Skillet Baked Ziti

More skillet recipes!  I love one-dish recipes.  Mainly because I hate cleaning pans.  Admittedly, this is not my recipe.  This recipe is from Cooks Illustrated.  But this recipe brings ziti to a new level.  The folks at America’s Test kitchen have outdone themselves this time.  In other words, this dish is easy and irresistable.

America’s Test Kitchen has put many of their own tricks in this recipe, so I just follow it.  The best part is actually cooking the pasta in the tomato sauce.  The pasta soaks up the delicious flavor of tomato and really adds something to it.  However, resist the urge to cook the pasta all the way in the sauce.  Otherwise, when you finish the dish in the oven, you will get gummy, soggy pasta.  If you follow that simple suggestion, you can’t go wrong with this recipe!

1 tablespoon olive oil
6  garlic cloves minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
12 ounces ziti (3 3/4 cups)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oven to 475 degrees.  Combine oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in 12-inch, ovensafe nonstick skillet.  Sauté over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add crushed tomatoes, water, and ziti.  Generously season with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook, stirring often and adjusting heat as needed to maintain vigorous simmer, until ziti is almost tender, 15 to 18 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat.  Stir in cream, Parmesan, and basil.  Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over top of ziti. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until cheese has melted and browned, about 10 minutes.

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Buffalo Chicken Dip

This concoction is sometimes referred to as “crack dip”.  I made it for my boyfriend and he agreed, it has some deliciously addicting qualities.  It is a mixture of all the things we love about wings – chicken, buffalo sauce, and blue cheese.  This recipe has a sort of cult status in the food world.  There are many different versions of this dish, all are very similar with the same basic ingredients.

Please excuse my bad nail job in the picture.  This dish is creamy and full of flavor.  I never thought combining chicken, sauce, cream cheese, and dressing would make something so delicious, but it does.  Honestly, at first, I thought, “gross, I’m just gonna throw this all together?!”  Somehow, it all works out.  It is definitely a guilty pleasure.

Ingredients:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup ranch dressing

1/4 cup blue cheese dressing

1/2 cup buffalo sauce

1/2 cup blue cheese (you can also use 1/4 cup blue and 1/4 cup mozzarella)

1 cup chicken (the recipe calls for canned, but I’m a snob and used leftover chicken breast)

Heat the oven to 350.  Mix cream cheese, salad dressings, buffalo sauce, and cheeses together.  Stir in chicken. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes.  DO NOT over bake.  Serve warm with your favorite veggies or bruschetta.

Pumpkin Creme Brulee

This is just one more leftover recipe from Thanksgiving.  Its a stunning combination of the spicy sweet taste of pumpkin pie with the rich creaminess of custard.  It is pretty much the perfect kind of dessert.

I created my own recipe after sampling a few online and being genearlly dissatisfied with all of them.  This is a luxourious thick custard with lots of pumpkin flavor and just the right amount of spice.  The burnt sugar topping is made with brown sugar instead of white sugar for an added layer off flavor. 

Don’t be afraid of custard.  Really.  As always, I will give you my simple tricks that make even creme brulee simple.  Step 1: Cook in a water bath.  This means you will have to cook your brulee in ramekins.  If you have very small bowls, they would work as well.  As you can see from my picture, I have flat square ramekins.  They just make cooking quicker and more even, but I’ve done this is small bowls and round ramekins as well.  Get your kettle going so you have hot water.  Place the filled ramekins in a baking dish.  Slowly pour hot water until it comes halfway up the side of the ramekin.  Then slide it in the oven!  Step 2: You do NOT need fancy equipment to get the crunchy carmelized top on your creme brulee.  Simply raise your oven rack to the highest notch.  Crank the heat to broil.  Place set custards with sugar under the broiler.  Make sure the ramekins are approximately 2 inches from the broiler.  Leave them there for a few minutes and the sugar should be nice and caramelized.

15 ounces of canned pumpkin

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

5 egg yolks

2 cups cream

1 cup half and half

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

1 Tablespoon of brandy

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

a little extra brown sugar to finish off the creme brulee

Preheat the oven to 325.  Mix pumpkin and sugars.  Add in egg yolks, vanilla, brandy, and spices.

In a saucepan, heat cream and half and half until it begins to bubble.  Add warm cream mixture to pumpkin mixture.  Stir together slowly.

Divide custard into ramekins.  This will make approximately 8 creme brulees.  Place ramekins in 2 baking dishes and fill the baking dish with warm water as described in the above step 1.  Be careful not to get any water in the custard.

Cook custard at 325 for approximately 40 minutes.  Custard is done when it is set and the middle jiggles slighty when shaken.

Let custard set for at least 6 hours.  This means you can make the custard well ahead of time.  Let cool then place in the fridge.

When ready to serve, remove ramekins from fridge.  Set oven to broil and move oven rack to the top.  Sprinkle the custard with a very thin layer of brown sugar.  Place 2 inches below broiler for a few minutes, or until sugar is bubbling.  Remove and let sugar cool, then serve!

Ginger Chicken

I really love Chinese food. My boyfriend likes it even more.  Unfortunately, when we moved to our new apartment we realized we chose the one neighborhood with no Chinese food.  Its a tragedy, really.  Of course, we couldn’t just go without Chinese food, so I learned to make some on my own.

Not only that, but Chinese food is comforting.  Its warm, its spicy, and it tingles my taste buds, especially when ginger is involved.  Right now, I could use all the comfort I can get. I am currently waiting to hear about my internship applications and going slightly batty in the process. My friend (who follows this blog) suggested I cook to pass the time. 🙂  So this one is for you, Kristin.

This recipe is delightfully appealing and surprisingly simple. I was intimidated to make my own ethnic food at first.  After all, why mess with a good thing? But after some trial and error, I think I’ve come up with a pretty good combination here.  I used leeks because its what I had around the house, but you could always use green onion or just regular onion.

Ingredients:

1 lb chicken breast, cubed

3 Tablespoons of olive oil

1 Tablespoon of butter

2 carrots, peeled

1 medium leek, washed

2 teaspoons of minced garlic

2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper (more or less depending on your taste)

1/4 cup grated ginger

3/8 cup of soy sauce (or 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons)

1 Tablespoon of sugar

1 cup of water

1 Tablespoon of sesame seed oil

2 teaspoons of lime juice

salt and pepper to tase

Begin by making sauce.  Heat sesame seed oil in a saucepan.  Add garlic, ginger and crushed red pepper.  Heat until fragrant.  This will take only a minute.  Add soy sauce, water, sugar, and lime juice.  Let simmer.

Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a pan.  Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook chicken in pan until nearly cooked through.  This will only take a few minutes.  Remove from heat and add to sauce and turn heat down to medium-low.

While chicken is cooking slice leek crosswise,the slice lengthwise.  Chop carrots into evenly-sized pieces so they cook at the same rate.  Heat last Tablespoon of oil in a hot pan.  Add carrots.  Continue to season vegetables with salt and pepper while cooking.  Once partially cooked (this will only take a couple of minutes), add butter and melt.  Then, immediately add leeks. Cook until transluscent.  Remove vegetables from heat and add to sauce.

Let mixture meld in the sauce for at least 10 minutes.  Serve over brown rice. You will never order Chinese again!

Leek and Rosemary Quiche

WOW!  That is all I have to say about this recipe.  I like quiche, but it has never been one of my favorite foods.  In fact, quiche has always had a baby-shower-esque feel for me.  You eat it because its there, and someone is usually celebrating something.  This quiche recipe has made me rethink my previous analysis.

Ironically, I made this dish as part of our Thanksgiving feast for a vegetarian friend.  I altered the Luna Cafe’s recipe for Leek, Cheddar, and Rosemary Tart.  You can find the original recipe here.  Luckily, Luna Cafe has a few great hints to make cooking quiche pain-free and effortless.  The two main things to know are: 1) Quiche is done when it reaches 160 degrees internal temperature.  Do not overcook!  Custard will curdle at 180 degrees. 2) You will know when to take the quiche out of the oven by the size of the indent in the middle.  This means when the outside begins to set, it will raise around the edges, but not in the middle.  This forms an indent in the middle of the quiche.  When the indent is approximately 3-4 inches from the outside, it is done!  It is safe to take the quiche out of the oven at this point, because it will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven.

Recipe (adapted from Luna’ Cafe’s Leek, Cheddar and Rosemary Tart)

1 prepared pie crust rolled into a quiche pan

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 medium leeks, trimmed and sliced crosswise

2 teaspoons of minced garlic

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

3 large eggs

1 1/2 cups half and half

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

I started by par baking a pie crust.  Par baking is simply partially cooking an item.  You need to do this with the pie crust, otherwise it will not cook properly when you pour the custard over the crust.  I did this by placing a pre-made crust in a greased quiche pan and poking holes in the bottom.  Then I cooked it for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  After doing this, take the crust out of the oven and sprinkle lightly with shredded cheese.  This will help keep the crust crispy.

The next step is to cook the veggies.  Melt butter in a pan.  Then add chopped leeks and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook until translucent.  Add chopped chives and rosemary and remove mixture from heat.

In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs.  Whisk in half and half.  Season egg mixture with salt and pepper.  Mix cheeses together.  Add a small handful of the cheese mix into the egg mixture and whisk.

Pour the veggie mixture over the crust.  Then pour egg mixture over the leek mixture.  Make sure there is approximately 1/4 to 1/2 inch room at the top of the pan because the egg mixture WILL rise when cooking.  Finally, top with leftover cheese.  Bake quiche at 350 degrees for approximately 35-45 minutes.  Let the quiche cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Vanilla Mousse

This adorable frothy cup is not a vanilla latte.  It is a lighter than air mousse.  I’m usually not a huge fan of mousse, but this recipe is fantastic.  It is a lovely little vanilla mousse with a punch.  Real vanilla beans leave a strong vanilla taste in your mouth.  It also has a velvetly smooth texture.  In short, its pure heaven.  And simple too!  So here’s a special Thanksgiving treat for all of you out there.

Now, I must admit, this is not my recipe.  This is from the food blogger, Sugarlaws.  You can find her original recipe here.

All you need to make this mouse is: One Vanilla bean, seeds scraped from the pod
2/3 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1 cup heavy cream

Whip heavy cream with vanilla bean seeds and 1/3 cup sugar until soft peaks form (err on the side of slightly overwhipped). Set aside. Next, in a medium mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add 1/3 cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Note: this will take a little time.

Fold together the whipped cream mixture and the egg mixtures (I folded the eggs into the whipped cream). Gently pour into individual serving dishes and refrigerate at least six hours, or overnight.

Buffalo Chicken, Reconstructed

I’m back and with a delicious recipe!  My boyfriend and I have been watching Top Chef.  One of their challenges inspired me.  They were asked to deconstruct a popular dish.  Now, I certainly wouldn’t call this dish “deconstructed”, but it does take an interesting slant on a classic dish – buffalo chicken.

Instead of sticky bar food, I came up with a decadent and classy replacement.  This dish is 3 parts, the quinoa base, a buffalo chicken main dish and a blue cheese sauce.  Each component is a part of the traditional buffalo wing meal.  The base has your celery, the blue cheese sauce mimics blue cheese dressing, and the buffalo chicken explains itself. It is a little more complicated than my past dishes, so I’m going to post it in increments.

First off, I should let you know, this dish serves 3.  Odd, I know.  It just ended up that way.  If you have a family, I’d advise doubling it, because believe me, you’ll want leftovers.

The chicken is lying on  a bed of quinoa.  I will, undoubtedly, be posting more quinoa recipes.  It is a delicious grain that is very high in protein and packed full of vitamins.  I use it in lieu of rice or pasta, as it is healthier and (in my opinion) tastier.  It is extremely forgiving and incredibly easy to make.  The taste is somewhat like rice, only a little nutty.  It is a little difficult to find, but most places that sell organic foods have quinoa.  Whole foods sells it for only a few dollars a pound.

Quinoa base:

1 cup of quinoa

2 cups chicken broth

1 Tablespoon of olive oil

2 ribs of celery, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced

salt and pepper to taste

This is really a great, simple recipe for anyone ready to try quinoa – plain or in this recipe.  Start by heating the oil in a small saucepan.  Once oil is hot, add chopped onion and celery.  Salt and pepper liberally.  Once onion and celery become translucent, add garlic.  Mix and cook until garlic is fragrant.  This should only take a minute.  Remove vegetables from pan.

Add quinoa and chicken broth to pan.  Turn heat to high until mixture begins to boil.  Then turn heat down to a simmer.  Let simmer until quinoa has absorbed nearly all the liquid.  This should take approximately 15 minutes.

When there is only a little liquid left, add vegetables back into saucepan.  Heat through until all broth is absorbed.

For the buffalo chicken, I took an easy approach.  I simply marinated 3 chicken breasts buffalo sauce for a couple of hours, then baked them the oven.  Nothing fancy.

This blue cheese sauce is not my recipe.  I used the Pioneer Woman‘s recipe.  And let me tell you – this Sauce IS DECADENT.  I don’t even have words.

1 large onion

4 Tablespoons butter

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Slice onion.  Don’t make any weenie mince or chop, either.  Go ahead and slice, they’ll cook down.  Melt butter in a pan over high heat.  Add onions.  Cook until caramelized.  They will look dark and brown.  Reduce heat to simmer and pour in cream. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until reduced by half. Stir in blue cheese until melted.

Assembly is delicious.  Place some quinoa on a plate.  Lay chicken on top.  Pour sauce on top.  Eat and ponder how wonderful life is.