Monday, June 27, 2011

Chicken Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce

Several bloggers that I follow have made Elly Says Opa's gyros so I decided it was time to try them myself. I really didn't change much about the recipe, since I've never made gyros before and wanted them to be as close to authentic as possible. I did, however, realize that gyros are about impossible to look appetizing in pictures.

You will notice my gyros are simply chicken and tzatziki sauce; I don't like tomatos or onions... by all means, load yours up with veggies if you like them. Next time I'll make my own pitas!

This recipe was quick to make after work but only because I had done some prep the night before. My yogurt strained overnight in the fridge and I went ahead and marinated my chicken overnight, too. The chicken was very flavorful and moist and the tzatziki sauce was worth the effort I made last night.

We had it with Greek Tomato Pilaf.

Chicken Gyros
1.25 lbs. chicken pieces (I used boneless/skinless breast)
4 cloves garlic, smashed
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 heaping Tbsp. plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1/2 batch of tzatziki (recipe below)
Sliced tomatoes
Sliced onions
4 (pocketless) pitas

Whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, oil, yogurt, and oregano in a bowl. Add the chicken and rub the marinade in. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the broiler (or grill, or pan on the stove). Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides, and then broil until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side, depending what size/type chicken you are using. Allow the chicken to rest for a few minutes before slicing into strips.

Meanwhile, heat your pitas. I threw mine into the microwave but you could throw them on the grill for a few minutes or put them on your burner, if you are lucky enough to have a gas stove.

Top the pita with the chicken, tzatziki, tomatoes, onions. Enjoy!

Tzatziki Sauce
32oz. container of plain yogurt (Not fat free, unless it's a Greek yogurt like Fage)
1 hothouse cucumber or 2 regular cucumbers
3-5 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 tsp white wine vinegar
Salt and a little pepper
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (optional)
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Strain yogurt using a cheesecloth over a bowl (or, line a strainer with a coffee filter or paper towel) for several hours or overnight to get out as much moisture as possible.

Peel and seed the cucumber. Shred the cucumbers and then squeeze them to get rid of as much excess moisture as possible. I use a towel to do this, and you will get a lot of liquid.

Mix together the strained yogurt, shredded cucumbers, garlic, vinegar and lemon juice (if desired). Salt to taste. It’s best to refrigerate for 30 minutes or more before serving, so flavors can meld.

Drizzle a little olive oil over the top.

Greek Tomato Pilaf (Domatorizo)

I'm a big fan of Greek food (okay, really any ethnic food), and eat it occasionally at one or two of the local Greek restaurants I've come across. One of the restaurants serves this rice pilaf alongside their dishes that I just love. When I decided to make chicken gyros for the first time, I knew I wanted that rice too!

I Googled my heart out and didn't come across exactly the rice I had in mind but I did find this Greek tomato rice at Souvlaki for the Soul. It looked easy enough, and used my favorite rice (basmati!) so I decided to give it a try. Plus, with that gorgeous red color, how could I resist?

As soon as I put the sauce onto simmer, Jason remarked that is smelled good. Thankfully it did more than smell good - it tasted delicious! It might be a Greek dish but this one could definitely be served alongside a number of dishes for a flavor punch.

I did tweak the recipe a bit, and he tweaked his off someone else's, so feel free to backtrack and check out the other versions if you'd like.

Greek Tomato Pilaf
Olive oil to coat your pan plus a tablespoon of butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic finely minced
1 large can crushed tomatos
2 cups of chicken broth or stock
1 and 1/2 cups of basmati rice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
A handful of finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onions and garlic in some olive oil and butter until they become translucent.

Add the tomatoes and cover allowing it to cook for about 15 mins or until the sauce begins to thicken.

Add the remaining ingredients except the rice and bring to a boil.

Add the rice, stir thoroughly and reduce the heat.

Cover the pot and let it simmer on a low heat for 15 mins until the rice is just tender BUT the liquid has NOT all been absorbed.

Remove from the heat and place a kitchen towel between the lid and the pot and let it rest until the rice has swollen. The residual heat will allow this to cook a little further.

Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt, if preferred.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Orange Chocolate Chunk Muffins

This is a recipe I saw on Annie's Eats recently. Dark chocolate and orange are probably one of my very favorite flavor combinations so I marked it as a "must try soon!" recipe.

These were very easy to throw together using basic ingredients most people already have on hand. As they bake, the smell of the orange filling your kitchen is intoxicating. I baked them late one night (around midnight) and just had to try one before I went to bed!

Since this made about a dozen muffins, and Jason isn't a big dark chocolate fan, I took most of them to work and asked for some input from my food loving colleagues. I thought it was a good recipe but not as moist as I would have expected - my friends at work agreed. Don't get me wrong - they are very tasty - they are just drier in texture than I would have expected. Since I know very little about baking, it's hard for me to even guess why that would be. Even still, if you're a chocolate orange fan, give these a try. You won't be disappointed!

(Annie used blood oranges in hers, which my store was out of, so I used regular oranges. Maybe that would have made a difference? Feel free to use any type of orange!)

Orange Chocolate Chunk Muffins
Yield: 12-14 muffins

For the muffins:
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. coarse salt
Grated zest of 3 oranges
4-6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs

For the glaze:
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup orange juice

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Line muffin tins with paper liners. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and orange zest. Whisk to blend. Stir the chocolate chunks into the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl combine the melted butter, orange juice, vanilla and eggs. Whisk to blend. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl with the dry ingredients and fold together gently just until combined. Divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups, filling about ¾ full.

Bake 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan briefly, then transfer to a wire rack.

While the muffins are baking, making the glaze. Combine the sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. Brush warm glaze over the muffins as they cool.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chicken Tetrazzini

I've never been a huge fan of tetrazzini because it often includes cream soup, which I typically don't eat. This recipe, however, didn't contain any sign of cream soup. It's from Giada and was highly rated (Giada rarely lets me down!). I honestly don't remember ever making tetrazzini so I thought we'd give it a try and see if we liked it.

We did.

This is actually really, really tasty and a fairly versatile recipe. You could mix in any vegetables you wanted (she suggests peas), use turkey instead of chicken, etc. You could even use any type of noodle - which is what I did! I went to pull the pasta from the pantry and of course, had forgotten the linguine the recipe called for so I used egg noodles instead. Since eating long strands of noodles can be annoying, I honestly loved the change in noodle size. So much easier to mix together with the sauce and easier to eat!

I did make some changes, including cutting the milk back and using rotisserie chicken instead of cooking my own. I also left out the peas since I would have picked them out anyways. The recipe below indicates all of my changes; if you'd like to see Giada's original recipe, click here.

It's not a quick weeknight meal but, thanks to the use of the rotisserie chicken, truly did not take that long even after a day of work. I did a few things to save even more time - I used frozen chopped onions, instead of chopping my own, and I grated my garlic over the pan instead of mincing each clove. This also makes a huge portion - especially for just the two of us - so we can have several more meals out of it. That always makes a more time consuming recipe okay in my book.

My absolute favorite part of this recipe is the slightly crunchy noodles that browned at the top. Delicious!

Chicken Tetrazzini
7 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded, or rotisserie chicken meat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound white mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups 2% milk, room temperature
1 cup heavy whipping cream, room temperature
1 cup chicken broth
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 ounces egg noodles (or linguine, if you want to be authentic)
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup dried Italian-style breadcrumbs (or, plain breadcrumbs mixed with Italian seasonings)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray (or butter it) and set aside.

Put the cooked, shredded chicken in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon each of butter and oil to the same pan. Add the mushrooms and saute over medium-high heat until the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates and the mushrooms become pale golden, about 12 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme, and saute until the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until it evaporates, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mushroom mixture to the bowl with the chicken.

Melt 3 more tablespoons butter in the same pan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk for 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, cream, broth, nutmeg, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Increase the heat to high. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 10 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until it is tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Add the pasta, sauce, and parsley to the chicken mixture. Toss until the sauce coats the pasta and the mixture is well blended.

Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish. Stir the cheese and breadcrumbs in a small bowl to blend. Sprinkle the cheese mixture over the pasta. Dot with the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. Bake, uncovered, until golden brown on top and the sauce bubbles, about 25 minutes.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rum Glazed Shrimp

This is the second part of our meal, which included the previously posted coconut rice. These shrimp were really tasty, very easy, and used items I almost always already have on hand. I love making an entire meal that involves only picking up 2-3 items at the store!

I opted to throw some sliced pineapple on the grill at the same time and brushed them with the same glaze. Delicious! This recipe comes from Courtney at Cook Like a Champion who got it from Food and

If you're looking for skewers for appetizers, or a main meal, this would be a great summery dish to try. She used sugar cane swizzle sticks but I didn't easily find them at my store so I just used wood skewers. Though she said the sugar cane made the shrimp a little sweeter, I don't think we missed out on anything by using wood skewers. Would be really cute for presentation, though, to use the sugar cane sticks!

Rum Glazed Shrimp
For the marinade:
24 jumbo shrimp (1 to 1 1/2 pounds), shelled and deveined
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the glaze:
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup dark rum
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of salt
1 package sugar cane swizzle sticks (optional)
Vegetable oil, for the grill

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Add the shrimp and toss to coat. Allow to sit for 15 minutes while preparing the glaze.

In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, rum, mustard, vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy, 5 to 8 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cut the sugar cane crosswise on the diagonal into 5-inch sections, then halve each section lengthwise. You can prepare the recipe several hours in advance up to this step.

Set up your grill for direct grilling. Using a bamboo skewer, make two starter holes in each shrimp. Skewer the shrimp with the sugar cane. Brush the grill grate with oil. Grill the shrimp until cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side, generously basting with the glaze. Serve additional glaze alongside.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Coconut Rice

One of my favorite things about Indian food is the use of Basmati rice. There is just something about the smell and taste of it that I absolutely love. When I came across this recipe on Branny Boils Over, I knew I had to try it. Not only does it have my favorite rice but it also has the addition of coconut and cinnamon.

It certainly didn't disappoint. The rice is not overly sweet or coconuty (is that a word?). It's the perfect accompaniment to these rum glazed skewers of shrimp that I made (which I'll include in a seperate post) and would be a big hit at a summer BBQ.

Jason is not a big rice fan (while I could eat a bowl of buttered rice for every meal) and he ate this up. Big hit in our house!

Coconut Rice
2 cups long-grain rice (basmati rice)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 (13- to 14-oz) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup water
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon salt

Rinse rice in a sieve under cold running water 2 to 3 minutes, then drain well.

Melt butter in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan over moderately high heat. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, until it becomes opaque, about 3 minutes.

Stir in coconut milk, water, cinnamon, and salt and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 20 minutes, then remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick and fluff rice with a fork.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Chocolate Toffee Shortbread Bars

One of Jason's favorite candy bars are Heath Bars so when I came across these bar cookies on Annie's Eats, I knew I had to try them out. It's such a simple dessert, really, especially for a non baker like myself but so good.

This isn't an instant gratification treat, which made me sad, but on the second night when I bit into one I realized it was totally worth the wait. They are absolutely delicious. Let the pan sit in the fridge overnight and you'll have something to look forward to when you get home from work the next day!

If you like toffee, you must make these.

Chocolate Toffee Shortbread Bars
For the shortbread base:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

For the topping:
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1½ cups toffee bits

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F. Line a 9 x 13″ baking dish with foil and spray lightly with cooking spray. To make the shortbread, combine the flour, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl; stir to blend and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugars and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the dry ingredients just until incorporated. Stir in the chopped chocolate until evenly distributed.

Transfer the dough to the prepared baking dish and press into an even layer covering the bottom of the pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the shortbread is bubbling. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer to a wire rack.

Sprinkle the 6 ounces of chopped chocolate evenly over the top of the cookie base. Cover the pan with foil and let sit for 5 minutes. Remove the foil and use an offset spatula to spread the melted chocolate evenly over the crust in a thin layer. Immediately sprinkle the toffee bits over the melted chocolate and press down gently to adhere. Let the bars cool to room temperature. Once the pan has cooled, you may speed chilling by transferring to the refrigerator or freezer. When the topping is set, remove from the pan, transfer to a cutting board and slice into bars.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Classic Mac and Cheese

Awhile back, I wandered past the fancy cheese section at Kroger (the one I avoid unless looking for something specific because my deep love for cheese would blow our budget if I were tempted) and they had a ton of cheeses on clearance. I'm talking 90% off - amazing prices. So, I did what any sane person would do and bought about 10 pounds of cheese (threw most of it in the freezer).

This week, while working on a grocery list and menu, I decided that I needed to use up that about-to-spoil cheese that I didn't freeze. And what better way than an ooey, gooey, mac and cheese? Yes, traditionally a cool weather dish (and it's certainly not cool here!) but we both had no issues eating it when it was 102 outside.

You can use any pasta shape and cheese you want (I am including the suggested cheeses; I ended up using 4 different kinds that I found in my fridge). Also, you absolutely have to shred your own cheese or it will be gritty. Preshredded cheese is coated in a substance to keep it from sticking together in the package and it doesn't melt down as well.

It will seem like WAY too much cheese sauce but it's really not - I promise. You just barely start to cook the pasta before throwing it in the huge pot of cheese sauce and letting it bake so the pasta finishes cooking within the cheese. It's creamy and delicious and exactly what a classic mac and cheese should be.

You may notice in my picture that there is something else mixed into my pasta... Jason is convinced that it's not a meal if there is not meat present so I threw in some diced honey ham that I still had frozen from Easter. Since I used some pretty strong cheeses, the sweet ham really was a nice addition. But don't tell him that.

I found this recipe on Annie's Eats.

Classic Mac and Cheese
For the bread crumb topping:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
1 tsp. dried parsley
Salt and pepper

For the pasta:
1 lb. pasta shapes
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dry mustard
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
6 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2¼ cups low-sodium chicken broth
3½ cups milk
1 lb. colby jack cheese, shredded
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Ground black pepper

To make the bread crumb topping, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add in the panko and cook, stirring frequently, until the bread crumbs are a light golden brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta to the water and cook just until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta and leave in the colander.

Return the pot to the heat. Melt the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic, dry mustard, and cayenne, cooking just until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Whisk in the chicken broth and milk and continue to heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cheeses, whisking until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir the drained pasta into the cheese sauce.

Pour the pasta and cheese mixture into a lightly greased 9 x 13″ baking dish. Sprinkle with the bread crumb topping.* Bake 30-35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs are golden brown.

*At this point, you can wrap the dish tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 days. To serve, bake covered at 400˚ F until the filling is hot throughout, about 40-45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the breadcrumbs are crisp, 15-20 minutes more.

See Aimee Cook

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