Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year, Old Favorite: Buffalo Chicken Chili

I first found this recipe in Rachael Ray magazine a few years ago and now its one of my favorites. It's easy to serve to a crowd, it's healthy, taste great, and makes awesome leftovers. Only downside is it requires lots of chopping, but I love chopping, so for me there is no downside.

There are a few different versions of this recipe available online, but beware, some of them nix the beer! Shocking I know. Beer is not only my favorite beverage, but also one of my favorite ingredients to cook with, beer bread, beer cinnamon rolls, beer chicken... but that's another post. Here is the version of the recipe I use, with a few tips I have learned from making this several times.

Buffalo Chicken Chili
Original Recipe by Rachael Ray, modified by Amanda

1 tablespoon EVOO
2 tablespoons butter
2 pounds ground chicken Turkey works just as well and you can't taste much of a difference
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped You can use canned jalapenos if you have those on hand
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
6 ounces of beer
1 15 ounce can of tomato sauce
1/4 cup cayenne pepper hot sauce I use Frank's Buffalo Wing Sauce and it's the right amount of spice for me. Remember you can always add more (leave the wing sauce out so diners can have more if they want) but you can't take it away. Once I accidentally used the Frank's Extra Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce and it about killed me (I'm a pansy).
Blue cheese (for garnish)
1 box jiffy corn bread mix and stuff to make it (1 egg, some milk)

1. Heat a medium dutch oven over high heat. Add olive oil, 1 turn of the pan, and butter and melt together.
2. Add the chicken and cook, breaking up the meat for 6 minutes.
3. Add the garlic, celery, onion, carrot and jalapeno. Season with salt, pepper, cumin and coriander and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Add the beer and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Concentrate the flavor of the beer by reducing the mixture over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
5. Stir in the hot sauce and the tomato sauce. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
6. Bake up the cornbread. Follow the recipe on the box.
7. Serve with blue cheese crumbles on top and side of cornbread.

This is what French chefs call a mirepoix or "holy trinity". Carrot, onion, and celery form the basis not only for the Buffalo Chicken Chili, but for many French dishes. In New Orleans, the carrot is replaced with green bell pepper for yummy creole foods like gumbo.

Oh, and did I mention leftovers? How about Buffalo Chicken Nachos? Just top some chips with leftover chili, cheese, salsa, and bake. Top that with your favorite nacho fixings (jalapenos, lettuce, tomato, guacamole, sour cream) and enjoy.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Feast of the Seven Fish: Italian Seafood with a Side of All American Freedom!

My Grandma (Grammy) will be quick to tell you, “I’m Italian and I’m from Pittsburgh.” Both statements are a stretch. She has never lived in Italy nor Pittsburgh. She lives in a small town outside of the city, and both of her parents are Italian.

Nevertheless, this year my family celebrated the Feast of the Seven Fish. In the Catholic tradition, Christmas Eve is a time of fasting, so eating meat is out. I find it a little contradictory to have a feast on a day of fast, but I‘m not one to turn down a feast. If you can’t eat pigs or cows or chickens, you might as well eat as many types of fish as possible.

Like Grammy, the Feast of the Seven Fish presents itself as 100% Italian. A quick Google search revealed that the origins of the Feast are debatable. It is widely celebrated in Pittsburgh and other areas with large Italian immigrant populations. Walking into Dellalo (an Italian grocery store) on Christmas Eve will quickly clue you to the number of Italian Americans who practice the tradition. On December 24th attendants direct traffic outside, and after a few minutes inside you will feel like you are in an episode of Everyday Italian with Giada DeLaurentiis on Food Network. Store workers shout “Fresh baked bread great for bru-sket-a!” “Sale on Par-me-san-a!” . Even my Grammy asked where to find the “Cal-i-mar” (which was sold out by the way, sold out of squid…interesting). Apparently in the walls of the store you are required to use the Italian pronunciations. But do Italians really celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fish?

Italians (the ones from Italy, not the American ones) usually eat fish on Christmas Eve since the Catholic church forbids eating meat on that day, but Seven Fish is much more strongly rooted in the United States then in Italy. I tried to tell this to my Grammy but she wouldn’t hear any of it. Oh well, I don’t care where it came from, because eating seafood, drinking wine, and reuniting with family doesn’t need to be authentically Italian to be enjoyed. I asked Grammy what she remembered about Seven Fish dinners when she was a kid, and she said it was “even better than Christmas”. I might have to agree.

All of us want to have a cultural identity. Many Americans look to where their ancestors came from- Italy, Ireland, China, wherever. Sure, we might carry on some traditions that have roots in these cultures, but I’m no more Italian than the Pope is American. And what about those of us who are “mutts”? I’m a quarter Italian and a quarter Ukrainian on my Mom’s side, and my Dad’s side is such a mix there’s really no telling. Does this doom me to not having any cool traditions? No way!

Being an American is kind of like when you live in New York City all your life and never go in the Empire State Building. It’s there, but you don’t go in and appreciate it because its ALWAYS there and you start to take it for granted. Think of all the things that Americans do but other countries don’t: Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, the Wienermobile….just to name a few. My fellow Americans, if you find yourself looking for a cultural identity, no need to cling to a motherland you have little association with when you live in arguably the greatest country in the world. Whether you are Italian-American, Mexican-American or Di’Jabuti-American, don’t forget to appreciate the “American” part!

I went to pick up my Grandparents so I didn't get to do much cooking, I didn't even have a chance to get my coat off before I was handed a plate full of fish and a glass of wine.

I don't think Swedish Fish and Gold Fish Crackers count toward the 7, but it's the only "fish" my brother will eat.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

More Soup For You!

I'm totally on a soup kick right now. I didn't plan on having three blogs in a row on the subject but, who doesn't love a warm bowl of comforting goodness when there's a chill in the air and snow on the ground? I found this recipe for Baked Potato Soup on It's one of my favorite places for recipes online because there are tons of reviews, it crunches the numbers for you if you want to change the amount of servings, and if you register you can save your favorite recipes in a neat little recipe box. The recipe is just as easy as it is tasty.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tortilla Soup: Holy Chipotle!

I spend a ton of time with the Food Network chefs. They come in to my home, tell me stories about the dishes they make, and I feel like I have a special relationship with each of then.

Rachael Ray was one of my favorites to begin with. Her food is fun, not overly complicated or fussy. I have a few go-to recipes that came from Rachael's kitchen.

Rach also gave* me her cookbook 365 Days No Repeats, and I must admit I made a few recipes from there and I don't love all of them. Some fell a little bit flat in the flavor department, so you have to take her recipes with a grain of salt (literally!). Don't skimp on any ingredient that adds flavor and definitely taste it and add more seasoning as needed.

I was browsing some of her recipes online when I saw this one: Chicken Tortilla Soup with Chipotle and Fire Roasted Tomatoes

First reaction, Yumm-O! Quick, get out the EVOO and the Official RR Garbage Bowl** and let's get cooking. Not that easy, I went to three different grocery stores until I finally found the star ingredient: chipotle in adob0. I had never used it before but seen it on Food Network many times. It kind of reminds me of roasted red peppers, but in a spicy brown adobo sauce. I was looking for a jar but it actually comes in a little can. I found it in the Mexican section at the Commissary at Fort Lee. The Commissary always has good international ingredients, probably because military families who have lived overseas have some diverse tastes. Sad news is, you have to have a military ID or be with someone who has one to make purchases.

Now that I had successfully hunted down the chipotles I was ready to get cooking! Once I had the soup going I realized without the toppings and chiles it was basically just some canned tomatoes and some poached chicken. Yumm-O? More like Lame-O! Those peppers better be good.

I started with one (Rach called for two) because I am a pansy when it comes to spicy stuff. Wow, the soup tasted awesome! I added a couple big spoonfuls of the adobo sauce and the spice level was perfect. The flavor sort of reminds me of cumin, smokey and flavorful but not overly hot. My whole family loved it. For a minute there my parents were actually happy that I am temporarily crashing their empty nest. You must try this recipe! And check back here to see what I decide to do with the rest of the chipotles in adobe!!

* OK, so maybe my mom gave it to me, but my story is more fun.
** I don't actually own the Official Rachel Ray Garbage Bowl, but I've seen them in stores and it makes me chuckle that someone would actually buy a garbage bowl.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

French Onion Soup: The Adventures of Super Chopping Girl

If French Onion soup is on the menu, I will probably order it. The sweet onions and beefy broth are delicious, but we all know it's the melty cheese on top that makes it so irresistible. This baked cheesey delight has been on my list of food to cook for awhile now, and with the cold weather rolling in it got bumped to the top of the list.

Most cooks dread chopping onions, I actually look forward to it. I shared with my Mom that I would be making FOS and she advised me to use the food processor. I ignored this comment because I love to chop. Also, unlike most mere mortals, onions don't make me cry. Seriously, ask anyone who's seen me in the kitchen.

I perused a few recipes, and watched this video of Alton Brown making FOS. I acquired a few onions, 2 vidalias and 2 red onions at the store the day before, so I was shocked when he said to use 8 onions! Wow, no wonder mom wanted me to break out the food processor. Chopping eight onions might even make Super Chopping Girl tear up. I compared AB's recipes to some I found online, and discovered that most averaged about 1 large onion per serving. So I could make enough for everyone in my house with just 3. Here's the recipe I followed.

I cooked the onions for about an hour. The recipe said 45 minutes, but after that amount of time the onions didn't look as brown as AB's onions. After another 15 minutes. I still wasn't satisfied, but I was also sick of babysitting the onions. I moved on to the next step, finished cooking the soup and put it in the fridge so I could construct the bowls of bread and cheesy goodness the next day.

I followed AB's advice for assembling the bowls and they looked awesome if I do say so myself. I grated asiago on top of the croutons, then topped them with 1 slice of provolone and 2 slices swiss each.

Final verdict: I was happy with the way my cheese and croutons turned out, but the soup, not so much. Cooking the onions took forever and they didn't even taste that good. With all the hassle and a mediocre result, I don't think I would make this one again. I'd be better off going to Panera. But if you do feel the need to try FOS on your own, don't forget these important tips:

- Cook the onions to a deep dark brown, at least 1.5 hours!
-You need about 1 large onion per serving.
-Use sweet onions: vidalia, red or a combination of both.
- If onions make you cry, a food processor is probably a good idea.

This picture turned out quite artsy don't you think? There might be hope for my food photography.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cook-Through Blog

When I started this blog I wanted it to have a unique angle, something to set it apart from the bagillions of food blogs out there. I thought a blog for that group of us who loves gourmet dinners AND greasy bar food. Not that it's a bad idea, but I know I can do better.I feel like there's no coherence to it, just some random recipes I try and a collection of my Yelp reviews. I want people to look at my blog and say "that's such a FUN and SIMPLE concept, why didn't I think of it??!".

That's what I said when I saw Julie and Julia. Julie cooks through Julia Child's cookbook and blogs along the way. Julie started in 2002 when I was 16. I guess I can't blame myself for not beating her to the boeuf bourguignon, but standing in front of the cookbooks in Books-a-Million today I said to myself, what book can I cook through??? I browsed the cookbooks at the store, the ones on my own shelf and here are a few I'm contemplating and the pros and cons of each:

The Dean and Deluca Cookbook
I made a few recipes from it and they were AWESOME
I can reward myself with a trip to the Dean and Deluca store in NYC
Already own it/can steal it from my mom.

Over 700 recipes!
Don't feel totally amped on this one for some reason (could change).

The New Best Recipe
Cooked a few things from it and I like it.
Love America's Test Kitchen! They test all the different ways to make a recipe, Eggplant Parm, for example, and choose which one is the best to put in the cookbook.
Already own it/ can steal it from my mom.
Being done.

OVER 1,000 recipes... wow! Julie did about 400 recipes in a year... that means this will take me at least 2.5 years.

Italian Classics
300+ recipes is a good amount to do in 1 year.
Eating Italian Everyday!
Also by America's Test Kitchen people.
Already have it/ steal it from mom!

Eating Italian everyday. Is that really a con?
Haven't cooked anything out of it yet.

Alton Brown's Good Eats The Early Years
Only 140 recipes.
Love Alton Brown.
Might get it for Christmas :)

400 page, 140 recipes.
Alton Brown and his overly complicated and tedious recipes will probably make me pull my hair out.
Haven't cooked anything out of it yet.

Ruled out for being over done: anything Julia Child, anything Jamie Oliver, Joy of Cooking, anything Gordon Ramsey

Ruled out for not being cool enough for me: Anything Sandra Lee, Rachel Ray, Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, Tyler Florence, Bobby Flay...

Please comment on which one you like or any others you might recommend!!

Check out Cooking the Books- a blog for "Cook-Through" blogs!

I Heart Down2Eat

I love my blog. YES it is made from a really lame template and NO I’m not very good at posting regularly, I never get any comments, and its not going to be made into a movie anytime soon, but lots of positive things come out of it.

  1. Helps me move past two of my biggest blog fears- being a bad writer and no one caring about what I have to say. I may not have perfect grammar, but I have a fun way of saying things, and I care what I have to say… and so does my mom, my boyfriend….and, well… I think that’s about the only people who read it. Anyone else out there? PLEASE COMMENT!!
  2. Gives me something constructive to do while being unemployed. Cooking and writing fills my time. Developing my writing skills is great for my future career in Marketing/PR, and developing my cooking skills will make for some very happy bellies.
  3. Inspires me to do bigger, better blogs! What’s next? My own domain name? A blog without a template? I’m seriously considering a Cook-Through Blog a la my new favorite movie Julie and Julia.

Keep checking back to see what’s cooking next…

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Egg-cellent Part 2: The Challenger

I stumbled across a recipe for the perfect scrambled eggs. More perfect than mine? GASP!

Check out where I found the recipe:
Watch Chef Ramsey make them: Youtube.

Ok, I guess maybe just MAYBE Gordon Ramsey MIGHT make better scrambled eggs than me (the man has 16 Michelin stars I guess I should give him a chance).

Ingredients (Serves 2)
-4 eggs Only using 2 since it's just me!
-1 tbsp creme fraiche Yumm-o! I've heard about this stuff but never used it. It's like a very rich sour cream from France. Pronounced "crem fresh".
-small knob of butter
-salt and fresh cracked pepper
-fresh chopped chives


1. Break eggs in a saucepan and add butter. Do not whisk the eggs or season them at this point. Crack into the pan? So my usual method of "whisk the crap out of them until frothy" is not coming into play here....I'm skeptical already.

2. Turn on the flame and whisk the eggs in the pan using the spatula. Whisk the eggs in the pan? With a spatula? Sad I can't use my power tools (hand blender), but don't you whisk with a whisk? Not a spatula? I'll try the spatula first but I have the whisk on standby.

3. Keep stirring the egg mixture, and as soon as it starts to thicken a little, get it off the heat and continue stirring. That's interesting, what will this accomplish? Other than making my arm tired?

4. Alternate between stirring the eggs while they are on and off the heat, repeat a few times (about 3-4) until the scrambled eggs are of the right consistency (creamy and fluffy). Wow. I get it now, by controlling the heat this way, you ensure that you don't overcook the eggs (I HATE overcooked eggs). Also, they aren't as "chunky" as normal scrambled eggs. They are smooth, yet fluffy.

5. Take the eggs off the heat, mix in crème fraîche to cool it down, season with salt and pepper and fold in some chopped chives. Oh wow, these look really good, the dollop of creme fraiche really helps. These are delicious!! Not sure if they are better than mine, but definitely different! Oh, I forgot to season! Too bad I already scarffed them down :)