Thursday, February 27, 2014

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Homemade cookies from scratch are so delicious, but sometimes you just need the convenience of pre-made ready-to-bake cookies. Unlike a lot of regular cookies you can get at the store, they still get the soft middles of freshly baked cookies, but without all the time and effort.

We spotted these chocolate peppermint cookies made by Immaculate in the after-Christmas sale at Target. For $1.75, they were a great deal! Much cheaper than what you would usually pay for ready-to-bake cookies, and they were all natural ingredients (according to the packaging). Like most other cookies of their type, they were really easy to make. Just break apart the refrigerated cookie squares, pop them in the oven, and 15 minutes later you have warm, soft, chewy cookies.

Unfortunately, we didn't love them. There wasn't much chocolate flavor, at least not the chocolately fudgy taste that we were expecting. In his first bites, A didn't taste either chocolate or mint, just some not great flavor that is really hard to describe. The more we ate of the cookies, the more we tasted the mint (but not the chocolate). The mint got a little too intense for M and it was kind of a turn-off from the cookies. It tasted like there was just too much mint extract poured in to the mix. These cookies were a good deal but we wouldn't get these again.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Turkey Chili

We were at Panera recently for lunch and in addition to my usual Thai chicken salad (without wontons), I decided to try their new turkey chili as part of my pick two order. I love chili, especially in the winter.

Panera's turkey chili is made with antibiotic-free roasted turkey, garbanzos and kidney beans, slow cooked with tomatillos, corn, pasilla negro and ancho chili powders, cumin, edamame, diced onions, carrots, garlic and green chilies. (That's all in the product description. There's no way I'd be able to detect all that just from tasting it.)

The chili was really interesting, especially the inclusion of ingredients like edamame and garbanzos, which I haven't found in most chili recipes (at least not the ones I've seen). That gave the chili a really hearty and healthy feel, although it wasn't especially flavorful. I thought with all the different seasonings and chili powders that it would have a strong spicy flavor, but I didn't really get that until a few spoonfuls of spices accumulated on my tongue. It just didn't taste like it was packed with all those complex ingredients. I wouldn't call this my favorite chili and I've had better ones, but I would consider getting this again at Panera. It was pretty good and heartier than some of their other soups, and chili really is so perfect for these cold days.

Monday, February 24, 2014

John DeLucie's Chicken Pot Pie Soup

Hale and Hearty's last Chef's Series offering comes from John DeLucie of The Crown and The Lion fame. His soup is Chicken Pot Pie, and he tries to capture the rich, heartiness of a pot pie filling. Hale and Hearty describes the soup as "Acclaimed Chef John DeLucie brings us this terrific soup version of an American classic, straight from his innovative restaurant The Crown. A comforting blend of white meat chicken simmered with fresh vegetables, herbs and heavy cream."

Just missing a big puff pastry

The soup is indeed extremely warm and comforting, and it's chock full of goodness with peas, carrots, potatoes, and pearl onions mixed in with the creamy broth and white meat chicken. The only thing I was missing while eating this was a giant puff-pastry top to break up into the rich soup. I'm extremely glad that I came in on the first day of its offering because I know I will be going back to get more. If you're a fan of chicken pot pie, you owe it to yourself to try this. The only drawback to the soup is that it isn't the healthiest, but come on, it's chicken pot pie. What exactly were you expecting? It's the perfect warmth for the coming cold NYC winter days.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Week 8 - TV Show Inspired

The theme for Week 8 of the 52 week challenge was TV show inspired. (I didn't skip weeks 6 and 7, just haven't finished writing those posts yet!) This was the first theme that really stumped me. You could either re-create a dish featured on a show or come up with something inspired by a show, but, even though I watch a ton of TV, I had a really hard time coming up with any ideas at all. All I could think of were chicken fingers (Community), something with pineapples or snack food (Psych), or chocolate pudding (Walking Dead - I was trying to figure this out on the night of Carl's 112 oz indulgence). I went through the list of every single show we watch and finally inspiration struck - Kamekona's!

Hawaii Five-0 is one of the few shows where you actually see people eating, and they are always indulging in shrimp dishes from Kamekona's shrimp truck (including some questionable combinations). The truck is based on the shrimp trucks that are popular in Oahu and one of the dishes that they specialize in is garlic butter shrimp (garlic scampi). We haven't been to Oahu together to visit the shrimp trucks, so we don't have anything to compare our creation with, but I'd like to believe it comes close since it was so delicious. I decided to pair the Hawaiian garlic butter shrimp with traditional sides of rice and mac salad.

Garlic Butter Shrimp

For the garlic butter shrimp, there were a lot of recipes online that I looked at to figure out how to tackle it (see here, here and here). Our recipe adaptation doesn't exactly match any of those, but it worked for us. A and I made this together and somehow it took us two hours (both prep and active time). But it was completely worth the time and effort!

The shrimp dish only required a few ingredients. It came out to about $12.75, which isn't bad at all for a seafood dish. Almost all of the cost is for the shrimp.

- 1 lb shrimp ($10)
- 3 heads of garlic ($0.50)
- 5 tbsp of olive oil (divided) ($0.95)
- 3 tbsp of clarified butter (divided) ($0.63)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice ($0.10)
- 1/2 cup flour ($0.30)
- 1/2 tsp salt ($0.05)
- 1/2 tsp pepper ($0.05)
- 1/2 tsp plus 1 tbsp paprika ($0.10)
- 1/2 tsp cayenne ($0.05)

Here's how we made our version of garlic butter shrimp:

1. Mince 3 heads of garlic. [You could always go lighter on the garlic but it's garlic shrimp! And we love garlic so much.]

2. Peel and devein shrimp (if they aren't already).

3. Mix the flour with 1/2 tsp cayenne and 1/2 tsp paprika in a shallow bowl. Lightly dust each shrimp in the flour mixture.

4. Heat a skillet over medium low heat. Add 4 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp clarified butter, and swirl it around the pan. Add all of the minced raw garlic and saute until tender and brown.

5. Add 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1 tbsp paprika, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp clarified butter and the lemon juice. 

6. Stir everything together and let the sauce develop.

7. Add shrimp in a single layer and let them cook for a few minutes.

8. Flip shrimp over and cook for a few minutes.

9. Remove from heat and stir the shrimp around in the garlic sauce to coat with more sauce. (Add the leftover sauce on top of the rice.)

The garlic shrimp were so good. We were completely in love with the garlic butter sauce. Not remotely healthy, so we can't eat this all the time, but this scampi sauce was so delicious. Really strong garlic flavor and also rich and buttery. So good.

Mac Salad

Although the shrimp from the shrimp trucks is often served just with two scoops of sticky white rice, I decided to go one step further and pay homage to the Hawaiian plate lunch. We've had this a few times in Maui and really enjoyed it. A plate lunch consists of a main dish with sides of sticky rice and mac salad. Hawaiians love their mac salad (and we do too). I found this recipe and followed it almost exactly (I added some more vegetables).

The mac salad ingredients were:

1 lb elbow macaroni ($0.99)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar ($0.15)
2 cups 2% milk (divided) ($0.65)
2 cups mayonnaise (divided) ($1.98)
1 tbsp brown sugar ($0.05)
5 green onions ($0.40)
2 carrots ($0.38)
2 ribs of celery ($0.20)
Salt and pepper to taste ($0.10)

For detailed instructions, check out the inspiration recipe here, but the short version of the process is: cook elbow macaroni until very soft, add vinegar, prepare dressing (all non-vegetable ingredients except 1 cup mayo and 1/2 cup milk) while noodles cool, add dressing, cool, add remaining milk and mayo, add vegetables (which I prepped while noodles were cooking and cooling), mix it all up.

It wasn't exactly the same as the mac salad we had in Maui, but that might be because we didn't use the same mayo that they do in Hawaii. But we still enjoyed it. I especially liked all the vegetables as it gave it a healthy feel even though it isn't healthy at all with its 2 cups of mayonnaise. And $4.90 made a ton of salad.

Sticky Rice

No plate lunch is complete without sticky rice. I picked up a bag of Calrose rice from Whole Foods since we didn't have any Japanese sushi rice at home. 1 cup of dry rice made enough for both of us (and that portion cost $0.87). It was wonderfully sticky and soft. Love that rice texture.

Our total meal cost for our Hawaiian feast was $18.52 (which includes lots of leftover mac salad). We're pretty happy with that for a Friday night dinner. Not much more than a night out at Chipotle, but this was for shrimp and we have many meals of mac salad left.

We really loved this garlic butter shrimp. The entire apartment smells like garlic as I'm writing this and it's heavenly. We would definitely make this meal again.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Curried Lentil and Chard Stew

Allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite home-cooked meals from the month of February (so far): curried lentil and chard stew, adapted from this recipe on Epicurious (with some tips from the comments on the site). It is perfect for winter - hearty, healthy and comforting - and full of delicious spices. I was looking for a meatless meal to add to the week's meal plan, and I'm so glad I chose this one.


The ingredient list for this recipe is not short, but we had almost everything in our kitchen already. The only things I needed to pick up from the store were the chard, vegetable broth and plain yogurt. Trader Joe's was the obvious choice for me for greens like chard since they have lots of pre-washed and cut greens for a great price. The other two came from Whole Foods since Trader Joe's on a Monday was such a crowded mess that they didn't have one box of broth in the whole store and I couldn't wait to get out of there.

- Olive oil for sauteing (1-2 tbsp) ($0.20)
- 1 large onion ($0.50)
- 3 ribs of celery ($0.29)
- 2 large carrots ($0.38)
- 5 cloves of garlic ($0.10)
- 3 tsp Madras curry powder ($0.10)
- 1 tsp cumin ($0.05)
- 1 tsp garam masala ($0.05)
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper ($0.05)
- 48 oz vegetable broth ($2.99)
- 1 10-oz package of chopped rainbow chard ($1.99)
- 1 lb red lentils ($2)
- 1 15-oz can of chickpeas ($0.75)
- 1 tbsp lemon juice ($0.10)
- Salt to taste ($0.05)
- 1 small plain yogurt ($0.99)

The total cost of the recipe was about $10.50. If this were just dinner for two, it would come in among some of our more expensive meals (especially since it's vegetarian), but it made a lot of leftovers, so it's a pretty good price.


This was a pretty straightforward recipe. It took a little over an hour, with most of that being cooking time. The recipe said 40 minutes of active time, so for once I wasn't dramatically slower than the norm.

1. Chop the carrots, celery, onion and garlic.

2. Heat olive oil over medium high heat and saute garlic until fragrant.

3. Add onions, carrots and celery and saute until golden.

Just after adding vegetables to the pot

After five minutes or so

4. While vegetables are sauteing, rinse lentils and chickpeas.

5. Once the vegetables have softened, add all the spices.

6. Add vegetable broth.

7. Add chard. (The original recipe seemed to call for much more chard and I had planned to use two bags but that wouldn't all fit in this pot or in that much broth.)

8. Raise heat and bring broth to a boil.

9. Add red lentils and chickpeas and lower heat to medium.

10. Stir until all ingredients are soaked in the broth. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes (until lentils are tender), stirring every few minutes.

11. Remove from heat, add lemon juice and salt to taste, and stir everything around.

12. Separate into bowls and add yogurt.



This stew was so tasty. All of the spices - curry powder, garam masala and cumin - really came through and infused the lentils with so much flavor. I loved how thick the stew was, and its texture was perfect for a cold winter night. 

The original recipe only called for onions, chard, lentils and chickpeas, but I followed some of the commenters' advice and added in carrots and celery. It was great having the extra vegetables and I think they really rounded out the stew. I've never cooked with the kaleidoscope chard from Trader Joe's before but I really love it. In this recipe, the chard got really tender, even the ribs, but still retained texture and bite. I think I prefer this rainbow chard to the currently popular kale.

We really love this recipe and can't wait to make it again!


One of the custards we really wanted to try at Shake Shack this month was the blackout flavor. We really love Brooklyn blackout cake and were hoping it would capture that essence. If you're unfamiliar with blackout cake, it's multiple layers of devil's food cake with layers of chocolate pudding inbetween, topped with chocolate frosting and more cake crumbles. It's decadent but somehow also feels a little light. M grew up eating blackout cake and it's probably among her favorite types of cake. A didn't ever eat blackout cake until he got to NYC, but he fell in love with it.

M's thoughts:
I was hoping this would pick up on the cake-pudding combination that makes blackout cake so special, but it really just tasted like a double chocolate custard to me. A rich chocolate custard with rich chocolate cake pieces. The cake pieces were a little dense, more than blackout cake is, from what I remember. I'm not sure if that's because they were frozen into the custard or if they just came out denser since they probably weren't baked with pudding in an actual cake. If you're looking for a rich chocolate custard with texture, this is good, but it's no substitute for blackout cake.

A's thoughts:
This wasn't a perfect blackout cake substitute by any means. The chocolate custard was good and all, but it was just regular chocolate. The cake seemed oddly crispy as well. It's almost like they mixed in actual blackout cake pieces but they froze. I also couldn't taste any chocolate pudding in this, and that's the part of the blackout cake that I like the most. All that being said, though, I do still like this custard. It's impossible to live up to the expectations of an amazing blackout cake so it's not surprising that this fell a little short. It is a good flavor, and something I would probably get again.

A's rating: 8/10
M's rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, February 20, 2014

IGK - Seafood Pajun

It's been a long time since I tried anything new at IGK, but I recently went there and saw that they were offering a lunch special for seafood pajun. If you've never had it before, pajun is a Korean scallion pancake made with egg, rice flour, and scallions. It's similar to a Chinese scallion pancake, but it's a little denser and chewier. The seafood offering from IGK also added in pieces of squid and a couple shrimp as well.

Seafood Pajun

This wasn't the best seafood pajun I had ever had, but it was still pretty good. Texture-wise it was a bit softer than I'm used to. Most likely that was caused by the fact that it was a bit thicker in some places than others. The pieces were also a little flimsy. Flavor-wise this was pretty good. It wasn't too salty, and the crispier charred parts were nice. I wish it had been cooked a little longer so that more of it could have crisped, but it took a little while to make this as it was. The squid didn't get overly chew either so that was a pleasant surprise.

The pajun came boxed with a spicy soy sauce as well, but I didn't get any heat at all. I don't think it was fully necessary, but it added a little different flavor to the mix. Would I get this again? Sure. It's not bad, but it is a bit more expensive than the other things I usually get. It's not an every time type of thing, but it's a nice treat here and there.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Slow Cooker Love

We made this recipe back on Halloween and I finished writing this post on November 6 of last year. I'm not sure why we never posted it (especially since I've already posted another recipe using our slow cooker). Week 6 of the 52 week challenge includes a different recipe for rice and peas, so it's about time that I finally put this up on our blog so you know what we're comparing the new recipe with! This is pretty much exactly as written from November 2013.

We got a new slow cooker recently (the Hamilton Beach 6 quart set and forget) and we love it. I originally thought that the first recipe we would make to test out the new slow cooker would be chicken soup, but then A found this awesome-sounding recipe for slow cooker chipotle lime chicken thighs (here) and plans immediately changed. The recipe also included instructions for a side of Jamaican rice and peas that we made alongside it. After trying it, we're instead calling this recipe "chipotle chicken stew with coconut rice and beans." It was delicious.

First, the chipotle chicken stew.


I remembered the cilantro for the photo but not when it came time to garnish...

- 1/2 yellow onion ($0.30)
- 3 stalks of celery ($0.25)
- 2 carrots ($0.50)
- 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts ($3)
- Salt ($0.05)
- Black pepper ($0.05)
- 1 (15 oz) can of tomato sauce ($1.49)
- Juice of 2 limes ($0.45)
- 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce plus ~1 tbsp of sauce ($0.60)
- 4 garlic cloves ($0.10)

The recipe also called for garnishes of avocado and cilantro leaves, but (1) I couldn't find an avocado I liked at the store and didn't really know how to pick a good one back then and (2) I completely forgot about adding the cilantro in my glee over the taste of the stew. Oops. Maybe next time.

The total cost of this part of the recipe was approximately $6.79. Next time, I think I would use a whole onion instead of 1/2 and add in the avocado and cilantro, so that would probably bump the total up to $8-9. Not terrible for a poultry meal that was enough for dinner for two plus two lunches for one (and probably could have lasted longer if we hadn't been such happy gluttons the first night we had the stew).


1. Prep the ingredients. Chop the mirepoix (onions, celery, carrots). Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Whisk together the sauce ingredients - tomato sauce, lime juice, minced chipotle chiles, adobo sauce, minced garlic.

2.  Layer the slow cooker. Mirepoix on the bottom.

Arrange chicken over vegetables. [I think next time I'll turn the chicken so the "flat" sides are facing up and then season with salt and pepper on the other side too.]

Pour sauce mixture over chicken and vegetables.

3.  Cook on low for 6 hours. [It says 6:30 in the photo but we stopped it early. I know you're not really supposed to open the slow cooker to stir it but it was our first time with it so I stirred it a few times. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to open it to flake the chicken with two forks maybe 1/2 hour before the recipe is done.]

And for the side dish, coconut rice and beans.


Ignore the Chef Boyardee and the fried onions that had nowhere else to go in the pantry...

- 2 cups brown rice (~$1)
- 1 can light coconut milk ($0.99)
- 1 cup water ($0)
- 1 can of red kidney beans ($0.79)
- 1 tsp dried thyme ($0.10)
- Finely grated lime zest ($0.05)
- 1/4 cup chopped scallions ($0.20)
- Salt ($0.05)
- Black pepper ($0.05)

The rice cost came out to approximately $3.50 but that is a real ballpark estimate since I have no idea how much the rice really costs. Not bad considering how much rice this made. It's also quite dense so you can't really eat that much of it at once without feeling it sitting like a rock in your stomach (said in the best way possible).


1. In a medium saucepan, combine the brown rice, coconut milk, water, beans, thyme and lime zest. Set over high heat and bring to boil. Reduce to low, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed. 

[Photo of pot ready to boil should go here but I forgot to take one]

All of my liquid absorbed before the rice tasted done, so we kept adding more water and simmering until we felt like it was done and not too chewy. We stopped when it had the consistency of barley. As it sat and waited for the stew, it continued to soften up.

2. Add scallions, salt and pepper to taste.

3. Mix it all up and it's done.


We were so happy with this dish. The coconut rice and beans were really rich and heavy, but combined with the stew, it cooled down some of the spice and added a nice coconut flavor. That said, it wouldn't be necessary to make this with the stew, and regular rice (or other grains) would work just as well (and would be cheaper). We haven't had any Jamaican rice and peas that tasted like this before, which is why we renamed it to coconut rice and beans.

The chipotle chicken stew was amazing. I surprised A a little bit with how spicy it was, which was completely due to the chipotle chiles in adobo. The recipe called for 1 tbsp minced, but I had been reading a lot of Chowhound threads on chipotle chiles where people kept saying they usually use 2 for everything they make, so I used 2. Of course one of them was gigantic, so I guess it was probably more like 3 chiles. And chipotle chiles are not mild. If you don't know what they are, they're smoked jalapenos, which should give you some idea of their heat. I moved them into this tiny plastic Gladware thing to put in the fridge, and they barely fit. To get the cover on, more and more of the adobo sauce kept squirting out, so I just added the rest of the adobo sauce to the recipe. The result was probably a bit spicier than it needed to be to get the good spicy, smoky flavor. But it was so good that we're not complaining about that at all. Maybe next time I won't use quite so much...

The chicken flaked off like pulled chicken. The carrots, celery and onions were soft like they are in soup. The sauce was zesty and spicy. It was a really great recipe and we were so glad that we made it. Never would have predicted that this would be the first thing to come out of our slow cooker (still haven't made chicken soup, now that I'm thinking about it), but really satisfied.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Week 5 - Vanilla

The theme for week 5 of the 52 week challenge was vanilla. I wasn't sure what to make (and ended up not making the dish until week 7 (this week) anyway so I had plenty of time to think about it). Should we go sweet or savory? Dinner or dessert? I saw a couple of savory recipes that included vanilla but wasn't that enthusiastic about any of them, so I ultimately decided to look for desserts and snacks. All I knew was that I didn't want to just pick a recipe that included vanilla extract (since I've used that before) and wanted to use vanilla beans if possible because that would be new to me.

One of the issues with vanilla beans is that they're really expensive (if you're not buying in bulk online or at Costco). I didn't want to buy too many because I have never really had any use for them before and didn't want to waste them. When we visited Trader Joe's in Henderson, NV during our Vegas escape (since we wanted to see if the Nevada stores carried any different products), we saw that they had vanilla beans in small packs in their spices/baking section. I've never seen this at a Trader Joe's near us. It was $4 for 2 vanilla beans, which isn't cheap, but better than any other deal I could find nearby, so we picked up a package.

I decided to adapt this recipe for macaroons, since it was simple, it used a whole vanilla bean, and I have always really liked macaroons. (I wasn't really in the mood for a white chocolate drizzle so I left that part out.) The macaroons themselves only required a few ingredients:

- 1 large vanilla bean ($2)
- 2 large egg whites ($0.36)
- 1/2 cup sugar ($0.25)
- 9 oz shredded (sweetened) coconut ($3)

The total cost of the recipe was $5.61 and it made 17 macaroons (33 cents each). Not too bad, but the big containers of macaroons at the grocery store around the holidays are probably cheaper per macaroon (even if they aren't exactly the same).

The recipe was really straightforward. First, cut open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Having never worked with vanilla beans before, I thought (for some reason) that the seeds would be larger and would need to be crushed before using. I really enjoyed this step.

Scrape vanilla bean seeds into a large mixing bowl.

At this point I followed advice that I read somewhere along the way online and put the empty bean pod into a container of sugar to make vanilla sugar. I have no idea what we'll use the vanilla sugar for, but I'm sure we can find something.

Add the sugar and egg whites, and whisk together.

After whisking them all together, the vanilla bean seeds broke up and were just little black flecks in the mixture.

Mix in shredded coconut. The recipe called for 3 cups of shredded coconut. I didn't want to buy that much coconut, so I opted to buy 2 packages (totaling 12 oz) instead, figuring that would just have to do. All the coconut is supposed to be well-coated with the egg mixture and I'm not sure how that could happen if using double the amount (or more) of coconut I used.

Make tablespoon-sized balls of coconut mixture and place on parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Bake at 325 degrees for about 15-20 minutes until the outside of the macaroons are golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

I tried the macaroons when they were warm and they were so deliciously gooey. Once they cooled completely, they were still crunchy on the outside and sticky on the inside, but a little less gooey. You can really see the little black flecks of vanilla bean when you look at the macaroons. We liked them.

Focusing on the vanilla (since it's the theme of the week), the vanilla bean didn't seem to add much more than vanilla extract would have. A's thought was that, since vanilla beans are expensive, this might not be the best use for them, and he's probably right about that. Now to figure out what to do with the other vanilla bean and the box of vanilla sugar...