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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Apple-Sausage Sauté

When I pick out my recipes for the week, I often start with a large folder stuffed with recipes and choose those that sound good to me. I end up with around a dozen sometimes, and from there I narrow it down to a weeks' worth of meals. For some reason, at least four of the recipes I found included sausage. Since one sausage meal a week is sufficient, I chose Apple-Sausage Sauté from this month's Prevention magazine.

Back when I was single, there was a crockpot recipe that I used to make that involved pork chops, sauerkraut, and sliced apples. I really loved it and made it quite often in the fall. This recipe reminded me of it; aside from salad, you don't see apples in a main course very often. Which is too bad, really. The sweetness of apples is a perfect accompaniment to many meats.

Apple-Sausage Sauté

4 tsp olive oil

1 lb precooked chicken or pork sausages, cut into 1/2" diagonal pieces

4 medium tart apples (such as Granny Smith or Idared), peeled, quartered, and cut into 1/2" wedges

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp dried thyme

2 tbsp maple syrup

1. Heat 2 teaspoons o the oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, turning often, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Remove from the pan.

2. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil to the pan. Put in apple, pepper, and thyme and drizzle with syrup. Cook, tossing often, until tender 12-14 minutes.

3. Return sausage to the pan and toss with apple to heat through.

The Verdict: A really fantastic blend of sweet and savory. A cozy, fall dish.

There was one issue with how it turned out but it had nothing to do with the recipe. I chose mild Italian chicken sausage and I'm not sure if my family's idea of mild and Whole Foods idea of mild differ, or if the package was mislabeled. But poor Amir took one bite, made a face while putting down his fork and said, "Hot." My husband and I agreed that the sausage wasn't at all mild, but enjoyed it still. I do think a milder sausage--whether that means a sausage you trust is mild or a different type of sausage (like a sundried tomato and garlic sausage, for example) would have worked better with the dish. The heat competed too much with the sweet.

I'd like to try this again, and for sure I'd like to start using apples in non-dessert dishes again.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Skillet Lasagna

My friend Vanessa first introduced me to this recipe. I remember the first time I made it, having left her house with a plastic baggie of cottage cheese because it was the one ingredient I'd forgotten to purchase.

The version of the recipe I use is slightly different than hers, though I can't remember why. This recipe comes from SparkPeople, a fantastic website that helped to whip me into shape and lose a significant amount of weight. While these instructions call for a pound of ground beef, I opted to use a frozen soy crumble meat substitute in honor of Meatless Monday.

After trying many, many brands of no-boil lasagna noodles, I would suggest using Barilla. I found that other brands were either a disaster to break apart (shards of uncooked pasta in your eye, anyone?) or were still quite hard at the end of the cook time.

Skillet Lasagna

1 lb lean ground beef

1 small onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced (or 2 tsp jarred garlic)

1 can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 1/4 cup water

8 oz tomato sauce

1 tbsp dried parsley flakes

1 tsp dried basil leaves

1 tsp dried oregano leaves

1 tsp salt

2 1/2 cups broken up no-boil lasagna noodles

1 cup fat free cottage cheese

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1 egg

Shredded mozzarella cheese for garnish

1. In a large skillet, brown beef with onions and garlic. Drain. Add tomatoes, water, tomato sauce, parsley, basil, oregano, and salt. Stir in uncooked pasta. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until pasta is tender.

2. Combine cottage and Parmesan cheeses. Mix in egg. Sprinkle in basil and pepper to taste. Drop cheese mixture by rounded tablespoons onto pasta mixture. Cover and cook for 5 minutes more. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella and serve.

The Verdict: Not my favorite recipe, but it's tasty and easy to make. A lot less hassle than an old-fashioned lasagna.

The original recipe calls for fat free Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. If that turns you on, go for it. I'm actually realizing while writing this that I forgot the mozzarella, period. Funny thing in my house: it's hard to tell what in the fridge is for a recipe and what's not. My poor husband is constantly being attacked for eating "ingredients." We've devised a system that anything that's for a recipe has a neon sticker on it. Seriously. Guess I can take the sticker off the cheese!

Turkish Special: White Bean Meze

For whatever reason when menu planning for this week, I somehow overlooked Sunday. I was in a quandry: if I cooked Monday's meal on Sunday and shifted thus, Monday wouldn't be Meatless Monday. Not that a vegetarian meal any other day of the week wouldn't count. But if I didn't tap into my menu, what would I make? Decisions, decisions.

Then I was suddenly in the mood for Turkish food. I began leafing through my Turkish cookbooks and happily came across zetinyagli fasulye (which isn't exactly right, but unless you speak Turkish, you have no idea what the hell I'm talking about anyway). It's white beans stewed in garlic cloves and olive oil and is usually served as a meze, the Turkish version of a Spanish tapas. I realized we had all the ingredients and it's something Noyan and I both love--we'd have to see about the kiddo.

This white bean meze, like most other Turkish foods, is prepared with simple ingredients. But much like French cooking, despite the simple ingredients of Turkish, the cuisine has lots of prep work and many fussy steps. The way I prepare this dish takes a few steps out, like soaking and cooking the beans. Canned beans mean soft beans, allowing you to cut down your cooking time. I also use canned tomatoes. In this instance, it was all I had, however, using canned tomatoes cuts down on one vegetable to chop.

White Bean Meze

2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed
2 medium onions, finely chopped
12 small garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
4 small carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup plus 2 to 4 tbsp olive oil
1 can diced tomatoes
3 tbsp sugar
salt to taste
2 cups water

In a large pot, cook onions, garlic, and carrots in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until soft. Do not let them brown. Add tomatoes, 1/2 cup olive oil, the sugar, salt, and water. Simmer for about an hour.

After you've cooked the beans for the hour, if you find the mixture is too soupy, ladle out some of the liquid. (I'd suggest saving the liquid and eating the broth as a soup!) Let cool, transfer to a serving bowl, and refridgerate until cold. Serve cold or at room temperature with crusty bread.

The Verdict: Even Amir scarfed this stuff down!

This dish is best served on a plate with a fork, using your bread to sop up the liquid. I also served the bread and beans along side a hard boiled egg and some sliced cheese. This is a great recipe when you need to bring a dish to a party.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cranberry Scones

Who knew that a bag of cranberries would keep you busy in the kitchen for so long?

With so many berries leftover, I was psyched that I'd also be able to make the cranberry scones recipe that had also made it to the top of my pile. I've never made scones before but because I was feeling more confident about baking after the cranberry upside-down cake success, I thought I'd give it a try. I even bought a fancy new pastry from Target this morning just for the occasion.

It's only within the last five years or so that I started eating scones. When they first came on the scene, they were incredibly dry and tasteless. But I gave them another shot and am glad I did: it seems that cooks out there figured out that scones needed an overhaul and tweaked their recipes to make them more palatable. Not just palatable, but yummy, really. But they are, by nature, a dry dough. Don't be discouraged by how stubborn the ingredients are to mold themselves into something that resembles a scone.

Cranberry Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

5 tbsp sugar, plus 1 tbsp for topping

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

6 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2/3 cup half-and-half, plus 1 tbsp

1/2 cup halved cranberries, drained on paper towels

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together flour, 5 tablespoons of sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives (note: two knife method is difficult) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in 2/3 of the half-and-half until just moistened. Gently fold in cranberries.

2. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough gently, around 10 times. Pat into a 1-inch-thick round. Cut into 8 wedges; place on a baking sheet 2 inches apart. Brush tops with remaining tablespoon of half-and-half; sprinkle remaining tablespoon sugar. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

The Verdict: These ain't the dry and tasteless scones of old. Make way for a new breakfast staple!
The outside is a bit crispy and the inside is slightly moist, making a great combination. The tartness of the cranberries are offset by the small amount of sugar on the top of the scones. I was ready to smear it in butter but found that the amount of butter used for cooking makes it rich enough to go without.
I'm dying to try it as different fruits come into season. Substituting blueberries for the cranberries seems like it would be heavenly; I'm also imagining fresh raspberries would be delish.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

Fall was in the air, but then it was 81 degrees here today.

Still, I'm getting the autumn bug. If you read my brownie disaster post, you'll know I'm not much of a baker. But even the worst cook among us (I think of 30 Rock's Liz Lemon character who uses her oven to warm her jeans in the morning) start thinking hot chocolate and apple orchards this time of year. We hope that if it isn't us, someone is whipping up something homey in the kitchen. We've been eating pomegranates once a week, I picked up a sugar pumpkin that I'm not sure what to do with yet, as well as a bag of cranberries.

The cranberries are for an Everyday Food recipe I'd torn out long ago: cranberry upside-down cake. I've wanted to try it forever and just never got around to it. And not so long ago, my Aunt Anne made one. That cinched it. I needed to make one for myself. I tried to get Amir to help me with the baking, but he got up on his step stool, held the measuring spoon for approximately 10 seconds and announced, "OK, all done." Sigh. So he might not follow in my joy of cooking. At least he likes to read.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

8 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1 3/4 cups cranberries
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk (I found I needed more like 1 full cup)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in center. Rub the bottom and sides of an 8-inch round cake pan with 2 tablespoons of butter. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar with the cinnamon and allspice. Sprinkle mixture evenly over bottom of pan; arrange cranberries in a single layer on top.

2. With an electric mixer, cream remaining 6 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat until well combined. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture to butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk, until well combined.

3. Spoon batter over cranberries in pan and smooth on top. Place pan on a baking sheet; bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake; invert onto a rimmed platter.

The Verdict: Make this if you want to be the hero of this year's Thanksgiving.

Not only is this cake beautiful, it tastes just as good. The sugar over the berries caramelizes, creating a sweet-tart top. The thick cake underneath is just the right amount of sweet, creating a delicious balance to the berries. Fantastic.

Barbecue Chicken Meatballs

I guess it was a week heavy on ground chicken. Imagine my joy to walk into Whole Foods for a few staples the other day to see a "Special: $2.99/lb Ground Turkey" sign. Oh well, c'est la vie.

This recipe comes from the now discontinued Cookie magazine. In addition to great parenting articles, they had some really fun, fast and kid-friendly recipes. I've made this a number of times and have even made extras to freeze. The side dish pictured is red kuri squash, my new favorite type of winter squash. It's a very mild squash that tastes something like a cross between a yam and a chestnut. I highly recommend it. Here it's just split with the inside smeared with butter, maple syrup and sage then cooked for approximately 40 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Barbecue Chicken Meatballs

1 lb ground chicken

2/3 cup bread crumbs

1 egg

1 tsp chili powder

1 small onion, grated and drained

1/2 tsp paprika

1 tsp kosher salt

2 tbsp applesauce

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup barbecue sauce

1. Combine the first 8 ingredients. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls.

2. Place the oil in a wide frying pan. Add the meatballs and brown them on all sides until cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Add the barbecue sauce. Cook until it reduces and stick to the meatballs, about 1 minute. Serve.

The Verdict: Well, if Amir has anything to say about it, it's a smashing success. I put three meatballs on his plate, however, he ultimately ate 5. Wow! Noyan wasn't at dinner to comment, but said he liked it in his lunch today. (This is the barbecue sauce from the previous recipe, so hmmm...)

Really easy to make, quick to cook. What mother isn't into that?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mu Shu Chicken Patties with Seared Napa Cabbage

I have been eyeing this recipe for about a year. I put it into my personal cookbook with the intention to cook it nearly every time I open up the document. For whatever reason, this recipe or that trumps it and it goes back to the pile, lonely and untouched. There are no unique ingredients (unless you can't read, which I'll get to later) and nothing about the method of cooking that would make it get continually ignored. But it finally had its day in the Kinayman kitchen.

Mu Shu Chicken Patties with Seared Napa Cabbage

2 pounds ground chicken
4 scallions, finely chopped
One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
and grated or finely chopped (or 1 tbsp Ginger People grated ginger)
3 tbsp tamari sauce
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp grill seasoning, such as McCormick Grill Mates
Montreal Steak Seasoning
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small Napa cabbage, shredded
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Hoisen sauce, to pass around the table

1. In a medium bowl, mix the chicken with the scallions, ginger, tamari, garlic and grill seasoning. Form into small patties. (I ended up with 13.) In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 turn of the pan, over medium-high to high heat until smoking. Add the patties and cook until well done, about 5 minutes on each side; transfer to a plate.

2. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet and heat to smoking, then add the cabbage and stir-fry until wilted. Season with salt and add the sesame seeds. Pile the cabbage on plates and serve with 2 chicken patties per person. Pass the hoisen sauce around the table.

The Verdict: Very good, but because I waited too long to finally make this, I'd built it up in my head to be amazing. It wasn't amazing, but everyone enjoyed it.

Things to remember about this recipe: First, tamari sauce is a fancy name for soy sauce. I read it quickly and thought it said "tahini." So I'm tooling around Whole Foods, unable to find tahini, knowing full-well that of all the places to shop, they're going to have it. And that when I did find it, I was going to cry because it costs $8 a can when I only needed 3 tablespoons. Finally, I stopped looking for it and decided I'd just use almond butter. And imagine my surprise when I realized these weren't Middle Eastern Mu Shu Patties. Duh.

Secondly, when there's smoke, there's not necessarily fire but your smoke alarms don't know this. My oven vent sucks, so in my concentration I didn't realize the thick blanket of cooking smoke I'd produced. Half-way through cooking dinner, I was opening every window in our house, doing the newspaper sweeping dance. Do yourself a favor and turn your vent on right away and open a window. Or take "medium-high to high heat" with a grain of salt.

Overall, it was enjoyed and I'll be making it again.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hamburger Stroganoff

When I was pregnant for Amir I spent a lot of time batch cooking and freezing meals. That way, when our son arrived and we were so tired we'd forgotten our names let alone had the fortitude to cook dinner, it would already be done. This recipe is easily doubled (you need a big pan, though!) and frozen. Let it cool for a while then ladle it into freezer bags. Freeze the bags flat.

Hamburger Stroganoff

1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, sliced
1 10-ounce container fresh white mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 16-ounce container fat-free sour cream
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
3 tbsp yellow mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp paprika

In a skillet, brown the ground beef. Remove from pan but reserve a small amount of the drippings. Add the onions and begin to cook for approximately 3 minutes then add mushrooms and garlic. Cook until the onions are browned and the mushrooms are soft. Add the soup and stir until coated. Add the sour cream, mustard, paprika, salt and pepper and mix well.

Serve over wide egg noodles or rice.

The Verdict: My husband requests this one often. I can take it or leave it and Amir appeared to be the same way.

In the recipe's defense, I made a mistake this time around when preparing it; a mistake I've also made in the past. Be sure to use condensed cream of mushroom soup. Condensed cream soup is apparently below our hoighty-toighty supermarket, so rather than make two trips, I bought what they had. This turns the recipe into a jazzed up cream of mushroom soup. I took out a lot of the liquid to make it more of a gravy-like consistency. But it wasn't quite right.

When done right, I'm still not bowled over with it, but it's good. It's creamy and full of mushrooms, which I love. It's also, as I said earlier, perfect for freezing. But since Noyan loves it, I make it fairly often. I'd really like to try it with actual smoked Hungarian paprika to see how the taste changes. But smoked Hungarian paprika isn't one of those foods that's readily found in your local market--even the local hoighty-toighty market. When I get my hands on some, I'll add it to the recipe and report back how it tastes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Macaroni & Cheese, Part Deux

I've loved to cook for as long as I can remember. There have been times when I toyed with the idea of cooking school, but then when I'd consider the careers in food waiting after, I quickly put the idea away. Besides, cooking for a family or group of friends is a whole lot different than catering a party or for an entire restaurant.

Anyway, this love of cooking means that I've been squirreling away (and losing) recipes for a long time. I fondly remember a recipe from years ago for a delicious alfredo sauce made with fat-free evaporated milk. About 2 million or so less calories and grams of fat than the original recipe and nearly as good. I think about it now and again, but today, while making this macaroni and cheese recipe from an old Every Day with Rachel Ray, I remembered the alfredo sauce. The premise is the same: reducing evaporated milk in a sauce pan.

After last week's fiasco mac & cheese, I thought I might try another version. I can't bear the thought of my son preferring a box of pasta with a baggie of cheese powder over something homemade. Here's the newest attempt:

Macaroni & Cheese

1 3/4 cups fat-free evaporated milk, divided
3 tablespoons of flour

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp coarse salt

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

4 ounces shredded reduced-fat sharp Cheddar cheese (about 1 cup)

3/4 lb whole-wheat macaroni, such as elbow pasta

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped broccoli

6 cups baby spinach leaves, rinsed

6 tbsp grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Place a large pot of water over high heat for boiling pasta. Place 1 cup of evaporated milk in a large saucepan. Pour remaining 3/4 cup into a medium bowl and whisk in flour, mustard, garlic powder, paprika, salt and nutmeg.

Bring evaporated milk to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk in flour mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture has thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in Cheddar cheese until melted. Cover to keep warm.

Cook broccoli according to package directions, then drain. Add pasta to boiling water and cook 6 minutes. Add spinach and cook 30 seconds more, just until wilted. Drain pasta and spinach and blend into cheese sauce, along with broccoli. Stir pasta and cheese over medium-low heat until mixture is hot, about 1 minute. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon of the Pecorino Romano cheese.

Serves 6

The Verdict: Now that's mac and cheese!

I'll admit that I omitted the broccoli because my husband and son are hard to please in the vegetable department. And Amir did eat around the spinach. Maybe next time I'd cut the spinach up so that avoidance would become just that much harder. But the macaroni and cheese itself? Fantastic. Creamy, rich and full of flavor. I had time yesterday afternoon to cook, so I made this dish then. When reheating it I added about a 1/4 cup of milk to regain it's full creamy texture.

There's plenty for lunches tomorrow, so the serves six is just about right. And the best part is that I'm looking forward to the leftovers--I hate leftovers. Don't ask me why, I just do. So a recipe has to be pretty good for me to want to eat it again a day later.

Barbecue Baked Beans with Chicken

I'm not a fan of cookbooks. There are a few I love (The Joy of Cooking and Mastering the Art of French Cooking are two), but the majority hold the same story: a few recipes you use, a few you'd like to try, and the majority neglected. That's not worth $25 or more to me. Instead, I like to find recipes in magazines.

One exception is the marriage of the magazine and cookbook. Sometimes, at the supermarket checkout, you'll find a "best of" magazine. I don't buy them often as the prices are sometimes nearly as high as a regular cookbook, however, the recipes you find within those publications are usually excellent. I found one years ago, put out by Cooking Light called Superfast Suppers. I can't tell you how many recipes from that magazine I've used and re-used. The following is one of my favorites.

Barbecue Baked Beans with Chicken

Regular-size foil oven bag (you can make yourself by sealing tin foil tightly into a pouch)
2/3 cup barbecue sauce, divided
1/2 cup sliced green onions
2 (16-ounce) cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons salt-free barbecue rub (such as Spice Hunter)
1 pound chicken breast tenders (about 12 pieces)
Green onions (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Place oven bag on a baking sheet. Combine 1/2 cup barbecue sauce, green onions, and pinto beans in a medium bowl. Spoon bean mixture into oven bag. Combine remaining barbecue sauce, barbecue rub, and chicken; toss well. Place chicken on beans. Fold edges of bag over to seal. Bake for 20 minutes or until the chicken is done. Garnish with onions. Yield: 4 servings (serving size: about 3 chicken tenders and 3/4 cup beans).

The Verdict: It was a tie. I love, love, love this recipe and could eat it once a week. The beans get almost a baked bean flavor with this way of cooking. I also dig this recipe because the ingredients are not only cheap, but are things you often keep on hand. And it's fast and simple to prepare. Noyan isn't wild about barbecue sauce and wasn't overly fond of this. He's also been reading a lot about high fructose corn syrup and admittedly, the brand that I used probably used it as an ingredient I think that was a turn off for him; I'll have to try it again with a more natural sauce. Amir was so into the beans that he wouldn't eat the chicken, so I can't tell what he thought about it as a whole.

The recipe calls for a dash of hot sauce in the bean mixture, but I always omit anything that's potentially hot because of Amir. I also couldn't find salt-free barbecue rub and didn't want to run around to 5o different stores looking for it. So I just used McCormick's Montreal Chicken Seasoning. Is that like barbecue rub? I dunno. But it tasted good to me.

One caveat: use a lot of tinfoil to create a large bag. Try not to mound the beans and chicken too much; a thicker mound means a much longer cooking time. My bag was too small and the cooking time was more like 35 minutes than 20.

Smoky, Creamy Mac & Cheese

Among some of my friends there is a great debate regarding processed cheese. Some think it should be stripped of its cheese title, while others love its gooey goodness. I'm on the fence because I think that processed cheese has its place. I love it melted on a burger or in scrambled eggs, but at the same time, I'm not going to place it alongside a good Camembert or Gruyere.

So when I came across this Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese recipe for Smoky, Creamy Mac & Cheese, I wasn't going to turn my nose up at it just because of its plethora of phony ingredients. (Sorry, Kraft, but you're not being sold in Whole Foods for more reasons than one.) Macaroni and cheese is one of Amir's favorite foods and they had me at the word "smoky." So it was a go in the Kinayman house.

Smoky, Creamy Mac & Cheese

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% milk
1 tub (8 ounces) Philadelphia Chive & Onion Cream Cheese Spread
4 ounces Velveeta Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product, cut into 1/2-in cubes
1 cup (4 oz) Kraft shredded sharp cheddar cheese
5 Oscar Mayer bacon strips, cooked and crumbled (optional)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp. butter, melted

COOK macaroni according to package directions. In a large saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour until smooth, gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in the cream cheese, Velveeta, cheddar cheese, bacon, salt and pepper.

DRAIN macaroni; stir in cheese sauce. Transfer to a greased 8-inch square baking dish. Combine bread crumbs and melted butter; sprinkle over casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until bubbly.

The Verdict: Processed cheese has a place, but this isn't it. None of us were bowled over by it, and that includes Mr. Macaroni and Cheese himself, Amir.

First of all, and this isn't really about the recipe itself, do yourself a favor and find the smallest block of Velveeta you can. This recipe calls for 4 ounces and the only Velveeta they sold at Target was 32 ounces. Holy cow! What am I supposed to do with a cinder block of Velveeta? That is, unless you're in the more is better when it comes to processed cheese camp. Next, the
Velveeta and the cream cheese are salty. Omit the salt! And lastly, you can almost double the amount of pasta. The amount of cheese sauce this recipe makes is shocking. I thought it looked like elbow macaroni swimming in a sea of cheese. It will obviously make a lot. If you choose to make this recipe, make it when you need to bring a covered dish somewhere.

The changes I made to the recipe were omitting the salt and the bacon, using 1% instead of 2% milk, and using whole wheat macaroni.

Meh. I don't think this one is going to become a part of the regular rotation.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Black Bean Burgers

It must be the week for oldies but goodies.

While planning my menu for the week, I not only dug out the teriyaki chicken we love so much, but also the recipe for Black Bean Burgers. I first found this recipe in the April 2010 Cooking Light. There are a couple of omissions on my part: this recipe calls for both cilantro and jalapeño pepper. I cannot stand the taste and smell of cilantro, and I thought that jalapeño for a two-year-old might be a bit much. I'll include them in the recipe, but I think they're delicious without. Your call.

Black Bean Burgers

2 (15-ounce) cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, divided
3/4 cup (3 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 medium jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
2 large egg whites
cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place beans in a medium bowl; mash with fork. Stir in 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro and and the next 7 ingredients (through egg whites). Shape bean mixture into 6 patties. Arrange patties on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, carefully turning once.

The Verdict: Amir was more interested in the cole slaw tonight, but he did eat his burger. Generally he'll eat a whole bean burger by himself. Noyan and I love them.

Seriously, that's it to the recipe. They're quick and easy, and if you make them in bulk, you can freeze them, too.

The original recipe also included a mango salsa to accompany the burgers. Both my husband and son hate mango (why? why? why?), so I've never bothered. I often top mine with barbecue sauce. You can add a slice of cheese but the cheese in the burger should be enough. I served the burgers with the cole slaw recipe that's included in this blog.

Instant Teriyaki Chicken and Vegetable Brown Rice

In the most recent issue of Prevention magazine there's an article with short suggestions on how to create less stress and more happiness in your life. One of the tips was to have a tried-and-true quick and easy meal in your arsenal. Keep the ingredients on hand and be able to create it in a short amount of time. I'll bet they'd be pretty excited to know that one of my go-to meals is from their very own magazine.

The recipe is a 5-ingredient Instant Teriyaki Chicken. Most people have the ingredients in their cupboards right now. To go with it, I made Fried Vegetable Brown Rice, which is more than likely also ingredients you have in your kitchen, too.

Chinese food is one of my favorites. I'd get Chinese take out at least once a week, but unfortunately, my husband is not a big fan. It's not so much the food itself but the restaurants. The majority of Chinese places are what he calls a "sticky" restaurant. You know when you go into a small place that fries a lot of its food? Years of grease accumulation starts to find it's way onto the tables, chairs and walls. It's not full-0n dirty; the place won't get shut down by the Board of Health. But it's never going to get a Michelin star, either. That's a sticky place and my husband is not a fan. So to make decent take out at home, which is also much healthier, is right up my alley.

Instant Teriyaki Chicken

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 1/2 tbsp honey

1 tbsp tomato paste

4 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs

1 tsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)

1. Heat the oven broiler to high. Put soy sauce, honey and tomato paste in medium bowl and stir together.

2. Add chicken and turn to coat all surfaces.

3. Put chicken in an ovenproof pan under the broiler.

4. Cook chicken until well browned, about 10 minutes. Flip and brown the second side until cooked through, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with sesame seeds (if using).
A nice part of this recipe is that you can get your toddler in on the action. Instead of putting the chicken into the sauce, I put the sauce on the chicken with a pastry brush. Amir really loves this job. In addition, I put the sesame seeds on before I cook the chicken which is another fun toddler cooking opportunity.

Another option is to use boneless and skinless chicken thighs. This recipe turned me onto chicken thighs in general. Who knew that a cut of chicken could be so cheap and tasty? This is especially advantageous when buying organic and free range chicken, which is pricier than regular chicken--but in my opinion, worth the extra money.

Vegetable Fried Brown Rice

4 cups cooked, cold brown rice
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup carrots, finely chopped
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 eggs, beaten
5 tbsp soy sauce

1. Place a wok over medium-high heat and add one tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Cook onion and carrots until slightly browned, around 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, thaw peas. Drain and set aside.

2. Add the second tablespoon of oil then the two beaten eggs. Cook through and remove from heat; chopping the egg into rough bits.

3. Add the final tablespoon of oil into the wok and add the rice. Stir-fry for about two minutes, adding the soy sauce. Add more or less, depending on your taste.

4. Return all ingredients to the wok. Stir together and serve immediately.

The key to good fried rice is using old rice. Sounds weird, but make sure that you cooked the rice a day in advance. It's even OK to use rice that is two or three days old. Great recipe for leftover rice; it's also good if you're cooking rice for one dish to make extra to make this one later in the week. With four cups of rice, it makes quite a few main dish portions. As a side, you've got plenty for lunch for the days to come.

The Verdict: Loved it. Everyone cleaned their plate.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A (One Time Only?) Dessert Special

A year or so ago, perhaps longer now, my husband asked what he thought was an innocent question: "Can we throw away your old baking pans? They're in bad shape." I asked if we'd be replacing the pans and he said yes. I wasn't aware that he meant "can we throw away your old baking pans...right now?" It's been frustrating each time I want to cook something and the recipe calls for a pan that I used to have. Or I thought I did, anyway.

That it's taken over a year to just identify what's gone should tell you something. I'm not a baker. I remember watching a holiday special on the Food Network where Paula Deen and Rachel Ray are cooking together. They begin baking a dessert and it begins to dawn on Paula Deen that Rachel Ray has no clue how to bake. She is surprised and horrified. But while I like Paula better than Rachel, I suddenly felt a surge of camaraderie with her. I can't bake either. Try as I might and fantasize as I do, my sugary confections often fall flat--sometimes literally.

So it's rather comical that I was suddenly possessed with the idea of sharing dessert recipes now that I plan to show this blog to others. What can I possibly share with you? My disasters? OK, I can do that easily.

My mother had a large collection of recipe cards that I have no idea where they came from. It doesn't say clearly on the card. But I've kept many over the years because they looked good. One in particular, for brownie ice cream sandwiches, looked especially delicious. A very important kitchen tip I've learned the hard way is to read your recipe well before you try to cook it. I swear I did this. But there were still many parts that made no sense to me. Lining a pan fully with waxed paper? Are you kidding me? It slips out of place. Immediately freeze something that comes out of the oven? That's just weird. But here it is:

Fudgy Brownies & Cream

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 (1 ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs, beaten
mint chocolate chip ice cream
strawberry ice cream

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two 8x8-inch baking pans with waxed paper.

2. Combine butter and chocolate in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH, stirring frequently, until chocolate is melted, about 1 1/4 minutes. Stir well to mix.

3. Add sugar, flour and vanilla extract to chocolate mixture and mix well. Let stand to cool slightly. Add eggs and mix well. Spoon mixture into the prepared baking pans.

4. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. Freeze pans for 5 minutes. Cut each pan of brownies into 9 squares.

5. Place a brownie on each of 9 individual serving plates. Place a scoop of ice cream on each brownie. Place a brownie on top to make a sandwich and serve immediately.

The Verdict: Disaster.

Oh! Now I know where my mom got those recipes: Shitty Recipes for You Monthly Magazine. As you now know, my pan selection is less than stellar. I borrowed the second pan from my friend and neighbor Deanne, only to learn that I didn't even have a pan. Fine. I'd make the brownies in two batches. I bake the brownies for the suggested time and when I take them out of the oven, I decide to take them out of the pan and cool them on a plate. Except that they rolled lethargically out of the pan in a chocolate tube.

After I pressed them back into a brownie shape, I realized these were nowhere near a brownie consistency. Not even a fudgy brownie. They were more like tightly packed brown sugar. So I poured the rest of the brownie mixture on top of the pressed brownies and baked it all for an additional 20 minutes. I thought that maybe I could cut the brownie in half and put the ice cream in that way, but the result was greasy, thin brownies. At that point I gave up and we ate them like that for dessert.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sausage Meatloaf

When I was a kid, I wasn't really into meatloaf. It seemed like just "something-else-to-do-with-hamburger." In recent years, meatloaf has been glorified and glamorized, but I think it's new publicist had little to do with my new judgement of the stuff. I like it now and I'm not sure why.

I don't think it's because I'm now an adult since my son loves meatloaf. Amir loves anything meat, pretty much. Maybe because it is something else to do with hamburger. A variable something else...a little of this, a little of that...and each meatloaf is a new adventure.

I've not entirely mastered a perfect meatloaf. I was hoping the following recipe would be It, but it got a solid B in presentation. Scored pretty high on the tasty meter, though.

Sausage Meatloaf

2 eggs lightly beaten
2/3 cup stock (beef or chicken)
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 slices of whole grain bread, cubed
1/4 cup parmean cheese
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp chopped, jarred garlic
1 lb hamburger
1 lb Italian chicken sausage (I'm sure pork is fine)
1/2 medium green sweet pepper, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 tbsp ketchup
2 tsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp packed brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine eggs, broth, and 1 tablespoon of the Worcestershire sauce. Let stand for 15 minutes. With fork, mash bread cubes into small pieces. Stir in parmesan cheese, mustard, garlic. Add meat and the raw sausage from the casing, pepper and onion. Mix well with hands but do not overmix. Lightly pat mixture into a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

2. In a small bowl mix ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar and the remaining Worcestershire. Evenly pour sauce on top of the meat.

3. Bake, uncovered, for 1 1/4 hours. Let stand for 10 minutes.

The Verdict: The sausage changes the flavor a lot in a very good way. And by mixing the meats, the sausage doesn't overpower the loaf. Both my husband and son really enjoyed it as well. So it's definitely something we'd all like to eat again. However, I am again flummoxed as to what I'm doing wrong in terms of my meatloaf falling apart, and in this recipe's instance, being too soggy.

I'm going to experiment with a few different things next time. If I end up with a visually perfect meatloaf, I'll fix the recipe and re-post. In the meantime, if you don't mind the sogginess, it's a really delicious recipe. (And it also makes great meatloaf sandwiches. I covered mine in barbecue sauce and it was like a firmer sloppy joe. Heavenly.)