Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Laziest Recipes Ever: Creamy White Chicken Chili

I think I love to make soup because the prep work is usually so soothing to me.

Finely mince some onions, chop a few carrots, shred chicken....these are the methodical kitchen tasks that ultimately allow me to forget the worries of the day and become mesmerized by a simmer pot of soup.

This, however, is not one of those quaint soup recipes. This is a "dump it all it, turn the switch and get on with your shit" kind of recipe.

...sorry about the swearing- I'm on a lot of cold medicine right now. Inhibitions are at a minimum.

So anyway- here's the point. If you're looking for a flavorful, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of dinner but you just can't be bothered with all that classic prep work then THIS is your kind of recipe, dahlin'.

We start with this cast of characters:

We toss all that into the slow cooker, along with some frozen chicken breasts... we're cookin'.

And before your very eyes, we've made Creamy, Dreamy, White Chicken Chili.

And we pack up leftovers for our husband to take to lunch and include FRUIT and VEGETABLES and BREAD so he doesn't complain about only eating delicious, delicious soup.

Inhibitions. Gone.

Creamy White Chicken Chili

  • 2-3 frozen chicken breasts*
  • 1 can spicy black beans (regular are fine too!) - drained and rinsed
  • 1 can corn (undrained)
  • 1 can fire-roasted Rotel (again, regular is fine)
  • 1 small can chopped green chilis 
  • 1 packed Ranch dressing mix
  • 1 TB chili powder
  • 1 generous tsp each cumin, granulated garlic, onion powder, red pepper flakes, fresh ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces full fat cream cheese**
Place whole, frozen chicken breasts in bottom of slow cooker. Add all ingredients and seasoning. Stir, then top with cream cheese. 

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, stirring about halfway through cook time to incorporate the melting cream cheese. Before serving, remove chicken breasts and shred. Return shredded chicken to pot and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes on 'warm'. If the chili seems overly thick, add in a splash of chicken broth.

Serve with crusty bread, tortilla chips, and your favorite chili fixins'.

*Frozen chicken breasts add a touch more moisture to the overall dish, so if you use fresh chicken, be sure to watch the liquid level and add in a splash of chicken broth as need.

**If you decide to use a reduced fat cream cheese, hold off on adding it to the slow cooker until the last 1/2 hour of cooking, otherwise you may end up with separated/curdled cream cheese. Same advice if you decide to cook the soup on high for 3-4 hours. I've made this soup a few times with the cream cheese added at the beginning and have never had a problem with full fat cream cheese- just be sure to stir it about halfway through!

Restaurant Review: Sanctuary

It's rare that a restaurant can immediately envelope me in a sense of intimacy. I usually find that there is some element that pulls my senses out from being truly together and comfortable- the restaurant is too bright, too dim, too loud, too crowded. Overall, there's a lack of emphasis (or perhaps it's execution) in the role that ambiance- whole, crafted, purposeful ambiance- should play in the dining experience.

The outside world disappeared a little when I stepped into Sanctuary. I felt a warmth and familiarity that was suddenly and noticeably absent from so many of my other dining experiences. I was not here 'for dinner'- I was here to dine. It was as if Sanctuary herself had invited me over for supper. How charming to feel such a sense of inclusion.

Atmosphere is only one part of dining out, however, and usually not the component that most people want to see reviews about. The food! The food! That's what you go out for, that's what you want to know all about. Naturally you can't review a restaurant without commenting on the cuisine, but I put emphasis on Sanctuary's ambiance because it truly permeates every element of the restaurant- including the food. It is impossible to ignore the care and purpose with which Chef Patrick Atanalian creates his menu- as if he is trying to appeal to whatever your heart (and palate) need that day. He crafts plates that are at once whimsical and comforting. He inspires a sense of adventure with his menu- that it is okay to be un-apologetically you in this moment and in this space, that it is okay to change whenever you feel the urge. His offerings are sanctuary for those too bold or too meek to fit into tradition.

So now we discuss the food:

We started with Garlic, Spinach and Artichoke Tartlets with Provencal Olives, Cornichons and a Shot of White Verjus. We were instructed to sprinkle lavender buds over our tarts, and then bite into the olive, the cornichon, the tarlet, cleansing our palate with a sip of the verjus. Delightful and warming. The tartlet crust was truly admirable- sturdy, yet with a pleasant crumble once bit. The verjus was a lovely addition to such a rich morsel. Four come in an order. Not to be missed.

For soup, I selected the Coeur de Guanaja Chocolate Strawberry Soup with Ancho Pepper Whipped Cream. Absolutely smooth, with a luscious mouth-feel. The strawberry flavor stays nestled under the chocolate, while the slight savory flavor from the peppers cuts through the creamy 'hot cocoa' idea. Use the spoon to incorporate the ancho whipped cream throughout, then set it down and proceed to drink the soup straight from the mug.

My aunt had the Restaurant Week menu, which included a starter of Sea Scallop with Saffron Veloute and Garlic Chili Yuzu Aioli. She wouldn't share much, but the little taste I had was phenomenally balanced between fragrance and heat- a combination that is hard to achieve and rare to taste.

And now the dish that first peaked my interest in Sanctuary: Wild Acres Farm Duck Breast with Mexican Vanilla Mashed Potatoes, Blood Orange Sauce and Pico de Gallo. The duck was, of course, cooked perfectly- with a crispy skin that didn't wane under the vibrant orange sauce. The mashed potatoes were an oddity. Plated, they looked deceivingly creamy. I expected to be overwhelmed with butter and cream, but instead, the vanilla brought out the naturally clean and starchy flavor of potatoes. It reminded me of tasting mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, before they had been doused in gravy. I would have preferred a touch more salt and pepper in the potatoes, but it was interesting to sample such a 'clean' mash.

Whatever you do, stay for dessert and order Antonio de la Sanctuary Tres Leches Cake and Fresh Berries. This is what dessert should be- something as sweet and refreshing as a cool glass of milk, and lovingly made from a family recipe. The kitchen had, by mistake, sprinkled my cake with a touch of cayenne, The heat lingered briefly with each creamy bite, and if you're up for it, I would suggest asking the kitchen to make the same 'mistake' with your dessert.

We also enjoyed the Restaurant Week dessert, Bette Noir with Creme Anglaise and Lemon Sorbet. This- this was chocolate for the sake of chocolate. Absolutely decadent, and truly one of the best executions of a richly chocolate dessert that I've enjoyed.

Sanctuary offers a weekly 5 course Chef's tasting menu for $35. For those of us who have been burned too often by the belief that price guarantees quality, this is the perfect gamble. I highly encourage you to put you trust in Chef Atanalian.

Nuts and Berries Dessert Cocktail

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

One Week Warning! MSP Restaurant Week is Coming...

Alright, ladies and gents- listen up. Minneapolis/St. Paul Restaurant Week is only one week away. Now is the time to formulate your strategy. Three (or more!) courses for $35 bucks: how will you ensure your palate is pleased by as many plates as possible? (Side note: alliteration is a beautiful thing.)

If I had to give some guidance in order to help YOU make the best restaurant week choices that you possibly can, it would be this:

1. Start Scouting Options Now

Here is the list of participating restaurants. There are a lot of options. I would recommend you look to see if any of your 'must try' restaurants have made the list. Think of this as your chance to scout out whether or not the regular $75-a-plate dining experience is worth it.  In my mind, if they can't deliver a solid dish during Restaurant Week, I certainly don't want to go back and spend 2-3x more for a regular dinner that will be sub-par. Conversely, if I go and have a phenomenal dinner, I'm totally going to go back and spend big bucks on a full-on fancy night out.

Side note: it's perfectly acceptable to eat out for lunch and dinner every single day next week. This allowance is coming from a recipe blogger, so you know it's serious.

2. Look at the Menus!

Even though these restaurants are offering an amazing dinner deal, I still want variety*. I'm drawn to the menus that list at least 2-3 options for appetizers and entrees. Ideally, you would dine with another person and order different dinners so you get the chance to try more things.

And don't ignore the 'add-on' items that some restaurants have listed! Yes, it's a touch more added onto your bill, but there are some great options for additional appetizers, wine parings, or protein upgrades that can't be missed!

*There are some restaurants that have only one RW menu option, and that's totally okay so long as I know that the quality is there. This usually means I've been to the restaurant before and I'm willing to forgo options for a guaranteed good meal. 

Minnesota Nicely Picks for Restaurant Week 2016:

  • All Around Choice: 
  • Go There, Probably Ignore the RW Menu:
    • Sanctuary: okay...I'm actually not going to do the RW menu because when I went to Sanctuary's website I started drooling over their insane, inventive menu. I am totally going there on an Aunt/Niece dinner date this coming Monday. Will report back.
  • Something Mom Would Approve of:
    • HauteDish: though some reviewers have found their consistency to be off, I say go for it. My dining experience at HauteDish was lovely. Obviously get the Tater Tot Hautedish. Was that even a question?
  • When You Want a Food Baby:
    • Fogo de Chao: With tableside meat carving service including sirloin, pork, chicken and lamb, I guarantee you will not leave hungry. And don't get me started on those sides. 
  • Ethnic Cuisine Wildcard:
  • Because it's Friday and Because it's Lent:
So there you have it, folks. This is how I will gain 20 pounds in 7 days. 

And now I wanna know- where are you going to go to forsake your skinny jeans? 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Love is in the Air

I've gushed about meringues before, and I'm hear to tell you that I am still in love with this light and airy treat.

So in love, in fact, that I couldn't stop myself from making three different tasty varieties.

Actually, the person responsible for this multitude of meringue is my good friend Katie G. It's her fault that I had to make three different kinds...after all, she's the one who sent me three different tiny, adorable bowls. Did you know tiny dishes are my kryptonite? I can't help myself when it comes to tiny bowls, plates, cups, cutlery...but do you blame me? Just look at how cute they are!

I really should make Ms. Katie come down here to eat all of these meringues that she forced me to make...

Well, at least I would if they weren't pretty much already gone...

Vanilla Bean, Strawberry Balsamic and Chocolate Mocha. Happy Valentine's Day to my waistline.

Neapolitan Meringues
We'll use a base recipe for all three flavors, then separate the mixture into three parts- folding in the flavorings for each variety.

  • 4 egg whites, just below room temperature
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 TB vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 Vanilla Bean, scraped
  • 4 TB finely grated bittersweet or dark chocolate- divided
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • 2 tsp strawberry jam*, plus more for topping
Preheat oven to 225 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl or stand mixture, begin whipping egg yolks and cream of tartar together until soft peaks form. Slowly (1 TB at a time, wait 15 seconds, repeat) add in the white sugar, then the powdered sugar. Add in vanilla extract. 

Divide meringue mixture among three bowl. Working quickly and gently, fold in the vanilla bean scrapings to one bowl, 2 TB of the chocolate and the espresso powder into another, and 2 tsp of jam into the third.

Add mixtures into piping bags (use whatever tip you desire) and pipe onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle remaining chocolate shavings onto the chocolate mocha, and make an indentation in the center of the strawberry balsamic. (If desired, you can add a little pink gel food coloring to the inside of the piping bag in order to add a bit more color.)

Bake for 1-2 hours, depending on the size of the meringues and how hot your oven runs. You should be able to easily remove the meringue from the parchment- if there's any sticking, the meringues aren't done. 

Allow to cool, and add a dollop of jam to the strawberry balsamic just before serving. Store leftovers in an airtight container and enjoy!

*Note: I made my own jam by reducing down a cup of frozen strawberries with 1-2 TB sugar and 1-2 TB water. Once the strawberries had broken down and reduced, I added in a splash of balsamic and cooled the mixture. If using store-bought jam for the recipe, you can stir in a small amount of balsamic, or omit all together. You'll still have lovely strawberry vanilla meringues!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

9 Things Every 20-Something Household Needs

Adult life can creep up on us, and if you're unprepared it can be a bit scary. After spending so many years being taken care of by our parents, our teachers, our older-but-so-cool friends and so-on, we all eventually have to start fending for ourselves.

There's a popular fear among a lot of '20-somethings' that they don't know how to be an adult. Guess what?

No one does. We're all just faking it until we 'make it'- whenever that may be.

You can't learn everything about being an adult from a blog post. Obviously. But you can learn a few things that will make your transition from moody teen to totally-chill co-ed to actual functioning adult a little easier.

1. Emergency Comfort Food

I don't care if it's homemade mac n' cheese in the freezer or a can of Chef Boyardee stashed in the cupboard- at some point, you're going to need emergency comfort food. Maybe your grandpa died and you can't bring yourself to cook anything, or perhaps a close friend got her heart broken and all you can do to comfort her is to feed her. Whatever the case, you'll be grateful to not have to scramble for a meal. Next time you make a bunch of chili or a yummy stick-to-your-ribs stew, freeze a portion for a later date. Or, ya know- take advantage of the 10-for-$10 sale on Kraft when you're at the grocery store.

2. Kitchen Essentials

This is a broad category, and will vary greatly depending on your culinary ambitions and frequency to entertain. We'll keep it basic- no dried porcinis or sherry required. We're also not going to include perishables, since those things usually require meal planning. With that being said, a 20-something kitchen should include: pantry staples (flour, sugar, baking soda/powder), spices (at least whatever you use most frequently, and perhaps some powdered chicken/beef stock), a good chef's knife (a cheap one can be dangerous), a large cutting boardsteak knives, wine glasses (for wine, obviously, but also to dress up a dinner party- serve water, lemonade, sangria, heck- even milk if you're so inclined), a cork screwa bottle openera coffee maker (if you're not a coffee drinking, a french press/grinder for your guests is a good idea- plus, a grinder has many uses!), spatula/whisk/rubber scraper (I recommend a plastic spatula to prevent scraping dishes, but a metal whisk for function), a good quality frying pan (non-stick is easy to come by, but a good cast iron or stainless steel for searing steaks/creating crusts is a blessing), mixing bowls (of various sizes), measuring cups/spoons (metal will last the longest- plastic can crack), good quality baking sheet (cheap ones warp and get nasty real fast), 9x13 pan/8x8 pan (I recommend glass Pyrex), food storage (I like Pyrex again for this since it won't stain, but plastic tupperware works just fine too).

3. Contraception 

Unless you are actively ready and trying for a baby, it's a good idea to have some kind of contraceptive in your household- birth control, condoms, the ol' diaphragm....just have something around so that you don't need to worry about changing your yoga room into a nursery. At least for the time being.

4. Household Basics

These are the things you don't think about until you need them. Depending on your level of preparedness (and how much you shop in bulk), this list could include the following: batteries, light bulbs, a plunger, stamps, fire extinguisher (kept up to date!), flashlight, needle and thread (for when that button pops off right as you're about to head out the door), tape (duct tape and scotch tape), cleaning supplies (multi-surface spray is a godsend, as are Lysol/Clorox wipes for bathroom cleaning. Other items include toilet bowl cleaner, laundry soap, dish soap, a vacuum, a broom, something to wash floors with and deodorizing spray)

5. Medicine Cabinet Basics

When I moved into my first apartment, my darling husband (boyfriend at the time) ended up with a small cut on his finger. I dashed off to the medicine cabinet, only to find I had never thought to buy band-aids. I was mortified. My boyfriend was going to bleed to death because I didn't think to spring for first aid 101 essentials. Luckily, it was only a little nick and he recovered quickly. After that, I vowed to keep a well stocked medicine cabinet. This may vary for you, but my basics include: band-aids/first aid kit, good tweezers, antibiotic ointment, antihistamines, cold medicine (night and day), pain reliever (both types: acetaminophen and aspirin), tampons/pads, nail clippers, acne spot treatment, Pepto, Tums, Calamine/anti-itch lotion. 

6. Renters Insurance

If you're still renting, be sure to find a good renters insurance policy. Most places will require you to have renters insurance in order to rent from them, but some smaller/private rents may not mention it. You should be able to find a good policy for only $10-$15 a month, and it's totally worth it. You should be able to carry the same policy with you wherever you move, so make that phone call TODAY.

7. Luggage

It doesn't have to be fancy, but you should have at least 2 pieces of luggage (one smallish carry-on style, one large suitcase) that you can use. My best recommendation is to make sure both sizes have wheels (believe me- that duffel bag gets really heavy when you have to lug it around the airport for 3 hours), and that both pieces are easily recognizable when it comes to baggage claim. Either spring for the leopard print bag, or tie some bright ribbon on your standard black suitcase.

8. Regional Necessities

This will vary depending on where you live regionally, and also the type of housing you have. Here in Minnesota, this category would include things like a shovel, sidewalk salt, a winter survival car kit and a car scraper. Other regions will vary- things like a bad-weather survival bag, extra water, a chainsaw (for yard clean-up after a storm), a good fan (in case the air-conditioning goes out in the middle of a heat wave), or even bear mace might be in order.

*If you've been in apartment or some other communal living situation and have just moved into a home, I recommend you really take inventory regarding what 'outdoor' items you'll need. It's best to have a shovel before the snow storm hits- if you catch my drift.

9. Non-Electronic Entertainment

Sometimes you just need to 'un-plug'. Of course, if the power goes out and the battery on your phone/tablet/laptop is drained, you may have no choice but to enjoy some good ol' fashioned fun. Cards, board games, a few good books- whatever you think might make a 12-hour power outage go by a little faster.

So that's it! If you have any other recommendations, comment below. I'm sure a 20-something out there will be thankful for the in-put, present company included.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

For the Ladies...

In just a few days, the Broncos and Panthers will be duking it out on the astro-turf. For most of us, this means a Sunday full of chicken wings, cocktail weenies, cheesy dips and plenty of beer.

While I thoroughly enjoy a good football spread every now and then, sometimes I want something not so....."manly" to munch on.

"Oh Lauren, why don't you make up a nice crudite platter? That's healthy and delicate!"

And boring. Very, very boring.

I want something dainty and delicious.

I want finger sandwiches, biatch.

Sorry I said 'biatch'. That wasn't very ladylike of me. I'm just so darn excited about these pretty little things. Tell me at least one of these doesn't sound tantalizing:

Curried Egg Salad Sandwich with Watercress on White.

Cranberry Poppyseed Chicken Salad on Whole Grain.

Cucumber and Radish on Rye.

And the best part? Slice these up small enough and you won't even notice that you've eaten the equivalent of 5 full size sandwiches over the course of 30 minutes.

Or maybe you have more self-control than I do and will indulge responsibly. Whatever.

Curried Egg Salad Sandwich with Watercress

  • 6 hardboiled eggs, diced
  • 2 sprigs green onions
  • 3-4 TB good quality mayo
  • 1-2 TB nice Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika 
  • 1/4-1/2 TB curry powder
  • White Sandwich Bread (your preference, but a slightly firmer 'bakery quality' loaf stands up best)
  • Fresh watercress 

Mix first 7 ingredients together. Depending on the type of curry powder and paprika used, you may find you want a bit more seasoning, so taste and adjust accordingly. Refridgerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to meld. When ready to serve, spread several watercress leaves on the sandwich bread, add the egg salad, slice and enjoy immediately.

Cranberry Poppyseed Chicken Salad on Whole Grain

  • Meat from 1 rotisserie chicken, cubed
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 TB poppyseeds 
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1-2 TB Dijon mustard
  • 3-4 TB good quality mayo
  • Salt and pepper, to taste 
Combine all ingredients, adjusting amount of mayo to just coat/bind all ingredients together. Taste and season to liking, adding in more poppyseeds if desired. Chill for several hours, then spread on whole grain bread. Slice and serve immediately.

Cucumber and Radish on Rye

  • 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced thin
  • 3 radishes, sliced thin
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 3 TB sour cream
  • 1 packet ranch dressing mix
  • 1/2 TB fresh dill, minced
  • Good quality Rye bread
Combine sour cream, cream cheese and ranch mix together- an electric mixer works well. Stir in fresh dill. Spread on rye bread and top with cucumbers and radishes. Serve immediately.