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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sausage Shepard's Pie

Shepard's Pie is good stuff. So I was interested to see what would happen when you change up the layers a little bit. This recipe, instead of ground meat, calls for sausage. And instead of corn and carrots, the vegetable is cabbage. Since Shepard's Pie gets a thumbs up, sausage and cabbage get a thumb's up, and mashed potatoes always get a thumb's up, this just sounded like a winner.

Sausage Shepard's Pie

8 baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups chicken broth
6 tablespoons heavy cream
salt and pepper
1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tbsp jarred horseradish
2 tbsp dried parsley, divided

1. Preheat the broiler. In a pot, combine the potatoes and enough salted water to cover by 1 inch. Cover and bring to a boil, then uncover and cook until fork-tender, about 10 minutes; drain. Mash in 1/2 cup chicken broth and the cream, season with salt and pepper.

2. Meanwhile, in a large, ovenproof skillet, cook the sausage over medium-high heat, breaking it up, until browned, 5-7 minutes; using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a bowl. Add the cabbage, onion and garlic to the pan, season with salt and pepper and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 1/2 cups chicken broth and horseradish. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cooked sausage and half the parsley.

3. Spoon the mashed potatoes onto the sausage mixture and broil until the potatoes are golden, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining parsley.

The Verdict: Very good, but in my opinion, not better than old-style Shepard's Pie.
I love to have company for dinner so that I get some new input into the recipes I'm trying out. Everyone liked it a lot; Amir ate his entire plate (though largely worked his way around the cabbage) and all the adults had seconds. It's different. Not different in that "contrary to good way"; just not what you'd expect to find under a layer of mashed potatoes.

This is a Rachel Ray magazine find and the original recipe called for hot Italian sausage. As I always write, my 2-year-old doesn't really dig on hot, so I used mild. Actually, not only did I use mild but used so horrid brand of Italian chicken sausage that was less sausage and more hot dog. So instead of squeezing the contents out of the casing, I had to chop each sausage up into fine pieces. Yecch. Tasted fine, thank goodness. But that was my mistake. I would also encourage you to make your mashed potatoes however you like to make them. I found the Everyday way to be too dry and not very tasty. I prefer mine mashed with lots of milk and butter; nice and creamy.

I would also encourage you to use horseradish and not horseradish sauce like I did, especially if you go with the mild sausage. One tablespoon isn't quite enough to give it any zing.

If you don't have an oven-proof skillet, just compile the ingredients into a casserole dish. Try to use one that's not too deep, though, or else you end up with gigantic mounds of mashed potato.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Southwest Cheese 'n Pasta

Salsa verde. I love this stuff. And it's because of this recipe that I learned that a little salsa verde added to packaged macaroni and cheese makes a yummy meal.

I first made this dish many, many years ago while still a vegetarian. It's been so long that I don't know where it originally came from. But I'm glad I held onto it.

Southwest Cheese 'n Pasta

1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup green salsa (salsa verde)
1 can (15 oz) cream-style corn
1 can (11 oz) Mexican corn
8 oz. uncooked cavatappi pasta
8 oz. processed cheese product (like Velveeta), cubed

1. Mix all ingredients except cheese in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally; reduce heat to low. Cover and let cook 10 to 14 minutes, stirring frequently, until pasta is tender.

2. Add cheese; stir until melted.

The Verdict: Seconds, please! This stuff is great!

While not the healthiest meal on the block, it might be one of the easiest. How many recipes do you literally dump five ingredients into a pan, cook it, add cheese and serve? Amir was at first a little skittish about the salsa verde; it's a medium heat and he's not a gigantic fan of spicy food. But the fact that it was macaroni and cheese soon won him over.

I didn't give it much thought, but you could at least add extra vegetables. Extra red bell pepper would be good, as would chopped zucchini.

I haven't made this for a while, and I'm glad that I did. It's a great recipe for your arsenal of super-quick dinners. Under 20 that's fast!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chicken Parmigiana

For some reason, I don't feel like chicken parmigiana should be a comfort food. I equate comfort foods with soups, stews, and roasts with root vegetables. Maybe it's because I'm from New England. Because surely comfort food just means a dish that gives you comfort; that makes you feel warm and happy.

This recipe does that for me.

It originally appeared in Martha Stewart's Everyday Food many, many years ago. I've made it before, but more often, I've had it at my Aunt Anne's house. She's a phenomenal cook and I feel like although we're following the same recipe, hers is always better.

Chicken Parmigiana
3/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 chicken cutlets or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts,
halved horizontally (about 1 1/2 lbs)
salt and fresh ground pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups jarred tomato sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
6 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 8 1/4-inch thick slices

1. Heat broiler. Combine breadcrumbs and Parmesan in a shallow bowl. Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Dip chicken in the beaten egg, then dredge in breadcrumb mixture, turning to coat both sides.

2. Spread tomato sauce onto bottom of a 10-by-15-inch baking dish. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place as many chicken cutlets that will fit into the pan without crowding; cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Using a spatula, transfer browned cutlets to baking dish, placing them on top of sauce. Repeat with remaining oil and cutlets.

3. Top each cutlet with a slice of mozzarella. Broil about 4 inches from heat source until sauce is hot and cheese is melted and lightly browned in spots, 5 to 8 minutes. Serve immediately.

The Verdict: Chicken Parmigiana, how I love thee.
We all agreed that this is good stuff. All the cheese--both in the breadcrumb mixture and on the top--plus the crunchy browning of the breadcrumbs in the pan and the brown bubbles of mozzarella cheese taste decadent.

It's not a quick recipe because of the time it takes to fry the cutlets. But it's not difficult either. As the cutlets cooked, Amir and I played with SuperWhy! action figures, flying back into the kitchen with Wyatt and Princess Presto to save the chicken from burning. So Amir didn't feel neglected as Mommy made dinner.

Instead of a fresh ball of mozzarella (yum), I bought slices from the deli. Not quite as delicious, but easy to just peel a slice of cheese off the top and place on the cooked chicken. I did use my cheese grater again, though. Seriously, nothing better than freshly grated cheese.

We ate our parmigiana accompanied with whole wheat spaghetti. This recipe is equally good with a nice garden salad. I can also imagine that they taste fantastic on bread as a chicken parm sandwich.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cheesy Spinach Pockets

The original recipe, from God knows where, called for broccoli. Since Noyan would rather eat shoe leather, I substituted spinach. Spinach is his favorite and oddly, Amir likes it as well. Maybe it's a Turkish thing?

Cheesy Spinach Pockets

1 pkg (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach
2 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 jarred roasted red peppers, coarsely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 pkg (16 oz) frozen bread dough, thawed
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Thaw spinach as directed on package. Cool slightly then squeeze out extra moisture. Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add spinach and cook 3 to 5 minutes more. Set aside and let cool slightly.
2. In a bowl, combine mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, red pepper, salt, pepper and oregano. Then add cooked spinach.
3. On a slightly floured surface, divide bread dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each one to a 6" diameter, then fill the middle with spinach mixture. Fold in half, sealing edges by pressing with a fork. Make a couple of holes on the top of each pocket to let steam escape. Bake on a large cookie sheet until golden brown, around 25 minutes.

The Verdict: No fancy ingredients, nothing magical, yet this recipe is surprisingly delicious.

When Noyan bit into his, he asked if it was a borek recipe. Borek is the Turkish version of a small calzone. I was tempted to rename it that, but why? It's a vegetable pocket. He said that it could also be filled with meat like a ground beef or lamb.
Amir initially ate just the edamame on his plate, shaking his head vigorously at the pocket. When we finally convinced him to try it, kind of like Mikey of Life cereal fame, he liked it. He really liked it. He ended up eating the entire pocket, vegetables and all, which was shocking.

The filling is a breeze to put together, but the pockets themselves are a little more time consuming. Set aside a decent chunk of time to cut, roll out, and fold the dough. This is the reason I never put preparation times on recipes. I find it's misleading. (I also never put servings; I never feel like a recipe can accurately tell you how many it will serve.)

Extras would freeze well. This would be a pretty awesome lunch when thawed in the microwave. Ten zillion times better than a factory produced pocket, filled with salt and preservatives.

Spring Ravioli with Pesto Cream

This recipe comes from the days of being a vegetarian. Which means this recipe is pretty old. It originally calls for green beans instead of peas, but knowing my family, I thought peas was the wiser choice. I'm sure that you can substitute any vegetable you want.

Weirdly, as I made it, I couldn't remember anything about it. Each step I'd say to myself, "I don't remember this ingredient" or "I don't remember doing this part."

Originally, we were going to have this for Meatless Monday and calzones last night, but I didn't thaw my bread dough in time. So two vegetarian recipes in a row, you lucky ducks. Aren't you glad it's not another stew?

Spring Ravioli with Pesto Cream

2 tsp olive or vegetable oil
3/4 cup frozen petite green peas, thawed
1/2 medium yellow pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 roma (plum) tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 tsp salt
16 oz frozen cheese-filled ravioli
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tbsp basil pesto
2 tsp grated lemon peel

1. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook pepper about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender. Stir in tomatoes and salt. Cook 3 minutes.

2. While vegetables are cooking, prepare ravioli as directed on package. In the last minute of cooking, add peas to thaw. Mix sour cream, pesto and grated lemon peel in a small bowl.

3. Toss hot cooked ravioli with vegetable mixture and sour cream. If desired, garnish with fresh basil leaves and lemon peel.

The Verdict: Pretty yummy...and ridiculously easy!

When I asked Noyan what he thought, he asked if I made the ravioli. (Did you see me sweating and swearing all afternoon in the kitchen? Well then, no, I didn't.) For some reason, the idea that it was "found" ingredients put together made it feel less homemade to him. While I suppose that's true, I didn't make the pasta nor the pesto, I think it's a little bit like shopping at Pottery Barn. You can get a bunch of stuff and put it in a room, but if it doesn't compliment everything else, it's going to look terrible. But with a good eye, you're going to put together a room that makes everyone say "Wow!"

The sour cream takes on the pesto taste, muting just enough to give you a nice hint of basil. Then the basil tastes great with the yellow pepper. The sauce itself is just enough to make the ravioli creamy instead of pasty.

Pesto tends to be on the pricier side of groceries, but since you only use 3 tablespoons, you get a lot of bang for your buck. You can even freeze the leftover pesto, though apparently the nation of Italy would keel over at the idea of freezing olive oil. But I won't tell if you won't.

Hungarian Goulash

Surprise, surprise: It's another stew!

I got a new cookbook, a compilation of the best soups and stews from Cuisine at Home, and suffered over which stew to try first. In the end, since Noyan loves beef stroganoff so much, I went with this Hungarian goulash recipe. I'm not exactly sure what I thought the correlation between the two dishes was; I guess I'm copping to my poor sense of geography. Hungary and Russia are separated by about three countries in case you're as geographically challenged as me. They both have beef and sour cream, so maybe that's my common denominator.

Beef Stroganoff
3 lb. boneless chuck roast, cut into 2-inch chunks,
seasoned with salt and pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups diced onion
3 tbsp minced garlic
3 tbsp Hungarian sweet paprika
3 cups low-sodium beef broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
3/4 cup sour cream
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt to taste

1. Dredge beef in flour, shaking off any excess; sear in oil in batches in a large pot over medium-high heat, adding more oil if necessary. Remove beef from pot; set aside.

2. Sauté onion, garlic, and paprika in the pot for 30 seconds, then deglaze the pot with broth, scraping to loosen any brown bits.
3. Stir in tomato paste and reserved beef; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer stew, covered, until meat is fork-tender, 1-1 1/2 hours.
4. Off heat, finish goulash with sour cream and vinegar, season with salt.

The Verdict: I expected a little more, but it was filling and very rich. I also think it's another one of those recipes that the leftovers taste better than the original serving, as the setting time allows flavors to marry.

So instead of the sweet paprika, I broke out my smoked paprika. I bought some a month or two back and have been looking forward to any opportunity to try it. Let me tell you, the smell it creates while cooking is phenomenal. It smells like dark, rich, smoked peppers. I was disappointed that more of that taste didn't translate into the dish, so I might try a little more the next time I cook this dish. I think I'm going to be doing some freezer cooking in the next few months and this recipe would be great for that purpose.

The suggested side dish for this recipe is buttered egg noodles with peas and dill. That's what I made and I agree that it's perfect. Amir, the two-year-old, ate the noodles with great gusto.

A caveat: Make sure to add the sour cream off the heat. You may even wish to let the stew cool a bit before adding it. The sour cream with curdle otherwise.

Amir and Noyan liked this recipe a lot; I liked it much better than my usual (absolutely unrelated) beef stroganoff recipe. And since I'm the cook, that means we can eat it again.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Apple Crisp

The family went apple picking a few weekends back and brought home two huge bags of them. Can you believe that they're already almost gone? And they were all from snacking. I did have one small bag of apples that were a bit bruised, however, reserved for some kind of baking. The other night I had a craving for apple crisp, so baking apples were given to the cause.

I really thought I'd taken pictures, but apparently we were all in such a hurry to chow down on hot apples topped with crunchy, sweet topping, I forgot. Sorry about that.

Apple Crisp

6 medium cooking apples, sliced
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick-cook or old-fashioned oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/3 cup cold butter

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In an ungreased 8-inch square pan or a glass pie dish, spread the apples.

2. In a medium bowl, mix brown sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cut in butter, using a pastry blender or two knives, until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over apples.

3. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until topping is golden brown and apples are tender when pierced with a fork. Serve warm, with ice cream or cream if desired.

The Verdict: Prepare for a fight for the leftovers.

While this is cooking, your house will smell amazing. The apples, cinnamon and sugar all melt together, creating the most wonderful fall aroma you can imagine. The topping is great--crispy and sweet. It is plentiful, though. I'm not exactly complaining, but you'll see what I mean when you're sprinkling and sprinkling and sprinkling topping over apples for what feels like whatever.

This was a last minute decision to make, so I didn't have any ice cream to accompany it. But a good vanilla, like Ben & Jerry's, would be out of this world with it.

Chicken and Rice Stew

Well, really, this is another of Rachel Ray's infamous "stoups," but as we all know how I feel about that word, we'll just call it a stew, shall we?

I had actually cut this page out of the magazine for the recipe on to the left and on the back. I hadn't really considered making the chicken and rice thing, but it just sounded wholesome with lots of ingredients Amir will eat: chicken, rice, and carrots.

The one caution I'd give before making this dish is that it creates a lot of dishes. This is a good recipe to make when your dishwasher is empty or your sink is full of hot, soapy water. Otherwise, after mealtime, you'll be crying in your stew bowl over how many dishes you'll have to clean up. Or maybe you have that agreement with someone that ones cooks, one cleans dishes. I've heard that people do this, but I believe it's a myth like Sasquatch and the Chupacabra.

Chicken and Rice Stew

1 pound skinless, boneless white- or dark-meat chicken
2 onions, 1 quartered and 1 chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp butter
1/3 cup orzo pasta
3/4 cup long-grain white rice
One 32-oz container (4 cups) chicken stock
1 tbsp olive oil
2 ribs of celery
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
salt and pepper
2 tsp thyme
1 tbsp chopped dill
1 tsp parsley
2 tsp dried grated lemon peel

1. Place the chicken in a small pot and add enough water to just barely cover, 2 1/2 to 3 cups. Add the quartered onion and the bay leaf, cover and bring to a boil. Uncover the pot, lower the heat and simmer to cook through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, then shred with 2 forks. Reserve the cooking liquid.

2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the orzo and cook, stirring often, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the rice, then add 2 cups of chicken stock and bring to boil. Lower the heat to low, cover and cook until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. (Cooking the rice separately from the soup lets you add it to the liquid when you're ready to eat, so it doesn't overcook.)

3. In a medium soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion, celery, and carrots; season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Strain in the reserved cooking liquid and the remaining 2 cups of chicken stock and bring to a boil. Stir in thyme, dill, parsley and lemon peel. To serve, pile the chicken and rice in bowls and top with broth.

The Verdict: Warm, heavy and feels like comfort food. But the taste is nothing to write home about.

As predicted, Amir did like this dish thanks to the chicken and rice. The finely chopped veggies were a plus as they're too hard to pick out. Noyan and I liked it, but both found that it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. As you probably know by now if you read regularly, I most often use dried herbs and not fresh. Maybe that's part of where I went wrong. But there was nothing that popped for either of us. In addition, Noyan is not into the idea of "stoup." His first complaint was that there needed to be more or less broth. I explained the stoup concept and he wasn't buying it.

Unless you want to separate all your ingredients into multiple leftover containers (if you have leftovers), I would suggest you have extra stock on hand for subsequent meals. The recipe says that cooking the rice and orzo separately prevents it from overcooking; overcooking means the pasta and rice sucking up all the broth. And that means that tomorrow, you have a lot of fat rice. It's not a bad taste or consistency; you just have hardly any liquid left. Just add anywhere from one to two cups of extra stock to the pot when reheating.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Black Bean and Corn Stew

Another stew recipe. I've got fall fever and I think you'll be seeing a lot of these kinds of recipes!

So Meatless Monday came again and I was loathe to make pasta. I had narrowed it down to a few Mexican-inspired dishes and this one was the winner: Black Bean and Corn Stew.

This is an Everyday Food recipe I've had on hand for a while. The ingredients are simple and come largely from cans. It makes a ton, and if you follow the original recipe, probably makes even more. It originally calls for adding 2 cups of water instead of the one I put; judge for yourself. I think it would cease being stew and fall into the soup column. (Or maybe Rachel Ray would argue it's "stoup." Blech.)

Black Bean and Corn Stew

4 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 can (4.5 oz) chopped green chiles
1 cans (15-oz each) black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans (14.5-oz each) diced tomatoes
1 package (10-oz) frozen corn.

1. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion; cook until softened, 5 to 6 minutes. Add garlic and cumin; cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes more.

2. To the pan, add the chiles, beans, tomatoes and their juices, 1 cup water, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.

3. In a blender or food processor, purée 2 cups of stew. Return the purée to the pan, and add the frozen corn; simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve hot.

The Verdict: I wouldn't choose this as my meal to eat forever on a desert island, but it was very good. Noyan liked it and Amir cleaned his plate.

I didn't think there was anything special about this dish. I don't generally cook with chiles, so that was a nice change and a great flavor. I served our stew with sour cream and both warmed tortillas and corn muffins (don't ask me why I went with a double starch). You can also serve with cheddar cheese, diced red onion, toasted pumpkin seeds, and/or chopped chives. For whatever reason, I wasn't thinking about these additions and didn't have any on hand. I think a little cheese and chives would have been really delicious.

Where it does make leftovers, one place I loved this stew was in a breakfast burrito. Scramble an egg and heat up a little of this stew. Place both, as well as a slice of cheese, in a warmed burrito. Ate that yesterday and was sad that Amir wanted cereal for breakfast today as I'd have been as happy as a lark eating this two days in a row.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Venetian Fish Stew

Ah, how I miss dining out. We still go out to dinner, but 99% of the time it's somewhere that along side your basket of bread you also get a packet of crayons. But I'm talking linen table cloths, lots of dressed up adults, and a formidable menu that has no grilled cheese. Just the other day Noyan and I were drooling over memories of bouillabaisse. He asked if I could make some but just knew Amir wouldn't go for it. Besides, the idea of making rouille (a sauce served with bouillabaisse that has 100 or so ingredients) makes me need a nap.

So when I was going through my recipes for the week, I was excited to see one for Venetian Fish Stoup from Everyday with Rachel Ray. It still was a lot of work, but it was Sunday night. And it was a bit on the costly side with all that seafood. But it didn't involve rouille. Game on.

Venetian Fish Stew
3 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tsp curry powder
1 pinch saffron threads
Grated peel of 1 lemon
Grated peel of 1/2 orange
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 bulb of fennel with fronds, fronds
chopped and reserved, bulb thinly sliced
1/2 dry white wine
One 14-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 lb cod, cut into chunks
1/2 lb medium to large shrimp, deveined and tails removed
1 1/2 lbs mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/2 lb squid, sliced 1/2 inch thick
Crusty bread, for dunking
1. In a large, deep skillet or soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the garlic, curry, saffron and citrus peels and cook for 2 minutes. Add the onion and fennel slices and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Pour in the wine, then add the tomatoes and broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Season all of the seafood with salt and pepper. Add the cod and shrimp, then the mussels and the squid, to the pan. Cover tightly and simmer until cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Uncover and carefully stir the stew. Ladle into shallow bowls and top with fennel fronds. Serve the crusty bread for dunking.
The Verdict: Well, it's not from a fancy restaurant, but it's fancy restaurant good!
Amir ate bread, which was disappointing because he loves fish and shrimp. But Noyan and I both enjoyed it immensely. The citrus zests give it an interesting punch of flavor and the seafood, particularly the squid, were all tender (as compared to little rubber bands as squid tends to do).
The original recipe calls for the zest of an entire orange. I did think that my stew had a bit too much orange flavor and would recommend just half. I also think in the tradition of fish stew, you can mix up your seafood if you like. If scallops are more your thing, omit one of the shellfish. Or replace the cod with a different fish. Or several small pieces of different fish.
Another change from the original recipe is that Rachel Ray calls recipes like this "stoup." It's her way of saying that it's too thick to be soup and too thin to be stew. Something about that word irritates me. Just call it stew. The word "stoup" is, well, "stoup"-id.
If you'd like to try this recipe but have never eaten mussels before, no fear. If you buy a farm-raised bag of them from a reputable place, like Whole Foods, little needs to be done. They should be debearded already; just look to see if there's hairy looking stuff sticking out of your mussel. If there is, yank it out. But don't do it until they're ready to cook or they will die. And speaking of dead, don't cook them if the shell is open. A good test is to squeeze the shell shut. If it stays closed, it's OK, but if it springs back open, throw it away. They shouldn't be gritty, either. But to be on the safe side, give them a scrub in the sink, then let them set in ice water until you're ready to cook.

Carottes Glacées (Glazed Carrots)

What do you get when you have a bag of carrots, a stick of butter, and a bunch of time to cook them? Um, let's try pure heaven. Otherwise, you'd call it a French classic à la Julia.

Carottes Glacées (Glazed Carrots)

1 1/2 lbs carrots, peeled, quartered and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tbp granulated sugar
pinch of pepper
6 tbsp butter
2 tbsp very finely minced parsley, or 1 tbsp dried parsley

1. Boil the carrots slowly in a covered saucepan with the stock, sugar, pepper and butter for 30 to 40 minutes until the carrots are tender and the liquid has reduced to a syrupy glaze.

2. Serve on a hot dish and sprinkle with parsley.

The Verdict: Although half asleep, Amir ate these by the fistful. I wasn't asleep but ate them by the fistful as well.

OK, OK--that's a lot of butter for a bunch of carrots. But the syrup over an already sweet vegetable is amazing. They just melt in your mouth.

By the way, the whole bit about 2" quartered carrots? Or the part about the hot dish? Yeahhhh right. Great idea that makes me imagine duly impressed dinner guests, but since I was just feeding the Kinaymans on a Friday night, it was bagged, peeled, and cut baby carrots served in a porcelain dish. Try these carrots. You could serve them on a paper plate and you'll still hear angels singing.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Marinated Chuck Steak with Mushroom Sauce

I'm all about a cheap cut of meat being turned into something tender and mouth-watering. So when I saw that chuck steak was on sale at Stop and Shop (inexpensive and on sale?), I had to try this Taste of Home recipe out. And when I saw that I had a leftover container of mushrooms, I thought you can't get a better accompaniment to steak than mushrooms sautéed in butter.

Marinated Chuck Steak

1/2 cup red wine vingear
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp onion powder
2 lbs boneless chuck steak

1. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the first seven ingredients. Add the beef; seal bag and turn to coat. Refridgerate for 8 hours or overnight.

2. Drain and discard marinade. Pat dry and let meat start to come to room temperature. Grill steak, covered, over medium heat for 8-10 minutes on each side or until meat reaches desired doness. Otherwise, broil meat on high in the oven. If using an electric oven, set rack to approximately 3 inches from heating element and broil steak on a cooling rack placed on a cookie sheet with rolled sides. Broil for about 6 minutes per side for medium. After grilling or broiling, let meat rest for 10 minutes.

Mushroom Sauce

1 small container sliced white mushrooms
1 tbsp butter
1 shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fat-free half-and-half
1 tbsp cornstarch whisked into 3 tbsp fat-free half-and-half
1 tsp Herbes de Provence

1. Heat butter over medium-high heat in a skillet. When foaming, add mushrooms. Cook to golden; add shallots and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Remove from pan and set aside.

2. Add wine and half-and-half to pan and scrape up any bits of mushrooms and shallots left in the pan. Whisk together, then slowly whisk in the half-and-half/cornstarch mixture. Let thicken, about 4-5 minutes. Add mushrooms and shallots back to the pan. Serve over beef.

The Verdict: Everyone's opinion differed.

Amir was no help. I think he liked it a lot; he hadn't napped that day and was exhausted by dinner time. He was literally falling alseep while eating, but wouldn't stop even though I told him he could eat later. (I finally made him get down from the table before he choked, where he promptly crawled up on the couch and fell asleep. At 6:20 p.m.)

Noyan gave it a very good. Not everything gets a "very", so I think he was a fan.

I was not happy with the marinade. There was something too sharp in the meat's flavor and I'm guessing that it was the red wine vinegar. I was, however, blown away with how tender the meat was. It was literally prime rib tender. I ate a few bites and only then remembered the mushroom sauce. Holy smokes! That's some good stuff right there. That seemed to negate that taste I didn't like in the beef and turned the dish into something spectacular.

I served this with carottes glacées (glazed carrots), another Mastering the Art of French Cooking recipe. They make a nice compliment to the steak.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spaghetti with Sausage and Simple Tomato Sauce

You have to appreciate a good pasta sauce that doesn't have you bent over a pot for four hours like Strega Nona. That's what interested me about this recipe. Inside of 30 minutes, you have sauce, meat and pasta. That's a wholesome meal before you can answer Bob the Builder's age-old question, "Can we build it?" The original recipe is from the April 2010 Cooking Light, but I tweaked it a bit.

Spaghetti with Sausage
and Simple Tomato Sauce

8 oz mild Italian turkey sausage
8 oz uncooked whole wheat spaghetti
1 (28-oz) can whole tomatoes, undrained
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tbsp jarred, minced garlic
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup fresh torn basil
1/2 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat broiler.

2. Arrange sausage on a small baking sheet. Broil sausage 5 minutes on each side or until done. Remove pan from oven (do not turn broiler off). Cut sausage into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices in a single layer on baking sheet. Broil sausage slices 2 minutes or until browned.

3. Cook pasta according to package directions.

4. Place tomatoes in a food processor/blender; process until almost smooth. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add crushed pepper and minced garlic; sauté 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, and salt; cook 4 minutes or until slightly thick. Add sausage, half of the grated cheese, and half of the torn basil. Cook for an additional 4-5 minutes. Add pasta to pan; toss well. Top with remaining cheese and basil.

The Verdict: A really tasty sauce that has a slow-cooked flavor. Also great for leftovers.

Not much to say about this recipe. It was simple and good. Amir enjoys eating long noodles, so this was received well with the preschool crowd. The sauce can be prepared up to three days ahead; you may or may not want to add the sausage if you make it before hand, depending on how much of the sausage flavor you want infused in the sauce.

A salad would be a great accompaniment to this dish. But in this house, green and leafy unless hidden on pizza doesn't not go over well with the 2-year-old.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Golden Pilaf

Lately Amir has been really into rice. So when I saw this Martha Stewart recipe, which includes lots of raisins (another favorite), I had to make it.

Golden Pilaf
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small chopped onion
1 cup basmati rice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp tumeric
1 dried bay leaf
pinch of cinnamon
2 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup raisins
1. In a saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft.
2. Stir in rice, salt, tumeric, bay leaf, cinnamon and chicken stock. Bring to a boil; cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Stir in raisins with a fork, and simmer until stock is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
Set aside, covered, 5 minutes.
The Verdict: Flavorful, colorful and easy!

The tumeric gives the dish not just its beautiful golden color, but some of the warm and spicy taste. Add to that the cinnamon and bay leaf, this recipe has a bit of an Indian cuisine taste to it. This is another dish that you might have everything ready to go right in your cupboard. I chose basmati rice, but plain white rice will work just as well, though is not as fragrant or buttery.

Another addition to the dish is homemade chicken stock. A couple of weeks back I'd roasted a chicken and used the carcass to make stock. It was time consuming, but incredibly easy. While shopping in Whole Foods the other day, I noticed a large package of chicken bones and backs in the freezer section for around $3. I think I'll be getting some during my next shopping trip to cook up more. One part about homemade chicken stock is that you can make a lot, then freeze into portions.

A note on Blogspot and formatting

I just wanted to throw a caveat out there about Blogspot and the way it formats paragraphs. I am very grateful to Google and the free platform it provides me to share my recipes with everyone. But I find myself continually frustrated and baffled with how paragraphs are haphazardly re-formatted when I go to post them.

I find this incredibly annoying because I think it's hard to read. On a secondary level, I wonder how many of you think I can't type. Or that my choice of paragraph layout is really, really strange. I assure you that while I'm no graphic artist or editor, I can place spaces between paragraphs or don't generally choose to put six spaces between them.

I'm sure that there are ways to circumvent these layout oddities, however, I do this blog for fun. Hopefully, in the future, I'll learn more about slaying these quirks. But in the meantime, I'm just sayin'.

Rosemary Chicken

I justed watched Jacques Pepin in an old episode of Jacques and Julia Cooking at Home cut up a whole raw chicken. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor seeing him master this feat in less than 30 seconds. How I envy that skill...and that knife!

This recipe calls for chicken thighs that have been deboned, skin kept on. I don't think that I have quite the touch that Jacques does, unfortunately. In the time that it took me to remove one thigh bone, I think he could have cut up 21 chickens. The saddest part was that despite all my work, my sauté pan proved once again to be my mortal enemy. The majority of the skins stuck to my pan and ripped off. And let me tell you, though not the healthiest thing you can eat, the crispy skin of this chicken is what makes this recipe. Not only is it golden brown and beautiful, but it tastes amazing.

Rosemary Chicken
8 chicken thighs
3 tbsp dried rosemary
2 tsp dried lemon zest
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
olive oil cooking spray
2/3 cup dry white wine
1. Remove bones and excess fat from chicken thighs, leaving skin intact. Combine rosemary, zest, salt, and pepper in a small cup; rub mixture over chicken.
2. Spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and place over medium heat. Add chicken, skin side up, and cook 5 minutes. Turn chicken skin side down. Place a heavy cast-iron skillet over chicken (I used a dutch oven) and continue to cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until skin is crisp and chicken is cooked through.
3. Transfer chicken to serving plates. Pour wine into skillet, raise heat to high, and boil 2 minutes, scraping up browned bits from bottom of skillet with a wooden spoon; spoon over chicken.
The Verdict: I need a new skillet. Because while the thighs remaining without skin were delicious, the cripsy-skinned thighs were to die for.
I was lucky to have company over for dinner this night. My friend described the crisped chicken as having an almost maple syrup taste. I love citrus and salt together; the two together make tastes really pop. The kids seemed to enjoy the chicken as well. My friend's toddler ate quite a bit without hesitation. My child was too busy showing off for the other toddler to really tuck into the meal.
Another thing I like about this recipe is that if you get yourself a bottle of dried lemon peel (which I'm finding I'm using constantly), you probably have everything on hand. The original recipe, from Redbook, called for fresh rosemary. I hardly bother with fresh, though I can appreciate the differences in taste. Too often I find fresh herbs go to waste, though I suppose that I could freeze them. I'll consider that for next time and let you know how it works out.
Now to buy a new skillet...

Polenta with Corn and Thyme

This recipe is very simple and very cheap to make. A bag of fine cornmeal, found in the baking aisle, is around $2 and will make many, many recipes in a addition to polenta. Before buying a box labeled polenta, compare the price to a bag of cornmeal. I think you'll find the price is considerably less when just labeled cornmeal.

Polenta with Corn and Thyme
2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 tsp fresh or dried thyme leaves
1 cup whole milk (I used fat-free half-and-half)
1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
coarse salt

1. In a large saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the unsalted butter over medium-high heat. Add one cup of frozen corn kernels and 1 teaspoon of thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until corn is warmed through, about 1 minute.

2. Add 1 cup whole milk and 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick and creamy, about 6 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of butter and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Season with coarse salt and ground pepper; serve immediately.

The Verdict: Rich and tasty. It's also very elegant, so it looks and tastes like it's a lot more difficult to prepare than it is.

While cooking, I noticed that it went from creamy and wet to a thicker consistency rather quickly. This happened before the 6 minute cook time. Test the polenta if you think it's starting to look thick; if it's cooked through, take it off the heat. If not, add 1/4 cups of water at a time too keep it at a wet consistency. Otherwise, before it completely cools, it will congeal into a big ol' corn biscuit. Not so elegant.

At the moment, I cannot say enough about using freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese in recipes. The cost of a slice is a little daunting, but honestly, just a little bit goes a long way. The cheese is extremely dry, so when you break off and shave a piece that's hardly 2x2", it fluffs up to at least a quarter cup. The taste is also extremely sharp yet sweet with a hint of gaminess if you use sheep's milk cheese. (Which I'd recommend.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sausage Meatloaf, Part 2

I've not posted for a few days, not because I haven't been cooking like a lunatic, but because life is busy. The bulk of the activity revolves around our toddler. There is always nothing specific to report, it's more that he has two modes: on and off. Mainly on. Like tonight, I returned home from a meeting to find Amir still awake. "I went pee-pee, Mama!" he tells me. A weary looking Daddy says, "Yes, but tell her where, son." I'll spare you the gory details.

The good news is that in my flurry of cooking, I revisited the sausage meatloaf I'd posted a while back. Perhaps you remember it, perhaps you don't. But the verdict was that the taste was wonderful but the consistency was much too wet. I followed some of your suggestions and now have a meatloaf that will be a part of the regular rotation. I'll do a separate post for the side dish, polenta with corn and thyme. That was pretty ummy-nummy, so be sure to check that recipe out. Without further ado, here's the new meatloaf recipe.

Sausage Meatloaf

1 egg lightly beaten
1/3 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 slices whole grain bread, cubed
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp chopped, jarred garlic
1 lb hamburger
1 lb Italian chicken sausage (pork is fine, too, I'm sure)
1/2 medium onion, grated and squeezed
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 the Worcestershire sauce. Let stand for 15 minutes. With fork, mash bread cubes into small pieces, then stir in parmesan cheese, mustard and garlic. Add meat and raw sausage from the casing and onion. Mix well with hands but do not overmix. Form into a rectangular loaf in a 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish.

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

3. Bake, uncovered, for 1 1/4 hours. Drain grease from pan using a spoon or small ladle, and let stand for 10 minutes.

The Verdict: Now that's meatloaf.

Cutting down on the wet ingredients did help a nice loaf to form. It was still a bit crumbly, but in a good way that showed that it was moist. I also omitted the green pepper from the original recipe. From what I'm reading, the fewer "chunks" in a meatloaf, the easier time it has to bind. Besides, there's a lot of flavors going on between the sausage and the baked-on sauce.

I was worried that I had another gloppy mess on my hands when I saw the amount of grease around the loaf. However, it only stands to reason that this would be a fattier meatloaf with the addition of sausage. And I also learned in my meatloaf research that your hamburger itself should have a higher fat content. The leaner the meat, the more likely to crumble. Just siphon off the grease immediately, then let the loaf set.

This is a definite two thumbs up from Amir, the peeing toddler. He ate a slice just about the same size as mine, then said in his upwardly inflecting way, "More?" He said it a second time after eating another half piece, but generally a request for thirds is met with mainly playing with his food. Request denied, but thanks for the sentiment, kid.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Blueberry Pancakes

Meatless Monday has rolled around again, and while looking for this week's recipe, I wanted something different. My son is too picky about vegetables at the moment to make something like a vegetable stir fry or curry and I feel like half the vegetarian recipes out there are for pasta. So in trying to think outside of the box, I opted for blueberry pancakes.

Originally, I had suggested apple spice pancakes. We went apple picking on Sunday and loaded up on those crunchy and juicy gems. But because it's getting late in the season and we're unsure if we'll get to go again, Noyan suggested we hold off on using our bounty for cooking and just snack on them for the time being. I agree--the apples this year are wonderful. We all ate two today; one for breakfast with slices of cheddar and an apple cider donut, and one for an afternoon snack. Heavenly.

Anyway, that prompted the request for blueberry pancakes. I couldn't find any local ones today, so I opted for a bag of frozen. I say to use between a cup and two cups for this recipe, but really, it's whatever your blueberry mood is. We went for all-out berry explosion.

Blueberry Pancakes
1 1/2 cups flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 stick butter, melted
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla

1. In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking soda and salt together. Set aside. In another bowl, whisk milk, butter, eggs and vanilla together. Whisk wet ingredients into dry, until just combined.

2. Ladle 1/4 cupfuls onto a hot skillet that's been sprayed with cooking spray until bubbly. Just before turning, sprinkle with blueberries. Flip and cook until golden at the bottom. Adjust heat so that the pan is hot but not burning pancakes. Keep warm on a cookie sheet in a 250 degree oven if making many pancakes, if desired.

The Verdict: An easy recipe that produces fluffy pancakes that have just a hint of sweet.

At first, Amir ate just the blueberries rolling free on his plate, but soon discovered that each bite contained warm, oozing blueberries as well. So they were a hit with the toddler. Noyan asked if they were from a mix. What!? He meant that they tasted good, and pancakes that fluffy and smooth couldn't have been homemade. But they were. And speaking of homemade, when you make them yourself they are just bursting with berries (whereas in restaurants they tend to be stingy with the fruit) and you can be assured the berries are cooked inside of the pancake, not dumped on top when the pancake is finished. I hate that, don't you?

I was going to serve them with veggie sausages, however, I'd lost my patience at the grocery store by that point and figured pancakes alone would be plenty for dinner. They were; this recipe makes about 8 good-sized cakes.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Provolone and Apricot Stuffed Chicken

I have a great imagination. I think it comes from being an only child and having myself as my main playmate. It's been helpful to me over the years in my personal and professional life. And it's useful when trying to come up with new things to do with a 2-year-old.

It can also cause trouble. The biggest reason for this is my imagination creates wonderful things in my head--that doesn't necessarily recreate itself brilliantly in the flesh. Oil painting is a good example of this. I love to paint, but that doesn't mean I'm all that good at it. I'll start a canvas thinking Kahlo and the end result is more kindergarten. And the kitchen is another place this happens. I remember getting really into baking for a while in my later teens. I had visions of perfect cakes under amber cages of caramel and chocolate concoctions stabbed with perfect triangles of white chocolate. They always tasted awesome, but they weren't really ready for their cookbook close-up like I imagined they would.

This recipe just sounded so easy. From Everyday With Rachel Ray, this Daisy Martinez recipe for Italian-Style Chicken was a few easy ingredients. A chicken breast pounded flat and stuffed with apricots and provolone. Floured, browned, then cooked in the oven with a succulent and easy sauce. Yes. I can do this with my eyes closed and without a meat mallet.

Except, not so much. The end result, not to put the cart before the horse, was amazing. But the look...not the same picture as was in the magazine. But before dissolving into tears, I remembered food hero Julia Child. Julia, on her show The French Chef, was forever dropping utensils and food. Her outlook? If you're alone in the kitchen, who's going to see? And in the case of this chicken, no one knew what the original looked like, so who cares?
Provolone and Apricot Stuffed Chicken

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
6 slices provolone cheese
9 dried apricots, halved crosswise
3/4 cup flour
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp dried rosemary
1 cup dry white wine
Juice of 1 lemon (or 2 tbsp bottled lemon juice)
3 tbsp unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap or waxed paper and pound the breasts to 1/2 inch thickness with a meat mallet.

2. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place a slice of provolone on each breast, then top with 3 apricot halves. Fold to enclose and cover with more plastic wrap or waxed paper; pound the edges together to seal. Coat the breasts with flour.

3. In a nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the chicken breasts and rosemary and cook, turning once, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet; discard the rosemary.
4. Add the wine and lemon juice to the same skillet and cook, scraping any bits, over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Stir in the butter until melted. Pour the sauce over the chicken, cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes; uncover and bake until the sauce is thickened, about 1o minutes more.

The Verdict: Don't expect visual perfection, however, you can expect a taste that is pretty close to perfect.

Not hammering the breasts out with a mallet (I used a heavy stone pestle) was probably a mistake. It ended up in varying thicknesses and didn't spread out as much as I'd liked. This caused problems for adding the cheese and the apricots; there wasn't enough room to both fold them over and pound them closed. If your chicken breasts won't seal shut, don't fret. Treat them gingerly when coating in flour, moving to the pan and flipping. Another tip is to make sure your provolone is at room temperature, otherwise the cheese is too stiff and will break apart.
The original recipe called for skin-on breasts, but I decided to just go with the boneless skinless.
If you go this route, there will be less "bits" to scrape when making the sauce. Don't worry because the sauce will be delicious.

The woman who created this recipe, Daisy Martinez, says "My mouth waters at the idea of salty chicken and provolone with sweet apricots." Bingo. It's what works in this dish. The salt and the sweet from the fruit are fantastic. I also liked how the chicken breasts are first seared to a golden color then baked in the oven with the sauce; these steps seal in the chicken's moisture, making it very juicy.
So my chicken wasn't a supermodel. But it was super tasty.

Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake with Apples and Walnuts

Oh, that poor, poor pumpkin sitting lonely on my kitchen counter. I purchased it nearly three weeks ago fully intending to create some kind of fall baked good masterpiece, but not finding any inspiration. We had finally finished the pan of oatmeal brownies, so I knew it was showtime.

I read a lot of recipes for pumpkin cakes. I liked this, but not that. I didn't like the idea of this, but thought that was pretty nice. So finally, I decided to strike out on my own. I've taken a basic pumpkin spice cake recipe and married it with the cranberry upside-down cake idea: caramelized apples and walnuts as a topping.

Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake with Apples and Walnuts

2 medium apples, finely diced
3 tbsp chopped walnuts
1 tbsp butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup applesauce
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
3 large egg whites
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bundt cake pan with one tablespoon of butter, more if necessary. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add apples and walnuts to the bottom of the pan, then top with sugar mixture. Set aside pan aside.

2. Combine first 6 ingredients of cake; side flour mixture aside. Combine pumpkin and applesauce in another bowl; set aside. Beat granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 5 minutes). Add egg whites and vanilla, beating well.

3. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with pumpkin mixture. Pour batter into bundt pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove from pan.

The Verdict: A little on the spicy side, but moist, springy and definitely a fantastic fall dessert. It's also a good breakfast. The spice was most apparent to Noyan; Amir and I had no problems and are eating cake without thinking twice.

The apples did stick in the pan, so I just scooped them out and placed them back on the cake. The apples are a nice addition, however, the cake would be just as good with a maple glaze or simply powdered sugar.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chunky Vegetable Chili

The Kinaymans have gone vegetarian this week! OK, not entirely, but three vegetarian dishes in one week is a lot for us. And I'm not sure of the reason; I just know that while going through recipes to put together this week's menu, I was drawn to those from my vegetarian days.

This recipe, and again I don't know its source, is extremely simple. Maybe too simple. I think it's also a great example of testing your food as you cook it. I relied on the recipe too heavily and in the last minutes, found the flavor to be a bit bland. I was able to correct it, but would suggest you also don't follow the spices to the letter. It might be enough flavor for you, but if it isn't, add more cumin and chili powder.

Chunky Vegetable Chili

2 medium potatoes (2 cups)
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 small yellow bell pepper, chopped (1/2 cup)
3 tbsp fresh minced cilantro
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes, undrained
1 can (15 t0 16 ounces) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1 medium zucchini, cubed (1 cup)

1. Heat all ingredients except zucchini to boiling in a 4-quart Dutch oven, breaking up tomatoes and stirring occasionally; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 13 minutes or until potato is tender.

2. Stir in zucchini. Cover and simmer 5 to 7 minutes longer or until zucchini is tender.

3. If desired, top chili with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and/or green onions.

The Verdict: Meh.

Even with the spice corrections, this chili is good but not great. It's really easy to throw together during a busy weeknight meal, which gives it points. But there's nothing special in it that gives it that extra zing.

The one thing I liked a lot about this recipe was the use of potatoes. I really like chili on a baked potato, but I've never had potato in chili, not even vegetarian chili. The Mexican-flavored tomato base of the chili worked well with the taste and texture of the potato.
Quick note: Many of you know that leftovers aren't my thing, but I will readily admit that a lot of dishes taste best as leftovers. This chili is one of them. Amir and I had it for lunch today and the day between eating it again allowed for the spices to hang out with the vegetables and really saturate the dish. So...yum!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spicy Soba Noodles with Shitakes and Cabbage

When Amir was just a bit smaller, he loved mushrooms. I would occasionally broil marinated portabella mushroom caps and he'd eat a large one by himself. Lately, he's not into them. I suspect it's because of the meat-lover he's turned into; he can tell the difference between a piece of steak and a piece of mushroom, no problem.

It's too bad because mushrooms do provide such a tasty meat alternative. I continue to cook them, hoping that one day he'll change his mind back to the mushroom persuasion. In the meantime, I figured this recipe, from the August 2007 Gourmet, was a safe bet because of the noodles. Like most kids, he loves pasta.

Spicy Soba Noodles with Shitakes and Cabbage

For sauce
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 to 3 tsp Korean hot-pepper paste
1 tbsp packed brown sugar

For noodles
3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp finely chopped peeled ginger
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
10 oz fresh shitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 1/4 lb Napa cabbage, thinly sliced (8 cups)
6 scallions, thinly sliced
8 to 9 oz soba
1 cup frozen shelled edamame

1. Stir together all sauce ingredients until brown sugar is dissolved, then set aside.

2. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then sauté ginger and garlic, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add shitakes and sauté, stirring frequently, until tender and starting to brown, about 6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, then add cabbage and most of the scallions (reserve about a tablespoon for garnish) and cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is crisp tender, about 6 minutes. Add sauce and simmer 2 minutes.

3. While cabbage is cooking, cook soba and edamame together in a pasta pot of boiling salted water until noodles are just tender, about 6 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cool water to stop cooking and remove excess starch, then drain well. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with sesame seeds and vegetable mixture. Serve sprinkled with reserved scallions.

The Verdict: This is a busy little dish. The different tastes and textures produce a fragrant, tasty and easy to prepare recipe.

When shopping, I found one package 6 ounce package of shitakes that looked good. The only other one was questionable. So instead, I used 6 ounces of shitakes and 6 ounces of white button mushrooms. The taste is a little different, but I love all mushrooms. Also, I couldn't for the life of me find my Sriracha sauce, which I've used previously when making this. (It was one of those moments of cooking when you check the same cabinet no less than eight times, figuring one of the times you open it, it will appear.) So I skipped the hot which ended up being OK as the ginger gives it the spicy kick it needs.

Amir, as predicted, wasn't interested in anything but the noodles. Stay tuned; I think I'm going to start sneaking vegetables in my recipes.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Quick Lamb Kofta with Harissa Yogurt Sauce

Kofta? Harissa? Hope I didn't lose anybody with those two words...

In Turkish, kofta is spelled köfte, but aside from the spelling, it's basically the same thing. Kofta, köfte, kufteh, qofte or whatever you call it is a football-shaped meatball (American football, that is), most often made of lamb, that is traditionally grilled. My first Turkish köfte came from a Turkish-Armenian market in a nearby town that I'd bought frozen, except I'd thought they were fully cooked. I was about to plate my thawed köfte when I realized they were bleeding on the plate. I don't believe that any version of Kofta is tartare.
I've since learned to make my own. I usually make them with lamb and bulgur, however, I wanted to check out this recipe from the April 2010 Cooking Light. They suggest serving the kofta with boil-in-bag jasmine rice cooked with one teaspoon of saffron threads, then sprinkled with green onions. My grocery cart was swelling with items and saffron threads, while yummy, are expensive. So we went with regular old jasmine rice.

Quick Lamb Kofta with Harissa Yogurt Sauce

2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
2 tbsp fresh grated onion
2 tbsp 2% Greek-style plain yogurt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp bottled minced garlic
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 lb lean ground lamb
cooking spray

1/2 cup 2% Greek-style plain yogurt
1/4 cup chopped bottled roasted red bell pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp bottled minced garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp salt

1. Combine cilantro and next 9 ingredients (through lamb); shape into 12 oblong patties.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add patties to pan; cook 10 minutes or until done, turning occasionally to brown on all sides.

3. While kofta cooks, prepare sauce. Combine 1/2 cup yogurt with remaining ingredients. Serve sauce with kofta.

The Verdict: I like this recipe better than my current köfte recipe. And I don't generally equate raw meat with smelling wonderful, but in this instance, it definitely was. Unfortunately, I cooked this dish earlier in the day and reheated it. While it still tasted great, I think it dried it out. So definitely don't overcook it, and if you plan to reheat or make enough for leftovers, beware that the microwave takes away some of the juiciness.

The vegetables you see are from a bag of frozen Mediterranean blend from Whole Foods. They were, in a word, horrible. Frozen zucchini and other water-heavy vegetables do not freeze well. Noyan suggests that a good Turkish-type side dish is simply sliced cucumbers or tomatoes.

By the way, I didn't have any coriander. I had a large container of it that was not in a spice bottle. It was an annoying size that kept getting in the way and eventually it got moved to the kitchen counter. Bad idea. Amir soon knocked it over, making my whole kitchen smell like a Middle Eastern grocery. If you have a sprightly toddler whirling around your kitchen and lose your coriander that way, or if you just don't have any, no fear. A substitution in a pinch is sage mixed with a little lemon zest. The recipe does call for fresh cilantro, but while cilantro is the plant coriander comes from, the tastes are entirely different.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mexican Pasta Shells

Welcome to another Meatless Monday! Today's recipe comes from deep in the Shannon recipe archives. I did a couple year stint as a vegetarian and had bought a few cookbooks to supply me with meal ideas. Many of them were the supermarket checkout mini-magazines, so instead of stockpiling a bunch of those, I ripped out dishes I liked or wanted to try. This was always in the try pile.

I'm not really sure where the recipe comes from, however, after having cooked it, I would change a number of things about it. The first is the number of shells. The original recipe calls for 12 shells for six servings. Seemed fine to me...until I bought jumbo shells. They aren't quite as jumbo as I'd imagined. Cooked, they're probably 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. And if that's my dinner, please multiply by two. The recipe calls for one can of beans but I found that was quite skimpy. I'd definitely double it. I'd also add another vegetable to the mix, like a green pepper.

Mexican Pasta Shells

16 uncooked jumbo pasta shells
2 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 small green pepper, chopped
2 cans (15-16 oz) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 package soft cream cheese
3/4 cup taco sauce
1 cup shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup crushed corn chips
1/2 cup sour cream
4 medium green onions, sliced

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook and drain pasta shells as directed on package

2. Heat oil in 2-quart nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion and pepper in oil, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Stir in beans, chili powder, cream cheese and 1/2 cup taco sauce. heat over medium-low heat 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cheese is melted.

3. Spray a glass pie dish with cooking spray. Fill cooked shells with bean mixture. Place shells, filled side up, in pan. Pour remaining 1/4 cup taco sauce over shells.

4. Cover and bake 20 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and corn chips. Bake uncovered about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Garnish with sour cream and green onions. Serves 4.

The Verdict: The version we ate was good and had a lot of potential. That's why I suggest making those changes to it. We ate the pepper-less and skimpy bean version. This recipe would also make a great appetizer. (In which case two shells per person would be plenty.)

Amir wasn't into this recipe. But that's largely because he saw his daddy eating tortilla chips before dinner and wanted some. Four chips later, that's what he decided dinner should be. The Kinaymans don't roll like that; we don't subscribe to the "at least he's eating something" philosophy. He loves beans, though. So I'm thinking next time he might be more into it if I increase the beans so that you can really see them.

Oatmeal Brownies

Oh, don't turn away in horror because Shannon attempted brownies again. I could tell that last recipe was a disaster before I even made it. And I'm not even that good at baking.
This recipe is from Betty Crocker, and you know ol' Betty knows her way around a kitchen. I was a little nervous about the amount of butter these brownies call for--I set 911 on speed dial in case one of us went into cardiac arrest while consuming that much fat in one sitting.

Oatmeal Brownies

Crust and Topping
2 1/2 cups quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup butter or margarine, melted

4 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
2/3 cup butter or margarine
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13x9-inch pan with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, mix oats, 3/4 cup flour, the brown sugar and baking soda. Stir in melted 3/4 cup butter. Reserve 3/4 cup oat mixture for topping. Press remaining oat mixture in pan. Bake 10 minutes. Cool 5 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in 3-quart saucepan, heat chocolate and 2/3 cup butter over low heat, stirring occasionally, until melted; remove from heat. Stir in granulated sugar, vanilla, and eggs. Stir in 1 1/4 cups flour, the baking powder and salt.

4. Spread filling over baked crust. Sprinkle with reserved 3/4 cup oat mixture. Bake about 30 minutes longer or until center is set and oat mixture turns golden brown (do not overbake). Cool completely.

The Verdict: Hello, fudge with a crunchy topping? Everyone was smiling like Lotus Eaters.

The brownie part was, by far, my favorite. If you like moist brownies, you'll like this recipe. And I am now dreaming of filling something fruity between the oat layers. I do still have a sugar pumpkin waiting to be used. Check back to see if these Oatmeal Brownies inspire me to create an oatmeal pumpkin bar. With the rate Noyan is eating these brownies, that could be tomorrow...


"Sufferin' Succotash!" That's pretty much my familiarity with succotash; the exclamation of a cartoon cat. Hey, I grew up in Massachusetts. But since Paula Deen suggested it as the accompaniment to Salisbury steak, I figured I'd have a go at it. Yes, it has lima beans it in. And no, I don't particularly like lima beans. But I'm a grown up and tastes change.


1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 (14-ounce) package frozen baby lima beans, thawed
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp water
1 (12-ounce) package of frozen gold and white corn

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, salt and pepper; sauté for 4 to 5 minutes or just until vegetables are tender. Add lima beans, butter, and water; cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add corn, and cook 10 to 12 minutes, stirring often, or until beans and corn are tender. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

The Verdict: Lima beans taste like a drier edamame and I like edamame. So I like succotash.

Noyan liked it as well; it was the first thing on his dish that he tucked into. Amir, however, gave it the evil eye and (as you maybe read in the last post) used all of his energy attacking the Salisbury steak like a bird of prey.
In reading up about succotash, apparently there are two versions: this, with corn (and, oh, by the way...the original recipe calls for frozen gold and white corn--I just used corn) or with hominy. And, interestingly, succotash is an Native American word that means "boiled whole kernels of corn." So it sounds to me like the hominy version is the truer recipe, and according to some cooks, the better. Slow-cooked hominy brings out more flavor.

Not sure, folks, but I can say two things. First, I liked this recipe, and second, there was enough to freeze and eat again. So I'll have to report on hominy succotash in a future post.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Salisbury Steak

When I saw this Paula Deen recipe, I was transported back to being a kid. I remembered the Swanson tv dinner that had the salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, corn and a brownie. The brownie always got overcooked and turned crispy, but it was still good. My mom was a great cook, so don't get any ideas that I was a latch key kid eating frozen meals alone in front of the Brady Bunch. I think the strongest memories of salisbury steak meals were snowy nights when my dad went out plowing and my mom didn't want to cook anything big for just the two of us, yet we still wanted something hot. So tv dinner it was.

Noyan wasn't familiar with salisbury steak. When he asked what dinner would be tonight and I told him, his reply was, "This blog you write is going to make us go broke." Little did he know that salisbury steak is just hamburger, formed into patties that sort of resemble steak, smothered in gravy. Instead of corn and potatoes, I made succotash. I even made brownies--but these weren't overcooked and crispy, I promise.

Salisbury Steak

2 pounds ground beef

1/2 cup dry bread crumbs

1 large egg, lightly beaten

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 tsp salt

1 (8-oz) package sliced baby bella mushrooms

2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 (10 1/2 oz) can condensed French onion soup

1 (10 1/2 oz) can beef consommé

1. In a large bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, egg, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, pepper, and salt. Form mixture into 6-8 (4 inch) patties. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.

2. Add patties to skillet, in batches if necessary, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes per side or until browned. Remove patties from pan; set aside. Reserve 2 tablespoons drippings in skillet

3. Add mushrooms to skillet, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes or until just tender. Add flour and onion soup, and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Stir in consommé.

4. Return patties to skillet; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes or until patties are cooked through and sauce is thickened. Serve immediately.

The Verdict: I thought it was good, Noyan thought it was very good, and Amir thought it was great.

I would have given it a very good as well, but what I wasn't super bowled over by was the fact that the canned soups made it very salty. I just checked the Campbell's website and neither the French Onion nor the Beef Consommé come in a low-sodium version. (Please let me know if you come across another brand that sells either in a low-sodium option.) Otherwise, it was really good. Simmering the patties in the sauce took away both the hamburger taste and consistency and made it more like--well, steak.

Amir was the one who made Noyan and I both laugh. He ate his entire patty, including little crumbs of meat, then asked, "More?" As Noyan said, if he eats this much at 2, what's going to happen when he's a teenager? Luckily, this is a fairly inexpensive meal to prepare. Whereas last night we ate three patties, one went to work with Noyan for lunch, and the remaining four were frozen for another night's meal, in ten years Noyan and I will eat one and Amir will eat...the reamining six.