Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ginger Brandy Cookies

Gingerbread people have long been holiday staples around our house. My sons loved decorating as much as they enjoyed eating the sweet treats. But these days we're a house full of grown ups and it seemed like a good idea to create a slightly more sophisticated version of our old favorite. We used mini-cutters from Williams Sonoma for crisps to top holiday flan, but two inch rounds make a tasty accompaniment for a nice cup of afternoon tea. Hope you like them!

GINGER BRANDY COOKIES
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 package vanilla instant pudding
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 shot ginger brandy
FRUIT CRUMBLE
1/4 cup dried fruits (I used pineapple, mango and papaya bits)
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
4 ounces white chocolate chips (to melt for for dipping)
Put fruit bits, flour and sugar in a mini-processor until finely ground. If mixture is sticky add a little more flour and sugar in equal amounts until texture resembles ground nuts. Set aside for later.
Beat butter, sugar, dry pudding mix and egg in large bowl with mixer until well blended. Mix remaining ingredients. Gradually add to pudding mixture, beating well after each addition. Refrigerate 1 hour or until dough is firm.
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into shapes with your favorite cookie cutter. Place 2 inches apart on parchment covered baking sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Let stand on baking sheets 2 minutes. Remove to wire racks; cool completely before garnishing with melted white chocolate and fruit crumble. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Rush Hour Chicken

Properly sautéed chicken breasts are deliciously simple. Do what you like with them when they're done: make a simple pan sauce: maybe add a few sun-dried tomatoes  and eat them as is, or slice them up to top a salad: or toss with pasta: or  fill tortillas (throw a few green peppers in the pan and a squeeze of lime). I like a side of risotto but buttered noodles are nice, too. 
A few tips for great taste: thick chicken pieces take too long to cook and the middle will be bland. Use small breasts or cut each in half lengthwise to make thinner cutlets. Pounding with a meat tenderizer thins them out nicely as well; Use an all clad stainless pan instead of non-stick for better browning; Slice each cutlet crosswise before serving to allow the sauce to coat each tender morsel.
SAUTEED CHICKEN CUTLETS
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts halves
Dash of sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 cup dry white wine or cooking sherry
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (1 tablespoon if dried)
Trim the chicken breasts if they need trimming. I use kitchen scissors and snip off any the odd bits of fat or gristle. Rinse under cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle them with sea salt.

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat and add the butter, which should melt and foam, and the olive oil, which will keep the butter from burning. When the fat is all very hot but not turning black (many recipes say "when the foam subsides"), add chicken cutlets in one layer. Sear for 4-5 minutes until the bottom gets crusty and browned.
Use tongs or a spatula to flip them over, and cook another 4 or so minutes until the bottom is golden brown and the chicken is cooked through. You can cut a piece open to check, but pressing a cooked breast with your fingertip will give you a feel for its doneness, which great cooks claim will develop into the skill of knowing when it's done without cutting it. (I still cut to check and I’m no newbie at cooking.)

Keep the cooked chicken warm on a separate plate while you deglaze the pan. Pour the wine in and scrape with a spatula to dissolve all the yummy browned bits in the hot pan. Bring to a simmer. When the wine has cooked down about halfway, add the broth and turn the heat to high until the sauce cooks to a syrupy thickness (about 2-3 minutes of a good boil). Toss parsley in at the last minute Add salt and pepper to taste if needed. Drizzle sauce over the chicken and serve.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Healthy Holidays!

Risotto is great comfort-food and an easier than you think way to wow family and friends. With a side salad and fresh fruit it makes a low calorie, high energy dinner. Fill a flute with sparkling water garnished with a few raspberries for an elegant holiday table.

Not to mention, risotto is a satisfying and filling main dish to feed your vegetarian dinner guests without meat-eaters feeling like something's missing. Just be sure to use vegetable broth rather than chicken broth.

MUSHROOM RISOTTO
3 cups fat-free chicken or vegetable broth
2 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry sherry or dry white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh arugula, chopped

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Sauté garlic until softened and fragrant. Sprinkle dried herbs and pepper. Add sherry and simmer gently 2-3 minutes before adding rice. Stir quickly to prevent sticking. Once the sherry has been mostly absorbed, add the broth, one cup at a time. Wait until each cup of broth has been absorbed before adding the next. Before adding the last cup, add mushrooms. Continue stirring until the liquid is mostly absorbed, the rice will be creamy. Mix in cheese and arugula just before serving. 260 calories per serving. Serves 4.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Leftover Rice?

Lots of meals call for rice as a side instead of potatoes. Braised lamb in stewed tomatoes is great with white rice. Plum chicken and pea pods is another better with rice dish. There's always leftover rice. 

Even Chinese take-out always come with too much white rice, but not quite enough to save for another day. Here's an easy and yummy solution for leftover rice. 

RUM RAISIN RICE CUSTARD 
2 cups scalded milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 c. sugar
 Dash salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup raisins or zante currants
1/4 cup rum or brandy
3/4 cup cooked white rice
Heat rum and 1/2 cup water to just below boiling. Remove from heat and soak raisins for an hour while making custard. Whisk together eggs, sugar and salt in a medium size metal bowl. Bring milk to scalding in a very heavy medium pan. Pour scalded milk over egg mixture, stirring constantly. Pour mixture back into the heavy pan and cook over medium low heat until custard thickens, stirring constantly. It will take about 10-15 minutes until custard thickens enough to coat a clean spoon. 
Remove from stove and put pot into pan of cool water. Stir custard to cool it as quickly as possible, add vanilla. Drain raisins and mix raisins and rice into cooled custard. Refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon if desired. Stores well in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.