Chicken Basil Lemon Pasta: Take 1

This recipe really belongs on an outtake blog.

I thought I had cast all the right characters for this recipe. All the big names were there: chicken, basil, lemon, rosemary, spinach.

But star power doesn’t always produce blockbusters.  And if you’ve seen “Valentine’s Day” or “New Years Eve” you know exactly what I mean.

I made the rookie mistake of assuming fresh herbs would do the heavy lifting in this recipe, as if somehow by adding fresh herbs this dish would magically come together.

I’ve now decided herbs are much better suited for a supporting role. And there is certainly no shame in a supporting role – just ask Angelina Jolie or Jack Nicholson.

I think I’ll recast some of my characters for the sequal.

Take 2: Yum.

 

 

 

Puttin’ on the Spritz

There was Before Spritzers (BS) and After Spritzers (AS).

And it was 2006 BS I realized my affinity for wine.

It’s been a tumoltous relationship, wine and me. Best friends one night. Sworn enemies the next morning. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. And I’ve sworn it off completely on more than one occasion.

I love it, but wine is not the easiest to love.

Especially in the summer, when temperatures start to creep and dew points start to rise. Suddently that glass of room-temperature Merlot doesn’t sound so enticing. Even a chilled white wine can seem a little too heavy.

But that was all BS. I have now entered a new era. Take one sip and experience the effer’vescence of the club soda mixed with the fruitiness of the Moscato and you will understand, too.

And I am forever indebted to my coworker Bethany for giving me this idea. I think this really could be the Egg McMuffin of summer drinks.

Yum.

Blackberry Moscato Spritzers:

Club soda
Wine (red, white, pink – it doesn’t matter!)
Blackberries
Ice

 

 

No Fella Portabella Burgers

 

 

A portabella mushroom cap could never stand in as a hamburger in the Hanson home.

Under normal circumstances, this meatless replacement would be considered contraband. And not because I forgot to declare it at the border. But because I married a carnivore.

As an avid hunter, my husband Mike don’t appreciate the benefits of an occasional vegeterian meal. He appreciates meat. Red meat. 

Red meat makes up three quarters of his nutritional pyramid. Fish and game birds are allowed sparingly. And to clarify, chicken is not a game bird.

But to the point, a girl can only eat so much meat.

Which is why I secretly look forward to Mike’s Tuesday evening fishing league.

On these special nights, I’m free to prepare whatever I want for dinner. No thawing. No draining of fat. No deboning. No Defeathering. No removing stray bullets. You get the point.

And you can understand why I take every opportunity to try a vegeterian dish. And unlike recipes for ground venison, I don’t have vegeterian recipes at the ready in my mental recipe collection.

But I had heard enough good things about portabella mushrooms to want to purhcase two large caps. Even if they were almost 4 dollars at the grocery store. Because I love sauteed mushrooms and onions, I picked up a red onion. I also threw in a green pepper for good measure.

I brought the mushrooms home and locked the door behind me in case my husband should were to come home unexpectedly. Kidding.

I went about chopping my onion and pepper into larger sections. I layered my mushroom, onion rings and pepper chunks on a piece of aluminum foil I had sprayed with cooking spray. I put my foil package on the grill at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until tender.

 

Because my buns were slightly dried already, I sprayed them with cooking spray and garlic powder and added them to the top rack of the grill for the last 30 minutes.

To assemble my burger, I placed the mushroom, onion and pepper on top of my bun. I added my swiss cheese, ketchup and mustard.

Let’s just say I will forever encourage my husband to pursue his evening hobbies if it means I can enjoy more nights like these.

Yum.

No Fella Portabella Burgers:

One portabella mushroom cap
Sliced red onion
Sliced green pepper
pepper
cooking spray
hamburger buns
garlic powder
one slice swiss cheese

1. Turn on grill and preheat to 400 degrees.

2. Rinse portabella mushroom and pat dry. Spray both sides with cooking spray and place mushroom cap-side down on a piece of aluminum foil.

3. Place onion slices on top of mushroom. Spray with cooking spray.

4. Place green pepper slices on top of onion slices. Spray and sprinkle generously with fresh cracked pepper.

5. Fold foil around mushroom, pepper and onion to form a packet. Place packet directly on flame in grill for about 10 minutes.

6. Spray hamburger buns with cooking spray and sprinkle inside of buns with garlic powder. Place on top rack of grill for no more than one minute.

7. Remove foil packet and buns from grill. Arrange portabella mushroom on bun with cheese. Add condiments to your liking.

Enjoy!

 

Practice, practice, practice

 

I’m pretty sure I’m suffering a mild case of early-onset strata anxiety.

All the signs are present: shortness of breath, heart palpitations and insomnia.

Saturday morning, 40 or so bridal shower attendees will be at my doorstep expecting brunch – and I’m so afraid I’m going to disappoint.

After all, I’m one woman with one oven with one 9 x 9″ egg bake under my belt.

I know my anxiety is triggered by egg bakes because they are one variable I can’t control Saturday morning.

I can bake muffins and assemble fruit kabobs to my heart’s content in the days leading up to the shower. I can go to sleep Friday night assured that my house is clean and tables are set.

If I wanted to, I could wake up at 4 a.m. Saturday morning and set up the entire brunch buffet (sans stratas, of course). That way, when guestsbegin to arrive at 10 a.m., I can stand in the entryway, greeting each woman with a mimosa and a smile.

Except I can’t. Becuase I have egg bakes to keep my eye on. In addition to tasting good (which – sorry ladies – can’t totally control!) my stratas need to be timed appropriately. It’s hard to synchronize any baking schedule when you have no idea how much time each needs to bake.

In order to eradicate as much uncertainty from Saturday as possible, I did a practice run on mini versions of each egg bakes.

I assembled the egg bakes a day ahead of time. That was easy enough. Now for the tricky part: timing the baking process.

Can two stratas share one oven simultaneously and finish baking in the time indicated on the recipe? If I double the recipe of a 9 x 9″ baking pan for a 9 x 13″ do I simply double the baking time?

These were the questions I hoped to answer with my trial run.

I invited my husband’s family over for a taste-test brunch. Before they arrived I put both egg bakes in the oven. As per my husband’s insistence, I turned on the oven’s convection feature.

Within minutes of baking my stratas were puffing. I had set the timer for 50 minutes, but both stratas appeared to be done with 13 minutes remaining.

I figured the convection would speeed up the process, but I had no idea it would shave that much time considering the oven had to work twice as hard to bake two stratas at once.

We pulled out both stratas and let them set up. I kept my fingers crossed my stratas would take the hint and form appropriately. I’ve been let down in this process too many times to be fooled by this last step.

Both recipes I found from the American Egg Board web site: ham and asparagus strata and eggs benedict strata.

They both sounded tasty. Simple, yet unique. Appealing to many palates. Few ingredients. Minimal Cheese.

That’s right – minimal cheese. Have you ever heard of such a concept for an egg dish? The eggs benedict strata had no cheese while the ham and asparagus strata used 1/2 cup total.

Another special agent was pullling the weight: lemon juice and zest.

Yum! And I think my test kitchen guests that morning would agree.

 

Ham and Asparagus Strata: (so easy!)

 12 1/2″ slices Italian of French bread (I found Vienna bread at the grocery store, so German bread does the trick, too.)
1 C shredded Italian cheese
1 C cooked ham
2 cups chopped fresh asparagus cut into 1″ pieces
6 eggs
1 C milk (I used skim and the dish turned out fine)
2 T lemon juice
1/2 t garlic powder

 

  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Place 1/2 of the bread in single layer in greased 9-inch square baking dish. Top evenly with layers of 1/2 of the cheese, ham and asparagus. Cover with remaining bread, placing slices flat or in shingled pattern. Repeat layers. cheese, ham and asparagus layers.
  2. Beat eggs, milk, lemon juice and garlic powder in medium bowl until blended. Pour over layers in baking dish.
  3. Bake in 350°F oven until puffed, golden and knife inserted near center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.

*I assembled my strata and let it set overnight in the refridgerator. On my convection setting, the dish only took about 30 minutes to cook through.

 

 

 

 

Is it Saturday yet?

It’s Sunday evening, and suddenly I’m paralyzed with anxiety about next Saturday’s shower.

My shower earlier this month was a success and I contribute that success largely due to the fact that my mom was on standby for mishaps. With her as my assistant, I could be a congenial host.

This Saturday is another story. I’m expecting double the guests. The shower is at 10 a.m., leaving far less prep time than my late afternoon shower allowed.

I’ll have a cohost, but she doesn’t know her way around my kitchen and it’s out of my comfort zone to give orders (e.g., take out the garbage, pour mimosas, refill the muffin tray).

The wise Barefoot Contessa once said the best gift you can give your guests is a host who enjoys her own party. And I’m going to try really hard. But I often feel about as graceful in my own kitchen as an elephant in a china shop.

And that’s preparing a meal for just two people.

How will I smile and entertain for 30 plus if my egg bakes are burnt or the 42-cup coffee urn runs dry?

I wish I could find a replacement mom to stay on gaurd in the kitchen. Next Saturday I simply won’t have that luxury.

Instead I’ll have to do exactly what she would do: take care of every possible detail before Saturday ahead of time. And relax.

A quick mimosa before guests arrive won’t hurt, either.

Commoner blueberry buttermilk mini muffins part II

Hindsight 20/20, I would have remembered my grandma’s muffin wisdom from when I was a girl in her kitchen: don’t overmix the batter.

I failed to remember this golden rule of muffinry at 3 a.m. Royal Wedding morning. Martha’s recipe failed to mention this trick. I’ll assume she assumed everybody already knew to keep mixing to an absolute minimum.

We all know what happens when people assume: people like me overmix muffin batter.

Unfortunately I didn’t remember not to overbeat until after I read it enough times online, long after I had alrady mixed the batter that was now coalescing in the refridgerator.

I also found online a way to transpose recipes to accomodate the mini factor. I thought mini muffins would be a great idea because a.) people at the shower could try several different varieties, b.) more bang for my buck, and c.) I wanted an excuse to buy a mini muffin tray.

Let’s face it: regular muffins are quite large. For this reason, most muffin recipes only yield a dozen muffins. Mini muffins stretch the batter and allow people to try a variety. What a concept!

I want mini muffins to be more of an afterthought – a compliment to the egg bakes.

One last afterthought to my afterthought (the second afterthought being the muffins themselves) was adding a sparkly sugar coating to my muffin tops.

Before heading home to put my muffins in the oven I stopped by the grocery store to look for the sea salt of sugar: thick granules. I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for, so I settled for raw cane sugar.

It was fairly expensive, amber in color, and didn’t give my muffins the crusty coat of sugar I was hoping to achieve.

My blueberry buttermilk mini muffins were a learning lesson, yes. A complete failure – absolutely not. They turned out just fine. What will I take away from this experience?

1.) Don’t overmix the wet and dry ingredients.
2.) For prettier muffins, stick several blueberries on top of the batter once they’ve been scooped into the muffin tin.
3.) Muffin batter is sticky: an ice cream scoop is far more effective at filling muffin tins than a spoon and fingers.

The muffins are packed away in the freezer until next weekend. I’m keeping my fingers crossed they won’t be too dry when they thaw.

Commoner blueberry buttermilk mini muffins

Happy Royal Wedding Day!

Unfortunately, commoners don’t get an invite to the Royal Wedding.

Instead, commoners get to wake up at 3 a.m. and watch in their pajamas. And bake muffins.

I know scones would be more apropos for the Royal festivities. However, these muffins aren’t for the benefit of Will and Kate.

The muffins are in preparation for a bridal shower brunch I’m cohosting next weekend for a girlfriend. Scones would be a great addition to the brunch buffet, and luckily my cohost graciously volunteered to bring several varieties.

With her on scones, I’ll hold up my end with several kinds of muffins. I’ve already mixed up the batter and it’s not even 4 a.m.

I’m glad I’m not on scone duty. Muffins make me nervous enough as it is. Maybe I’ve been too critical of dry, crumbly muffins in my life to be wary of making a batch of my own. On the other end of the spectrum, I don’t prefer muffins that could easily masquerade as pound cake.

How am I to find a happy medium when I’m an amateur muffin maker myself?

To complicate things further, I chose a recipe from Martha Stewart. I love Martha, but she has a special knack for sucking the easiness out of any otherwise simple recipe.

For example, I couldn’t simply add the dry ingredients after I had combined the wet ingredients. Oh no. I had to alternate between adding milk and flour. Which I had to sift by hand. Oh Martha.

I’m letting the royal muffin batter sit in the fridge all day. Not only because I want to devote my full attention to the wedding I woke up so early to catch live, but also because I want the ingredients to coalesce.

Tonight after work I’ll bake them. As soon as the last batch is out, I’m sure I’ll be ready for bed.

Not-so-pleasant pheasant

 

Consider this my official SOS to anyone who has successfully mastered the art of preparing pheasant.

Yep, that’s pheasant on that plate alright.  Not petrified wood. Not what I scooped out of the yard once the snow melted. It’s pheasant. Chicken of the prairie, harvested by my husband.

My husband is an avid hunter and by avid I really mean obsessive. Consequently, each winter our freezer fills with way too much game. More specifically, ground venison.

Ground venison is great, but how many spaghetti nights can a reasonable person handle in one week? And taco nights, barbecue nights and chili nights for that matter.

Every now and then we need to break up the monotony. 

When I can’t take another night of the venison menu rotation, I dig deep into the freezer past the packages of ground venison until I emerge with a Ziplock bag of pheasant.

I was cleaning out the freezer the other day and in the process came upon one such Ziplock. It had been so long since I’d last given myself the opportunity to prepare it. And completely dry it out.

Pheasant seems to me to be a distant cousin of the chicken, yet I can’t seem to find a way to prepare it without ruining it. The end result seems takes on the integrity of a hockey puck rather than a succulent poultry dish.And believe me, I’ve tried to get it right. You name a cooking method, I’ve tried it and failed.

All methods except one: I refuse to wrap it in bacon. Someone made this suggestion to me and quite frankly I consider wrapping anything in bacon as cheating.

A more trusted friend told me to let it marinade overnight in chicken broth. Having exhausted every other method (besides bacon, of course) I took her advice. 

Feeling ambitious that particular night, I added lite soy sauce, garlic, lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, fresh basil and freshly grated ginger to the chicken broth. Yum, right?

The next morning, I arranged my pheasant and marinade in the crock pot. I set the dial on low but my expectations were high.

One of the greatest pleasures of cooking dinner in a crock pot is remembering that while I’m at work all day, so is my crock pot. A nice, warm meal will be waiting to greet me at the door.

Or so I thought.

Once home, I was received by a pleasant aroma. I was about to pat myself on the back as I walked from the front door to the crock pot.

It only took one look inside the crock pot for my heart to sink: I had created a pheasant reduction.

My succulent pheasant feast had dwindled to hardened, bone-dry pieces of meat. No amount of barbecue sauce could cover that up.

I’d like to think perhaps my husband came home for lunch and gobbled down half of the slow cooker’s contents, but that’s not my reality when it comes to pheasants.

Do I cook it too long? Was the pheasant too old? Am I missing some magical moistening agent? I’m determined to find a recipe that works. I’ve tasted pheasant prepared correctly and it’s wonderful.

And unless Minnesota lowers the daily limit of pheasants from two to zero, it’s not going away. Not in our house, anyway.

Whatever it takes, I’ll do it. Except bacon.

The last [cheese] straw: a lesson in simplification.

 

To be honest, I didn’t know what a cheese straw was until my mom suggested I serve them at a shower I threw for a girlfriend several weekends ago. My mom was so taken by her own idea, she offered to make them herself.

My mom arrived the morning of the shower with cheese straws in tow. They weren’t at all what I expected – a cross between a pirouette cookie and a Cheeto. Only spiraled.

They also weren’t the product of my mom’s kitchen. [Gasp]. These were created in a magical place known to Target shoppers as Archer Farms.

My poor mom had spent the last several days on the road watching my brother’s hockey games, and consequently didn’t have time to make homemade cheese straws.

She did manage to swing into a Target ,where apparently cheese straws flow like wine and are sold for right around $2 per box. Problem solved.

The cheese straws were a huge hit at the shower. Certainly not a conversation piece, but admired nonetheless. And thankfully, nobody asked for the recipe. It’s a good thing, too. I had no idea how they were made.

And it’s a great question. I spend countless hours online looking up recipes for fun and I had no idea. I perused dozens of recipes and found several of the semi-homemade variety which called for phyllo dough.

Phyllo dough is my one of my dead end ingredients: a.) I never have it on hand, b.) I don’t know where to find it in the grocery store, and c.) I hardly know what the stuff is – much less pronounce it.

For those of you who still don’t know, phyllo dough is puff pastry and it’s located in the frozen food aisle in grocery stores. Cheese straws were my golden opportunity to try working with this enigmatic ingredient.

The recipe I found and later adapted (which is a fancy way of saying I didn’t have every ingredient handy) was from the Food Network’s Ina Garten.

Her recipe was pretty straightforward: brush the puff pastry sheet with egg wash and sprinkle with fresh thyme, Gruyere and Parmesan. Slice, twist, bake and serve. Simple, right?

One would think.

I could handle the egg washing and sprinkling. Slicing and twisting was a breeze, too.

Problems arose when I tried to turn the individual straws over on the baking sheet after 10 – 15 minutes of baking. The dough had a different agenda. It stuck to the baking sheet and wouldn’t hold its form once flipped.

After much finagling, I was able to get my straws in a row to complete the baking process. I could see layers of puff pastry emerge from the corners of each golden straw. The cheeses were melting beautifully and the woody aroma of thyme filled the kitchen. Maybe I was too quick to judge?

I pulled out the sheets to let them cool, expecting the straws to harden in the process. I waited and taste-tested, and tasted some more, yet they never hardened. They were flaky, but flimsy. The puff pastry gave the final product a buttery, layered dimension, but the true integrity of a cheese straw was missing.

They tasted great, but so do breadsticks – which is exactly what these cheese “straws” resembled.

But fancier. And messier. Be sure to have your hand vac nearby.

I would definitely buy these before I would attempt to make them again. They were good, but not worth the effort. These didn’t achieve the wow factor of the store-bought variety.

Now the phyllo dough – that I would keep on hand. Not for the purpose of cheese straws, but for tarts. Many simple yet impressive appetizers can be made with phyllo dough as the base. Or so I’ve read.

Lesson learned: just becuse you can doesn’t mean you should. I’ll still try to spend as little time in the land of Archer Farms as possible.

Deviled for a reason

 

They look innocent enough, but don’t be fooled.

I should have known better. After all, I’d been forewarned by the person who created the festive Easter appetizer.

They say it’s the journey, not the destination. I disagree. The destination was not worth writing home about, and I’d really rather forget the journey altogether.

It was a turbulent start: I spent way too much time trying to remove tiny shell fragments from my eggs. In the process I somehow managed to tear the whites of nearly every egg I boiled. Only about six whole eggs made it beyond the first leg of the journey.

I had smoother sailing once shells were removed. I scooped out the yolk, setting aside the whites. To the yolks I added lite mayo, lemon juice, vinegar, red onion, pepper, sea salt and wasabi paste.

If you have yet to try wasabi, I would recommend it. Especially if you’re experiencing nasal congestion. It’s also referred to as Japanese horseradish, and I thought the sting would lend itself nicely to deviled eggs.

After mashing the ingredients together with a fork until nearly all the lumps were worked out, I let the mixture firm up in the refridgerator for about an hour.

I was nearing destination, but one last crucial leg of the journey remained: the pastry gun. I don’t own my own, but my mom graciously borrowed me hers. I scooped the wasabi yoke mixture into the gun and began refilling the whites.

If you’ve done the math from above, you’d already know I only had 12 egg halves to work with. The pastry gun portion of the journey didn’t last long, which was really too bad. They are fun to use. And a pain to clean.

The last step was a garnish: fresh thyme. If it sounds strange, it should. I was supposed to use scallions but forget to include them on my grocery store run.

And we reached our destination: a modest (and I stress modest) plate of wasabi deviled eggs. My destination coincided with the arrival of a pickupful of hungry men back from an afternoon of 4-wheeling.

And just like that they were gone. I could have saved myself hours of work and set out a bag of Doritos or a frozen pizza and achieved the same effect.

I haven’t written off deviled eggs completely. Though high-maintenence, they have their place at the Easter buffet. And beyond egg salad, what can a person really do with all those hard-boiled eggs?

Note to self: I should probably wait a good year or two to try a twice-baked potato.

Too-much-thyme wasabi deviled eggs:

6 large eggs
1/3 C mayo
3 T wasabi paste
3 T lemon juice
2 T vinegar
1/3 C finely chopped red onion
sea salt
fresh thyme for garnish
*optional: glass of wine for removing shell

Set eggs in saucepan and fill with water until eggs are submerged. Remove saucepan from heat once water comes to a boil and let sit for 20 minutes.

Once eggs have cooled, remove shell.

Cut egg in half lengthwise, saving yolk portion in a bowl. Set egg white halves aside.

Add remaining ingredients (all except thyme) to yolk and mash with fork until blended. Let mixture firm up in fridge for about an hour.

Fill pastry gun with mixture. Using pastry gun, fill eggg white halves with yolk mixture.

Remove leaves from thyme and sprinkle over eggs for garnish.

Enjoy!