Thursday, February 26, 2015

Plated Review

No new recipe this week, but that's because I've spent the week taking Plated for a test run. If you haven't heard of Plated, it's one of the food delivery services that have become so popular these days (similar to Blue Apron and Home Fresh).  After three meals, I must admit that my official review is a resounding "Meh…".  

There are many pros and cons to using a service like this.  

1) Pro: Pre portioned ingredients delivered right to your door. No guess work! And no grocery shopping. 
2) Con: Too much waste.  The food is delivered in a cooled box, and you can potentially reuse the ice packs.  There's no way I would be able to keep the ice packs if I used this as a weekly service though.  On top of that, the amount of trash that is produced when you have individual baggies for things like a garlic clove and a small piece of ginger is significant.  I probably threw out a grocery bag worth of packaging with each meal. 

Mushroom Pappardelle.  I ended up adding cream cheese to the sauce because I was under the impression that it was a creamy pasta - not so much!

3) Pro: You know what you're spending up front. 
4) Con: Cost. The standard fee for 3 meals for 2 is $75.  It seems that no matter what buy, I always spend $100 on my weekly grocery run.  That always includes breakfast and lunch, and typically one or two random household expense items, like shampoo, vitamins, or a cleaning product. 

Stir-Fry Quinoa - with Chicken! 

4) Pro: Opportunity to experiment with recipes or ingredients you wouldn't normally think to use. 
5) Con: Selection.  Most weeks have 6 to 7 options for recipes to choose from.   I really struggled with choosing because there were things I wanted from different weeks.  I settled for two vegetarian options, even though it's incredibly rare that we don't eat a protein for dinner.  I ended up supplementing our Quinoa Stir-Fry with grilled chicken.

Beef Rendang

6) Pro: Portion control
7) Con: No leftovers! Mike and I must be little piggies, because none of the recipes above were quite enough for us.  I ended up adding a salad and we usually had dessert as well. 

8) Pro: All of the ingredients arrived super fresh on Saturday, and remained fresh until I cooked my last recipe Thursday night.
9) Con: The ingredient's weren't prepped!  For weeknight cooking, I typically go for quick and easy recipes.  I understood that I would need to chop onions, sure, but I was under the assumption that the ingredients would be cleaned prior to being sent.  Let me tell you, cleaning 12 oz. of wild mushrooms on a Monday night was no fun.  And the Quinoa required so many vegetables be washed and chopped.

All in all, I'd say this is the first and last time i'll be trying one of these services.  Props to Plated for providing quality ingredients and creative recipes, but I'm not sure i'd be able to justify the cost.  If you're new to cooking, or like experimenting with unique and international recipes, this might be worth a try from time to time.  

I'll be back with a new recipe next week! 

Happy Weekend! 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Target Giveaway!

Hi All!  I'm teaming up with some great bloggers this week offering a $175 gift card giveaway to Target!  Check out my last post which includes some of my favorite products (all ones that I use regularly) available at Target, and discover some really fun blogs along the way.  Good luck!

Brittany // Magen
Christina // Angie
Helen // Amy
Lindsay // Kippy
Jamie // Sarah
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Book Club: Camille Styles Entertaining

For Christmas, I treated myself to this beautiful book, Camille Styles Entertaining, penned by the author of the wildly popular Camille Styles blog.  When I get a new coffee table book or cook book, I like to devote enough time to reading it so I can devour every page.  I finally had time to sit down and enjoy CSE this weekend and I must say, it did not disappoint. 

Entertaining is about so much more than the food.  It's about personal touches that make something memorable, whether it's fresh flowers in a comfy guest room for your weekend visitors, a special menu for a holiday celebration, or a simple family dinner.  Camille Styles has a true talent for creative an elegant touches that make a lasting impression and enhance her simple but irresistible recipes. 

The aesthetic of the book was very inviting but I also enjoyed the forward to each chapter. The chapters and recipes are divided into seasons, and each season begins with inspiration by texture, scent, color, and taste.  Using that formula, you can easily design menus and palettes based on your own inspired senses. 

While some of the table settings and themes are a bit far fetched, it's all about choosing the details that excite you the most and executing them in your own way. 

I'm most inspired by the spring and summer menus and party themes.  Now if only the weather would cooperate... Happy reading! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

French Beans with Slow Fried Shallots

I'm forever brainstorming side dishes that are simple enough for weeknight cooking, yet elegant and impressive enough to serve at a dinner party.  My requirements for both are simple ingredients, and minimal hands-on cooking involved. 

Believe it or not, these French Beans with Slow Fried Shallots meet both criteria.  I absolutely love French Beans (also known among the fancy people as haricots verts), which are really very similar to green beans, but doesn't "haricots verts" sound so much more sophisticated? French beans are a bit more narrow than a standard green bean, and they roast up to crisp-tender perfection in the oven. 

Now on to these slow fried shallots. O.M.Gosh, these are delicious.  The only challenge with this recipe is not eating all of the crispy shallots before you have time to top the beans with them.  With no breading required, all you need to do is heat some olive oil, add the shallots, and let them simmer away until they reach the golden brown realm of perfection. 

This dish is prepared is prepared from start to finish in under fifteen minutes, with only a few stirs required! 

Ingredients (Serves 4):
*1 c. shallots (from about 1 large shallot), thinly sliced
* 1 lb. french beans
*1/2 c. + 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
*salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 400.  Arrange the french beans on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tbsp. olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.  Roast for 10-12 minutes, or until crisp-tender. 

Use your fingers to separate the rings of the shallots.  Heat a small skillet over medium heat, and add the remaining 1/2 c. olive oil.  When the oil is shimmering, drop one piece of shallot in and if it sizzles, the oil is ready.  Add all remaining shallots and slow-fry for 12 minutes, or until the shallots are golden brown.  Remove the shallots with a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel to drain.  Season lightly with salt. 

To serve, top the french beans with the shallots.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Japanese Clear Soup

One of my favorite things ever is Hibachi.  I love the whole experience - the ginger dressing that I just want to put on everything, the funny chef's squirting saki at you, the onion volcano…even that familiar puffy, wanting to die after eating so much sodium  and so many carbs feeling.  

Jokes aside, one thing I truly love about the standard Hibachi menu is the clear soup.  It's full of that ultra savory umami flavor, with a subtle crunch of crispy onions.

Given the arctic temperatures we're experiencing here in Wilmington, I thought i'd try my hand at making an at-home version (and save myself the calorie overload of the full hibachi meal).  The results were absolutely delicious, and surprisingly super healthy.  

This is a soup that is incredibly simple to prepare.  Essentially, we're just taking chicken and beef stock, then increasing the savoriness and almost turning it into a mushroom stock by simmering it with vegetables and mushrooms.  I'm serving mine for dinner with Chicken Shumai and Asian Salad.  Yum!

Ingredients (makes 4-5 cups):
*4 c. chicken stock*
*3 c. beef stock
* 1 c. water
*1 carrot, halved
* 1/2 onion, peeled
*1 garlic clove, smashed
*1 tsp. soy sauce
*4 oz. button mushrooms
*3.2 oz. shiitake mushrooms**
*french fried onions
*sliced mushrooms
*sliced green onions

Combine all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.  Strain off all of the vegetables.  Serve broth with garnishes above.  Enjoy! 

*I like to use regular stocks, but you could also use low sodium versions of each and season to your preference.
**If you can't find shiitakes, substitute another variety of mushroom.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Plated Deal

I've noticed quite a few people trying meal delivery plans like Blue Apron and Plated recently.  For those of you who have tried it, what are your thoughts?

The benefit of these types of services is that it will deliver pre-portioned ingredients for 3 gourmet meals right to your doorstep.  You can choose from 5-6 options for your meal, which includes seafood, meat, and vegetarian varieties.

I've been sort of wary, largely because I already like to cook and come up with my own dinner ideas, but when I saw a deal this week on Rue La La* to try Plated for $24, it seemed too good to pass up.  The standard fee is $72, so for 3 meals for 2, you really can't beat the Rue La La price (looks like it's for new subscribers only, so the code won't work if you're already signed up with Plated).

The only downside I've noticed so far is that after I chose my meals and cashed in my voucher, the site automatically enrolled me in a weekly subscription, and it WILL charge your card the full $72.  You can opt to skip a week, but if you forget to, they will choose three meals for you (no thanks!). As soon as I purchased the deal, I chose my meals (which will be delivered in a few weeks), then cancelled the auto-enroll subscription, which was pretty easy to do.

I'm excited to give it a try, largely because the recipes and ingredients are all very creative and things I wouldn't necessarily come up with on my own.  For my delivery, I chose Indonesian Beef Rendang with Coconut and Lime, Wild Mushroom Pappardelle with Mascarpone, and Quinoa Stir-fry with Ginger, Soy, and Sriracha. 

I'll keep you posted on the results!

*Rue La La is a daily deal site, which you have to sign up for. There is no fee for the signup.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Strawberries & Cream French Toast Bake

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love a good theme.  I really do!  Valentine's Day has long been one of my favorite holidays, even back in the single days.  I think it takes me back to the days in elementary school where we covered cereal boxes in pink paper with red hearts and delivered all of our candy hearts and cartoon Valentine's to the rest of the classes little cereal mail boxes!  

Even though I love to cook, I really like to make Valentine's Day a relaxing occasion (aka, no dishes please!).  I've been dreaming up this Strawberries & Cream French Toast Bake for quite a while, but I thought it would be the perfect Valentine's breakfast not only because it's festive and colorful, but because it is 100% make ahead. 

This french toast bake turned out even better than I imagined, and my sweetheart gobbled it up.  It's almost a cross between a bread pudding and a french toast, with a buttery, golden crust, and a soft, pillowy center.  The strawberries and sweetened cream cheese add so much flavor and decadence.  The only day-of work required is to pop it in the oven and top it with a touch of maple syrup when it comes out.  My kind of breakfast! 

Ingredients (Serves 4):
* 1 lb. french bread loaf (I used a larger, oval loaf, as opposed to a baguette, so I had enough room to cut out hearts)
*4 eggs
*1 1/4 c. milk (I used 1%)
* 1 tsp. vanilla
* 1 tsp. orange liqueur, optional (I used Cointreau)
* 3 oz. cream cheese
* 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. sugar, divided
*6-8 strawberries, quartered (depending on size)
* 1 tbsp. butter, melted, plus more for buttering the casserole dish
*Maple Syrup, for serving

To prepare the french toast bake, begin by cutting out your toppers (in this instance, hearts).  Slice four pieces from the center of the loaf, then use a cookie cutter to cut the shapes.  Slice all of the remaining bread into one inch cubes.   Butter a small casserole dish and place all of the bread in the dish, with the hearts on top.  

To prepare the custard, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla, and orange liquor.  In a separate bowl, use a fork to stir together the cream cheese with 1 tbsp. sugar.  Use your fingers to dot bits of the cream cheese throughout the bread, and distribute strawberries throughout the bread as well. 

Pour the custard over the bread pieces and use your hands to press down the bread so it has a chance to absorb the liquid. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, or preferably overnight.  

Preheat the oven to 375.  Brush the tops of the bread with melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tsp. sugar.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown.  Serve warm with  maple syrup.  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ricotta Gnocchi

I've recently taken a liking to the new-ish cooking show on Food Network, The Kitchen.  I was a little unsure at first, but the more I get to know the hosts the more I love the show.  The bro-mance between Jeff Mauro and Geoffrey Zakarian is just so amusing, and I always look forward to Katie's outfits and also like to see how many time she mentions "kale" or "that's really healthy" in an episode. 

Each episode features GZ sharing a sunday supper recipe, and last weekends segment was all about homemade ricotta gnocchi.  GZ has enlightened me - who knew how simple it was to make such an impressive, decadent dish?  

I wasn't sure if I could trust GZ, since he's an iron chef and all, but making this at home truly was as simple as it looked on TV.  What's nice about gnocchi is that it requires no special equipment.  Just a counter top and your hands! 

If you haven't had ricotta gnocchi, it's almost like a fluffy, lighter version of traditional potato gnocchi, and the dough feels like a soft pillow. 

I served mine with a simple tomato sauce, but there is plenty of opportunity to get creative. 

Ingredients (adapted from
*2 c. whole milk ricotta cheese
*1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
*1.5 tbsp olive oil
*2 large eggs
* 1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
*1 tsp. salt

* 1 tbsp. olive oil
*1 garlic clove, minced
* 1/4 c. onion, minced
* 1 (26 oz) container San Marzano Crushed Tomatoes
*fresh basil, for serving
*salt, pepper

To prepare the gnocchi, whisk together ricotta, parmesan, salt, olive oil, and gets in a bowl.  Using a spatula to stir, mix in the flour in three separate batches (the dough will be VERY sticky - use lots of flour on your hands and surface when rolling it out).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly dust it with flour (GZ used semolina flour for this part, but I didn't want to buy it just for one purpose and all-purpose flour seemed to work just fine).  Flour your hands as well as a work surface and pinch off about a quarter of the dough.  Roll the dough into a log about 5/8 inches thick, then cut it into individual gnocchi 5/8 inches long (so you have a nice square), and set aside on the floured baking sheet. Boil the gnocchi for 2 minutes, or until they float, and add directly to the sauce. 

To prepare the sauce, heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion and sauté until soft and fragrant.  Add the crushed tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until ready to serve.  

Serve gnocchi topped with chopped basil and parmesan cheese.  Enjoy! 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Pepperoni Pizza Dip

This recipe may seem a day late and a dollar short for SuperBowl time, but I'm a firm believer that it's always a good time for dip.  While I had planned to try a recipe I found online, I ended up going a little rogue and the results were just too good not to share.  

Topped with a golden layer of bubbly mozzarella with a surprising creaminess from the cream cheese, this dip really is a game changer (pun!).  

 The best part is this can easily be made in advance, or even assembled by the kids, and topped with any of your favorite pizza toppings.  Get crazy - go team! 

* 8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 c. mozzarella cheese
* 10 pepperoni, quartered
* 1 c. pizza sauce
* 2 tbsp. parmesan cheese
*1/2 tsp. parsley flakes
*1/2 tsp. basil flakes
*toasted garlic bread, for serving*

Preheat the oven to 350.  To prepare the dip, spread the cream cheese in an even layer on the bottom of a pie pan or small casserole dish.  Top the cream cheese with half of the parsley and basil, then create layers with half each of the sauce, parmesan, and mozzarella.  Create another layer with remaining sauce, topped with mozzarella, parmesan, herbs, and pepperonis.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until brown and bubbly. 

For the garlic bread, I used sliced sandwich rolls, drizzled lightly with olive oil and garlic powder, then baked at 400 for 8 minutes, or until lightly toasted.