Monthly Archives: March 2013

Caro: Almond-Crusted Chicken Breasts

***I’m catching up on old posts! This was my intended contribution to almond week.***

Hello, and welcome to the easiest meal ever. Like… started and served in less than 20 minutes. Simple as can be, and so good that I ate it for four days in a row and still craved more. Season some chicken, food-process almonds, garlic, and olive oil, top the chicken breasts with the resulting savory almond crumble, and bake. Dinnertime!

almond-crusted chicken breasts

This chicken is so fuss-free and foolproof that it seems wrong to spend an entire blog post talking about it. So I’m going to talk about other things instead. Humor me.

1. I have a huge crush on Kid Cudi (even when he’s wearing a Hendrix wig).

2. Have you heard of this project called You Are My Wild? Every week, 14 photographers each take a picture of their child(ren), and the resulting images are gathered and posted to the project’s page. It’s suuuch a moving project… the collections of photos are gorgeous, and it’s fascinating to see how the different photographers choose to capture their little ones. Go ahead, look through some of the shots. Isn’t it kind of amazing, how much of a kid’s spirit can come through in just one picture?! It makes me want to develop photography skills just so I can have kids and take pictures like this of them.

3. I’ll probably fall in love with all 14 of the YAMW photographers as I check ’em out, but for now I’m already head over heels for Shelby Brakken. I like the travel section of her website, but it’s her photographs of people that totally sparkle. Oh my gosh. They’re inspired and bursting with the kind of beauty and emotion and personality and LIFE that photography should be about all the time. Stunning!!! I want to print these pictures and show them to everybody and hug all the people in my life for their uniqueness. I think I’m crazy.

4. If you know me, you know my love for sequins knows no bounds… so why will I never be able to afford these two dresses? And why will I never have an occasion that requires a floor-length sequin-covered gown? Sighhh.

5. Mika, who’s made top 3 in my list of favorite people of all time, teamed up with director Cristián Jiménez to create a short film in place of a typical music video for his song “Origin of Love.” It’s one of those songs that just feels so big and anthemic, but not in a cheesy, “Imagine Dragons” kind of way—Jiménez says “it almost feels like you can touch [the song]”—and I really didn’t think it could get any better, but the film brings it to life, and vice versa, and it’s just super beautiful. I keep watching it and getting teary-eyed, right at the bridge of the song. It’s love! I don’t know if this couple is in love in real life, but I 100% believe they are. Gah. Go watch it!

6. EASTER CANDY is in stores! And Easter is about to pass us by, which means Easter candy is about to go ON SALE!!! Sorry in advance, pants. It’s gonna be restrictive-waistband-free clothing up in here for a while.

That was fun! Now back to the chicken. I love this because you don’t have to worry about over-browning or burning one side of the chicken on a temperamental skillet. Just pop it into the oven, and come back to flawlessly cooked chicken in 15 minutes. (There’s an audience of people yelling “Set it, and forget it!” in my head.) I also love this because oven-baked chicken has always failed me in the past… dry and odd in texture. But this one bakes up so perfectly juicy, it’s insane! I think the almond topping must seal in the juices somehow. I also love love love the crunch of the almonds coupled with the chicken… texture party!

almond-crusted chicken breasts

Serve it alongside rice or veggies, or be like me and serve it with mac and cheese. Any way, it’s one of my favorite new weeknight dinners. Make it one of yours!

Click here for the recipe!

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Caro: “The Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese” (Panera at Home)

***I’m catching up on old posts! This was my intended contribution to mac and cheese week.***

Omgomgomg. YOU GUYS.

Have you ever made mac and cheese at home from scratch? Does the same thing happen to you that happens to me where no matter how much cheese I add in, it always kind of just tastes like pasta in a vaguely cheese-flavored cream sauce that is wholly unsatisfying? Is that something that only happens to this girl? I don’t know… I don’t know.

I’ve only made plain mac and cheese from scratch a couple of times, but I’ve never found a recipe worth repeating. I did hit a jackpot of sorts when I made that jazzed up pumpkin mac and cheese in the fall, but I’ve never triumphed with a straight cheese and pasta recipe devoid of other ingredients to punch up the flavor. I always end up disappointed by the lack of that perfectly sharp cheesy flavor that makes me crave my favorite restaurant mac and cheeses by the bucketful. Womp, womp.

(For the record, my favorite mac and cheese of all time comes from Mr. Moes in Coconut Grove. The service sucks, and the tables and floors are always kind of sticky, but I keep going back, because HOLY GOODNESS have they nailed mac and cheese at its very best. A bowl of half-melty, half-stringy cheese with a handful of noodles swimming in it. It’s super rich and tastes cheesy beyond belief and is absolutely perfect, and I’m always fully satisfied after a helping. Dang, now I want some…)

Aaanyway. So this is how my mac and cheese creation attempts usually go. I’ll desperately crave mac and cheese, get all ambitious and excited, and try a new recipe, and then I’ll be like, “Why did I do that? That was a waste of time and cheese that I very well could have eaten straight.” After lamenting the poor use of perfectly yummy cheese, I’ll think of where I can go to get my mac and cheese fix as quick as possible (a.k.a. not from a sit-down restaurant), since you can’t leave a mac and cheese craving unsatisfied. When I was in St. Louis, I’d go to Noodles & Co. cause it was super close to campus, but since we don’t have those around here, I usually end up at Panera, which is cool cause I LOVE Panera.

Their mac and cheese is about as simple as it gets… no bread crumbs, no baking for crispy corners, no extra cheese on top. Noodles and sauce. But you know what? It’s still one of my favorites ever! I mean, really, when I crave comfort food, that’s all I want. Cheese and carbs and warmth, no frills.

SO. Imagine how excited I was when I thought I should look up copycat recipes for Panera’s masterpiece for mac and cheese week, and I found their recipe… on their website… from their head chef! It doesn’t get more legit than that, so I had a feeling I was on my way to my first truly successful (in other words, worth making again) at-home pared-down mac and cheese.

Guess what. I was right!!!

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Ok, so maybe this doesn’t taste exactly like the mac and cheese you get at Panera. But that’s because restaurants use crack or something in their dishes to make them addictive enough for you to keep spending your cash monies on them. This is as close as you’ll ever get to Panera at home… and it is le awesome. Why? 1. It actually tastes like CHEESE! Glorious. 2. It reheats better than any mac and cheese I’ve ever made. 3. It’s so easy… no oven or fancy garnishes or anything complicated. One saucepan (two if you wanna get fancy and make the cheese sauce while you boil the pasta), one bowl, one cheese grater, one measuring cup. Minimum effort, maximum payoff.

Success! Mac and cheese at home that is simple, hits the spot, and is worth making again, and again, and again. At last!

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Get. On. This.

Click here for the recipe!

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Caro: Chocolate Raspberry Truffles

***Sigh. I disappeared again 😦 …

I don’t want it to be this way. But something about working 11-hour days at the office and trying to make the most of Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays with people I will only be with for a few more weeks robs me of both my time and my motivation to cook/bake, clean up, photograph, write… but I’m trying, really. The kind of funny part is that I’ve kept up with the creating and “photographing” (with Camera+ on my iPhone, as I may or may not have misplaced my parents’ fancy D-SLR…) for every single week, but then I realize I have yet to edit the pictures (for whatever that’s worth) and I have yet to write the post, and, well, it just doesn’t feel like there’s enough time. I know, I know, people juggle a lot more than what I have on my plate… but I’ve never been known for my time management skills, and somehow the hours escape me. “I’ll do it tonight” becomes “I’ll do it tomorrow” becomes “I’ll have more time for this over the weekend” becomes a fridge full of food that has yet to be shared with the world via our little corner of the internet.

But anyway. All that rambling to let you know that I’m still alive, and I’m still cooking and baking, and hopefully there’ll be a lot more of me around here as my Tampa adventures wind down.

And, if it helps make up for my absence at all, today I bring you chocolate. (Yay!)***

Are you a fan of the combination of chocolate and raspberry? Truth be told, I used to hate it. HATED every raspberry-flavored thing I tried for years and years, so I eventually stopped trying raspberry-flavored things. Raspberry and I spent years apart before we were fatefully reunited one day…

(*Cue flashback initiation sequence*)

Lauren and I were lucky enough to go to pretty much a “foodie” university. Our dining halls had Indian, Mexican, Chinese, comfort, etc. food stations, and all the food was way awesome. But despite all this variety, my favorite part of the Wash. U. dining experience was the dessert case in the cafe (no surprise there!) that came as part of the new construction that went down while we were students. I would walk by it every single day just to see if there was anything I needed to try. Lauren and I spent so many nights with three desserts spread across a table, taking bites of and judging each one.

And one day, I spotted this slice of a chocolate pound-cake/loaf kind of deal that I HAD to have. It looked impossibly moist and just totally irresistible. So I bought a slice, duh, (maybe two…), and ventured home, nestled into bed, took a bite.

Well, it was so super amazing, obviously. I kept thinking it was chocolate and something else, and I couldn’t even pin down what the other flavor was… until my fork hit a little pocket of jam. I tried the jam alone, and that’s when it hit me. Raspberry! And chocolate! Chocolate raspberry, and I loved it. Converted!!!

And so, when I was thinking of what to make for Valentine’s week, chocolate raspberry something was a no-brainer. I settled on truffles pretty quickly, since I’ve always wanted to make them and spending $10/mall visit on Godiva truffles was really putting a dent in my budget, considering how often I go to the mall.

chocolate raspberry truffles

Ok. Here’s the thing. These were AWESOME. So, so awesome. So very wonderful, in fact, that my friend would not believe me when I told him I made them. (As if the fact that I offered them to him in a Tupperware container wasn’t enough of a hint…) So, they’re probably almost as good as the best truffles you’ve ever had unless you live in Belgium or something. Maybe.

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BUT… they are a LOT of work. At least they were for me. First they were too soft to roll into little truffle-y shapes, so I refrigerated the chocolate blob for an extra hour… which led it to harden to a rock-like consistency, which made it impossible to scoop any shapes out at all. So I ended up microwaving that blob until it was manageable… and then I used a knife to, in ruthless caveman-like fashion, carve out chunks of chocolate, which I then had to let sit and soften until they could be rolled into truffles, which I then had to freeze. AHH! So much temperature particularity to make these handle-able! It was a little too much for me.

So as good as they were, I probably won’t be making them again soon. The value of a recipe like this, though, is that you can adapt it any of nine billion ways… so next time some crazy chocolate combo pops into my head, I might whip up a batch of these just to say I made my own peanut butter potato chip truffles or white chocolate strawberry basil truffles or something. You know? Yep.

Anyway. Try these if you need a kitchen project to keep you busy! Maybe you’ll have more luck than I did at making the whole process manageable… but in any case, you’ll end up with perfect truffles, or goofy-looking little chocolate blobs, or a bowl of raspberry-infused dark chocolate goodness. Win, win, win!

Click here for the recipe!

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Lauren: Cheese Crack(ers)

cheesestarsI beamed down from the planet Cheese. Seriously. During my junior year of college I nearly subsisted on wedges of Laughing Cow Light Cheese alone. Well those and salads, but come on, we all know salad is just an excuse for cheese. I feel similarly about my daily egg whites. What fun are they without shredded mozzarella? Most recently I’ve embraced eating Granny Smith apples with a few bits of cheddar. You could say cheese is my crack.

It makes sense then that from the moment Molly Yeh posted about her homemade sriracha gouda cheese-its, I needed them. My random interest in crackers was slow to catch fire as you might imagine as they are arguably the world’s most boring food. First I read about Joy’s sharp cheddar cheese (and chili cheese) crackers, then Molly Wizenberg’s oatcakes. And by the time Molly Yeh posted about her cheese-its, which feature my all-time favorite—SMOKED GOUDA—my cracker-love was blazing.

I made three different kinds of cheese crackers last week. Yeh’s, and both of Joy’s. This crunchy kitchen showdown yielded one reigning champ—a hybrid. It mixes many of the ingredients in Joy’s chili cheese crackers with Yeh’s dough base and baking times.

Ready to cook some crack?

Chili Cheese Crackers

Ingredients:

4 tbs. unsalted butter at room temperature

8 oz. cheddar cheese (I used a 2 year aged block of yellow cheddar)

1 cup all purpose flour whisked with:

  • around 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. paprika (smoked if you have it, I didn’t)
  • Joy also adds ancho chili powder but I didn’t have any
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

Recipe:

  1. Preheat the oven to bake at 350 degrees and place rack in the upper third of the oven.
  2. Throw all ingredients into an Oscar or other small-ish food processor and mix until it comes together into a dough. You can also mix the dough with a pastry knife if you’re feeling old school or don’t have access to a food processor. It’s just more annoying.
  3. Put a piece of parchment paper down on a flat surface and use a rolling pin to roll out the ball of dough until it’s 1/8 in. thick.
  4. Break out the cookie cutters! I made mini moons, tiny hearts, and small stars. You could also use a pizza cutter à la Molly and make simple rectangles. Collect the scraps and repeat until you’ve used all the dough.
  5. Arrange the cut crackers on the parchment atop a cookie sheet. The crackers don’t expand much in the oven so feel free to use every inch of the parchment.
  6. Bake the crackers in the upper third of the oven for 20 minutes. Err on the side of over-baking. They get crunchier the longer they’re in the oven. Until they turn black. Then you’ve probably overdone it.
  7. They get a little greasy since you are melting cheese and butter after all, so I immediately placed the crackers in a single layer on a paper towel after removing them from the oven but this is optional.
  8. Just try to stop eating them.

cheesecrackers2If you’re at all spice-phobic these are your gateway drug. Despite what sounds like an ample amount of hot stuff present, the crackers are quite subtle and the intense cheesiness is what really comes through. The spices just give the crackers a nice toasty flavor. I swear this tastes like the actual recipe for Goldfish.

Until next week, farewell from the land of fromage!

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