporate and get fudge-tastic.

I mean look. at. the. CHOCOLATE.

Fold in your morsels of choice (white chocolate chips, please!).

Bake and wait. Then enjoy!

I usually like to indulge in a number of cookies right out of the oven while they are warm and gooey, but I swear these tasted better after they cooled for a bit. Would you believe it!? Patience is a virtue, yes indeed it is. I would maybe even add a bit of mini chocolate chips next time for extra chocolate oompf!

Share these with friends, share these with coworkers, hide a bunch to keep for yourself. These are just happy town cookies that anyone can enjoy! Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ginger Beef and Vegetables (Crockpot)

The entire month of April has HECTIC written all over it for me, and it is at times like this that I am eternally grateful for my Crockpot.

I feel like Crockpot dinners can get monotonous...it's always some kind of soup or stew or pulled pork. I've been searching the ends of the internet for some fresh takes on a typical slow cooker meal.

I stumbled upon this recipe from Fit Magazine and knew I had to give it a try. I love this combination of Asian flavors, and they pair so well with the tender beef round. I simply made adjustments to what vegetables I had on hand.

Ginger Beef and Vegetables is a fun yet simple meal. Nearly all of the prep can be taken care of the night before, with a few finishing touches made just before you eat. This meal is rich in protein and packed with flavorful veggies.

The night before, I pre-chopped all my vegetables and beef. The beef, carrots, scallions, and garlic get added to the bowl of your slow cooker. In a measuring cup, whisk together minced ginger, water, vegetable bouillon, and low-sodium soy sauce. Pour over the meat and carrots and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, place the bowl in the body of the slow cooker and cook on low for 9 hours (or high for 4 1/2).

When you get home from work, turn the heat setting to high and stir in the bell pepper. Whisk cornstarch with a little bit of water and stir into the pot. Cover and cook for a bit longer. Remove the cover and stir in green beans (the frozen variety, thawed) and some lime juice. Cook until green beans are warmed and the sauce is to the desired thickness.

I served this beef over brown rice and garnished with additional scallions. This cured our craving for Chinese take out for half the cost and very little work! The beef was tender and packed with the great flavors of ginger and  soy sauce. The crispy beans and soft carrots make this a great vegetable medley. The creamy sauce is so dreamy! Below is the ingredient list and step by step instructions--enjoy!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Raspberry Seltzer

Could it be...that spring...may have in fact...sprung?

What a lovely weekend it was. Heck, I even went shopping down on Newbury Street this past Saturday in nothing but a sweatshirt and light scarf! The sunshine and light breeze felt amazing, and the sound of birds chirping in the morning really makes my cat go BONKERS.

I'm not saying that we can pack up our coats and call it quits for winter. There has been blistering winds in Boston this week...not quite flip flop weather.

That doesn't mean that we can't get EXCITED about the prospect of spring. Baseball is back, the summer beers are flooding the liquor stores, and it's light out well after 7 pm!

This Raspberry Selter is sweet and refreshing. It is the perfect beverage for a sunny, breezy afternoon on the porch. If you want to put a splash of vodka in a glass of this, I wouldn't stop you. Heck, I would encourage it.

I should be honest and tell you that I am being a copy cat with this beverage. For any of my Boston friends that have been to Flour Bakery, you may know that they offer a very similar beverage. When paired with one of their delicious sandwiches or salads, it makes for a satisfying afternoon. They just opened a new location about 2 minutes from my office. My life is all the better because of it.

A simple syrup is made with water, sugar, and pint of fresh raspberries. Raspberries are soft and sweet, with just the right amount of tart.

All you do is simmer everything together in a small saucepan on the stovetop for about 30 minutes.

Be sure you are stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar and prevent the syrup from burning.

Once the syrup has thickened a bit, remove it from the heat to cool completely. This will thicken the syrup even further, which will make your beverage extra special and extra sweet (just like us!). Strain mixture of seeds and remaining raspberry flesh into a mason jar.

To make this simple yet elegant beverage, fill a glass with ice cubes. Fill halfway with chilled seltzer water, then add lots of the simple syrup. Finish filling the glass with more seltzer and stir to combine.

If seltzer water and bubbles aren't your fancy, perhaps you want to use this syrup to make a raspberry lemonade (I know, now I'm being crazy).

Lemonade....Raspberry Syrup...Lemonade....Viola!

Happy Spring everyone!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Chicken Piccata (with Wine Pairing!)

Sometimes, chicken can be so bland. I mean no offense to chicken -- it is my protein of choice multiple times a week. Bland chicken was NOT on the menu for dinner tonight. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

This Chicken Piccata recipe is simple yet elegant, bursting with fresh flavors that will make your taste buds dance. The very word "piccata" translates to tart or zesty.

I never thought about making chicken piccata at home. I never have capers around the house because, to be frank, I don't like capers. Yet, traditional Chicken Piccata is made up of everything I love. Juicy chicken, buttery sauce, sweet garlic, and bright lemon all served on top of a bed of linguine.

I was motivated to try my hand at homemade chicken piccata after a recent wine tasting at The Urban Grape (which is my new all-time favorite wine boutique in Boston--check out their website to learn more about the store and concept). The tasting was made up of rose wines, and it was a blast. They even had the executive chef from Oleana, a delicious Mediterranean restaurant in Cambridge, prepare a menu that paired with each wine. This is when it hit me...I love food...I love wine...I NEED to start pairing my foods with my wines to bring both the food and the drink to a new level.

As I was filling up my shopping bag with all the wines I wanted to take home (naughty me, I know), I decided to try an additional wine that wasn't featured at the wine tasting. One of the owners pointed me to Les Violettes Cotes Du Rhone (a 2012 French Rose) and told me that the wine had grapefruit undertones that would pair well with a light pasta dish, like a veal piccata.

The wine was smooth and just slightly sweet. It didn't battle with the saltiness of the capers and accentuated the tartness of the lemon juice. It was perfect to pair with dinner because it was just slightly dry and not full of sweetness.

This meal takes just about  30 minutes to make and is a great dish to serve to dinner guests. Make the dinner party complete with a bottle of the Les Violettes or other citrus-y rose and you'll be sure to impress.

Here's a rough cast of characters that we will need to make this AMAZING meal. The basics...lemons, butter, chicken, capers, flour, parsley, olive oil, garlic..the works. And, of course, a box of linguine to pull it all together.

I used a thin sliced chicken breast, but you can buy regular chicken breast and slice them yourself. I went the extra step and pounded out the chicken to about 1/4 inch thickness. The thin chicken is so essentially to the meal; I know it seems silly but trust me!

Chicken is seasoned generously with salt and cracked black pepper. Then it is dredged in flour to help create a delicious golden brown crust.

The chicken gets cooked on the stove top in a large skillet in a mixture of butter and olive oil. The flavor of the butter is just everything, and the olive oil helps prevent the delicious butter from burning.

Once all the chicken is cooked, we start to build our pan sauce. Garlic, lemon juice, chicken stock and capers are brought to a boil, then reduced for 5 minutes. Cue the fresh parsley, a touch more butter, and some flour to thicken everything up.

Toss the sauce with your cooked linguine and top with one or two pieces of chicken. Serve garnished with fresh parsley and grated parmesan cheese because, I mean, why WOULDN'T we put parmesan cheese on top?

Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and serves 4. Easy to double for larger parties...enjoy!