Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lisa's Garlic Chicken Pizza

A number of years ago, on a Christmas Eve when both of our teenage daughters wanted a little extra time with friends, we ordered a take-and-bake garlic chicken pizza rather than making our own dinner. It's been a favorite of our family's ever since and remains a Christmas Eve tradition.
But that doesn't mean we restrict our orders to the holiday season. And as of last night, nor does it mean we have to order a garlic chicken pizza in order to enjoy eating one. That's because I set out to recreate the signature garlic cream sauce in my kitchen. We quickly proclaimed the experiment a close approximation to the original we had grown to love.
Before I made the cream sauce, I removed a pizza crust from the freezer, diced some cooked chicken, minced several green onions and sliced a handful of cherry tomatoes moments after I plucked them from our front garden. Then I mashed cloves from half of a garlic bulb through my garlic press and began to make a basic white sauce.
I looked at a coupon from the pizza store and discovered they use three cheeses on their garlic chicken pizza - although there was no mention of which cheeses. I pulled out some lowfat cream cheese and grated Parmesan to add flavor and depth to my sauce. It worked beautifully. Enjoy:
Lisa's Garlic Chicken Pizza
Serves 2-3
1 pre-made pizza crust
cloves from half a bulb of garlic
4 green onions, minced
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, diced
6-8 cherry tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup of lowfat milk
2 tablespoons lowfat cream cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan
salt to taste
additional Parmesan for topping
Over medium high heat, melt butter. Stir in flour until smooth. Raise heat to high and add milk, stirring constantly until it becomes thick like gravy. Return to medium high heat and stir in cream cheese so it is fully incorporated. Add garlic, Parmesan cheese and salt to taste. Allow to cool and thicken further, for about 20 minutes.
Spread sauce across pizza crust. Top with chicken, green onions, and tomatoes. Sprinkle more Parmesan over the top and then bake according to crust instructions. Right before removing from oven, set under broiler until top is golden brown.
VOE - We're try to go easy on dietary fats, but feel free to add several handfuls of grated mozzarella to the top if you want. We suspect that may be the 'third cheese' used by our favorite pizza chain.

Fredericksburg's Cotton Gin Village

Once in awhile, a place where you stay makes such a lasting impression that you remember it many months later. The Cotton Gin Village, in Fredericksburg, Texas, is one of those places for me.

Talk about a step back in time! I entered my two room suite through the front door of an 1800s cabin that had been imported, piece-by-piece, from Kentucky. It was one of several that ringed a small waterfall and garden area and were tucked amidst a blacksmith shop and antique cotton gin.

An old stone fireplace, a copper sink surrounded by a hand-turned coffee grinder and tin cups, a handmade bed quilt , black and white wall portraits in rustic wood frames, and cabinets with distressed paint finishes enhanced the old-fashioned ambience inside. But no detail was left untouched in the area of modern comfort either. I lounged in a jacuzzi tub each evening and enjoyed homemade biscuits and scones, fresh fruit and yogurt each morning. 

Modern satellite television hid inside an antique armoire and a modern coffeemaker provided a nice jolt of caffeine every day. The Cotton Gin Village was a place I really didn't want to leave and vowed to visit again.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Carrot Mint Cupcakes

Since I've missed several weeks of cupcake-making this summer, I've decided to extend my summer to the fall solstice. That means I have about three more cupcake recipes to share with you. I'm having a blast 'pushing the envelope' with these recipes and I hope that you are too. 

Today I decided to skip my traditional carrot cake recipe - with walnuts and crushed pineapple - (see the entry, in favor of a different flavor profile. The only problem with this blog entry is that I forgot to take photos throughout the process of making them, so you'll have to use your imagination a bit.

The addition of garden-picked mint adds a 'fresh' character to the sweetness of carrots, without overpowering them. And I bet that you'll love the delicate texture of these little cakes as much as you like the flavor combo. In fact, they're a favorite from the entire summer of baking. See if you can stop at just one!

Carrot Mint Cupcakes
Makes 14-16 cupcakes

1/2 cup oatmeal, ground in food processor
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
3/4 cups canola oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups carrots, grated in food processor
3 tablespoons fresh mint, minced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine dry ingredients, from oatmeal through salt. Add canola oil and eggs, stirring to incorporate. Fold in grated carrots and mint.

Place cupcake papers in pans. Fill individual cupcake papers 2/3s full. Bake 25 minutes.
Remove cupcakes from pan 5-10 minutes after removed from the oven. Take off baking papers when cupcakes are completely cooled.

VOE - If you see oil on the cupcake papers and the cupcakes are quite soft they're perfect.

Ice with:

1 1/2 tablespoons lowfat cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
(optional: milk to enhance creaminess, up to 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons carrots, grated
2 tablespoons mint, minced
additional carrot gratings for garnish

Cream together the cream cheese, butter and sugar. Stir in carrots and mint. Cool in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes. Top each cupcake with about 1 tablespoon of the icing.

Mozzarella - Made in Kansas City

My good friend, Jasper Mirabile, is always on the move whether he's working at his family's 55-year-old restaurant, Jasper's (as well as Marco Polo's Italian Market), hosting a radio show or charity event, or making favorite dishes on television. He also is a chef ambassador for Wisconsin Cheese and works closely with our local Hen House Markets.

On Saturday, my camera and I visited the nearest Hen House to see Jasper make fresh mozzarella cheese on-site. This isn't your run-of-the-mill sliced or grated mozzarella; this stuff is ultra soft with a lighter mouth-feel and a more delicate flavor.

Jasper's 'tools' included long black rubber gloves, very hot water in a stainless steel bowl and fresh milk curds. An assistant added water as needed and cut small samples for our little group of appreciative onlookers.

Jasper dipped each piece of curd in hot water and then stretched and kneaded it while submerged. He removed the curd from the water, molded it into a ball, checked its appearance and texture, and stretched it some more outside of the bowl. Jasper molded the curd into a ball again and repeated the process for each piece, until it felt and looked just right. When a mozzarella ball reached perfection, he dropped it into an ice bath, until it could be packaged for sale later on.

This was mozzarella without brine or aging, and a refrigerator life of only a few days. Jasper so appreciates the technique and quality of freshly made mozzarella that he and his staff now make it in their restaurant. What a way to make meals more interesting and tasty for customers.