Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches

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I’m really not a huge fan of authentic Italian food.

I don’t like lasagna. I don’t like carbonara. I don’t care for the white heavy cream based sauces that can be found in a lot of Italian dishes at all. I’m not one for using lemon in savory applications. I’m actually not even a huge fan of cheese in general. If it weren’t for pizza, I could probably live without eating it entirely.

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My love for Italian food can basically be summed up in a plate of pasta (preferably spaghetti, rotini or ziti) and a mess of meaty marinara sauce dumped on top of it. If I’m feeling really “adventurous” there’ll be Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

And that just about does it.

Everything else I’m probably going to want to pass on.

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All of the above is what makes today’s recipe somewhat special.  I count it as me daring to be ‘adventurous’ and cook then eat something Italian that isn’t just pasta and meat sauce.

I needed to cook something that would last for the week but I didn’t really know what. I looked through the sale ads and didn’t seem any meat that was on sale except for pork chops and pork loin (neither of which I really felt like cooking or eating). So then, I went digging through my freezer to see if I’d bought any meat a while back then saved for later and just forgot about it.  Turns out, I had. I found two packs of chicken cutlets (chicken that’s thinly sliced and/or pounded thin by the butcher ahead of time).

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Most times meat that’s been prepared into cutlets is for the purpose of sandwich making. The protein is thinner, so it cooks relatively quickly and can fit on pieces of bread without much hassle. I’ve already made chicken schnitzel before on the blog with great results, but I wanted to make something new that I could post and share.  I’d also made shredded chicken into tacos just a couple weeks ago, so using the cutlets for that for that seemed kinda redundant.

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As a cook and eater with Southern roots, I’m of the opinion that it’s pretty tough to go wrong with chicken that you bread and fry, no matter what cuisine we’re talking about. Then, because a good red sauce is one part of Italian food that I like, I figured throwing them together couldn’t result in too shabby a meal. It also wouldn’t take a very long time to make, So for all those reasons, I decided to go ahead and make Chicken Parmesan for the first time, ever.

I really, REALLY liked the results.

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The best marinara sauce I’ve had to date is the one I made for my Pizza Hut-style breadsticks and Pan-Pizza that I made a while back on the blog, so that’s what I decided I would use for this recipe. I did a double batch because I love my sauce and wanted to have plenty to eat during the week for leftovers, but you can always cut it in half if you’re a less is more kind of a person.

Anytime you let chicken soak in an overnight buttermilk bath, you know that you’re going to have chicken that cooks up very moist and tender. I let mine chill for the whole 24, and once again I proved to myself that chicken breast haters are just doing their chicken breast wrong in how they treat it. The cutlets came out VERY moist and juicy on the inside. Chicken breading can sometimes run the risk of being bland and tasteless, but the method of including cheese with the actual breadcrumbs that the chicken is fried in gives it a GREAT flavor and texture. The crust came out perfectly crisp and golden when fresh and even when reheating the leftovers throughout the week, I found that I liked it even after it had gone soft.

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If you’re not a fan of Ciabatta bread, or you can’t find a grocery store or bakery in your area that carries it, that’s totally fine. Pepperidge Farm bread slices have also worked for me. I will say though, that for these sandwiches you want to use a bread that when toasted is big and sturdy enough to support the weight of the hot chicken and won’t get flat and soggy when you pile on the cheese and warm sauce. So please don’t sell yourself short; go for the good stuff.

The verdict is in and…Chicken Parmesan can sit with us. Finis.

Happy Fiesta Friday #132, co-hosted this week by Sandhya @ Indfused and Nancy @ Feasting With Friends.

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Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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Ingredients

For the Tomato Sauce:

  • 2 (15oz) cans tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp dry oregano
  • 1 tsp dry basil
  • 1 tsp dry marjoram
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the Chicken:

  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk, divided
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 loaf crusty italian bread, crust removed, sliced into 1/2-inch slices
  • 5 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 quart Tomato Sauce  (see above recipe)
  • 10 ounces shredded mozzarella or Italian blended cheese
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley, basil, or a mix
  • 1 loaf of Ciabatta bread or another sturdy crusty bread for sandwiches

Directions

Split chicken breasts in half horizontally. Working one piece at a time, place inside a plastic zipper-lock bag and pound with a meat pounder or the bottom of a skillet to an even 1/4-inch thickness. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add 1 1/2 cups buttermilk and minced garlic to bowl. Season with 2 tablespoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Turn chicken with hands until salt, pepper, and garlic are evenly incorporated and all the chicken is coated in buttermilk mixture. Transfer to a large zipper-lock bag, press out the air, and seal. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Meanwhile, place bread slices on a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Leave out on counter for at least 4 hours and up to overnight until mostly dried.The next day, break bread into rough pieces (leave the wire rack in the rimmed baking sheet) and combine with 4 ounces Parmesan cheese in the food processor. Season with black pepper. Process until bread is finely ground, about 20 seconds. Transfer mixture to a large shallow bowl or pie plate.

Place flour in a second shallow bowl or pie plate. Whisk eggs, 2 tablespoons buttermilk, and 1 tablespoon of the flour in a third pie plate. Drizzle remaining 2 tablespoons buttermilk over the breadcrumb/Parmesan mixture and incorporate with your fingertips. The mixture should be mealy, but hold together in clumps if you squeeze it together with your hands.

Working one piece of chicken at a time, remove from the bag and add to flour. Turn to coat, shake off excess, and add to egg mixture. Turn to coat, letting excess drip off, and add to breadcrumb mixture. Turn to coat, piling crumbs on top and pressing down firmly so a thick layer adheres. Transfer coated chicken to the wire rack and repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Adjust broiler rack to 8 inches below the heat source and preheat broiler to high. Place ciabatta cut-side-up on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Place under broiler and cook until well browned and crisp, about 2 minutes.

Transfer top bun to a large cutting board. Spread bottom bun with extra sauce and top with chicken cutlets, shingling them so they all fit in a single layer covering the bread (cutlets should already have sauce and some cheese on them). Top with more cheese. Return to broiler and cook until cheese is fully melted and starting to bubble and brown.

Remove from oven and immediately close sandwich, pressing down firmly to seal. Let rest for 1 minute. Slice into 6 to 8 single-serving pieces and serve. 

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Like many other folks,  there’s a list of things in life that I’ve always REALLY wanted to do, but just haven’t  been able to for various reasons.

Living in a big city (at least for a short period of time). Skating in Rockefeller Center at Christmas.  Flying first class on an air plane. Going zip-lining and living to tell the tale afterwards. Having a book on the NYT Best-Seller list. Remodel and live in a three to four story brownstone house.

Those are some of my more “extreme” ones that are proooobably going to have to wait until circumstances in my life adjust– most notably the financial ones.

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On the other hand, I’ve got other less major ones that would probably be extremely do-able and realistic.

Attend an All-White Party AND a Black Tie Gala. Sing Karaoke (in public). Slow-dance to “The Way You Look Tonight” in the dark. Become completely fluent in conversational Arabic and Spanish. Take a salsa dancing class. Get tatted.

Those are all things I COULD do, but… procrastination+nervousness+introversion= unaccomplished goals for Jess.

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I think I’ve mentioned it before on the blog but apart from my general Bucket List, I’ve also created a separate one that’s solely dedicated to recipes, techniques and ingredients in the kitchen that I’ve yet to practice and try. That list is actually getting gradually shorter and shorter as cooking is not something that I’m particularly limited in by lack of cash, or something that I have to swallow huge amounts of fear or anxiety to do. Cooking and baking are my form of personal therapy so I actually try to do them as much as possible, even when it’s trying out new things.

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It’s  pretty wonderful feeling when you actually get to accomplish something you’ve always wondered, thought or dreamed about, and an even better one when it’s every bit as satisfying as you always hoped it would be. Today’s post is actually me ticking off one of the things on my baking Bucket List: making something with browned butter.

Browned butter baked goods is one of those things I’ve heard RAVE reviews about, but just never got around to trying for myself. I think I did have a small paranoia that in the process of trying to ‘brown’ the butter I would accidentally burn it. However, that was a silly fear. Browning butter is very simple, and so long as you don’t leave it alone on the stove to go take a shower or clean the house, then it’s pretty safe to say, you’re not going to let it burn. This is my first and only time using it, and prior to now I didn’t think there was anything else you could do to elevate the simple but classic chocolate chip cookie.

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Guys.

I WAS WRONG.

If there is anyway to make a chocolate chip cookie reach the level of pure nirvana, it isn’t nuts. It isn’t coconut. It’s isn’t dark chocolate chips or caramel. Nuh uh.

It’s brown friggin butter.

What makes browned butter different from regular? Well the first thing you’re going to notice after you’ve prepared it here, is that it has a particular smell. A nutty, ‘caramely’ rich aroma that almost reminds you of what the Nestle Tollhouse booths in the mall give off when they’re baking fresh batches of goodies. Or even, what the Keebler  Elf Treehouse would smell like inside if it were a real thing. At least that’s what came to MY mind when I took the saucepan off the stove to let the butter cool and stuck my nose down into it to get a whiff.

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Chocolate chip cookies usually come down to two things when it comes to stand out flavors: the chocolate chips and the texture of  the cookie itself. Some people prefer dark chocolate as opposed to milk, while others want chocolate along with other mix-ins like nuts and coconut. Some people prefer cakey chocolate chip cookies while others prefer them thin and crispy. I think what the browned butter mainly does to elevate these cookies is that, it makes the actual flavor of the COOKIE DOUGH itself the star of the cookie. It has a unmistakably rich, nutty flavor that marries well with the flavor of the chocolate, balancing out the sweetness.

I wouldn’t call the texture of the cookie cakey, but it’s also not crispy either. It’s a perfect balance between the two; crisp edges and soft chewy centers (provided you stick with a middling bake time, of course.)

Also, Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches. Just throwing that out there.

Happy Fiesta Friday #131, co-hosted this week by Su @ Su’s Healthy Living and Laura @ Feast Wisely.

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe Courtesy of Serious Eats

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Ingredients

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 standard ice cube (about 2 tablespoons of frozen water)
  • 10 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 5 ounces granulated sugar (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 ounces dark brown sugar (about 1/2 tightly packed cup plus 2 tablespoons)
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped with a knife into 1/2- to 1/4-inch chunks

Directions

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, gently swirling pan constantly, until particles begin to turn golden brown and butter smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue swirling the pan until the butter is a rich brown, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to a medium bowl, whisk in ice cube, transfer to refrigerator, and allow to cool completely, about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally. (Alternatively, whisk over an ice bath to hasten the process.)

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Place granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium-high speed until mixture is pale brownish-yellow and falls off the whisk in thick ribbons when lifted, about 5 minutes.

Fit paddle attachment onto mixer. When brown butter mixture has cooled (it should be just starting to turn opaque again and firm around the edges), add brown sugar and cooled brown butter to egg mixture in stand mixer. Mix on medium speed to combine, about 15 seconds. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just barely combined, with some dry flour still remaining, about 15 seconds. Add chocolate and mix on low speed until dough comes together, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate dough at least overnight and up to 3 days.

When ready to bake, adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat oven to 325°F. Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop or a spoon, place scoops of cookie dough onto a nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheet. Tear each ball in half to reveal a rougher surface, then stick them back together with the rough sides facing outward. Transfer to oven and bake until golden brown around edges but still soft, 13 to 16 minutes, rotating pans back to front and top to bottom halfway through baking.

Remove baking sheets from oven. Let cool for 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Repeat steps 3 through 5 for remaining cookie dough. Allow cookies to cool completely before storing in an airtight container, plastic bag, or cookie jar at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes

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Back in the late 90’s early 2000s the Wrigley/Lifesavers candy company came out with this line of candy that they called Creame Savers.

You guys (at least those of you in the U.S.) remember those?

For those that don’t know about/or remember them, the Creme Saver was similar to a Life Saver in that it was a fruit based hard candy except that the fruit flavor was combined with a cream that gave it a distinctive, rich/thicker texture when you sucked/bit on it. The first flavor that they put out was Strawberries and Creame, but it didn’t take very long before they became HUGELY popular, resulting in a rapid succession of other flavors: Oranges & Creame, Raspberries & Creame, even Chocolate & Creame. There was Creame Savers hard candy, Creame Savers soft chew candy, Creame Savers jello, and even Creame Savers flavored yogurt.

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For a while, it seemed like Cream Savers were just everywhere.

Then all of a sudden…they weren’t anymore. From what I understand Wrigly has recently started selling the Strawberry flavor in a new limited release in certain locations, but the Creme Saver craze has definitely died down from what it used to be. I’m not a huge candy fan, but I did like Creme Savers. When I was making today’s recipe, I thought about them and how much the combination of strawberries and cream is just always so much win.

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It’s one that was just made for summer. In summers like this when me and my sisters were younger we used to get cans of Reddi Whip whipped cream along with a carton of strawberries from the grocery store. We would wash/hull the berries, get out forks and take turns passing around the can of whipped cream, filling the berry cavities with whipped cream and eating them raw, just like that.

(I maaaaay or may not *still* do this myself sometimes. Maybe. I couldn’t possibly confirm at this time.)

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I may have lost my taste for Strawberries  and Creame candy, but I’ll never lose my love for strawberries and cream in shortcake or just all on their own.

Also, strawberries and cream in cupcakes. I will probably nevereverever lose my taste for cupcakes.

And if I ever do, somebody give me two tight slaps and ask me if I’ve lost my mind; the answer in that case would probably be a most definite “yes”. If there are some of you who may unfortunately think you’ve lost or never really had a taste for cupcakes, then don’t worry. I’m not going to give you two tight slaps and ask if you’ve lost your minds; I mean, I could. But I think a much better, more effective solution would be to just present you with these: Strawberries and Cream cupcakes.

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These cupcakes are very simple, no-frills and little fuss… but then, good things in life oftentimes are.

I will say one thing about this recipe though, and that I found that it made slightly more batter than I think is suitable for a 12 muffin cup pan. I tried containing it to just 12 cupcakes and what ended up happening was that before baking, the liners were fuller than what I was comfortable with. As a result, I had some spillage which is why the finished cupcakes settled a little flat rather than having domed tops. While that definitely didn’t affect the taste, it is a detail I think is worth pointing out. I think maybe just using 2 or 3 extra more muffin cups would produce the best results

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So, as I said before, this a very simple recipe. You can make these from start to finish in the space of about 1.5 hours. However, don’t let you think that that means the taste is simple.

It’s not.

The secret weapon in this recipe is the use of the fresh strawberry puree. It adds that tart strawberry flavor to the vanilla based-batter while also balancing the sweetness of the frosting beautifully, somehow managing to make it taste light and airy–the texture is actually very similar to whipped cream. Plus, doesn’t it make them look so pretty-in-pink?

I’ll be at the Fiesta Friday #130 party this week with these cupcakes. You should come out and get one while I’ve still got ’em.

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Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes

Recipe Adapted from Food Network Magazine

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Ingredients

For Cupcakes:

  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick softened butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup strawberries, hulled
  • 1/2 cup milk

For Frosting

  • 1 1/2 sticks softened butter
  • 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 cup Strawberry puree (see recipe)
  • About 6-8 Whole strawberries, sliced into quarters, optional
  • Strawberry rock candy (or sprinkles), optional

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a 12-cup muffin pan with liners.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium size bowl with a whisk or a fork and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy in a standing mixer on medium high speed. Add the eggs (one at a time) and the vanilla.

Puree the strawberries until smooth. Add all EXCEPT 1/4 cup to the cupcake batter. Set aside the 1/4 cup in small bowl.

Carefully add the flour mixture to  the batter in medium increments until fully incorporated, alternating with the 1/2 cup of milk. (It’s best to start and end with the flour) Don’t over-mix.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake until tops spring back, 20-25 minutes. Transfer to baking rack and let cool 5 minutes in the pan before removing the cupcakes and letting them cool completely.

Beat the butter, confectioner’s sugar and salt with a mixer on medium speed  until just combined. Add the vanilla and beat on medium high until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the milk and 1/4 cup of strawberry puree beat for about 1 minute more until fluffy.

Spread frosting on top of cooled cupcakes. Top with sliced strawberries and strawberry rock candy/sprinkles if desired.

Cornflower Yeast Rolls

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Fear not: I come bearing carbs.

Plenty of carbs. Plenty of pretty carbs, at that.

For some of you that alone is enough to get your attention., amiright?

On the day that I made this particular batch of bread, I was on my own in the house and had a little bit more time than usual, so I decided I would play around a little bit with the dough. I doubled the below recipe and tested out 3 random, different shapes I’d been running through my mind lately to try out. I decided that whichever one turned out the prettiest, I would feature on the blog and tell you guys how to pull off yourselves.

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Well, the results are in. The first option was a Deep Cross Roll; I made individual balls of dough, cut deeply into them with a sharp knife with the intention that they would look like an inverted Hot Cross Bun without the white piped cross. (Fyi, it totally didn’t work, though I swear that it all made sense in my head at the time).

The second idea was for intricately woven cornmeal wreaths. These actually weren’t a complete flop. They did very strongly resemble wreaths, but I noticed that there was inconsistent proofing in the second rise so that some halves of the wreaths were bigger than the other half, which looked…weird and misshapen and not something I could manage to look pretty in a picture. Moving on.

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The third time really is the charm. My last idea was to take a technique similar to the one I’d done with the Pane di Pasqua I made for Easter, then do a little extra tucking and braiding to manipulate the individual bread rolls to resemble a kind of flower. It worked. Very well. I was a little concerned that they would go the way of their predecessors and resembled big indiscernible blobs of bread after baking, but t’was not the case.  These rolls proofed beautifully on the second rise and once they hit the hot oven, puffed up even more so that by the time they’re all finished they really DO look like complicated flowers of dough. The truth is, the technique is almost stupid easy so you get bragging rights on these without the extra drama that goes with complex baking projects.

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I tweaked the original concept for the recipe to what I think, are much better results. In the first place I kept with the new practice I’ve started of adding a single cup of whole wheat flour to my bread doughs in general. Guys, you really wouldn’t believe the difference this makes. As someone who prefers whole wheat bread, I certainly appreciate the addition of the whole wheat flour. Yet, even those who usually prefer white bread I think will STILL appreciate the subtle nutty flavor that it gives to the dough. What you get when you combine that nuttiness with the flavor of the cornmeal is something that has to be tried to be fully appreciated. The bread’s texture is soft and pillowy with just the right amount of chew.

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Don’t be intimidated by the shaping part of the dough. I know it may look fancy and complicated, but it isn’t. If you can wind two pieces of ribbon together, (loosely at that) then trust me: you can make these rolls. Seriously. Also don’t be worried if directly after you finish shaping them, they don’t look quite discernible as flowers. The second proofing and the baking in the oven will do the bulk of that work for you.

So, do these look similar to the actual blue cornflower flower? No. But I’m still going ahead and calling these Cornflower Yeast Rolls in a nod to that cornmeal flavor in the dough combined with the shape that I gave to them. KooKoo kachoo.

Taking myself and these rolls to this week’s Fiesta Friday #129, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Colleen @ Faith, Hope, Love & Luck.

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Cornflower Yeast Rolls

Recipe Adapted from FoodNetwork.com

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tsp, divided
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 eggs, well-beaten, plus one egg, divided.
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 to 5 cups all purpose white flour, as needed

Directions

Combine the milk, cornmeal, butter or margarine, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt in medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon and allowing to cook until the mixture if slightly thickened. Add 1/2 cup water and mix well. Set aside to cool.

Soften active dry yeast in warm water (110 degrees F). Sprinkle the 1 tsp of sugar on top and allow to sit for 10 minutes or until yeast is frothy.

Combine cornmeal mixture, yeast, and 2 well-beaten eggs together in the bowl of a standing mixer, using the paddle attachment to combine together.

Then, using the dough hook attachment, add the cup of whole wheat  first, mixing to combine completely.  Add enough of the all purpose white flour to make a soft dough. It should be a smooth,pliable dough that no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl, but also not too dry.

Place the dough in another greased bowl, turning once to grease surface. Cover with a layer of plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel. Place in a warm place for about an hour.

When dough has doubled in size, remove from bowl and divide in half. Dive the halves in half.

Pinch off two dough balls about the size of ping pong balls and roll/shape them into logs. Pinch the top ends of both logs together, then braid them together.(This is going to take some patience. Have a small cup of water handy just in case your dough loses its moistness–it’s easier to roll out when it stays moist.Dip your fingers in the cup of water and rub a little bit of the water over the dough balls before you roll them out. Also, don’t worry about it if the ropes shrink a little bit after you roll them out; it’s not that big of a deal.)

Once the logs are braided, take the bottom end and roll it up (like a spring or a wheel), pinching the bottom end into the top one and tucking it under. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing the finished ‘flowers’ on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Cover the finished flowers with plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel. Let rise in warm place or until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Take the remaining egg and beat it in a small bowl with about a tablespoon of water. Brush the beaten egg over the proofed rolls and sprinkled with cornmeal.

 Bake rolls for 12 to 15 minutes.

Tex-Mex Meatballs

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Last night I fell asleep while putting this post together and watching a bizarre movie on Netflix. I first dozed off at around two a.m., then woke up at five to my bedroom lights still being on and the bubble screen saver on my computer screen in my lap looking back at me. I meant to put it away, turn out the lights, then actually get underneath the covers and catch some REAL zzzs.

But then I blinked, and suddenly it was six thirty a.m.. By then I just figured, never mind. I’d settle for the “Half-sleep” and just wake up early, which is why I probably feel groggy right now. But oh well.

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I remember some time back in the December before last when I went to the surplus store and bought a huge bag of frozen meatballs, grape jelly, ketchup and chili sauce to throw in my slow cooker.

(What? Why are you looking at me like that? Yes. Sometimes, even EYE buy/cook with frozen food. Not often. But meatballs are the exception)

I got everything together,lined the slow cooker, poured the meatballs in with the grape jelly. Next was the chili sauce which typically comes in a glass bottle. For some reason, I had some trouble pouring it out. No matter how many times I shook it and banged on the bottom with my hand, that chili sauce just would not come out.

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So I got a silver mixing spoon to bang on the bottom of it, thinking maybe the impact would succeed in loosening the sauce in the bottle. Well, turns out I thought wrong. I banged on the bottom of the bottle with the flat end of the wide spoon…

And the bottle shattered. I’m talking large and tiny shards of glass that almost completely all landed into the slow cooker on top of the meatballs.

Guys. I was do disappointed I could’ve cried.

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I had to throw out EVERYTHING. The entire jumbo 5 lb. bag of meatballs.

You would have to know me, to know how being forced to do something like that would absolutely devastate/piss me ALL the way off. But I shook it off and binned the glassy food….

After which I promptly went back out to Gordon’s to buy another 5 lb bag of meatballs. Because I had planned on having meatballs for dinner and darn it if I wasn’t going to have meatballs for dinner.

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This time around, there was fortunately no broken glass and also no do overs. It’s a very simple, quick dish that can easily be made for a weeknight dinner. I actually prefer using ground turkey for my meatballs, so that’s what I did; if you prefer ground beef then by all means, have it. The red sauce I thought needed some further dimension, so I went ahead and added red chile sauce to the red enchilada sauce. It gave the dish that ‘tanginess’ that I love to have in my sauce whenever I’m eating meatballs. The flavor of the crushed corn chips provide a pleasant savory complement to the sweet tangy sauce. I like these, guys. I have a feeling you would too. So give ’em a try.

I’ll be taking my dish to this week’s Fiesta Friday #128 as well. Cheers!

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Tex Mex Meatballs

Recipe Adapted from Southern Living

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Ingredients

  • 1 poblano pepper
  • 1 small white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems
  • 1/2 cup finely crushed yellow tortilla corn chips
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 2 (10-oz.) cans red chile enchilada sauce
  • 1 (12-oz.) bottle of red chile sauce
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 -2 1/2 Tbsp. light sugar, divided

Directions

Preheat broiler with oven rack 5 inches from heat. Broil poblano pepper on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet 6 to 8 minutes or until blistered, turning occasionally. Place poblano in a zip-top plastic freezer bag; seal and let stand 10 minutes to loosen skin. Peel poblano; remove and discard stem and seeds. Pulse poblano, onion, garlic, and cilantro in a food processor until finely chopped.

Stir together corn chips and milk in a large bowl; let stand about 5 minutes or until chips soften. Stir in eggs, salt, pepper, and poblano mixture. Fold in ground turkey. Shape into meatballs (about 2 tablespoonfuls each). Place 1 1/2 inches apart on a lightly greased (with cooking spray) rack in an aluminum foil-lined jelly-roll pan.

Preheat oven to 400°. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until browned. Transfer meatballs to a large Dutch oven; add enchilada sauce, chile sauce chicken broth, and 1 Tbsp. light sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until meatballs are cooked through and sauce is slightly thickened, turning meatballs halfway through.

Sweet Paprika Chicken Tacos

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I finally got around to going to see “Captain America: Civil War” two weeks ago. I figured it wasn’t going to stay in theaters for very much longer and my twin sister (who had already went with her husband to see it) had been nagging at me for weeks to see it because she, like practically everyone else, thought it was one of the best movies thus far  in the Marvel universe line-up.

For being a Captain America movie, the script actually manages to cram quite a few of the Avengers into the storyline, with the addition/introduction of several other new characters. I was aware of this before going to the movie and was concerned that it would make the film a little too busy and crowded. “Age of Ultron” was kinda lackluster in my opinion, and  several of the other latest Marvel movies I thought were overall decent, but nowhere near as good as the first Avengers movie.

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Well long story short, the hype over “Civil War” is completely justified. It’s a great movie, really second only to “The Avengers”movie in my opinion. The writers did a good job of making the plotline flow with enough finesse to where you don’t feel like it’s busy or convoluted. We knew that a showdown between Captain America and Iron Man was coming sooner or later, and it was interesting to me how that came about, the positions the two heroes took, and the sides that the others ended up taking. This just viewed like an overall “smarter” superhero film. It’s even good to the point where the absence of Hulk and Thor from the film didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would.

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My favorite part of the movie was the introduction of Chadwick Boseman’s character Prince T’Challa  aka, Black Panther. He’s a real scene-stealer, his costume is badass, and the way that “Civil War” ends (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it) makes me VERY excited for the Black Panther film that’s currently in production.

Besides Black Panther, my other favorite character of the film was Paul Bettany’s character Vision. There’s a scene in the movie where he’s in the apartment Tony Stark set aside for him and Scarlet Witch at the compound, reading through a recipe. It’s pretty hilarious watching this A.I. superhero who doesn’t even eat attempt to cook; he makes a dish that incorporates paprika. Being the cooking enthusiast I am, my mind instantly thought, “Hmm. I wonder what KIND of paprika he’s using; regular paprika (pointless, it pretty much tastes like nothing), Hungarian sweet paprika (not too shabby if balanced with other spices), or smoked paprika (darn good stuff).”

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They never clarified what kind of paprika Vision used when making his dish, but shortly after going to see the movie I decided to go ahead and make one myself that would use up a good portion of Hungarian sweet paprika I had sitting around the spice cabinet and needed to use up before it started to lost its potency. I’d also been craving tacos for weeks and wanted an easy but still tasty way of getting some in my belly.

Enter this dish, stage left.

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Originally, this is supposed to be made in a slow cooker with chicken thighs. But not only was I too impatient and hangry for that, I also don’t like chicken thighs and prefer the cut of the chicken boob. So, I first adapted this recipe to be cooked in a Dutch oven rather than a crock pot, swapped out chicken breasts for the thighs, and finally I added some modifications to the spices that suited my own tastes.

What else can I say, you guys? I love what I do. Don’t believe what the haters tell you: making moist and flavorful chicken breast really is TOTALLY doable. Even quickly on a weeknight, which I think this dish would be wonderful to make for a relatively quick and delicious Taco Tuesday night dinner.

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It’s been a REALLY long time, but I’m glad to be back co-hosting this week’s Fiesta Friday #127   with my co-host and longtime blogging buddy Suzanne@aPugintheKitchen. We’d love for you to come and join in on the fun so,  please do click the link, read the rules and share your tasty posts/recipes with us all.

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Sweet Paprika Chicken Tacos

Recipe Adapted from Food & Wine

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Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic Power
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 large sweet yellow onion (about 1 1/2 cups), finely diced
  • 6 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1/3 cup sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons of light brown sugar (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime-juice
  • 12 warm 6-inch flour tortillas

Directions

In a large Dutch oven, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt, black pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. Add the chicken to the pot, making sure to not overcrowd the pan. Cook until richly golden brown and seared, about 4 minutes per side. Pour in the white wine and deglaze the pan. Transfer the chicken and the juices to a separate plate or container and cover with aluminum foil.

Set the pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, paprika, and chili powder and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the spiced onion mixture to the Dutch oven. Pour in the chicken broth and crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the mixture for seasoning. This is where you can add the light brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce if you like. Place the seared chicken breast back into the pot. Lower the heat down to medium-low, cover and cook until chicken is fall apart fork- tender, probably about 20-35 minutes..

Remove the chicken from the sauce and transfer to a work surface. Using two forks, shred the meat. Stir the shredded chicken back into the sauce and add the lime juice . Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Using a slotted spoon, spoon the pulled chicken into the warm tortillas and top with desired condiments. Serve right away.

My Favorite Thick, Soft Cut Out Cookies

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I’m the kind of person who likes to learn to run before she learns to walk. I like trying the complicated way before trying the simpler way. I like doing more rather than doing less.

It’s a character flaw. But it’s just the way I am.

I remember before cooking became my sport, when just the effort of scrambling eggs and browning breakfast sausage in a skillet was a HUGE accomplishment for me, and I made the decision to begin to try to improve my cooking skills. There were a number of reasons why I wanted to give it a go and get better at the whole thing.

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One of the main ones was that I actually wanted to be able to bake my own desserts. I was under the HUGELY incorrect assumption that cooking was akin to baking. Cnce I figured out one, I would of course have the other one on lock as well. Tomato-Tomahto, right?

Heh.

Oh Jess. Sweet, simple, untried Jess. I had SO much to learn about the world and its ways. But honestly, that really was it. My mom had a pretty lit cookbook collection and I would peruse through them bookmarking a whole bunch of different dessert recipes that I would fantasize about being able to bake for and all by myself.

This was before I figured out that baking is a science and beginners in the kitchen should prooooobably try to become decent cooks before they dip heir toes in the baking pool. I actually know several outstanding cooks who are pretty “challenged” as bakers.

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But anyways, I started practicing my baking around the same time as I started cooking. It was a difficult learning curve with a LOT of trial and error but through it all I knew right from the beginning that if it was the last thing I did, there was if nothing else, one thing I was absolutely going to force myself to learn how to knock out of the park:

A bakery-style cut out cookie.

The cut out cookie is right at the top of my Favorite Foods of All Time. I mean, it’s even right up there with pizza, ice cream and pancakes (which are pretty much my Holy Trinity). Now when I say a cut out cookie, I’m NOT talking about something akin to the ones in clear plastic containers you can buy at Walmart with the pink frosting that tastes like sugary wax. Those are blegh and you deserve better things in your life. I’m talking about a real cut out cookie with a soft and tender crumb, a faint flavor of vanilla/almond and a smooth glossy icing on top that rounds out the mild sweetness of the cookie dough.

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Y’know…these.

Cookie baking is a learning process in and of itself that I’m totally willing to admit I’m still getting the hang of. You gotta practice. You gotta let your dough chill in the fridge. You MUST test-bake one cookie before the entire batch. And then, you can’t be afraid of sometimes just screwing up.  Because sooner or later you just will.

There is one recipe that I’ve become pretty awesome at though, and it’s this one.  I make absolutely DELICIOUS cut out cookies. These are probably some of the best cookies I’ve ever made/had, in general.

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These are a necessity for me and familiy now every year at Christmas but recently I also went ahead and made a huge batch to take to a baby shower, which is why they’re pretty in pink. The cookie itself is thick, soft and with a tender crumb on the inside. It’s versatile enough to where if you wanted these to have a different flavor than standard vanilla, you could easily swap in lemon, orange, lime or even cherry extract instead with wonderful results. I will strongly advise that you don’t swap out or exclude the almond extract; it’s the almond that gives the cookies that trademark “bakery-style” flavor in cut outs that you love but can’t ever quite pinpoint where it comes from.

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These would be just FANTASTIC for a kid’s birthday party where you have the cookies pre-baked and allow the kids to decorate them however they want. They’re also pretty thick and sturdy so they’ll travel VERY well. This recipe does bake a pretty huge batch, so if you’re wanting a smaller one you can feel free to cut it in half. But, I never do. Somehow, for some reason…the ones I make always end up being put to “good use”.

I’ll be taking my cookies to Fiesta Friday #125, co-hosted this week by Quinn @ dadwhats4dinner and Elaine @ Foodbod.

My Favorite Thick, Soft Cut Out Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Allrecipes.com

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Ingredients

For Cookies

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/8 cups white sugar
  • 7 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking power
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract

For Icing

  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • About 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon hot water, or more as needed
  • Food coloring, optional
  • Sprinkles, optional

Directions

For Cookies:

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs yolks, then the whole eggs, one at a time and mixing well after each.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into the sugar mixture. Cover dough and chill for at least one hour. I usually let this dough sit overnight for best results.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/2 inch thick and cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters. Place 2 inches apart on to the prepared baking sheets. Refrigerate the cut out cookies on the baking sheets for about 10 minutes.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. (My ‘magic’ number is 8 minutes, 35 seconds.) Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

For Icing

Mix together the confectioners’ sugar, oil, vanilla and corn syrup until smooth. Add a few drops of food coloring to your desired hue. Gradually add enough hot water to achieve a spreadable consistency, but keep it thick enough so that it sticks on the spoon. Spread icing over tops of cookies, then decorate with sprinkles.

Allow cookies to remain uncovered on wire racks until icing it completely set and dried.