gooooooo GIANTS!

I'm going to be honest, I've recently become footballed-out. Yep, I'm not "the cool" girlfriend who enjoys watching football on the weekends and having to live my life around the playing schedule. Don't get me wrong, I root for my teams (Huskies and Seahawks) and I'll watch the big games (and even enjoy them). BUT EVERY WEEKEND FOR MONTHS ON END?!?! I'm over it. 

But I'm really exicted, for two reasons: 
1. football is ALMOST over
2. The Giants made it to the Super Bowl!!! 

This is the boyfriend's team and therefore my secondary team. The Seahawks were out a long time ago, so I've been trying to be "the cool" girlfriend by supporting my man and rooting for the g-men. Usually this means me sitting on the couch next to him while the game is on reading food magazines but it's the thought that counts, right?! And I am actually excited that they made it to the biggest game of the year. It's something I can get amped up about and it's an excuse for me to make fun treats for us while we watch the game. Also, our good friend Tom is a die hard Patriots fan. It's sure to be a good game considering the last time they were in the Super Bowl together, the Giants stole the Patriots undefeated season for a win, oooooooo! Wanna see how the bet between the boys turned out last time?! Sorry Tom.

I wanted to do something a little different but familiar for the Super Bowl this year. After lots of thinking, I decided (with the help of my friend T) to make buffalo chicken won tons. A play on the classic wings without the mess or dealing with chicken on a bone (I'm not a fan of the fat, grizzle, and slime of this type of meat - I know, I know, I'm un-american). Plus I used chicken breast and baked the wontons instead of frying so they're healthier, you know, if it weren't for the cream cheese. But then again, cheese is dairy and dairy is good for your body :) 

I love these won tons because they have what I call the wow factor. Something that sounds fun and tastes good.I hope you enjoy them. What's on your menu for the Super Bowl this year? 

buffalo chicken won ton's 
yields about 50 - 60 wontons. Packages vary by weight, not count which is totally weird. You'll have enough filling for about 60 wontons.

1 - 8oz package cream cheese at room temperature
3 large chicken breasts cooked and finely shredded 
¼ c. blue cheese crumbles
¼ c. franks wing sauce
2 green onions finely chopped
1 package wonton wrappers (about 50 - 60 sheets)

Preheat oven to 400º F. In a mixing bowl, add cream cheese, chicken, blue cheese crumbles, franks sauce, and chopped green onions. Combine until thoroughly mixed. If you want, you can combine it in a food processor to make it quicker. I would add the chicken chunks about halfway through if you're doing it this way. 

Next, get a small bowl of water and set up your assembly station (wrappers, mixture, water bowl, baking sheet). Take a damp paper towel and place it over the wonton wrappers - you don't want them drying out while you're making them all. 

Now to assemble. Place ½ TBSP of the chicken mixture in the center of the wonton. Gently rub a little water around 2 of the edges and fold to make a triangle. Press the edges tightly to seal them. If the mixture comes out of the seam, you know you have a little too much filling in there, use a little less of the mixture. Next fold one corner into the center and the other corner on top of that. You may need to secure those corners with a small drop of water too. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat for the next 59 wrappers. 
Place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to cool. Then bake for 15 - 20 minutes until the outside is golden brown. Serve with celery and carrot sticks and a side of ranch or blue cheese. Eat any leftover mix with some tortilla chips.

improv style:
you can use canned chicken, or cook up some chicken thighs instead or do a dark/light meat combo. to save time you could buy a rotisserie chicken and just shred the meat, then you're guaranteed nice juicy chicken. or you could use ground chicken or turkey as a last resort. you can use any kind of "wing sauce" you like. franks is a classic which is why i used that but i think going forward i'd use my own hot sauce. also, green onions are optional. i think the richness of the mixture needs a little sharpness to cut through it. if you don't have any you could use chopped celery instead or leave it out. 

if you wanted to be indulgent, after-all, it IS the super bowl, you could fry these babies in some oil. these can also be made a day or two ahead of time and then baked right before serving. just make sure you store them in an air tight container with a slightly damp paper towel to keep them from drying out. you could even pop them into the freezer and defrost and serve as you want... this is a very easy recipe, it just takes a little time to fill and fold all those wrappers! 

too much work to wrap all those won tons? i don't blame you... it's not for everyone. if you can't be bothered, try making buffalo chicken dip instead! use one less chicken breast and add a little heavy cream or half and half to thin the mixture up a bit. place in a casserole dish and bake in the oven at 350º F for about 20 minutes until it becomes bubbly and warm. serve with pita or tortilla chips and carrots and celery sticks. dip away!


all about moderation

I know it's the time of year when everyone is trying really hard to watch what you eat. In fact, I'm sure most of you are still going strong on your new years resolutions to watch what you eat, how much you eat, and living an overall healthier life. Every year I find myself striving for similar goals and every year I succumb to my love of good eats. So this year I'm not swearing off sweets or fat or carbs or gluten. I'm going for balance and moderation. 

I discovered my love of poached pears last year. I had heard of them before, but never tried it or thought to try it. One night last winter I got a craving for pears. They're one of my favorite fruits. I just love the sweet, grainy texture and juicy freshness of it. So I ran to the store, only to find out there were no ripe pears in sight. I didn't let that stop me. I bought a few thinking I would wait a day or two for them to ripen up. By the time I got home, however, I could no longer wait. And then I remembered poached pears. I was sure that if I cooked them, it wouldn't matter, and it didn't! So I hit the internet and I stumbled upon all sorts of recipes. Being a huge red wine lover, I decided to try it that way. Instead of following a recipe, I decided to throw in some of my own ingredients and see how it turned out. I did, however, decide that I must top my recipe with Michael Chiarello's mascarpone filling. HOLY FOOD HEAVEN is that stuff good! 

So while it's not a completely "healthy" dessert (thanks to the mascarpone filling), it is a healthier option. All about moderation, right?! And lets be honest, it's a lot healthier than any of my usual dessert cravings (pretty much anything with chocolate and butter). Pears are fruit and fruit is healthy. Red wine is good for my heart, and well, mascarpone is dairy, which is good for my bones. So you see, I'm doing my body good! Slightly delusional, maybe - but you have to live a little! 

red wine poached pears + vanilla bean mascarpone filling
yields 4 servings


for the pears:
4 bartlett pears slightly under ripened
1 bottle of cabernet sauvignon
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1½ c. water (or enough to cover pears in the pot)
½ vanilla bean
4 TBSP sugar

for the mascarpone filling:
adapted from michael chiarello

8 oz mascarpone - room temperature
½ vanilla bean
½ TBSP vanilla extract
3 TBSP half and half
2 TBSP powdered sugar

for the wine syrup (optional):
½ c. poaching liquid
3 tsp. granulated sugar

for the pears:
Peel, core, and cut pears in half lengthwise. In a pot large enough to fit the 8 pear halves, combine the wine, spices, sugar, pears and water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about 40 minutes, until pears become fork tender. The cooking time will vary depending on the ripeness of the pears. 

for the mascarpone cream:
Meanwhile, combine mascarpone, vanilla, sugar, and half and half into a mixing bowl and beat on high until it becomes smooth and creamy. Add more half and half if you want it to be a little bit thinner. 

for the syrup:
reduce poaching liquid with sugar until it's halved in volume. basically, cook your mixture on medium-high for about 15 minutes until it thickens. drizzle over pears

Once pears are cooked, place a spoon full of the mascarpone cream on the pear and drizzle with the wine syrup. If you have leftover cream, save it for another batch of pears (trust me, you'll be making them again that week), or you could add it to your pancakes for a breakfast treat! Also, don't get rid of that poaching liquid. You can re-poach more pears in it or drink it as mulled wine another day! 

improv style:
there are a million ways to poach a pear. first of all, if you made the mulled wine and had leftovers, you could just poach the pears in that, adding enough water to cover the pears. you can use any kind of wine you prefer, zinfandel, chianti, even white wines or dessert wines... if you're trying to keep it booze free, think about poaching it in tea or fruit juice.

you can obviously leave out the mascarpone cream, or try making it with cream cheese or creme fraiche. if you don't have a vanilla bean you can leave it out and add a little more vanilla extract. you could even try adding a different flavor of extract here or perhaps some lemon zest would be really good, too. you could leave out the sauce all together and just do vanilla ice cream or sorbet. 

for the poaching liquid, aside from changing the liquid you cook it in, you can also play with the spice mixture. love cinnamon? add 1 - 2 more sticks... don't have star anise? that's ok, leave it out! you could try putting in a few black pepper corns or go a different direction and add some orange zest or slices. get creative and play with it. it's pretty hard to mess this recipe up!


hello, snow!

Winter has finally hit Chicago. It dumped snow all day and into the night yesterday. I love when the city is covered in sparkly white. No matter how old I get the first snowfall of the year always feels magical. I still get excited like I did when I was a kid. Is it cold where you are yet? 

I'll never forget the first time I had mulled wine. I was in Prague with one of my best friends Meghan. It was a chilly summer night. We were walking around the town square, admiring the Astronomical Clock - a large, beautiful time piece from 1410! The carvings and gold details of this clock are stunning. 

Right around the corner from the clock was a small vendor selling mulled wine. I had never heard of it before but after spending 4 months in Italy, my new found love of wine had me ordering a cup. It was warm and still had tons of red wine tang but with a hint of winter spices and a slight sweetness from the fruit it was steeped with. On a cool summer night it hit the spot. 

Sitting on my couch watching the snow fall with a kitty in my lap I couldn't think of a more perfect winter warm me up than a nice big mug of mulled wine!  It's a great adult alternative to hot cocoa when you're not in the mood for rich dairy (because lets be real, chocolate ALWAYS sounds good but dairy can sometimes get in the way). I highly suggest you try some mulled wine tonight. Maybe with a little chocolate bar on the side!

mulled wine
yields 4 servings

1 bottle of red wine (I used a cabernet sauvignon)
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise pods
5 whole cloves
1 c. dried cherries
½ an orange sliced
2 TBSP honey

In a pot, add all of your ingredients and gently simmer on medium heat for about 20 minutes - enough time to let the flavors incorporate and the dried cherries to plump up. 

improv style:
there's a million different things you could do to switch this recipe up. the biggest way to change the flavor profile is with the type of wine you select. i like full bodied reds but you can use whatever type of red you prefer. also, you don't need a fancy expensive wine for this since you're adding flavors... make sure you like how it tastes but don't go breaking the bank. i think it could be really interesting to try this with a crisp pino grigio or other white wine, too. think of hot sake... 

i'm not a huge cinnamon fan but if you are, consider adding 1 or 2 more sticks to your pot. star anise... ever heard of it?! it's a common asian spice that has a subtle licorice flavor. i'm not a big fan of licorice either but it works in this. if you don't have any you can leave it out, no problem. same with cloves, they add that rich winter flavor to the wine... basically you're taking apple cider fixings and adding wine instead. you could leave out the fruit or substitute it with apples, cranberries (fresh, frozen, or dried), figs, plumbs, dates, prunes or ginger. you could even try adding some orange juice or apple juice as well to substitute the fresh fruit. brandy or a cognac could be an interesting addition to the mix as well. 

if you're looking to do a non-alcoholic version of this you could try grape juice or apple juice or even a black tea. 


the entertainer

So I totally meant to post this before New Years rolled around. You know, in case you wanted to maybe get an idea for an easy appetizer to serve at your holiday party. And now you're probably into the whole "healthy recipe" thing since New Years Resolutions are in full effect. But I'm going to share this easy appetizer idea anyway. I mean, technically it's made of fruit, fruit is healthy. Especially when paired with cheese and nuts. Right?! Either way, make sure you make these for your next party!

Growing up, my mom was always hosting some sort of party or another. Nothing crazy or over the top but she always put thought, time, and a little something extra into it. I both loved and hated when she had people over because 1. it meant I had to help clean the house and 2. I got to play in the kitchen for a few hours as her Sous Chef. 

I loved watching my mom work in the kitchen. It's like she was a choreographed ballerina whipping up a from-scratch batch of tea cookies, while spinach and pine nut stuffed puff pastries were browning in her oven, and Grand Marnier injected chocolate dipped strawberries were chilling in the refrigerator. She made it look easy and more importantly, she had fun with it. Everything was always done from scratch and with attention to detail. And I wonder where my anal-retentiveness comes from! 

This recipe is one of her most popular appetizers, and an easy one at that! Roquefort and Walnut Grapes. They're not the bell of the ball, but they're certainly a tasty one. Blue cheese is mixed with cream cheese to tone it down and then red grapes are brought into the mix. Rolled in nuts, it's the perfect app to go with your wine! Juicy and nutty with the pungent kick of some smelly blue cheese*... what could be better?!

* I will say I'm not the biggest blue cheese fan (typically it's just too strong for me) BUT these grapes are the exception. The cheese is subtle enough and just adds a little something extra to the sweet, juicy burst of the red grapes. 

roquefort + walnut grapes

1 lb seedless red grapes, rinsed and dried
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
.14 lb roquefort blue cheese, room temperature
2 T. milk
fresh cracked pepper to taste
6 c. walnuts

In a bowl, combine cheeses and milk, whip with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Drop in the grapes and give them a good stir. In a food processor, finely chop walnuts until they're a coarse powder. Pour on a plate or shallow bowl. Next drop a few grapes, one at a time into the nuts and toss to coat and set on a plate. Drop more and repeat until there are no grapes left.

It's that easy! I like to assemble them on a plate to resemble a bunch of grapes but you could put them on toothpicks and place into an apple or a harder piece of cheese on a cracker plate. Get creative!

improv style:
you can use different types of blue cheese as long as they're creamy enough to mix well with the cream cheese. if you're a big fan of the stinky blues, use more of it to get a higher concentration of flavor. similarly if you're not a big fan you could use less or substitute the cheese all together. something like a goat cheese or mascarpone - as long as it is creamy enough to blend and adhere to the grapes. if you don't use blue cheese, consider adding in some herbs (fresh or dried) to add a little more flavor. I would suggest thyme or rosemary and even add a bit of lemon zest, too. you could also substitute the red grapes for olives if you're not a fan of grapes. it would completely change the idea behind the dish but could be a really fun alternative.

you could try substituting the milk for red wine or port. if you're pairing the grapes with wine it would be best to leave it out but if you're not... that would be a really fun way to switch it up.  also, you can use any kind of nut you like. i think walnut and pecans work best with this recipe but you can use pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts (ooh, that could be reallllllll good), or even almonds . i actually ended up doing all sorts of nuts since i didn't have enough walnuts to do the whole batch.

if you don't have a food processor you could chop, chop, chop as fine as you can and then take the back of a heavy pan and smash the chopped pieces to get them even finer. it's a bit more work, but it's worth the effort. you could also try doing it in a blender but food processor is #1 if you have it. a great idea if you have leftovers is to add these to your salad with a simple balsamic vinaigrette! talk about a fancy salad!

Not the best pic but it gives you an idea of what's inside...