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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Spinach Lasagna for Dummies

Hey, don't be offended by the name of this recipe.  I wasn't quite sure how to make easy lasagna when I first started making it, so this recipe came in handy.  What I like best about it is that you can make a large pan of it, or two small lasagnas which is perfect for our small family.  Eat one, freeze one.

Vegetable Lasagna

When baking lasagna that's been frozen, add 10 minutes to the cooking time.  The uncooked lasagna will keep up to two months in the freezer.  You can make one large lasagna (9 x 13 inch pan) or two smaller (8 x 8 inch pans).

4 cups (32 oz) ricotta cheese
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
2 large eggs
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 16-oz package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
6 cups store-bought tomato sauce
1 pound fontina or mozzarella cheese, shredded (4 cups)

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  In a medium bowl, whisk together ricotta cheese, eggs, 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper.  Add spinach and stir well to combine.

2.  Spread a small bit of tomato sauce in the bottom of pan(s).  Arrange a layer of lasagna noodles on top.  Spread some of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, followed some of the remaining sauce.    Arrange a second layer of noodles, ricotta and sauce.  Top with more noodles, remaining sauce and shredded cheese.  If freezing, cover tightly with two layers of tin foil.  Defrost in the refrigerator overnight.

3.  Cover with a layer of aluminum foil.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove foil; continue baking until top is golden brown, about 15 minutes more.  Let cool slightly before serving.

The Verdict:  Someone's Italian grandma would have a heart attack over the store-bought sauce, but otherwise, it's a quick and tasty dinner. 

Speaking of store-bought sauce, obviously the better the sauce, the better the lasagna.  I bought a gigantic bottle of Prego with mushrooms which was pretty good.  I like to buy the really large containers as I have even more extra sauce that I can freeze to use as pizza sauce later on. 

My friend came over for dinner and she and I both happily ate a large serving.  My son is currently going through a noodle-crazy phase, so he enjoyed it and nearly cleaned his plate.  His same-age buddy wasn't as crazy about it, but I also think that's because she knew there was chocolate cake for dessert.  Or maybe it just wasn't her thing. 

Unfortunately, in my rush to feed two hungry toddlers, I wasn't able to take a picture.  It looks like lasagna--imagine that.

If you care to, you can make this full-fledged vegetable lasagna by adding more vegetables to the ricotta mixture.  Cooked shredded carrots, julienned zucchini, finely chopped mushrooms would all be good additions.  Thawed from frozen or cooked fresh would work.


        

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Spicy Chicken Shawarma

We don't do many sandwiches, but this one from Cooking Light sounded not only delicious, but easy.  The other thing that drew me to it was the mish-mash of ingredients: chicken, cucumbers, tomatoes, yogurt sauce.  Even if my son wouldn't pick up the sandwich to eat it, I was certain he'd pick his way through it and get a healthy meal.

Spicy Chicken Shawarma

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground coriander
5 tbsp plain low-fat Greek-style yogurt, divided
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, divided
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, thinly sliced
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp tahini
4 (6-inch) pitas, halved
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped plum tomato
1/4 cup prechopped red onion

1.  Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl; stir in 1 tbsp yogurt, 1 tbsp juice, and 2 garlic cloves.  Add chicken; toss to coat.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add chicken mixture to pan; sauté 6 minutes or until browned and done, stirring frequently.

2.  While chicken cooks, combine remaining 1/4 cup yogurt, remaining 1 tbsp lemon juice,  remaining 1 garlic clove, and tahini, stirring well.  Spread 1 1/2 tsp tahini mixture inside each pita half; divide chicken evenly among pita halves.  Fill each pita half with 1 tbsp cucumber, 1 tbsp tomato, and 1 1/2 tsp onion.

The Verdict:  While it's a good sandwich, it's not shawarma.

And how could it be?  Shawarma is meat that's been cooked on a vertical spit for hours and hours at a time.  When you order your sandwich, the meat is shaved off in thin slices.  There's a place that I adore in Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts called the Falafel Palace.  I haven't been in years, but I just get moony dreaming of their lamb shawarma, nice and juicy, accompanied with a yogurt sauce and pickles.  They aren't filling your lavash bread with chicken that's been cooked in a pan.

Oh, lavash bread.  If you have access to it and want to make this sandwich, I'd suggest it.  Easier roll up your ingredients rather than stuff it in a pita.

Anyway, for what the sandwich is, it's good.  I browned the chicken meat as directed but would advise against that step.  Cook your chicken until it's done.  Browning, while it makes it more visually like real shawarma, makes the chicken dry. 

To save time (as in, doing what you can during nap time), you can make the sauce ahead of time.  I don't have tahini in the house, so instead I used a tablespoon of almond butter and a teaspoon of sesame oil.  Not quite as good, but it was fine.

I served the sandwiches with grapes.  As I'd predicted, my son picked at his plate.  He first ate the grapes, of course, then went on to the whole wheat pita, then the chicken, then the cucumbers.  So even though he didn't eat the sandwich the way I did (which actually fell apart in my hands, so maybe he took the smarter route), he did eat well. 

It was fun to eat a sandwich instead of the traditional main course.  If you prefer, you can fill your pita/lavash with tabbouleh instead of the salad fixings.  You can also add some pickle slices.  Or you can skip this recipe and go with me to Falafel Palace, where I think I'll be visiting very soon...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New York Strip Steaks with Red Wine Sauce

When hunting for a red meat recipe this week, this one from Martha Stewart Living jumped out at me.  Then, after buying the meat and looking at it in the refrigerator, I was nearly salivating.  Not shockingly, I was advised by my obstetrician today to eat more iron because it's slightly low.  So that explains my sudden foray into carnivorousness.

In the same old song and dance I incessantly complain about, you might need to ask your meat department (or your butcher if you have one...flah, flah, flah, you fancy person you) what a New York Strip Steak actually is.  I couldn't find one, but good ol' Martha suggests ordering some from Emeril's Red Marble Steaks website.  That right there tells me it's not going to be in a Styrofoam container next to the cube steak.  I couldn't find anyone to help me and ended up with a New York Sirloin.  I don't know how much of a faux pas it was to just go with a "New York" something-or-other, but that's what I fed my family.  (The recipe says you might also find it as a shell steak.)

New York Strip Steaks with Red Wine Sauce

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 New York strip steaks (10 to 11 oz. each; about 1 inch thick)
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup full-bodied red wine such as Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon
1/2 cup beef stock
3 tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp Dijon mustard

1.  Heat half the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Season 2 steaks with 3/43 tsp salt and some pepper.  Cook until deep golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center reaches 130 degrees, about 4 minutes per side (for medium-rare).  Transfer to a platter, and tent with foil.  Repeat with remaining oil and steaks.  Let steaks rest in a 250 degree F oven.

2.  Reduce heat to medium, and add wine to skillet.  Cook until almost completely reduced, about five minutes.  Add beef stock, and cook until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 2 1/2 minutes.  Reduce heat to low, and whisk in butter (1 piece at a time) and mustard.  Stir in any juices from the platter, and season with salt and pepper.  Spoon sauce over steaks.

The Verdict:  Score one for Martha Stewart.  This steak is amazing.

I only cooked two small steaks.  While I'm all about meat at the moment, I can't imagine ten thousand pounds of leftover beef.  It was plenty for two adults, one meat-loving boy, and lunch leftovers.  I cooked the same amount of sauce, however, as I am a girl who loves her sauce.

Speaking of which, I think that in a panic that a 1/4 cup of sauce seemed too scant, I didn't let my wine reduce enough.  Don't be stingy like me; let it cook down.  The longer you let it cook, the thicker the sauce gets.  It still tasted great though--the heavy wine taste cooked out and you're left with a slightly sweet, mellow brown sauce that makes the steaks even juicier.

If you aren't into bloody steak, don't add too much cooking time.  It takes time to make the sauce, and the steak continues to cook in the oven.  I gave my steaks an additional two minutes per side and thought the thinner of the two came out of the oven a bit on the overcooked side.  If you're looking for medium or even medium-well, go with six minutes per side and no more.  

Steak, stock, butter, mustard.  Just enough to make a piece of red meat into something this side of gourmet.  Oh, and serve these babies with mashed potatoes.  All that juice gets sopped up like nobody's business. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cumin-Cayenne Blackened Fish

Here's another one from Cooking Light.  A few weeks ago I'd made a picatta with flounder and bought two packages of fish, unsure of how much was in each.  Turns out, it had eight thin fillets in each.  Which isn't problematic, as we all like fish in my family.  But with a package of fish in the freezer, I needed to find something to do with it, and voilà, it was this.  The original recipe says tilapia, but I say use what white, flaky fish floats your boat.  Take that, fishmongers.

Cumin-Cayenne Blackened Fish

1 tbsp olive oil
4 (6-oz) tilapia fillets
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground red pepper
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray

1.  Preheat broiler.

2.  Rub olive oil evenly over fish.  Combine cumin, salt, garlic powder, and peppers; sprinkle evenly over fish.  Arrange fish on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray; broil 5 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or desired degree or doneness.

The Verdict:  OK, couple problems with this recipe.  Well, mainly one.

I read, but it didn't compute, that it's called cumin-cayenne blackened fish.  Cayenne.  Capsaicin.  Hot.  I cut back on the cayenne for our fish and even wiped it off of my son's fillet.  But even still, three bites into it he declared, "This fish hurts my mouth."  My husband laughed.  How can fish hurt your mouth?  I then laid out the ingredients, to which my darling berated me as a wicked and cruel parent. 

Sigh.

So if your family likes spicy, this recipe will be fine.  If your family prefers one out of four chilies on the spiciness meter on a menu, skip this one. 

Frankly, with or without the argument over too-spicy-for-the-kid, this is not Cooking Light's best recipe.  While it tasted fine, there was nothing at all interesting about it.  It might have been better with a wonderful and fresh fish, but even then, the highlight wouldn't have been the spices.  It would have been the fish. 

Nah.  Good for, "I have fish, what combination of stuff can I throw on top of it?" cooking.  But if you're looking for James Beard Award kudos, keep fishing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Maple-Glazed Chicken with Apple-Brussels Sprout Slaw

I was looking for a chicken recipe when I came across this one in my pile.  I guess maple made me think winter which gave me a warm and cozy feeling.  And my son loves cole slaw and I love Brussels sprouts, and we all love apples, so I thought this Cooking Light recipe might be a win-win.

Maple-Glazed Chicken with Apple-Brussels Sprout Slaw

8 (2-oz) chicken cutlets
1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
3 tbsp red wine vinegar, divided
2 tbsp maple syrup
8 oz Brussels sprouts
1/4 cup dried currants (I used raisins)
1 medium Fuji or Gala apple, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices

1.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add chicken to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until done.  Remove from pan; keep warm.  Add 2 tablespoons vinegar and syrup to pan; bring to a boil.  Cook 1 minute or until reduced to 3 tablespoons.  Return chicken to pan; turn to coat with glaze.

2.  Cut Brussels sprouts in half length-wise; thinly slice crosswise.  Place remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl and whisk together.  Add Brussels sprouts, currants, and apple; toss to combine.  Serve slaw with chicken.

The Verdict:  This is one of those recipes that tastes and looks like it was really hard to make, when in fact you can whip it up in record time.  Score!

Everyone really loved the chicken.  It has a great flavor that's not too sweet.  Honestly, I made more glaze than was suggested in the recipe.  I wanted my chicken slightly gooey.  The slaw was, in my opinion, amazing.  The dressing was simultaneously sweet and tart and the mix of sprouts, apples and (in my slaw) raisins was a fantastic mix of flavors and textures.  But the slaw was also a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Mama Bear thought it was wonderful, Papa Bear thought it was OK but isn't a raving fan of Brussels sprouts and Baby Bear wanted to know what the hell you smeared all over my apples and raisins?  And what are these bitter green things?

So if you're feeding a table of picky eaters, you might want to skip the slaw.  (Sniff, sniff.)  But the chicken was a hit. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Easy Paella

I have about ten gazillion recipes for paella but have never gotten around to making any of them.  I have vegetarian versions, seafood versions, fancy versions...you name it, I have it.  So when I decided to finally make one, I chose the Parents magazine version.  Easy, and if it's in Parents, presumably kid-friendly.

Easy Paella

2 links chicken sausage (6 oz.)
1 tbsp canola oil
1 red pepper
1 small onion
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
pinch of salt
8 oz cooked peeled, deveined shrimp
1 8.8-oz pkg cooked brown rice (1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1.  Cut sausage in half lengthwise and slice into pieces.  Heat canola oil in a large skillet on medium-high and cook sausage until browned, about 2 minutes.

2.  Chop the red pepper and the onion and add to the pan with turmeric and a few shakes of salt.  Cook, uncovered, until tender, about 4 minutes.

3.  Stir in rice, broth, and shrimp.  Cook for 2 minutes more to heat through.

The Verdict:  Surprisingly good and definitely easy.

When it came down to making this recipe, I was a little leery about the lack of ingredients.  While I'm no paella expert, I at least knew most paella recipes call for saffron.  No saffron here.  I guess that was the job of the turmeric--to turn the dish (and my hands) yellow.  But the recipe was really tasty.

To be fair, the sausage I used wasn't just Italian chicken sausage.  I send my husband to the store for me and he came home with a chicken, artichoke and garlic sausage.  I'll admit I rolled my eyes a bit (what is this?) but after tasting it, my eyes remained stationary.  It was great.  The take home lesson for you is to feel free to stray from plain Italian sausage.

The rice bit confused me.  What did one 8.8 package of rice mean?  The accompanying pictures show the paella cooked, as well as the ingredients laid out.  Apparently, there's a package of brown rice from Uncle Ben's called "Ready Rice."  We aren't much into convenience foods in our house, so I had no idea this stuff existed.  My lazy rice is the occasional box of boil-in-bag, which is what I used.  Use whatever you want, just have about a cup and a half to mix into your other ingredients.

Sadly, the "kid-friendly" part of this recipe wasn't tested.  It had been a very fun morning, followed by getting stuck in Boston traffic.  We got home and my son was too wound up for a nap.  So by dinnertime, I had a cranky, overtired toddler on my hands.  To him, paella translated from Spanish into English as "poisonous."  But I wouldn't trust his refusal to eat it to mean he wouldn't on another day. 

The package of sausage had four in it; so I froze the remaining two.  I liked this recipe well enough to use them to make it one more time.  I can get behind a dinner that's gratifying and can be on the table in less than 30 minutes.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Steak Tips with Peppered Mushroom Gravy

When I went to the grocery store this weekend I looked in vain for top sirloin steak.  After quite a bit of fruitless searching, I had to ask and learned that this grocery store calls it something else.  Every cut of meat has a different name, everywhere I go.  I keep running into this and it's driving me crazy. 

If you can't find top sirloin steak, make sure to ask.  Your reading abilities are probably just fine; it's just called something else.  You know, to make grocery shopping an adventure.

Speaking of something else, this is probably the third "beef-in-sauce-over-noodles" recipes I've done on this blog.  It looked easy, and I highly trust Cooking Light recipes, so I figured I'd give it a try.

Steak Tips with Peppered Mushroom Gravy

2 cups uncooked egg noodles
Cooking spray
1 lb top sirloin steak, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp finely chopped shallots
1 (8-oz) package presliced baby bella mushrooms
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp lower-sodium soy sauce
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium beef broth
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp thyme

1.  Cook noodles according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.

2.  While noodles cook, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Coat pan with cooking spray.  Add steak; sauté 5 minutes, browning on all sides.  Remove from pan; cover.

3.  Melt butter in pan over medium-high heat.  Add shallots and mushrooms; sauté 4 minutes.  Add garlic; sauté 30 seconds.  Stir in soy sauce.  Sprinkle flour over mushroom mixture; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Gradually add broth, stirring constantly.  Add pepper, salt and thyme.  Bring to a boil; cook 2 minutes or until thickened.  Return beef to pan; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated.  Serve over cooked noodles.

The Verdict:  Ding, ding, ding!  We have a winner!

My original beef stroganoff recipe, that I used to make often because my husband likes it, is a meal I tolerate.  It involves a can of creamed soup, and if you follow my blog, you know I'm not a fan of "cream of dinner."  I then found a Hungarian Goulash recipe, that while different, was still in the same family of creamy beef over egg noodles.  It was good but not great.  But this--this is phenomenal.  And fairly easy.

It's, well, not to be a simpleton but it's beefy.  The little chunks of steak stay moist and tender and are flavored by a great mushroom gravy.  The tastes are simple: shallot, garlic, pepper and thyme.  But their subtlety works in this recipe.  There's no need for anything bold.

My son was thrilled with it.  "Oooh, noodles!  And meat!" was his reaction.  (Noodles and meat: the top two foods in the Amir food pyramid.)  The husband liked it as well.

Goodbye, cream of dinner and Hungarian goulash...and hello steak tips with peppered mushroom gravy.  We'll be eating you again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cheese and Corn Chowder

If you have a toddler, anything that isn't thick like yogurt or applesauce eaten with a spoon takes a long time to master.  We've been eating family breakfasts of cold cereal for a while now with pretty good success.  Soup has been a different challenge.  Not only does it splash off the spoon, it's also hot.  And my son disdains anything he thinks might possibly make his tongue uncomfortable, never mind actually burn it.  Pretty sure he gets that from me; I am notorious for needing ice cubes in my hot tea.

So I did a zillion stews this past fall and winter, decreasing the thickness as time went by.  I then did some soups with which I could fill his bowl more with "stuff" than broth.  Until finally, I decided to bring on an actual soup the night before last.  This recipe, which comes from Cuisine, is filled with things most kids really like--namely cheese and corn--but also potatoes and bacon.  So I crossed my fingers and got cooking.

Cheese and Corn Chowder

5 strips thick-sliced turkey bacon, diced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups diced onion
1 cup diced celery
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and diced
8 ears fresh corn, shucked, trimmed (4-5 cups kernels; may use frozen corn)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded white Cheddar
2 oz cream cheese

1.  Cook bacon in a large pot over medium heat until crisp, 5 minutes; drain on a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.  Pour off drippings, wipe out pot with a paper towel, and return to burner.

2.  Melt butter with oil in same pot, add onion and celery, and sweat until soft, 7-8 minutes.  Stir in flour, thyme, salt, cayenne, and turmeric; cook 2 minutes.

3.  Add broth, potatoes, and corn kernels.  Bring chowder to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until potatoes are tender, 10-12 minutes.

4.  Stir in cream, Cheddar, cream cheese, and reserved bacon; simmer until cheese melts, about 5 minutes.  Do not let chowder boil, or it will curdle.  Garnish each serving of chowder with fresh minced chives if desired.

The Verdict:  Not only was this chowder delicious, but guess who ate it?  Yup, the toddler!

The Monday night that I made this chowder it was storming in New England.  Snow was turning to ice and it was cold, cold, cold.  It was the perfect night for something simmering in a pot on the stove.  This chowder really hit the spot.  It was thick and rich and filled with chunky bites to give it an almost stew feeling.  The cheese was great as I've only had corn chowder without, as was the tiny bite of heat the cayenne lent to the dish.

The original recipe goes on and on about using fresh corn and how the chowder will "positively sing" with it.  It's winter and the first ear of corn is months away.  I can imagine the taste difference is remarkable; there's nothing better than fresh, sweet corn.  But frozen was delicious, so don't wait until summer to cook this.  On another ingredient note, if you'd prefer pork bacon, be my guest.  I would imagine it lends an even smokier taste to the dish.  And by the way, cooking turkey bacon until it's "crispy" is quite a feat.  Browned and crisped on the edges might be as far as you can make it towards the crispy label.

My son tried to pass off eating it with an emphatic, "I don't like soup," followed with his infamous, "It's too hot," but finally gave up the ghost and tried a bite.  His eyes lit up and he announced, "I like it!" He finished 3/4 of the bowl, along with freshly made corn bread. 

This makes a LOT of chowder.  Invite friends, have a hearty appetite, prepare for many nights of leftovers or freeze what's left if you don't have a giant family like us.  But unlike so many leftovers, I'm looking forward to finishing this chowder!

(By the way, my preview picture on the camera looked a lot better than this.  It looks very bland here, but trust me, it's anything but.)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Raspberry-Balsamic Glazed Chicken

To my friend Carolyn: if you're reading this, this recipe post is for you.  We discussed this one a few weeks back; she'd said it sounds good and I promised I'd make it and post about it so that she could have the recipe.  (Before you think I'm a jerk because I didn't just invite her to dinner, she lives 6 hours away.)  It's appropriate for me to post it for her as she's a newlywed and I secretly think of this as "romantic chicken."  It originally ran in Cooking Light many, many years ago.  I actually made this dish for my husband on our second date.  I used the fancy grill at the beach house where I was staying, despite the fact that I'm pretty terrified of barbecues.  At one point, the intense heat fanned up toward my face, and in a panic, I began blowing on the grill like a moron.  I have a feeling it's then that my husband fell in love with me.

Raspberry-Balsamic Glazed Chicken

1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
4 (4-oz) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium high heat.  Add onion, sauté for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle chicken with thyme and 1/4 tsp salt.  Add chicken to pan; sauté 6 minutes each side or until done.  Remove chicken from pan, and keep warm.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Add preserves, vinegar, and 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper, stirring constantly until preserves melt.  Spoon raspberry sauce over chicken.

The Verdict:  Yummmmmmmm.

This raspberry-balsamic sauce is to die for.  Balsamic vinegar is great on it's own with it's sweet yet tart taste and slightly syrupy consistency.  Added to the raspberry preserves, it creates a thick and caramel sauce that just oozes over the chicken.  You could use any type of preserves that you wish, but let me tell you the raspberry is magical.  I don't bother with the preserves needing to be seedless.  Unless the seeds bug you, you can use either. 

We don't eat pork in our house, but I can imagine that this would taste pretty good over a pork chop as well.

I served this with simple french fried potato wedges and edamame.  I'd suggest keeping your side dishes simple as the chicken itself is so packed with flavor.

This was the first time that my son ate this chicken and he loved it.  So that means that we will be eating raspberry-balsamic chicken for a long time.  Like, until death do us part. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

White Bean-Turkey Chili with Corn Bread Dumplings

Thanks to this blog, my penchant for recipe collecting has gone from a hobby to a slight obsession.  For every novel I read, I also read a cookbook.  But honestly, not everything I cook is something new and "fun to try out for the blog".  There are recipes that have been cooked many times for my family and friends that I haven't blasted out into the world.  Um, yet.

This is one of them.  I can't remember where it comes from, but boy, do I love it.  Chili and cornbread are like wine and cheese, like salt and pepper, like Ben and Jerry.  Two things that are just right together.  So to add the element of surprise by cooking the cornbread as dumplings just makes it that much better.  Plus, it's ridiculously easy and fast.

White Bean-Turkey Chili with Corn Bread Dumplings

1 lb ground turkey
1 tbsp olive oil
1 16-oz jar chunky salsa
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 8.5-oz package corn bread mix
1 egg
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
Slivered green onions (optional)

1.  Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add turkey and cook until browned.  When cooked, drain and add to a dutch oven along with salsa, beans, chili powder, cumin, and 2/3 cup of water.  Bring to boiling.

2.  Meanwhile, for dumplings, in a medium bowl mix corn bread mix, egg and 1/4 cup water.  Drop batter by large spoonfuls on boiling turkey chili.

3.  Cover; reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into a dumpling comes out clean.  To serve, top chili with cheese and green onion.

The Verdict:  Everybody loves it.

There's not much to add to what I said above.  It cooks quickly; dinner is on the table in less than 30 minutes.  Find a salsa that you really like to use with this recipe as the better the salsa, the better the chili.  And add as much spice as you choose.  I probably put more like a tablespoon of both chili powder and cumin, but you might want to start off conservatively and adjust to your tastes.

A quick note on the dumplings: In case you can't think outside the box like I couldn't the first time I made this recipe, ignore the package direction.  You're going to blend the mix, one egg and the water.  That's it.  I must have stood in my kitchen for five minutes wondering if I were adding an additional egg, did I need the butter?, etc.  Thankfully, I figured it out and avoided disaster. 

This is not the bean and pinto chili I posted about a while back.  That was chili.  Chili will hold a different meaning to me forever after making that.  However, this stuff is great.  Keep the ingredients on hand, and in less than 30 minutes, you've got yourself a great dinner.

Shrimp Fried Rice

Every time I come across this recipe in my giant folder, I see pictures of giant, succulent shrimp and nearly drool.  There's a second shrimp recipe for an easy paella that warrants a similar response.  So using my noggin for once, I bought a two pound bag of shrimp at the grocery store this week.  I can now report on Shrimp Fried Rice, originally shared in Every Day with Rachael Ray.  The paella will follow next week.

Shrimp Fried Rice

2 cups long-grain rice, rinsed
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
One 8-oz bag sugar snap peas, trimmed
Salt and pepper
1/2 bunch scallions (3 to 4), green and white portions thinly sliced separately
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 large eggs, beaten
One 10-oz bag frozen peas and carrots, thawed

1.  In a medium saucepan, bring the rice and 2 cups of water to a boil; lower the heat, cover and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Let stand, covered for 5 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet, heat 3 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes.  Stir in snap peas, season with salt and pepper and cook until the shrimp are opaque, about 1 minute.  Transfer to a large bowl.

3.  Place the skillet over medium-high heat and add the remaining oil, the scallion whites and garlic.  Cook, stirring, until the garlic sizzles, about 30 seconds.  Stir the rice, season with salt and pepper and spread into an even layer.  Cook until slightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes.  Stir and cook 3 to 4 minutes more, watching the heat of your pan so that the rice doesn't burn.  Push the rice to one side of the pan; add the eggs, season with salt and cook, scrambling, until set, 1 to 2 minutes.  Stir the eggs into the rice, then add the shrimp mixture, peas and carrots and scallion greens and cook, stirring, until heated through.

The Verdict:  Shrimp, peas, eggs and rice together are a winning combination in my book.  And while the dish is simple and tasty, there's nothing really amazing about it.  It's shrimp, peas, eggs and rice.

One nice part of this dish is the addition of the fresh sugar snap peas.  I don't generally cook with them, so they were a crunchy and sweet extra.  Our son has never eaten them and was really excited about the texture.  "Oooooh," he cried out, "Crunchy!"

I love soy sauce, salty junk food condiment that it is, and added it to my plate after cooking.  If you do, too, you might want to consider cutting back the amount of salt you add while cooking this dish.  You might want to consider cutting it back anyway; at the risk of sounding like a hypocrite after copping to loving soy sauce, it seemed like there was a lot of added salt.

So we thought it was good, but not great.  Really, I like "my" recipe for fried rice better (wherever it originally came from) and think you'd be happier to just add shrimp to that.  But keep the sugar snap peas.  Those were fun and delicious.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pepper and Bean Stir-fry

How many times have I bored you with my "I-used-to-be-a-vegetarian" stories?  This recipe comes from that era.  I believe it came from a small Betty Crocker cookbook that I tore apart, saving what I thought I might go back to when I turned omnivore again.  I saw coconut milk and curry, which is a little like chocolate and peanut butter--a winner without much explanation. 

Pepper and Bean Stir-Fry

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp curry powder
1 bag (16 oz) frozen stir-fry bell peppers and onions
1 bag (12 oz) shelled edamame
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups hot cooked jasmine or brown rice
1/2 cup salted roasted cashews
chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, if desired

1.  Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add curry powder; cook and stir 1 minute.  Stir in bell peppers and onions, edamame and garlic; stir-fry 2 minutes.  Cover and cook about 3 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender.

2.  Stir in coconut milk; reduce heat.  Simmer uncovered 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3.  Serve over rice.  Sprinkle with cashews and cilantro.

The Verdict:  It sure was easy.  But while it tasted OK, I think it was just that--OK. 

Unfortunately, I didn't have any cashews.  I had asked my husband to pick me up a package of them in the vending machine at work, but he ended up working late.  So I used crushed almonds instead.  Not quite the right flavor, but I did like the crunch.  These nuts weren't salted and the recipe calls for a salted nut.  I think I would have to agree.  If you don't have/don't want to use nuts, you may wish to give your stir-fry a little shake of salt to taste.

I used a combination of hot madras curry and regular.  I didn't measure out an exact tablespoon, but I'm certain it was close.  I think I'd use just a tad more; even a lot more.  Just to punch up the taste a bit.

I was nervous how my son would react to a vegetable-heavy meal, but knew that there were at least edamame and rice in his bowl, both food that he enjoys.  Oddly, he's moved from "I no like green stuff" (or whatever color vegetable is in question--regardless if he's ever eaten it before) to "Mommy, wass dat red stuff?"  "It's a red pepper."  "Ohhhh, I like red peppers," while still not touching it.  But I like the change in attitude. 

My husband rated it as "just alright."  He said he prefers rice with meat.

So where no one was bowled over, I'd have to say this one goes to the bottom of the pile.  No one starved, no one gagged.  But no one left the table with a giant smile, either.  It probably is much better with fresh vegetables, though.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cream Cheese Chicken

It's another attempt at crockpot cuisine--with a can of soup to boot.  I've had the recipe for a while and I'm not really sure where it came from.  So I figured it was as good a time as any to give it a go.  According to the directions, the dish can be frozen when cooled in a gallon freezer bag. 

Cream Cheese Chicken

1 frying chicken, cut up (or use 3 lbs boneless, skinless breasts)
2 tbsp melted butter
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp (1 package) dry Italian salad dressing
1 can condensed chicken soup
8 oz. cream cheese cut into cubes (low-fat is fine)
1 tbsp onion minced or 1 small shallot, minced

Brush chicken with melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place in a crockpot and sprinkle Italian dressing mix over all.  Cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours.  About 45 minutes before done, mix soup, cream cheese, and onion in a small saucepan.  Cook until smooth.  Pour over chicken.  Cover and cook remaining time.

Serve with rice, pasta, or potatoes

The Verdict:  Awesome taste, but if you're feeding a small child, go with the boneless skinless breasts.

Instead of a cut up fryer, I used breasts and whole chicken legs.  Toward the end of the cooking, the moisture of the chicken and the heat of the crockpot cause the "meat just falls off the bone" phenomenon.  This would be great if the bones the meat were falling off were huge--not things like tiny ribs.  In fear of the little one choking (or maybe even one of us big ones), I spent a good 15 minutes picking out the bones and adding the meat back into the crockpot.  That was annoying. 

Other than the bone issue, I am pleasantly surprised to be able to report that this recipe--despite its canned soup and dry dressing--was delicious.  The Italian seasoning is perfect and the sauce that the soup and cream cheese mixed with the juices of the chicken was creamy without being goopy and very tasty.  We really liked it served over mashed potatoes.

Where this is a freezable meal, I think I just might make a batch or two to keep in the freezer for a quick meal.  Well, who woulda thunk I'd give my seal of approval to a "cream of dinner"?  Julia Child would probably roll over in her grave, but for what it is, it was tasty.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Piccata-Style Fish Fillets with Thin Pasta and Wilted Spinach

I tried really hard to get my husband involved in picking our meals this week.  He was all for leaving the decisions entirely up to me, but finally I was able to talk him into choosing one recipe for each "category"--beef, chicken, vegetarian and fish.  This was his fish choice, a recipe that first appeared in Every Day with Rachael Ray.  I found some of the directions were confusing and other parts of the recipe didn't work, so I've adjusted accordingly

Picatta-Style Fish Fillets with Thin Pasta and Wilted Spinach

Salt and pepper
1/2 lb thin egg pasta or angel hair pasta
4-8 thin white fish fillets, like tilapia, snapper or flounder
Old Bay seasoning
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp butter
2 large garlic cloves, grated or finely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
2 lemons
1/4 cup drained capers
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
3/4 lb fresh spinach, cleaned and trimmed
A little freshly grated nutmeg

1.  Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.  Line a cookie sheet with tin foil, lightly spray with cooking spray and set aside.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.  Meanwhile, pat the fish dry and season with salt, pepper and a little Old Bay.  On a plate, mix the flour and cornstarch.  Coat the fish in the flour mixture.

2.  In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil, over medium-high heat.  Add 2 tbsp butter and let it foam up, then add the fish fillets and cook, turning once, until golden-brown and firm, 4 to 6 minutes.  Place cooked fillets on the cookie sheet and place in the oven to keep warm.  Wipe out the pan and return to heat.  Add 1/2 tbsp oil and the remaining butter to melt.  Stir in the garlic for 1 minute, then stir in the wine for another minute.  Add 1 tsp grated lemon peel and the juice of 1 lemon.  Thinly slice the other lemon and stir the slices into the sauce, along with the capers and parsley. 

3.  Remove fish from the oven and place on a platter or large plate.  Spoon the sliced lemons and half of the butter sauce over the fish.  Cover with foil.

4.  Add the reserved pasta water and the pasta to the skillet.  Add salt and pepper; toss.  Transfer the pasta to another platter or large bowl.  Add the remaining 1/2 tbsp oil to the skillet.  Add the spinach, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook to wilt.  Serve the fish with a little pasta and spinach alongside.

The Verdict:  Good choice, honey.  This was a pretty delicious meal.

The original recipe called for four thin fish fillets.  If all you need is four, use only four.  I bought frozen fish and wasn't sure how it had been packaged; it ended up that there were eight very thin fillets of flounder.  The flour/cornstarch mixture makes a lot of coating, so if you're going for the smaller number of fillets, you may want to reduce the portions of flour and cornstarch.  I didn't use it all even with the eight. 

Also, the original recipe said just to move your fish to a plate and tent with foil.  If you can cook quickly and know this recipe well, you could do it that way.  But what I found is that tenting the fish made it sweat, therefore it's crispy batter turned mushy.  It still tasted good, but when you're adding a liquid sauce on top of that, you might not be happy with the consistency.  I highly suggest leaving them in the oven until the very last minute to avoid that softening. 

Otherwise, the taste of this dish is fantastic.  Lemon and butter with fish is always a hit, so the addition of the capers and garlic only enhanced the already great taste.  All together, it makes a classic piccata sauce, which you generally find on veal or chicken.  Fish was perfect.  Pasta is a no-brainer side and the spinach, especially when coupled with lemon and garlic, put it over the top.

It wasn't an easy 30-minute meal, but it was worth the effort.  Everyone enjoyed it, including the little guy.  (I preemptively picked off all his capers, though, as to avoid the "I no like the green stuff" conversation.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cozy Cabin Casserole

I recently loaded up on cookbooks and cooking magazines at one of my favorite local haunts.  This included the best of 2010 slow-cooker recipes from Fix-It and Forget-It.  When I got it home I was chagrined to learn that there were tons of dishes featuring "cream of" soups.  I can only name a handful of recipes I like that feature canned soup.  Maybe I've catapulted into being a true food snob, but I just feel like "cream of dinner" is a gyp.

But I marched forward, reading through the recipes and dutifully cutting out those that looked appealing.  One of them was this recipe: Cozy Cabin Casserole.  Since round steak is so cheap, it's nice to have recipes on hand that enhance the tough cut.   I opened up my cans and got slow-cookin'.

Cozy Cabin Casserole

1 lb. lean round steak
2.2-oz. envelope dry beefy onion soup mix
10 3/4-oz can cream of mushroom soup
10 3/4-oz can cream of celery soup
1/2 cup sour cream

1. Layer first 4 ingredients in slow cooker.

2. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour and then on low 4 to 6 hours or until meat is tender.

3.  Stir in sour cream 10 minutes before serving.

The Verdict:  Well, there were many thoughts on this dish...

My son liked it just fine.  He saw meat on his plate as well as potatoes.  (I served it with diced potatoes and onions sautéed in olive oil and seasoned with smoked paprika.)  As our son eats like a middle-aged American man, there were no complaints from him.

My husband said that eating this dish was like a "food adventure."  The sauce was "creamy and wet" and the meat was easy to bite into but "oddly dry" as you began to chew it.  The flavor combinations were strange but there was still something about it he liked.

My first impression was, "Well, I believe this is what prison food looks like."  Brownish, glossy, gloppy.  And the flavor combinations were odd.  Sweet?  Savory?  Sour?  In a subsequent serving as leftovers, I learned that I liked scrambling the meat (which fell apart like hamburger) and putting it over the potatoes.  Well, not liked it as in, "Yum, we're eating this again tomorrow night!" liked.  It was better.

Nope.  This won't be made again anytime soon.  And I'm nervous for Fix-It and Forget-It if they're touting this as one of their "best slow-cooker recipes."  Let's just hope I chose the dud.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Spring Shells and Cheese


I try to shy away from recipes that are season-specific because I try (though not very hard lately) to eat locally. That's a hard feat in New England during the winter as you'll quickly turn into a hubbard squash or a turnip. Recipes that call for things like asparagus or fiddleheads are generally a no as I prefer to eat them in season. But sometimes, to avoid a rut, you have to make an exception.

This recipe for Spring Shells and Cheese from the April 2010 Food Network Magazine kept leaping out at me when I'd peruse my collection. I put it into a small pile as as a Meatless Monday possibility and my husband made the final choice. I could finally put my curiosity to rest.

Spring Shells and Cheese

2 lbs medium zucchini
Kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg (freshly ground preferred)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups whole milk
1 tsp dried thyme leaves or 4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 lb medium pasta shells
4 shallots, minced
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
4 oz parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
4 oz gruyère cheese, grated (about 1 1/4 cups)
4 oz baby spinach

1. Grate the zucchini into a colander using the large holes of a box grater. Toss with 1 tbsp salt, then place in the sink to drain, about 15 minutes. Squeeze out excess liquid.

2. Meanwhile, melt 4 tbsp butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, nutmeg, cayenne, 2 tsp salt, and black pepper to taste and mix with a wooden spoon to make a paste. Cook, stirring, until the paste puffs slightly, about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, then add the thyme, bay leaves and lemon zest and bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened slightly, about 25 minutes. Strain into a bowl, discard the herbs.

3. Meanwhile, position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and add to the sauce.

4. Melt the remaining 4 tbsp butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring, until almost tender, about 4 minutes. Add the zucchini mixture to the pasta along with the egg yolks and all but 3 tbsp of both cheeses; stir to combine, then add spinach.

5. Transfer the mixture to a 9 x 13" baking dish and sprinkle with the reserved cheeses. Bake until browned on top and heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

The Verdict: If you're looking for yellow mac and cheese, this ain't it. But if you're looking for pasta that's creamy with delicate cheese, vegetable and herb flavors, you've found your match.
This is delicious. While very rich, it's not overpowering with a cloyingly fat taste. I also loved the amount of vegetable; some of them hidden. When my son did his, "I no like green," I smiled slyly while telling him to pick it out. He didn't realize there were still gobs of zucchini and shallots on his plate.

I bought a quart of whole milk to make this with as a) I didn't write down the amount I needed before visiting the supermarket and b) it wouldn't have mattered anyway as I suck at all things math and need a reminder that one quart equals 4 cups. And so, my recipe was made with (take a wild guess) four cups of whole milk and two of 1%. Didn't seem to make a bit of difference. With that spirit, I'm sure that there's a way to cut back on the shocking amount of fat in this dish.
Also, there are a lot of steps to making this before you're left with a giant pan of ooey-gooey goodness. I made this on a Sunday afternoon and kept the reserved cheese to sprinkle on top until the last minute when I put it in the oven on Monday night. So unless you have all the time in the world, leave this for when you have lots of time on your hands.
A great dish. Springtime or not.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Laura's Shepard's Pie

I met my dear friend Laura when we worked together in Fitchburg, MA. It was a crazy job that could be crazy with stress but we worked with a great crew who knew how to blow off steam. One way of doing that was to have the occasional pot luck lunch. Laura would sometimes make her version of shepard's pie, which is a slight variation on the original with an awesome Latin flair. Laura was born in Uruguay, but I'm not sure if this is the "Uruguayan" way of making it, or if it's just what Laura does. Regardless, it's some good stuff.

Laura's Shepard's Pie

4-6 servings instant mashed potatoes
1/2 cup sour cream
6 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground turkey
2 carrots, diced
2 tbsp sofrito
1 tbsp Adobo con pimienta
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup green olives with pimentos, chopped
4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 can (14.5 oz) cream style corn

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare potatoes as directed. Add salt, pepper, sour cream and 3/4 of the cheese. Set aside. Meanwhile, cook turkey with a little olive oil (about a tbsp) over medium heat. Season with the adobo, tomato paste and sofrito while cooking. Once cooked through, set aside. Discard all but about 2 tbsp of the drippings; add carrots and onions. Add meat back to the pan and stir together, along with the green olives.

2. Spread meat mixture in a 13 x 9 x 2" dish. Top with chopped egg. Pour can of cream style corn on top of meat and eggs. Add dollops of potatoes on top of the eggs then carefully spread to cover the casserole. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and place in oven for 15 minutes, then broil to brown the top for 3-4 minutes.

The Verdict: This is a fun spin on a traditional favorite. I especially love the olives.

I found that my meat was not as spicy as Laura's. I remember Laura's having more of a taco meat kind of taste. In that case, you might want to add a few teaspoons of cumin and chili powder to your meat while it's cooking. It might just be that my adobo is helplessly old. Have fun playing around to take the flavor where you want it to go.

You can add the eggs if you desire. I think that they're great for they "hey, look at that!" factor but not so much for the taste. There's lots going on in this dish and eggs are rather mild. The taste gets a bit lost. You can also mix the eggs into the meat rather than use them as an additional layer. But Laura uses them and they make me think of Laura, so the eggs stay in mine.

Thanks for sharing this recipe with me, Laura! It's wonderful, just like you!


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Linguine Frittata


Lots of leftovers. And then leftovers from leftovers. We've pretty much eaten everything, having to throw away very little after the holidays. One of the leftovers of leftovers was a bag of linguine; I'd put the leftover Christmas eve mussels over pasta (wonderful!) and had linguine leftover. Where pasta isn't my #1 favorite food, I wanted to try something different with it and we've never had a linguine frittata.

The recipe is from the Everyday Food show website. The original recipe was for one; I tweaked some of the ingredients as well as increased ingredients so that it could feed four. You can use any long strand pasta, like spaghetti or fettucine, as well.

Linguine frittata

5 large eggs
5 tbsp milk
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/8 tsp ground pepper
3 cups cooked linguine, roughly chopped if desired
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3/4 thawed and drained chopped frozen spinach
1 tsp oil

1. Heat broiler to high. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Mix in linguine, cheese, and spinach.

2. In a large broiler-proof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low. Pour in spaghetti mixture; cook until top is almost set, 5-7 minutes. Transfer to broiler, placing pan 4 inches from heat source; cook until set about 1 minute.

The Verdict: More fun than just another pasta and sauce meal. Tasty, but I'm not pining for more leftover pasta to make it again.

I liked that the top was slightly crunchy (and yeah, OK, if you look at my picture it was maybe a little too crunchy) and that the pasta within the frittata was still a bit al dente. The textures were great. The cheese and spinach were good but can be substituted with whatever you desire: the original recipe called for shredded Swiss and peas.

Definitely fun, though. I think kids would really enjoy this dish.