Going “Swiss” on a classic….

If there’s one thing Matt knows about me, it’s that I have a love for certain foods.

Pickles, Fried Chicken, Sushi, Mashed Potatoes, Cauliflower, a nice rare Steak, Fresh Berries, and most importantly…..Macaroni & Cheese.

I know, not all my options are exactly healthy, per se, but I love my comfort foods just the same. There’s a decadence in them that I only indulge in when I am in need. (i.e., womanly issues, long day at work, etc.) I’m not one to reach for mountains of chocolate. I’m more the one to reach for a nice heaping bowl of mashed potatoes or homemade mac….and sometimes the occasional delivery of sushi.

But Macaroni & Cheese can occasionally get boring, so playing with the flavor combinations are quite fun when you get the chance.

For Valentine’s Day, Matt and I are not big on going out and spending an exorbitant amount of money on a meal we can make at home. No. In fact, we prefer to cook that decadent meal in the comfort of our home.

I had been toying around with the idea of a Bacon & Swiss Mac & Cheese for a while now. While I’m not a fan of cold Swiss (like my husband with a roast beef sandwich), melting it has yielded some tasty meals, namely Chicken Cordon Bleu. So why not to Macaroni & Cheese as well?

Adding the shredded Swiss to the roux and milk mixture proved to be a delicious change: the bite of Swiss was tempered with grated Parmesan cheese and the saltiness of the bacon. The combination provided decadent flavors to a rather inexpensive meal. (And Swiss is a nice alternative to Gruyere, which can run you about $30/lb….indulge only when it will make or break the dish!)

Sometimes our favorites need a little bit of a facelift….and the result can be quite delicious!

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

baconswissmaccheese

Jenn’s Bacon Swiss Macaroni & Cheese

1 box elbow macaroni

1 package shredded Swiss cheese

1/4 – 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 1/2 – 3 cups milk

2 Tablespoons butter

1 – 2 Tablespoons flour

1/2 package bacon, cooked until crispy and chopped into bits

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1/8 block Velveeta, cubed

Salt

Pepper

Directions:

1) Prepare pasta to “al dente”. Drain well and place in large glass baking dish. Sprinkle almost all bacon over the pasta and save a little bit for topping, probably around 1-2 Tablespoons.

2) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In saucepan on medium heat, combine butter and flour to create a roux, then gradually add in milk. When milk starts to thicken, add in Swiss , Parmesan, and Velveeta, stirring until cheese has melted. Add in salt and pepper to taste. Once at desired flavor, remove from heat. (**Save a little bit of Swiss and Parmesan for topping**)

3) Pour sauce mixture over macaroni & bacon, mixing thoroughly until sauce coats all pasta. Sprinkle remaining cheese, bacon, and bread crumbs over the top, then bake in oven for 30-40 minutes. Remove and serve.

The greatest honey love of all….

A while ago I had posted about curry powder, which leads me right back to the recipe that required it first: honey chicken.

A few well-known facts about my honey chicken recipe:

It’s super easy to make. (I mean it. If you can master that curry powder recipe, then this will be a breeze, especially since the curry powder is a key ingredient in this dish. And if you need a refresher on the curry powder, then just click here.)

You need to be attentive to this dish. (Once you see the picture, you’ll understand why. You want that golden color with just a hint of browning when you bake it, so a lot of love and care goes into this meal. But again, it is easy so no worries. And when I mean easy, I mean super easy.)

My husband goes crazy for this dish every time I make it. (It’s one of the few leftovers he’ll eat over and over again….and if you know Matt, he’s not a big leftovers kind of person.)

And the sauce that is created while baking? Yummy is an understatement. It’s gooey and buttery and sweet with a hint of salt. Trust me on this, if made right the outside looks sticky and sweet, but that salty savory bite is worth it. Also, the yummy factor applies when you add a side of mashed potatoes or possibly egg noodles too. (You need a carb or starchy side because honey chicken is a great “stick to your bones” type of dish.)

I love the way sweet ingredients can lend themselves to savory dishes….be adventurous and give them a try!

And yes, enjoy!

~Jenny V


  

   
Jenn’s Honey Chicken

1 package of chicken thighs, bone-in, fat slightly trimmed (if you’d prefer)

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup honey

1 teaspoon curry powder (refer to my Curry Powder recipe)

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup yellow mustard

Directions:

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2) In large baking dish, place chicken thighs, skin side up.

3) In large measuring cup or small bowl, combine remaining ingredients and whisk until mixed, then pour mixture over chicken evenly. Make sure to coat each piece.

4) Bake for 75-90 minutes, basting thighs in mixture every 15 minutes. When skin looks golden and starts to take on a deep brown color on most of the pieces, remove and serve.

 

Spicy Tips: Turkey Leftovers….a delicious aftermath

Ah, Thanksgiving has come and gone. For the week following, we stuff our faces with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and all the cranberry sauce that we can eat. (Except Matt….cranberry sauce is just not his thing….unless I can find a good use for it with our leftovers.)

A week later….that once decadent plate of turkey goodness starts to become mundane. And there are only so many times that one can make a leftover plate or turkey sandwiches. This is when Matt and I start to get creative with ways that we can move the leftovers, and it becomes like a game to see how many new recipes we can think up.

Yes, turkey stock may be the prime suspect of leftover transformation (and some of the best soup you’ll ever have), but we have gotten into dishes like fried turkey wings (flour them first before you fry….you’ll thank me later), turkey pot pie (a revelation in itself…and a recipe I will share soon), and our newest creation….Thanksgiving leftover Spring Rolls!

Now, I’m aware there are videos about doing this with egg rolls, and I had that pointed out several times over to me when I initially posted the picture of our dish….but I’m telling you that if you want a lighter, potentially crispier outside, go for the spring roll.

They’re quite simple to make. Just make sure that if you cook the rolls in batches, that you move the rolls to make sure they won’t stick to one another. Not for long, mind you, because eventually when they’re close to done, they stop sticking to one another.

Also, you can make these as thick (or thin) as you like! Sometimes a thinner roll will cook quicker than you even realize, so definitely watch when you make them.

And as always….enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

 Jenn’s Thanksgiving Leftover Spring Rolls

1 package spring roll wrappers (about 16 to a package)

1/2 to 1 lb. turkey, finely chopped

1 box of stuffing, prepared

1) Turn on fryer to 350-375 degrees or heat oil in a pot on the stove until that temperature.

2) In a round cake pan, fill halfway with water. Take one spring roll wrapper and soak for 15-20 seconds. Remove and lay flat on paper towel.

3) Spoon one tablespoon of turkey and 1-2 tablespoons of stuffing towards one end of the wrapper. Fold in sides and roll. Place in a pan. Repeat this process until all wrappers are used.

4) Place 3-4 pre-made rolls into fryer, watching to make sure they don’t stick. Cook 2-4 minutes or until rolls stop wanting to stick to one another. Remove and place onto plate with paper towel to remove excess oil. Repeat process until all rolls are cooked. Serve with turkey gravy or non-jellied cranberry sauce for dipping.

 

Something “doesn’t” smell fishy around here….

When it comes to tuna fish, I kinda have this awesome recipe in my arsenal.

It took years to perfect, years of trying various flavor combinations and different ingredients to try and counteract the fishy smell….but I have it….and it is glorious (and simple)….because tuna fish is glorious (and simply delicious). Or at least Matt seems to think so. I mean, he is the tuna fish connoisseur.

It started when we started dating.

I consider this one of the first meals I remember having with Matt. (He’ll, of course, regale you with the steak sandwich and roasted potatoes story….or the homemade roasted garlic mashed potatoes and how I scarfed them down like I was going to the electric chair….but this one resonates with me still.) With whatever ingredients were available to make it, we would make tuna fish sandwiches accompanied by either fries or potato chips. The simplest of meals do tend to make for some of the best dishes, in my opinion.

Eventually, instead of adding vinegar to the tuna and mayo, lemon juice made an appearance and not only counteracted the smell and provided that acidity that I so desperately crave with creamy mayonnaise, but removed the fishy flavor as well. (Also, tuna and lemon? They really pair well, hot or cold.) Salt and pepper replaced by copious amounts of dill….which is a revelation in itself. I’m serious here, dill is the answer. I can’t begin to explain why, but you’ll understand when you add it. And instead of plain bread crumbs (if you’re gluten free, these can be omitted), lemon pepper panko bread crumbs. (No joke, the flavor that they add? Not to sound basic, but I can’t even. And if you want salt and pepper, you’ll find it in those bread crumbs.) Also, I find that chilling the tuna fish cans in the refrigerator before use is a beautiful thing.

The one bugaboo that most might find an issue with is that I use tuna fish packed in oil. Yes, oil. Tuna in water is fine, but I feel it dilutes the flavor a little and breaks the tuna down way too much. Canned tuna in oil, in my opinion, lends that little extra bit of fat (even with mayo, it’s needed, because Tuna is rather lean for me). We actually had heard about chefs on the Food Network who prefer oil to water, and once we tried tuna in oil, we have (tried) to never buy tuna in water. (Although, if there is a sweet sale, compromises can be made.)

And to add a little Italian flair, switch out the bacon with some fried prosciutto. (As Alex Guarnaschelli would say: growllllllll)

And as always….enjoy!

~Jenny V


 

Jenn’s Ultimate Tuna Fish

3-4 cans Albacore Tuna Fish, chilled and packed in vegetable oil – strained and flaked

1 lemon, juiced (if you don’t have fresh lemon, add about 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice)

1/4 cup lemon pepper panko bread crumbs (can add more if tuna mixture is too runny)

1/4 cup mayonnaise (to start, add more if needed)

2 heaping teaspoons dill (I use dried because it’s easier to handle, but you can use fresh if you’d like)

Your favorite sliced bread (or wrap-just make it something you love)

Directions:

1) In a small mixing bowl, add strained tuna and using a fork, flake the fish. Add dill, lemon juice, and bread crumbs into bowl. Mix thoroughly.

2) Add mayonnaise and mix until incorporated. If too much mayo, add more bread crumb. If too dry, add more mayo. Serve on your favorite bread or wrap. Makes about 4-6 sandwiches.

 

“Tempuring” the perfect Tempura

When Matt and I do venture out to dinner to not cook (gasp!), we try to have meals that we cannot normally make. Why? Because if we know we make the dish at home, why go out and have it made for us? We can just as easily have it in the comfort of our home for much cheaper and with the ingredients we want to add.

This would include such cuisines as Seafood, Thai, Chinese (certain dishes), Japanese, and anywhere we choose for special occasions. Of course, add in the occasional pizza and seasonal trip to the Circus Drive-In (for a pizza burger, cheese hot dog, and the best onion rings ever) and you have our routine. (Also, maybe when there’s a weird window of hunger between one of Matt’s gigs and inability to go home to eat, we tend to bend our rules a little.)

As usual, off on a tangent, but let’s get back on this–out of all of these culinary mysteries, Japanese cooking has eluded us….until recently. While I won’t see Matt going for sushi any time soon (loves raw bar, dislikes sushi), we have attempted some delectable Japanese ventures like Panko-crusted chicken and a staple appetizer: Tempura Shrimp.

Yes, shrimp, our favorite seafood to keep in the house on hand. I feel like I could devote an entire chapter in a cookbook to shrimp, but the Tempura shrimp? My goodness, if you have not attempted this, you will think twice about ordering it once you’ve made it at home….or hate how the breading sticks to things. Either way, it leaves an impact.

Aside from now needing to brainstorm how to keep the batter from sticking to the fryer basket (probably just technique), in this recipe you may (will) need to add more water….just add gradually though, one teaspoon at a time. (Trust me on this, our first batter, while it made delicious tempura, was a bit soupy. You want sometime more like a thick pancake batter, because that batter needs to stick to whatever you want to fry.)

But the result has yielded just one more item we’re not ordering out, and one we can’t wait to try again with veggies on hand! (Another food group that I have gotten my husband to love and appreciate over time.) And for a quick meal, try it with ramen noodles and drizzle some teriyaki sauce into the broth. Shrimp Tempura soup is a revelation in itself….and rather inexpensive to make if you’re willing to be adventurous.

Sometimes the dishes we love the most when we go out can be the most fun to make at home. Be daring, try to find ways to go out less and less. Trust me, when you’re in control of the ingredients, the results can be quite delicious.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Tempura Shrimp

For the batter:

3/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup water (to start, then gradually add a teaspoon at a time to make consistency like thick pancake batter)

1 egg, slightly beaten

To be dipped in batter:

1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

Directions:

1) In a bowl, mix all dry ingredients together first, then add water and egg. Stir until smooth. (May need to add extra water to achieve smooth batter.)

2) Dredge shrimp through batter. Gently drop in fryer oil at 350-375 degrees  until golden brown on the outside and shrimp looks cooked through, no more than 5 minutes normally. (This can be done in batches to avoid crowding. Just make sure that you place the initial batch back in to warm them back up for at least 30 seconds.) Remove, place on paper towel to absorb excess oil, and serve with cocktail sauce or teriyaki sauce.

**Batter will be enough for 4 cups vegetables or 1 lb. fish or meat**

A Taste of New Jersey

While I don’t fit the stereotype, I am proud to admit that I was born and raised in New Jersey. To me, that meant access to all different types of cuisine, all within 20-30 minutes of where I lived. Italian, Chinese, French, Spanish, Mexican, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Portuguese, etc. – you name it, I’ve probably tried it! And with Manhattan only a half hour away from where I grew up, I was one lucky girl!

But I’m a simple girl when it comes to food. And one of my favorites that one could get in my neighborhood? Italian Hot Dogs.

Yup, you heard me. Access to any ethnic or exotic cuisine and I gravitate back towards hot dogs….which I can thank my Pop-Pop for. When I was little and he was visiting from Ohio, my Pop-Pop would always take me and my brother to Galloping Hill Inn (better known as ‘Five Points’ because of the way the intersection was structured) and I would order what I considered one of the best hot dogs I have ever had.

Within that first bite, the skin would snap, the juices from within would dribble down my chin, and the condiments that I carefully selected each time I had one would complement all the flavors that my taste buds experienced. Of course, it was almost always ketchup or cheese that went on mine. My brother would blow out his taste buds with the aptly dubbed “hot works.” (Yeah, hot peppers and spicy mustard? Not my thing.)

While I still remember the feeling of taking that first bite a of a Five Points hot dog and spending time with my Pop-Pop, it wasn’t until Charlie’s Hot Dogs in my hometown that I got my first taste of an Italian Hot Dog.

And if you haven’t tried, you’re missing out!

It’s a crazy meal on a bun, with peppers, onions, potatoes, mustard (if you’re into that sort of thing), and the star of the dish: the perfectly cooked hot dog.

Also, NO sauce or cheese! Seriously, I don’t know where people got the notion that something Italian always needs sauce or cheese. Simple ingredients, people! (Ok, cheese can stay, but not too much!)

Although….our version of this delicious dish took a bit of a different turn one night. Matt is used to my food cravings, and I think he secretly enjoys cooking all of them! And when I had the craving for that Italian Hot Dog, my husband made it his mission to make sure that we made that dish and knocked it out of the park. (He had also never tried one before and after trying his first Italian Hot Dog, I think he had a better understanding of how delectable this dish can be–especially when he finished his before me!)

So on one particular night, when we went to grab the hot dog buns in our kitchen, they had already met the fate of every bread’s arch-nemesis: mold. Luckily, we had some beautiful flour tortillas on hand and turned this bread-y snafu into a delicious venture! And frankly, I think the tortillas allow you to treat this dish more like a wrap and cram more meat and veggies and potatoes in! Easier to hold and manage? Yeah, that’s the stuff.

**Cheese also seems to work better on this version. Doesn’t need it, but a little doesn’t hurt!**

**If you don’t have a fresh pepper on hand, a jar of roasted red peppers works quite nice on this dish as well! The sweetness will play nicely with the savory and salt of the hot dog.**

Also, for the potatoes, you can always have those partially cooked before you start this dish. In fact, I urge you to do so. That way, when you go to fry them up, they’re quicker to cook. Potatoes take longer than we realize, so prep this item hours (or even days) in advance if you’d like. But for the sake of the dish, I’ll share how you make them with the dish.

To recap: easy dish, simple ingredients, helps clean out your pantry, and fun to make! And as always….

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Italian Hot Dog Wrap

1 package of hot dogs (any kind you like!)

8 large flour tortillas, slightly warmed (you want those pliable to fold and for celiacs, use corn tortillas)

4 small to medium potatoes, cubed and partially cooked

1 onion, sliced thinly

1 jar roasted red pepper, diced (or grill one pepper, then cut into strips)

Shredded Pizza Blend Cheese (not a traditional item, but trust me on this, the Pizza Blend is kinda perfect)

Mustard (I prefer yellow, but brown mustard is pretty damn good too)

Ketchup (this goes well too)

Directions:

1) In deep-fryer pre-heated to 350-375 degrees, put in cubed potatoes. Partially cook 2-3 minutes, then remove and allow to sit, letting oil drain. (If you don’t have a fryer, a pan with a considerable amount of oil to allow potatoes to fry in it.)

2) In sauté pan on medium-low heat, put in 2 tablespoons butter, then add onions. Cook until onions start softening, then add in roasted red pepper. Cook until onions starts to look translucent. Remove from heat and set aside.

3) Drop potatoes back in fryer. Cook until crispy & dark brown on the outside. Remove and set aside.

4) Turn grill on high heat. When ready, place hot dogs on grill and cook to desired look.

5) While hot dogs are cooking, throw tortillas on a plate and cook in microwave 15-20 seconds to warm. Remove and set aside.

6) As hot dogs come off grill, prepare wrap by placing tortilla down on plate, sprinkle small handful of cheese, then potatoes, onion & pepper mixture, top with hot dog, close ends and roll like burrito. Serve with ketchup or mustard.