Tuesday, March 29, 2011

French Style Lentils

It seems like lentils get a bad rap.  They have some sort of reputation as bland and something to be forced down (like only someone as mild as "pigeon and oatmeal loving" Bert from Sesame Street would sing the praises of lentils).  Well, I'm here to dispel that myth.  Lentils are delicious, healthy, economical and can have a real earthy, French Peasant flair to them--especially when prepared in this manner.  Inspired by a dish from the Barefoot Contessa (which was inspired by her favorite Bistro in Paris), the use of a mustard-y vinaigrette stirred into the lentils makes for something really spectacular. Serve as a side, main course in bowls or alongside some chicken sausages and pretend you're enjoying them in the French countryside.

French Style Lentils
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 leek, white and light green parts, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 carrots, peeled and 1/2-inch diced
1 parsnip, peeled and 1/2-inch diced (optional)
1/2 cup celery, finely diced 
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup green lentils
4 cups water (or chicken stock)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 whole onion, peeled
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large dutch oven/soup pot.  Add the leek, carrots, parsnips (if using) and celery and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute, set aside.

Remove the vegetables from the pot and set aside.  In the same pot, combine, lentils, 4 cups of water or stock, thyme and onion and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, add the reserved vegetables and simmer uncovered for 25-30 minutes, or until the lentils are almost tender.  Remove from heat and discard the onion (you can also drain off the liquid if you prefer your lentils as more of a side dish and less "soupy").  Stir in the butter.  Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the mustard, vinegar and salt and pepper.  Add to the lentils, stir well.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  The longer the lentils sit, the more salt and pepper you'll want to add.

Roughly adapted from "Barefoot Contessa's How Easy is That?"

Monday, March 28, 2011

Roasted Broccolini and Spaghetti con Aglio e Olio

Oh, broccolini, you are our new favorite vegetable!  Broccolini, or "Baby Broccoli" is not actually baby broccoli at all.  It is a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale and is similar to broccoli but is sweeter and has slim, tender, fully-edible stems (no waste!).  It's been available at SuperTarget lately in a package for $1.88.  Sweet! Normally, I'm not crazy about SuperTarget's produce (sorry, I love just about everything else about you, Red), but the broccolini has been a great find.  Roasted with a little bit of olive oil and salt, it makes a great side or addition to pasta (as shown here with Spaghetti con aglio e olio--garlic and olive oil--and sauteed chicken).  Roasting is great technique to apply to all kinds of vegetables (just follow the preparation below but adjust the time depending on what you're roasting--cauliflower is amazing, carrots are incredible, sweet potatoes cut into matchsticks are healthy fries! Delicious!). 

Roasted Broccolini
1 8 oz. package broccolini, washed (or substitute broccoli florets)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Spread broccolini in an even layer on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast in oven for 12-15 minutes, or until crisp-tender and the edges begin to brown.  Season with pepper and additional salt to taste. 

 Spaghetti con Aglio e Olio
This is a super-simple, quick pasta dish that you probably already have almost all the ingredients on hand.  Don't be worried about the large amount of garlic, the flavor mellows and sweetens as it cooks.  Enjoy plain or add some sauteed chicken or shrimp and vegetables like the roasted broccolini (above).
(Closely adapted from Barefoot Contessa's "How Easy is That?")
kosher salt
1 pound dried spaghetti
1/3 cup good olive oil
8 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving (I won't judge you for using the pre-shredded either since that makes a frequent appearance at our house)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add two tablespoons of salt and the pasta and cook according to package directions.  Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water before you drain the pasta.  Return the pasta to the cooking pot and cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, or until it just begins to turn golden on the edges--don't overcook it! Burned garlic turns bitter and cannot be salvaged.  Add the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds more.  Carefully add the reserved pasta-cooking water to the garlic and oil and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about a third.

Pour the garlic sauce over the warm pasta and toss to combine.  Off the heat, add the parsley and Parmesan and toss well.  Allow the pasta to rest off the heat for 5 minutes for the sauce to be absorbed.  Taste for seasoning and serve warm with extra Parmesan on the side. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lemon Cornmeal Poundcake

We have officially entered Spring and even though that's not a guarantee for good weather, it makes me so happy to see the tulips and daffodils starting to poke out of the ground.  I am also very excited about the fact that it means sales on delicious, sweet strawberries in the stores.  To make use of some of those strawberries, this pound cake is an excellent alternative to the traditional strawberry shortcake.  It has a complex flavor and rustic crumb from the cornmeal and is moist from the ricotta (see about making your own) and is great with berries and whipped cream or just plain sliced. 

Lemon Cornmeal Poundcake
cooking spray
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1 cup sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, softened to room temperature
Grated zest of 1 lemon (about 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1cup ricotta cheese
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup stone ground grits or polenta (a really coarse cornmeal--for a less grainy texture, use an additional 1/2 cup cornmeal)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray and dust with cornmeal.  In a large bowl, combine butter, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract.  Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, 1 t a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in ricotta cheese.

Combine flour, cornmeal, grits, salt and baking soda.  Stir into to wet ingredients and stir just until combined.  Pour into prepared loaf pan.  Bake at 325 for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pan 15 minutes on a wire rack.  Remove from pan and cool completely on rack.

Recipe adapted from The Best of Cooking Light

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Homemade Ricotta and a use for it

 I am not sure what took me so long to catch on to this idea: Homemade ricotta cheese.  I stumbled across the recipe in Barefoot Contessa's new book, "How Easy is That?" and was really surprised at how truly simple it is to make at home.  Before this, I thought home cheese making was relegated to hermits in Vermont, Lancaster County and the Little House on the Prairie series.  Yet, in 20 minutes I had homemade cheese that was fresh, creamy, pure-tasting and ready for all ricotta cheese uses (and there are a lot of them beyond just Italian pasta dishes, although that tends to be my favorite--see post on Artichoke and Pesto "Stuffed Shells" Bake.  I did use some of my leftover ricotta to make a lemon cornmeal pound cake, but that is a post for another day).  See below for another extra fast(!) pasta dish using your homemade ricotta cheese (here's a teaser).

I don't plan on making my own Artisan Smoked Aged Gouda or the like anytime soon, but I will definitely be making my own ricotta in the future!  

Homemade Ricotta
Makes about 2 cups
5 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons white vinegar

Set a large sieve over a deep bowl.  Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth. 

Pour the milk and cream into a heavy-bottomed pot.  Stir in the salt.  Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar.  Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute or until it curdles.  It will separate into the thick parts (the curds) and liquid parts (the whey).

Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature until desired consistency.  The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta (mine ended up on the thick side, almost like crumbled goat cheese...I will probably catch it sooner next time). Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth.  Discard the liquid whey (unless you want to save it for another use--I read in a blog that a cheese making expert suggests boiling pasta in the liquid but I haven't tried that yet.  It just seems a shame to throw out so much liquid if there is a good use for it).  Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Use within 2-3 days.  

recipe heavily adapted from Barefoot Contessa How easy is that?

                                              Pasta with Ricotta, Parmesan and Spinach

This is really a non-recipe recipe.  I needed to use up some of my homemade ricotta and we needed some lunch fast.  It was great as is or topped with jarred marinara sauce, it tasted like spinach lasagna.  The best thing was that the longest part was waiting for the pasta water to boil. 

Pasta With Ricotta, Parmesan and Spinach
serves 2-4
8 oz. dry shaped pasta (I used small shells because that's what we had on hand)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
small pinch of ground nutmeg
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
big handful of fresh baby spinach
jarred pasta sauce (optional)

Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions, reserving a cup or so of the cooking water to use as needed.  Drain and set aside.  In the pot, combine ricotta and Parmesan cheese.  Add some of the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, thinning to make a sauce until desired consistency.  Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Stir in pasta, tossing to combine.  Reheat over medium heat stirring frequently, if necessary.  Toss in a big handful of fresh spinach and stir just until wilted.  Pour into bowls and top with additional shredded Parmesan and warmed jarred pasta sauce, if desired. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Creamy Chicken Enchilada Casserole

"Waste not, want not" I think is how the saying goes and although it's cliche, some really great meals have come out of trying not to waste food.  Hence, this particular enchilada dish.  Leftover rotisserie chicken, leftover taco shells and leftover onion dip mixed with the new Philly Cooking Creme (savory cream cheese sauce ready to be mixed into quick meals) I scored for free with coupons.  It's not very highbrow, but it was met with raves from the family and the urgent insistence from my husband that I record the recipe.

As for the new Philly Cooking Creme, I am pretty impressed and think that it's something to keep on hand for throwing together quick meals and I am excited to use some of the other flavors in different dishes (and, I was not prompted to say that by any means...although I would be happy to say nice things for some means--just in case anyone from Kraft is reading... : ). 

Creamy Chicken Enchilada Casserole
12 Hard taco shells, broken in halves (or use broken tortilla chips)
2 cups cooked shredded chicken (great time to use leftover rotisserie chicken)
1 can black beans, drained
1 12 oz. jar salsa verde, divided
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 container Philly Cooking Creme (plain or Santa Fe flavor) (or one 8 oz package cream cheese, softened)
1 cup French onion sour cream dip (or 1 cup sour cream)
1 cup Mexican blend shredded cheese, divided
Shredded lettuce, diced tomato, diced avocado, chopped cilantro, sour cream etc. for garnish (optional)

Lightly grease an 8x8 baking dish.  Layer half of broken taco shells in bottom of baking dish.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, combine chicken, black beans, half of salsa verde, cumin, garlic powder and chili powder.  Stir to combine and pour into baking dish on top of taco shells.  In same bowl, mix together Cooking Creme, sour cream dip, remaining salsa verde and half of shredded cheese.  Pour half of Creme mixture over top of chicken mixture, and spread evenly.  Top with remaining taco shells.  Spread remaining Creme mixture over taco shells and top with remaining shredded cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until casserole is bubbly and browned on top.  Or, if you're in a big hurry (not me, I ALWAYS plan ahead!), microwave on high until casserole is heated through (about 10 minutes) and then brown in 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mango Ginger Granola and Shortcut Greek-Style Yogurt

All I want to say about this post is that granola and Greek yogurt are two items that are pricey in the store and extremely easy and inexpensive to replicate at home.  Give these a try, you won't regret it.  They're becoming a staple in our house. Also, (as I am always the bargain-hunter) I wanted to share that the best deal on honey I've found is at Walgreens.  Every few weeks they will sell a 32 oz. bottle for $3.99 with an in-ad coupon.  Now that I've shared that, please leave some for me!  Finally, this granola would make a great edible gift for someone.  Put it in a pretty glass jar or cellophane bag and tie with a pretty ribbon.  They'll be impressed! 

Mango Ginger Granola
1/4 cup vegetable oil (canola)
1/4 cup agave syrup (or extra 1/4 cup honey)
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup chopped almonds (I just smashed whole almonds in a baggie with a rolling pin and really like the rustic texture that gave them but you can sub slivered or sliced)
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons wheat germ
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1 cup diced dried sweetened mango (can substitute other dried fruit such as raisins, cherries, apricots etc. or a combination for other varieties)

Greek yogurt for serving (see note)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Mix the oil, agave syrup, honey, cinnamon, ginger, brown sugar and vanilla in a small bowl, whisking until smooth.  In a large bowl, stir together oats, almonds, sesame seeds, wheat germ and salt.  Pour wet ingredients over dry and stir, making sure everything is evenly coated. Spread the mixture evenly over the prepared baking sheet.  Bake at 325 degrees, stirring occasionally for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove the granola from the oven and allow to cool completely.  Toss in diced mango (or other dried fruit) and sunflower seeds.  Store in an airtight container.  Serve with Greek yogurt (or milk, or over ice cream or handfuls right out of the container...).
Note on Greek yogurt: Greek style yogurt is much thicker and smoother tasting than traditional yogurt.  Until a few years ago, I had never heard of the stuff, but now it is readily available and showing up in more major brands all the time.  It's higher in protein than regular yogurt and I really love its "spoonability."  That said, Greek yogurt is a bit pricey.

You can make your own cheaper, shortcut version by buying and straining containers of regular yogurt (of course you can make your own yogurt from scratch too, but let's not get to crazy today!).

To make shortcut Greek yogurt, line a fine-meshed sieve with a cheesecloth or paper towels and place over a bowl.  Spoon regular yogurt (we usually do plain, any flavor or milk fat will do) from a large container into the lined sieve and place in the refrigerator.

Allow yogurt to sit until desired consistency (at least a couple of hours).  The extra liquid will drip into the bowl underneath and the yogurt remaining will be thick and rich.  If you let it go for more than a few hours, it will get almost as thick as cream cheese (actually called yogurt cheese and good for some uses, but probably not for eating with granola any more).  Also, you can use the leftover liquid mixed with some milk in pancake batter. 
it was a hit with the small one (as seen by his scraping the dregs...)
Granola recipe heavily adapted from Bobby Flay's Mango Agave Granola

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Mardi Gras: King's Cake

 In honor of Mardis Gras today, we put together a King's Cake: a cinnamon roll-like cake with sugary icing and traditional Mardis Gras colors: gold (for power), green (for faith) and purple (for justice). King Cake is a New Orleans tradition served after January 6th until Mardi Gras Day. The cake has a small trinket (often a small toy baby or half of a pecan, sometimes said to represent the Christ child) inside.  The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket gets to be "King for a Day" (and historically, gets to be in charge of providing the next cake, but that doesn't seem as fun).  

Celebrating Mardis Gras has not been much of a tradition in my house, but we thought this looked like a fun kid project (what kid doesn't love frosting and sprinkles?) and an opportunity to talk about the season of Lent, Christ's sacrifice for us and the joy of Easter to come! We skipped talking about how you get beads and so forth... : )

You may notice that the dough of the King's Cake is startlingly similar to the recipe for Challa.  You can use a half batch of Challa dough instead (and you can use either dough recipe to make homemade cinnamon rolls!).  There's also some shortcut hints at the end (like using packages of crescent rolls). 

Mardis Gras King's Cake
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup honey
4 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
Roughly 6  cups white unbleached flour (can substitute up to a couple cups of whole wheat flour)
small plastic toy (baby shaped) or pecan half

3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)
6-8 tablespoons butter, softened

2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-4 tablespoons milk
green, yellow and purple colored sugar or white sugar and food colors (just stir together white sugar and food color in a small bowl until desired color) for decorating

In a large bowl, combine water, yeast and honey.  Allow to sit for a few minutes (3-5) or until yeast starts to bubble and looks creamy.  Beat in eggs, and melted butter.  Once thoroughly combined, stir in salt and flour, one cup at a time, until dough is thick enough to turn out onto a floured surface.  Knead, continuing to add flour as needed, until dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticky (about five minutes).   Return to bowl, cover with a clean, damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hours).

Meanwhile, stir together all filling ingredients except for butter.  Set aside until ready to assemble.

After dough has risen, punch down and turn out onto floured surface again.  Divide dough into two equal sized chunks and roll out on a floured surface into a big rectangle (about 9x13).  Spread half of softened butter onto each rectangle.  Then, sprinkle half of filling mixture onto each rectangle of dough (kids like to help with this part a lot).  Roll lengthwise (you want long and skinny, not short and fat), jelly-roll style until you have a long tube of dough (also at this point, you can use this to make cinnamon rolls, just use a piece of string or dental floss to cut into rounds and place in a greased baking dish).  Shape into a circle or oval, pressing ends together.  Transfer to a lightly greased cookie sheet or pizza pan, cover and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45-minutes to an hour). 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until browned on the outside. If hiding a trinket or nut in the cake, cut a small slit in the side of the baked cake (on the inside of the ring) and push the prize into the cake so that it is hidden from view.

In a small bowl, mix together powdered sugar and vanilla. Add milk gradually, stirring until smooth and pourable.  Drizzle frosting over warm cake.  Immediately sprinkle with colored sugars, alternating each color. 
Note: If you're looking for a real shortcut, thaw out frozen, packaged bread dough and use as above or press together crescent rolls (you'll need 12) in a circle (long, skinny points toward the middle so it ends up looking like a bunch of slices of pizza), fill and fold the points back up and over the filling, tucking the points underneath the ring.  A great step by step tutorial: http://homecooking.about.com/od/cakerecipes/ss/kingcakesbs.htm