Air Fryer Chicken Thighs and Sweet Potato

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I know instant pots are all the rage now. I have heard of people who own these in various sizes! Not me…at least not yet. I haven’t jumped on that bandwagon yet – and even if/when I do, I am quite confident I will not be owning more than one. So, for now, I do own an air fryer (have been for maybe a year now).

You may wonder what I have used it for. In all honesty, my husband has used it more often than I have – and definitely it is not to make anything meal worthy! He has only ever made frozen fries in them. They taste great, but I figured there should be other applications of the gadget than just for crisping up frozen food. So, I started experimenting, first with vegetables seasoned with salt and ever so slightly drizzled with oil. My favorite…eggplant slices and broccoli! Yum! Then, I got to thinking…and googling.

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Damn! You can even make desserts in an air fryer! Wow! Anyway, I wanted to attempt a main dish, and hence was born this chicken and sweet potato recipe.

Honestly, you can use any seasoning for the chicken thighs (or drumstick or cut up breast). I happened to stumble upon harissa seasoning at a local TJMaxx (love the store for the interesting finds) and decided to try it. Harissa seasoning has complex spice notes with good amount of heat, so use it according to your taste. I needed to add salt because the bottle I bought did not have any.

After about 30+ minutes in the air fryer, the chicken thighs were super crispy on the outside (thanks to the skin) and juicy and delicious inside. Sweet potato took on a nice flavor from the chicken as well. The best compliment was “Hon, I am sorry, I don’t think I can eat the bone!” So, if you own an airfryer, you have to try this recipe. If not, either buy one or try the recipe in a 450F oven.

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Air Fryer Chicken Thighs with Sweet Potato

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients:

4 chicken thighs, excess fat trimmed, but with skin

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon harissa seasoning

1 teaspoon salt, divided

2 medium sweet potato (or regular potato)

2 tablespoons oil, divided

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the air fryer to 375F.
  2. Score the skin side of the chicken thighs deeply with a sharp knife. Season with a blend of 1 tablespoon harissa and 1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste). Make sure seasoning gets into the cut slashes. Drizzle both sides with a tablespoon of oil.
  3. Place chicken thighs, skin side down in the air fryer and cook for 10 minutes.
  4. While the chicken is cooking, peel and cut the sweet potato into large chunks, about 1″ wide. Toss with remaining salt, harissa and oil.
  5. Remove the chicken thighs from the fryer and set aside on a plate.
  6. Add the sweet potato to the air fryer and top with the chicken, this time with skin side up.
  7. Cook for another 25 minutes or more till the chicken and sweet potato are cooked through and the top of the chicken is browned and crispy.
  8. Transfer to serving plates and serve with other sides or vegetables for a wholesome, delicious dinner.

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Blackbean and Veggie Falafels

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I am glad to admit that I am not a purist. There is something a bit more personal and exciting about bending the norms a little. At least in the food we enjoy! Think about it…if you always followed the same cake or casserole recipe, won’t you be bored? That’s when we get creative with tossing in a little bit of this and that or “wing it” along the way.

These falafels are the result of going with the flow and keeping my fingers crossed that they won’t be a crumbly or horrible tasting mess. Inspiration for this recipe, which uses cauliflower, sweet potato and black beans came from watching the recent trends with cauliflower everything, including pizza crust! PIZZA CRUST! If cauliflower could be a pizza crust, it better be a darn good falafel. And it delivered!

Honestly, these falafels are a winner not not because they have a good doze of veggies, but also because they are oven-baked with a light drizzle of oil and not deep fried like the traditional ones. What is not to love about it, right?! These delicious bites held their shape, stored well for few days refrigerated and made a perfect match as a salad topper or filler for a pita. So, go ahead and make a batch! You can drop a thank you note later! 🙂

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Blackbean and Veggie Falafels

  • Servings: 18-20 falafels
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Note about Prep Time: Prep time is about 20 min, refrigeration for about 30 min and cook (bake) time about 45 min.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups grated cauliflower

1 1/2 cups grated sweet potato

1/4 cup finely chopped onions

3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 heaping teaspoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder

Salt to taste

1 14.5oz black beans, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup chickpea flour

1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation:

  1. Dry roast coriander and cumin seeds for 5 min over low heat and grind to a powder in a dry grinder or in a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
  2. In a saute pan, add 1 teaspoon olive oil and saute the vegetables, including onion and garlic. Add the ground spices, salt, paprika and cayenne. Let cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, mash the drained blackbeans. Add the vegetable mixture and chickpea flour and thoroughly mix in. Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 400F.
  5. Take the refrigerated falafel mixture out and form into about 1 to 1 1/2 inch balls.
  6. Arrange on a parchment lined baking tray and drizzle with remaining olive oil.
  7. Bake for about 25 min. Turn over and continue to bake for another 20 min till firm and golden.
  8. Serve immediately in a salad or as a wrap. Refrigerate remaining falafels.

Arepas with chicken and plantains

Here is a simple, yet satisfying recipe with a South American twist – arepas with chicken and veggie stew (of course, accompanied by sauteed plantains).

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I tried my first taste of an arepa not from a restaurant or at someone’s house – let alone in Columbia or Venezuela. I tried my first taste of it from one of many wonderful food carts in New Haven, CT. I am not really sure how an authentic arepa is supposed to taste, but what I tried few weeks ago was intriguing enough for me to do an online search for an arepa recipe. The arepa I tasted looked like a perfectly shaped pancake, though it was about 1/4 inch or so thick. It was soft and sweet and provided a pretty good balance to the savory meat and vegetables served alongside. So, reading through the recipes, I wasn’t quite sure if they were going to result in the version of arepa I tried, or the one that it was supposed to taste like. Only a native can confirm for me, I guess!

Anyway, the first thing I learned while reading through the recipes was there are different types of cornmeal/corn flour. The yellow cornmeal I was familiar with is NOT what you use to make arepas. You need precooked corn flour. Arepa flour is finer, and the at least the brand I bought (PAN) was definitely more white than yellow. After considering a few recipes, I settled for one that appealed to me for whatever reason. This one used a mixture of flour, grated cheese and sugar mixed with hot milk and melted butter.

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You are right…I couldn’t get myself to use the whole 1/3rd cup sugar or the 6 tablespoons of butter the recipe called for. I used a little less than 1/4 cup sugar and about 2 tablespoons butter. I also used only 1% milk. Last modification to the original recipe was the omission of the cheese slice to make arepa sandwiches. So, either follow mine if you want a lighter version, or go with the original recipe at this site. With lower sugar and butter, the arepas tasted best freshly made. You also have to warm any leftover arepas so soften them as they do get firm when refrigerated.

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Arepas

  • Servings: 6-8 arepas
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Ingredients:
1 cup 1% milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup arepa flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup ground frozen corn kernels (I didn’t use any in my recipe)
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preparation:

  1. Bring milk to a light boil, and add cubes of butter to melt.
  2. If using frozen corn, add it to a food processor and pulse till coarse. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, mix the arepa flour, salt and sugar. Add the mik/butter mixture and mix to make a smooth, but sticky dough.
  4. If  using pulverized corn, mix it into the dough along with grated mozzarella cheese.
  5. Bring the dough together in a ball, and refrigerate for about an hour.
  6. Roll out arepa dough into a 1/2 inch thick sheet and cut with a 3″ circle cookie cutter, or do what I did: take golf ball sized dough, pat it into a disc.
  7. Cook arepas on a buttered skillet till golden brown on each side. Note: Due to lower sugar and fat content in my dough, my arepas did not brown as much as the original recipe might have.
  8. Serve freshly cooked arepas with a meat dish of your choice. I served mine with a spicy chicken and veggie stew and a side of sauteed plantains!

Oven-Fried Chicken Thighs

I am not going to make yet another apology for being ridiculously tardy with my postings, so I will just jump to the recipe at hand!

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Do you like fried chicken? Me neither! It’s not that it’s not yummy or satisfying. It sure is! The reason I don’t like it is because it is so damn bad for you…like looking at it on your plate makes you want to grab your chest like you can somehow feel the arteries getting clogged! Real fried chicken is definitely full of fat and calories – store-bought/ commercially prepared chunks likely brim with thousands of calories and more than a few days worth of saturated fat. So, yes, I don’t like them. I never order these from restaurants, but on a rare occasion, I do fantasize about biting into one with no regrets!

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Hence, this attempt at making an oven-fried version, which will not make it to any healthy dish list, but at least satisfies one’s annual craving for fried chicken without a whole lot of guilt. I wanted to emphasize a few words in the previous sentence as this chicken is still an indulgence in my opinion. Although I carefully trimmed out most of the excess fat and good portion of the skin, there is still some of that bad stuff on the chicken. In addition, even though I skipped the deep frying, there is still some oil drizzled on the chicken before baking. So, all in all, please do indulge and enjoy this dish, but try with all your might to only make it on a rare occasion or two.

With that out of the way, this chicken is truly delicious. Marinating the meat in seasoned buttermilk (in my case, 1% milk soured with a bit of white vinegar) for 24 hours goes a long way in making sure the chicken tastes well seasoned and comes out juicy and delicious. Seasoning the flour mixture adds another layer of seasoning that makes the exterior of the chicken delectable as well. I debated going with just all-purpose flour, but then opted for a “house blend” of all-purpose, cornmeal, rice flour and cornstarch. In case you are wondering how I came up with this blend, honestly, 100% on a whim. I figured rice flour and cornstarch tend to make things crispy,cornmeal adds bit of a textural element and all-purpose flour, well, it’s “all-purpose”. I think this is a keeper! After all the waiting around with the marinating and long baking time, this recipe proved to be a winner. And the chicken tastes great even the next day!

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Oven-Fried Chicken Thighs

Ingredients:
8 chicken thighs, excess fat and skin trimmed carefully; deeply score the skin side
Marinade:
1 cup buttermilk (or sour milk made with a cup of milk and 1 tablespoon vinegar)
1 teaspoon salt
Cayenne powder to taste (I used about 3/4 teaspoon)
few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon each, onion powder and garlic powder
Flour mixture
1/4 cup each all-purpose flour, rice flour, cornmeal and cornflour
Cayenne powder to taste (I used about 1/2 teaspoon extra hot)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Generous sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons canola oil
cooking spray

Preparation:
1. Blend all marinade ingredients. Pour over chicken thighs arranged in a baking dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 425F.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the flours with ingredients through parsley leaves.
4. Remove chicken pieces from the marinade. Blot dry (I skipped this step because I was in a mad dash to the next step for no real good reason).
5. Toss the chicken pieces one at a time in the flour mixture until well coated. I even made sure some of the flour mixture got in between the slits on the skin side.
6. Arrange the coated chicken pieces on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil, skin side up.
7. Cover the chicken pieces with a good coating of cooking spray. Drizzle the oil evenly over all the chicken pieces.
8. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes till juices run clear and the chicken is cooked through.
9. Serve with sides of your choice (Tip: a good serving of vegetable should at least take some of the guilt off!) Enjoy!

Zucchini-Apple Fritters

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What a glorious weekend, but where’s autumn!?

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As the long summer days wound down, I was kind of excited about welcoming the glorious colors of fall! Bright hues of red, yellow, orange and brown with quickly fading greens bursting in the canopies! But, fall splendor seems to be quite elusive this year!

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Despite the lack of the autumn chill, I still had the timely craving for something comforting and delicious to enjoy! My appetite is so predictable! Anyway, my craving for some homemade hashbrown (potato kind), eggs and bacon didn’t really stick. For once, I convinced myself quite easily to try to make something a little lighter and healthier. As I made a mental run of things in the refrigerator, I paused at zucchinis and Granny Smith apples.

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I decided to make some sort of a fritter using zucchini and apple, but without any eggs. I made a version of these with eggs, and decided I am not a big fan of egg-y fritters. If you like crispy texture, you will probably not enjoy this the way I made it – unless you coat it with breadcrumbs and bake/fry. These fritters (“hashbrowns”) are sort of creamy, sort of soft, sort of pate-ish. Not sure how to explain them, but they are delicious. They are very light, so you can easily eat half the fritters…and it’s OK if you do because they are, in my opinion, quite healthy! Curry powder adds a certain depth to these fritters and I highly recommend you use them. But, if you don’t have it in your pantry, you can skip it.

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These fritters are quite versatile. They will go well with eggs for breakfast or with rice and curries for a main course or just a little snack! I also stored leftovers for couple of days in the refrigerator and they warmed up beautifully in the microwave. Hope you give this recipe a try!

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Zucchini-Apple Fritters

  • Servings: 4-6
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Ingredients
2 zucchinis, grated
1/2 Granny Smith apple, grated
2 scallions, green and white part minced finely
1 teaspoon finely minced ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of cayenne powder, if desired
Salt and pepper to taste
Few tablespoons of oil to pan fry the fritters

Preparation
1) Squeeze excess water out of the grated zucchini and apple and add to a medium bowl.
2) Add in the remaining ingredients and mix well by hand. This helps breakdown the ingredients a little so they are easy to form into little patties later on.
3) Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes to let the cornmeal and flour soak up any excess liquid.
4) Heat a frying pan over medium heat and a tablespoon of oil. Swirl around to coat.
5) Form the mixture into golf-ball sized round. Place a few in the pan with enough room around them so you can flatten the balls into small disks, about 3″ wide.
6) Cook on one side for 2 minutes or so till golden brown. Flip carefully onto the other side and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove to a serving platter and enjoy warm.

Hearty Quinoa Vegetable Medley Soup

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No apologies this time because I never seem to learn. So, let me just jump to what I am about to share – a simple recipe for an incredibly satisfying soup that I really, REALLY hope you all will try to make at least once – especially as the leaves start to change colors and the air begins to get crisp!

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I was browsing through the web looking for inspirations to use quinoa and potato in a simple, yet satisfying recipe. Yes, it was a weeknight yesterday, but since I was able to get home a little earlier than usual, I had a little extra time to put into prepping dinner. This is not an original recipe of mine. It just altered this a bit, but this is largely a Taste of Home recipe.

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All you need is a combination of your favorite soup vegetables and quinoa (any kind will be fine, but the tri-color blend I used was phenomenal) and voila, you can whip up this soup without much fuzz. Trust me, if you make it once, you are going to want to make it again (how about topped with a bit of crumbled bacon bits next time!).

Here is an amusing aside (or something to make you go what a fool!)!

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Addition of jalapeno was a great idea to add a much appreciated kick to the soup. Of course, this particular jalapeno happened to be a super spicy one. I am the type of person who tinkers around in the garden with bare hands, minces up spicy peppers like they are just little fruits and pulls hot pans out of the oven with just a kitchen towel or paper towel! Yes, I never learn and I have scars to prove Last night was a repeat of the familiar story. Just as I rinsed my hands (yes, no scrubbing under nail) after mincing the jalapeno, I must have promptly rubbed my left eye lid. Initially, I just felt a weird sensation and I wasn’t quite sure what that was. Then, I felt it – the much familiar burn of hot pepper smear! Ouch. Then I remembered the coconut oil in the pantry. Ladies (and gentlemen), if you ever experience a similar thing, just dab a bit of coconut oil (REMEMBER TO WASH YOUR HANDS REALLY WELL BEFORE APPLYING) on the affected area. Grit your teeth and go about your work for 3 ymin or so. It’s like a miracle, how the simple oil just eases away the burn!

Now, jump on to the recipe and enjoy this delightful bowl of soup for your next meal! I am already dreaming about enjoying the leftover for lunch tomorrow!

Hearty Quinoa Vegetable Medley Soup

  • Servings: 6-8
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Ingredients
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 – 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup diced red pepper
1 cup chopped potato (I used russet for creaminess)
1 jalapeno, finely chopped (de-seeded if you prefer the soup mild)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 32-oz vegetable broth
1 cup 1% milk
1/4 cup light cream
1 tablespoon crumbled dried thyme
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preparation
1) Heat a large stock pan over medium heat and dry roast quinoa for 3 – 4 minutes. Remove the quinoa to a bowl and return pan to heat.
2) Add the oil and saute the onion, garlic, carrot, red pepper, jalapeno and potato for 3 minutes.
3) Add the flour and stir in, breaking up any lumps. Continue cooking for 3 to 4 minutes.
4) Add the corn kernels and the vegetable broth, cover and cook on medium low heat for 25-30 minutes till vegetables are tender and quinoa is cooked through.
5) Stir in the milk, light cream and thyme. Adjust seasonings with a dash or salt and pepper, as needed.
6) Let simmer uncovered for another 5 minutes.

Serving Suggestion: This soup can be topped with a bit of grated cheddar or a dollop of sour cream. For an extra indulgence, you can also sprinkle a few crushed tortilla chips.

Spicy Cauliflower Burger

Do you love a good burger? How about a veggie burger?

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If you are like me, you would have answered in the affirmative to both those questions. How I wish I could eat burger (the meat version) and fries most days of the summer – straight from the grill onto my plate and into my tummy. In those instances, I try hard to remind myself I am not a teenager who can burn off those calories in a jiffy. So, I don’t indulge them in all that often.

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As a near distant substitute, I resort to veggie burgers every once in a while. It’s usually those frozen kinds. While at least one brand has come to be an OK substitute, I never get the satisfaction of biting into a real burger. At least not until I tried this homemade version for a spicy cauliflower burger.

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This recipe is not my original. It was inspired by Pinch of Yum. While I tweaked my recipe a little, much of the meat (no pun intended) is derived from the original recipe.

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Spicy Cauliflower-Quinoa Burger

  • Servings: 10
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Ingredients
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1 head cauliflower, separated into florets
4 tablespoons oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed (or 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder)
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder (adjust to taste)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup ground almonds (almond meal)
3 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 – 3/4 cup shredded Pepperjack or mild cheddar cheese
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Burger buns of your choice

Toppings
Finely shredded purple cabbage, sprinkled with lime juice and a dash or salt
Thinly sliced red onions
Avocado slices
Chipotle mayo
Other toppings of your choice

Preparation
1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2) Cook quinoa according to package instructions, but use only 1 cup of water or vegetable broth. Turn off heat, fluff the quinoa and let cool.
3) Layer the cauliflower florets in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with spices. Roast for 20-30 minutes. Let cool.
4) Using a food processor, pulse the roasted florets to break into small pieces that look like grated cauliflower. Take care to avoid grinding to paste.
5) In a large bowl, combine pulsed cauliflower, cooked quinoa, garlic, almond meal, eggs, salt, cornmeal and cheese. If you like your food really spicy, you can add additional cayenne or black pepper.
6) Form into patties. According to the original recipe, this should make about 10 burgers, but if you are like me, you will probably make fewer, thicker patties. It’s your choice. But, if you do make it thicker, add additional cooking time.
7) Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of oil and cook a batch of burgers on one side until golden brown. This may take about 4 minutes or so. Flip carefully to maintain shape and cook on the other side for another 3-4 minutes.
8) While the original recipe asks to transfer the burgers to a paper lined plate, I kept mine on a wire rack placed on a cookie sheet and kept in the warm oven to maintain the crispy texture and keep the burgers warm.
9) Assemble the burgers per your taste and be amazed at how incredibly satisfying it is.

NOTE: These burgers freeze well. Reheat in the oven or over the stovetop.

Spicy and Tangy Tofu Stir Fry

Hello friends!

I failed yet again at my promise to self to keep up with the blog. Too many roadblocks along the way, but I will at least try to post a new recipe whenever I can.

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So, couple of weeks ago, I tried this truly delicious bean curd stir fry with plenty of veggies coated in a delectable sweet-spicy-tangy sauce. That dish used fried bean curds that were kind of squishy and strangely airy. While I enjoyed every bite, I did feel a little overwhelmed with the amount of sliced onions in it. As I was silently chewing every bite, I tried to make a mental note, no, no, more like a package of memory filled with the taste, smell and texture of each bite. Why you ask? Well, I do that quite often, at least as often as I try a bite of a new dish somewhere that I would like to recreate with my own little twist.

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Today would have been the perfect day to succumb to the comfort of eating that dish for lunch. Alas, we were hit with the biggest snowstorm of the season and the family was home-bound. Even though I had already prepared meals ready to be warmed for lunch, something in me kept nudging me to open the refrigerator and take out the ingredients to whip up some spicy and tangy tofu stir fry.

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Little bit of this, little bit of that and before I knew it, a super satisfying, flavor-rich tofu dish was born!

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Spicy and Tangy Tofu Stir Fry

  • Servings: 4-6
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Ingredients
1 Pkg extra-firm tofu
3 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic, divided
3 green onions, green part finely sliced and divided
¼ cup oil
4 oz sliced white or baby bella mushrooms
3 cups broccoli florets
½ cup sliced red onion
Few dried red chillis
Sauce:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Preparation:
1. Cut tofu into bite size pieces. Toss with cornstarch.
2. Mix the curry paste, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and garlic. Coat tofu cubes in the sauce and set aside for 10 minutes.
3. While tofu is marinating, prepare the vegetables.
4. Mix the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
5. Heat a large wok or frying pan over medium high heat and add oil.
6. Fry the tofu cubes till golden brown and let drain on paper towel.
7. When all the tofu is fried, drain excess oil, leaving about a tablespoon in the pan.
8. Saute the reserved garlic, red chilli and onion.
9. Add the mushrooms and broccoli and flash cook for another 3 minutes or so.
10. Toss in the fried tofu pieces and top with the reserved sauce.
11. Stir and continue to cook till the sauce thickens and coats the vegetables and tofu.
Serve the stir fry with steamed rice or over cooked rice noodles.

Croquembouche

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Happy New Year everyone! Wow, we are already done with the much awaited holiday season and about a week into 2016! Seriously, where does the time fly! So, this is to prove the that I did actually work on this recipe at the beginning of the year – to be more precise, a few days into January 2016! Wow, how unexpected life could be!

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I hope this year is off to a great start for all of you! Did anyone make any lofty resolutions? I didn’t! I am finally in terms with the fact that, you either want to do something or not – regardless of whether it is your latest and greatest resolution or not! Honestly, the timing couldn’t be better! Why would you want to try this absolutely show-stopping creation right after all the indulgence in fine things! Less than 2 weeks before the waists start expanding seem like THE perfect time to share this recipe with you all! PLEASE…I really mean, PLEASE, don’t let the pictures fool you into thinking this recipe is super hard! It really is not! Believe me!

This croquembouche recipe (inspired by a recipe on Food Network) is one such thing! It’s true that you can’t stop with one, but if you want to have your cake and eat it too, then, yes, you can pull together all your willpower and stop with one! It’s a satisfying sweet treat that satisfies your sweet tooth without adding hundreds and hundreds of calories!

OK, before you to the recipe, let me warn you not to get spooked by the ingredient list or the long directions. It’s not all the bad. Breeze through the recipe first to get a feel for how very easy the recipe is so you know what to expect. It’s really a pretty fool-proof recipe with an amazing end result. Also, if you are not keen on making the caramel, you can easily skip it! The taste will still be amazing without the caramel coating.

DARN, how I wish I had taken a picture of the little baby after the first bite, revealing the delicious, creamy filling inside! (Note to self: It’s likely you will make this again this holiday season, so can you please post a picture showing the yumming filling(s) inside?)

Croquembouche

  • Servings: 12?
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Ingredients
¼ oz packet unflavored gelatin
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
12 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup semi sweet or dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon instant coffee
1½ cup heavy cream
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 ½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
6 large eggs
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup

Preparation

1. Begin by preparing the cream filling. Sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup of cold water in a small bowl and let it soften (bloom).
2. Measure out the milk in a heavy bottom pan. Add the vanilla and bring a simmer over medium high heat. Once the milk starts to simmer, remove from heat and set aside.
3. Whisk the egg yolks, 1 cup sugar, cornstarch and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Gradually whisk one-third of the milk into the egg mixture to temper the yolks. Add rest of the milk and whisk together. Return the pan over medium heat and cook the mixture while constantly whisking the mixture.
4. Cook the custard till the mixture boils and thickens. This will take about 5 to 6 minutes. Continue cooking till the mixture turns into custard consistency. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter, a tablespoon at a time. Add in the softened gelatin.
5. Microwave the chocolate chips for 30 seconds, stir and heat again in 30 second increment till the chocolate is fully melted and smooth. Dissolve the instant coffee in 2 tablespoons of hot water. Stir in the coffee and chocolate into ½ the custard filling. Keep the other half plain. Cover both the bowls with plastic wrap with the wrap touching the surface to prevent any film from forming on top and chill the custard for 2 hours.
6. When ready to fill the puffs, whip the heavy cream into soft peaks. Fold half of it into the vanilla filling and the other half into the chocolate filling.
7. Transfer each filling to a large pastry bag with a 1/4-inch tip and set aside.
8. Prepare the pastry puffs while the custard is cooling. Preheat the oven to 450F.
9. Bring 1 ½ cups of water, remaining butter, sugar and salt to a simmer in medium saucepan. When the butter melts completely, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon to make a paste. Return the pan to heat and cook stirring constantly till the mixture pulls from the side and turns shiny. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
10. Transfer the paste to a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and start mixing on medium low speed for about a minute. Beat in the eggs, one at a time till fully incorporated.
11. Transfer the dough to a large pastry bag with a 1/2-inch tip. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and pipe 1 1/2-inch balls of dough onto the paper. You should get about 40 plus dollops.
12. Smooth out any pointy tips of the piped dollops with a wet finger. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, till the dough is puffed. Lower the temperature to 350f and bake until the puffs are golden and feel light. Turn off the oven and keep the puffs inside for another 10 minutes or so. Remove the puffs to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
13. Assemble the croquembouche as close to serving time as possible. Fill half the puffs with chocolate cream and the other half with vanilla by piping the cream from the bottom. You can lightly push in the piping from the bottom and squeeze the filling till the puff feels pretty full. Take care to avoid overfilling so the custard doesn’t explode out of the puffs.
14. Let the filled puffs chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so.
15. To assemble the puffs as a tower, you need to make the caramel. Mix the 3 cups of sugar, corn syrup and 1 cup water in a saucepan, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil the syrup till it turns deep amber. Take care not to burn the caramel. Another way to do this is to use a candy thermometer and boil the syrup till it reaches hard candy stage.
16. Immediately dip the bottom of the saucepan in a large bowl of ice water for a few seconds to stop the cooking. Let cool for a couple of minutes. The syrup should still be quite liquidy.
17. Partially dip each filled puff into the caramel and let the excess drip off. Arrange the puffs around the circle. If the caramel hardens, microwave until soft, 45 seconds.
18. Fill the base circle with more puffs for stability, then continue building a conical tower of smaller circles.
19. Dip the tip of a fork into the caramel and wave it around the tower, letting the syrup fall in strands around it. If the syrup is on the liquidy side, the syrup might not form the web look you are after. Let the syrup cool slightly and drizzle it slowly so it will cling better to the puffs and create the web look.

Penne with Chicken and Red Peppers in Light Cream Sauce

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Where did the last whole year go??! I simply can’t believe it’s been over a year since my last post back in November 2015! Thank you for those of you that continued to pop in to refer to my old recipes! I have no sound reason or excuse for not posting here over the past year. I thought about it almost every other day, felt guilty, but didn’t quite take the time to translate that to action. But, here I am today, with a renewed enthusiasm to post again – and what better way to kickoff the new season (both the Fall season and my season 2 of blogging) than share with you a simple recipe for a comforting dish of pasta with chicken and red peppers in a light cream sauce!

This dish really does together in a snap! All you need is some cut-up boneless/skinless chicken (thighs or breast), red peppers, some light cream, pasta and basic seasonings such as Italian herb mix and garlic. You can work on the chicken and red pepper sauce while the pasta cooks, so you can just toss the pasta into the sauce as soon as it is done! What is even more appealing about this recipe, since it is super quick to make, this could easily be a weeknight dinner recipe!

So, grab the few ingredients listed below and start whipping up a comforting bowl of pasta for tonight! And, oh, if you so desire, stir in some cut up spicy chicken Andouille sausage with the chicken for an extra special treat!

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Penne with Chicken and Red Peppers in Light Cream Sauce

  • Servings: 8
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Ingredients:
1 16-oz pkg of penne pasta (I used vegetable kind)
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, cut up into bite size pieces
1 1/2 pounds boneless/skinless chicken, cut up into bite size pieces
1 cup canned fire-roasted diced tomato
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup light cream
Crushed red pepper, Salt and Pepper to taste
Extra cheese, if desired

Preparation:
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook pasta according to directions.
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Saute onion and garlic for a minute and add the red peppers. Stir often and cook until the peppers are a bit charred.
3. Add chicken to the pan and continue to saute till it cooked through.
4. Slowly add the tomato to the pan and season with salt, black pepper and salt to taste. Continue to cook for another 3 minutes.
5. Mix in the grated cheese and light cream. Reduce heat and simmer till everything melds together (about 3 minutes).
6. Turn off heat and toss in the cooked, drained pasta. Serve immediately.

Tip: Leftover pasta can be transferred to an airtight container and kept in the refrigerator for another meal mid-week.