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Friday, December 31, 2010

Jam and Bread Pudding

I can't believe that I haven't posted a recipe since Monday! It's been a crazy week here at our house. The holidays make things crazy enough, but on Tuesday my son had an accident while running in the house and hurt his two front teeth. We aren't sure what will happen; we have to wait another week to see the pediatric dentist again as only time will tell what will happen to his darling smile. So in addition to lots of tears shed by us all, it's been a challenging week in terms of cooking. Nothing too hard or chewy, of course. And trying to be clever with what's nutritous as well as soft.
Anyway, many, many weeks ago while reading a Food and Wine cookbook I came across this breakfast recipe for jam and bread pudding. It sounded decadent; a perfect breakfast for a once-a-year holiday treat. While the editors of the book chose to list it as a breakfast, it's also a delicious dessert.

Jam and Bread Pudding

One 1-lb loaf challah bread, sliced 1/2-inch thick
3/4 cup plus 3 tbsp strawberry jam or preserves
4 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups plus 1 tbsp whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish. Arrange half of the challah in the dish; tear the slices to fit. Spread 3/4 cup of the strawberry jam on top; cover with remaining challah.

2. Whisk the eggs with the granulated sugar, 2 1/2 cups of the milk and the vanilla and pour over the challah, pressing to soak. Brush the bread pudding with 4 tbsp of the butter. Cover with foil and bake for 24 minutes, or until set. Remove the foil halfway through.

3. Preheat the broiler. Blend the remaining 1 tbsp of milk with the confectioners' sugar. Add the remaining butter and strawberry jam and stir until the glaze is smooth. Spread all but 1/4 cup of the glaze over the bread pudding and broil until golden, about 2 minutes. Drizzle the bread pudding with the remaining glaze and serve.

The Verdict: Whoa, is this stuff decadent. And can you believe the recipe says that it's delicious drizzled with maple syrup? Who on earth would want to add more sugar?

This was a wonderful breakfast, but speaking of the sugar, feel free to play with the ingredients. You could probably cut the granulated sugar down by a 1/4 cup when blending with the eggs. The amount of jam can be reduced; I didn't measure out that much but just spread it from the jar onto the bread. I'm certain I didn't use 3/4 cup. Speaking of the jam, a nice addition to this recipe would be a layer of fresh or frozen (thawed) strawberries on top of the jam. One other sugar reduction is the glaze. We found that the glaze that topped the pudding was plenty; we didn't use any of the additional glaze.

I'm making it sound like this dish wasn't delicious because of all the sugar, but really it was. The already eggy challah bread puffed up wonderfully when soaked in the egg mixture. And the glaze was great. I think the only thing we were disappointed over was that the strawberry taste of the jam got lost. More fruit, please. By the way, the recipe didn't say how long to broil the pudding. With all that sugar, I should have known better. I thought four minutes would be OK and didn't watch it; two was plenty. What you're seeing in the picture was a little bit of what my mom used to call "pink." That's the nice way to say, yes, it got burned a little bit. The woes of being a home food blogger. I don't have a team of food designers to fix my mistakes.
I think with a little tweaking, this could become a holiday tradition.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Roast Turkey with Root Vegetables and Gravy

Trying to figure out what to make for Christmas dinner was really hard this year. My husband's helpful input was, "I don't care," leaving me with the decision. At first, I thought about roast beef. Then it was rack of lamb. I then briefly considered a roasted goose, but after seeing one at Whole Foods for $75, that was abandoned as well. (Seventy five bucks? Was it the goose that laid golden eggs for crying out loud?) Finally, I decided on a roast turkey recipe I found in Saveur. Turkey is, after all, the American standby for traditional holidays, right?

This recipe uses a turkey that's been split into eight pieces. While a whole roasted bird is a beautiful and makes a stunning presentation at the dinner table, moments later it's carved and completely annihilated. A bird that's been split up actually roasts better and more evenly; you are also able to peel back the skin a lot more easily to rub down the meat with butter and spices. And best of all, for a small family like ours, you don't have to roast an entire bird. We did only a half breast, two legs and two thighs. It was more than enough for our Christmas meal--in fact, we had it for leftovers tonight and I'll also be able to make a soup!

Roast Turkey with Root Vegetables and Gravy

12 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3 tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp sweet paprika
2 shallots, minced
1 12-lb turkey, cut into 8 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 medium potatoes, cut into 2" pieces
3 carrots, cut into 2" pieces
3 turnips, cut into 2" pieces
1 celery root, cut into 2" pieces
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2" pieces
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
5 sprigs each fresh thyme and rosemary
1 cup white wine or sherry
1 tbsp cornstarch

1. Heat oven to 500 degrees F. In a bowl, mix butter, parsley, cumin, paprika, and shallots; set aside. Season turkey with salt and pepper. Loosen skin; rub butter under skin. Combine root vegetables in a large bowl. Drizzle with oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss. Transfer vegetables to a large roasting pan; spread to cover bottom. Arrange thyme and rosemary over vegetables. Arrange turkey over herbs and vegetables. Roast turkey for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F; roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into each turkey breast reads 150 degrees F and each leg, thigh, and wing reads 160 degrees F, about 1 hour. (Some pieces will be done before others.) Continue cooking vegetables until tender. Discard herbs; transfer vegetables to a serving platter along with turkey and tent with foil to keep warm.

2. Pour pan juices into a large measuring cup. Pour off and discard fat; transfer liquid to a 2-qt saucepan. Add wine; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together cornstarch and 1/2 cup water in a small bowl. Stir cornstarch mixture into reduced liquid; return to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve gravy with turkey and vegetables.

The Verdict: Just as good as a whole roasted turkey. Probably juicier, definitely more golden brown, and the ability to lift the skin and season each piece gives the turkey a new herbal kick you don't find in a traditional bird.

Because we skipped the second breast and wings, I prepared the turkey with half the butter mixture. That means I reduced the amount of herbs I used a bit and only used one shallot. Additionally, I didn't use fresh thyme and rosemary. Instead, I used about a tablespoon of each and mixed it into the vegetables when tossing them with olive oil.

I omitted potatoes because I wanted to make sage mashed potatoes as a side (recipe follows). Feel free to use whatever root vegetables you desire. I cooked extra carrots as I always do because the whole family loves them. I also used a large turnip instead of three small ones. There are lots of vegetables in this dish, but I think that they lend a fantastic taste to the gravy.

Like most folks, roasting a turkey isn't an everyday affair. So the likelihood of making this again any time soon is slim, but only because it's a special occasion dish. But we thoroughly enjoyed it and it makes the most sense for a small family who would otherwise eat turkey until we gag to cook it in pieces instead.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ricotta Semifreddo

Our Christmas Eve dessert this year was ricotta semifreddo, a recipe that originally appeared in the November 2010 Cooking Light. I'd never attempted a semifreddo, which I have just learned means "half frozen" in Italian. This recipe includes grated orange rind, giving it a hint of citrus.

Ricotta Semifreddo

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup fat-free milk
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp grated orange rind
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
3 oz fat-free cream cheese, softened
1 (16-oz) container part-skim ricotta cheese (such as Calabro)
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
Fresh orange sections (optional)
Fresh currants (optional)

1. Line a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap. Combine 1/2 cup sugar, milk, honey, orange rind, vanilla extract, 1/8 tsp salt, cream cheese, and ricotta in a blender; process until smooth. Pour mixture into a large bowl. Pour cream into a medium bowl and beat with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Fold 1/4 cup whipped cream into the ricotta mixture. Fold in the remaining cream.

2. Spoon mixture into prepared loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap, and freeze at least 8 hours or until set. Remove semifreddo from freezer, and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Discard top piece of plastic wrap. Invert loaf pan onto a serving plate, and tap to remove semifreddo. Discard the remaining plastic wrap, and slice semifreddo crosswise. Serve with orange sections and currants, if desired.

The Verdict: Yum.

There's not much else to say about this recipe. It's super-easy to make and tastes wonderful. The hint of orange goes extremely well with the creamy and mild custard. In addition, the ricotta is slightly grainy, giving it a nice texture in the mouth. It's a bit like ice cream but not as creamy and definitely has more flavor notes.

After about 20 minutes of sitting at room temperature, my semifreddo was still a bit reluctant to pop out of its loaf pan. So I set it in a 13 x 9 x 2" baking dish of warm (not hot!) water. It slid right out. The edges go a bit soft and melty, while the middle stays fairly frozen with a little bit of crunch.

We didn't garnish with the orange or currants, however, I think if you're looking for something to top it with a raspberry ice cream sauce or even a little bit of balsamic reduction. But really, a topping is completely unnecessary. This dessert can hold its own.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Héloïse's Apples and Squash

Who's Héloïse? I don't really know; a friend of cookbook/memoir author Susan Herrman Loomis who shared her recipe for apples and squash (or in French les pommes et potimarron) and ended up in Loomis's book On Rue Tatin. The recipe is a combination of sautéd apples, smothered in a squash and béchamel sauce mixture, which is then baked until golden. Sounded like a delicious and special accompaniment to the mussels I made for Christmas Eve.

Héloïse's Apples and Squash

3 kuri or acorn squash (3.5 lbs) trimmed, peeled,
seeds removed and cut into 2" pieces
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 3/4 lbs cooking apples cored, peeled, and cut into eighths

(for Béchamel)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 13 x 2" dish.

2. Cook squash (boil or roast), purée, drain if necessary.

3. Melt butter in a skillet and add apples. Cook until golden and tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to the baking dish.

4. To make the béchamel, scald milk with the bay leaves over medium heat in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and infuse for 10 minutes. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook until mixture has bubbled and formed pale yellow foam, about 2 minutes. Pour in hot milk, remove bay leaves, whisking as you add to the flour-butter mixture. Cook until thickened like heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Whisk béchamel into squash.

6. Pour squash béchamel over apples, dot with remaining butter, season with nutmeg. Bake until béchamel is golden, apples tender, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

The Verdict: My husband and son loved it. I liked it, but I think I was a little let down after all that work.

The squash and apples make a perfect pair and the béchamel adds a wonderful creamy quality to the dish. But honestly, apples, squash and even béchamel are rather mild foods. For me, it lacked a flavor punch that I can't put my finger on. Don't get me wrong: it was delicious. But I think I was expecting a little more.

The squash can be made in advance. And boy, am I glad that I did as I was very busy in the kitchen last night. This is one of those recipes that, in an almost French tradition, create loads of dishes. It's a good idea to have a sink full of hot, soapy water on hand or else an empty dishwasher to load as you go. Otherwise, in addition to all that time you take to cook, you get to spend a long time cleaning, too.

Loomis wrote that her family enjoys the leftovers of this dish slightly warmed for breakfast. I can see this as being a lovely breakfast; rich and filling. Unfortunately for us, we also have a ton of leftover jam and bread pudding from Christmas morning. Well, maybe not so unfortunate. That's another great recipe you'll have to stay tuned for.

Tender Mussels in Cider

Happy Holidays to everyone! It's Christmas day and while my family is multi-cultural, we do celebrate the holiday with gifts, and of course, lots of food. So stayed tuned; I have some down time to start sharing our feast with you, but there will be many, many recipes to follow.

Christmas Eve dinner was quite an event. I tried to prep as much as I could in advance, but we still ate late and I felt like I was in the kitchen for entirely too long. Well worth it, however. While we didn't have a Feast of the Seven Fishes, we did enjoy a number of seafood dishes. There was baked cod and salmon, some already prepared escargot and stuffed clams, and this recipe for mussels.

A few weeks ago I wrote about reading the book On Rue Tatin by Susan Hermann Loomis and how I swooned over both the description of her French house and the recipes she shared from living there. This recipe, called moules a la Normande or Norman-style mussels (she also calls it tender mussels in cider) was among them. I used to hate mussels but have recently fallen in love with them, particularly from a Maine company called Moosabec Mussels, Inc. They are practically faultless--they're de-bearded, clean, healthy, and once cooked incredibly large, sweet, and tender. Perfect for making this recipe.

In an attempt to get us fed, I decided to skip pictures. My apologies as I know that's half the fun.

Tender Mussels in Cider

6 lbs mussels
1 cup firmly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 small shallots, sliced in half then cut into paper-thin slices
4 dried bay leaves
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup apple juice
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Just before cooking the mussels, de-beard them if necessary. Rinse well and place in a large stock pot. Coarsely chop the parsley and add it, along with the shallots, bay leaves, cider vinegar and hard cider. Shake the pot so that all the ingredients are blended, and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. When it is boiling, reduce the heat to medium high and cover the pot. Cook the mussels until they are just open, shaking the pan from time to time so the mussels cook evenly. Once the mussels are open, continue to cook for an additional minute, checking the mussels frequently and removing those that are wide open so they don't overcook. If, after two or three minutes, there are mussels that refuse to open, discard them as they are either dead or empty.

2. Transfer the cooked mussels to a large serving bowl, or simply return all of the mussels to the stockpot. Season them generously with salt and pepper and serve.

The Verdict: Our son didn't touch them and we didn't bother trying, but the adults thoroughly enjoyed eating the sweet mussels swimming in delicious broth.

With just two of us eating them, I only cooked 3 lbs and halved the recipe; we still have plenty of leftovers. The broth is lovely, so I'm thinking about making some homemade pasta tomorrow or Monday and finishing the mussels and broth over fresh noodles. Also, the original recipe (and in Norman fashion) calls for hard cider. It was just a hassle to get an alcohol that we just won't drink, so we went the route of apple juice. Probably apple cider would be the better second choice, but honestly, it was delicious like this.

I served the mussels, along with the other seafood, with a apple and squash casserole which I will share in another post. Crusty bread is a great addition, though we had homemade Parker House rolls, made in part by my son and his best friend. Despite being made by two and a half-year-olds, the rolls were excellent. Making them was quite an ordeal. But I'll spare you the gory details of baking with two small children.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Beef Burgundy

My husband's holiday vacation started yesterday and I'm so happy to have him home until 2011. It's been a busy but good year. He ran errands in the morning, including a grocery store run for which I am very grateful. I am especially grateful because it involved purchasing seafood; specifically buying live mussels. It's been cold and a bit blustery here in New England, so it was a good night for Beef Burgundy since we spent the afternoon at home, being cozy.

Beef Burgundy
1 tbsp olive oil
2 lbs boneless beef chuck, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
3 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp tomato paste
salt and pepper
2 cups dry red wine
1 tsp of dried thyme or 4 sprigs of fresh
1 package (10 oz) sliced mushrooms
1 bag frozen peas

1. In a Dutch oven, heat oil on medium-high until hot. Pat beef dry; add to oil, in 2 batches, and cook 5 to 6 minutes per batch or until well browned on all sides. Transfer beef to bowl. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2. To drippings in Dutch oven, add carrots, onions, and garlic, and cook 10 minutes or until vegetables are browned and tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour, tomato paste, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp coarsely ground pepper, cook 1 minute, stirring. Add wine and heat to boiling, stirring until browned bits are loosened from bottom of Dutch oven.

3. Return meat and meat juices in bowl to Dutch oven. Add thyme and mushrooms; heat to boiling. Cover and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until meat is fork-tender, stirring once. If using fresh thyme, discard thyme sprigs. Cook peas as label directs; stir into Dutch oven.

The Verdict: Ohhhhh, yes. This is some very, very nice stew! Even our son, who's decided he doesn't like mushrooms anymore, ate mushrooms and declared them good. Magical stuff.

Now, if you're like me and don't own a Dutch oven, no fears. Cook the stew on the stovetop with a large sauce pot, then transfer to an oven-proof dish with a lid. But with a sauce pot being thinner, be careful when you're browning the vegetables as they might burn. Turn down the heat a bit and add a little more olive oil if necessary.

Unfortunately, my husband forgot to pick up frozen peas for me. (But as I've already mentioned, just going to the grocery store and buying seafood was a huge and the pea-less-ness wasn't a big deal.) The peas would have made a good addition as they wine makes the sauce a touch bitter as wine does. The sweetness of the peas would offset that. But speaking of that sauce--it's so incredibly rich and wonderful. It's the best part of the dish.

This does take a good half hour of prep time on top of the hour and a half of cook time. So this is slow cooking, not a choice meal for a busy week night. But if you have the time, give this one a try. Serve it with a crusty bread and smile a lot over how good it is. And if you drink, get a decent bottle of red to put in the stew. You get plenty leftover to enjoy with your meal. Bon appétit!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

PB&J French Toast Sticks

You might be seeing a pattern of easy foods this week. Sunday night we had the sloppy joes I previously blogged about, Monday night was grilled cheese with tomato soup, Wednesday night was homemade pizza and last night was this recipe: pb&j french toast sticks. The reason for the not-so-frilly fare is because of the Christmas holiday fast approaching. I have some new things I'm trying up my sleeve, so I wanted to save my culinary energy for the food I'll be preparing for my family Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Stay tuned for those recipes.

But the recipe for pb&j french toast sticks (pb&j=peanut butter and jelly), which came from the December issue of Woman's Day magazine, struck me as easy and fun. We're not yet giving our son peanut butter, so we substituted it for cashew butter. If you don't do peanuts in your house, you can use cashew or almond butter as a substitute. Likewise, I used good old grape jelly but you can use any jelly or jam that you fancy.

PB&J French Toast Sticks

8 slices of soft white or whole-wheat bread
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3 tbsp grape or strawberry jelly
4 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp butter
Confectioners' sugar

1. Spread 1 tbsp peanut butter on each slice of bread. Spread a rounded tsp of jelly down the center of each piece. Fold bread in half, pressing edges to seal.

2. In a 13 x 9-in. baking dish, whisk eggs and milk. Place the sandwiches in the dish and let soak, 1 minute per side.

3. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a skillet over medium heat. In two batches, cook the sandwiches until golden brown, 2 minutes per side, adding more butter to skillet as needed. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar before serving.

The Verdict: Maybe not our healthiest meal ever, but was it ever fun!

Making these "sticks" is a snap. Really, as you've probably guessed, you don't need the ingredient amounts. Spread the nut butter and jelly on the bread, fold, whip up some eggs, cook in a hot pan with butter. I've just never thought to add peanut butter and jelly to french toast. But why not?

The original recipe asks for the crusts on the bread to be removed. I didn't bother. Your call. My son, who tends to be fussy about bread crust, didn't even notice. They're an odd size and very sandwich looking, so I served ours without forks and knives. To a toddler/preschooler this will probably be messy, but again, it was fun to eat egg-y toast oozing with jelly. My son actually exclaimed, "I like this!" which was interesting as his positive meal comments are minimal. (We hear, quite vocally, about what he doesn't like.)

This was fun. It's obviously a great breakfast, but makes a different and easy "brinner" (breakfast for dinner) as well!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Turkey Sloppy Joes

When looking for recipes for this week, I came across this one for Sloppy Joes that originally appeared in Country Living. For some reason, Sloppy Joes struck me as a nice casual meal for a cold winter's night. I decided to use ground turkey, but you can always substitute with ground beef or even soy crumbles.

Sloppy Joes

1 lbs ground turkey
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 can (6-oz) tomato paste
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 can (14.5 oz) low-sodium chicken stock
1/3 cup ketchup
1/4 Worcestershire sauce
4 whole wheat hamburger buns

1. Brown the meat in a large skillet over medium high heat. Remove the meat and set aside, then drain all but 1 tbsp of the fat.

2. Add the onion and garlic, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until the onion is soft, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 more minutes. Stir in the chili powder, mustard, paprika, salt and ginger and cook for 1 minute more. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.

3. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for 20 minutes. Serve on whole-wheat hamburger buns.

The Verdict: While delicious, it seemed like an awful lot of work for what amounts to be a sandwich.

The taste is infinitely better than the Sloppy Joe you can make from a can, or remembering back to my school days, what they serve you in an American high school cafeteria. The mix of spices is great in this recipe, with a hint of sweetness. The original recipe actually called for 2 pounds of meat, but not wanting to have Sloppy Joe leftovers all week, I halved it. I'm not sure if it was the halving or if the recipe was wrong, however, left as it was the meat would have been very dry with very little spice taste. If you're looking for yours to be, well, less sloppy, use only a half can of stock.

As I mentioned above, the time it took me to make this was a little too long for something this casual. I suppose if it were my family's favorite, I wouldn't mind spending the time. So be in the mood to eat this, otherwise, you're spending a good 30 to 45-minutes over the stove for a mediocre meal.

I served our sandwiches with pre-packaged sweet potato fries and homemade pickles. I was going to include the pickle recipe, but decided against it as we found them too strong. I usually use Japanese rice wine vinegar when pickling my own cucumbers; this time I used cider vinegar. One too vinegar-y bite nearly choked my husband, so I'll leave this recipe out to protect your health. A good pickle, i.e. one that won't knock you on the floor with it's potency, would be a good accompaniment to this dish.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tuscan Chicken Stew

Here's another easy, one skillet meal. When I chose the recipe, I felt like I'd made it before, but once it was done, I didn't recognize it at all. So it ended up being something new for everyone to try out. I don't know where the original recipe came from and it doesn't matter; it was really poorly written and I found myself bumbling through cooking. I was afraid I'd left out ingredients. Even if I did, the stew came out perfectly.

Tuscan Chicken Stew

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp smashed garlic
1/2 cup reduced-sodium fat-free chicken broth
1 (15 1/2 oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 (7-oz) bottle roasted red bell pepper, drained and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 cups baby spinach

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and rosemary; sauté for about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional 1 minute.

2. Add the broth, beans, and peppers; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes or until chicken is done. Stir in spinach; simmer 1 minute. Serve with drop biscuits.

The Verdict: Very flavorful and fragrant. I loved the use of roasted red pepper instead of the diced tomato you might have expected. And, as usual, I loved that it was an easy, one-pot meal.

My husband enjoyed it as well; our son tolerated it with his distrust of obvious vegetables. But it had chicken and beans, and a meat and a legume will always work when it comes to him.

In addition to the stew, we also had Pillsbury Simply...Buttermilk Biscuits. These might only be available in the States, but let me tell you, I was quite excited about this find. I largely dislike pre-packaged foods, especially baked goods as they're chock full of transfats. While these have no wheat flour, something I prefer, they don't have transfats, high fructose corn syrup or artificial colors. It begs the question why they can't do this for everything; why there has to be a separate line of foods that cost more. But regardless, I was happy to find them. My apologies for singing the praises of different food products lately; I just feel like if there's a good thing out there, we should all know about it.

But the chicken stew: fast, delicious, easy. A nice stew for a cold night.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ginger-Soy Chicken Thighs with Scallion Rice

Knowing that I had a package of frozen chicken thighs in the freezer to use up, I searched my recipes for something to use them with. The original Ginger-Soy Chicken Thighs with Scallion Rice, which appeared in the November 2010 Cooking Light, called for a 1/2 cup of ginger preserves. Ginger preserves? They must have known there would be a collective, "Huh?!" from their readers, as they give the apricot preserves and grated ginger substitute I write in the recipe below. If you happen to be the super-foodie who has unlimited access to ginger preserves, go for it, but otherwise, this is an easy switch.

Ginger-Soy Chicken Thighs with Scallion Rice

1 cup cooked rice
2 tbsp thinly sliced green onions
1 tbsp olive oil
8 (2-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1/2 cup apricot preserves
2 tsp grated, peeled fresh ginger (I use 2 tsp jarred grated Ginger People ginger)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced

1. Prepare rice. Fluff and gently stir in green onions. Set aside.

2. As the rice cooks, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add chicken; cook 5 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from pan; keep warm. Add preserves, ginger, soy sauce, and garlic to pan; bring to boil. Cook sauce 2 minutes or until reduced to 1/3 cup, stirring occasionally. Return chicken to pan; turn to coat with sauce.

The Verdict: Guess who's keeping a jar of apricot preserves on hand to make this whenever chicken thighs are on sale? Did you guess me? Ding! Ding! Ding!

The simple description of this dish is: oh my god, this stuff is good. As I ate it, swooning the whole time, I tried to place the taste. Finally it dawned on me that it tastes exactly like General Tso's chicken, without the breading and deep frying. And I loves me some General Tso's chicken. It's salty, sweet, savory, and sticky all at once. My husband liked it, too, but my son was a fanatic like his mom. His entire chicken thigh was gone within five minutes. If that.

The original recipe called for boil-in-bag rice but I don't see any point. It might be faster, but I can't think of a fix-it-and-forget-it food that's easier than rice. You're then free to cook whatever kind floats your boat. I only had a handful of my favorite Basmati left, so I mixed it in with brown rice. The result was very sticky, but still good.

I really can't say enough about having Ginger People jarred minced ginger on hand if you find your recipes often call for ginger. It's cheap and lasts forever, and the taste is fantastic.

Anyway, this chicken cooks up in about 10 minutes. You can't beat a tasty meal that's that easy to prepare. Hasta la vista, General Tso. I've discovered your cheaper, healthier cousin and we're now good friends.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fettuccine with Mushroom Cream Sauce

Meatless Monday has rolled around again and this week I thought I'd do a simple pasta dish. I'm not the greatest fan of pasta though I'm not sure why where it's so versatile and quick. But to me it's also bland and chewy. (What was that noise you ask? Just the nation of Italy taking a collective shocked intake of breath.)

Now before you, too, go completely mental I'd like to explain myself. I know that good pasta, especially homemade pasta, tastes ten zillion times different and better than a box of the fifty cent supermarket brand dried stuff. And that the quality of the ingredients, even in homemade pasta, also lend to the taste. And that pasta isn't about the sauce, but that you need to know what sauce goes with what pasta.

Oh my gosh, that's a lot of work for a food that I can appreciate but still not call one of my favorites!

But being a good sport and a foodphile to boot, I was inspired by an article I unearthed while unpacking Christmas decorations these last couple of years. (Being a dabbling gourmand also means you collect and stash recipes like the weirdest hoarder on earth.) It was in an old issue of Every Day with Rachael Ray and was written by Guiliano Hazan, an Italian cookbook writer and educator. It included an interesting chart of which sauces go with which pastas, along with simple recipes for each: cream, tomato, browned butter, meat, and garlic-and-oil. So I bravely entered my kitchen with a new attitude. I even improvised a lot...daring for someone who doesn't consider pasta her forte.

Fettuccine with Mushroom Cream Sauce

1 box fettuccine
1 shallot, finely minced
1 10-oz container of sliced white mushrooms
3 tbsp butter, divided
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp tarragon
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat one tablespoon of the butter with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the mushrooms and shallots until golden; add tarragon at the very end. Remove the mushroom mixture from the pan into a bowl and set aside. (You can leave brown bits in the pan.) Meanwhile, in a large dutch oven, heat salted water to a boil and cook pasta.

2. Turn heat down to medium and combine cream, remaining butter and salt, scraping browned bits with a wooden spoon, and bring to a simmer. Cook until thick enough to coat a spoon, about 4 minutes. Stir in parsley and remove from heat.

3. Add cheese and reserved mushroom mix. Serve immediately over pasta.

The Verdict: Um, yeah, oops. Pasta tastes pretty damn good when paired with the right sauce...and a ridiculously rich and delicious one to boot.
This cream sauce, while delicious, is probably not the most diet-friendly meal. It's prudent for me to not fall head-over-heels in love with this dish for that very reason. However, it's hard not to love it. It's simple yet the combination of parsley and tarragon bring out the sweetness of the cream and the earthiness of the mushrooms. And it was stunningly quick to make, another plus.

The shallots...don't get me started. I learned about shallots vs. onions from reading Anthony Bourdain. Whenever I think of Anthony Bourdain, I think of my dear friend Carolyn who despises the guy for being pompous, bombastic tool. But honestly, it's part of his charm for me. Regardless, the guy knows what he's talking about when he says that shallots and onions are not interchangeable. Yes, a shallot is onion-y. But it's also subtle and sweet, perfect for cream sauce. Try it and tell me if I'm wrong.

By the way, my son hates mushrooms, a sad fact since he loved them at one time. We tried to trick him into eating one this weekend, calling it meat. He bit into it and frowned. "Dis a mushroom," he informed us. Ah, so long days of pulling the wool over young eyes. Anyway, instead of an arduous battle of whining and picking mushrooms out of his food, I sauced his pasta before adding the mushroom mixture into the cream sauce.

So simply said, I love this recipe. And I might not dislike pasta as much as I thought I did.

Spice-Rubbed London Broil

It's been a while since I've prepared a meal with just meat. I thought that this recipe for spice-rubbed London broil sounded really good. I'm not sure of the origins of the recipe; it's on a card that my mother had in her stash. I was just interested to find out what an "Indonesian flavor" on a steak would taste like. And if you're essentially clueless about cuts of meat like I am (oh, how I wish for a short adult education course in butchery!), a London broil might also be sold as sirloin tip or top round.

Spice-Rubbed London Broil

1 1/2 tbsp firmly packed light brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 (3-lb) London broil

1. Preheat broiler to high with the rack approximately 3 inches from the heating element. Line a broiler pan with tin foil. If using an outdoor grill, preheat grill to medium.

2. Take steak out of the refrigerator and set on the counter for 15 minutes before cooking. Rinse under cool water and dry thoroughly on paper towels.

3. Combine the brown sugar, coriander, garlic, olive oil, chili powder, ground ginger, black pepper, and salt in a small bowl and mix well.

4. Rub the brown sugar mixture on both sides of the steak.

5. Broil steak for 3-4 minutes each side for rare, 5-6 minutes for medium, etc. Remove from oven and let steak rest for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

The Verdict: Good tasting rub but the wrong cut of meat for it.

As I mentioned above, I'm not a butcher. I don't know nearly enough about what cuts of meat are out there and think it's time that I start doing my homework on the subject. London broil, as the price reflects, is a pretty inexpensive cut. And while there's nothing wrong with inexpensive, it generally means tougher. You can generally get around this by slow cooking or marinading, neither of which is called for in this recipe. So my suggestion, at the very least, is to serve this steak as rare as you can stand it.

I'm also learning that you can tenderize a steak by patting it dry then liberally salting it and returning it to the fridge for 3 hours. Then before cooking, wipe the salt off. I have never tried this and am willing to give it a shot. I'll report back the next time I try a cheaper steak.

The rub itself was very tasty. I was worried because the spices are all fairly bold and I thought that it might be too much. Not so. The flavor is actually quite mild and the amount of ingredients called for are just right.

I'm really unsure why every steak recipe I've come across lately calls for such sizable amounts of meat. I understand that feeding just two adults and one toddler warrants a lot less food, however, to cook three pounds of London broil meant buying two steaks. Two large steaks. So keep this in mind if you decide to give this recipe a whirl--it will generously serve four adults. With sides, it might even be more like five or six. Buy accordingly.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hamburger Croquettes

Having not felt well all week, I wasn't in any great rush to get to the store for a missing recipe ingredient. That meant a pound of ground beef in my freezer with no designs on it. But without haste, I pulled a French recipe from my folder I've been wanting to try.

Backing up, I just finished the book On Rue Tatin by Susan Herrmann Loomis. It's a cooking memoir, one of my favorite genres. In this book, Loomis describes how she and her husband set up a nearly-dilapidated home in the Normandy section of France. I drooled equally over the potential they saw in the ancient house they purchase as I did over the recipes she includes. The hamburger croquettes is not one of them, but the mad Googling frenzy for new, easy French recipes was inspired by the book.

The recipes I found, which I changed a bit to add what I felt was a more French feel to it, made me wonder if I would end up with a fancy hamburger or something entirely different. So what was to be a Mexican-inspired meal became this.

Hamburger Croquettes

1 lb ground beef
1 tsp tarragon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 shallot, minced
4 tbsp dry breadcrumbs
4 tbsp butter, divided
Breadcrumbs for dredging

1. Melt one tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat then add shallot. Cook until translucent but not browned. Set aside to slightly cool.

2. In a large bowl, mix beef, tarragon, salt, pepper, egg, breadcrumbs and cooled shallot. Form the beef into 4 oval patties, then dredge them in breadcrumbs. Melt butter over medium-high heat in a large skillet; add patties and sauté for 5 minutes on each side, until desired doneness. Serve hot.

The Verdict: It was neither a regular hamburger, nor a French dining experience you'll find yourself instantaneously enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu after preparing, either. But it was easy and tasty.

One of the original recipes called for thyme instead of tarragon; I think next time around I would add both as the flavor was a little mild. I did enjoy the texture, however. The lightly breaded, crispy crumb outer covering added a nice feel, as well as sealed in the juices nicely. My husband didn't necessarily agree. When I asked, "So what did you think about dinner?" he asked in return, "What was special about it?" When I explained that, for one, the burgers had been breaded, his answer was, "I didn't want to hurt your feelings, but I just thought you'd burned it and that's what gave it that texture." To each his own.

My son didn't think it was burned, or at least I don't think he cared if they were. He happily scarfed down an entire croquette on his own. He also ate a number of the glazed carrots I made to accompany the dish. The recipe for these glazed carrots is a little different than the one I'd added a while back. It used less butter which maybe is a good thing, but I still like the first recipe best. So we won't mess with a good thing there.

I recommend this recipe for a night that you're staring at a package of ground beef with no inspiration. As for adding it into the regular rotation, you can probably find other hamburger favorites that will trump this one.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chicken Tandoori

A host of winter malaise has settled upon our household which has thrown a wrench into the cooking schedule. Chicken tandoori was appointed for Tuesday night, right when the apogee of illness struck. Good news: if you marinade these chicken thighs longer than the 15 minutes recommended in this Rachael Ray recipe (let's say for, oh, 23 and 3/4 hours longer) they are not ruined.

Chicken Tandoori

8 skinless boneless chicken thighs (about 2 1/2 lbs)
juice of 1 lemon
kosher salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp plain yogurt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 small red onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
4 tsp tomato paste
2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 3/4 tsp hot paprika
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

1. Preheat broiler. Make shallow cuts in the chicken thighs with a sharp knife. Toss the chicken with the lemon juice and 1 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl.

2. Pulse 2 tbsp yogurt, the vegetable oil, onion, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, coriander, cumin, 1 1/2 tsp paprika and 1/2 tsp salt in a food processor to make a paste. Toss the chicken in the mixture and let marinade 15 minutes.

3. Place the chicken on a foil-lined broiler pan. Broil, turning once, until slightly charred and a thermometer inserted in the center registers 165 degrees, 5 to 6 minutes per side.

4. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1/2 cup yogurt and 1/4 tsp paprika, the cilantro and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Top the chicken with the yogurt sauce and serve with rice, if desired.

The Verdict: Lots of complex flavors that work well together. It's not what I immediately recognize as tandoori chicken, but it's still extremely delicious and has an Indian taste to it.

Probably the best part of this recipe was the lack of red. Often times if you go out for Indian and order chicken tandoori, a plate of bright red chicken comes to the table. I don't have a problem eating the red chicken, I have a problem cooking it. If you visit an Indian grocery and pick up a package of tandoori spice, it comes as a powder. As you mix it, the red becomes a stubborn dye that, until cooked, will turn your kitchen into a crimson craft project. No thanks. I'll take a nice flavor over endless scrubbing any day.

I think the writers of this recipe are about spot on as to eight chicken thighs equaling 2.5 lbs of chicken. However, I found it impossible to find packaged chicken to equal this quantity. So instead of cooking ten thighs (tandoori inundation!), I cooked five instead. The only difference is that fewer thighs end up with more paste on each, making the caramelizing from the broiler more difficult. You may end up, like we did, with less charring and a little more wetness. Tasted just as good. Oh, and in my haste to feed the family, I forgot to top our chicken with the yogurt sauce.

By the way, I didn't use a meat thermometer. Chicken thighs without bones are fairly thin, so under high heat they cook within about 5 to 7 minutes.

This recipe is great the day after the Fall Vegetable Curry recipe. We had lots of leftovers from that meal, so it made a perfect side!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fall Vegetable Curry

Recently, my friend Vanessa sent me an email about the Fall Vegetable Curry that appeared in a recent Cooking Light. The message went on for a good paragraph explaining how wonderful she thought the dish was. During our next phone conversation, she brought it up again. Sounds like I needed to check this recipe out, right?

The thing is, she's pregnant and went absolutely barmy for a time over anything curry. I think she would have gone bananas over curried Easter Peeps. So I wrote the name of the recipe on my recipe folder and forgot about it until this past weekend when I was putting my weekly menu together. I wanted something different for Meatless Monday, so I thought, "Oh, what the hell."

Fall Vegetable Curry

1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 cup diced peeled sweet potato
1 cup small cauliflower florets
1/4 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
2 tsp Madras curry powder
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/2 tsp salt
1 (14.5-oz) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (15-oz) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup plain 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt

The Verdict: I owe my friend an apology. This curry really is good enough to tell others about!
I wasn't sure if this would be all that exciting since it's largely vegetables, vegetable broth, and curry. But I was wrong. The mix of vegetables is perfect--potatoes and onions work in any cuisine--and the Madras curry packs a huge flavor punch. The Madras curry, by the way, was the second spice I bought this week to add to my spice cabinet. To be specific: the spice is called hot Madras curry. Vanessa told me that she didn't have Madras curry on hand and used just plain curry; I thought that I'd play it safe by using one teaspoon of Madras and one of regular. If you're a regular reader, you'll know that we avoid overly spicy in our house. The aroma of the Madras is extremely pungent and nearly burned my nose, but I had nothing to fear. I think I would have been fine to use the two teaspoons as the dish was not at all spicy.

The yogurt dolloped on top is a delicious accompaniment to the rich spices in the dish. And the weirdest part to me was that the chopped cilantro really pulled the flavors together in the dish for me. I hate cilantro normally, but it was just right in this recipe.

I served our vegetable curry with basmati rice. Basmati rice, if you don't normally eat it, is worth having on hand. Alone, it's a wonder food with it's fragrance and soft texture.

Aside from the cauliflower, this dish was also a hit with my son. Thinking about him, and then the dish, it just struck me that plumped raisins (raisins that have sat in hot water for about 10 minutes, then drained) would be a great addition to this recipe.

If you need a break from meat dishes, give this one a try. It's fairly easy to put together, as well as fairly quick. And it really is as good as the source said it would be.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Saffron Fish Stew with White Beans

My husband and I went on our first date when I was on vacation, house sitting with a friend in an amazing beach house on the North Shore of Massachusetts. I'm so glad that I met him when I was in such a magical place. The master bedroom was almost entirely windows and overlooked the sea. The back patio had a large, wrought-iron table and chair set and was canopied by a real sail. But my favorite part of the house, by far, was the gourmet kitchen. Not only was the kitchen equipment top-notch, but we were told to feel free to use anything in it food-wise. Never in my life have I ever seen so many spices and condiments. I was like a kid in a candy store.

My own house, which is fantastic but not nearly as cool, has a pretty impressive spice cabinet these days. And I'm really psyched that I've added two new spices to my collection for this week's menu. One of the spices is a replacement for the ground coriander that spilled all over my kitchen, if you recall that story. I figured that if I've needed coriander twice in recent memory, it was time to get more.

The coriander is for Saffron Fish Stew with White Beans, a recipe I adapted from the April 2010 Cooking Light. The original recipe calls for ground fennel, but I figured the dish could stand for another vegetable and added a fennel bulb instead. If you don't want quite that much fennel (which, if you're not familiar with fennel, has a light licorice taste), feel free to substitute with one teaspoon of the ground fennel.

Saffron Fish Stew with White Beans
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup prechopped onion
1 small fennel bulb, bulb only, chopped (reserve tops for garnish)
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp grated fresh orange rind
1/4 tsp saffron threads, crushed
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups clam juice
1 (14.5-oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 tsp salt
1 pound flounder filet, cut into (2-inch) pieces

1. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, fennel, coriander, garlic and thyme; sauté 5 minutes. Stir in rind and saffron; add water, clam juice, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in salt, fish, and beans; cook 5 minutes. Top with fennel fronds.

The Verdict: Super easy, super quick and super tasty.

It reminded me a lot of the Venetian Fish Stew ( I prepared a while back, but it's a lot less work. While I liked the variety of seafood in the Venetian stew, I think the clam juice in this dish gave it a much more developed flavor. And obviously, cutting up one type of fish rather than preparing many, helped to bring dinner to the table much faster.

I was really surprised that our toddler loved the broth since he generally eschews the "soup" part of soup, but he drank quite a bit of it. He was also crazy about the fish. As I cleaned up supper dishes he yelled, "One more bite!" and came running into the kitchen for one, two, and three additional pieces of fish.

Definitely serve this dish with a nice, crusty bread. A good bottle of Sav Blanc wouldn't hurt either.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jerk Chicken Thighs

I don't know all that much about Jamaican cuisine, so in order to write about jerk chicken, I thought I should do a little online research. Otherwise, I blindly enter my kitchen with my best guess being that jerk chicken is the chicken in the barnyard who tells sexist and racist jokes. And for some reason, I thought that probably wasn't correct.

And it isn't. According to, "jerk" comes from ways to prepare and spice dried meat, or jerky. I'm not sure if this is true or not, but jerk spice is best known from Jamaican culture. It's a blend of spices, best known as a dry rub (though it can be a wet/marinade) that almost always includes allspice and hot peppers. Other common ingredients include garlic, onions, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and/or salt. Jerk cooking almost always happens by way of grilling over a wood-chip fed flame.

This recipe lacks many of these elements. Jamaican food, including jerk seasoning, often includes Scotch bonnet peppers. This recipe didn't call for any peppers at all. If you wanted to add heat, you could add a pepper if you wish. Just be careful with a Scotch bonnet--it's one of the hottest peppers in the world. I wouldn't recommend it unless you know what you're in for. Also, the cooking method suggested is either grilling or broiling. Since we live on the second floor of a condo in the city and it's the beginning of December, grilling was out. Broiling is fine, but it doesn't give your chicken a very authentic jerk look; it's pretty anemic, which is maybe appropriate for Caribbean chicken cooked by a white woman in New England.

Grilling or broiling, the cook time is about 4 minutes per side. This is another discrepancy, and probably why Cooking Light chose to call this recipe "Jerk Chicken Thighs" and not "Jamaican Jerk Chicken Thighs." On, one writer says, "To ensure that the meat is properly cooked BBQing should be done in Jamaican time...nice and slow." Oh well. Without further ado, here's the recipe for lightening-quick, not-hot jerk chicken.

Jerk Chicken Thighs
1 tbsp ground allspice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
4 garlic cloves, crushed, or 2 tsp bottled, minced garlic
8 (4-oz) skinless, boneless chicken thighs

1. Combine first 4 ingredients, 1 teaspoon black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Rub chicken with spice mixture.

2. Preheat broiler or grill.

3. Place chicken on grill rack or broiler pan coated with cooking spray; cook 4 minutes each side or until done.

The Verdict: It's an unexpected taste for the uninitiated.

With my first bite, I felt like the rub was a little too muddy. As I continued to eat it, the flavors became more distinct and I began to enjoy it. My husband's reaction was a bit perplexed; he couldn't figure out what he was eating. "It tastes like chocolate," was his response. I asked if he meant that in a good or bad way and he said good; that the flavor combination was "sweetish, like chocolate."

I'm always a fan of quick dinners and dinners that can be whipped up with pretty much what you have on hand, so this recipe certainly fits the bill. But I think I might play with the spices a bit more before committing this as a must-save, go to, quick meal. I saw one homemade jerk rub that included brown sugar and thyme, as well as pepper. But since no one in my family is a great fan of scortchingly-hot food, I'm thinking a finely diced jalapeño. Seeds removed.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chicken Soup with Alphabet Pasta and Meatballs

The original recipe, which appeared in the now defunct Cookie magazine, called for star-shaped pasta. But if this is supposed to be a kid-friendly chicken soup, I can't think of anything more fun than alphabet-shaped pasta. Of course, you can use any tiny pasta that you wish, even orzo. (And I think of my sister-in-law trying to find Turkish alphabet pasta with a collection of ç and ö characters.)

Chicken Soup with Alphabet Pasta and Meatballs

2/3 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan
3/4 pound ground turkey or lean ground beef
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup cooked, squeezed dry, and chopped spinach
1 large egg, lightly beaten
coarse salt
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
8 oz alphabet-shape pasta (or any small pasta)
4 cups chicken stock or broth

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Set aside 4 tablespoons of the cheese.

3. Combine the ground meat, onion, bread crumbs, spinach, egg, 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, and the remaining cheese in a medium bowl. Shape into 30 meatballs, each 1 inch in diameter.

4. Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Reduce heat to medium-low; add the meatballs and cook, turning, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer meatballs to a large saucepan.

5. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions; drain.

6. Add the chicken stock to the browned meatballs and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the meatballs are just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in the pasta and salt to taste.

7. Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with the reserved cheese.

The Verdict: Despite the simplicity of the recipe, it tastes like chicken soup that you put some actual effort into making. Even my toddler, who is pretty leery of soup, enjoyed it.

One of the reasons my son liked the soup, I think, is that I cooked a little extra pasta to add to the broth. That way, the parents got more broth, while he got more pasta and meatballs. If you go this route, be sure to have extra stock on hand if you end up with leftovers as the pasta will suck up the extra liquid.

The original recipe says that the meatballs can be added to tomato sauce and eaten with pasta. While they're very tasty, they did fall apart a bit. Which was fine for soup; I think it added to the recipe to have some bits of meat, spinach and onion floating in the broth. I suppose the same could hold true of meatball detritus in sauce, but classic meatballs are, well, balls.

My son has come down with a bit of a nasty cold, so this soup wound up on my weekly menu on exactly the right night. It was warming and filling; a great cool-weather dinner that was easy enough to whip up quickly.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Calzone Dough

Last month, I added a recipe for Cheesy Spinach Pockets. I remembered as I made them feeling a little guilty buying frozen bread dough since I frequently make my own pizza dough, as well as other breads.

Yesterday I had an afternoon engagement, so I decided to pull up this recipe and make it Sunday for Tuesday's dinner. That way I wouldn't have to rush home to cook. By making it Sunday, with the extra time, I was able to make my own bread dough. If you have a bread machine and use it, or have a bread machine and want to use it, give this calzone dough a whirl. Then follow the link below to make the pocket filling.

Calzone Dough

1 1/8 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

2 1/4 tsp SAF yeast or 2 1/2 tsp bread machine yeast

1. Combine ingredients in the bread pan of your bread machine in the order according to the manufacturer's instructions. Program for the Dough cycle and press Start.

2. Immediately remove dough from pan when the machine beeps and cut into 8 equal pieces. Roll out on a lightly floured surface into eight 6- to 8-inch circles. Add filling and bake according to recipe.
The Verdict: There might not have been much difference in taste to everyone else, however, I knew that I was feeding my family fresh, homemade bread. Just that idea alone made them taste better to me!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pasta with Squash, Brown Butter and Rosemary

In my attempt to buy on sale, I decided to use this Pasta with Squash, Brown Butter and Rosemary recipe from Rachael Ray since butternut squash was 39 cents a pound at Whole Foods last week. I looked at two different supermarkets for fresh rosemary and didn't find any at either, which is funny as I hardly ever use fresh herbs. So suffice it to say, you can use dried rosemary as a substitute when making this.

Pasta with Squash, Brown Butter and Rosemary

One 3-lb butternut squash--peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 onion, chopped
2 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (approx. 2 tsp dried)
salt and pepper
2/3 lb lasagna noodles, broken into pieces
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 tbsp toasted pine nuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the squash, onion, olive oil and rosemary; season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until al dente; drain and transfer to a large bowl.

3. In a small skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice.

4. Add the roasted squash, brown butter and 1/3 cup parmesan to the pasta and toss; season with salt and pepper. Top with the pine nuts and remaining parmesan.

The Verdict: My husband and son both liked it because they were oblivious to my faux pas. As the cook, I'd probably like it better if it weren't Pasta with Squash, Black Butter and Rosemary.

Yes, I burned the butter. I made this dish earlier in the day so that I could bring my toddler out for the afternoon. Of course, to foil my plan, he decided it was a no-nap day. So whilst trying to entertain him, cook, and write an email on my Blackberry, something had to give. And it was the butter, which quickly went from a lovely, rich brown to a witch's brew that spat angrily when I added the lemon. So there's a heads up--keep a closer eye than I did on your butter!

Luckily, the butter looked like it was flecked with pepper and didn't taste charred.

The roasted butternut squash was absolutely delicious, and surprisingly, my kiddo ate it as well. His father billed it as "pumpkin" which seemed to pique his interest. Not sure why, but it did.

I found the 2/3 of a pound of pasta ingredient to be a bit tedious--what exactly is 2/3 of a pound of pasta? Before sweating it too much, I decided I didn't care. I had two boxes of leftover lasagna noodles and quite a few large pasta shells. Worked for us. Here's a kitchen tip--if you have a recipe asking for large broken noodles, put them in a freezer bag and gently hammer them with a meat mallet. Took me a while to figure this out personally. Instead, I dealt with shards of razor-like pasta flying through the kitchen and precariously close to my eyes many times before this "a-ha" moment.

This dish is simple, easy (overlooking the butter), and feels like fall. It's a great, filling vegetarian dish.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Beef and Pinto Bean Chili

This week, instead of choosing recipes first, I scanned the circular for the local supermarket to see what was on sale. After getting an idea of what meats and main staples were available, I chose dishes from this information. What's funny is that I didn't save a dime. Well, for the time being anyway. One of the items I bought was a 3+ pound chuck roast. With it, I was able to nearly double this recipe for Beef and Pinto Bean Chili. We ate it for dinner last night, sent some with my husband for lunch today, and froze the rest. I also have another pound and a half of meat to make another recipe. So hopefully, in the long run, I've created some kind of grocery savings.

This chili recipe comes from the January/February 2010 issue of Cooking Light.

Beef and Pinto Bean Chili

A note on spiciness: You can make this chili as spicy as you wish. For a spicy chili, use the 1/4 cup of minced jalapeño peppers (about 2 large) with the seeds. Sour cream will help to create a cooling effect. My husband and toddler don't enjoy spicy foods, so I chose to use one jalapeño with the seeds scraped out, allowing the chili to have the jalapeño flavor without the heat. Remember: the more peppers with seeds you use, the hotter the chili.

Cooking spray
1 pound boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 tsp salt, divided
2 tbsp canola oil
4 cups chopped onion (about 2 medium)
1/4 cup minced jalapeño peppers (about 2 large)
10 garlic cloves, minced
1 (12-oz) bottle beer
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 cups fat-free, less sodium beef broth
1 (28-oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 (15-oz) can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup thinly sliced radish
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and chopped
6 tbsp small cilantro leaves
6 tbsp sour cream
6 lime wedges

1. Heat a Dutch oven over high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle beef evenly with 1/4 tsp of salt. Add beef to pan; sauté 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove from pan. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onions and jalapeño; sauté 8 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in beer, scraping pan to loosen browned bits; bring to a boil. Cook until liquid almost evaporates (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally. Stir in paprika, cumin, and tomato paste; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add broth, tomatoes, beans and meat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until mixture is thick and beef is very tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in remaining 1/2 tsp of salt.

2. Garnish one cup of chili per bowl by equally dividing radish and avocado. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon of cilantro and 1 tablespoon of sour cream. Serve with lime wedges.

The Verdict: If you'd have asked me if I'd ever made chili before dinner last night, I'd have answered "of course." If you ask me now if I've ever made chili before, the answer is not before yesterday. This is chili. This makes me finally understand the rationale behind things like chili cook-offs.

The tlc you put into this chili raises it up to an almost beef Burgundy or coq au vin status. It takes work to create it. And like those famous French stews, this chili is created with many simple ingredients, in many simple steps. This kitchen dance creates layers of complex flavor.

Not surprisingly, the entire family enjoyed it.

This is not a throw-together after work chili. You'd probably want to make it on a weekend. And like good stews, I'm going to guess that if you made it Sunday afternoon for Monday or Tuesday's dinner, it would be even better as the flavors have even more time to mingle.

Love it. Good stuff.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Huevos Rancheros

When I came across this recipe, which first appeared in Good Housekeeping, I tagged it as a potential family meal. I've had some great huevos rancheros (ranch eggs) and thought this version looked easy and healthy.

Huevos Rancheros

4 (6-inch) corn tortillas
nonstick cooking spray
1 jar (16-oz) mild fat-free salsa
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen corn kernels
3 green onions, sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
4 large eggs
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, thinly sliced
1/2 avocado, sliced into thin wedges

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 15 1/2- by 10 1/2-inch jelly roll pan, invert four 6-ounce custard cups. With kitchen shears, make four evenly spaced 1-inch cuts, from edge toward center, around each tortilla. Lightly spray both sides of tortillas with cooking spray and drape each over a custard cup. Bake tortilla cups 8 minutes or until golden and crisp.

2. Meanwhile, in a nonstick skillet, combine salsa, beans, corn, green onions, and ground cumin; heat to boiling over medium heat. Cover and cook 3 minutes to blend flavors.

3. With large spoon, make 4 indentations for the eggs in salsa mixture, spacing them evenly around skillet. One at a time, break eggs into a cup, then slip the egg into an indentation in salsa mixture. Cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes or until eggs are set or cooked to desired doneness.

4. To serve, invert each tortilla cup onto a plate. Spoon an egg with some salsa mixture into each tortilla cup. Spoon any remaining salsa mixture around and on eggs in cups. Sprinkle with cilantro; serve with avocado slices.

The Verdict: Good, easy, but not the recipe I was hoping for.
My husband liked it and my son ate it as well. I ate it and liked it, too, but just felt that something was missing. If you Google "huevos rancheros" about a trillion recipes pop up. Many call for something a little more than just salsa, beans and corn--whether it be a homemade salsa simmered in chicken stock, covered in green chile sauce, or embellished with smoky chiles in adobo. This lacked pop.

I did like that it was open this, dump that, toss in eggs and walk away. It's always smart to have some easy recipes in your arsenal.

Two thoughts on the recipe: First, when it asks to make indentations with your spoon, don't be too frustrated that you can't. Unless your salsa was super-chunky, you've got a lot of wet in your skillet. You are basically pushing the solid ingredients aside under a layer of tomato sauce. That's perfect. You're just trying to make sure the eggs don't melt into one four-yolked monster. Secondly, corn tortillas are a lot less pliable than a flour-based tortilla. The cuts and the cooking spray will help to "drape" the tortillas over the custard cups, but don't get it in your head that you're going to make corn cups. They will flop enough to hold your salsa and eggs; leave it at that.

So I'm not sure. I think I'll continue to find a huevos rancheros recipe that really wows me over.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Chicken in Lettuce Cups

It was Thanksgiving here in the U.S. yesterday, which meant for this American I could be thankful for not having to cook. My aunt, with the help of my uncle, roasted a giant turkey for ten of us. It came out beautifully brown and incredibly moist. Add to that lots of fall sides like mashed turnip and succulent stuffing, it was a Happy Thanksgiving indeed.

But before the holiday, we here at our house tried a new recipe that first appeared in Good Housekeeping: Chicken in Lettuce Cups. It's a simple stir fry served in large leaves of Boston lettuce. My ingredient amounts differ slightly from the original recipe.

Chicken in Lettuce Cups

3 tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 1/4 lbs chicken tenders, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
1 cup frozen shelled edamame
2 medium stalks celery, chopped
12 large Boston lettuce leaves

1. In cup, combine soy sauce, ginger and honey. Set aside.

2. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat sesame oil on medium for 1 minute. Add chicken chunks and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add edamame to chicken in skillet; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in celery; cook 3 minutes longer. Add soy sauce mixture; cook 2 minutes or until chicken is cooked through; stirring occasionally to coat chicken in sauce.

4. Arrange lettuce leaves on dinner plates. Divide chicken mixture among lettuce leaves, about 1/4 cup per leaf. Fold leaves over chicken mixture and eat out of hand.

The Verdict: Fun, delicious and easy!

My husband and I both liked the taste of this simple stir fry and loved the idea of wrapping the chicken around a lettuce leaf. My son's hand were too small to successfully eat the stir-fry wrapped in the lettuce and I don't think he was into the idea of eating a big green leaf anyway. No matter, the stir fry itself had lots of edamame and celery, giving him plenty of vegetables.

I didn't bother to divide the lettuce leaves among our plates. Instead, I just brought a plate of lettuce and the stir-fry in a bowl and served it family style.

This was much better than Chinese take out!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lahana Sarma (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)

Although this is a Turkish dish, you probably can find an equivalent in most cultures. I remember my mom making this growing up, though I think our stuffed cabbage rolls were topped with tomato sauce.

One difference is the use of dill. Dill is a favorite spice in Turkey. I hardly use fresh herbs in cooking, but this is one I'd suggest making the effort for. Dill is so aromatic and flavorful; a little goes a long way.

Lahana Sarma (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)

1 large savoy cabbage
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1 small onion, diced
2 tsp chopped dill
1 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 lb ground lamb
1/2 lb ground beef
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook brown rice as directed on package. Set aside and let cool.

2. Remove outer leaves from the cabbage and submerge the rest of the cabbage for 10 minutes in boiling water. Immediately submerge in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.

3. In a large bowl, combine ground meats with onion, dill, tarragon, rice, and salt and pepper. Mix well.

4. Drain cabbage and remove leaves. Flatten the leaves out on a cutting board and remove the tough center ribs. You should have two pieces of cabbage for rolling after doing this.

5. Make small sausage-shapes with the meat mixture and place one on each cabbage leaf. Roll the leaf, folding the ends inside as you work. Place in a large pot and add water; enough to cover cabbage rolls about halfway. Cook on medium until water begins to boil, then turn heat down to a simmer. Cook for approximately 40 minutes, watching to assure that cabbage does not disintegrate. Arrange on a serving dish and serve immediately.

The Verdict: The cabbage rolls end up being a little over two inches long each. It's fun to have a square meal--meat, vegetable and rice--in one little package.
Because I usually use brown rice, I would suggest cooking your rice first if that's your choice as well. This recipe called for soaking the rice for 30 minutes only, which I did, and it didn't cook thoroughly. It might work for white rice, but coarser brown did not.

I would suggest buying a large cabbage so that you have larger leaves to work with. You may not use the entire cabbage, but at least you won't be trying to create cabbage origami with tiny leaves. You can always save the extra cabbage for side dish later in the week. If you find that your cabbage is still raw as you get towards the middle, you may wish to blanch it a second time for a shorter cooking time.

For a different spin, and an extra vegetable, you can top your rolls with a mixture of a can of tomato sauce, a can of diced tomatoes, a tablespoon of sugar and a splash of vinegar. Place the cabbage rolls into a large baking dish, ladle the tomato mixture on the top of each roll, then add water so that it covers the rolls to about halfway up their sides. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350 degree oven.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lahmacun (Turkish Pizza)

Lahmacun (pronounced lah-mah-jhoon) is probably the only recipe that calls for copious amounts of parsley that I love. For whatever reason, the mix of meats, vegetables and spices seems to negate some of that sharp parsley taste that disagrees with me.

Lahmacun is a very thin pizza without cheese. It's topped with ground lamb, onions, garlic, parsley and spices, then baked until golden brown. You can use store bought pizza dough, or if you have a bread machine, you can make your own. (You can, of course, make your own without a bread machine but I like dumping it all the ingredients into one place and letting it do all the work for me.) My pizza dough recipe comes from The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys homemade bread. Furthermore, Beth Hensperger suggests using SAF yeast when making breads. After some experimentation, I've come to realize she knows what she's talking about. If you're going to make your own anything in the bread machine, get yourself a bag of this yeast. It lasts forever and makes beautiful doughs and breads.

The recipe for lahmacun is a combination of many different recipes. If you find that you like lahmacun, play with the ingredients yourself. Just remember to stretch your dough very, very thinly to create very thin crust. It still tastes great with a thicker crust, but it's not as authentic.

Beware! This makes a LOT of pizza--six or eight smallish pizzas! Because it's thin, more than likely you'll eat one per adult. But with a small family, you'll definitely have leftovers.

For the dough:
1 1/3 cups water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp SAF yeast or 2 1/2 tsp bread machine yeast

1. Add ingredients to your bread machine according to the manufacturer's directions. Set to dough cycle. Take out of the machine immediately and divide into desired number of portions. Flatten each portion into a disc. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 30 minutes until the dough has increased in size by 20%.

2. Roll out and shape dough. Lahmacun are not perfectly round, so the more lopsided, the better. Or place dough in plastic food storage bags and refridgerate for up to 24 hours. To use, let rest for 20 minutes at room temperature before rolling out.

For the lahmacun topping:
1 lb ground lamb (or 1/2 lb ground lamb, 1/2 lb ground beef)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp garlic, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 large tomato, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili pepper
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Heat olive oil in a skillet and add onion and garlic. Cook until onion is translucent. Set aside and let cool.

2. In a large bowl, combine rest of ingredients as well as onion and garlic mixture. Mix very well until mixture resembles a thick paste.

3. Roll out dough into ovals that are approximately 6-x 8-inches in diameter. Spread about 4-5 heaping tablespoons of lamb mixture over each. Place one or two on a large cookie sheet (whatever fits) and cook for 10-15 minutes; crust should be golden brown and topping should be browned as well. Cover cooked lahmacun with a towel as subsequent pizzas are cooked. Serve immediately.

The Verdict: Gosh, these are yummy. Like, "my belly hurts because I didn't stop eating in time" yummy.

Kind of like pancakes, I find that my first couple of crusts that I roll out aren't quite right. In my case, they're too thick. But like I mentioned above, while that's not traditional, it still tastes fantastic.

My husband and I both enjoyed them immensely (hence "my belly hurts"...although that might just have been me) and my son ate a couple of small slices. He recognized it as pizza by site, but his American senses weren't fooled by taste. The excitement of pizza for dinner quickly faded. If you have a child who loves pizza, call it lahmacun to avoid any disappointment.

I know some people see lamb as an ingredient and keep searching for a dinner recipe. Before you dismiss this because of that, consider making it with just ground beef. I've even made it with ground turkey before. While I try to limit our lamb consumption (yeah, I'm one of those suckers who can't separate "but it's a lamb--a fluffy, cute lamb!"), I do still love it. And if given the choice of turkey or lamb, I'm going to choose lamb. That slightly gamey flavor is part of the appeal of the dish.