I have tried several fabulous recipes this past week, and I could hardly wait to share them with you. First though, I wanted to give you a rundown of our latest Macaroni Grill visit since I think you’d enjoy some of the delicious dishes we tried. I must say that Macaroni Grill is my hands-down favorite sit-down restaurant. We’ve never had a bad service, bad food, or a poor atmosphere. Normally, we order the same thing every time (not because we’re that stuck in a rut, but because it’s so amazing we have a hard time imagining anything could taste better). If we order an appetizer, we usually order the bruschetta (where you get to top freshly grilled ciabatta bread with ripe tomatoes that have been tossed with olive oil and basil and shaved Parmesan). Then we each order a serving of penne rustica, which is penne, chicken, shrimp, and prosciutto tossed in a creamy sauce (so incredibly delicious!!). This time, however, we managed to branch out a little. For an appetizer, we ordered the Parmesan fries that I mentioned last time, and we were so glad we did. The fries were all perfectly crisp and seasoned, plus they were served with an amazing four cheese sauce. The hubby did still order the penne rustica, but I ordered something I’d seen in one of their e-mails that had immediately captured my attention. Unfortunately, it was a seasonal item that’s probably off the menu now, but you can trust that I’ll be waiting to have it again next winter. It’s called butternut Asiago tortellaci, and it was one of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted. It’s a pasta (like tortellini, but bigger) that’s filled with four cheeses and served with roasted butternut squash, crispy prosciutto strips, pumpkin seeds, and truffle cream. Though one of us will probably always get the penne rustica (yes, it’s that good), we’ll probably take turns trying new dishes looking for new favorites. I’m hoping that next time we can try those mac and cheese bites for an appetizer! (Pics are compliments of the hubby’s phone.)
For my diet days this week, I tried a very filling Spicy Mexican Cheese Chowder. The picture looks yummy, but I couldn’t help tweaking it to fit me better. I’m not a huge fan of the texture of frozen cauliflower and carrots, but I didn’t want to lose the nutritional value of the veggies. I bought a bag of frozen zucchini and yellow squash, then supplemented that with part of a bag of frozen corn, part of a bag of frozen broccoli, and some chopped and sauteed fresh carrots. I also decided to puree the soup with my wonderful immersion blender (which I’m only slightly obsessed with), since I prefer a smoother texture. I pureed after adding the thickener, but before adding the cheese; I see no reason why you couldn’t puree before adding the thickener, I just hadn’t made up my mind yet. It’s not the best soup you’ll ever eat, but it is filling and tasty with only 210 calories for a nicely sized 1 1/2 c. serving.
One of the other new recipes I tried was for some delicious cinnamon bun pancakes. I absolutely adore a good cinnamon bun, but I have yet to conquer my “fear” of working with yeast enough to make some. (Silly, I know, and something I plan to work on; just not quite yet.) These are a perfect substitute for those of you with a similar trepidation or just not enough time to make the real thing. They are quick and easy to make, and really do taste like cinnamon buns. Instead of the simple glaze that the recipe called for, I took the opportunity to use up some leftover cream cheese in a cream cheese glaze that pushed these over the top! I would imagine you could also top them with regular syrup or any type of frosting. They will be coming back to our house soon.
Cinnamon Bun Pancakes (from Baked Bree)
For the pancakes:
1 1/2 c. flour
3 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. cinnamon
2 beaten eggs
1 c. milk
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 c. melted butter
1 tbsp. vanilla
For the glaze:
1 c. confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp. melted butter
2 tbsp. milk
1. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add the remaining pancake ingredients and whisk til well combined.
2. Preheat a griddle over medium heat. Ladle on spoonfuls of batter and cook til brown on both sides.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the glaze ingredients til smooth; serve over the pancakes.
This was the week for over the top recipes because I tried another one just a couple days later. They’re called Idle Hand Bars, but I would rename them Chubby Hubby Bars. No matter what you call them, they’re a perfect combination of salty pretzels, creamy peanut butter, and smooth chocolate. I would caution you to eat them like fudge, in small pieces. They are very rich, so a little goes a long way. (I won’t say that I made myself sick, but a friend’s husband might have turned a little green after eating too big a piece.)
Idle Hand Bars (from Guilty Kitchen)
For the base layer:
1/2 c. butter
1/4 c. sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 beaten egg
1 1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
3/4 c. coarsely crushed pretzels
For the middle layer:
1/2 c. melted butter
2/3 c. confectioner’s sugar
1 c. peanut butter
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
For the topping:
5 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 tbsp. butter
1. In a double boiler, melt together the 1/2 c. butter, sugar, and cocoa. Once they’re melted, add the egg and beat to combine (it will thicken a lot). Remove from the heat and stir in the graham cracker crumbs and pretzels. Press into the bottom of an 8×8 pan and set aside.
2. In a small bowl, mix the melted butter and peanut butter together. Mix in the confectioner’s sugar, salt, and vanilla to form a thick paste. Dump this over the first layer and smooth it out.
3. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips and 1 tbsp. butter. Stir til completely dissolved and smooth. Pour over the peanut butter layer and spread out evenly. Chill for 5 minutes, sprinkle with sea salt, and return to the fridge til completely cooled.
Now, who’s ready for a movie and dessert? Hopefully, you are ’cause that’s what’s coming up. This week’s movie was Chocolat, definitely a favorite of mine. (You can watch a couple trailers here.) The movie is set in 1959, in a small, tranquil French town. On a blustery day, Vianne (a wandering confectioner played by Juliette Binoche) and her daughter, Anouk, blow into town to set up a chocolaterie (chocolate shop). The town’s mayor (masterfully played by Alfred Molina) is staunchly opposed to the change that Vianne represents and sets up a campaign to run her out of town. As Vianne begins making friends and changing opinions, the war between her and the mayor escalates and takes some interesting turns. The supporting cast includes such renowned actors as Lena Olin, Judi Dench, and Johnny Depp. (Contrary to what others might have done, I didn’t know who Johnny Depp was when I watched this for the first time many years ago. However, he does deliver a good performance.) There are so many reasons that I love this movie, but I’ll try to keep them concise. First of all, the entire feel of the movie is enjoyable. The setting is beautiful, the acting is so well done, and the soundtrack is fun and keeps everything moving. And who wouldn’t love a movie that’s set in a chocolate shop? I drool watching her create her wares and always end up craving chocolate. As someone who is a fan of many things French, I adore the accents and the beautiful names. There are also little attentions to detail that endear it to me. Vianne dresses beautifully, and I love the way she decorates the chocolaterie. I also like the little hideaway that Anouk finds in their apartment, and I would’ve loved one as a kid. One of the things that I think they captured best was the look on people’s faces as they savor the wonderful chocolates; more than anything, I think that’s what drives my cravings for it when watching. My favorite scene is probably the birthday party: everything just looks so delicious and fun. My favorite line is when Josephine says, “Who says I can’t use a skillet?” Before moving on to our recipe, I will caution you that there are a couple slightly adult scenes that you might want to just skip past. They’re not long or graphic, but they are there, and I wanted to make sure to warn you.
Obviously, my chosen recipe has to be chocolate-y, but I also wanted to pick something that I could envision Vianne creating for her customers or the dinner party. I finally settled on a rustic chocolate pie that didn’t disappoint. It was relatively easy to put together (especially since my immersion blender made short work of chopping the nuts and whipping the egg whites) and so delicious. Right after coming out of the oven, the crust was a little tough and the insides were a gooey fudgy mess. I let it sit in the oven (turned off) while I spent time with my husband, and it turned out great. After it had cooled, I found the textures much more pleasing. The pie crust just shatters in your mouth and the insides became a little more settled. Either way, the top was crispy and very similar to a meringue cookie. I tried some more today straight out of the fridge and was pleased that it had kept the second set of textures without losing any of the chocolate taste. I liked the pecans in it, but would like it just as well without. If you choose to eat it hot, I think a scoop of ice cream would make it even more decadent. Needless to say, this won’t last very long in my house.
Rustic Chocolate Pie (from Better Homes & Gardens)
For the crust:
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
5 tbsp. butter
1 1/2-2 tbsp. water
For the “filling”:
6 oz. coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate (no more than 62% cocoa)
2 egg whites
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 c. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 c. chopped nuts
1. In a bowl, thoroughly mix together the flour and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cut the butter into chunks and add to the flour. Use a pastry cutter (or fork) to cut the butter into the flour til the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Drizzle 1 1/2 tbsp. cold water over the flour mix til it’s just moist enough to hold together when pressed. (Add remaining water if necessary.) Turn the dough out onto plastic wrap, gather it into a flat disk, wrap in the plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Position a rack in the lower 1/3 of your oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Let the dough stand for 30 minutes at room temperature or til it’s pliable enough to roll without cracking. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 14×9 inch oval that’s about 1/8 inch thick. (While rolling, rotate and dust the dough with flour to help prevent it from sticking.) Brush any excess flour from the dough, fold it in half, and transfer it to a baking sheet. Unfold the dough, then loosely fold and roll the edges to form a rimmed crust. Bake 10-12 minutes or til light golden brown. (The crust’s edge will be a little raw inside, but that’s ok.)
3. Melt the chocolate in the microwave on 50% for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently til almost completely melted. Remove from the microwave, stir til melted, and set aside.
4. In a bowl, beat the egg whites with cream of tartar and vanilla til soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and 1/8 tsp. salt Beat til the whites are stiff but not dry. Pour the pecans and melted chocolate over the whites and fold in with a spatula til it’s a uniform color.
5. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Drop the filling over the partially cooked crust and spread to 1/2 inch thick. Bake 10 minutes or til the surface looks dry and slightly cracked.
Before we say goodbye for the night, I want to share something that jumped out at me during our Sunday night sermon; it’s not something the speaker pointed out, but just something that crossed my mind while reading some of the verses. Our assistant pastor was preaching and had directed us to read Titus 3:5-6. They say: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior;” After our vacation, I mentioned that Bill Rice III had spoken about God supplying according to His mercy, not our needs, and that’s what came to my mind while I read the verses. God does not owe us anything for doing “good works.” We can never work our way to Heaven. Yet we have a way to get to Heaven, by believing in Jesus as our Savior. He didn’t have to give us anything, but He gave His son to die in our place so that we could come be with Him in Heaven. I’ve been saved for over 20 years, but that still amazes me. He is such a merciful and loving God who blesses us with so much more than we deserve.