November 22, 2011

Fresh Italian Chestnuts

Whether you roast on an open fire or in the oven, Chestnuts are delicious. It's always funny to me that these are in the "nut" family. Chestnuts are soft, chewy, sweet and creamy, everything your typical nut should not be. But breaking all the nut rules just makes these funny looking snacks even more bad-ass. The rebel nut, if you will.  

The directions tell you to make an X shape with a sharp knife on the flat side of the nut. This can be tricky because you have very little leverage. So make sure your knife is really sharp and try not to cut all the way through that slippery bugger. Once you bake for 20 minutes the X will open up which allows you to peel off the hard and slightly fuzzy shell (let them cool a few minutes before peeling). Then enjoy.
The options with chestnuts are endless but since I'm in the holiday spirit I might just toss them into my thanksgiving stuffing and call it a day. Happy Turkey Day everyone!

My Rating * * * *

November 12, 2011

Creamy Polenta with Spinach and Carrots

This polenta is found in the Italian area of the frozen section. I was really excited to try this because I love polenta and never seem to find the time to make it from scratch. When I opened the bag I was surprised to see these alien-pod-like polenta nuggets, but I have never cooked frozen polenta before so I suppose it makes sense. I poured everything into my skillet and cooked on medium heat for about 15 minutes. 
I paired my polenta with a grilled pork chop and sauteed kale which I thought was a great combination. 
The polenta was creamy but lacked that gritty cornmeal flavor and texture. It was also completely overpowered by a ton spinach but for some reason I still slightly enjoyed it. I think I'm just a sucker for any side dish with that creamy comfort food consistency. 

Two quick tips that I think will enhance your polenta party.
  1. Take out all of the frozen polenta-pods and place them in the pan. Then use about half of the spinach and carrot mixture. (that way you will taste the cornmeal flavor)  
  2. Add salt, Parmesan cheese, or some sort of sodium element. When it comes to salt, I don't usually like to add it to pre-made frozen dishes but this polenta needs it. 
Next time I try this I'm going to cook it in the skillet, then spread it on a baking sheet and bake it until golden brown, then chill it. I wonder how it will turn out. If anyone tries that, let me know how it works out for you.  

My Rating * * * 

November 8, 2011

Kale Chips (homemade)

Here is a quick and easy snack if you're feeling guilty about eating potato chips. These crunchy kale bites are extremely delicious and addictive. They are similar to the TJ's roasted seaweed snack minus the ocean flavor.

All you need is Trader Joe's Kale (comes in a bag by the mixed greens section), extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and any other herb or spice you might want to add (be creative)

Preheat your oven to 275.
1. Spread kale on baking sheet in a single layer (we don't want steamed kale here)
I lined my sheet with foil, but you can use parchment too. Also, if you find some stems in the mix DON'T toss them out, they are really tasty after you bake.
2. Pour about 1/2-1 tablespoon olive oil on kale (easy on the oil, they don't need a lot)
3. Add some salt, pepper and any herb or spice that sounds good (I added a dash of dried dill)
4. Place baking sheet in oven and bake for about 10-20 mins. Keep an eye on them, they can char very quickly.
5. Enjoy the crunchiness of these healthy chips.
6. Make some more. (they shrink down quite a bit so if you're like me, you'll probably will want a few batches)

November 4, 2011

Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix

With Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving fast approaching I decided to make this delicious pumpkin treat. This is a dry mix and all you need to do is add water, 2 eggs, and vegetable oil. Easy as pie, or muffins I should say. Since I chose to make muffins I wanted to doll them up a bit. But because I decided this after my shopping trip I had to look in my pantry for some encouragement instead. Now I had regular almonds which the box recommends adding as part of their "holiday bread" but I thought that was too boring. Then I found a half eaten box of the Trader Joe's "Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar, Dark Chocolate Almonds" (thats a mouth full) YUM!!! I chopped up about half a cup and dumped them into the amber-tinted batter. The cooking time and temperature was accurate to what the box said (FINALLY) and after about 20 minutes my apartment was oozing with holiday scent and my little bundles of pumpkin pleasure were ready, so was I.
The batter was full of spice and everything nice. I tasted cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. The muffin part was light and fluffy and the dark chocolate sea salt almonds were the perfect balance of sweet and salty.

If you like pumpkin anything, I really think you will enjoy this classic baked good. I will now be having my morning cup of tea with one of these muffins, for as long as they last (which won't be long)

My Rating * * * * 

October 16, 2011

Cioppino Seafood Stew

This stew is found in the frozen section along with the other seafood products. It is hearty, rich, and packed with delicious seafood bites including shrimp, mussels, Alaskan cod and baby scallops.
To my surprise all of the seafood was raw. I was happy about this because I got to feel like I was really cooking and not just re-heating. The tomato sauce was tangy and acidic with hints of garlic and pepper, which tasted so great with the seafood.
Here's the deal. The directions tell you to heat the sauce until boiling, then add the seafood and let simmer. I followed the directions (that's my job) but I had a feeling that some of the seafood would be over-cooked because they were not all the same size and shrimp cooks VERY quickly. I was right.
My advice is to let the sauce boil, add the cod first, then after a few minutes add the mussels and scallops. Then with about 3 minutes to go, add the shrimp. This will insure that everything will be cooked to perfection and nothing will be rubbery.
Even though some of my sea creatures were a little over-cooked everything was still delicious.
The mussels were my favorite. They were chewy (in a good way) and tender at the same time. And there were a lot of them.
The scallops were tiny bites of ocean flavor and not gritty. (I HATE gritty scallops)
The cod chunks were huge and flaky. No wimpy fish bits here.
The shrimp was a bit chewy (over-cooked) but still pretty tasty.

Treat yourself to this stew on a cold day and serve it with a crusty bread (slathered in butter) to soak up the delicious sauce.

My Rating * * * *

October 4, 2011

Gateau Concorde

Attention all chocolate junkies. This chocolate creation translation is "harmony cake" and I should say so. Found in the frozen aisle (if it's not sold out) this cake is filled with layers of chocolate meringue alternating with chocolate mousse. 
The meringue is crunchy and melts in your mouth, while the mousse is rich as can be with that dark chocolate silky smooth texture. The mousse part of this cake is more on the fudge side, not quite as light as you would expect a mousse to be, but I suppose I'll let that slide. Let me tell you though, this thing is decadent and RICH. I gave my boyfriend two slices because the cake is sort of small and he has a huge sweet tooth. He could barely finish one slice. The servings per container is 4 but you can easily satisfy 8 people (one meringue top per person). I let the cake sit at room temp for an hour and then we indulged. Although I couldn't fall asleep due to the sugar and caffeine surging through my veins, I would still recommend this Gateau for any occasion. (just don't consume after 11pm. woops)   

My Rating * * * * 

October 3, 2011

Bibimbap Bowl

I have to be honest, I didn't expect to like this at all, as I'm not a big fan of this Korean dish. I thought the meat would be bouncy and dry, the carrots rubbery and watery, and everything else bland. On that note I can't say I was overwhelmed with a flavor sensation but my prejudice wasn't completely accurate.
The beef was full of flavor and moist. It was marinated in a soy based sauce and was a little sweet as well. Also, it wasn't bouncy at all (could be because I got a good batch though)
My only complaint about the meat is that I only got four measly pieces of it. Give me more meat people.
The carrots were as expected; rubbery and watery. And WAY too many of them. (cause they're an inexpensive filler)
The soy bean sprout and egg was pretty good. It had a nice crunch which added texture.
The spinach just made me feel good about eating something green.
Too much rice. Again rice would be another cheap filler but come on, quit skimping on the goods. 

This bowl comes with a packet of spicy chili sauce (about 2 tablespoons) which you can pour on after you've nuked your Bibimbap (I laugh every time I attempt to say that word)
I tested the sauce and my mouth was set on fire. I didn't think I would add any but after a few bland bites I decided to add about 1 teaspoon. That little teaspoon ignited my bowl with heat and chili powder flavor but I wasn't complaining.

Best advice if you get this bowl; take out some carrots and maybe some rice. Pour as much or as little sauce as you can handle. And mix everything together, that way you won't realize that one thing is better than the other. Bibimbap out.

My Rating * * *