Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh aren't part of the crime-busting Hardy Boys of literary fame - but they are a team of Chicago caterers who appear on the Food Network as their alter egos in "Partyline with the Hearty Boys."
As the 2005 winners of "The Next Food Network Star" competition, they use their casual style and easy banter to demystify putting together a special meal or a party.
Their new cookbook, "Talk with Your Mouth Full: The Hearty Boys Cookbook" (Stewart, Tabori and Chang), is filled with entertaining tips that come from their years of experience as party-givers, as well as easy-to-make special dishes that are good for small families or large gatherings.
The Saturday Early Show asked them to take the "Chef on a Shoestring" challenge - create a meal for four people, with three courses, that costs under $40. Not only have they done so, but they've created a dip that's so delicious you could spread it on shoe leather and still want seconds.
SPINACH, ARTICHOKE AND BACON DIP
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
6-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
10 bacon strips, fried until crisp and crumbled
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Savory Pita Crisps
1. Heat the vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallot softens and the garlic begins to brown, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Put the spinach in a colander and squeeze all the excess water out of it. Transfer it to a large mixing bowl and add the artichoke hearts, bacon, cooked garlic and shallot, lemon zest, sour cream, salt and pepper. Mix well with a rubber spatula and transfer to a decorative bowl. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before serving so the flavors can marry. Serve with Savory Pita Crisps.
SAVORY PITA CRISPS
(Makes 48 pita crisps)
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1-1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
4 sandwich-sized pita breads, cut into 12 wedges each
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Mix all the herbs and spices in a small bowl. Put the pita wedges into a large mixing bowl and add the spice mix. Drizzle the oil over all and toss well to coat. Put the pitas onto a baking sheet, shake it to even them out and place the pan in the top half of the oven.
3. Bake the pitas until they are crispy and lightly brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool 10 minutes, and mound around the dip bowl.
4. Make ahead: The crisps can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored in an airtight container.
GRILLED CHICKEN, WHITE BEAN AND BASIL CHILI
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 tablespoon dried basil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Spanish onion, cut into ½-inch dice
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
Two 15-ounce cans Great Northern beans
1-1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
5 basil leaves, roughly chopped, plus additional leaves for garnish
1 tablespoon hot sauce such as Tabasco
Sour cream, for topping
Cast-iron grill pan
1. Place the grill pan over high heat until it begins to smoke, about 5 minutes. While the pan heats, toss the chicken with 1 teaspoon of the dried basil, a pinch of salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Place the chicken in the pan and grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until the chicken is just cooked through. Remove from the pan and let cool 5 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut into 1-inch chunks and set aside.
2. Pour the remaining olive oil into a heavy-bottomed pot and place over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeno and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken, beans with their liquid, cumin, cinnamon, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, the remaining dried basil, the fresh basil, and the hot sauce.
3. Let the chili come to a slight boil, reduce the heat, and let it simmer for 20 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn't stick. Serve in large mugs or bowls, topped with sour cream and garnished with a fresh basil leaf.
Make ahead: Chili can be made the day before.
CHOCOLATE CREAM CHEESE CUPCAKES
(Makes 24 cupcakes)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
Cream Cheese Frosting
12-compartment muffin tin
Paper muffin liners
Unfrosted cupcakes can be made the day before and stored in an airtight container. Frosting can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. Let soften to room temperature before using.
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners in the muffin tin.
2. Combine the flour, 2 cups of the sugar, cocoa, salt and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Pour 2 cups water, the oil, vinegar, and vanilla into a second bowl. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry, using a whisk to mix them as you pour. Continue to whisk until the batter is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour it into the prepared muffin cups, filling them three quarters of the way.
3. Put the cream cheese and remaining 1/3 cup sugar into the bowl of a mixer and whip until smooth. Add the egg and whip until the mixture is light. Fold in the chocolate chips. Drop 1 tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture into the center of each cupcake. Bake the cupcakes in the top half of the oven until the cake springs when touched, about 20 minutes. Let cool in the tin before frosting.
4. For a homey look, use a butter knife to spread the cream cheese frosting. For a fancier look, use a piping bag with a star tip. Begin at the edge of the cupcake and pipe the frosting in a spiral motion toward the center of the cupcake. Lift the pastry bag up at the center to form a peak.
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Put cream cheese and butter into the bowl of a mixer and beat until well combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sugar 1 cup at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla extract and beat 1 minute longer.
(Yield: 2-1/2 cups)
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