Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Special Edition: Sailor Apple Cider

Happy Halloween! This weekend, whether your plans are trick-or-treating, causing mayhem in your local celebration or staying in to hand out candy, you are bound to have a bit of a sweet tooth. I am no exception and as you may have guessed, my favorite part of "trick-or-treat" is the treat.

This apple cider should keep you warm & toasty inside and out. It is called Sailor Apple Cider because...well, it has rum in it and I'm spending my Halloween weekend with a bunch of sailors who love rum. (I'm not kidding.) For best results, quadruple the recipe and share with friends!
Sailor Apple Cider
Alexandra Rogers
2 cups Apple Cider
1/4 cup spiced rum 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
dash nutmeg
dash cardamom

{Whipped Cream}
1 cup whipped cream (I, shamefully, went for the stuff from the can today)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix all ingredients (except the rum) together in a small saucepan and heat to desired temperature. Take the saucepan off the heat, and pour the rum into the saucepan. Mix well and pour into a mug--leaving a bit of room for whipped cream at the top.

{Whipped Cream}
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk together. You may use an electric hand held mixer to get the best results. Top your cider with the whipped cream and top with a bit of cinnamon. Enjoy.

Fun fact: I finished the extra whipped topping by scraping it out of the bowl with Stacey's Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips. Even though it is probably awful for your waistline, it is great for the soul--and that definitely counts for something!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

When I first moved to New York, I found an amazing cafe named Cho's Variety in Brooklyn. It's a simple place, with a good french press and free wi-fi. And, they have GREAT muffins. I fell in love almost immediately with the odd combinations that somehow always turned out right, and found out later that the muffins actually originate from Blue Sky Bakery in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

I was craving these muffins the other day, but since I now live in Wisconsin there was really no quick fix. So I decided to play "test kitchen" with my favorite Blue Sky Bakery combo: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins. After variations on a few different recipes, I finally decided on the following, which is mostly based on the recipe for Favorite Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.
As you can see above, I think these are best served alongside a cup of coffee and a good book. But, quite frankly, they were good for dinner tonight too...

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Banana Mufins
Alexandra Rogers

1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup plain pumpkin (out of the same type of can you use for pumpkin pie)
1/2 cup unsalted butter-room temperature
1 cup chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)
1-2 ripe bananas, sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and grease muffin cups (or use paper baking cups).

Mix flour, sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl (or mixer), beat eggs, pumpkin and butter together. Mix for 2-3 minutes and stir in chocolate chips. Slowly incorporate dry ingredient mix and combine until just mixed together.

Fill muffin cups with the batter, filling each cup about 3/4 of the way full. Stick 2-3 banana slices in each muffin cup, making sure to get some of the slices into the muffin and away from the top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Makes 12 regular muffins.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Acorn Squash Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

It is officially October. This is the season for football, scarves and leather boots. Another reason to love autumn?  Squash is starting to make an appearance at your local greenmarket, grocery store or neighborhood bodega. Acorn squash (which will cost under $1.00 in most cases) is easy to make but can get a bit boring if you make it the same time each way. The recipe I'm posting today should help you change up the old squash and butter routine (or introduce you to acorn squash, as the case may be). I learned this recipe while working at a dessert lounge one day, from my manager at the time. It is rumored to have been the saving grace of a restaurant on the brink of bankruptcy. After trying the salad, I believed the story. I hope you'll enjoy the crispy squash and refreshing citrus flavors it as much as I do.

Acorn Squash Salad with Orange Vinaigrette
Alexandra Rogers 

1 acorn squash, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
a dash of cayenne
1/4 cup pistachios or pine nuts (lightly toasted)
4 cups of mixed baby greens

{Orange Vinaigrette}
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil, or a combination
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to  350ºF.

Mix the cut up acorn squash, olive oil and spices together in a bowl. Lightly coat all squash pieces and place in a baking pan in one layer (make sure to use a baking pan with edges that prevent the oil from spilling out into the oven during the baking process). Cook for 25 minutes until the squash is easily pierced with a fork. Turn oven from bake to broil and broil squash pieces for about 3 minutes per side, or until the pieces are browned and crispy. Remove squash pieces from oven and lay out on a paper towel lined baking sheet or plate to soak up any extra oil.

Lightly toast pine nuts or pistachio nuts in a small pan on medium heat for about 4-5 minutes. Do not use any oil.

In a serving dish, layer washed and dried mixed baby greens, squash pieces and toasted pistachios (or pine nuts). Serve with Orange Vinaigrette or simply squeeze an orange's juice over the salad. 

{Orange Vinaigrette}
Combine all ingredients in a jar or Tupperware container and shake vigorously. Use as much as you like (I prefer a light amount of dressing, to start) to top the acorn squash salad.

Wild Rice Pilaf

Wild rice has always been a comfort food of mine. I find it perfect for crisp fall days, on its own or as a side dish. This summer, after taking a series of technique courses at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, I learned a brilliant way to prepare this dish. However, the recipe from the culinary school took over an hour to make. While I hope to someday have that amount of free time to spend cooking rice, I am currently in grad school. So, I'm providing you with my quick, bastardized, wild rice pilaf. It is still quite tasty and takes well under 30 minutes to make...

Wild Rice Pilaf
Alexandra Rogers 

1 box Uncle Ben's Wild Rice Original Recipe 
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 medium shallot, finely diced
2 cups sliced baby portabella mushrooms
2 Tablespoons minced parsley
2 sprigs of thyme (optional)
salt and pepper
enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large saute pan

In a small saucepan, combine the rice from the Uncle Ben's box with chicken broth and water. DO NOT use the seasoning included in the box. Stir well, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to low/medium-low and let mixture simmer, covered for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, remove from heat and leave covered. 

Place a large saute pan on medium to medium-high heat and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Once oil is hot, add diced shallots. Cook for 1 minute and add mushrooms. Let cook for 4-5 minutes, only stirring once or twice. Add all the rice from the saucepan (now cooked appropriately with all liquid absorbed) to the saute pan with the mushrooms and shallots. Season to taste, with salt and pepper. Add thyme (optional) and parsley and cook for approximately 2-3 minutes. This makes about 3 servings. 

Serve hot and enjoy! 

Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breasts

This is a decadent, warming recipe--and it is easy to prep ahead of time. I sometimes make the stuffing on a weekend day and keep it in the fridge for nights when I want a delicious dinner, but don't have a lot of time to cook.

Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Alexandra Rogers 

3 cups of washed (and dried) spinach leaves
1/2 cup sliced baby portabella mushrooms
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
Enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan
2 teaspoons lite sour cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to season
enough oil to coat the bottom of the saute pan

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Remove chicken breasts from fridge and set aside. 

Coat a small saute pan with olive oil and place on medium-high heat. Once oil is hot, drop the sliced mushrooms into the pan, making sure they are evenly distributed (you should hear them sizzle when they touch the pan). Let cook, stirring occasionally for approximately 3 minutes. Add the garlic to the pan, and cook mixture for 2 more minutes. Put the mushroom and garlic mixture into a small mixing bowl, and add a little more oil to the pan--again, only enough to thinly coat the bottom. Saute 3 cups of packed fresh spinach leaves until they just wilt. Add the spinach to the mushrooms and garlic in the mixing bowl. Let mixture cool. 

While the vegetables are cooling, shred 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and ready the sour cream and breadcrumbs. Add Parmesan, breadcrumbs and sour cream to the spinach and mushrooms and stir thoroughly. Set aside.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. With a small knife, cut the chicken breasts open (lengthwise) like a pita pocket. Put half of the reserved stuffing into each chicken breast, make sure the stuffing is well tucked into the chicken breast. 

Coat the bottom of an oven safe pan with olive or vegetable oil and place the pan on medium heat. Once the pan is hot, carefully place the chicken breasts in the pan. Saute for approximately 3 minutes and flip--cook for another 3-4 minutes (just enough to brown each side), take pan off of stove and place directly in the oven. Let cook for 5-7 minutes in oven, or until the juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a fork or knife. Serve immediately with a side of your choice.
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