September 19, 2010

Not your Grandma's BLT

I guess there's no way to photograph this sandwich without letting on that it's sloppy. Real sloppy, just like all the best foods in life.  And I promise you, one bite and you'll never return to the BLT as you have known it.  I present to you the BACO Sandwich, short for Bacon, Avocado, Tomato, all those lovely words with o's and a's.  There's another surprise in this baby that pulls it all together like love and marriage--cream cheese!  You probably won't believe me how over the top, toe-tingling, eyelid fluttering fantastic this is until you taste it for yourself.  With the first bite I proclaimed that it was the best thing I'd ever eaten.  Ever.  And that's a tall order, my friends. 

So it's real easy to put together, but here are some tips.  Definitely use a heavier bread (I use sprouted wheat because it makes a great toast and is easier to digest than regular bread).  Toast it well, but don't over toast.  Wonderbread does not bode well with this sammie. You need something strong enough to hold in all the fillings. Use thick slices of avocado, and make sure the avocado is ripe, but not so much that it's all mush. You still want to be able to bite into it.  On the other hand, if the avocado is too firm, you might as well not even make the BACO. 

By all means use whipped cream cheese.  It's just easier to spread, and don't skimp on it.  Use it on both slices of toast! I've tried this sammie with mayonnaise when I ran out of cream cheese, and mayo cannot even compete.  It has to be cream cheese. Last, your bacon.  I've found that the best bacon for this is neither too crispy or too flimsy, but done just right, but I'm sure it would be good anyway you cook it. 

That's it.  You just need your bacon, good toast, tomato, avocado, and cream cheese (on both sides of the bread). Pile 'em on, squish 'em together and take a shameless bite. The best thing you ever ate?  Pretty much guaranteed.

August 9, 2010

Red Salad

I'm still very much in my Nigella phase, and this is another one of her recipes.  It did not disappoint.  I'm always looking for new ways to make salads, for the obvious reason that veggies are so good for you.  Look at the pretty colors in this one!  What is so great about this salad, besides its color, is that it has amazing flavor.  Neither my husband or I could stop eating it. Nigella uses Asian flavorings in this, so it's a bit exotic, and that's what I like.  The lime juice particularly kind of "pickles" the cabbage and onions so that they are crispy but also easy to chew. 

We found this salad very refreshing, especially now in the summer season, although Nigella suggests it for the holiday season, for its redness and her use of shredded turkey in it.  I used shredded chicken, because that's what I had, but I'm sure come the holidays I'll be using turkey.  Needless to say you can omit the meat to make it a vegetarian meal, but keeping in the meat makes this an excellent main course for lunch, and though it's a little time consuming, it's simple and it makes a lot.  Fish sauce and rice vinegar can be found in the Asian section of the grocery store.  I'll list the red chilis as in the original recipe, but I didn't use them. 

I thought this salad was almost perfect, but if we're going for perfection, I think candied pecans and dried craberries take it to another level, and they are certainly perfect for the holiday season if you are serving it then.  That extra sweetness and nutty crunch...heaven!  Then again, not so sure that would go well if you choose to use the chili peppers.  Your call.

Adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson
Serves 4 as a main course, up to 8 as a side

Red Salad

 for the dressing:
2 red chilis
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons sugar or honey
3 teaspoons rice vinegar
juice of one lime, or 3 tablespoons
4 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil

for the salad:
1 red onion
approx. 8 cups finely chopped red cabbage (about 1.5 pounds)
8 oz radishes
4 cups cold cooked turkey or chicken, shredded
5 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Candied pecans and dried craberries, optional

Finely chop the chilis with or without seeds, according to how hot you like it.  Drop them in the largest bowl you have.  Mince the garlic.  Add the sugar or honey, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, and olive oil.  Peel and finely slice the red onion into half moons and add to the dressing mixture.  Allow to steep for 15 minutes, making sure they're immersed.  Grind some black pepper into it. 

Add the turkey or chicken and allow to marinate another 15 minutes.  Shred the cabbage as finely as you can and cut the radishes into 8 segments (large enough to have a nice crunchy bite).  Add all this to the bowl and mix very well.  This is my advice: allow to steep at least 10 minutes before serving.  Stir in half of the cilantro, and sprinkle the rest on top when serving.

Toss in candied pecans and dried craberries just before serving, if desired.

August 1, 2010

Make me a Pot Pie!

This week my husband and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary.  If you ask him how long we've been married, he'll tell you, "Forever, but it feels like longer!"  Such a jokester.  I decided, since we'll have to wait a while before we can formally celebrate, that we needed to celebrate our anniversary with a homemade pot pie.  Why, you ask, at the end of July, would anyone want to heat up the house making a pot pie?

It's another joke in our house.  When we first got married, and occasionally in the years after, my husband would say, "Woman, get in the kitchen and make me a pot pie!"  Don't worry, he was only kidding!  I would be the first to tell him to get it himself if he wasn't...  He was referring to those little frozen pot pies that you get in the freezer section at the grocery store.  Have you ever had one?  My mom would get them sometimes when I was little, and although there was like a cup of salt in each one, and manufactured cubes of  "turkey" that kind of turned me off, the crust was always phenomonal!  I adore pot pie crust!

I never made those frozen pies for dinner in all our thirteen years together, and I only tried making a homemade pot pie once or twice, and that was ages ago.  When I came across a pot pie recipe in the book I am currently infatuated with reading, I decided we must have pot pie.  We were not at all disappointed, and it tasted even better the next day.  Next time I make this I will fiddle around with the filling and add some sage, onions, and lessen the meat a little by adding more veggies, but the crust was beyond wonderful.  It was just like the crust I remember loving as a child.  I intend to eliminate the bottom crust next time and use a long shallow dish.  That way all the crust will go on top and get brown and flaky. Mmmmm.  

I urge you, people, to make this at least once in your life.  It is the ULTIMATE comfort food.  Creamy filling with flaky, golden crust...need I say more? 

Happy Anniversary to us!

Adapted from Feast, by Nigella Lawson

Chicken Pot Pie

For the dough:
2 cups flour
2 eggs
1 stick, plus three tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Put the flour in a shallow bowl, then add the butter, diced into cubes.  Shake it together and put into the freezer for 10 minutes.  It's this that makes the dough so pliable when rolling it out and so delicate when you eat it, so don't skip this step.  Beat one egg with a tablespoon of iced water and stick it in the fridge while the butter is in the freezer. 

Transfer the butter and flour to a food processor bowl.  (This can also be done with a standing mixer but it takes longer). Pulse until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.  Feed the chilled beaten egg down the chute while it is running, adding a little at a time until it begins to form a ball.  Stop when the dough clumps around the blades.  If you need more liquid to come to this point, add a little iced water down the chute. 

Take out the dough and make into two discs if making a pie, or keep it at one if using a larger dish.  Wrap the disc/s in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the filling.

For the filling:
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
1 chicken stock cube
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup frozen peas
2 cups cold cooked chicken, diced
1 cup cold cooked ham, diced
(or just 3 cups cold cooked chicken if not using ham)
salt and pepper, to taste

*if you wish to use stock instead of a cube, decrease milk by half a cup and use a half cup of chicken stock)

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, then whisk in bouillon cube and flour.  If using liquid stock, add this after the milk.  Off the heat add the milk a little at a time, whisking to a smooth paste.  When all the milk is added, put back on the heat, turn up to medium or med/high, but don't actually let it boil fiercely, and stir or whisk constantly for a few minutes to get rid of the starch in the flour and make a really thick sauce.  Do not stop stirring at any time, but you may want to turn down the heat.

Mix in remaining ingredients.  Cover the sauce and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and slip a baking sheet in the oven. Roll out the dough.  If you're using a bottom crust, roll out to fit the bottom of your pie plate.  Pour the filling over crust, or into a greased oblong baking dish.  Roll out crust and fit to the top, fluting the edges to seal with a fork.  If there is any leftover dough, use it to make shapes and decorations. 

Beat the remaining egg for the glaze and paint it on the crust.  Vent in the center with a little cross.  Put the dish in the oven on top of the preheated baking sheet.  Bake 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown.

July 28, 2010

Enchilada Pie

Oh my!  This was divine, so divine I made it three times in one week.  My husband always jokes he was born a Mexican because he adores Mexican food (in reality he's preeetty white).  I was having one of those days where I needed to go grocery shopping but couldn't go for a couple more days.  I think I may have Googled corn tortillas and found a recipe like this one, but I don't remember.  I do remember being inspired by a recipe from somewhere.... Anyway, it's our new favorite breakfast, lunch, or dinner entree.

I had in the fridge a large bag of shredded cheese, lots o' salsa, sour cream, and some corn tortillas that had been sitting around far too long.  The first time I made this I used up some cooked chicken, and truth be told I liked that even better, but I ran out of chicken.  Luckily I had a bag of dried black beans that I soaked and cooked and was able to put them to good use here, and I was able to stretch my trip to the grocery store for even longer. 

So here is the "method".

Enchilada Pie "Method"

1. Line the bottom of a baking dish with corn tortillas (I think I used 3-4 per layer in small square pan)
2. Cover this mixture with salsa.
3. Add a layer of ricotta cheese, or sour cream, or plain yogurt, or any combo of those.
3. Add cooked chicken or beans to cover (around one cup for a small pan)
4. Apply a nice layer of shredded cheese (around one cup)
5. Repeat steps 1-4.
6. Cover with aluminum foil.
7. Bake in a 375 degree oven, oh, for about 20 minutes. 
8. Remove foil and bake about another 20 minutes.

July 23, 2010

Buttermilk Pancakes!

I am telling you what--nothing beats a good pancake.  Sure, you can have oatmeal for breakfast, or an omelette, or bacon, and those are all great, but pancakes are in a league of their own if done right. 

I've had a lot of pancakes before I finally found "the one".  I'm talking fluffy, tender, flavorful, comforting, foolproof, and healty.  You will swear off box mixes forever.

Really, I'm surprised box mixes are still on the market. I know I know, they're so easy, you say.  Honey, throwing together some pancakes without the mix means taking like one or two extra steps, and for all the flavor you get with that little bit of extra trouble, throw that white, gluey, processed mess away!  I was given a large box of pancake mix by someone, and although I never buy the stuff, I thought maybe it shouldn't go to waste.  I made a batch for the kids and they would not touch it!  I had a bite and understood why.  Ick. If all you've ever used is that you really don't know what you're missing.

I make a few different types of pancakes--regular, buttermilk, and buckwheat, and I can't wait to try the recipe for Pear and Buckwheat Pancakes from the book, Good to the Grain, but this recipe is really the family favorite in our house. Another reason I wanted to post these is I learned a little secret from the Good to the Grain book about a pancake topping made of just butter and honey, as pictured at left.  I think maple syrup may have lost its place for me.  This is so good!  It's butter and it's honey but when they mix together they make their own flavor that's earthy and sweet but not heavy or overly sweet.  Kind of like toffee? Definitely use good butter if you're going to do this; it makes a difference.  Two great brands: Organic Valley Pasture Butter and Kerrygold Irish Butter.  Each of them is made with cream from cows that actually eat grass like they are meant to, instead of being fed a "feed".  It makes all the difference in flavor and nutrition. 

I must try Sticky Toffee Pancakes from Feast by Nigella Lawson.  Doesn't that sound like it would make your day? 

I adapted this recipe from an older Betty Crocker publication that somehow ended up in my hands (Mom, did I steal it from you when I moved out?)  I have to say, anything I've ever made out of that book has been spot on.  I almost always use half whole grain flour like in the pics, but you can use all plain flour too, or even all whole grain.

Makes 10-12 medium pancakes

Buttermilk Pancakes

1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour (or 1/2 cup whole grain flour, 1/2 cup all-purpose) 
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

(The healthiest way to prepare these is to soak the flours in the buttermilk overnight.  Just mix'em together and let it sit at room temperature, covered, overnight.  The buttermilk will break down all those components in the flour that make it difficult to digest, and a further bonus is it makes the nutrients in it more accessible to your body.  If it's your first time doing this you might want to soak half the flour in the buttermilk, then when you're ready to make the pancakes add the rest of the flour together with the remaining ingredients.  This way the texture is more like what you're used to in a pancake.)

If you are not going to soak the flour overnight, just throw everything into a bowl and whisk until smooth (or put it in the blender).  Sometimes I pre-measure all the dry and wet ingredients in different bowls the night before so it's all measured out for the morning (minus the melted butter, but you could substitute oil if you want to pre-measure).

It's a good idea to let the batter sit and rest, at least for a half hour if you can handle waiting.  Melt a pat of butter in a skillet on medium to medium high, then pour in or ladle in the batter. Allow to cook until bubbles appear throughout the pancakes, then flip over and cook for about another minute.

Meanwhile if you want to do a butter-honey topping, melt equal parts butter and honey in a small saucepan, then heat until boiling.  Cook a couple of minutes and it's ready to pour over your hot pancakes!  Yum.

July 3, 2010

Crustless Leek Quiche

When I was sixteen I had my first taste of quiche.  It was the real deal, and I had it in Paris!  I was on my way to a small village in the center of France where I would be spending nearly the next four weeks with an exchange family assigned by the student exchange organization. 

Unfortunately this program, in order to save money, had a group of over 100 students changing airports mulitiple times, causing layovers like crazy, so that by the time we touched ground in Paris, I'd been traveling for about 20 hours non-stop.  I'd been begun in Milwaukee, changed flights in Detroit, on to LaGuardia, where we then took a bus to JFK International to gather together all the students from around the US.  We then flew to literally the middle of nowhere in New Foundland, where we supposedly refueled for the journey over the Atlantic.  Before reaching Paris we dropped off exchange students in Madrid.

At our hotel we were served quiche.  I was already disappointed that whichever airport we were in was far enough out of town that we could see nothing of Paris, and now quiche.  Imagine a large group of travel-weary American teenagers sitting down to a dinner of quiche.  Our first culture shock.  I can't say my first taste of quiche was favorable.  Not only was it out of my element, but it was gummy, and hey, it was eggs in a pastry crust.  Why would anyone want to eat eggs in a pastry crust?  I just wanted a hamburger.

In my tiny hotel room, where I'd been assigned a chatty roommate and four hours to sleep, I lay in the dark trying to catch at least a nap, but no sleep would come as I worried about meeting my host family.

Fast forward, I've made it to the home of my host family, though I had my doubts I'd make it alive after driving so fast in their tiny "tin car". They have been so kind as to make me dinner as I try to settle in.  I don't have the command of the language to tell them that I've been awake for over 24 hours, and all I want to do is go to bed, so I politely sit down to dinner, where awaiting me is, you guessed it, a quiche. 

I have been instructed by the exchange student organization not to be impolite by refusing food.  My host sister has made the quiche herself, and I can see she is proud, so I accept a large piece.  Luckily that was my last quiche while in France.  It was better than the one I'd had in the hotel, but I still could not appreciate it.  It would be several years before I could appreciate quiche, and now I wonder what I could have been thinking.

This is, as named above, a crustless quiche. Why crustless?  Several reasons.  One, I'm a simple sort of girl who likes to cut down on steps in the cooking process, and if I'm being honest with myself, if I had to make pastry crust as part of the dish I'd never make quiche.  Two, my body does not process grains well and I look to avoid them in most of my food, and three, it's really tasty, even without the crust! 

The leeks add a soft sweetness that pairs well with the creaminess of the quiche.  If you've never used leeks before, you'll love the tenderness and flavor!  You can use most of the green portion, but use your judgment as to when to stop based on how tough it gets as you go up.  I encourage use of crumbled bacon in this if you have it on hand.  I used a cheddar/jack cheese combo, but I'm sure the traditional cheese would be gruyere.

Crustless Leek Quiche

serves 6, or 4 generously

6 eggs
2/3 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese
1 LARGE leek, chopped and rinsed of any grit between layers
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Chop and rinse leeks, then saute in butter until soft, salting to taste.  In a bowl, beat the eggs and milk together until well combined.  Stir in cheese, leeks, and salt and pepper to taste.  Pour into a greased square or round baking dish.  Bake at 350 degreees F for about 30 minutes, or until set.  Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

June 16, 2010

Honey-nut Pears

There are some recipes that aren't recipes at all. Like this one. My aunt is a subscriber to a few magazines, and when I lived near her she would sometimes clean house and bestow her ageing collection of magazines on me. One of her subscriptions is a Martha Stewart publication, I think Everyday is the name. I would look forward to these the most for their beautiful photography and delicious recipes. When I saw the recipe card for this one I couldn't help but want to try it, even though I'm not a fan of pears.

Pears are strange for me. I only like them when they are at a specific stage of ripeness. They have to be not too firm but not too soft. When they're firm the texture is unpleasant, and when they're too soft I find them too juicy, and the flesh takes on a strange texture on my tongue. I also don't like how they brown and bruise so easily. But with this dish I find it's best to use a riper pear, because the juice mixes with the honey to form a sweet, syrupy sauce, and the flesh yields nicely against a spoon. The nuts are a wonderful, crunchy, contrast to the soft pear. It doesn't taste like pears and walnuts and honey, but a decadent dessert.

I find a bit of black pepper adds a nice compliment to the flavors, but that's certainly optional.

Honey-nut Pears

1 ripe pear

A handful of toasted walnuts or pecans


Black pepper (optional)

Cut the pear in half and scoop out the seeds and the vein that runs to the stem. Fill the indentation with toasted nuts and squeeze desired amount of honey over top. If desired, sprinkle with black pepper and accompany with a scoop of plain yogurt.