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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Potato Pancakes

Phew.  That was kind of a long hiatus from recipe sharing!

All is well here in our kitchen.  In fact, my disappearance was due to our son, Evren, joining the world recently.  He's wonderful, and funny enough, loves to eat and can't get enough.  That sounds just about right for the kiddo of a foodie, doesn't it?

So when last I wrote, I was telling you all about the giant batch of freezer meals I was preparing.  When I was in labor, my aunt and uncle came to stay with my older son and my uncle asked if I was preparing to feed the Georgia militia.  Seriously, I have no intention of cooking for a while.  Anyway, with all that shopping, there were lots of leftovers, so I had a good time coming up with a week's worth of recipes using only those leftover ingredients.  So with the many leftover potatoes, that meant potato pancakes.  This recipe is from the 1978 Joy of Cooking.

Potato Pancakes

2 cups grated potatoes
3 eggs
1 to 3 tsp grated onion, squeezed
1 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 inch or more oil

1.  Pare and grate potatoes.  Squeeze out as much water as possible.  Place in a bowl.  Beat eggs and stir them into the potatoes. 

2.  In a small bowl, sift together flour and salt.  Add the flour to the potato mixture along with the grated onion.  Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet.

3.  Place spoonfuls of the potato mixture in the skillet, forming them into patties 1/4 inch thick and 3 inches in diameter.  Brown, then turn and brown the second side until crisp.  Drain excess grease on a paper towel before serving.  These are usually served hot with applesauce and sour cream. 

The Verdict:  Fairly easy to make and oh, so yummy.

I really love potato pancakes because they're like hash browns, but much more filling.  And they're so much more complex than a regular pancake. 

Speaking of pancakes, they do have one thing in common with their bready, flat cousins: the first batch is generally not so great.  You need to play around to get the right temperature oil (hot) and the right amount of cooking time (somewhere between pale and soggy with oil and burned). 

My son pretended to think they were delicious, when in fact he liked the applesauce and the sour cream.  I don't think he even touched the potato pancake itself.

Would I make them again?  You betcha! 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Zippy Bean Minestrone

I just crowed over this recipe. 

It was really good, but more than that, I got the most gigantic kick out of the fact that it was made entirely of leftovers.  If you read my blog, you'll know that I just finished an epic freezer cooking session.  I had leftover beans, hamburger, and pasta sauce from lasagna.  I had leftover frozen mixed vegetables from some other recipe and just about everyone has some leftover pasta in their pantries, right?  So when I saw this recipe for Zippy Bean Minestrone in The Bean Cookbook, a compilation of recipes from the Northarvest Bean Growers Association, I was stoked.  I had everything I needed right in my fridge and pantry!  No shopping necessary.  The original recipe doesn't call for the hamburger but calls for a can of pork and beans.  Feel free to use their recipe or mine. 

Zippy Bean Minestrone

1/2 lb hamburger
2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups pinto beans
1 package (16-oz) frozen mixed vegetables
1 jar (15 1/2 oz) spaghetti sauce
1 cup water
1/2 cup elbow macaroni (or other smaller pasta)
1 can (10 1/2 oz) beef broth

1.  In a Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Cook hamburger until cooked through and no longer pink.  Meanwhile, cook vegetables in a microwave safe dish with two teaspoons of water for 6 to 8 minutes, until thawed.

2.  Combine all ingredients, including the thawed vegetables, with the cooked hamburger.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20-25 minutes.  Add water if needed.

The Verdict:  Yeah, seriously, that's the soup.  And if you don't add the hamburger, it's more complicated to brush your teeth than it is to put this recipe together.  (Oh yeah, and it tastes good to boot.)

My husband and I enjoyed it.  I was nervous at first that you don't add any spices, but you don't need to if you're using jarred sauce as all the flavor you need is right there.  Once I tasted it and liked it, I was over the moon.  I'd created this really great soup with this-and-that in the fridge that might have otherwise been thrown out.  That often happens, especially with the pasta sauce.  I buy the giant jar to make two lasagnas but never use the whole thing because I forget about it.  Problem solved.

I was really nervous about my son liking it.  I prayed that the beans and meat, two of his favorites, would get us through the meal.  But miraculously, he loved it!  I picked out any obvious giant green beans floating in it to avoid the "I don't like green stuff" fight we have 90 times a week and ladled his heavy with the solids, rather than the broth.  I also greased the wheels with a nice, crusty bread with plenty of butter; he's a bread maniac.  His response to the meal was, "Tasty!"  (I'd suggest a crusty bread regardless if you have a picky eater in your house or not.  It's the perfect accompaniment to this soup.)

Would I make this again?  Yes, especially with leftovers.  That was more fun than this nerd can handle.

Cowboy Pie

The past two weeks have been crazy.  Just in general as well as in the kitchen.  I decided to do huge batches of dishes to freeze for after our baby's arrival and spent many, many hours slaving over a hot stove, literally barefoot and pregnant.  While I didn't spend all that much for what should amount to over a month's worth of dinners, I did realize halfway through my cooking that I didn't spend--and therefore buy--anything for the coming week.  But rather than panic and run back to the supermarket (and throw my husband into convulsions as he already thinks I spend too much on groceries, which is not true, and a subject for another day), I decided to go with what I had.  And that was scraps of leftovers from my giant batch cooking.

A couple of the recipes called for ground hamburger, so I bought the "holy crap, Batman" sized pack, leaving a good two pounds of meat free.  I also made a chili I adore with dried beans, which I never use.  Wow, that's a nice way to save money and get lots of meals.  I had oodles of leftover pinto beans.  So night one of "creative kitchen cooking": Cowboy Pie.

Cowboy Pie

1 lb ground beef
2 cups pinto beans
1/2 cup medium onion
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup canned or frozen corn
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes in puree
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup grated cheddar
1 package instant corn bread mix, prepared according to instructions

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Add onion and cook until tender and translucent.
2.  Add hamburger and cook until no longer pink, then add beans, corn, tomatoes, chili powder, and cumin.
3.  In a bowl, prepare cornbread mix as directed on package.  Set aside.
4.  Grease a 9-inch pie plate.
5.  Spoon bean and meat mixture into the pie plate and top with "blobs" of corn bread.  Carefully spread to cover.  Top with cheddar cheese.  Bake 30-35 minutes or until corn bread is golden brown. 

The Verdict:  This is a fun meal.  If you like chili and corn bread, you'll like this.

You can obviously use canned beans and buy a pound of hamburger to make this, but it was pretty economical and easy to have all the ingredients ready in the fridge.  As I'd said, we used the beans and meat for chili, shepard's pie and meatloaves, but there are about 8 zillion other recipes you could find that you could batch cook with hamburger and beans.

You can probably tell from the picture, but I forgot to sprinkle the cheese on the pie before it went in the oven.  Boo!  Is there anything better than hot, gooey cheese?  Not really. 

Probably even more delicious is if you make your own corn bread.  In these final weeks (and now days) of pregnancy, I don't have the time or energy for that kind of cooking.  A good ol' package of Betty Crocker or Jiffy will do just fine if you don't want to get too fancy in the kitchen. 

This meal works well for my son.  He loves meat and beans and will often eat corn with no complaints.  He also loves cornbread, but was suspicious of it on top of his food.  We make it quite often in our bread machine and I guess that's his favorite.

Not in a rush, but would definitely make this again.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Crock Pot Lemon Pudding Cake

On the same night that I made the Crock Pot Chicken Pasta, I also made this dessert for lemon pudding cake.  It was kind of funny because I had my large crock pot on one part of the countertop and my smaller one cooking this recipe.  This comes from Fix-It and Forget-It, Our Best Slow Cooker Recipes 2010 but I've changed the recipe a bit.  While they call for an actual lemon, I use lemon concentrate.  I've made this dessert once before, and then, too, it was a spur of the moment decision to make.  I generally don't just happen to have lemons in my house. 

Crock Pot Lemon Pudding Cake

3 eggs, separated
1/4 cup lemon concentrate
3 tbsp butter, melted
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt

1.  In a bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Set aside.

2.  Beat egg yolks in a bowl.  Blend in lemon, butter, and milk.

3.  In a seperate bowl, combine sugar, flour, and salt.  Add to lemon mixture, beating until smooth.

4.  Fold into beaten egg whites.

5.  Spoon into slow cooker.

6.  Cover and cook on high 2 to 3 hours.

7.  Serve with a spoon from slow cooker.

The Verdict:  It's really yummy, it's totally fun to serve, but not to mince words--it's a pain in the ass to make.

I'm not sure how I'd forgotten that from the first time I'd made it.  In my last blog post, I was writing about how much I've been relying on the crock pot for its ease, yet here I am dirtying three bowls and folding stuff into egg whites that I whipped with a hand mixer.  Hello, does that sound easy?  Not that it's rocket science, it's just not conduicive to easy pregnancy cooking.

We all really like the taste of this, though.  It's a bit cakey and a bit moussey at the same time, which has a nice mouth feel.  And while I'm always startled by cream and lemon together (isn't that an instant bellyache?) it's always a satisfying taste.  The creaminess, which in this instance is the eggs and milk, cuts down the acidity of the lemon, creating a sunny and mellow taste. 

I do suggest that you let it cool down before eating it.  The most obvious reason is not to burn your mouth--duh--but it's one of those foods that just doesn't feel good in your belly too warm. 

If you're looking for a quick dessert, this isn't it.  But if you want to impress everyone with the novelty of a crock pot making dessert, this is worth making. 

Crock Pot Chicken Pasta

Wow.  Now that I'm nearing the end of this pregnancy, I'm really relying on the crock pot.  But don't get it twisted; I'm not singing its praises.  I'm still not sure how much I love his device.  Still, it makes an easy, hot meal that I don't have to mess around too much with. 

So that's why I decided to give this chicken pasta recipe a try.  It's again from Fix-It and Forget-It, Our Best Slow Cooker Recipes 2010 which claimed that this was a "kid-friendly" meal.  That didn't hurt when choosing it, though of course my son's current pickiness isn't easily quelled by a label. 

Chicken Pasta

1 1/2 lbs boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large zucchini, diced
1-oz envelope chicken gravy mix
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp evaporated milk or whipping cream
1 large tomato, chopped
4 cups cooked macaroni
8 oz smoked Gouda cheese, shredded

1.  Place chicken in slow cooker.

2.  Add zucchini, gravy mix, and water.  Stir.

3.  Cover and cook on high 1 hour and then on low 4 hours.

4.  Add milk and tomato.  Cover and cook on low 20 minutes more.

5.  Stir in pasta.  Top with cheese.  Serve immediately.

The Verdict:  Reminds me of tuna noodle casserole.  And before you clap your hands in glee that I'm telling you it's a comfort food, let me tell you about tuna noodle casserole.

My mom used to make it about twice a year.  And quite a few times I talked them into letting me watch The Brady Bunch reruns on tuna noodle night.  While the Brady's doled out advice like, "Mom always said, don't play ball in the house!" I would surreptitiously scrape my plate behind the couch because my dog wouldn't eat the stuff.

So when I took my first bite or two and thought of tuna noodle casserole, I knew I'd hate it.  And a few bites more confirmed it.  My son hated it, too.  My husband thought it was fine, but this is the guy who, when we first started dating, told me over the phone he was eating his dinner of cereal and milk powder.  He's come a long way, baby.

I'm not saying you wouldn't like it.  I'll bet it really does have a homey, comfort food appeal to some people.  For me, something about the grittiness of the chicken and the gravy, the creaminess of the the cream and the hot macaroni just doesn't do it for me.  All together, it makes me...want to scrape it behind my couch.  But since I'm the one who'd have to clean it up, I probably won't.  I just won't make it again.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hearty Alphabet Soup

Since our son is finally getting into eating soup, I wanted to find another recipe for a good and easy one.  This seemed like it might do the trick.  Not only does it get cooked in the crockpot, eliminating slaving over the stove, but it's very few ingredients.  Two of them are chunks of beef and alphabet pasta.  I figured that might be a hit.  This is another recipe from Fix-It and Forget-It, Our Best Slow Cooker Recipes 2010.

Hearty Alphabet Soup

1/2 lb beef stew meat or round steak, cubed
14 1/2-oz can stewed tomatoes
8-oz can tomato sauce
1 cup water
1.25-oz envelope dry onion soup mix
10-oz package frozen vegetables, partially thawed
1/2 cup uncooked alphabet noodles

1.  Combine meat, tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, and soup mix in slow cooked.

2.  Cover and cook on high 1 hour and then on low 4 to 6 hours.  Turn heat to high.

3.  Stir in vegetables and noodles.  Add more water if mixture is too dry and thick.

4.  Cover and cook on high 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

The Verdict:  I wasn't mad about it, but my husband and son liked it a lot.

Honestly, I should have added more water and less pasta.  But I was trying to make it more stew-like.  Don't try that trick; instead, it feels grainy in your mouth.  Yuck.  Other than my own faux pas, the soup was fine.  I don't think that it was rockets and fireworks, but I suppose not every meal needs to be.  Especially when it's alphabet soup.  I can't ever recall anyone going on and on enthusiastically about a bowl of alphabet soup they ate the other day, do you?

My son thought it was pretty great.  And suprisingly, the little guy who hates green stuff was so absorbed in eating meat and spotting letters, he didn't comment at all about vegetables.  I did pick out large and obvious green beans for his serving; otherwise, he happily ate bites with corn, carrots and peas. 

I served it with whole wheat toast.  A bread on the side is a must with this dish.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pan-Seared Steak

My husband has requested that I start making more meat-and-potatoes kind of meals for our carnivore son.  So when I saw the picture that accompanied a recipe I'd long ago ripped out of Everyday Food, I decided that one night this week that would be dinner.

So I bought a nice sirloin steak and read the recipe.  Who knew it could also be called "Pan-Seared Steak for Dummies"?  The very thought of that makes me crack up, as the magazine is a Martha Stewart publication and I kind of think she'd as soon die than have her name attached to anything dumb.  But really, this steak is a snap.  No marinades, no spices.  Just salt, pepper, and some vegetable oil.   

Pan-Seared Steak

2 1-inch-thick sirloin steaks or 4 1-inch-thick strip steaks
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

1.  Dry steaks with paper towels.  Rub the meat all over with the oil, salt and pepper. 

2.  Heat a cast-iron skillet or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles when it hits the pan.

3.  Cook steaks in hot skillet 5 minutes.  Flip; cook until medium rare, 5 minutes more.  Cook strip steak in two batches.  
The Verdict:  My husband called this one.  Before it got to the table, my son yelled out "oh yummy!"  Then gobbled up an adult-sized portion of meat.  He also called it "delicious" and at another point said, "yum num num num num." 

Oh yeah, and we liked it, too.

You obviously need to buy a decent steak for this recipe to work.  The heat and the quality of the meat is what makes it good.  I also served this with a mushroom sauce, but really, the sauce was completely unnecessary.  I just love mushrooms with red meat, especially red meat on the rare side.  And, of course, mashed potatoes are a must.  I absolutely adore the instant garlic mashed potatoes from the Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value line.  Cook and mash potatoes?  Pfffft!  What is it, Thanksgiving?

While I made the sauce, I kept the steak tented in tinfoil on an edged cookie sheet in a 250 degree oven.  This also allows the steak to gently cook a bit further. 

So see what I mean?  Steak for dummies.  But if you serve this, only you'll know that because everyone else will think you're brilliant.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cheese Ravioli with Roasted Squash

It was kind of random, but on Saturday afternoon my husband said "want to go to a cheese shop that my friend told me about?"  Um, OK.  Even funnier was that he didn't know where it was or what it was called, but assured me we'd find it (while driving) if I Googled "Boston cheese shop."  At first a place in Southie came up...Southie?  Boston's South End is really coming up, but it's still not "our" neighborhood.  Then it dawns on me: Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge?  Never been there, but Huron Avenue is a lot more our pace.

So we took a very round about detour to get back to this side of Cambridge.  And it was worth it.  It brought us back to our trip to Paris two years ago.  A fromagerie full of the penetrating smell of fancy cheeses.  (Not to mention chock full of serious and a tad bit snotty shoppers.) 

Oddly, this story is not about cheese, but squash.  In this shop, among all that cheese, were a variety of other groceries, including produce.  And to my surprise, I found local and fresh acorn squash!  I guess it's possible that in some kind of cold cellar a winter squash could survive this long in storage.  We happily bought some cheese, some fig cake and my coveted produce.  After that, we stopped by our local Whole Foods for dinner and a few groceries, where I found this recipe for  Cheese Ravioli with Roasted Squash.

Squash Ravioli

1 1/2 - 2 cups (1 small) winter squash (like butternut or acorn) cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow onion, diced
8-10 fresh sage leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 package cheese ravioli
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 - 3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Toss squash, onion and 2 chopped sage leaves in oil, salt and pepper.  Transfer to a roasting pan and roast 20 to 25 minutes, turning once or twice, until tender.  Towards the end of the squash cooking time, cook ravioli according to package directions. 

2.  Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Fry remaining sage leaves in one layer for 1 minute.  Flip and fry until crisp, about 1 minute more.  Remove from skillet to drain.  Reduce heat to low, add broth and bring to a simmer.  Add drained pasta and squash-onion mixture.  Adjust seasoning, garnish with fried sage and sprinkle with cheese.

The Verdict:  Very good.  The ricotta cheese of the ravioli and the sage-infused squash are wonderfully complimentary.

The original recipe was called "Butternut Squash Ravioli" and I can't think of a more misleading name.  It is, I suppose, but the first image that forms in everyone's mind is ravioli stuffed with squash.  Someday, when I have time to mess around with my pasta maker again, I'd love to make actual squash ravioli.  Instead, this recipe is a little more my speed.  It also helps for when you tell people, "I'm making squash ravioli for dinner" not to hear their let down response after explaining that it's squash with ravioli.  Nothing deflates your kitchen bravado than someone unenthusiastically saying, "Oh." 

But this recipe is great.  Roasting squash is delicious on it's own since it brings out an almost nutty taste in it.  Add a good quality olive oil, some nearly caramelized onions and fragrant sage--well, you've got yourself something mouth-watering.  Add to that mild cheese ravioli, butter and fried sage?  Yes, it's as good as you imagined.  It's a pretty dish as well (sorry for no picture again) with the off-white pasta, golden squash, and the dark green sage. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Shrimp Scampi with Garlic Toasts

Oh, I'm trying very hard to keep everyone in recipes, but cooking, never mind blogging, is getting harder and harder as this pregnancy careens towards the little one's arrival.  But if you like shrimp, this recipe is for you.  It comes from the Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine and it couldn't be easier.  Or more delicious.

Shrimp Scampi with Garlic Toasts

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp unsalted butter
5 cloves garlic, chopped
Kosher salt
8 1/2-inch-thick slices crusty bread
1 1/4 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
3/4 cup dry white wine or low-sodium chicken broth
Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon, plus lemon wedges for serving
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives

1.  Preheat the broiler.  Heat the olive oil and 2 tbsp butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic and 2/3 tsp salt and cook 1 to 2 minutes; remove from heat.  Brush both sides of bread with some of the garlic mixture and arrange on a baking sheet.  Broil the bread until toasted, about 1 minute per side.   Divide the bread among 4 bowls.

2.  Place the skillet with the remaining garlic mixture over high heat.  Add the shrimp and toss to coat, then stir in the wine and lemon zest and juice.  Transfer to the broiler and cook until the shrimp are pink, about 3 minutes.  Transfer the shrimp with a slotted spoon to the bowls.

3.  Return the skillet to high heat and boil the cooking liquid until slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.  Stir in the parsley and chives.  Whisk in the remaining 1 tbsp butter and simmer 1 to 2 minutes more; pour over shrimp.  Serve with lemon wedges.

The Verdict:  Garlic and lemon shrimp over crispy bread?  Do you need me to say more?  It's amazing.  I want it every day.

If you regularly read my blog, you know about my son's current aversion to green stuff.  I avoided this by putting the thickened sauce without the herbs and butter, over his shrimp.  Too bad that didn't work.  The boy who generally gobbles down seafood like it's cake refused it.  Ate some bread, but wouldn't touch the shrimp.  It might be worth it to add that my kiddo is also on the longest nap strike ever.  I'd chalk it up to him just not needing it anymore, but a five minute visit to my house at 5 p.m. would convince you otherwise.  So he's not my best food critic at the moment.

My husband and I, on the other hand, fell hopelessly in love with this dish. 

One thing to keep in mind if you make it: you've got to work fast.  Read the recipe a bunch of times before you make it.  It's not hard, but it's busy.  If you start your shrimp while making the garlic toast, you run the risk of burning it.  The skillet goes from stovetop to broiler to stovetop, tempting you to forget where it's been and burning the heck out of your hands.  If you're chopping herbs while reducing your sauce, you run the risk of over-reducing it.  So be methodical and alert.

The magazine suggests shrimp that's been peeled and deveined but not had their tails removed.  My husband hates the sight of shrimp tails and I fear my son would eat them, so I always remove the tails regardless of what a recipe calls for.  I generally buy my seafood at Whole Foods, but was in a rush and picked up a bag of frozen shrimp from Target, their own brand.  Just as an FYI, they sell shrimp that's been cleaned and shelled.  Yay!  What a treat for this mommy!  And they weren't pumped up with water so that when you cook them they shrink to minuscule proportions.  They remained plump.  One point for Target.

I would definitely serve this with a salad.  Unless it's just pregnancy hunger, shrimp and toast wasn't quite enough for dinner.  You might want to have a little something to back it up.  Otherwise, it's a terrific meal.