Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hatch Chile Pimento Cheese BLT Sandwiches

When the whether gets to be scorching is also the time when Hatch chiles from Hatch, New Mexico come out to play. Over the years I've paid tribute to these green beauties not one, not two, not three, but FOUR times. 

This year I grabbed a modest amount (I need to go back for more) and roasted up three mild, two medium and one HOT Hatch chiles on the grill. My wonderful husband then peeled off the charred skins for me and I briefly pulsed them in the food processor and added them to things like my Herby Green Sauce and some more Hatch Chile Chicken Enchiladas

But what I was most excited about was pimento cheese. I've been on a total pimento cheese BLT kick all summer (baby Robison must be a fan). After a work dinner that quickly turned to pimento, my colleague from Georgia and others from the South all said that Duke's mayo is the best. I've never had it and haven't seen it in Austin, but they were nice enough to mail me a jar! They were right, you only need a few high quality ingredients and you'll have a delicious pimento cheese. I subbed in my chopped Hatch chiles for pimentos in this batch, but with the other half of the jar of mayo not yet used, I may have a traditional pimento cheese in my future!

Hatch Chile Pimento Cheese BLT Sandwiches

4 slices bacon (I like peppered bacon from the butcher's case)
12 ounces grated sharp cheddar (I do a mix of white and yellow cheddars)
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup chopped Hatch chiles or pimentos
3/4-1 cup mayonnaise (start with 3/4 and add more by the tablespoon to reach your desired consistency)
Salt and pepper, optional
8 slices bread of your choice (we kept it simple with wheat this time)
1 heirloom tomato, sliced
1 small avocado
Spinach or bibb lettuce

Cook your bacon to desired crispness (I like using the cast iron over medium to medium low heat, turning bacon often to prevent curling). 

While the bacon cooks, mix together the pimento cheese mixture. Combine grated cheese, chopped red onion, Hatch chiles or pimentos and mayo in a bowl. Since I was using peppered bacon, I didn't add any salt or pepper, but if you're using plain bacon you might want to add pepper, and if you're using no bacon, you may want to add a pinch of salt too.

Toast bread. Spread on about 1/4 cup pimento cheese and top with a piece of bacon, tomato slices, avocado and greens. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Chicken Mushroom Spaghetti Squash Casserole

Even though Luke is in grad school, I haven't felt beholden to the back-to-school schedule since graduating college (to be fair, he only takes one class a semester and is still working full time). That said, I still love the excitement this time of year brings and love seeing friends post B2S pictures of their kids - it's just a few  years away for us now!

Last week Whole Foods Market (I work for them, but this post is all my idea) had a big sale on roasted chickens on Friday, so when I asked Luke how many I should buy and when he jokingly said "five" I wasn't far off - I grabbed four. I love using one or two straight away in recipes, pulling the meat off the others and freezing in convenient bags for future soups, stews and CHICKEN POT PIES, then making a huge pot of chicken stock with the bones and any extra meat I was too lazy to pick off for aforementioned meals. 

The other inspiration behind the dish is the awesome crop of spaghetti squashes we grew in the garden this summer. The peaked early and we got about 6, but luckily they last a while so we've enjoyed one every other week or so. I tend to always want to enjoy them spaghetti-style with tomato meat sauce, so I wanted to mix it up. The thought of the oh-so-90's chicken spaghetti casserole with cream of mushroom soup came to mind, but this is SO MUCH BETTER THAN THAT. 

I made all the ingredients the night before and mixed it together to leave in the fridge for two reasons - I could easily just top with panko and parm and bake off on a work night, and the flavors would get to meld together. Luke was commenting on how you could really taste the mushrooms, and I think that's due to the overnight resting period. But, it would still be quite delicious if you baked it off after making all the components - and you could reduce the cooking time to 20 minutes.

Chicken Mushroom Spaghetti Squash Casserole

1 medium spaghetti squash (about 2 1/2 - 3 pounds)
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
4 cups whole milk (room temperature is best)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1/2 bunch lacinto kale, rinsed and torn into 2 inch pieces.
3 cups cooked chicken (for me, this was one rotisserie chicken)
1/2 cup panko or bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Half spaghetti squash lengthwise and remove seeds in the middle (I love using a grapefruit spoon for this task). Place cut-side down in a baking dish and fill with 1/2 cup water. Roast for 35 minutes. Remove to a plate and let cool at least 10 minutes. Using a fork, scrape out the squash flesh to form spaghetti-like pieces. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, warm a medium-large sauce pan (I used my small Le Creuset Dutch oven which is the perfect size because I baked the final dish in this - one less pan to clean!) over medium heat. Melt 2 tablespoons butter (reserve the extra tablespoon) then whisk in flour. Let cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds - 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and lower heat to medium-low. Cook to thicken and reduce, 10-15 minutes, whisking every 20-30 seconds (this will depend on the temp of the milk when you added, the cooking surface size of the pot and the heat on the stove). The goal is a thickened sauce-like state (but not SUPER thick). Season with salt and pepper and add 1/2 cup parm (reserving other 1/4 cup). 

While you cook your sauce, warm a large skillet (I used my 12-inch cast iron) on medium heat and warm olive oil. Add mushrooms and saute 5-7 minutes. Add kale to the pan along with a couple tablespoons of water. Stir to combine and then place a lid on top for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Combine the spaghetti squash, mushroom mixture and milk sauce along with cooked chicken pieces in a casserole dish. Top with panko and remaining Parmigiano Reggiano. Bake in 375 degree oven for 20 minutes if you bake it immediately, or 30 minutes if you refrigerate the mixture. Then, turn on the broiler and let it go for 2-3 minutes, depending on your oven, until panko begins to brown. Enjoy!

Friday, August 22, 2014

New spot for North Austin - Punch Bowl Social

Luke and I moved to north Austin two and a half years ago, and I've loved seeing the influx of restaurants and entertainment in the area, especially in and around the Domain. They just announced a new Kerbey Lane opening one mile from my house! (dangerous....)

Typically when I'm invited to media events, it's for a sassy new place downtown, on the east side or south. Imagine my surprise when I confirmed the location and it was just a stone's throw away in the Domain!

Punch Bowl Social is kind of like the Goodnight or the Highball, but much bigger. They've got bowling, shuffleboard, ping pong, darts, arcade games, billiards and more, not to mention a restaurant and bustling bar. This pregnant lady finds it a bit difficult to bowl these days, so we focused on the food and drinks :) Another complaint I hear from fellow north Austinites is that there aren't many places that are open until the wee hours, even in the Domain, so I'm sure they'll be pleased to know Punch Bowl Social is open until 2 a.m. every night! (Hey, maybe Baby Robison and I will make an appearance during a late night feeding/diaper change... psych!).

Their grand opening is tomorrow, August 23 at 7 p.m. - tickets (at the door or on Facebook) are $10 and there will be free menu and punch samplings, along with games and live music. 

Now on to the food. I imagine Punch Bowl Social will appeal to companies to host large parties (especially with places like National Instruments just down the road), but it would also be a great way for a group of friends to go out or to celebrate a birthday. A lot of their food reminds me of a party style, and they even had a table set up with trays of food. Can I say this is the most impressive veggie tray I've ever seen? Love the purple cauliflower and carrots, endive and radishes. The cheese and charcuterie plates were epic too. And my table was impressed with the blintzes, saying these were the first ones we'd had that we liked - the ricotta tasted really high quality which was nice.

I'm embarrassed/not really that my favorite thing was the truffled potato chips. They tasted kind of earthy, like truffles should, not just doused in truffle oil like can often happen with truffle fries (though I love those too - don't get me wrong). You'd be remiss not to get these on your visit!

Another hit was the deviled eggs, which included a bacon jam on top - nice! The filling was really substantial - almost like mashed potatoes meets egg yolks?

One thing I was really impressed by on my recent trip to the west coast was that almost every restaurant I went to had a dedicated mocktail menu. I'm not talking about fountain soda and maybe a fresh lemonade, but actual mocktails that were delicious and made me not feel like I was missing out. I feel like that trend hasn't really hit Austin, and you typically have to tell the bartender what you generally like in a cocktail and cross your fingers while they give you stink eye and mix something at the bar. I was pleased that they had four different house-made sodas with special syrups they make in house. I tried the grapefruit and the strawberry with rhubarb bitters versions, but they also had one with cantaloupe and another with cucumber and jalapeno.

The cocktail portion is brought to you by Luke:

You didn't think we were going to the Punch Bowl Social without talking about the punch did you?  I tried three different drinks: One with mezcal, one with moscato-flavored SKY vodka, and one with chai tea, coconut, and rum.  All were very refreshing, but my favorite by far was the rum&chai.  None of the drinks were overly strong or sweet. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Herby Green Sauce + Grilled Fig, Ricotta and Arugula Pizza

If you're like me, fig season is just like Christmas! This year, the fig tree we planted after we moved in 2 years ago produced a whole 4 figs (we only got to eat one, slightly underripe - the birds got the other ones)! I'm hopeful next year we'll get a bowl-ful and the year after will have even more! In the meantime, I rely on the kindness of neighbors with better-established fig trees who have more figs than they know what to do with, or buying them in the store (the perk there being lots of varieties to try! And, they've been on sale which is always a perk - I buy a pint of figs every time I shop these days). 

So, even if you don't have a fig tree, that doesn't mean you can't make this recipe. If you're one of those people who don't like figs, I think a ripe plum would be an excellent substitute here. 

Appreciations to Jeanine of Love and Lemons - I was inspired by her ripe for Fig & Ricotta Flatbread Pizza posted earlier this month. Especially with the inclusion of pesto, since I made a delightful herby green sauce that I've used several ways. It's pesto-esque, but since there is no cheese or nuts, it's not a true pesto. So first off, the sauce:

Herby Green Sauce

4/5 a bunch of cilantro, stems included
Heaping handful of fresh basil leaves (about 20 leaves)
3 tablespoons roasted, salted sunflower seeds (pepitas would be nice here too)
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Place herbs, sunflower seeds, garlic and lemon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined. With the processor running, pour the oil in through the spout to combine. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. If it's a little thick for your preference, add in water by the tablespoon until desired consistency is reached. 

If you plan on using this a few different ways, you  may want to leave on the thicker side so you can thin as needed for additional uses. I added in a tablespoon of freshly roasted Hatch chiles to use on top of grilled chicken and rice - nice kick!

Grilled Fig, Ricotta and Arugula Pizza

1 pound pizza dough (mine was purchased fresh from the pizza counter at the grocery store. You can also buy frozen dough or make your own!)
4 tablespoons herby green sauce OR store-bought pesto
16 ounces ricotta cheese (I like buying good quality ricotta from the specialty section of the store, full fat. But, follow your heart on this one) 
5-6 ounces fresh arugula
1 pint fresh figs, sliced
2 ounces pancetta, crisped up and then chopped
Balsamic vinegar for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste

Start charcoals in a chimney start (we heat a lot of charcoal so that the grill will get HOT) or set your gas grill to high heat.

Divide dough into two balls. Stretch first dough ball on a floured wooden cutting board - get this as thin as possible without tearing the dough. Prick the dough a few times with a fork to prevent bubbles when the dough cooks.

When grill is hot, flip the dough onto the grill. Close the top and let grill 1 1/2 - 2 minutes. Flip it over (there should be some nice grill marks. Let cook another minute on this side. Quickly spread 2 tablespoons herb sauce/pesto over the dough and half of the ricotta cheese. Let dough cook another 30-45 seconds, then pull off the grill.  Repeat with second dough ball.

Top pizza with arugula, figs and pancetta. Putting your thumb over the top of the balsamic bottle, lightly drizzle the top of the pizza. Season with salt and pepper. Cut each pizza into 6-8 pieces and enjoy!

Note: If you don't want to grill, you can easily replicate this in the oven. The cast iron method would work well.