All posts by Van Santos

Campanelle with Chicken and Vegetables

Last night I was thinking to myself “I want a nice, healthy, fresh dinner tomorrow.” Immediately my mind started running different options – do I want a fresh salad or a simple pasta dish.  After roughly 12 hours with the topic running through my mind, I decided pasta was the way to go. I take my dinner choices seriously!  

This dish is based, in part, on the recipe over at My Tasty Treasures.  I made a few changes based on what seemed right for me and then I had a go. 

What you’ll need:

  • 3 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • 1 Head of Broccoli
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper
  • 1 Yellow Squash
  • 3 cloves of Garlic
  • 2 cups of Chicken Stock
  • 2 tsp of Basil
  • 2 tsp of Olive Oil
  • 2 tbsp of Butter
  • ½ tsp of Black Pepper
  • ½ tsp of Salt
  • Shredded Asiago Cheese
  • Pasta (cooked and ready – remember to boil in saltwater!)
Chicken Breast, Red Peppers, Yellow Squash, Campanelle Pasta

Chicken Breast, Red Peppers, Yellow Squash, Campanelle Pasta

Food Prep

Cut your Chicken Into thumb sized cuts, set aside
Chop your Broccoli into Florets
Slice your squash into half dollar chips
Peel and dice your Garlic

Cooking

1) Place your vegtabiles into a pan with ½ inch of water, steam on medium-high heat for 5 mins, set aside (or cook while doing next part)

2) Place olive oil and garlic into large pan, cook until garlic is brown

3) Add chicken stock and chicken cuts – cook over medium-high heat until the chicken is almost cooked

4) Add Butter, Basil, Salt and Pepper – stir

5) Add Pasta and Vegetables and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken reaches the desired degree of cooking

Finished and ready to go!

Finished and ready to go!

I was hoping for a quick and easy dish, and I found it.  Total prep and cook time is roughly 25 minutes and is not difficult at all.  More importantly, and I very well may be biased, this is one of the freshed dishes I’ve had in a long time.  With a few tweaks this dish could very easily be of restaurant quality. It is truly that good.  The Red Peppers hold the taste of the chicken stock ever so slightly, the asiago adds a bit a sharpness and the chicken is juicy. 

Really, as long as you do not overcook the chicken I truly believe you will enjoy this dish!

Easter Egg White Cake

I have no problem with experimenting… when it comes to food that is.  Recently the baking bug kicked in and I thought to myself “Hmm… how could I make a classic white cake?” Having no desire to do a box cake, I decided to do a little research on what I could use.  One thing leads to another and a bunch of reading later, I came up with the following recipe:

Dense White Cake

  • 1 ½ sticks of salted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 ¾ cups of sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 ½ tsp French Vanilla Extract

Now, I know what you may be thinking… YES… buttermilk.  The characteristic of the typically sour dairy product produces a unique flavor especially when introduced to the French Vanilla.

Pan Prep

Before you start mixing everything together, make sure your pan is prepped. As a non-professional baker, what do I know, but here is what I do. Using Crisco, grease the bottom on the pan so that all surfaces are covered.  Take wax paper, enough to cover all surfaces of the pan, and place into the pan and press so that coverage is as even as possible.  Cut off any extra wax paper that extends over the edge of the pan to prevent browning/burning once it gets into the oven.

Directions

Pre-heat your oven to 350.

Bowl number two – mix your butter and sugar together until the mixture does not retain the “grainy” aspect of the sugar.  Set aside.

Bowl number two – mix flower and baking powder. Set Aside.

Bowl number three – mix buttermilk, egg whites and French vanilla. Set aside.

Slowly mix the flower/baking powder into the butter/sugar mixture, adding the milk/egg mixture to keep the butter/sugar base as moist as possible.  Once all contents are mixed, pour into pan.  Bake for for 30 minutes and test.  If your cake is not finished, back for 5 minute intervals until finished.

White Cake Baking Away

White Cake Baking Away

Once your cake is finished, let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes.  Place some wax paper on the counter and turn the cake over onto the wax paper.  It should come right out of the pan.  You will need to remove the wax paper that lined the pan from the cake but that will be no isssue.

The cake, fresh from the pan.

The cake, fresh from the pan.

Time to decorate.  It’s important to point out that 24 hours passed from the time the cake came out of the oven until the decorating started. 

 How you want to do this is up to you.  We decided to use fondant purcahsed from a baking suply company, then paint the fondant.  

Here is the fondant going on.

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Fondant looks.... so smooth.

Remember how I said I like to “experiment?”  Well, I also attempted to make butter cream frosting for the first time.  It was going to be used as the bonding agent between the cake and the fondant.  Yea, well…  the butter cream frosting did NOT work out.  One wouldn’t think it’s that hard – some confectionery sugar, some butter, some milk…  Yea, no.  Not so much.   I ended up having to use a can of frosting from the store.

The finished Easter Egg Cake

The finished Easter Egg Cake

In the end, I think this turned out extremely well all things considered.  I have a number of things I want to try moving forward, maybe some variations on the cake recipe, but an overall successful first attempt.

I hope you enjoy Easter!

Update – one thing I forgot to say previously.  This cake tastes better the longer it sits around.  Obviously, there would be a point where it would start to go stale but I baked a practice cake and it tasted so much better on day 5 than fresh out of the oven, it really caught me off guard.

Pasta with Pesto Cream and Asparagus

After my Chicken Pesto dish I had a plenty of pesto left over for future use. I had absolutely no desire to let it go to waste, so I decided to get creative – Pasta with Pesto Cream and Asparagus.  It’s quite important to note that I’ve never – ever – made a cream sauce before and I decided to wing it.  

So here goes.

Ingredients Needed

  • ½ Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp Butter
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 4 tbsp Pesto Sauce
  • 1 Box Fusilli (well, whatever pasta you so desire)
  • 1 Bunch Asparagus, cut

1)Begin Fusilli when you start your cream sauce

2)Heat the heavy cream until it starts to simmer, add butter and mix until it melts

3)Mix in corn starch, simmer for 2 minutes

4)Mix in the pesto sauce and and grated Parmesan cheese, simmer until for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

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5)Drain pasta, place into large skillet and add pesto cream sauce and asparagus.  Heat over low flame until the asparagus is crisp

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I was very, very surprised at how well this turned out.  I had expected this to turn out like a really, really bad science experiment, but no! Depending on your taste, you may wish to hold off on the asparagus as it has the ability (especially on how fresh it is) to add a slight bitterness to the dish.  

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It is interesting to note they sauce is very, very lite in the end.  The pesto is not overwhelming, actually it is quite subtile.  A great adddition to the dish would be some chopped chicken and pine nuts or sliced almonds.

If you have another cream sauce recipe that you would like to suggest, please do.  I’m more than willing to try others.

I hope you enjoy!

Chicken Pesto Stuffed with Fresh Mozzarella and Steamed Vegetables

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For years I’ve enjoyed making pesto sauce.  I remember on day simply thinking to myself “what would make a good pesto” and I started to experiment.  I never used a recipe. this was one of the rare cases where my mind seemed to piece everything together. I had planned on making this dish Saturday evening but I was too sick, I just didn’t have the energy. Yesterday evening I found myself in a slightly better physical state so I decided to have a go at it.

For this dish you will need:

  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 bunch of fresh Basil
  • 1 bunch of fresh Tarragon
  • 1 bunch of fresh Radish greens
  • 8 oz Grape Seed oil
  • 4 oz Olive Oil
  • 1 cup of fresh baby spinach 
  • 2 tbsp of hazelnuts, chopped
  • pine nuts
  • ½ cup grated asiago cheese
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes 
  • 3 boneless, skinless, thin sliced chicken breast
  • 1 Head of broccoli 
  • 1 yellow squash
  • 1 box Fettuccine 

Pesto Sauce

  1. Put one 1 tsp of Olive Oil in a pan, heat, and roast the garlic cloves.  You want these cloves to be BROWN.  Not tan. Not lightly golden.  BROWN on all sides.
  2. Take your Fresh Basil, Tarragon and Radish Greens and chop in a blender.  I tend not to use the thick stems of the leafs, but some people opt to.  To me the taste ends up being too bitter when the stems are included. After chopped, remove from blender.
  3. Put Grape Seed Oil, Olive Oil hazelnuts and asiago cheese in blender, mix.
  4. When nuts/cheese and oil have mixed where there are no large “chunks” add the previously mixed Greens as well as the garlic cloves and mix until you obtain the consistence you desire

Your pesto sauce is now done.  You may be asking a number of questions about this, so let me try to head a few of them off to being.  I use double the amount of Grape Seed oil as compared to  Olive Oil because I have found that Olive Oil can be too strong at times.  Yes, hazelnuts are used…  Be careful not to overdo the usage as the flavor of hazelnut can overwhelm the sauce.

Stuffed Chicken with Mozzarella and Spinach

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350
  2. Transfer your pesto sauce out of your blender, if you have not done so already, and rinse out blender.
  3. Add Spinach, Mozzarella and blend together
  4. Lay out the chicken breast, add Mozzarella and Spinach filling to the breast, then spoon on desired amount of pesto sauce
  5. Roll the chicken breast lengthwise, tie with kitchen twine
  6. Place on foil covered baking sheet, spoon pesto over chicken
  7. Bake for 35 to 40 mins

While it is usually easy to dry out chicken breast rather quickly, especially thinly sliced breast, remember, as this bakes the cheese in the chicken will melt out.  This will help keep the moisture in the chicken. 

While the chicken is baking, boil up the Fettuccine.  I would suggest you boil the pasta in saltwater (a technique I just learned from JT, one of the other writers on this blog).  This will add a subtile taste to the dish.  Also steam up the broccoli and squash for about 10 minutes in about an inch of water.

Once everything is ready to be served, drizzle on extra pesto sauce and sprinkle grated asiago cheese and pine nuts to the dish.

Expect to have plenty of pasta and pesto sauce left over as this recipe makes roughly 3 servings.  The overall taste to this dish is very well balanced. No one thing out does the other, and there are plenty of flavors to go around. There you go… Enjoy!

Crockpot Cornish Hens with Carrots and Potatoes

There is just something about the magic of Crockpot cooking.  Maybe it’s the meat falling off the bone tenderness or the set it and forget it attitude one can take when cooking…. I don’t know.  With a recent post about Cornish Hens over at Tina Culbertson’s blog, I got the itch to make a Cornish Hen meal.

Here is the recipe:

  • 3 Cups of Chicken Stock
  • 2 Cornish Hens
  • 1 Bunch of Parsley
  • 4 Garlic cloves
  • 8 Carrots, pealed and cut
  • 6 Yukon Gold Potatoes, quartered
  • 1 Onion, diced
  • ½ tbsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt

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1)Stuff the Cornish Hens with the Parsley, Onions and garlic cloves (2 cloves per bird).

2)Place Hens in Crockpot, add Chicken Stock, Carrots, Potatoes

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3)Set Crockpot on low, cook for 4 hours

4)At for hour mark add the salt and pepper, cook for another three hours

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This is a very easy to make meal, if you don’t mind waiting the 7 hours.  The carrots and potatoes capture the flavors of the Chicken stock, as well as the Hens, and is fantastic.  The onion really didn’t have much of an impact on the overall flavor, but the garlic was subtlety noticeable.

To me, Cornish Hens have a unique taste.  While they are not “game” hens, the flavor and texture does remind me of of game meats.  When I make this dish again, I have the intent of complimenting the game aspect in some way.  I’m not sure how, as of yet, but adding that little big of “something” has the ability to make this an outstanding dish.

Not there yet, but the potential is there.

Blueberry Muffins

About two weeks ago I started to get a baking itch.  It started when I found the King Size Corn Muffins at ReTorte.  I didn’t yet make the corn muffins, I opted for her blueberry muffins – with my own twist. I’m not saying my “twist” was the best choice, but I wanted to give it a try.

So, here is the recipe for Blueberries Muffins (based on ReTorte’s version)

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
  • zest of one lemon 
  • Shaved chocolate (amount of your choice – and purely optional)

WARNING: Educational Content – “Zest” is the outer skin of the fruit.  One can obtain the zest by using a fine peeler.

 

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  • Mix the butter and sugar together until you have a fine, light, mix batter.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla. 

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  • Mix in dry ingredients, alternating with buttermilk in 2 or 3 additions, to the butter/sugar/egg mixture. 
  • Add zest. 
     
  • Fold in blueberries. 
     
  • Scoop into muffin tins, greased or with papers, and bake at 350F for 25 – 30 minutes. 

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There is some debate around the house about the addition of the shaved chocolate.  Personally, I like the taste of the chocolate and lemon. Others may not care for the the taste.   It really depends on what your taste is.

Thoughts/tips to consider:

  1. Your oven will vary.  I baked this batch for 28 mins, but on my next go around I will keep the muffins in for only 25.
  2. You can try different ingredients in place of the lemon.  Let your imagination run wild.
  3. The addition of poppy seeds would be perfect for this.

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Mom's Old Fashion Beef Stew

As a child, during winter, one of my favorite dinner treats was when my mother would make her been stew.  Something about the contrast of the cold outside and the thought of a warm meal was comforting.  Not only that, the carrots were soft and retained all flavors represented in the dish, the meat just fell apart with the touch of a fork and the potatoes were little bit of heaven.  It was as if all the ingredients mixed together in such a way I was unable to deny this was my comfort food of the time.

With winter waining I wanted to make Mom’s Old Fashion Beef Stew so that I may enjoy the experience once more before spring comes to town.

Ingredients

  • 2.5lbs Stew Meat (Pot roast, seven bone roast, etc.)
  • ½ onion
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 6 carrots
  • 4 potatoes (Yukon gold or Red)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 c. V-8 juice
  • 2 tlbs tapioca
  • 1 tlbs sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)

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Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 250 degrees
  2. Cut meat into 1 ½ inch cubes and place in 3 or 4.4 qt oven safe Casserole
  3. Peel and slice onion
  4. Slice celery and cut potatoes and carrots into chunks
  5. Place vegetables in pan
  6. Blend salt with sugar and tapioca, Sprinkle over ingredients in pan
  7. Place cinnamon stick in dish
  8. Pour V-8 juice into pan
  9. Wrap dish in foil and Bake stew at 250 degrees for 4 hours

All said and done, it should look something like this when heading into the oven:

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As the dish cooks in the oven the moisture in the meat will add to the V-8, creating more of a “gravy” for you to enjoy.  This goes very well with Sourdough bread. I was going to make some, but didn’t plan that far ahead, so I ended up buying fresh baked instead.

A few things to note:

  1. The Tapioca can be found in the baking aisle
  2. If you cut the vegetable pieces larger, you will need to cook longer until they are tender
  3. Make sure the foil is sealed to the edge of the pan you are using so all the heat stays inside the dish while cooking

My dinner has roughly 3 ½ hours left to cook but rest assured I’ll post a picture or two once the finished product comes out of the oven.

And there is the final product, fresh from the oven.

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Additional tips/pointers/thoughts:

  • I suggest you cut the meat/veggies on the small side, allows for easier eathing and additional time in the oven is not needed
  • Depending on your taste, you may wish to remove the cinnamon stick
  • This makes for great leftovers

For me, it’s a classic! Enjoy!

Welcome to "Yes, We Cook!"

Let me give you a bit of back ground on how “Yes, We Cook!” came into existence.

For the last 8 months, my blogging efforts have taken place on my own personal site, vansantos.com, but the topics ranged from personal thoughts on life to business to entertainment. Essentially, there was no specific focus.

As my enjoyment for cooking was rekindled, I began to post more and more food related items to the blog. After Wandering Coyote @ ReTorte listed me as a site that has “yummy stuff from time to time” I decided now is the time to create an environment focused on food/cooking.

I approached a good friend of mine, JT, who also enjoys the exploration of culinary delights, about blogging our food related thoughts and he was interested.

Bam. “Yes, We Cook” was born.

Please understand we are in the infant phase today. In no way are we professionals, and in most cases we are both lucky enough to string together coherent and structured sentences, but my hope is this site grows into a platform supportive of communication and the sharing of ideas and information surrounding the culinary arts. If the enthusiasm other bloggers have for cooking is any indication, I believe that goal is possible.

Van