Chex Mix = The Holidays

Amy writes:
When I was a kid, one sure sign it was the holidays was the large tin of homemade Chex Mix on the counter. It didn't stay on the counter long, however, but once that tin was close to empty, you could count on smelling Chex, butter and various seasonings baking in the oven at any minute. We were in need of a constant supply.

Over the years, I have refined my taste for Chex Mix and thus, the family recipe has slightly changed to meet these preferences (or, what my friend Joanne calls, Amy-Approved Ingredients). No nuts or pretzels in my mix! (I like them, just not mixed in with my Chex). It's cereal only, specifically Wheat Chex, Rice Chex, Corn Chex and Cheerios in equal amounts. The seasonings are also very specific and no substitutes are allowed. To me, and other members of my family (who will remain nameless to protect their identities), Chex Mix is Christmas crack. Each batch (which is actually a double-batch) contains three sticks of butter. Yes, you read that right. Therefore, finally realizing admitting that my favorite holiday snack is probably accounting for any holiday weight gain I might incur, this year, I've made some rules regarding my own personal Chex Mix production and consumption.

Rule One: The earliest that Chex Mix can be made is the day after Thanksgiving.
Rule Two: After New Year's Day, any remaining Chex Mix must be tossed.
Rule Three: Not more than one (double) batch can be made in any given week.
Rule Four: Chex Mix must be eaten in a little bowl rather than directly from the tin.
Rule Five: Whenever possible, gallon-sized bags of Chex Mix must be offered as gifts to friends and aforementioned family members.

Ah...Chex Mix. Salty. Crunchy. Garlicky. Full of that savory, almost meaty, flavor that is known as umami. Licking fingers coated in butter and bits of cereal. Chewing on Cheerios that are dark brown, shrunken little circles of deliciousness. Ah, heck. It's the holidays! I deserve a treat! Besides, it's just cereal, and cereal is healthy - whole grains and all that! Note to self: must get to nearest grocery store, buy more cereal. And butter! Need butter! Bring over that tin! Hey...hands off my Chex Mix!!!

Note: I credit my mother for the original recipe from which I adapted this, and have no idea where she got it from. Also, remember, this makes a double batch, so make it in a large roasting pan. And, finally, no substitutions. And no, I haven't been paid by any of these companies.

3 sticks salted butter
2 1/2 teaspoons Lawry's Seasoned Salt
1 teaspoon McCormick's Season-All Seasoned Salt
1/4 teaspoon McCormick's Garlic Powder
4 1/2 tablespoons Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 box Wheat Chex
1/2 box Rice Chex
1/2 box Corn Chex
1/2 box Cheerios

Heat oven to 250 degrees. In a large roasting pan, melt the butter. Mix in seasonings and worcestershire sauce. Fold in cereal slowly until all of it is coated with the seasoned butter. Bake at 250 for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every fifteen minutes. Increase oven temperature to 275 and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container. Try to share.

Disclaimer: Through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, Lea & Perrins sent us a coupon for a free bottle of their Worcestershire sauce which we used in this recipe. 


Grown-Up Lunch at ON20

The day before Thanksgiving is a half day for both of us, and we celebrate by going on a grown-up lunch date. It is a far cry from our usual 23-minute daily lunches in the cafeteria of our respective high schools, and we love to do it right. This year, our destination was ON20, an upscale restaurant on the 20th floor of the Hartford Steam Boiler Building. As always, the food was outstanding and the service impeccable. Add in the beautiful views of Hartford (including the Traveler's Tower, left) and it was the perfect choice to kick off our holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The Amuse Bouche:
sweet potato soup with crab and vanilla saffron foam

The Starter Course:
sunchoke bisque with roasted chestnuts

The Appetizers:
Nantucket Bay scallops with cranberry beans (left) and
Braised Spanish octopus (right)

View of the Connecticut River from ON20

The Entrees:

Grilled sirloin with crispy snow peas and five spiced pommes puree (top), and
Grilled hake over vegetables in a citrus aioli

  Dessert Amuse Bouche:
Plum and armagnac sorbet atop almond cake

  The Dessert:
Chocolate Trio of flourless cake, spicy hot chocolate and chocolate ice cream (top), and
Deconstructed Key Lime "Pie" with coconut sorbet and vanilla bean milk jam (bottom)

A fabulous lunch comes to an end



Caribbean Coconut Shrimp

Sure, Thanksgiving is only two one day away, but it feels like spring, with temperatures in the low 60s. That means it's a good night for something summery, something exotic, something with coconut. Thus it was the weather, and a single stalk of lemongrass given to us by Chef Lise at a recent cooking class, that inspired our newest shrimp creation we're calling "Caribbean Coconut Shrimp."

Sweating the onion, garlic and lemongrass

Tomato sauce is mixed in.

Add in the coconut milk and allow the lemongrass some time to infuse the sauce.

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
2-3 stalks lemongrass, quartered
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Place the shrimp in one layer inside a baking dish and place aside in refrigerator. Take the bottom end of one of the stalks of lemongrass and peel it to get to the inside core; mince the core finely to equal about a teaspoon or so. Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a skillet and add the chopped onion, minced garlic and minced lemongrass. Saute for five minutes, stirring often, until onions are translucent. Add the tomato sauce and cook another three to five minutes. Stir in coconut milk, cilantro and lemongrass stalks, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat and allow the lemongrass to infuse the sauce, about a half hour. When ready to serve, pour sauce over shrimp. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove aluminum foil and continue to bake uncovered for 10 more minutes, until shrimp are pink. Delicious with saffron or jasmine rice!


Italian Cheese and Pancetta Mini-Muffins

With the recent success of making gougeres, we made another attempt at creating a savory baking recipe. Once again, we used cheese (we love cheese in case you haven't noticed) and for added flavor, pancetta (just Italian bacon, and everything is better with bacon). We've been noshing on these mini-muffins ever since. They are definitely better warm, so eat them (almost) straight out of the oven and/or heat them up.

Browning the pancetta.

Dry ingredients.

Cheese mixed in.

Thick, sticky batter.

About to go into the oven.

A look inside...somehow both fluffy and dense, with cheese and pancetta.

Note: We did not intend to use heavy cream, but we only had 1/2 cup of milk left and happened to have about the same amount of heavy cream in the refrigerator. Nonetheless, we were so pleased with the results, that we modified our recipe. They're muffins with cheese and bacon - a little more fat isn't going to make much difference.

Yields 24 mini-muffins.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 ounces pancetta, finely diced
1/2 cup milk (we used 1%)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 egg
1/4 cup melted butter at room temperature
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brown the diced pancetta in a small skillet then set aside atop a paper towel to absorb the grease. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the cheese and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk and butter. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients, add the pancetta, and stir until well combined. The resulting batter will be thick and sticky. Spray two mini-muffin pans with baking spray and fill each cup with the muffin batter (a melon baller does the job nicely). Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Remove immediately and serve warm.


Foodie Book Friday: Good Enough to Eat

At the very beginning of Stacey Ballis's latest novel, Good Enough to Eat, the reader learns that main character Melanie Hoffman has recently lost half her body weight as well as her husband, who has left her for someone her former size. She has also spent the last year or so of her life leaving her law career to open a cafe devoted to healthy-but-tasty foods, the descriptions of which are why we've added this book to our "Foodie Book Friday" collection.

Each chapter begins with the story of a comforting dish from Melanie's youth (think macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and chocolate chip cookies) that will tease your tastebuds and make your stomach growl. Throughout the book are glimpses of dinner parties, cafe offerings, and food-focused scenes that make the reader want to jump into the pages and dig in. Thankfully, at the end of the book are 40 pages' worth of recipes - most of them in the original and health-conscious versions to pay homage to Melanie's struggle to maintain her weight. So, after reading a particularly delicious description, a reader could actually whip up that exact dish.

Food aside, this is a light-hearted but satisfying story. Melanie has taken many risks, and this book is about seeing how those risks transform her whole life.  But mostly, this is a book about relationships, Melanie's support system as she traverses through those risks. Melanie is a wife, then an ex-wife, a sister, a friend, an employer, a roommate and a lover. There are healthy relationships and abusive relationships, heterosexual relationships and homosexual relationships, love relationships and even hate relationships. And all of these relationships are explored, quite literally, at the table, over food, a common denominator for us all.

In Good Enough to Eat, Ballis has created real, authentic characters whom the reader can relate to, care about, and root for. Witty, contemporary, and sumptously written, this great story is one for foodies and non-foodies alike.


Gravy Contest - Updated

UPDATE: Well, we didn't win, but we were runners-up. Congratulations to "sticksnscones" on their winning recipe for "Vegetarian Mushroom Thyme Gravy." And, thanks to all who voted for us. We appreciate your support!

Cider-Sage Gravy is a finalist in Food52's Gravy Contest. If you could take a moment and vote, we'll be your best friends!!! Vote for ChrisandAmy's Cider-Sage Gravy (the one on the left) under Week 10 Finalists: Your Best Gravy at http://www.food52.com/contests. THANKS!!!

By the way, you can also watch a video of Merrill and Sarah Simmons making our gravy at this link or a photo slideshow of our gravy recipe here.

Wordless Weekender: Seared Green Beans with Mint


Pan-Fried Camembert

Not sure, but perhaps we've mentioned how hectic school has been. To say that we're 'Thanking God It's Friday' would be an understatement. In the spirit of our jobs, here's a word problem for you: If your lunch "hour" starts at 10:30 and only lasts 22 minutes, at what time will you be starving?" The answer is: 4:00 p.m. - just when you've gotten home and opened up that bottle of whatever.

Wanting to taste the comfort and luxury that comes with a well-earned Friday afternoon, we decided to take a small wheel of Camembert, dress it up a bit with some seasoned breadcrumbs and pan-fry it. Seriously...nothing says comfort like melted cheese, right?!?

The end result was everything we wanted and more. The sharp piney flavor of the rosemary accentuated the buttery creaminess of the cheese. The crunch of the breadcrumbs offset the texture of the cheese in that macaroni-n-cheese topping kind of way. Paired with a crispy fruity wine, this snack is a French picnic in one amazing bite. Gonna' go finish that wine now! Au revoir!

1 8-ounce wheel of Camembert cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
4 tablespoons plain breadcrumbs
a pinch of salt
oil for frying

Fill a large skillet about 1/4-inch high with oil for frying. Beat the egg in a small bowl and set aside. Combine the chopped rosemary, breadcrumbs and salt in a shallow bowl and set aside. Cut the Camembert into 8-10 small wedges. Heat the oil. Dip each wedge completely in the beaten egg then coat entirely with the seasoned breadcrumbs. When oil is hot, place each wedge of cheese in the pan. Fry each side of each wedge of cheese for 30-45 seconds, or until golden brown. Serve hot with a fruity sparkling wine like Rosa Regale.


Aztec Chocolate Rice Pudding

Amy writes: School (note: we're both high school teachers) has been, well, let's just say hectic and leave it to our readers' imaginations. When things are this way, we tend to order a lot of takeout and today our refrigerator was full of takeout containers, pizza slices wrapped in aluminum foil, and some things that were unidentifiable. Thank goodness it was trash day. One thing we saved, however, was that extra pint of white rice that came with our General Tsao's. That was destined to become dessert.

When things are hectic, the sweet tooth (teeth?) in each of us appears with a vengeance. Knowing this, while Chris was late coming home from school, I decided to use that leftover rice, mix it with cocoa powder, milk, a dash of this and a bit of that and created what I'm now calling Aztec Chocolate Rice Pudding. I'm not going to lie - it's pretty good for an experiment, and it certainly has a kick to it (next time, a little less cayenne for sure), but it worked. It worked well, in fact. Sweet, spicy and chocolaty - an interesting little pudding that isn't the most beautiful thing but sure hit the spot.

Note: This recipe filled four ramekins.

2 cups low-fat milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 (next time definitely 1/4 but it's up to you!) teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups cooked rice

Heat all ingredients except the rice in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stirring often, cook until bubbles start to form on the edges of the pan and the milk begins to steam. At that point, remove the cinnamon sticks and the vanilla bean pod. Then add the rice and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes until thickened, stirring often to avoid burning. Chill and serve when things are hectic.


Herbed White Bean and Sausage Stew

A chilly Sunday, the New York Times, and a pound of dried beans. We followed this recipe to the letter and had a delicious stew that made our house smell wonderful and satisfied us with its hearty goodness. But if we were to make this stew again, here's what we'd do differently: replace some of the water with chicken or vegetable stock, and double the amount of herbs that the recipe calls for. We think this would add some depth and intensify the great flavor of this stew. Added tip - we enjoyed a bit of grated Parmesan cheese on top!


Coq au Vin Our Way

Last week's attempts at making tarte tatin and aligot, both classically French dishes, inspired us to remain in France, as it were, and take a stab at coq au vin. Tom Colicchio and his purist attitude toward ingredients aside, we planned on using regular old chicken for our dish. And, since Amy doesn't care for mushrooms, there are none in our version. Thus, we give you "Coq au Vin Our Way."

We started by marinating the chicken parts (drumsticks and thighs) in wine for a couple of hours before the braising began. This helped intensify the rich wine flavor of the dish. Then we browned them (thought not long enough, it turns out) and braised them in the wine with some vegetables, bacon, chicken stock and herbs mixed in. A bit too much flour made our sauce a little thick but not terribly so.

We served our coq au vin with roasted potatoes and minted green beans. It was a hearty meal that was perfect for a fall weekend.

Cooks' Note:
A few days later, we realized our TiVo had taped Secrets of a Restaurant Chef for us (it knows us so well...) and it turns out the "secret" was coq au vin. If we had watched this before cooking, we would have floured the chicken to help it brown and not added the flour later. You decide, and let us know!

2 lbs. frying chicken parts (we used drumsticks and thighs)
2 cups red wine
5 slices thickly-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons flour whisked with 2 tablespoons softened butter
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

 Marinate the chicken in the wine for approximately two hours. Remove the chicken parts and pat dry with paper towels. Reserve the wine for cooking later. Heat the oven to 375. In a roasting pan, heat the oil over medium heat and cook the bacon for about three minutes. Add the diced onion and chopped garlic and cook, stirring well, until onions are translucent, about four minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove all ingredients from the pan and set aside. Turn the heat to medium-high and brown the chicken on all sides in small batches, then set aside. Reduce heat to low and add the flour/butter mixture to the pan. Stir until the fat is absorved and the slowly pour in the reserved wine. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Return the chicken, onion, garlic and bacon to the pan. Add thyme sprigs, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Cover and bake for 40 minutes.