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.

June 9, 2010

Shredded Carrot Salad

I'm a fan of carrots.  I like 'em raw, cooked, juiced, whatever, but mainly I just munch on them raw.  I don't even bother dipping them in anything because I'm simple like that (or maybe lazy).  But once in a while it's good to switch things up. 

I read about this salad on David Lebovitz's site a while back and meant to try it.  (Note: because David lives in Paris I couldn't resist using my Cafe Paris bowl). Months later, no years, now that I look at the recipe, I finally mustered up the energy to shred carrots and chop parsley and actually make a dressing, which, honestly?  Doesn't this seem decadent for the humble carrot?  For some reason I have no trouble stretching myself to make a simple dressing for other salads, but for carrots it was another story.  It's like when a close family member or familiar friend comes to dinner--you don't fuss over the meal, but if it's a stranger coming you go all out.   

Well, the results were worth it.  It was nice to eat raw carrots with a fork for a change. Besides being notably easier to chew, the dressing and parsley brought brightness and flavor.  I decided the salad wasn't complete, however.  It needed a bit of crunch and texture, so I added roasted and salted sunflower seeds to the salad.  That did it!  I may even have added raisins for sweetness, but I knew the others that were going to eat the salad wouldn't appreciate that. 

After raving about this salad, my best friend requested it for her Memorial Day barbeque, so I doubled the recipe and pulled out the food processor to do all the shredding for me, which I don't like to use because mine is so loud that I actually need to wear earphones while operating it.  Does anyone else have this problem with their processor? 

Carrot salad is not something everyone will love.  Some people will find it strange, which I don't really get.  It's carrots, shredded in a bowl.  But I loved it.  It reminds me of a carrot salad I once had with pineapple tidbits and raisins, but with more sophistication--and prettier.  At the barbeque, because some were not sure what to do with it, the carrot salad became an alternative to cole slaw and was piled on beef brisket sandwiches.  It was tasty that way too.  Who's kidding who?  My carrot salad had been upstaged by, ahem, hot cheesy artichoke dip and guacamole.  No contest, right?  My feelings were not hurt that it was only half eaten. More for me!

Shredded Carrot Salad

7 large carrots
half bunch of flat leaf parsley
juice of 2 small or one large lemon
2 tbl olive oil
1-2 tsp sugar or liquid sweetener of choice (maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, etc.)
salt and pepper, to taste
sunflower seeds, roasted and salted (optional)

Peel and finely shred carrots.  I only have one size to my shredder, so you see a short and fat shred to my carrots, but a true carrot salad should be thin and longer, so use a fine shred if you can.  Chop the parsley fine and add to the carrots. 

Make a dressing in a small bowl by whisking together the remaining ingredients.  Toss with carrots and give it a taste.  It may need a little more salt, pepper, juice or oil according to your taste.  Adjust seasonings.  David Lebovitz suggests that the salad should be moist and glistening, not swimming in dressing. 

Sausage and Egg Cups

I'm sure I'm not the first person to come up with this idea, although I'd like to think so.  But it did occur to me of my own merit, so I'll let myself think it. 

I have a husband who, outside of meat and cheese, has a very limited scope of food, and unless I intervene, breakfast will consist of a frozen burrito, leftover pizza, even Ramen noodles.  If it's processed or packaged it is, by his definition, a top choice for breakfast.  Oatmeal, cereal, fruit...these things do not in his mind constitute food, unless to feed to farm animals.  I guess opposites attract! 

I've learned over the years not to force him to breakfast on any of the "weird health foods" that I and our children enjoy (pancakes and waffles and oatmeal are weird foods? Really?) Instead I try to tweak his favorite foods as healthily as possible.  Call it stealthy healthy.  One thing we can both agree on for breakfast is eggs and sausage or bacon, using products that are as free from additives as possible. Though they probably shouldn't be eaten overly often, these foods contain protein, and they're filling enough to keep my husband going until lunch time.

The above concoction is something he can grab in the morning and heat up, which is of utmost importance to him on a work day, and it's portion controlled.  What's of utmost importance to me is that in order to help him avoid eating processed foods, I can be true to my non-morning person persona and not have to get up extra early to cook breakfast!

Use pastured eggs or local eggs if you can find them, which will be far healthier than your average store bought egg.  This recipe is also gluten and carbohydrate free for those of you to whom that's important.  I like this as well, because I feel Americans as a whole consume far too many foods consisting of flours, to the detriment of our health, and anything we can do to cut back is nice. 

Next time I'd like to sneak in some asparagus and shredded parmesan cheese between the sausage and egg layer.  Mmmm.  There is probably no end to how you can mix up this recipe, so go ahead and create your own version.

Sausage and Egg Cups

1/2 pound ground breakfast sausage
1 dozen eggs (large work best)
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Divide the sausage into 12 pieces and spread out over the bottom and slightly up the sides of 12 muffin cups.  Put in the oven and bake for five minutes.  Take out the muffin pan.  Crack one egg over the top of each sausage patty and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Return to the oven for ten or more minutes, until the egg whites are firm.  It's important that you don't bake it so long that the yolks are dried out, as the eggs will continue to cook after they're out of the oven.  Also they will cook a bit more when they're reheated, so leave them a bit soft at the center, unless you are eating them right away and prefer them firm.

Let cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

May 21, 2010

Pancetta and Vegetables with Pasta

Originally I did not intend to add pasta to this dish, but I was making spaghetti for the kids and decided to mix some plain pasta in with the vegetables.  Mmmm.  I don't eat a lot of pasta, but it was really good and added a nice balance to the flavor and texture.  I'm always looking for new ways to make vegetables, and this one is a winner.

When I was a kid my mom would sometimes stop at farmer's markets to pick up fresh produce.  I loved going!  I would have taken some of everything if she would have allowed me to, especially in the fruit section.  I could have quite happily eaten my way through the generous mounds of berries, for instance.  Generally we'd come home with only a few items, and sometimes among them would be fresh Brussels sprouts.  I couldn't figure out why mom would want them, since I'd tried them cooked and thought they taste something like, well, garbage.  But they were so cute, like baby lettuce heads, and holding a container of them on the way home I got curious and I popped a raw one into my mouth.  I found it wasn't so bad after all, and regularly requested them from then on just so I could eat a few raw ones before they inevitably got cooked.  Now that I'm older I like cooked Brussels sprouts, especially prepared this way, with pancetta and balsamic vinegar and a companion of broccoli. 

Serves 4

Pancetta and Vegetables with Pasta

2 cups broccoli, chopped
2 cups Brussels sprouts, halved and trimmed
1 tbl. olive oil
1 tbl. butter
2 oz pancetta
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt, or, to taste
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 tbl. balsamic vinegar
1/2 pound dry spaghetti
Grated parmesan cheese, optional

In a small saucepan, steam or boil the vegetables until crisp-tender.  In a separate pot boil spaghetti noodles until al dente, then drain and set aside. 

In a skillet heat oil and saute the pancetta until browned.  Add garlic, saute a few moments longer.  Add vegetables and saute until tender and slightly browned.  Add butter, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar;  toss wtih pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve hot.

May 13, 2010

Straight-up Veggie Soup

When I had my first full-time job I didn't know how to cook yet and I was on a tight budget, so often lunch consisted of canned soup that I could heat in the microwave.  Man, how I wish I had known how simple soup is to make!  How hearty!  How delicious!  How inexpensive!  Now that I do know, I make soup all the time. My son relishes chicken noodle soup, my husband adores creamy potato soup (which I haven't shared with you all yet).  My daughter, well, she could care less about soup!  This is my new favorite soup.

This one is the easiest yet.  It's fresh, plain and simple.  It's reminiscent of canned soup but with more flavor and none of the additives.  I was a little worried I wouldn't like the tomatoes in this, but they mostly break down to give the broth a great flavor.  You may feel tempted to minestrone-ize it with pasta and beans. I can't tell you how to run your life, but I think it's perfect as is: a rich, hearty, brothy veggie soup.  Now that summer veggies are showing up at the market for reasonable prices and gardens are soon to be overflowing, there won't be a better season to make this. 

Besides, Mom always said to eat more vegetables, and this is a delicious way to stay on track.  Although, if I want my kids to eat it next time I'll have to chop the veggies up a lot smaller and serve theirs with pasta.  This time I was content that they let me have the pot to myself.

This is fantastic accompanied by sourdough bread!

Serves 6

Straight-up Veggie Soup
Adapted from "A Taste of Tradition" the Friends of St. Mary’s Russian Orthodox Church, Coaldale, PA

1 onion, chopped
2 cups green beans, fresh or frozen, cut in half
3 zucchini, chunked
1 cup celery and leaves, chopped
5 roma or 4 regular tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 package frozen chopped spinach
5 cups water
1 tbl. oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. pepper, or to taste

In a dutch oven lightly brown chopped onions in oil.  Add oregano and garlic, cook for one minute. Add
water and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil and cook 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, simmer, partially covered, for 30-40 minutes. 
Serve with lemon slices, if desired.

To be extra healthy, instead of water use a homemade chicken broth.

May 10, 2010

Marinated Chicken Stir-fry

Over the past week we've been to tropical islands, the Middle-East, and Greece.  Why not continue east?  I had no idea I was such a world traveler!  Now, I know this doesn't sound exciting.  Everyone has a recipe for stir-fry, right?  I never would have considered posting a stir-fry recipe until I made the best one I've ever pulled off.  My husband raved over it.  Raved!  If it wasn't Mother's Day weekend there is no way I would have gotten away with eating the last of it.  

I was inspired by a recipe for Asian chicken legs that I found in a newspaper.  The instructions are to marinate the legs in soy sauce, honey, garlic, and ginger, which is easy and super delicious, not to mention fragrant. But once I cooked the chicken legs the flavor wasn't strong enough because the juices mixed into it and watered it down.  I tried many times.

Recently I came across a Curtis Stone cookbook at the libary and I brought it home.  It's a gorgeous book, and I wanted to try everything in it.  It didn't hurt that there were lots of pics of Curtis Stone in it either (wink wink).  Anyway, there is a recipe in the book called Sticky Chicken Legs, and it was basically the same recipe I'd been trying to perfect, only the ones in his picture looked a thousand times better.  So I tried it.  I tried it, I really did.  To no avail.  Then I had a brilliant idea: to use the marinade with boneless/skinless chicken breasts for stir-fry!

This may seem elementary--now that I'm looking I see there are plenty of stir-fry recipes with a similar marinade--but I've never marinated my stir fry meat.  I think it has something to do with not wanting to add an extra step to the process.  But really, what was I thinking?  Of course the meat should be marinated!  The honey gives the chicken a nice brownness, and the combined flavors are so good.  Edamame is also my new favorite veggie.

Serves 4

Marinated Chicken Stir-fry

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cubed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 onion, chopped
8 oz frozen green beans, thawed
6 oz fresh or frozen edamame (shelled soybeans)
2 cups cabbage, chopped thin
1 tbl. oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbl. honey
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbl. ginger, minced

Marinate cubed chicken in the oil, soy sauce, honey, 2 cloves of the garlic, and ginger for at least one hour.  Saute in a very hot pan until chicken is no longer pink in the center.  Remove chicken from pan.  In the leftover pan juices saute the veggies, constantly stirring.  Add more soy sauce if necessary and the last clove of garlic near the end, when veggies are crisp-tender.  Return chicken to the pan, saute one minute more

Serve over rice and garnish with chopped peanuts or cashews, if desired.

May 8, 2010

Opa-style Greek Chicken with Rice

I was already making this Greek style dish when we saw on the news a report about the Greece's banking crisis.  It felt strange eating it at the same moment the Greeks were rioting at their capital.  But this dish is inspired by a fond memory.

Until recently our family lived in Miami, Florida.  We spent two years there, on South Beach actually.  It's a long story, how we got there, why we were there, but part of the reason is that three of my husband's sisters live there.  South Beach is a crazy town my friends, and if you haven't been you must go at least once.  Two blocks from our apartment was a place called Taverna Opa, a Greek restaurant where my seven year old niece begged to have her birthday party.  I knew that Opa's manager lived in my apartment building, a sharply dressed Greek man who I always seemed to be running into in the elevator (and who would not hire me as a waitress, I reminisce bitterly), but aside from this I didn't know what to expect.

When we walked in I looked around at the long wooden tables and the nicely spare decor.  I could see nothing about it that would lure a child to want to have a birthday party there.  But the food was fantastic!  Mouthwatering, in fact.  Unforgettable I say.  Everything was served family style: salads, fried cheese (saganaki), kabobs, all doused in lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. Mmmm.  I've had Greek food in numerous diners run by the Greeks back in Wisconsin.  They served Spanikopita and Souvlaki and other traditional dishes but also American fare, and all for good prices.  But at Opa's I was eating authentic all the way, and I let everyone at the table know how much I enjoyed it, then and for weeks after.

I heard a little rumor before we got there that it was acceptable to dance on the tables, and I didn't really believe it.  I mean, we were in South Beach and all, where people danced on bars regularly, but on tables?  I was proved wrong.  Right there in the middle of the long, narrow table, my niece and all the little girls dressed in princess costumes, along with their aunties, got right up on the table to dance. Then the waiters came and threw piles and piles of napkins in the air like thick confetti. 

I was a little put off.  I couldn't find my plate, those napkins were being wasted, peoples' feet were a little too close to my food.  I was happier when they moved over to the empty tables, where the kids had an absolute blast dancing and jumping from table to table (Eek!  I know that looks dangerous!  It was well supervised.)  It was chaotic fun.  To top things off a Greek belly dancer arrived to join in on the fun.  For tips, of course.  What a crazy place!  So Greek, yet so South Beach. 

I guess this dish is my tribute to Opa's fantastic authentic Greek fare and my love for Spanikopita.  I've made this many times with ground turkey and that's good as well, especially when used for a filling for stuffed peppers (heck, it's great without meat too), but I've reinvented it a bit, and the marinating makes all the difference. 

Spinach and lemon go together like love and marriage.

Opa-style Greek Chicken with Rice

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into one inch chunks
juice of one lemon, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbl. olive oil
1, 10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cups cooked brown basmati rice
salt and pepper, to taste
feta cheese, lemon slices, and chopped or slivered almonds for garnish, optional

Put the chicken in a non-reactive dish (non-plastic).  Mix with oil, half of the lemon juice, 2 cloves of garlic, and salt and pepper.  Cover and refrigerate.  Marinate for at least one hour, or up to three (any longer and the lemon juice will start to cook the chicken).  In a hot skillet saute the chicken until no longer pink in the middle, remove from pan.

In the leftover juices saute the onion and spinach and the third clove of garlic, adding more oil if necessary.  When the onion is translucent add the rice and the remainder of the lemon juice, saute for a minute more, salting and peppering to taste. 

Serve the rice and spinach, top with chicken and garnishes.

May 6, 2010

Quinoa Tabouleh, and other fun foods

Well this is a crazy name for a dish, isn't it?  Quinoa, pronounced, "keen-wa", is not your mainstream grain, but it's fast becoming popular.,  It is more of a seed, actually, and it has protein!  Tabouleh, pronounced, "ta-boo-lay", is a Middle-eastern salad using couscous that's heavy on parsley.  Surely you've heard of couscous, that tiny, grain sized pasta?  With this recipe, because couscous is a pasta and therefore made with flour, which I am currently trying to avoid, this cute little grain quinoa is its replacement.  Say it with me, "Keen-wa Ta-boo-lay", lol!  You feel like you're speaking in tongues, don't you? 

I may never have encountered tablouleh without the help of my best friend.  And to be honest, I didn't like it.  Way before either of us was married with children and she was dating this crazy guy, or shall we say, crazy-much-older-guy, he introduced her to the delights of Middle-eastern cuisine at a little place in Milwaukee called the Shahrazad. 

The Shahrazad?  That's the kind of restaurant I would have quickly walked past back in the day.  But she insisted that I had to try this amazing food, so she drove us twenty miles from our suburban haven through "the hood" and into the city near the UW-Milwaukee campus.  It is one of those trendy hipster locale wannabes with a generous helping of poor college students.  It was the East side.  I felt out of my element, and couldn't imagine that the food could be good enough to traverse twenty miles.  But if I felt out of my element in the neighborhood, just wait until I walked into the restaurant. 

Oh yeah, it was all decked out Middle Eastern style, complete with stucco walls, ceiling murals with gold border paint, and hookahs scattered throughout, which, when I asked the owner what they were, was told that they were for making tea. Very funny.

Well, my dear friend did not even need a menu, and anyway, it wouldn't have done me much good because the words were really foreign.  She ordered the sampler platter, large enough for two, and ding ding ding!  We could split the bill.  Before the platter arrived we were brought a generous basketful of fresh, hot pitas. Fresh pitas!  I was starting to like this place a lot.  Then came the platter.  Oh that platter! Thirteen separate dishes. Soon I was eagerly dipping my hot pitas into weird concoctions like hummus and baba ghanoush, and stuffing them with falafel and yogurt sauce like an old pro.  Those pitas were never-ending too! 

Needless to say the Shahrazad became a haunt of ours over the years whenever we both found ourselves in town at the same time, even though the service left something to be desired.  I even opted to have an anniversary dinner over a fancy restaurant. But I was a little disappointed when on another occasion I tried the tabouleh salad.  It was too much parsley in my opinion, and that day it seemed the salad had been sitting around for a while.  I've tried it maybe one other time since, and it was even worse at that location.  But recently I have been delving into this cookbook by Susan O'Brien, as I am actively trying to reduce my sugar and gluten intake.  I was surprised to find a bevvy of non-dessert recipes in there, including some great salads.

I don't know about you but, as much as I love salads I get bored with them if I make them too often.  Because I'm boring and can't think of new things to add to them.  But all that's changing now.  When I saw this Quinoa Tabouleh recipe and a few others, salad was redefined.  I happened to have all the ingredients but one on hand, which is unusual.  I don't usually have fresh parsley, lemons, and quinoa hanging around at the same time.  I mean, until recently parsley was that little green thing on my plate at the restaurant that I would eat just to gross out my brother when we were growing up.

I was pleasantly surprised by how good this was.  The quinoa was a great substitute for the couscous.  I am planning to make this often, and it's fantastic with added garbanzo beans to it to make it a complete meal, and I prefer it light on the tabouleh, but you can decide to add more than what I've listed.  (Don't tell anyone) I ate the whole salad for lunch.  It was so fresh and flavorful, and you can easily use your spoon as a shovel.  You will find out over time how I like to shovel things into my mouth. 

Adapted from "Gluten-free, Sugar-free Cooking" by Susan O'Brien

Serves 4

Quinoa Tabouleh Salad

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup homemade broth or water
1/2 cup carrots, grated
1 stalk celery, chopped small
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup diced cucumber
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained (optional), or two cups home cooked garbanzo beans

1/4 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup olive oil
2 tbl. minced garlic
2 tbl. chopped fresh mint (or 2 tsp. dried)--optional
salt and pepper, to taste

Mix dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.  Rinse quinoa well and place in a saucepan.  Add the broth or water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer over low heat for about 12 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed.  Turn off heat and allow to cool.

Combine carrots, celery, tomatoes, and cucumber, and beans, if using, in a large salad bowl.  Add quinoa and parsley.  Pour the dressing over the ingredients and toss well.  Season with salt and pepper.

May 5, 2010

Island Curried Soup

I wasn't sure what to call this soup. I based it off a vague memory of a recipe I once tried, and since it contains coconut milk, curry, and seafood, sunny islands were brought to mind.

So I make a lot of soups and stews. A lot. When I find myself making the same few soups over and over, I like to look for something a little exotic to mix things up.

I am new to the Seattle area. One thing I love about this area of the country is the wide availability of organics and fresh foods. So I was really excited, no--unnaturally excited, to find there was a food co-op close to my home. Whole Foods Market is a good distance away, and I have a Trader Joe's right up the street, which is fan-freaking-tastic, but sometimes you need to find an elusive ingredient that only a co-op would carry.

You know what I mean by a co-op, right? It's a local store that's run by its owners, and you can pay a yearly fee to be an "owner", kind of like buying stock, which in turn gives you access to better deals and other privileges.  There you'll find bulk flours and grains of every sort imaginable, ingredients no one else would carry or have even heard of, organics organics organics, natural products, and locally grown produce. A co-op is very much involved with local "sustainability", keeping local farmers and artisans in business.  Oh yeah, and inevitably it smells like patchouli in there, or a mixture of other incense-y aromas. Your check out girl will likely also be dressed like a gypsy with various piercings and sometimes multiple hair colors--with a big, friendly smile on her face. I. Love it.

As soon as I entered the co-op I was hit with that patchouli scent, and when I saw the gypsies (hippies, rather?) I knew I was in a good place. Anyway, long story short, I picked up a few items, but I kept walking past the produce because there was a pile of fresh kale looking me in the eye. I hadn't had kale in a long time, which is a shame because it's so hearty and healthy. I don't suppose it's widely available, or if it is I somehow don't notice it in stores. That kale was staring me down, sure enough. I knew it would make a perfect addition to this soup.

But a word about fresh kale. One must soak and rinse and soak and rinse, and repeat. There are all kinds of hiding places on those curly leaves for things you don't want to eat. So if you're fortunate enough to come across a bag of kale that is pre-washed and packaged, snap it up!  You can always saute any extras with garlic and oil on another day.

This soup is warm and creamy and so comforting, and it comes together pretty quickly. The flavors blend well together. No one ingredient stands out, which is a bit of a surprise considering that on their own many of the ingredients are strong.

You can experiment with different sea food, and I think a leek would work well in place of the onion. I was all out of cilantro, but I've included it in the recipe.  And can't you just imagine some toasted macadamias sprinkled on top?

Serves 4

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 medium onion, cut in half and into thin slices
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbl. grated ginger
1/2 of a jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (or to taste)
1 tbl. oil
1 tsp. curry powder
5 cups water
1 pound mild flavored white fish, such as cod or halibut
1 can light coconut milk
a couple of generous handsful kale, chopped and stems removed
salt and pepper to taste
chopped cilantro to garnish

Saute the sweet potato, onions, jalapeno, garlic, and ginger in oil over medium heat until the onions turn translucent. Stir in curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Add water and bring to a boil. Boil the sweet potatoes for five minutes. Add coconut milk, fish, and kale. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until kale and sweet potatos are tender. Serve hot.

May 2, 2010

Lentil Stew

I came across this recipe on the back of a bag of lentils when I was a newlywed. Lentils?, you ask, with a sickened expression (especially if you are from the Midwest). Stick with me. I was looking for a recipe that hit all the finer points, and this one did. It was cheap, it was easy, and it was healthy--a great way to sneak nutrition into my junk food loving husband. Not pretty, but deee-licious. But on our young newlywed budget, I'll be honest, 'cheap' made the strongest argument.

Maybe that's why, even though I've had some problems executing the recipe over the years, I've stuck with it until I found just the right balance.

So here was the problem:

First off, it was called, "Lentil Pilaf", and pilaf is one of those nails-on-a-chalkboard words for me. I just can't bring myself to call it that. It brings to mind a rubbery dish served in a hospital cafeteria in the 1960's by a lady with a hairnet and black horn-rimmed glasses. Un. Appetizing. So even though it is more of a pilaf, I prefer to call it "stew"(okay, so "stew" is admittedly not much better, but what can I say? It's lentils.)

My second problem with the recipe was that I could never seem to get the consistency right, even though I was using all the same measurements. I finally realized that the type of brown rice I was using had a lot to do with it.

Brown rice can be confusing to purchase. Which do you choose? There is short grain brown rice, long grain, parboiled, the this brand and the that brand. I think I've tried every type and brand on the market, and no wonder some people shy away from brown rice! Some brands taste extremely bland, others have strange textures, while still others turn out like mush.

But brown basmati? Heaven!

Brown basmati rice turns out light and flavorful, and it has this fantastic scent to it when it's cooking, not unlike white basmati rice. I think it's a perfect choice for white rice lovers to start with if they're thinking of converting to whole grains. But back to the lentils.

What will knock this recipe out of the park is a good broth. I make my own--homemade is simple and better than anything on the market. That's another post.

If you are looking to consume more complex grains, are watching carb intake, or are stearing clear of glutens or meat, Lentil Stew is compatible. And it can be altered to suit your tastes. You substitute broccoli or cauliflower for the carrots or celery or spice it up with curry powder. You could probably even add an egg or two and breadcrumbs and fry portions of it up into patties. It's one of those versatile recipes.

Depending on how you like lentils; on the firm side or soft, verging on mushy, is how you will gauge the amount of liquid you add. You can start with four cups and add more if necessary along the way. If it everything seems done and there is still excess liquid you can certainly strain it out.

Serves 8, but you can halve the sure to use around 3 cups of liquid in that case.

Lentil Stew

1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup onions, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbl. olive oil
1 tbl. butter
4 1/2 cups chicken or veggie broth
2 cups lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones
1 cup brown basmati rice
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley for garnish, optional

Saute the veggies and garlic in the oil and butter until onions start turning translucent. Add the chicken broth, lentils, rice, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Simmer for around forty minutes, stirring every now and then.

I often add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and my husband adds hot sauce.