Saturday, February 28, 2009

Weeknight Meals

Most nights of the week I get home from work and go straight to cooking. Why? Because it is my form of relaxation. Some people like to read or wtach TV to relax but for me the best way to relax is to be in the kitchen cooking.
When I tell my friends or co-workers that I cook almost every night of the week they are shocked that I have the time. But in under an hour anyone can have a home cooked weeknight meal which will be much better than ordering takeout. All it takes is a little creativity.

This past week I made baked italian chicken thighs with roasted broccoli and rice all in about 45 minutes. And the best part of this meal was that it is basically hands off allowing you to relax in other ways at the same time.

Here's what you need:
4 chicken thighs
half bottle italian dressing
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tbl butter
chili powder
olive oil

I marinated the chicken thighs over night in the italian dressing. This helps impart the flavor into the meat but if you cannot marinate it over night at least try to let it marinate for a half hour before cooking.

Heat an over to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating cut the broccoli and toss it in a bowl with olive oil, garlic, salt pepper, cumin and chili powder.

Place the chicken in a baking dish and bake until the jucies run clear when a knife is inserted into the chicken. This took about 20 minutes.

At the same time, put the broccoli on a parchment paper covered baking sheet and put in the oven as well. I based the roasted broccoli on a recipe I saw on the Amateur Gourmet's website.

While this was cooking as an added bonus, I added a tablespoon of butter to a frying pan and added in a couple handfulls of panko breadcrumbs. When the chicken thighs were cooked, I topped them with the breadcrumbs and browned it in the broiler for a minute or two. This served as a crunchy topping adding a great texture contrast to the chicken.

This was a perfect meal for a weeknight. I served it with a side of rice that was cooking at the same time as everything else.

Weeknight cooking does not have to be hard, with a little planning and creativity cooking during the week can be easy.

What are some of your favorite weeknight meals?

Can a restaurant live up to your expectations?

Babbo...Mario Batali's mecca of italian cooking. I had wanted to go there for years. Well a month or so ago for my birthday I finally got the chance when my girlfriend surprised me with a reservation. Once I found out we were going, questions started coming into my head. Would it be as good as I expect it to be? Have I built it up too much? What if I don't like it? I always wonder if a restaurant or anything for that matter gets too built up that it cannot possibly live up it your expectations for it. So did Babbo live up to my expectations? Al these questions were answered by the time we finished eating well over 3 hours after we arrived. When we arrived we were seated at a great table in the back of the first floor which gave us privacy but also allowed us to see all the food coming out of the kitchen. We decided to get the tasting menu with the wine pairings.

The first thing out was the chick pea buschetta that Babbo is known for. It was a great way to start the meal. Then the tasting menu began. The first course was house made coppa with pickled ramps and pecorino. It was amazing. The rich meat sliced paper thin with the pickled ramps adding the perfect bite.

Next up was the first of the two pasta dishes. It was pappardelle with chanterelles and thyme. This dish was earthy and the pasta was done perfectly.

The final pasta dish was duck tortelli. This was amazing. The rich sauce and the duck filling was a perfect combinaton.

Next up was the meat course which was hanger steak with trumpet mushrooms and cipollini onions. The steak was a perfect medium rare.

After the meat course came the cheese course. This was a piece of Coach Farms finnest with fennel honey. The fennel honey and the cheese were an amazing combination.

Next was the first of the dessert courses. It was a crema con mosta, which for the life of me I can't remember the description.

The next dessert was a chocolate tartufino.

And finally the last course, which at Babbo is the only course that both people don't get the same thing. The menu listed a pecan and date budino with carame gelato. The surpise dessert was an apple tart with cinnamon gelato. Both of these desserts were the perfect end to a spectacular meal.

In the end Babbo lived up to its reputation. The food was amazing, the service spectacular, and staff knowledgable. Some advice for your trip: go hungry and don't be in a hurry. We left full, satisfied and happy. Now all we have to do is go back and order the rest of the menu which looked amazing as it passed our table on the way to other diners.

So has anyone else experienced this?

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Since there is still a bit of winter left even though its March, I thought this was the perfect recipe for something warm and flavorful to get you through the cold. For Christmas this past year I received an immersion blender. One of the first things I decided to do was to make butternut squash soup. It was such a simple recipe (from February's Food and Wine) that it is amazing I managed to make a few mistakes. Luckily the flavor was amazing and I was able to salvage it.

The first thing is to buy a 2 lbs butternut sqush. Well I could not find one that was exactly two pounds which was my first mistake. I purchased one that was probably closer to 3-3 1/2 pounds which led to the consistency being a little thick, thick more puree than soup. Thankfully, by added more stock I was able to bring the consistency back to a soup.

To make the soup, you split the squash in half and roast it in a 375 degree oven for about an hour until it is real tender.
Once it is done, peel it and add it to a pot big enough to make the soup in. If you do not have an immersion blender, chop the squash and add it to a blender to puree.
To the squash you add cinnamon, creme fraiche, and water (I used a combination of water and chicken stock). Puree this until very smooth.

When it reaches the desired consistency, ladle into bowls and top with maple syrup glazed bananas and walnuts.

This was a great soup with fantastic winter flavors. The cinnamon added the perfect bit of spice and roasting the squash gave it a deep rich flavor.