Monday, March 8, 2010

Pizza and Chianti Night

So a few years back a group of our closest friends would gather at the end of a long work week to unwind and share a one would feel like cooking so it was always take-out from our favorite pizza joint and of course lots of vino for our "just because we have kids doesn't mean we don't get to go to happy hour party!" After about a year our pizza place sadly changed and it just wasn't as good. As we now know this is HIGHLY UNACCEPTABLE to me since I look forward to this meal every Friday, it gets me through some of those tough mid-week moments!!! So I took matters into my own hands and started on a quest to make my own pizzas (remember to me this is fun and I get VERY cranky with bad take-out)...this will be the first of many Friday nights pizza recipes to follow and trust me they just get better and better!! I once again have to give credit to my hunky pizza dough/grill man the one and only Fletcher because I think it is fun to get your family and friends into the process of creating any meal because no one wants to be alone in the kitchen while the party is happening outside and sometimes people can just do things better than you can!! Good news is you can make the dough the night before so all you need to do is make the toppings the next day. So the cheerleader in me says......"Let's hear it for Pizza and Chianti night!!!!!" Turn on some tunes, you know who I am listening to and let's get cooking.....

Each pizza serves 4-6

Sausage and Peppers Pizza

2lbs sweet Italian chicken sausage, casings removed (you can use hot if you like spicy)
2 red peppers, sliced
2 yellow peppers, sliced
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil chopped
1 28oz. can crushed tomatoes (San Marzano are the best)
1/4 cup sweet Marsala wine (optional but SOOOO good) **secret weapon**
4 Tbsp Olive oil, plus a bit extra (1-2 tsp) to spread on pizza dough
1 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
crushed red pepper to taste
1 lb FRESH mozzarella, sliced thinly
1 ball whole wheat pizza dough, thawed and brought to room temperature (usually in freezer section at grocery store)
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (good for the good stuff that is stamped on the rind)

Heat 2 Tbsp oil in saute pan over medium-heat heat. Add chicken sausage, cook until browned and break-up into bite-sized pieces with back of spoon. Remove from pan, drain any excess fat and set aside, add remaining oil to pan. Add sliced peppers and onions, salt and freshly ground, crushed red pepper and saute until soft about 10-12 minutes, add garlic saute another minute. Add Marsala wine and scrape any browned bits off bottom of pan, allow to cook until liquid is reduced by about half. Add sausage back into pan, add tomatoes and basil let simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes to let the flavors blend and sauce thickens. Meanwhile heat grill or use a pizza stone in the oven (400 degrees) Roll pizza dough out to desired size (use some flour so it doesn't stick to the surface you are rolling it on)...doesn't have to be perfect I like a rustic looking shape but about 1/2" thick. Brush one side of the dough with olive oil and place on heated surface cook about 10 minutes on just one side, remove and let cool (from here you can wrap the dough in plastic wrap and save for the next day) Place the cooked side face-up and spread the sausage and pepper mixture evenly over the top leaving an outer edge. Place sliced mozzarella around the top and sprinkle the parmigiano on top. Place back on heat source (oven or grill) and cook until cheese is melted and slightly browned. Let the pizza sit about 5 minutes before slicing it up and get those taste buds ready to have a little party in your mouth!! Pour some vino, gather with your friends and laugh...the week is over but the weekend is just beginning!!!! Enjoy!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Fancy-Pants" Roast Chicken, Couscous and Beets

Don't let the word "Fancy-pants" scare you away from this EASY dinner! People will think you will have slaved away but you and I will know the truth, you will WOW your friends and family with this one and the best part is that the leftovers can be turned into some awesome recipes the next day (I LOVE 2 for 1 recipes!!) Now I always like to give credit when credit is due both the chicken and beets came from Barefoot Contessa and again I have tweaked the recipes to make things a little easier and or add a little Maren flare with some new ideas! The couscous is 100% fabulous Maren (if I may pat myself on the back!!) So set the tone....put on that music, do a little dance, sing into your wooden spoon microphone like no one is watching (just because it's fun!), and fill that kitchen with yumminess......

Orange Beet Salad
serves 6-8 (this lasts a long time in the refrigerator and makes awesome leftovers)

3 lbs (3 bunches) fresh beets (you can use a short cut to save time and buy canned beets but the fresh are so good!!!)
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice (whatever kind is in season)
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
zest of 1 orange
orange segments of 1 orange (can use 2 if you like a lot of citrus, but I like the taste of beets and use just 1)

If you are using the fresh beets what I like to do is to save time is cut off the tops (leafy green part) and boil them in a large pot of salted water for 50 min-1 hour (until tender) in the morning, then I drain them and put them in the fridge so they are ready to go for later. That is about all I can handle in the morning before my coffee kicks in but if you can put the whole recipe together, the longer this sits the better it gets!! Otherwise start the beets first for timing with the rest of the dinner. Peel the tough outer skin off the beets (it's messy but the color will astonish you!!) Cut them into bite size pieces, mix remaining ingredients together, add to the beets and voila!! Done!! How easy is that and sooo good for you!

**Leftover note....I love to have leftover beets the next day over mixed greens with crumbled goat cheese and walnuts, just use the dressing from the beets or if you need more just add a splash of olive and white wine vinegar to taste!! YUM!!!

Fancy Pants Roasted Chicken Breasts
4 servings

4 free-range organic chicken breasts on the bone with skin
2 small or 1 large log of goat cheese
8 sun dried tomatoes (about a small jar, packed in olive oil)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the chicken on a sheet pan/cookie sheet and slide your fingers between the skin on the chicken and the meat to loosen but be careful not to remove the skin. Slice the goat cheese log into about 1/2 inch slices, place 2 slices per breast under the skin trying to cover the chicken as equally as possible. Then place 2 sun dried tomatoes over cheese and under the skin, pull the skin back over the top of the chicken to cover the meat as best as you can. Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle salt and freshly ground pepper over each breast. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until chicken is lightly browned and cooked through (juices will run clear). Serve hot or room temperature. **reserve pan drippings and add to the broth for the couscous.

***Leftover note...after baked the goat cheese becomes creamy and not a strong a flavor, it tenderizes the meat so beautifully and this creates some amazing leftovers for heavenly chicken salad..just dice chicken add some good mayonnaise, maybe some diced onion and celery and serve over salad or on yummy multi grain bread with your favorite salad greens.

While the chicken roasts into a divine creamy creation start the couscous.....

My FAVORITE Couscous
Serves 6

2 bunches kale (I like lacinato kale), stems removed and sliced into bite size strips
1 cup couscous
1 cup chicken broth (can substitute veggie broth for a vegetarian option!)
1/4 cup chicken broth or if you have it white wine
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided

Bring chicken both to a boil, pour over couscous in a serving dish and cover with plastic wrap tightly, set aside for 10-15 minutes to steam. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in saute pan, add red onions, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper and saute until translucent and starting to brown slightly about 10 minutes, add garlic until fragrant. Add kale to pan and 1/4 cup of chicken broth or wine, stir and cover for 5 minutes, uncover and let liquid evaporate. Fluff couscous with a fork and mix together with the kale mixture to blissfully wed them together and done! Serve this all together and you have one "fancy" dinner!!

*P.S. Maren's soap box: A note to those of you that read this and said there is NO WAY my kids will eat this.....I have a rule at my house that after making this particular dinner and 12 LONG years of enforcing the rule I FINALLY got gratification (which by the way felt what I would equate to winning an Academy Award!!) that the rule does indeed work...... MAREN'S GOLDEN DINNER RULE (husband and kids included): You must try everything on your plate, I do not believe in creating power struggles over food so if you do not like it you do not have to eat it BUT if you are not a CLEAN PLATE RANGER aka finish everything DO NOT EVEN THINK of asking me for dessert or a snack later because I am not a short order cook!! To my husband's credit, he has created his own take on my rule which is his witty humor has kind of stuck in our house: "You eat or you starve and die" (he can be a little dramatic but he makes all of us laugh) Because these ingredients are a little "out there" for your french- fry, chicken finger or anything white carboholic kids I promise if you stick to your guns they will try and will eventually like these foods... as I said it took 12 long years but my fabulous picky eater tween said she actually liked the beets because they are sweet and anything mixed with the flavor of chicken is good in her book but the real kicker was when she said the kale is "SOOOO" much better than that gross spinach stuff I make (as you can see my kids are my BIGGEST food critics) to that I thank my lucky stars, reaffirm myself with my mantra that I am not a mean, crazy mother and have a little faith that someday maybe my kids will make healthy food choices for themselves!!! One can dream.....enjoy!!