Breakin’ A Leg in the Kitchen

Today’s challenge was an interesting mix of familiar and new, simple and challenging. My mystery items included fennel, chestnuts, and crab legs.

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The familiar part…crab legs. I LOVE crab legs. My dad devloped an allergy in his 40’s and I always fear that I’ll develop allergies later in life too. So far, so good though.

The new part…fennel annd chestnuts. I honestly can’t recall a time I’ve eaten either. And I’ve never cooked with either.

The simple part…Joe did give my permission to use the internet. A very generous relaxation of the rules thanks to two unfamiliar ingredients for me.

The challenging part…using the internet but still making it a fun challenge. Finding something that would work with ingredients that I already had in the house. Even though the internet was allowed, and extra shopping trip was not allowed.

I found this recipe for chestnut and apple stuffing. I had most of the ingredients, so I tweaked it a bit. I did not have challah bread but I did have some homemade gluten free bread I’d made last week. I roughly chopped it and toasted it.

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I added parsley and onion sauteed in butter and tossed the bread.

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I added chopped apples and chestnuts. And finally, chicken broth and an egg. Funny thing – I never kept broth on hand until I started these cooking challenges. They come in handy.

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I baked it and it was yummy! I should have added more chestnuts, but otherwise I’ll definitely make this again. Need other ideas for apples? Check out my three course apple meal.

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When I did a little research on the fennel I kept reading that it had a licorice taste. I was amazed at the strength of the licorice smell as soon as I cut into it! I made Joe stop playing video games to come smell it (yep, you read that right).

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I sliced it and tossed it in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and sea salt and roasted it for about 30 minutes. I don’t really like licorice, but I did like this. And even with roasting, the licorice taste was still strong.

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I rinsed the thawed crablegs and cut slits into each leg. This helps cook inside the legs and to make the legs a little easier to break while eating.

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I boiled water, added butter, minced garlic, and lemon slices. I added the legs and boiled them for about 7 minutes. There are other ways to cook crab legs, but honestly, my favorite way ever isĀ  grilled crablegs. Just a completely different taste.

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The final meal was pretty tasty. The fennel actually tasted really nice when mixed with the stuffing, so if I were to make it again I would add the fennel instead of roasting it separately. Crableg dinners are delicious, but they are a lot of work. Not the cooking part, but the leg breaking part.

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Chocolate Covered Shot of Energy

In a recent food challenge, I had to find a way to use whole coffee beans with trout and scallops. While it turned out surprisingly well, I had a ton of whole coffee beans left over. I don’t own a coffee grinder or a regular coffee pot for that matter (I LOVE my Keurig!), so I had to find another way to avoid wasting the coffee beans.

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I decided that I would make chocolate covered coffee beans using chocolate leftover from my holiday candy marathon. I begain with this basic recipe. I don’t have shortening to smooth out the chocolate, but I found that you can substitute coconut oil for it and I do have that which is much healthier (as far as chocolate covered coffee beans go)!

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I melted both white chocolate and milk chocolate with enough coconut oil to get it to the right consistency for dipping (about 1 teaspoon of coconut oil per cup of chocolate chips) in coffee mugs.

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Then, I dipped the coffee beans in the chocolate and used a fork to fish them out and allow them to drain excess chocolate.

I placed the chocolate covered beans on wax paper and separated them a bit. I quickly decided that there wasn’t enough chocolate, and despite my painstaking dripping of chocolate, I drizzled more on top. Never enough chocolate.

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Apparently never enough caffeine either…Only 3 beans has 36 milligrams of caffeine! It is recommended by the Mayo Clinic that we consume 200-300 milligrams per day (unless there are other health conditions present). So, we can’t just eat these like candy, even if it is tempting.

I did create one variation. I had more white chocolate so I added a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and dipped beans in the white chocolate cinnamon mixture. Yum!

They didn’t turn out in perfectly rounded bean shaped goodies. I haven’t quite mastered that yet… But they are good!

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Venison and Pepper Chili

It is now officially cold outside. With snow in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow, I wanted to share my own version of chili. This was also a request in the comment of a friend in my very first cooking post!

While home for the holidays, my dad helped to load me up with fresh venison – the first critical ingredient for my chili. I’ve made chili with beef and turkey, but none of it can compare to the venison. It is so flavorful and lean. You don’t have to drain any fat off of the meat because there isn’t any.  I begin with 2 lbs. of venison and brown it.

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While the venison is browning, chop two bunches of tomatoes ripened on the vine. I like my chili to be chunky, so these are slightly larger than diced.

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I combine the venison and tomatoes into a large pot. I use the same pan where I browned the venison to sautee 2 chili pepper, 2 jalapenos, 1 onion, and 1 green pepper in a little olive oil.

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Next, I add 2 cans of hot chili beans. You can choose mild or original if you don’t like as much heat in your chili.

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Then, I add 2 packets of original chili seasoning. Maybe one day I’ll try making my own. This is the one place where I don’t go “hot” so that I can balance out the other hot ingredients and multiple peppers.

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When you mix this all together, it will look very thick. Too thick.

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However, as it simmers, the tomatoes release enough water to reduce the thickness.

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I let it simmer for 5-6 hours. Top it off with sour cream and shredded cheddar!

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Chilled Tomato Water AND Crockpot Tomato Soup

Over the summer, Joe and I had an extended honeymoon in which we traveled to five different European countries including Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Portugal. He used this vacation, and a very special restaurant where we enjoyed a fancy dinner, as inspiration for this challenge.

First, a little bit about the restaurant. It is called Con Gracia and is a former Michelin Star restaurant. The restuarant only does two seatings per night and only seats about 20 people total. When you see the menu you can choose your own courses like in any traditional restaurant OR you can choose the seven course surprise. The choice was obvious – the surprise dining experience for us! And it really was fun to get surprise after surprise brought to the table!

Our first course was chilled tomato water. Below is a picture of the original chilled tomato water at Con Gracia. It was perfectly clear, ice cold, and had just one tiny square of tomato in the bottom.

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I’ve never really loved raw tomatoes. I need to cover them with a dressing or cheese to cover the taste. I see it as quite the adult accomplishment when I eat a sandwich without picking off the tomatoes. However, this was so good! So, Joe challenged me to make chilled tomato water.

I began with a variety of fresh ripe tomatoes. I washed them and removed any green or stems.

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I blended them until smooth.

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I set up a strainer (AKA sifter), dampened some paper towels, and lined it over a bowl. This brought back childhood memories of helping my grandparents strain and clean the fresh cows milk!

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I poured in the blended tomatoes and set it aside to drain. This process took quite a bit of time! I left the draining tomatoes for over 6 hours.

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All those tomatoes and this is the amount of water I got out of it. Not very much at all.

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I chilled the water for about an hour and prepared the drink in a shot glass with a tiny chunk of tomato to attempt replicating the Con Gracia course.

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I didn’t get it quite as clear as the original, but it was clearer than I expected. Apparently this is an important skill taught in culinary school.This was a small return on the investments, so I don’t think this is something that I’ll plan to do again. But, it was a fun challenge.

Even though the tomato water was the goal of this challenge, I couldn’t bear to see the blended tomatoes (sans water) go to waste. I added that to the crockpot, cut up more tomatoes (unblended), added diced onion, minced garlic, chicken broth, and a bag of mixed frozen vegetables to it. I let it cook on low for several hours and was able to get a nice tomato based vegetable soup out of the mixture.

Never “Bean” There, Never Done That

I’ve been telling people about my food challenges since my first challenge including shrimp, kale, mushrooms, and endives back in August. People always think the idea is fun and start throwing out some really oddball ingredients. Joe must have been listening, because this week, I had an oddball ingredient. Below you can see turnips, baby scallops, whole trout, and whole coffee beans. He only gave me one rule – I had to use the coffee in the main meal.

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I love coffee. I drink it every day, preferably multiple times a day. I like coffee ice cream, java flavored pastries, or just smelling it as a walk or drive by a coffee shop. I had coffee eclairs in France that were to die for. But….with fish?

Although coffee was the challenging ingredient, I can’t forget about the turnip. I started with the turnip first, slicing it Bloomin’ Onion Style. I drizzled it with olive oil, wrapped it in foil, and put it in the oven to roast. I let it roast for about 40 minutes before I began anything else.

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Next, I threw a handful of the whole beans into a pot of water and let them boil. They smelled so good! But I still couldn’t fathom how that would fit with fish.After the beans had boiled a while, I added white rice to cook.

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While the rice cooked, I rinsed the scallops and the trout. I sauteed the scallops in olive oil, but only until they were about half way done and just to get a bit of a sear on them. I planned to bake them and didn’t want them to be overcooked.

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After the rice was done, I picked out all of the beans and stuffed the trout with the coffee flavored rice and scallops. I really struggled with what else to do. The colors seemed bland and there was no other seasoning. However, when I thought about coffee, I thought cinnamon would be complimentary. At this point I thought to myself, “Luckily we live close to a restaurant. Looks like we’ll be eating out for dinner tonight…”

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I put of cup of water in the bottom of the fish pan, added another handful of coffee beans in the bottom, and put the remaining rice and scallops on top of the beans and around the fish. I baked it for about 35 minutes at 350 degrees.

About 15 minutes before the fish was ready to come out, I put a butter, italian seasoning, and garlic mixture over the turnip and allowed it to continue baking uncovered.

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The final dish:

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Here’s my honest assessment. The coffee flavored rice was not too bad! And it didn’t interfere with the fish or the scallops at all. Joe thought the cinnamon was a nice touch to bring the flavors and aromas together. Unfortunately, the turnip was a massive fail. We even tried turning it into a turnip mashed potato substitute and still no good. I’m not sure if this is because of my cooking or just because of it being a turnip though…

So, now I have leftover whole coffee beans (and no grinder) and leftover chocolates from holiday candies. I’m planning to make chocolate covered coffee beans! Stay tuned!

Wassail Wednesday

Quick post tonight, and I can’t even take credit for the name! Tonight, Stella’s Kentucky Deli had a special called “Wassail Wednesday.” Wassail is a warm fruity cider like drink that often pops up around the holidays. The proceeds helped to benefit the Kentucky Theatre.

This isn’t the first time Stella’s has donated to a local good cause. And it won’t be the last. Every Thursday they host “Dining for a Cause” which benefits a different organization every week.

Want to try making your own Wassail? Here is a quick recipe I found online. I’ll have to experiment before my holiday gatherings this weekend.

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Holiday Candy Marathon

Just because I haven’t posted blogs lately doesn’t mean I haven’t been in the kitchen! I’ve been on holiday candy marathons for hours on end across multiple days and multiple weekends. My favorite marathon included extra hands from my mom and my sister in which we produced enough goodies for our three households, each of our workplaces, and one Christmas gathering!

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Above you will see peanut butter fudge, chocolate fudge, vanilla cake truffles, buckeyes, chocolate covered cherries, marshmallow buttons, bourbon balls, potato candy/peanut butter roll, cream cheese cookies with frosting, and german chocolate cookies. I’m only going to share a few recipe here, most of with I found online.Just click on the names below for the recipes!

Bourbon Balls

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German Chocolate Cookies

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No Bake Vanilla Cake Truffles

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Caramel Marshmallow Buttons

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White Chocolate Raspberry Cream Cheese Cookies

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