Sunday, December 12, 2010

Little Lemon Meringue "Cookies"

I admit, I have a bit of a hard time calling meringues cookies.  But, especially when you're dealing with lemon meringues, you have to call them something (otherwise, someone might be fooled into thinking this was a recipe for pie, right?).  Anyway, whatever you call these, I thought they would make a lovely (and surprisingly simple!) addition to a cookie exchange.  It's nice to have something that's light and guilt-free (about five calories a pop!) but still a little sweet in the midst of so many holiday treats.

Little Lemon Meringue "Cookies"
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon peel, finely grated

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper (silicone baking mats would be lovely as well--maybe someday I'll have some of those! sigh).
In a medium bowl with mixer on high speed, beat egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until soft peaks form.  With mixer still running, sprinkle in sugar gradually (about 2 tablespoons at a time) beating until peaks are stiff and glossy when beaters are lifted.  Gently fold in lemon peel.
Spoon egg white mixture into a decorating bag (or a quart sized ziploc bag with a tiny corner snipped off) fitted with a star shaped decorating bag.  Pipe meringue into small stars about a 1/2 inch apart onto prepared cookie sheets.
Bake meringues about 1 1/2 hours until crisp but not browned.  Turn off oven and allow meringues to stand in hour 1 hour longer to dry.  Cool completely.
Peel from sheets and store in an air tight container.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Indonesian Peanut Chicken

When my first son was born, some friends of ours were very kind and brought us a really delicious dinner, Indonesian Peanut Chicken.  We were very impressed and I told them I must have the recipe.  Little did I know, I already had it in my Betty Crocker cookbook!  Now, my extremely weathered cookbook falls open to the page with this recipe on it.  I have modified the recipe a bit and in doing so, shortened the cook time (always a plus in my book!).  The other night, we served the exotic peanut chicken over rice noodles, but usually eat it with rice.  However you do it, it's a fast family-pleaser.  Serve it with a steamed green vegetable (broccoli, green beans, peapods) and call it a day!

 Indonesian Peanut Chicken 
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in bite sized pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped onion (about 1 med.)
1 chopped red bell pepper, reserving 1/2 cup for garnish
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 chopped peanuts
hot cooked brown or white rice (or rice noodles as pictured)
Note: can substitute 1/4 cup chili sauce for ketchup and spices cinnamon through cayenne (usually found in condiment aisle by ketchup).

Season chicken with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  In large skillet over medium high heat, brown chicken in oil until cooked through.  Remove from skillet.  Add onions and bell pepper until tender.  Stir in peanut butter, ketchup and spices.  Gradually add chicken broth, stirring, until peanut butter is melted.  Add chicken back into pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes stirring occasionally, until chicken is heated through and sauce begins to thicken.  Serve over rice and sprinkle peanuts and fresh red pepper over top for garnish.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Date Nut Bread

This recipe came from my Mother-in-Law who got it from her Mother (thank you, Jay's Grandma Bevy!) who got it from...I don't know where.  My Mother-in-Law rediscovered it over Thanksgiving weekend while going through her recipe file as we were discussing dishes that have gone out of style (i.e. Raisin Sour Cream Pie, my Father-in-Law's favorite, which someday I'll have to attempt).  She made a couple loaves that my four year old and I liked so much we nearly made ourselves sick eating too much.  Oops.  There's no denying this is a great quick bread recipe.  Even better news was that unlike a lot of other quick bread recipes (banana, pumpkin, etc.) that rely on tons of oil, this one has a mere three tablespoons.  The guilt is already lifting! And, to make for an even clearer conscience, I worked on the recipe and cut the sugar down by a quarter and substituted half whole wheat flour and it did not lose any of its original deliciousness (darn).  Get your hands on some dates (the warehouse clubs--Costco and Sam's usually carry extremely affordable and delicious containers of whole, pitted dates) and try this recipe!

*And, once you have your dates, proceed to snack on them in a multitude of ways.  We are fond of sticking whole roasted almonds inside them (instant dessert!), filling halved dates with homemade cream cheese spread (chopped apricots, cinnamon, chopped toasted pecans and a drizzle of honey in softened cream cheese), or for a rather decadent appetizer, wrap whole dates with bacon and bake until the bacon is crispy!

Date Nut Bread
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup hot water
3 tablespoons melted shortening (I substituted canola oil)
1 cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup)
2 beaten eggs
2 cups flour (I used half whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
dash salt
1/4 cup roughly chopped nuts (I used walnuts)

Pour hot water over dates and let stand until ready to use.  Mix sugar and shortening (oil) in a large bowl.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.  Sift dry ingredients together and add alternately with the dates and water mixture to the sugar, shortening and egg mixture.  Gently stir in nuts.  Bake in a greased loaf pan at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until browned and a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pan for about 10 minutes, then remove from pan and allow to fully cool on a wire rack. 
Great sliced and spread with cream cheese!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Italian Turkey Soup

 Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend!  We had a very delicious holiday that I managed to forget to take pictures of EVERYTHING.  Guess I was too busy enjoying the weekend.  Oh well. Last night, we had a previous recipe, Chicken Wild Rice Soup (but with turkey, of course!). I'm not sure how many of you still have leftover turkey, but this recipe for Italian turkey soup another very un-Thanksgiving recipe to maybe help use up the last of it.  And, in case you don't, it's also good with chicken or ground turkey!

 Italian Turkey Soup 
Serves 6-8
1 20 oz. package lean ground turkey or 2 cups leftover shredded cooked chicken or turkey
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
6 cups chicken broth (about three 15 oz cans), or turkey broth
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes with basil and garlic (undrained)
1 15 oz. can white beans drained and rinsed
1 8 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (or a couple big handfuls of fresh spinach)
2 cups frozen or refrigerated cheese tortellini or mini ravioli
2 tablespoons pesto (optional)
shredded parmesan cheese for garnish

In large soup pot, brown ground turkey (or if using precooked meat, skip to next step).  Season with salt, pepper, garlic and herbs.  Once turkey is browned, pour in chicken broth, can of tomatoes and beans.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes over medium-low heat.  Add tortellini and simmer another 7-8 minutes or until tortellini is cooked through.  Stir in spinach and simmer a couple more minutes until spinach is heated through.  If using, swirl in pesto right before serving. Pass shredded Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pecan Pie Bars

Oh. My. Word.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving's arrival, I thought I would post a recipe that you should definitely try for the holiday, Pecan Pie Bars.  They're like pecan pie you can eat with your hands.  'Nuff said.  Actually, that's not true, I must also add that they are pure, sweet, chewy, evil deliciousness that I try to slow down my consumption of by putting the leftovers in the freezer only to discover that they taste fantastic frozen as well.  Instead of a pie crust, this recipe uses a boxed cake mix, which makes for an amazing texture.  You will never want to use yellow cake mix for another purpose.  Ever. Again. 

What dish are you looking forward to for Thanksgiving?

Pecan Pie Bars
1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted
2 eggs
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups halved pecans (or chopped pecans)
Whipped Topping for serving, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix together cake mix, butter and egg with electric mixer until well combined.  Mixture will be very stiff.  Press into a 9x13" baking pan.  Bake for about 20 minutes or until crust starts to become golden brown.

Meanwhile, prepare filling.  In same bowl (no need to clean the bowl or beaters!), combine sugar, eggs and butter.  Mix thoroughly.  Add flour, milk and vanilla extract and mix again until well combined.  Stir in pecans.  Pour filling mixture on top of crust.  Bake an additional 20-25 minutes or until filling is set but is still wobbly like jello.  Allow to cool before slicing into bars.  Top with whipped topping, if desired.

Notes: This recipe is inspired by "The Cake Mix Doctor."  In her recipe, the filling calls for corn syrup.  I did not avoid corn syrup on principle (I just didn't have it), but if you like to make your pecan pie filling with corn syrup (and half the fat, hence once less stick of butter), here's her filling recipe.  I have made them both ways and I have noticed that this filling recipe is definitely stickier but other than that, haven't noticed much difference.  Either way, in the words of Martha Stewart, "they're a good thing."

3/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or pecan halves
Mix all ingredients except for pecans until well combined.  Stir in pecans.  Continue as followed above.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Migas, or really delicious Tex-Mex style eggs

Migas, which translates to "crumbs" is a Tex-Mex style dish that is the perfect way to use up those leftover, broken tortilla chips in the bottom of the bag (seeing as how frequently my husband goes through chips and salsa, we always seem to have).  The chips, when mixed with scrambled eggs, salsa and cheese make for an absolutely heavenly combination.  I had read about the concept on a couple different blogs and one night last week when we were fending for ourselves decided to give making them a try.  I was very glad I did.  Even the husband (who was skeptical at first) was very impressed.  Apparently, they're a breakfast staple in Austin, but seeing as I've never been there, I wouldn't know.  What I do know, however, is that this is a simple and fantastic dish that is perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. 

(serves one)
cooking spray
1/4 cup pico de gallo, salsa, (or combination of finely diced onion, peppers and tomatoes)
1/2 cup crushed tortilla chips, plus more for garnish
2 eggs, well beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup shredded cheese (Mexican blend or colby-jack recommended)
chopped cilantro for garnish

In a small saute pan coated with cooking spray over medium heat, combine pico de gallo or salsa and crushed tortilla chip.  Stir to combine.  Pour in eggs and allow to set, folding ever so gently (do not stir and only fold as infrequently as possible.  Basically, you just want to push a section of eggs once they've set toward the middle and then tilt the pan so that the runny part gets to run onto the pan) until eggs are fully set but not dried out.  Sprinkle cheese over top of eggs, reduce heat to low and cover just until cheese melts (1-2 minutes).  Remove from pan and transfer to a plate.  Top with more crushed tortilla chips and chopped cilantro to garnish.  

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Make Shift" Mu Shu Pork with Broccoli Slaw

When I was growing up, we almost never ate out at restaurants (having five kids in the family makes dining out a bit of a challenge financially and logistically).  What we did do for special occasions, however, was get Asian takeout.  Although we usually got Vietnamese or Thai food, occasionally we would get Chinese and when we did, my mom especially loved to order mu shu pork.  It's a little unique, because it's one of the few dishes not served over rice.  Instead, you get to enjoy a tortilla-like pancake brushed with smoky-sweet plum or hoisin sauce and topped with a mixture of stir fried pork and vegetables.  Delicious!

A few nights back, I was trying to come up with something to use up a bag of broccoli slaw.  When Googling "Broccoli slaw," all that came up was recipes to make it into a salad (go figure).  Then, I remembered the mu shu pork of my childhood and felt inspired.  Although the recipe is far from authentic, it turned out so delicious that my four year old (who sat at the table crying for an hour the other night because he didn't want to try his broccoli cheese soup) even wanted the leftovers for lunch the next day!  To make things even easier, you can try substituting flour tortillas for the Mandarin pancakes (really, they don't take too much effort, give them a try!).

Make Shift Mu Shu Pork
serves 4
2 thick cut pork loin chops (about 3/4 pound), trimmed of fat at sliced into thin, bite-sized strips
3/4 cup your favorite bottled stir fry sauce (SoyVay or Trader Joe's Soy Yaki suggested)
2 eggs, well-beaten
salt and pepper
cooking spray
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 green onions, white and green parts, sliced
1 bag broccoli slaw (or substitute coleslaw mix)
 cup your favorite bottled stir fry sauce (SoyVay or Trader Joe's Soy Yaki suggested)
1/4 cup hoisin or plum sauce

Directions: If making your own pancakes (see recipe below), make ahead of time and warm just before serving.
Stir together strips of pork and 1/4 cup of stir fry sauce.  Set aside and allow to marinate for about 30 minutes.  In a large skillet over medium-high heat sprayed with cooking spray, scramble eggs seasoned with salt and pepperl.  Once cooked through, remove from the skillet and set aside.  Add 1/2 tablespoon oil and over medium-high heat, stir fry pork until no longer pink.  Remove pork and add to scrambled eggs.  Wipe out pan with a paper towel and add remaining oil.  Over medium high heat, stir fry garlic, ginger and green onions stirring frequently until fragrant and onions are softened (about 1 minute).  Add slaw mix and stir fry for an additional few minutes or until vegetables are beginning to soften but are still crisp-tender.  Add remaining stir fry sauce, scrambled eggs and pork back to the pan and cook just until heated through.

To serve, spread a small amount of hoisin sauce on pancake or tortilla, top with a couple spoonfuls of pork mixture and fold to eat like a soft taco.  It is helpful to fold the bottom part of the pancake up so the filling doesn't escape!   Also, it truly isn't "mu shu" without mushrooms, I didn't have any that night (and honestly, we didn't miss them).  If you're wanting to be more authentic, though, go ahead and add some sliced mushrooms (preferably a shitake or wood ear type) while stir frying the veggies.

Mandarin Mu Shu Pancakes (or can use flour tortillas)
makes 16 small pancakes
(from Cooking Light)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup boiling water
1 1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and water in a large bowl. Stir until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 3 minutes). Shape the dough into a 1 1/2-inch-thick log. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions. Roll each dough portion into a 6-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Brush 8 pancakes evenly with oil. Top each with one of the remaining pancakes, gently pressing together.
Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place 1 pancake stack in pan, and cook 1 minute on each side or until slightly puffed. Remove from pan, and cool. Peel pancakes apart.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cream Puffs with Vanilla Pastry Cream and Chocolate Ganache

Do not be intimidated!  I am here to tell you that making your own cream puffs is not only do-able, but more simple than you can imagine.  Not quite as simple as picking up the frozen box from Costco, but more delicious and certainly more impressive.  Additionally, in this post you receive additional ideas for each component of these little treats.

Included here is the recipe for the light and airy, cream puff pastry (not only can you fill this with sweet things like pastry cream, pudding, whipped cream etc., you can also put chicken, egg or tuna salad for a savory use as well!), the rich and creamy, pastry cream (as featured in a post on September 7th), and finally, an insanely easy preparation for a velvety chocolate ganache topping (I dare you to not feel fancy using chocolate ganache!  Another item whose use is not limited to topping cream puffs--try it on top of brownies and cake or use the hardened ganache as the center of homemade truffles). 

Cream Puffs

Cream Puff Pastry  (Choux Pastry)
(adapted from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything")
1 cup water
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
pinch salt
1 cup (about 4 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine water, butter and salt in a medium sauce pan: turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Cook, stirring, until the butter melts (almost immediately).  Add flour in all at once and cook, stirring constantly, until dough holds together in a ball (1-2 minutes).  Remove from heat (also transfer dough to a bowl if you can't use beaters in your pan).

Add the eggs one at a time, beating hard after each addition (can be done by hand but much easier with an electric mixer).  Stop beating when mixture is glossy.

Pipe mounds of cream puff pastry onto a lightly greased baking sheet or use two spoons to form mounds of desired size (pastry will puff up to about 3 times its size, for mini cream puffs, make mounds about 1-2 teaspoons, for bigger servings, 1-2 tablespoons).

Use fingers dipped in water to smooth out the mounds, if desired.

Bake for 20-40 minutes, depending on size of cream puffs.  When done, they will be very puffy, golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped.  Prick each with a skewer to let steam escape and allow to cool to room temperature.

Use a pastry tube to pipe filling into each cream puff or simply cut off top, spoon in filling and replace the cap. 

If desired, top with chocolate ganache.

Pastry Cream Filling
(can also fill cream puffs with sweetened whipped cream or prepared pudding of your choice--use a cook and serve or packaged pudding cups for the quickest fix!)

2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar, divided
pinch salt
3 tablespoons corn starch
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium sauce-pan, combine milk, 1/4 cup of sugar and salt.  Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. 

While milk is coming to a simmer, combine remaining sugar and egg yolks in a medium bowl.  Stir in corn starch, one tablespoon at a time, until fully incorporated and mixture is thick and lemon-colored. 

Slowly add a ladle-full of steaming milk to egg mixture, stirring constantly, to help temper the egg mixture (brings up the temperature of the egg mixture slowly so you don't get scrambled egg yolks).  Continue to add remaining milk, slowly and stirring constantly.  When all of milk is added, return entire mixture to the sauce-pan and stirring constantly, bring to a boil over medium heat.  Allow to boil (still stirring) for 1-2 minutes or until mixture is thick.  Remove from heat.  Stir in vanilla. 

Pour pastry cream into a shallow dish and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to keep from forming a skin on the top.  Allow to fully chill in the fridge.

You can also use pastry cream recipe for cream pies and other pastries!

Chocolate Ganache
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup good quality chocolate chips or bar chocolate chopped into small pieces

In a small, microwave-safe, bowl, heat heavy cream until it comes to simmer (about 30 seconds-1 minute--watch very closely so it doesn't boil over!).  Remove from microwave and stir in chocolate.  Stir constantly until chocolate is fully melted and mixture becomes thick and shiny.  Immediately spoon (or dip the cream puffs upside down into the ganache) on top of pastries.  You can also use it to top cakes and brownies!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lighter Zuppa Toscana (Sausage Potato Soup)

Back when I was in college, I was a server at the Olive Garden.  After all the time spent there, I can still say that I never grew tired of their famous soup, salad and bread sticks.  One of their signature soups is a creamy potato and sausage soup they call Zuppa Toscana.  I never knew the real recipe, but I had the feeling that it would be right up my dad's alley (the man loves him some potato soup) and worked to recreate it for him some time ago.  Since then, I have found it to be a crowd favorite.  And who can blame them?  Warm, substantial, a little bit spicy and creamy all at the same time.  It comes together quite quickly which is a nice bonus.  Add it to the lineup for one these chilly fall nights! 

Zuppa Toscana Clone (Sausage Potato Soup)
3/4-1 pound bulk Italian sausage (see notes)
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
4 cups chicken broth
4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced as thinly and evenly as possible (see note)
salt and pepper to taste
crushed red pepper (optional)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 bunch kale (about 4 loose cups), washed, ribs removed and leaves torn into pieces

In a large pot, over medium-high heat, brown sausage until cooked through.  Remove from pot and set aside.  Drain off all but one tablespoon of grease (reserve in pot).  Add onion and saute for 2-3 minutes or until onion is softened.  Add garlic and saute about 1 more minute, stirring frequently.  Add chicken broth, sausage and potato slices to pot.  Raise heat to high and allow to come to a boil.  Lower heat, cover and cook until potato slices are tender but not yet falling apart (about 15 minutes).  Remove cover, stir in milk and allow to warm through.  Adjust seasonings with salt, fresh ground black pepper and crushed red pepper.  Just before serving, stir in torn kale, allowing it to wilt just slightly. 

Notes: On the Italian sausage, feel free to use hot, mild or a combination of both.  If you cannot find bulk sausage, buy the links and just squish the sausage out from the casings (totally gross, but kind of enjoyable).  You can also substitute turkey sausage for a lower fat option.

For the potatoes, leave the skin on.  This is a place where it's really nice to use a mandolin or a food processor to get a really nice thin and even slice from the potato but if don't let that stop you, it can be done by hand or on a box grater as well.

Finally, the restaurant recipe has bacon in it as well.  I prefer not to put it in, but if you would like, add a few tablespoons of precooked bacon pieces to the soup before serving. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Shortcut Dessert: Jam Thumbprint Cookies

It's that time of year again.  Time for the annual cookie exchanges.  Now, as much as I'd love to say that I slave over baking treats, it's not exactly true.  I don't remember if I've said this before on here, but I am definitely not a baker first.  Baking requires precision and measuring, two things I'm not especially fond of because I lack patience (and am always looking for ways to cut down on dirty dishes).  Thank heaven for boxed mixes.  This cookie recipe (and another I'm sure I'll share soon!) starts with a boxed mix and can be put together in single bowl but feels special enough for the holidays.  As long as you keep them on the under baked side, they're soft and squishy (my ideal cookie is always soft and squishy), almond-flavored sugar cookies with a little jam jewel in each center.  Bake up and exchange away (or keep them all to yourself)!

Short Cut Jam Thumbprint Cookies
1 box sugar cookie mix (suggested brand, Krusteaz)
1 egg
1 stick of butter, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract (or can substitute vanilla extract)
1/2 cup favorite flavor of jam or preserves (the classics would be raspberry or apricot)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In a bowl, combine egg, butter and extract.  Stir in cookie mix to form a soft dough.  Drop by small spoonfuls (about 2 teaspoons) onto a cookie sheet placing dough about 2 inches apart.  Using a (clean) thumb, press down on the middle of the dough ball to form a little indentation.  Put a small spoonful (1-2 teaspoons) of jam in the middle of each indentation.  Bake at 375 just until cookies are set, 8-10 minutes. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie

In the checkout lane of several grocery stores, I have been referred to as the "weird produce girl."  I frequently challenge the checker in his/her memory of obscure produce codes.  What can I say?  I've never met a vegetable I haven't liked (unless you count parsley, which I would consider an herb--hate that grassy-tasting stuff!).

I definitely find joy in buying some of the more overlooked vegetables, such as the root vegetables featured in this recipe.  Winter is the season for root vegetables, i.e. vegetables that grow under the ground (look for them for around a dollar a pound).  Today, I want to share them with you in a Shepherd's Pie.  Filling and comforting, think of this dish as the "Snuggy" among entrees.  Tender vegetables and savory ground meat all cozy under a blanket of mashed potatoes (in this case, a mixture of both sweet and regular potatoes--if you do all sweet potatoes, it feels a little too cloyingly sweet like perhaps it should be covered in marshmallows and featured next to the roast turkey). 

A Small Primer in Root Vegetables:
 Rutabaga: (also known as "swede") firm, round, yellow-fleshed and ranging in shape and size from a baseball to softball, was originally a cross between a turnip and cabbage.  It has a bit of a cabbage taste.
Turnip: similar in size and shape to the rutabaga, mild flavor, firm texture, white with purple near the top.
Parsnip: looks like a white carrot with an extra long root, a bit sweeter and more intensely flavored than a carrot.
Carrot: hopefully, we are all familiar with the humble carrot

Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie
serves a lot -- 6-8 hungry folks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1/2 pound lean ground hamburger or turkey
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 large carrots, peeled and diced into bite-sized pieces
2 small rutabagas (about 1/2 pound), peeled and diced
2 small turnips (about 1/2 pound), peeled and diced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup frozen peas3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium white (I used plain, ol' russet) potatoes, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese

In a large pot over medium high heat, saute onion in olive oil for 2-3 minutes or until it starts to become translucent.  Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute, stirring frequently, or until garlic becomes fragrant.  Add ground meat and allow to cook until no longer pink.  Stir in ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.  Toss in diced carrot, rutabega and turnips and stir to combine.  Add broth and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until root vegetables become tender (about 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces).  Remove lid, raise heat and allow to simmer uncovered to allow most of liquid to evaporate.  Once most of the liquid is gone, add 1 tablespoon butter and frozen peas.  Stir to combine and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, to make mashed potatoes, place diced sweet potatoes and white potatoes in a medium-sized pot.  Add water to cover and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cover, simmering until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork (about 20 minutes).  Drain water and add 2 tablespoons butter and milk.  Mash, with a potato masher (or for fluffier texture, whip with a hand-held electric mixer).  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To assemble, preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spoon meat and vegetable mixture (really, it's a stew, right?) into a baking dish (or you can be especially cute and put into individual ramekins.  Spoon mashed potato mixture on top of vegetable mixture.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese (you can also stir some cheese into the mashed potatoes if that floats your boat).  Bake at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes or until cheese is melted and top is starting to brown.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Perfect Pancakes

Growing up, I never cared much for pancakes.  I think that might have had something to do with the fact that the only kind of pancakes I ever had came from a box of Bisquick.  No offense to my mom (or anyone else who prefers boxed pancake mixes), but I think these homemade pancakes taste way better than ones from a box (and are nearly just as easy to throw together as any coming from a "Mr. Hungry Jack" or "Aunt Jemima").  They're light and fluffy with a hint of sweetness from the vanilla.  And should I mention again how easy they are (I bet you have all the ingredients just sitting in your pantry right now!)???  In fact, this recipe is even simple enough for a weekday.  Or, you can do like we do (because we rarely have our act together on days we need to be out of the house early) and make a double batch on the weekend and then microwave the leftovers right out of the fridge (or freezer). You will rarely see a four year old as happy as when he can have pancakes just about any morning he wants!).  

Perfect Pancakes
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
butter for greasing the griddle

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl (or on a piece of waxed paper--it saves dishes and you can pull up the sides to "funnel" into the wet ingredients later).  In another bowl, combine milk, eggs, oil and vanilla.  Pour dry ingredients into wet and stir with a wire whisk just enough to combine thoroughly.  Heat a griddle over medium high heat.  When hot, quickly run a stick of butter over the surface to grease the griddle (just enough butter to coat the surface). Pour approximately 1/4 cup-fulls of batter onto griddle.  Allow to cook for about 2 minutes or until edges become dry and bubbles are formed on top of pancake.  Flip and allow to brown on the other side.  Serve hot with warm maple syrup.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cornbread Dressing Stuffed Acorn Squash

I've been on a serious corn bread making spree lately.  With the changing weather, there have been several batches of corn bread turned out to accompany all the  chili and other Southwestern-style soups I've been inspired to make.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, in this case), that has meant lots of leftover cornbread. 

Even with Jay enjoying some of the leftovers in a bowl with milk, I still had plenty to spare.  Trying to be economical, I just threw the leftover chunks in the freezer and when I had enough, I was excited to try out this recipe for stuffed squash.  I had seen it in one of my favorite Cooking Light cookbooks.  We had it as a meatless main dish for dinner the other night, but I think it would make a really beautiful accompaniment to Thanksgiving, especially if you have a vegetarian at your table!

I think my boys would say they would have been happy without the squash (they don't like squash anyway, so I don't know if they're the best ones to ask.  I personally thought it was a great combination), but everyone agreed that the cornbread dressing was a hit.  If you're wanting to skip a step and share my family's opinion about squash, you might just do the dressing as a side dish.

Corn Bread Dressing Stuffed Acorn Squash
2 acorn squash (about 1 pound each)
4 cups cubed (1/2 inch) leftover cornbread (see recipe below)
non stick cooking spray
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely diced onion
1 cup finely diced carrot
1 cup finely diced celery
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1 cup vegetable broth (or chicken broth for a not entirely vegetarian option)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or chopped toasted pecans
salt and pepper to taste

Spread corn bread cubes in a single layer on a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, turning twice or until cornbread is toasted.  Set aside.

Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Cut squash in half and scrape out seeds.  Coat squash with cooking spray, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast, face down in a baking dish for 20 minutes.  Set aside.

Pour boiling water over dried cranberries and allow to sit for 10 minutes.  Drain water.

Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add onion and saute for 5 minutes.  Add celery, carrot, garlic and poultry seasoning.  Saute 3 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Add cornbread cubes, cranberries and broth to skillet and toss to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Spoon mixture into halved squash (about 1 1/2 cups of dressing per squash).  Arrange stuffed side up in a baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until squash is tender (a tip of a knife will pierce the squash easily) and dressing is browned.

My Favorite Cornbread Recipe (inspired by Betty Crocker)
1 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter butter, divided
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Place 3 tablespoons butter in a baking dish (round cake pan-size, or a square 8x8 size, or a cast iron skillet).  Allow butter to melt in dish (watch closely so it doesn't burn) while preparing corn bread batter. Combine dry ingredients and set aside.  Beat milk and egg in a large bowl with a beater.  Melt remaining butter and stir into wet ingredients.  Add dry ingredients and stir just until combined.  Remove pan from the oven and swirl butter around the sides to make sure the pan is evenly greased.  Pour prepared batter into the baking dish (preheating the dish and melting the butter will make for a really fantastic buttery crust after it's baked!).  Spread evenly in the dish and return to the oven baking for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Serve warm if desired or let cool to cube for the dressing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Crock Pot Chicken

A whole chicken cooked in a crock pot.  Ok, I realize that this isn't the most revolutionary idea in the world.  I guess I was just late to the party.  I had certainly known of chicken cooked in a crock pot (makes me think of our dear friends, the Hamers, and how they cooked their boneless, skinless chicken breasts for one of their signature dishes, "Chicken Crescent Rolls," mmm...).  But a whole chicken? Unbelievable!

I think the concept is so simple and fantastic, I had to share.  The benefits are many: easiest preparation in the world (just throw the seasoned chicken into the pot and come back hours later to a tender juicy bird with the meat just falling off the bones), it's extremely economical (whole chickens are usually very inexpensive--I happened to get my five pound chicken for $.49 a pound and you can get several meals out of a whole chicken), there is very little having to handle icky parts (raw meat does make me a little squeamish), there is no worrying if the chicken is done or dried out and finally, I think cleaning up a crock pot is much more simple than scraping out a roasting pan.  Ladies and Gentlemen, start your crock pots and feel like kitchen geniuses!

Crock Pot Chicken and Chicken Stock
1 4-5 pound chicken, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
salt, pepper and garlic powder
6 cups water

Place whole, raw chicken in a large crock pot.  Rub with oil and sprinkle generously with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Put lid on crock pot and cook on high for two hours.  Reduce heat to low and continue to cook for 4+ more hours.  You can also do the entire thing on low and just lengthen the cooking time.  After 6-8 hours, chicken will be falling apart and ready to eat as is or to use in any of your recipes that call for cooked chicken.

For broth, remove chicken from bones and return the bones to the crock pot.  Add 6 cups water and allow to simmer for an additional 2-4 hours.  Remove bones and pour liquid into a large glass bowl or measuring cup.  Allow to chill in the fridge overnight.  The fat will rise to the top and solidify so that it is much easier to remove.  The impurities in the stock will have sunk to the bottom and very easy to skim away from the stock as well (just pour the chilled stock slowly into a pot reserving the impurities at the bottom).  Now you have around 2 quarts of homemade chicken stock to use in soups and recipes (our family has been on a bit of a chicken and dumpling kick...recipe to come soon, perhaps???).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Dip

Oh Happy Day!  After a week of searching, I finally found my camera cord so I could upload pictures again.  Phew! I was starting to get worried...

It is late October, which means my love affair with all things pumpkin is in full swing.  Pumpkin muffins, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin pancakes...I've even been stirring canned pumpkin into my oatmeal (recipe will most likely come soon!).  This is my latest way to enjoy the fall goodness, in a cream cheese dip.  It has me sneaking back to the fridge for spoonfuls it is so good!  I think it's really yummy with gingersnaps (money-saving tip: natural grocery stores--i.e. Henry's, Sprouts, Sunflower Market etc. seem to have the most reasonably-priced bagged gingersnaps), but it's also pretty great with graham crackers or apple slices.  And, if you have access, I highly recommend it paired with Trader Joe's Cats Cookies.  Oh, my, goodness...

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Dip
1 8 oz. package 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cups canned, pureed pumpkin (roughly one of the smaller sized cans of pumpkin)
2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or substitute 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon allspice and 1/8 teaspoon cloves)

Directions: In a small bowl, whip cream cheese on low speed with hand held electric mixer until smooth.  Add brown and powdered sugar and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined.  Add pumpkin and spices and mix, one last time, until pumpkin and spices are incorporated.  Allow to chill before serving.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pasta Carbonara and Vegetable Ribbon Saute

Pasta Carbonara, long pasta coated in thick, luxuriously creamy sauce with salty bacon, this is true Italian comfort food!  I must admit, before I tried it I was a little unsure.  That is because the sauce is made primarily of eggs that are stirred into the pasta while they're still raw.  Sounded a bit suspect to me... Don't be afraid though, the heat from the pasta cooks the eggs, and in the process, makes this incredible sauce that reminds me very closely of fettuccini alfredo (one of those dishes that I love--who doesn't?--but feel totally guilty eating because it's as they say "a heart attack on a plate," right?).  Good news is this dish is healthier (and easier, in my opinion) than fettuccini alfredo.  And, when you top it with ribbons of vegetables sauteed in garlic and olive oil, you have a complete meal that you can rest easy with a full tummy!

Oh, and for those trivia nerds like myself, legend has it that the name "Carbonara" came from all the tiny flecks of black pepper in the pasta--it looked like coal dust. 

Vegetable Ribbon Saute

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, cut into slivers
1 medium zucchini
1 medium carrot
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced, lengthwise
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
salt and pepper to taste
1 small roma tomato, diced
fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces for garnish
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Using a vegetable peeler, peel thin strips from both the zucchini and carrot (rotating if necessary) until you can't peel off anymore and have just a little nubbin left to snack on.  Set "ribbons" aside.  In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Toss in slivers of garlic and saute, stirring frequently to prevent from browning.  When garlic is fragrant (30 seconds to 1 minute) add in onions and peppers.  Saute until onions are slightly browned and begin to soften.  Add in ribbons of zucchini and carrot, season with salt and pepper and continue to saute a couple more minutes or until vegetables are crisp- tender.  Remove from heat.  Stir in diced tomato.  Garnish with basil leaves and Parmesan cheese.
Serve as a side dish or on top of pasta carbonara.

Pasta Carbonara
(serves 2-4, depending on how hungry you are)
1/2 pound long pasta (spaghetti is most common, I prefer the slightly more substantial fettuccini)
2 eggs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup water reserved from cooking the pasta
1/4 cup half and half, if needed
1/4 pound (four slices, maybe?) thick-cut bacon (feel free to increase this amount as practically everything is better with bacon)
fresh ground pepper (lots of it) and salt to taste

Boil a large pot of water and cook the pasta until it is al dente.  When you drain the pasta, make sure to reserve some of the cooking liquid.  Return pasta to the pot and keep warm.  While the pasta is cooking, cook bacon until it is crispy.  Remove from heat, drain on paper towels and once cool enough to handle, crumble into bite-sized pieces.  Reserve.  Also while pasta is cooking, in a bowl or measuring cup, break eggs and scramble with a fork until thoroughly combined.  Stir in cheese and garlic powder.  While stirring the egg mixture constantly, slowly add the half cup of hot pasta water.  This will help temper the eggs so they don't scramble when added to the pasta.  Put the pot of drained pasta on a burner over medium heat.  Pour the egg mixture over the pasta, tossing constantly and rapidly, until pasta is completely coated and the sauce becomes creamy (it will happen almost immediately).  Remove from heat.  If sauce is too thick, add half and half and stir to combine.  Season with a lot of fresh ground pepper and a little salt.  Toss in bacon pieces, stir one final time and serve immediately.  Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese or top with vegetable ribbon saute.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Potato Leek Soup

Ok, so I was feeling a little self-conscious that I am posting a second soup recipe in a row, but for the sake of authenticity, and honesty, soup is what I've been cooking lately.  Hopefully, everyone else is in a soup mood like I am!  This is probably the simplest soup you can possibly make, but do not underestimate it.  Right now, I am reading the book "Julie and Julia" (yes, the same one as the movie--which I am not too proud to admit made me a little emotional) and a potato leek soup (potage parmentier--sounds so fancy in French, doesn't it?) is the first Julia Child recipe that the author, Julie Powell, records (and also inspiring her to cook through the entire cookbook in a year).  Clearly, such a humble soup is capable of powerful things!  And, an interesting tidbit, by the may have heard of potato leek soup being vichyssoise as well.  Traditionally, if the soup is served hot, it is potage parmentier and if it is served cold, it is vichyssoise.  Who knew?!?

Potato Leek Soup
2-3 medium leeks, white parts only, sliced into thin (1/4") rounds (about 1 pound)
1 tablespoon butter
1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced into small pieces
4 cups of chicken broth
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, divided
salt and pepper to taste
fresh chives, snipped into tiny pieces (optional for garnish)

Since leeks are very sandy, so make sure to clean them thoroughly before beginning.  Put the sliced rounds into a large bowl filled with cold water.  Using your hands, separate the rounds into rings.  The grit and dirt should separate out and fall to the bottom, then you can lift the floating leek pieces out and dry on a towel.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add leeks and saute, stirring frequently, until becoming translucent and beginning to soften.  Add potatoes and chicken broth.  Raise heat to high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low/medium-low and cover.  Simmer until potatoes and leeks are very tender (15-20 minutes).  Using an immersion blender (or just transfer the soup to a regular blender, but be really careful, it's hot!  If using a regular blender, make sure to keep a towel and a firm grip on the top of the blender when pureeing because the hot soup can shoot up and make a big, burning mess--not that I'm talking from experience or anything...), puree soup until smooth.  If you prefer a more "rustic style," you could certainly just mash the potatoes and leeks with a potato masher instead.  Stir in 1/4 cup of the Greek yogurt and whisk until smooth.  Ladle into bowls (or cute mugs, as pictured).  Garnish with additional dollop of yogurt and snipped chives. 

Note: feel free to substitute sour cream for Greek yogurt if that is more accessible.  Also, if you don't care for the subtle tang that the yogurt/sour cream version would provide, you can use heavy cream, half and half or canned evaporated milk instead, just skipping the garnish.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chicken Wild Rice Soup

This is another recipe I made when back at my parents' house a couple weekends ago.  I don't think I mentioned that when we went back to Minnesota, we didn't go alone.  We met up with two families who happen to be some of our very dearest friends.  The husbands got to go to a conference (Desiring God, if you were curious) and the wives and kiddos (five who were four and under!) hung out at my Mom and Dad's place.  It was crazy, it was fun, it was a weekend to remember!  We are so blessed by our friendship with these families, we love you guys!!!  Also, a big thank you to my parents, who were so welcoming.  It is clear that I have learned a lot about hospitality from them!

Before everyone parted ways, I put together a couple of batches of soup.  I can't tell you how excited I am about the weather turning cooler so I have an excuse to make soup as often as I want (it softens the blow that it's getting darker earlier and snow is imminent...).   I made one of my favorites, Chicken Wild Rice (must be my Minnesota roots).  It's simple, but so flavorful and hearty (it's a great one to make with the leftover turkey at Thanksgiving too, although I guess that would officially be "Turkey Wild Rice").  Creamy, but not too rich, it has a great nutty texture from the wild rice and is a little bit salty from bits of ham. 

Sorry the picture isn't so great, I was just trying to capture a snapshot in between spending time with friends.  This bowl (and thumb) happens to belong to our friend, Jeremy, who apparently really loves black pepper.  In the voice of Chandler Bing (another "Friends" reference), "Could there BE any more pepper on that soup???"  Apparently, he likes things spicy!  However you dress it, it's good stuff!

p.s. A few more pictures from the weekend below, if you're interested...

Chicken Wild Rice Soup
2 cups cooked wild rice (cook according to package directions or can substitute a boxed rice mix)
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped ham
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
 salt and pepper to taste
2 cups cooked shredded chicken
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup half and half (or heavy cream or canned evaporated milk)

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions, carrots and celery, season with a little bit of salt (don't get carried away at the beginning, so just use a little, but it's important to build the flavors all the way through), pepper and garlic powder and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and vegetables are becoming tender (3-5 minutes).  Add ham and flour.  It will "seize up" into a mass.  Continue cooking, stirring constantly for another couple of minutes to remove the raw taste from the flour.  After about 2 minutes, slowly stir in chicken broth, a little at a time, stirring constantly so that the flour-vegetable mixture is smoothly incorporated into the broth.  Raise heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to low and stir in cooked rice and chicken.  Allow to simmer until vegetables are tender.  Shortly before serving, stir in half and half or cream and allow to gently heat through without boiling.  Adjust salt and pepper as desired.

Note: This is definitely not the super-thick version that you may have come across at restaurants or hanging out in kettles at supermarkets.  If you want something closer to that, increase the flour and butter significantly--maybe 1/2 cup each?--and make sure to stir constantly when you are bringing the soup to a boil (almost like you're making a white sauce).  

The three couples from the left: Ryan and Angie, Jeremy and Julia and Jay and I

The "Big" kids, Moriah, Silas and Zoey

The Babies (for now, Julia's expecting this Spring!): Yirah and Judah (my little Bubba-Doo)


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sun Dried Tomato and Chicken Pasta

Something I really love about going home is the game that I can make out of creating dinner out of what my parents have in their cupboards.  I think I tend to do way better when I'm just given a handful of ingredients and am forced to come up with something on the fly.  The downside is that I am not much of a planner and sometimes dishes do not turn out.  Thankfully, this one was a winner (although  I think it's pretty hard to go wrong with pasta and even though I am reminded of a "Friends" episode where Monica scoffs at sun dried tomatoes being out of style, I'm still a fan).  The inspiration for this recipe goes way back to one of the first dishes I remember preparing.

I began cooking for my family when I was thirteen and we moved to Phoenix.  My mom declared it too hot to cook and I think after a more than a decade of battling with kids whining about onions and not wanting to eat "green stuff," she pretty much threw in the proverbial kitchen towel.  I was starting off my teenage years with a bit of a weight struggle, as I was pretty good at feeding my emotions.  It was also at this time that the cookbook "In the Kitchen with Rosie," by one of Oprah's personal chefs, showed up in our house.  The recipes were low fat (it was the nineties and that was the rage, remember), but still felt indulgent, so that appealed to my self-conscious, round self. 

One of the first I tried was for a (somewhat involved) chicken and sun dried tomato penne.  This is a simplified version.  Since it was at my parents' house, I used heavy cream (according to latest research, it's not the evil that it has been made out to be), but at my house I like to save a few calories--more dessert!--by using evaporated milk.
Sun Dried Tomato and Chicken Pasta
1 pound shaped pasta (farfalle, penne, rigatoni, etc.)
1 cup sun dried tomatoes  (the dry kind, not the kind packed in oil)
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
salt and pepper 
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons crushed garlic (about 2 cloves worth)
1 cup white button mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream or evaporated milk
2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
Shredded Parmesan cheese for serving
fresh basil leaves, torn (optional, used for garnish)

In a small bowl, pour boiling water over sun dried tomatoes.  Allow to sit and soften for about five minutes.  Drain off the water and as soon as the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, cut (or snip with kitchen shears) into bite-sized strips.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and keep warm.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Throw in chicken seasoned with salt and pepper and brown, stirring occasionally, until chicken is browned on all sides.  Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and mushrooms to the pan and cook stirring frequently until garlic is fragrant and mushrooms begin to soften.  Add chicken broth.  Bring to a boil and cook until chicken is entirely cooked through.  Stir in cream and heat through.  Do not allow it to come to a boil (it can separate).  Remove from heat and stir in spinach leaves.  Pour over pasta and garnish with shredded Parmesan cheese and basil leaves. 

Notes: you can substitute frozen peas for the spinach (or include them as well).  Don't even thaw them, just throw them into the sauce at the end and they'll heat up almost instantly. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Recipe Mash Up: Breakfast Burritos

I know I am not alone when I say that I really enjoy the t.v. show, "Glee."  I especially love episodes that have song mash up's--when they take a couple familiar songs and combine them in a clever way.  This is what I would consider a mash up of some of the recipes I've posted in the past, and thus, this post has links galore (cleverness, I guess could be debated, but deliciousness is a sure bet!).

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Roasted Vegetable Cream Cheese Spread

It's good to be back!  We were back in Minnesota last week and both my parents' internet and ours since we got home have been highly unreliable.  Thanks to my dear (and technically-savvy!) husband, we are back online and I am thankful!

Warning: this cream cheese has addictive properties.  It's really swell.  But if we're being perfectly honest, doesn't just about everything that contains cream cheese pretty fabulous?  Sweet, savory and a little bit smoky all at the same time, it has a really complex flavor for something so simple.  Whip up a batch and let it hang out in your fridge (I doubt it'll last long) to await adorning the most delicious sandwiches or dress a simple cracker or celery stick...

Roasted Vegetable Cream Cheese Spread
1 8 oz. block cream cheese, softened (I always buy the reduced fat variety and it works great!)
1 red bell pepper, cut into chunks
1 small zucchini, sliced
1  small yellow squash, sliced
1 medium red onion, sliced into rounds
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1-2 medium-hot pepper(s) , cut into rounds (*see note)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Spread all vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Drizzle olive oil and toss to coat.  Sprinkle with salt.  Roast vegetables at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Remove from oven and let cool. In a food processor with the blade attachment (or a blender), process cream cheese for a few seconds.  Add vegetables and process until smooth, scraping down the sides if necessary).  Spoon into container.  Use as a dip with veggies, pita chips or crackers, a spread on sandwiches and wraps or as a filling for stuffed chicken breasts.  I have even used it as part of the filling for enchiladas, but enchiladas in our house are often the catch-all for using up leftovers (see my white bean enchilada recipe).  By the way, I just figured out how to link (please don't laugh, I really am that inept!) and am very, very excited! 

*Note:  Feel free to use your favorite variety of pepper depending on your preference of flavor and heat (Poblano, Anaheim, jalapeno, pick!).  If you are fortunate enough to have access, my most favorite is the Mariachi pepper found but once a year at Berry Patch Farms in Brighton, CO.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Summer Fruit Cobbler Bars

Alright, I know.  Summer is officially over.  Sad.  The other day, I got to go shopping with one of my sisters and seeing darling summer clothes on clearance and knowing they would not be appropriate until next year made me feel a little bummed.  But, we have plenty of good things to be looking forward to as well!  For those days that you might feel a little nostalgic, here's a recipe that captures the flavors of all the delicious flavors of summer.  Use frozen fruit and it will still be like a lovely little vacation.  Otherwise, look in the notes for variations on the filling to find some ideas that are more seasonal.  No matter how you fill it, I will always be up for something sandwiched between the soft, brown sugar-oatmeal crust!

Summer Fruit Cobbler Bars
1 cup quick cooking oats
3/4 cup flour (can use whole wheat)
1/3 cup wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (8 Tablespoons) butter, melted
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
    (1-2 T. water, if needed)

Combine all ingredients, stir to form stiff dough.  Pat half of mixture (reserve the other half for crumbling on top of the filling) into an 8x8” baking pan and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.  While crust is baking, prepare filling.

1 cup blueberries (frozen are fine)
2 cups sliced peaches (about 2 large or 3 small--fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup raspberries or strawberries (frozen are fine)
3 T. granulated tapioca
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Cook until thickened and tapioca is soft-ish and fruit is almost tender (about 10 minutes).  Pour over crust.  Crumble remaining crust mixture over top.  Bake additional 20 minutes at 350 degrees until crust is golden and filling is bubbly.

note: can be modified with different fillings i.e. Sliced apples, cinnamon and sugar to taste and the tapioca prepared according to above directions, commercially prepared cherry pie filling is easy (just pour on and top) and reminds me of ones my Grandma Lois used to make...also delicious, date filling (combine 3 cups chopped pitted dates and 1 1/2 cups water--no need for thickener!--in a saucepan and cook over low heat stirring continually until thickened, about 10 minutes)
Additionally, if you don't have tapioca, you can use 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, just stir it into the water and then combine with the rest of the filling ingredients. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cinnamon Banana Bread

Everyone has their own favorite banana bread recipe.  I wanted to add another to your list.  But hear me out, this one is healthy but still feels incredibly indulgent.  I was inspired to bathe a low fat banana bread recipe (adapted from "The Best of Cooking Light") in butter and cinnamon sugar.  The cinnamon sugar idea came from constantly making Amish Friendship Bread (aka Crack Bread--because it's so addictive!) back a few years ago.  I think this banana bread is an excellent substitute for the friendship bread and there's no starter to worry about maintaining! 

Cinnamon Banana Bread
1 cup mashed banana (about 2 medium)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4  teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine banana, sugars, oil and eggs in a large bowl.  Beat with a mixer on medium speed until smooth.  On a sheet of waxed paper (or in another bowl, I just hate to dirty extra dishes), combine flours, cinnamon, cream of tartar and salt.  Pour into wet ingredients and stir just until combined.  Melt butter and pour about half into a loaf pan.  Spread around so that the entire surface is covered (like greasing the pan).  Pour about half of the cinnamon sugar mixture into the loaf pan and shake around until the buttered surface is covered with the sugar.  Pour batter into loaf pan and smooth out.  Pour remainder of butter over top of banana batter and sprinkle remainder of cinnamon and sugar evenly over the top.  Bake for 45-50 minutes at 350 degrees or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Turn banana bread out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool. 

We especially like it toasted with peanut butter! 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chicken Wild Rice Casserole

Since we're taking a trip down culinary memory lane, I thought the next post should pay homage to my Minnesota roots.  Wild rice is a proud Minnesota ingredient and I love the nutty taste and chewy texture.  If we're sticking with the Minnesota theme, the next logical jump would mean to assume the recipe would be a casserole (or a "hot dish," you may hear it called) and no "hot dish" would be complete without at least two canned of condensed cream of .... (fill in the blank) soup!  All kidding aside, this is definitely a comforting dish that is perfect for the changing weather (and Minnesotans know comfort food--what else is there to do during the looonnnggg winters???).  
Chicken Wild Rice Casserole
1/2 - 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
Montreal steak seasoning or salt and pepper
1 cup brown rice
1/2 cup wild rice
3 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
optional goodies, see notes

Bake chicken seasoned with steak seasoning or salt and pepper at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until juices run clear.  Remove from oven and shred chicken into bite sized pieces.  While chicken is cooking, in a medium pot combine rices, butter and bouillon.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until rice is tender (about 40 minutes).  Or use a rice cooker and set it and forget it! : )
Once rice is cooked through, remove from heat and fluff with fork and allow to stand uncovered to cool a bit.  In a large bowl, thoroughly combine soups, mayonnaise and sour cream.  Add rice and chicken and any optional goodies.  Stir in cheese.  Pour rice mixture into a greased 9x13 pan (or split into two 8x8's for two smaller meals--one for later or to share with a friend!).  Bake at 350 for about 20-30 minutes or until rice is heated through and bubbling.  Top with a sprinkle of more Parmesan cheese for garnish.

Notes: You can substitute two boxed wild rice blend mixes (Rice a Roni or another brand) for the rice and bouillon.  Just prepare according to package directions.  For the picture, I used 1 cup of an unseasoned mix from Trader Joe's (includes parboiled brown rice, black barley and radish seeds) and 1/2 cup of wild rice.

Also, there are lots of really delicious stir in possibilities for this recipe (i.e. "goodies").  Some suggestions, sliced mushrooms, artichoke hearts, diced pimento, canned green beans (rinsed and drained), sliced almonds are just a few...feel free to add and experiment! 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Green Chile Stew and Homemade Tortillas

Growing up, I had the opportunity to live in Albuquerque, NM for a few years.  It was there that I was introduced to green chiles.  They are amazing.  Being rather young (upper elementary school) when we lived there, I don't know if I got to fully appreciate how amazing and unique New Mexico and its cuisine truly is, but one thing that remains distinct in my memory is that in the fall, the air would be perfumed with the scent of roasting chiles. 

Now living in Colorado, we are fortunate to be able to have access to fresh roasted chiles again.  Just recently, a stand (trekking up from the green chile-famed town of Hatch, NM) sprouted up near our house and I knew I had to get some.  Two bushels later, I have ten quart-sized freezer bags of green gold that I will be happily adding to quesadillas, chile relleno casserole, breakfast burritos, soups and more throughout the winter! Here's one of the first green chile recipes I made with my bounty!  We served it with homemade tortillas (well worth the little extra time over packaged!).  Scroll (way down) if you came just for the tortillas...

My box of freshly roasted chiles.  If it says "Hatch," you know it's the real deal!
Green Chile Stew and Homemade Whole Wheat Tortillas
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound boneless pork loin, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1 medium onion, finely diced
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 small tomato, diced
4 cups green chiles, roasted, peeled and seeds removed (see note)
2 cubes chicken bouillon
6 cups water
2 cups pinto beans (canned--drained and rinsed, or homemade--see earlier post on beans and rice)
2 small potatoes, large dice

Season cubed pork with salt and pepper and toss with flour.  In a large pot over medium high heat, brown pork, stirring occasionally to brown on all sides.  Add onion and garlic and allow to cook 2-3 minutes, or until onions are beginning to turn translucent.  Dump in carrot, tomato, green chiles, water and bouillon cubes.  Stir to combine and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 2 hours or until pork is tender and falling apart.  Raise heat to medium and add beans and potatoes.  Simmer about 20 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender.  Feel free to garnish with cheese, sour cream, cilantro, etc. (but I like it just plain!) and serve with tortillas.

Notes on Green Chile:  If there aren't chile roasting stands near you, you can also buy fresh chiles in the grocery store (look for Anaheim peppers near where the jalapenos are kept--they can range in heat, but are generally pretty mild).  To roast them at home, you can put them on the grill or under the broiler, turning occasionally until most all of the skin is blistered and blackened.  Put into a paper grocery sack and allow to steam for at least 30 minutes.  Then, the skins will slip right off.  Make sure to wear gloves when peeling and seeding the chiles (better safe than sorry!).

If you are not as lucky to have access to freshly roasted green chile, don't despair, you can find canned ones in the Latino foods section of the grocery store.  Sometimes, you can also find green chile in the freezer section as well!  Also, the chiles can really range in heat depending on the variety.  We like mild ones (because we like to taste our food and so I don't burn my four year old's socks off), but you can get hotter ones, if you like. 

Finally, if you omit the potato and beans, you roughly have "pork green chile."  You can serve this also as a soup with tortillas or serve over (or in!) burritos.  Delicious!

Homemade Tortillas
(Adapted from Homesick Texan Blog--
2 cups flour (substitute 1 cup whole wheat for all purpose to make whole wheat tortillas)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup warm milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
more flour as needed, for rolling

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder.  Add oil to warm milk and stir milk mixture into flour mixture until it forms a sticky dough.  Knead a few times in the bowl until dough becomes smooth.  Shape into a big ball, cover with a damp towel and allow to sit covered for 20 minutes.  Remove towel, form dough into small balls (you'll end up 10-12 for approx. 6" tortillas) and lay out on a flat surface.  Recover with towel and allow to rest for about 10 more minutes.  To roll out, scatter some flour on a smooth surface.  Using a rolling pin, roll out one dough ball at a time until as flat as you can make it.  Continue to roll out tortillas, covering them up as you go so that they don't dry out.  To cook, heat a dry skillet over medium high heat.  Once it's hot, lay tortillas, one at a time, on skillet.  Let cook for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, until bubbles start to form on top.  Flip over (there should be brown spots on the bottom of the tortilla) and allow to cook about 30 seconds longer or until starting to blister and brown on the bottom side again.  Watch them closely, they can start to burn quickly! Serve immediately.  We like to spread them with a little bit of butter!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Peanut Sesame Noodles

No pictures, sorry.  And, if I had my druthers, I think I'd rather be posting about dessert right now.  I had a friend write on her blog not too long ago that there are only three things she's serious about--her family, her career and dessert.  To unashamedly steal that, there are three things I am serious about right now: my faith, my family and dessert.  I don't want to admit it, but I fear sugar might have a serious stronghold on me.  Unfortunately, because more important things (like dinner) have been taking up my cooking time (or lack thereof, it feels these days) and I have been making my way through a movie theater sized box of Sugar Babies the last few days, there will be no homemade dessert tonight.  There will most likely be sugary post in the near future, though...

Until then, I wanted to share the unbelievably quick dish we had tonight.  See this as your "Asian noodle dish launching pad" and check out my notes below for additional suggestions to fancy this up a bit!

 Basic Peanut Sesame Noodles
1 package pre-washed, cut broccoli florets (or substitute 3/4-1 pound vegetables of your choice)
1/2-1 package rice vermacelli (or other long pasta--amount depends on how noodle-y you're feeling)
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup fat free sesame soy ginger salad dressing (I used a Trader Joe's brand, but you can use whatever Asian-style dressing you find)

If using rice noodles, pour boiling water over the noodles and allow to soak for just a couple minutes or until very "al dente."  Be careful as rice noodles get mushy very fast!  It's best to drain the water even a moment early if you're in doubt because they'll continue to soften a  bit.  If you're using another kind of pasta, just prepare according to package directions.  Drain water and set aside.
In a saute pan, over high heat, steam broccoli in a small amount of water (1/4-1/2 cup) until crisp-tender (just a couple minutes, you're really just wanting to take the "raw edge" off).  Drain water and add to noodles.
In a microwave-safe dish, melt the peanut butter for about 30 seconds on high heat or until it's easily stirred.  Pour in salad dressing and stir until smooth (you can add a couple tablespoons of water to make it more pourable if needed).  Pour over noodles, tossing to combine.  Serve warm, at room temperature or cold.

Notes: This would be really lovely with a mixture of vegetables (carrots, red bell pepper).  Also, to bulk it up a bit I would suggest adding some cooked (grill or stir fry) chicken, shrimp, pork etc.  Finally, some cilantro or green onion and some crushed peanuts would make for a nice garnish.  Tonight, however, it was just about preparation to tummies asap!  Also, sometime soon I'll post the recipe to make a peanut sauce from scratch (just in case you don't have Asian style salad dressing lying around...)
Off to watch Avatar with my dear husband...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sick Day Chicken Rice Soup

We are coming upon cold and flu season--has it already hit?  It seems like everyone has been sick lately.  With that in mind, I share this recipe.  You can keep it in your back pocket for when the dreaded sicknesses strike (unfortunately, we all know it's not going to if, but when).  This is not Granny's chicken soup.  It hasn't been lovingly tended all day, simmering away.  That said, it is sooo much better than anything coming from a can.  This is the kind of soup recipe that would make Rachael Ray proud.  Quick, efficient, and warming your bones within 30 minutes.  This has become my go-to recipe when illness strikes our house (like last week...thankfully we are all clear and healthy again!).  It's simple enough that it's a cinch to prepare even if you feel under the weather.  If you need something that will sooth a cold or upset tummy and you need it now, here's your soup! 

Sick Day Chicken Rice Soup
4 cups of chicken broth (or 4 cups water plus 4 teaspoons chicken base or bouillon)
1 pound boneless skinless chicken, cut into chunks
1/2 cup white rice (or you can substitute noodles or barley--I'm a big fan of barley)
1-2 carrots, peeled and diced into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup frozen peas
fresh ground black pepper

In a medium pot, bring chicken and broth to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium and simmer until chicken is cooked through (5-10 minutes).  Remove chicken from broth and shred into bite-sized pieces.  Return to pot. Add rice and carrots and simmer until rice is cooked through (about 15 minutes--although if you use barley it will certainly be longer and shorter if you use noodles).  Stir in frozen peas right before serving, they'll thaw immediately and keep their bright green color.  Season to taste with pepper and serve. 

p.s. This would be a no-brainer meal to take to someone else who is sick as well!  Throw in a loaf of bread and you've just become the world's best neighbor. For such little effort, it's a BIG way to show someone you care!

Note: I have come to realize that maybe not everyone knows what chicken base might be.  It is one of my favorite products.  There is a brand called "Better than Bouillon" and it is awesome.  It is sold right near the canned broth.  They have different flavors--beef, chicken, vegetable, etc. and it is concentrated flavor that makes great instant broth and gravy.  I also really like adding a teaspoon to sauces as a quick way to deepen the flavor.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Super Simple Beef Ragu

When I say "ragu," I don't mean the bottled sauce with the gondola on the label, although that should point you in the right direction.  Ragu is just the Italian term for a meat-based sauce that is traditionally served with pasta.  Basically, in this case, it's just browned pieces of steak that are braised in tomatoes and red wine until they're ready to fall apart.  In the spirit of trying to use things out of my pantry (I haven't been "real" grocery shopping since the first of the month), we served it over spaghetti.  If it had been up to me, I think I would have chosen the extra-wide fettuccine, pappardelle, or even polenta (that would be a gluten-free option!), but even on spaghetti, it was pretty darn fantastic.  I am a bit of a pasta snob--I know that it's all just flour and water, but somehow, different shapes taste well, different.  Spaghetti is not one of my favorites, but my boys are traditionalists (when I say we're having spaghetti for dinner, we better have actual spaghetti and not even think of having something crazy like angel hair or penne!).  I do feel like a bit of a winner in that I've been serving them whole grain pasta lately, though (Ronzoni brand is my absolute favorite!). 

This is definitely a recipe to make all day on Sunday and then have ready to heat up on Monday night.  It tastes even better the next day and you'll feel so smart when dinner is finished in the time it takes to boil pasta!  Oh, and a small confession (one I don't recommend, but it worked in a pinch), you know you're scraping the bottom of the pantry barrel when you top your pasta and sauce with Parmesan cheese in the packets leftover from the last time we ordered Domino's...

Super Simple Beef Ragu
1 pound eye of round steak (or any other cheap, meaty cut of beef)
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup red wine (or beef stock)
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato sauce
 hot cooked pasta, polenta or rice
Parmesan cheese for serving

Trim beef of any extra fat and cut into large chunks.  Season with salt and pepper.  In a large pot, brown beef pieces in oil over medium high heat.  Let brown for a few minutes undisturbed and then use a fork to flip over and brown the other side.  When beef is deep golden brown on both sides, push over to one side of the pot and add in chopped onion and garlic.  Reduce heat to medium and allow the onions and garlic to sweat a little bit (cook until softened and almost translucent, not browned, reduce heat even lower if they're starting to brown), about 2-3 minutes.  Pour in wine, tomatoes and tomato sauce.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until beef is fall-apart tender (length depends on size of beef pieces, but mine took about 6 hours).  With a fork shred beef into bite-sized chunks.  Serve over hot cooked pasta (or other starch) and top with Parmesan cheese.

p.s. You could also do this in the crock pot...just transfer over to the crock pot at the step where you add all the liquids!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spinach "Souffle" and Riso Verde

I realized I still had leftover egg whites from the most recent banana cream pie I had made.  If I had been smart and 1) combined the leftover egg whites from all my pie-making escapades last week and 2) had been careful to make sure I didn't get any yolk in one of the batches of egg whites (egg whites won't stiffen up if there's even a smidge of fat--i.e. egg yolk--in them) I would have made an angel food cake.  I adore angel food cake...
That said, with the original egg whites, we just had some very healthy scrambles last week and with the three most recent egg whites, I thought I would try and do a quick, healthy version of Stouffer's frozen spinach souffle.  If I had had more time, I probably would have made the riso verde (see recipe and notes below), but I think this was a pretty good (and guilt-free!) substitute!

Spinach Souffle
(makes about 2 servings, feel free to double all the ingredients except for the egg whites--up that to four--to make a bigger batch)

6 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and extra water squeezed out
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons half and half
1/4 cup Italian blend shredded cheese
3 egg whites, beaten until stiff
cooking spray
grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine spinach, seasonings, half and half and shredded cheese.  Fold in egg whites and transfer mixture to small baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Sprinkle top with grated Parmesan. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until souffle is browned and no longer "jiggly."
(or, if you're in an even bigger hurry, microwave on high for 2 minutes and then finish off in the oven for about 5 more)

The inspiration for the above recipe was this Riso Verde.  I think the original recipe came from one of my mom's friends.  I loved this as a kid and have recreated it many times since then.  It's very rich and has a lot of room for nutritional improvement (I have experimented quite a bit by reducing the amounts of butter and cheese), but this is pretty close to it's indulgent glory.

Riso Verde (Green Rice)  Serves 6-8

1 8 oz. package frozen chopped spinach thawed and drained (can substitute broccoli, if preferred)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 cups cooked white rice, cooled
4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz. shredded Swiss or Monterrey Jack cheese
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 eggs, separated

Beat egg whites until stiff.  In a separate bowl, stir together egg yolks, cheeses, seasonings, onions and spinach.  Add rice and stir until well-combined.  Fold in egg whites just until combined.  Pour into greased baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes and top is lightly browned.