Monday, April 30, 2012

Dressed up Green Beans

Perfect Pairing: Large platter

I made this yummy side dish for Easter dinner.  It was a hit! 
I love al dente green beans on their own, but why not add bacon and egg?  What could it hurt?  Answer:  nothing, it is awesome.   This is an impressive dish that is quick and easy, especially if you hard boil your eggs ahead of time.  Click here for my favorite hard boiling method.    
I am excited to make this again with fresh green beans from the farmers market.  Now it is in writing…. I am going to the farmers market.  Here is the thing; I love the idea of tooling around at an urban market picking out fresh items for dinner.  I love it!  Why don’t I do this more often?  I must be getting to the market too late or not going to the right spot because my farmers market experiences in Chicago have been less than stellar.  By the time I get there everything seems picked over and underwhelming.  I vow to change that this summer.  
The Perfect Pairing for this dish is a large platter.  Originally I had a bowl picked out, but decided it would be more appealing on a platter.  It really is a nice presentation! 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thai Chicken Noodle Soup

Perfect Pairing:  Kitchen shears

I am a huge fan of Thai food.  I love the flavors… peanut, coconut, lime, spicy, cilantro, etc.  The first time I had Tom Yum soup, I was hooked.  I loved the tart lime juice and savory broth.  I also thought the straw mushrooms that are typically served in Tom Yum soup were adorable.  They looked so whimsical, like they should be in a video game or something.  When I saw a can of them at my store I was inspired to make a Thai-style soup.
I am pretty sure this is not “authentic” Thai-style soup, but the flavors are all there.  I was really pleased with the result.  It was spicy but had sweetness from the coconut milk.  If you have not used fish sauce before and are a little freaked out, don’t be, it is harmless.  I don’t think it would taste great if you took a gulp of it but it is great in Thai recipes.  In fact, I know it does not go down well by itself because a friend of mine did that with poor results.  Yucky.  When it is combined in this soup it adds a savory background, not fishy at all.
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is kitchen shears.  The rice stick noodles, or rice vermicelli, are really long and hard to eat if you do not break them up.  Breaking them up when they are dry creates quite the mess so it is better to snip them after they are cooked.  Just pull them out of the soup with tongs and snip away! 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fajita Potatoes

Perfect Pairing:  Baked Potato Method

I am a Friends addict.  I am not talking about my real-life buddies (I love you all, but that is not today’s subject). I am talking about the best sitcom to ever be on television.  I am sure not everyone agrees with me, but it is my blog so I can say things like that! 
I never get sick of Friends.  I have every episode, and that is usually what is hanging out in my DVD player.  I can pretty much relate any situation back to a Friends episode.  Stick around and I will prove this theory by somehow relating all of this back to a baked potato. 
I love all of the Thanksgiving episodes.  My favorite was probably in Season 6 when Rachel tries to make the Thanksgiving dessert.  Everyone is a little nervous about her taking on such a big responsibility but she had confidence in herself…..
Rachel: Monica said I could make dessert this year!
Joey: Uh-you're going to...cook something?
Rachel: Hey I cook!
Chandler: Offering people gum is not cooking.
Phoebe: Are you sure Monica said you could make something this year? Because I remember her saying in two years. (to Monica) You said in two years right?
Monica: (a little hesitant now) No...I...I promised her. But uh Rach...are you sure you didn't want to start out something as big as Thanksgiving dinner? I mean wanna try a little Thanksgiving breakfast....maybe Thanksgiving snack?
Rachel: What? You guys I could do this. Remember I made those peanut butter cookies?
(Everybody acts less than enthused)
Rachel: I don't know what you guys are so worried about. Cooking is easy. You just follow the recipe. If it says boil two cups of salt, you boil two cups of salt.

I laugh every single time I see that scene.  Even writing it out makes me laugh!  Hilarious. 
In another episode Rachel wants to impress her new boyfriend by making him dinner.  **Side note, I totally relate to this and stress over what to make my honey.   Anyway, Rachel sweet talks Monica into making the dinner for her.  When Rachel gets a little too picky about the menu Monica threatens to pull out of the deal and Rachel will be stuck making her “famous baked potato and diet coke.”   
And now we have come full circle.
Is there anything easier than a baked potato??  Even Rachel can make it.  There are so many ways to dress it up.  This fajita potato was quick, easy, and yummy.  A perfect weeknight meal.  The perfectly cooked potato is topped with shredded cheese, chicken (I used store-bought rotisserie), fajita peppers and onions, and a spicy adobo sauce.  The adobo sauce is made with fat free Greek yogurt and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.  You can find these in the canned goods near the taco fixings.  They are really spicy so start with a little and add more to your taste. 
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is the never fail method I use to bake perfect potatoes.  The end result is crispy skin on the outside and perfect potato goodness on the inside.  Here is what you do…. Wash and dry the potatoes, prick with a fork 5 to 8 times to release steam, toss in a bowl with canola or vegetable oil until they have a light coating, sprinkle with kosher salt, bake in the oven (directly on the rack) at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until the skin is crispy and the center of the potato is soft when tested with a sharp knife.  If you need to hurry the process along you can nuke the potatoes for a couple of minutes before you bake them, but don’t have them in the microwave for too long.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Perfect Pairing:  Retro night

When I get hooked on a TV show, I am loyal.  I have been known to continue watching something long after it has lost its original appeal (ahem, Bachelor).  While I may not be proud of all of the content on my DVR, there are a few shows I would highly recommend.  My latest obsession is Game of Thrones on HBO.  I started reading the books last winter and ordered HBO with the sole purpose of watching Season 1 On Demand.  Totally worth it.  That show is phenomenal.
Another great one is Mad Men on AMC.  There is something about that show that just drags you in.  I love the 60’s clothing, hair, sets, etc.  Don Draper doesn’t suck either.  After the fourth season Mad Men went on a 17 month hiatus.  This caused a lot of excitement around the premiere of the new season in March.  To celebrate the return of the beloved series, my dear friend had a retro-themed premiere party.  Originally we discussed dressing in Betty Draper-esque garb but that did not last long.  We decided to focus on retro food.  Some of the theme food included tuna casserole, wedge salad, ambrosia salad, deviled eggs, and rumaki.  Everything was fantastic!
What is rumaki, you ask?  Well Wikipedia tells me that rumaki is an hors d'oeuvre of mock-Polynesian origin. It was most likely invented by Victor Bergeron, known as Trader Vic.  Its ingredients and method of preparation vary, but usually it consists of water chestnuts and pieces of duck or chicken liver wrapped in bacon and marinated in soy sauce and either ginger or brown sugar.  I chose to stray from the original version with liver.  I was not that committed to authenticity. 

I made two versions of rumaki, one with water chestnuts and green onions and one with pineapple chunks.  I used the same sauce on both.  Yum!  How can you go wrong?  Bacon wrapped anything has to be good.

It makes sense that the Perfect Pairing for rumaki is a retro night!  Is there anything more retro than rumaki?  At least that is what I am told. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Un-Recipe Files - Cheese Plate

It is hard to believe, but this is my 100th post on Perfecting the Pairing!  To celebrate, I am launching a new section called the Un-Recipe Files.  Even though I love cooking and finding new recipes, sometimes you just don’t want to deal with the time commitment and the mess. 
The Un-Recipe files will include quick ideas and favorite food finds.  The pictures will most likely be taken on my phone and there will be no rhyme or reason to the subject matter.  I am not getting any perks for endorsing a product.  I am just telling you out of the goodness of my heart!  Enjoy!
The first Un-Recipe for the files is a quick “cheese plate”.  I love me a cheese plate.  My un-recipe cheese plate is perfect for one person in need of a snack.  I use one wedge of Blue Cheese Laughing Cow, a drizzle of honey, and a few cracks of black pepper, served with some crackers.  I love the Special K Multi-Grain crackers.
It is filling, tasty, and pretty light.  The entire plate, consisting of 1 wedge of cheese, 2 teaspoons of honey, pepper, and 12 crackers is only 140 calories and 3 grams of fat.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Quinoa, Shrimp, Asparagus and Goat Cheese Salad

Perfect Pairing:  Roasted Shrimp

I am a huge fan of quinoa.  If you have not tried it, you must!  It is so healthy and delicious.  I wrote about some of the health benefits and uses in my post for Spicy Quinoa, Tomato, Spinach and Chicken Sausage Soup.
I came up with this salad when I was at the grocery store with no plan.  Usually I have a plan… and a list.  Perhaps you remember my organized grocery list post.  It will change your shopping forever.  Anyway, I wanted a healthy dinner that would be easy to pull together.  I picked up some of my favorite ingredients that I thought would work well together.  Originally I wanted avocado but there were no ripe avocados that day so I went with goat cheese.  I am glad I did, I loved it in this recipe.  The end result is a healthy and satisfying salad that is great for a main dish.  I thought it was best served just slightly warm.
The Perfect Pairing for this salad is roasted shrimp.  You could buy pre-cooked shrimp but I think buying them raw and roasting them yourself improves the flavor tenfold.  The method is simple, toss the peeled and deveined raw shrimp with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Roast in a 400 degree oven until just cooked through.  After I found this method I decided that I will not buy cooked shrimp again unless I am in a real bind.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chocolate Cobbler

Perfect Pairing:  Vanilla Ice Cream

One of the most popular desserts in restaurants is the delicious chocolate lava cake.  The first time I ever heard about it was years ago when my parents came back from a trip to France with some friends.  The entire group raved about the chocolate dessert they had at a restaurant in Paris.  So I remember it was a really big deal to find it on a dessert menu here in the states.  Now it seems like it is a staple.  Even though it no longer has the same exotic appeal, it is usually pretty outstanding.
I tried to make a version at home a few years ago and I can’t say it was a complete success.  I overcooked the individual desserts so there really was not much of a lava flow.  Overall they were kind of a disappointment.
I ran across this chocolate cobbler recipe last summer and tried it out for some family.  It was a hit!  I thought it was very similar to the chocolate lava dessert.  The top of the cobbler forms a crust but underneath is the “lava” portion.   The best part is that it is so much easier to make than individual lava cakes!
The Perfect Pairing for this recipe is vanilla ice cream.  You can’t beat that combination!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bacon, Leek, and Cheddar Tart

Perfect Pairing:  Tart pan with removable bottom

I am always looking for fun, new breakfast ideas.  My standard breakfast is oatmeal at my desk, so when I have a reason to do something special for the morning meal I look forward to trying something new.  Recently I hosted an open house and invited some girlfriends over to sip mimosas, have a bite to eat, and shop for some great products from a friend who was in town.    
My goal was to serve some sort of savory breakfast item that could be made ahead of time and was easy to serve.  I decided on a breakfast tart.  I used my all-time favorite pressed pie crust recipe (check the link for step-by-step instructions), and added in some of my favorite flavors like bacon, leeks, and cheddar.  I was thrilled with the result.  Not only was it pretty, it was delicious.  The mascarpone cheese adds creaminess to the tart and the bacon and leeks add tons of flavor. 
The Perfect Pairing for this tart recipe is a tart pan with a removable bottom.  I wish I invented this.  It is brilliant!  The removable bottom allows you to remove the entire tart from the pan, which really helps with presentation.  There is no way you would get a clean slice if you could not remove it from the pan first. 
I learned one very important lesson about using a tart pan with a removable bottom.  Typically when I make my pressed pie crust recipe I mix it all up directly in the pie plate.  Let’s just say this is not the best idea when liquid can leak out of the removable bottom.  Oh my, did I have a mess.  Not my brightest moment.  All of this would be solved by mixing it up in a bowl and then pressing into the pan.  Lesson learned.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lemon Pudding Cake

Perfect Pairing:  Fresh berries

If someone told me I had to choose between lemon and chocolate desserts, I would have a hard time with that answer.  I love all things lemon.  This dessert is perfect for any fellow lemon lovers.  It is not to be confused with the lemon yogurt cake I posted about awhile back.  They are completely different, although, both delicious.
I ran across this recipe on foodgawker and bookmarked it for a special occasion.  Side note… if you are not familiar with foodgawker, you should check it out.  The food photography is amazing.  I have had a few photos accepted but many, many…. many declined.  Every time I visit that site I am motivated to work on my food photography.  It really is an art.  Anyway, when I ran across the photo of the lemon pudding cake I was intrigued.  I decided to make it for my mom’s birthday, which is a very special occasion!  Especially this year... ; )
The dessert was fabulous.  I really don’t know why it is called a pudding cake because there is no pudding involved.  I would compare it to soufflé.  It separates into layers so that the top is cake-like and the bottom is a smooth sauce.  I thought it tasted like lemon meringue pie on the second day, if that makes any sense.  I followed this recipe exactly as well as the tips given in the post.
The Perfect Pairing for lemon pudding cake is a topping of fresh berries.  The combination is light and delicious.  I will definitely be making this again!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Deviled Eggs with Goat Cheese and Herbs

Perfect Pairing:  Easter

Deviled eggs are one of the latest food trends.  I have seen them pop up on trendy menus all over Chicago.  This church potluck staple is now hip, who knew?  Deviled eggs were one of the first things I made all by myself as a little girl.  I was so proud of my creations!  I distinctly remember my mom trying them and diplomatically smiling and nodding.  My brother was not so diplomatic.  I am pretty sure he spit it out.  There is a chance I confused the tablespoon for a teaspoon when adding salt.  Thanks brother, I am scarred.
I am happy to say that this recipe for deviled eggs with goat cheese and herbs was a great improvement from my salty version.  The addition of goat cheese adds a bit of tang and creaminess.   If you want to snazzy up the eggs you can add a small slice of smoked salmon before serving.  It is a great complement to the fresh dill.

I have found the best, fool-proof method for hard boiling eggs.  Cover the eggs with cool water and bring to a boil over medium heat.  As soon as the water is boiling remove the pan from the heat and let the eggs sit for 11 minutes.  Drain off the hot water and rinse the eggs with cold water until they are cool to the touch.  Perfect hard-boiled eggs every time!

The Perfect Pairing for deviled eggs with goat cheese and herbs is Easter!  Could there be a more appropriate dish?  You could even use your colored eggs, assuming they were kept refrigerated!  I am excited to spend this wonderful day with the people closest to me.  It truly is a day to celebrate.  No doubt we will laugh, enjoy a great meal and each other’s company, but most importantly we will celebrate the new life given to us through the death and resurrection of our Savior. 
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…. 1 Peter 1:3
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