Monday, June 22, 2009

Kitchen Essentials: Dutch Oven...

This week’s Kitchen Essential is the Dutch oven. This indispensable product is something that every cook should have at least one of in their kitchen. Dutch ovens come in a variety of sizes and are usually made of either cast iron or enamel over cast iron. The key feature of any Dutch oven, however, is a tight-fitting lid that seals in moisture as the food cooks. This makes these pots ideally suited for braising and stewing. They can be used on top of the stove or in the oven…and you can even serve your dish right from the pot, which means faster cleanup.!

The Dutch oven that I use in my kitchen is Le Creuset’s 5.5-quart enameled cast iron. I use it for making soup and gumbo in the fall and winter. I also use it year-round to cook roasts or whole chickens in the oven because they come out tender, juicy, and evenly cooked every time. The cast iron heats quickly and evenly…and it retains the heat very well. The enamel coating is what I love because it acts like a non-stick surface, allowing me to use very little added fat when I use it to cook. This Dutch oven can go from the stove or oven to the table…any leftovers can go straight to the fridge in the pot to be reheated the next day!

Keep in mind that an enameled cast iron Dutch oven will require an initial monetary investment on your part. When not on sale, a Le Creuset Dutch oven can cost upwards of $200. I realize that’s not a small amount of money, but it’s easier to spend that much money if you think of it as a one-time investment. These are heirloom pieces that last a lifetime and are even be handed down through generations in some families. You can find them for much less on sale at Le Creuset outlet stores.

A non-enameled Lodge cast iron Dutch oven can be purchased for between $50 and $100, depending on size. The trade off is that this type of pot will need to be “seasoned” with oil before using to prevent your food from sticking in the new pot. Over time, cast iron continues to season, so sticking becomes much less of an issue.

No matter whether you opt to go with a basic cast iron Dutch oven or splurge on an enameled cast iron version, just do it! This is one essential kitchen tool that you want to make sure you have in your kitchen’s bag of tricks!!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Recipe of the Week: Chicken and Dumplings

This week's Recipe of the Week is for yummy chicken and dumplings. This stuff is pure comfort food at its best! I grew up eating my Mom's simple, delicious chicken and dumplings. For the longest time, I had zero success replicating her recipe in my own dumplings always came out tough and flat instead of puffy and soft like Mom's. Determined to succeed, I kept at it until I found a recipe that works perfectly for me. This is my adaption of a recipe that I found in Cooking Light.

If you use pre-cooked rotisserie chicken meat, it's an even easier dish to whip up. This recipe makes plenty for us to have a hearty dinner with enough leftover for lunches the next day. The flavor is great and tastes like you spent all day in the kitchen instead of under and hour. I serve it in bowls like you would soup. Best of all, the dumplings come out fluffy and tender every time!

Chicken and Dumplings


1 tbs. olive oil
1 lb. rotisserie chicken breast cut into 1-inch chunks (if you use fresh chicken breast, season and pan-sear it first)
1 chopped yellow onion (medium)
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
1 carrot, peeled and cut into thin rounds (you can also take 7 or 8 baby carrots and cut in thirds)
1/2 cup frozen corn
2 tbs. flour
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp. dried thyme (1 tbs. fresh is good if you have it on hand)
3/4 cup Bisquick
5 tbs. skim milk
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
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(1) Place a Dutch oven over medium heat and add olive oil. When heated, add all veggies except the corn and sauté for 10 minutes.

(2) Add chicken meat. Sprinkle chicken/veggie mixture with the flour, and saute a minute or two longer to coat all the ingredients with the flour.

(3) Add chicken broth, corn, thyme, and black pepper to taste. Stir well with a whisk to combine. Cover, reduce heat to med-low, and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

(4) Meanwhile, combine 1/2 teaspoon parsley, Bisquick, and skim milk in a small bowl. Drop dumplings by tablespoonfuls onto the chicken/veggie mixture. Cover and cook at med-low for another 15 minutes. The key is to SIMMER the dumplings without letting the mixture boil!!

(5) To serve, put two ladles of the chicken/veggie mixture in a bowl and top with two dumplings.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Foodie Hall of Fame: Rotisserie Chicken

This week’s inductee into Wendy’s Foodie Hall of Fame is rotisserie chicken. These moist and perfectly roasted chickens truly are a busy foodie’s best friend. I buy these chickens two or three times a month…you can find them at nearly every grocery store deli these days, but my personal favorites are the ones sold at Costco. Their roasted chickens are HUGE, juicy, and priced at least a dollar less than most grocery store brands I’ve seen. That combo works for me!!

Why is a convenience item in my Foodie Hall of Fame? Because they taste good and are so versatile, that’s why! It’s just Michael and I at home…although our cat, Lucy, manages to beg a bite or two from us…so we can easily get two meals from each chicken. We normally eat half of the chicken “as is” the first night with a salad and a simple side dish. Then I remove the meat from the other half of the chicken and put it in the fridge to use the next night. If I plan to use the leftover meat later in the week, then I’ll freeze it in a freezer bag.

The leftover meat can be used in all sorts of ways. I use it to make chicken salad sandwiches, homemade soups, chicken enchilada filling, or yummy chicken and dumplings. Hmmm…now that I think of it, my yummy chicken and dumpling recipe might just be this Sunday’s Recipe of the Week!! Having the chicken already cooked and chopped up makes the next dinner a snap to put together. After a long day in the office, even a foodie who loves to cook appreciates being able to get a tasty dinner on the table as quickly as possible!!

Now it’s your turn…let me know how YOU use rotisserie chickens in your foodie adventures!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Featured Restaurant: Dough Pizzeria Napoletana in San Antonio

This week's featured restaurant is San Antonio's Dough Pizzeria Napoletana. This place is the real deal...the first time we walked into the restaurant, my first thought was, "This ain't no Papa John's!". Dough serves San Antonio's only authentic Neapolitan pizza, meaning this pizza is made the way it's made in Italy. The restaurant opened last year and immediately started generating a lot of buzz among foodies in town. We tried it for the first time last summer and loved it. We've been back several times since, and the quality has been consistently excellent.

The food is made with excellent ingredients, many made on premises. Pizzas are made with house-made dough, fresh mozzarella and buffalo mozzarella, and San Marzano tomatoes. The pizzas are cooked in a super-hot wood-fired only takes 90 seconds to cook a pie! Besides pizza, Dough also features excellent appetizers, salads, and calzones. Coupled with a friendly and knowledgeable waitstaff, Dough offers a pleasant dining experience in a relaxed contemporary setting. Their wine list is extensive and excellent as well!

Our last visit to Dough was to have dinner with some old friends last month. We started out selecting two different burrata appetizers to share. I had never tried this dish before, so it was a new foodie find for me...I'm now a believer! Burrata is a fresh mozzarella cheese dome that has a creamy filling that oozes out when you cut it. The filling reminded me a bit of ricotta cheese. We had the caprese version pictured on the left as well as a fried version served with prosciutto and sun-dried tomato pesto...both were WONDERFUL!!

By the time we finished our appetizers, the pizzas arrived at the table. Michael and I ordered ours with prosciutto, speck ham, Italian sausage, pancetta, and basil...porky goodness for sure! Our dining companions decided to try a veggie pizza with sun-dried tomatoes and roasted mushrooms. Both of the pizzas were excellent. They were thin, crispy, and ever-so-chewy...with a few charred spots from the wood-fired oven. Neither version was the least bit soggy or greasy.

Since we had been sharing our food the entire night, we happily discovered that we still had a bit of room left to try one of their desserts. Our waiter highly recommended the vanilla bean panna cotta. He did not steer us wrong!! It was served with a caramel drizzle and macerated cherries and golden raisins. It was so creamy and yummy...not too rich, but very satisfying. It was the perfect ending to an absolutely wonderful meal! Authentic Italian pizza without having to buy a plane ticket or take time off work!!

Monday, June 15, 2009

After a brief break over the weekend, I’m back. I owe you a Recipe of the Week from yesterday…and a Kitchen Spotlight for today. Ok…recipe first. Yesterday was my brother-in-law’s birthday party, so I brought these ribs to contribute to the spread. They are so simple to make…and very good! Definitely different from your typical Texas BBQ ribs!!

Asian Glazed Spare Ribs

3 pounds pork spare ribs or pork loin back ribs
Season salt or rub of your choice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon instant minced onion
1 teaspoon paprika1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1. Cut spare ribs into serving-size pieces. Place ribs, bone side down, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.

2. Sprinkle w/season salt. Cover and roast at 350 degrees F for 1 hour. Drain.

3. Combine all the remaining ingredients in a bowl; brush some of glaze on ribs. Roast uncovered 30-45 minutes longer or until meat is tender, brushing occasionally with remaining glaze.

Note: if your rack of ribs is larger than 3 lbs., you’ll have to adjust the glaze ingredients accordingly to make sure you have plenty of yummy glaze for ALL of your ribs!

Now for today’s kitchen spotlight….
A utensil that I use a LOT in my kitchen is my collection of spoonulas. A spoonula is basically a combination spoon and spatula. Spoonulas are great for scooping mayo out of the jar and then mixing up a tuna or chicken salad. I also use them when I make one-dish casseroles or pasta dishes. I can stir my veggies as they sauté and then use the spoonula to serve the finished product as well. I love to give spoonulas as a present to people, because many of my friends and family have never heard of them.

You can buy these handy utensils nearly everywhere these days, but the silicone ones found at Williams-Sonoma are my personal favorite. They have nice maple wood handles, and the silicone is heat-resistant to 800 degrees. They’re sturdy and made to last…I’ve had mine for five years, and they still look brand new despite nearly daily use!!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cookbook Corner: Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis

This week’s Cookbook Corner honoree is Everyday Cooking by Giada De Laurentiis. Most of you know that Giada is a well known “celebrity chef” on Food Network. I’m a huge fan of her show, so I own every one of her cookbooks. I’ve cooked from and love them all…but Everyday Italian is my personal favorite. I highly recommend this book to any cook who wants to learn the basics of simple…yes, everyday…Italian cooking.

What I like best about Giada’s recipes is that they are simple, mostly quick to make, and consistently turn out great! These recipes won’t keep you in the kitchen for hours, but they have a ton of great flavor. This cookbook features “classic” Italian dishes, but it also contains a lot of fresh, modern takes on Italian cuisine.

My two favorite recipes from the book are the yummy Salsa all'Amatriciana and the Simple Bolognese Sauce. Both take less than an hour to make from start to finish, but they are full of flavor. To make them even easier, I make both of these sauces with canned San Marzano tomatoes. Every time I serve the Amatriciana sauce to my dinner guests, they always ask for seconds. Then they rave and rave…and then they ask for the recipe!!

I highly recommend Everyday Italian to anyone looking to expand their repertoire of Italian recipes.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Restaurant Adventures: Casino el Camino in Austin, Texas

This week’s featured restaurant is the always fun Casino el Camino in Austin, Texas. This place is an unpretentious, fun bar/burger joint that serves up some of the meanest burgers I’ve ever tasted!! Living in San Antonio, we take several day trips to Austin during the year to shop, visit friends…and find new foodie adventures. We saw this restaurant featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives earlier this year and immediately decided that we HAD to try it on our upcoming trip to meet my best friend in Austin for dinner!!

One try and we were hooked…Casino el Camino hits the foodie trifecta: fun atmosphere, fantastic food, and it's inexpensive to boot! If it's a pretty day, you can sit outside in the quiet(ish) courtyard. If there are no seats outside, you can head inside to dine among the “eclectic” décor…something that I can best describe as “Goth meets gargoyles”!! We love the burgers here so much that we braved the Saturday night crowds on 6th Street last weekend to get a much-needed burger fix! We had to pay $7 to park in a garage two blocks away, but at least we burned a few calories before gorging ourselves on burgers and fries ;)

We had the Chicago Burger again this time: ¾ lb. of flame-grilled angus beef, roma tomato, romaine lettuce, cheddar, bacon, and their amazing shallot mayo. So good!! Michael and I shared an order of hand-cut fries on the side. This burger is so huge that I can only eat half of it in one sitting, but that's ok. It just means I get to eat the other half the next day for lunch!! Casino el Camino has a full menu of tasty burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches, including veggie options:

The next time you're in Austin, put "eat burger at Casino el Camino" at the top of your "to do" list. I promise that you won't be disappointed!!!