Award Winning Caprese Salad

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Mrs. Iron Chef needed a dish for a work pot luck recently and of course she turned to me to ask if I would make something. I debated making my Mac and Cheese, but we weren’t sure if there was any way to heat it up and it has been too bloody warm to make Mac anyway. I figured that since the event was outside and during the heatwave we have been going through that a nice Caprese Salad would be a good choice and I would do it with a twist. Tomatoes are just about in season, watermelon is in season and I have more basil right now than I know what to do with so it seemed like a good candidate with easily accessible ingredients. It would be quick to make and easy to transport also. So I went with it. At the event there was a contest for best dish and guess what took home the top prize?

 

The Software

1 ¼ lbs. ripe, in season, tomatoes, cut into ½ in pieces

8 oz. Fresh Mozzarella, preferably Ciliegine size, drained, patted dry and halved

8 oz. Watermelon, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 ½ tablespoons coarsely minced fresh basil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar)

2 table spoons extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

 

The Recipe

In a large bowl combine the tomatoes, mozzarella and watermelon and toss gently to combine. Add basil, oil vinegar and salt and toss gently to combine. Taste and adjust salt and add fresh ground pepper as desired. Let sit at least an hour to combine (don’t refrigerate it) and toss just before serving. That is it, there is nothing else to do but enjoy.

 

What fresh mozzarella looks like. The ones you want to buy are in the lower right of the board and yes, I do recommend the Belgioioso brand.
What fresh mozzarella looks like. The ones you want to buy are in the lower right of the board and yes, I do recommend the Belgioioso brand.

Notes

The key to this is to use in-season tomatoes. The riper they are, the sweeter they are so if you grow your own, this dish will be much sweeter than if you use store bought ones. I prefer roma or cherry tomatoes for this dish, but just about any tomato will work except for the ones that you will find in the supermarket labeled as “slicing tomatoes”. The mozzarella should be available in the deli section of most mega marts and the ciliegine size are about the size of the tip of your thumb. You can use just about any size mozzarella balls (don’t use the slicing mozzarella, it doesn’t have enough moisture), you just want to cut the pieces into roughly the same size as the tomatoes and watermelon. If you are using home grown tomatoes that are really sweet, I would recommend using red wine vinegar rather than balsamic – otherwise you risk a very sweet salad. A nice trick for mixing the oil and vinegar – put them into a small container with a lid and shake vigorously a couple of times until combined. I usually have a small container of the two handy so I just need to shake it up and pour over a salad. Adjust the recipe to taste – if you want more tomatoes, or basil or mozzarella, or watermelon, add it. You may need more oil and vinegar, if you do increase the other ingredients – just do it slowly. This salad is also great with some raw sweet onions sliced thinly added to the mix and served over grilled bread.

No-Fuss Roasted Potatoes

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Potatoes are not one of my favorite things to cook or eat since they act as more of a flavor vehicle for what they are cooked in rather than having a great deal of inherent flavor on their own. Mrs. Iron Chef however loves them so I do occasionally make them, but I am constantly looking for new ways to cook them.  I came across an easy, no-fuss, one pot recipe on America’s Test Kitchen that I figured was worth a shot. Basically it calls for braising the potatoes first and then searing them, but it didn’t involve even taking them out of the pot, and only a couple of ingredients, so it really doesn’t get too much easier than this.

The Software

1 lb. Red Potatoes, roughly 1 to 1 ½ inches in diameter, washed and halved

1 cup water

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

2 teaspoons of salt

3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, in 6 pieces

1 tablespoon, fresh squeezed lemon juice

 

The Recipe

Arrange the potatoes in the bottom of a skillet (don’t worry about over-crowding, it won’t matter, I used a 10 inch, straight sided skillet) so that all of the cut surfaces are in contact with the surface of the pan. Add the water (it should come up about half way on the potatoes, add more water if necessary), butter, salt and garlic to the pan. Turn burner on high and heat the skillet until the water comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cover for about 15 minutes. Check if the potatoes are cooked after 15 minutes (a knife inserted should pull out easily), if they are not, cover until they are. Once the potatoes are done, remove the lid and remove the garlic to a bowl. Increase heat to medium high and continue cooking until the bottoms of the potatoes are golden brown – all of the water will evaporate leaving just the butter (this should take 10-15 minutes depending on your stove). While this is happening, mince the garlic and combine with lemon juice. Once the potatoes are done, remove from heat and toss in garlic and lemon. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

 

Notes

I would recommend using a non-stick skillet for this process to keep the potatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan. The recipe scales easily, just put enough potatoes to fit in the pan and add enough water to come up half way on the potatoes. You probably won’t need to add more butter unless you use something larger than a 12 inch skillet. Fresh rosemary, sage, thyme or oregano would work well with this recipe. Just mince them and add them at the end with the garlic.

AB’s Quick and Easy Pasta Dough

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Homemade pasta is one of those things that is insanely easy (with the right recipe) and will impress the crap out of your guests if you make it. It also comes in handy because you can make it with a few ingredients you have at home. I have made pasta completely by hand and it is hard work – mixing and kneading the dough and rolling it out. Taste-wise it is outstanding, but time wise, it isn’t worth it. A few years back, Alton Brown came out with a recipe that significantly cuts back on the time – all of the mixing is done in a food processor. It takes about 3 minutes to make the dough with this process, so you could actually make fresh pasta for a Tuesday night dinner rather than a special occasion.

 

The Software

10 oz. All Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon olive oil

 

The Recipe

In the bowl of the food processor combine the salt and flour and pulse for 2 seconds to combine. In a measuring cup, combine all of the remaining ingredients and beat lightly. Turn on the food processor and slowly stream the liquid into the bowl, until all of the liquid is incorporated or the dough just begins to pull away from the side of the mixer bowl. If you have used all of the liquid, slowly stream in 1 tablespoon of water at a time until dough is ready (It should feel slightly tacky, but not wet or sticky). Remove from the bowl, give it about 10 seconds of kneading to bring it together and wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours (the longer you refrigerate, the easier it is to work with).

 

Notes

It is hard to describe exactly what the dough should feel like, so you will probably have to experiment a bit with it. Sometimes you need to add a tablespoon or two of additional water, other times you will not end up using all of your liquid, so there is really no exact way to do this. Some fun additions to pasta – a couple of tablespoons of minced spinach or stinging nettles (just make sure you remove as much water as possible), fresh herbs, lemon zest and pepper or hot pepper flakes. Just add them in with the flour salt and pulse to combine.

AB’s Instant Chocolate Pudding

By Iron Chef Leftovers

So I am going to show you want to do with the instant pudding recipe. I have modified the original recipe and that change will be described in the notes. This is fairly quick to make and tastes so good when it is done.

The Software
1 ¾ cups of pudding mix
4 cups of whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The Recipe
Combine the mix and milk in a medium sauce pan. Whisk together until combined. Heat over medium heat until mixture begins to boil (7-10 minutes) constantly whisking gently. When boil is reached, reduce heat to low and simmer for 4 minutes, whisking constantly. Remove heat and whisk in vanilla. Transfer mixture to a single bowl or individual serving bowls. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding if you don’t want a skin to form. Refrigerate or just eat it warm. Using your finger or a spatula, remove any chocolate pudding still in the pot and consume.

Notes
The original recipe called for 2 cups of heavy cream and 2 cups of milk. I replaced the cream with the milk and did not really notice much difference in the texture or flavor. I need to try it with replacing some of the whole milk with skim milk to see how that affects the product. I also tried doubling the recipe. It increased the cooking time from 10 minutes to almost 30 since there was much more cold milk to bring up to temperature.

Stuff You Should Have In Your Pantry: Instant Chocolate Pudding Mix

By Iron Chef Leftovers

I like simple desserts. I am not a baker and I don’t like spending a ton of time putting things together if I don’t have to, but I do like chocolate and specifically chocolate pudding. Yes, you can buy it premade (which tastes like crap) or the instant pudding mix in the store but really, do you want all of the chemicals and stabilizers in it? Here is the ingredients list for Jell-O Chocolate Pudding:

SUGAR, MODIFIED CORNSTARCH, COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE (FOR THICKENING), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SALT, TETRASODIUM PYROPHOSPHATE (FOR THICKENING), MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES (PREVENT FOAMING), RED 40, YELLOW 5, BLUE 1, ARTIFICIAL COLOR, BHA (PRESERVATIVE).

They actually add food dye to chocolate pudding? Sheesh. What if I told you that you could make your own instant pudding mix at home with a handful of ingredients and have it taste about 100 times better than any box mix that you can get? Well, thanks to the culinary genius that is Alton Brown, you can.

The Software
4 oz. Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder
2 oz. Cornstarch
6 oz. Powdered Sugar
1 ½ oz. Non-Fat Dry Milk Powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt

The Recipe
Take all the ingredients and combine them in a large bowl or container with a lid. Cover and shake until completely combined. That is it. You are done. That took about 2 minutes. Store covered in the fridge for 3 months.

Notes
I actually increased the amount of cocoa in this recipe by 1 oz. (it originally called for 3 oz.) because I wanted to. A teaspoon of espresso powder added to this mix would throw this totally over the top. Use a really good cocoa powder, it is your dominant flavor and you want the best you can get. I suppose you want the recipe for making pudding, huh? Well, you will just have to wait a few days for my next post to get that one.

Quick Chicken Parm

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Chicken Parm is one of my favorite things – how could it not be, breaded chicken, sauce and cheese. Recently, I had a family member have a health scare and it got me thinking, is there a healthier way to make chicken parm and still have it taste great. This is particularly useful if you don’t have any sauce on hand (and you would never buy sauce from a jar, right?) This is what I came up with.

The Software
3 chicken cutlets, 3 oz. each, about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, patted dry
2 tablespoons, herb infused olive oil (see note below)
2 oz. mozzarella cheese, either sliced very thin or shredded
1 oz Parmigiano reggiano grated
1 tomato, sliced into 1/8 inch rounds (enough to cover the surface of your chicken)

The Recipe
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil on medium-high heat until just starting to smoke. Add chicken and cook on the first side for 2 minutes and the second for 1-2 minutes until done. Remove excess oil with a paper towel. Heat your broiler. On a baking sheet covered with a sheet of foil, place the chicken, top with tomatoes and then top with cheese. Place under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Serve to happy guests.

Notes
Start to finish, you can have this on the table in 10 minutes. Notice I did not use salt – there is plenty in the cheese that you won’t need it. Check on your chicken constantly when under the broiler – it can go from bubbly to burn in a hurry. There is no need to preheat the broiler – you are just melting the cheese, not cooking the chicken. If using an electric oven, keep the door slightly ajar, the broiler will cycle off and on if you don’t and it will take a lot longer to melt the cheese. The recipe can be easily scaled and obviously you can add more tomato or cheese if you want. The key to this being a quick recipe is pounding the cutlets thin. If you don’t want to do it, buy your chicken at a butcher shop or megamart with a butcher counter and ask them to do it for you. They should have no problem with doing that.

Notes on Infused oil
To make the herb oil, you can either buy it or make it yourself. I like to throw a sprig of sage, rosemary, tarragon and thyme into about 1 cup of oil with 2 garlic cloves. Heat over medium heat for 15 minutes. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month. If you are feeling really lazy, just toss the herbs and garlic in the oil you are cooking the chicken in and leave them in the pot, following the directions for cooking the chicken in the recipe.

Farro – The Other Brown Grain

By Iron Chef Leftovers

Farro, or emmer as it is also known, is an ancient grain that is popular in Italian cooking and is starting to gain acceptance in the US because of its high nutritional value and diabetic friendly properties. I tend to use is as a substitute for rice and I love its nutty flavor and tend to cook it to an al dente consistency to give it some toothiness. It is a simple grain to cook and it is pretty much like cooking rice.

The Software
½ cup farro
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt

The Recipe
In a medium sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the farro and toss in the olive oil until coated. Cook over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. Add the stock and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce heat to medium low and simmer covered for 30-40 minutes. Check the grain after about 25 minutes – you are looking for a consistency that is slightly chewy, but not crunchy. The farro may be cooked before it absorbs all of the liquid. If it is, drain the liquid and season as needed (a little salt and pepper usually are nice, maybe a couple of teaspoons of nice olive oil). This can be served either hot or cold.

Notes
You can replace the stock with water if you want – the stock adds flavor, but isn’t necessary. Use farro in place of brown rice as a side dish or put it cold on a salad for a nice, nutty crunch. It is also really good with some slivered almonds and dried cranberries as a side dish – just add those in once the liquid is drained and toss.