Monday, December 26, 2011

Finnish Mustard

It's no secret how much I love mustard.  Over the past three years I've pretty much professed my undying love for the golden-hued sauce of joy.  So, it should come as no surprise that I chose Tessa Kiros' Finnish Mustard to top my Christmas ham.  We all know that ham just begs for mustard.  They belong together.  Kinda like peanut butter and jelly. 

Finnish Mustard
Adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros
Makes 1-1/3 cups

Tessa says, "We almost always had a jar of this in the house:  my mother loves her mustard.  This is wonderful - so quick to make and it will keep well for a few weeks in a glass jar in the fridge.  You could find it becomes essential for cold meat sandwiches or roast ham and with smoked sausages and gravlax.  I imagine it would be nice with any mustard powder you use, but this is the way my mother always makes it."

1/3 cup hot English mustard powder 
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
juice of half a lemon

Mix the mustard powder, sugar, and salt together in a bowl, squashing out the lumps with a wooden spoon.  Put in a small saucepan over low heat with the cream, oil, vinegar, and lemon juice, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring often, then remove from the heat when it darkens and thickens.  Stir now and then while it cools and then pour into glass jars.  Store it in two shorter jars rather tha a tall jar where it will be difficult to reach the last bit of mustard with a spoon,  Keep in the fridge.
Theme: Winter Wonderland

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all of you a Very Merry Christmas! I hope you have a safe, healthy, and happy holiday.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Unique and Delicious Banana Bread

You know how you make a recipe with no intention at all of posting it and sharing it?  That's the case with this recipe.  I'd been craving banana bread and I had plenty of ripe bananas on my hands so I set about making Tessa's recipe for banana bread. 

I noticed a few unique things while making the bread.  First, the recipe didn't call for any white sugar, only brown sugar.  Second, the recipe called for mixing the baking soda into the warm milk...something I'd never heard of at all.  I wondered if Tessa's variations would yield any differences in the final product and boy did they ever.  This is probably the best looking banana bread I've ever made.  It rose wonderfully in the oven.  Not only was this a good looking loaf of bread, it was utterly delicious.  Everyone who tried this bread ended up exclaiming "Wow, that is some great banana bread."  They all had two slices, myself included. 

If you're a fan of banana bread or if you have ripe bananas on your hands, then I really urge you to try this recipe.  It's tender, fragrant with spices, and just plain fantastic when served warm with a little butter.  This will be my new go to banana bread recipe.

Banana Bread
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Serves 10 or so

Tessa says, "This is my schoolfriend Alexia's recipe:  Her mom was a fantastic cook and she always made this.  It is a healthy snack or breakfast and an excellent way to use up bananas that otherwise might be on their way out.  I always end up making this because bananas in my house just never keep the pale waxy complexion that they have in the shops.  For some reason, they start deteriorating the minute they come home with me.  You can add some chopped walnuts or hazelnuts, too, and some cinnamon.  Serve it on its own, or even lightly buttered and with your favorite jam."

1/4 pound plus 1 tablespoon butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 or 4 medium ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
salt (a good pinch)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons warm milk

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a 12 by 4-inch loaf pan.

Cream the butter and sugar until smooth and then whisk in the mashed bananas.  Add the eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, and a pinch of so of salt and whisk in well.  Sieve the flour and baking powder and beat until smooth.  Mix the baking soda into the milk and stir into the batter.

Scrape the mixture into the panand bake for about 50 minutes, until the bread is crusty on the top and a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean.  Turn out onto a rack to cool

Serve warm or cold, plain or toasted with butter, but allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container, where it will keep well for several days.

Note: I mixed the batter for the bread by hand in a mixing bowl.  I did not use any type of mixer at all.
Theme: Holiday Goodies

Monday, December 19, 2011

Southern Living's Cover Recipe: King Ranch Chicken Mac and Cheese

There are exceptions to every rule.  Take this macaroni and cheese for example.  It contains Velveeta and a can of cream of chicken soup, neither one of those ingredients are something I normally buy or cook with.  But, and this is a big but, this macaroni recipe was the cover recipe of Southern Living's new January issue and it totally stole my heart as soon as I saw it.  I immediately added the ingredients to my grocery list and resolved to make it.

When I came home from the grocery store it was too dark to make this dish (gotta keep the pictures in mind).  So, I set about making it the very next day and I was so pleased.  The macaroni is extremely creamy, quite spicy (from the chiles and added spices), and very substantial with the added chicken.  It was easy to put together and I think it looks stunning served in a cast iron skillet.  If you want to indulge yourself I say go for it.  There are definitely worse things you can put in your mouth.  As for me, I'm sure I'll be fighting myself to keep from making this again.  It was so worth it!

King Ranch Chicken Mac and Cheese
Adapted from Southern Living January 2012 Issue
Serves 6

1/2 (16 oz. pkg) pasta cooked al dente (I used shells)
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 (10 oz. ) can diced tomatoes and green chiles (a can of Rotel works great)
1 (8 oz.) Velveeta, cubed
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 (10 3/4 oz) can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup sour cream (I used 1/2 cup milk)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1-1/2 cups (6 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add onion and bell pepper, and saute 5 minutes or until tender.  Stir in tomatoes and green chiles and cubed Velveeta; cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes o until cheese melts.  Stir in chicken, next 4 ingredients, and hot cooked pasta until blended.  Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 11 x 7 inch baking dish; sprinkle with shredded Cheddar cheese.

Bake at 350F for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly.

I'm not being compensated or encouraged to say this, but I want to take this opportunity to mention that the January issue of Southern Living is a real winner.  It's loaded with all kinds of comfort food dishes and I've bookmarked so many to try (most of them do not call for Velveeta or canned soups).  My Mom actually stole my copy and took it to work to make copies.  Definitely take a few minutes to look through it when you're at the grocery.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

An Ina Garten Breakfast

This morning was cause for a celebration.  No more work for my husband.  No more school for the kids.  No more hectic running around to concerts, school parties, or even shopping malls.  A couple weeks of downtime is just what we need right now.  So, to settle in for a nice break I made Ina's Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits, as well as her Country French Omelet.  It was a little more laborious than my normal weekend breakfast, but also a little more special....and well worth it.

Ina's Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits are really fluffy and fantastic, with lots of flaky layers and great cheddar flavor, but they are really huge.  Instead of making 8 larger than life biscuits you could easily make 16 regular-sized biscuits (especially if you're serving children and other small eaters).  

Note:  The directions below indicate to make your biscuit dough with a mixer.  I've never heard of making biscuit dough in the mixer so I chose to make the dough by hand, cutting the butter in with a pastry blender, being careful not to overmix, and making sure my dough (mainly the butter) stayed cold.  I've included Ina's directions below for those who feel more comfortable with a mixer.
Buttermilk Cheddar Biscuits
Adapted from Back To Basics by Ina Garten
Serves 8 (or can easily be cut to serve 16)

All-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup cold buttermilk, shaken (I used whole milk with great results)
1 cold extra-large egg
1 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar 
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place 2 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  With the mixer on low, add the butter and mix until the butter is the size of peas.

Combine the buttermilk and egg in a small glass measuring cup and beat lightly with a fork.  With the mixer still on low, quickly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and mix only until moistened.  In a small bowl, mix the Cheddar with a small handful of flour and, with the mixer still on low, add the cheese to the dough.  Mix only until roughly combined.

Dump out onto a well-floured board and knead lightly about six times.  Roll the dough out to a rectangle 5 x 10 inches.  With a sharp, floured knife, cut the dough lengthwise in half and then across in quarters, making 8 rough rectangles.  Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (I didn't use parchment.  I just buttered my baking pan).  Brush the tops with the egg wash, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the biscuits are cooked through.  Serve hot or warm. 

Country French Omelet
Adapted from Back to Basics by Ina Garten
Ina says this serves 2 (it could easily serve 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup (1-inch-diced) unpeeled Yukon Gold potatoes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch ovenproof omelet pan over medium heat.  Add the bacon and cook for 3-5 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is browned but not crisp.  Take the bacon out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate.

Place the potatoes in the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Continue to cook over medium-low heat for 8- 10 minutes or until very tender and browned, tossing occasionally to brown evenly.  Remove with a slotted spoon to the same plate with the bacon.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, beat the eggs, milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together with a fork.  After the potatoes are removed, pour the fat out of the pan and discard.  Add the butter, lower the heat to low, and pour the eggs into the hot pan.  Sprinkle the bacon, potatoes, and chives evenly over the top and place the pan in the oven for about 8 minutes, just until the eggs are set.  Slide onto a plate, divide in half (or fourths), and serve hot.
Here's to lots of lazy days!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Garlic and Black Pepper Broccoli Gratin

I love broccoli.  My husband and kids....not so much. I normally get upset when my family refuses to eat certain foods, but in the case of broccoli....I don't mind at all.  That bubbly, cheesy, golden gratin up there was all mine. It sure is nice not to share sometimes.

In my opinion, broccoli calls for garlic so I took a basic recipe for broccoli gratin and added lots of garlic and of black pepper.  I love potatoes and all, but this broccoli gratin really blows any potato gratin out of the water.  I enjoyed  this 10 times better than your traditional au gratin potatoes. I think this would be a terrific holiday side dish.              

Garlic and Black Pepper Broccoli Gratin
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Serves 4

Garlic & Black Pepper Bechamel Sauce:
3-1/2 tablespoons butter
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups milk, warmed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

4-1/2 cups broccoli florets

Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a 4-cup shallow ovenproof dish that is suitable to take directly to the table.  To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Add in the minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, then begin adding the warm milk.  It will be immediately absorbed, so work quickly, whisking with one hand while adding ladlefuls of milk with the other.  When the sauce seems to be smooth and not too stiff, add salt and pepper, and continue cooking even after it comes to a boil, for 5 minutes or so, mixing all the time.  It should be a very thick and smooth sauce.  Take the sauce off the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese (reserving some or grating extra for the top).  Set sauce aside.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil, and cook the broccoli for a few minutes until it has softened a little but is still bright green.  Lift broccoli out with a slotted spoon, letting the water drain off, and put it in the baking dish.  (Save the broccoli water for cooking rice or pasta, or adding to a roast instead of water).

Place the sauce over the broccoli, leaving some florets still showing.  Top with additional Parmesan cheese, and a little more black pepper.  Bake for about 30 minutes and then serve hot.  If necessary, broil for a minute or two to lightly brown the top.

Theme: Potluck

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kokkinisto (Reddened)

 This recipe, otherwise known as Kokkinsto or Reddened, is a fantastic Greek version of Pot Roast that is flavored with red onion, red wine, tomatoes and a pinch of cinnamon. It is simply outstanding.  Quite possibly one of my favorite Tessa Kiros recipes that I've tried so far.  Of course, I will tell you that I'm really partial to any variation of pot roast, so I'm probably a bit biased.  

There are a few things that set this dish apart from your standard pot roast.  First, the roast is cut into 6 slices and each slice is browned until golden.  I gotta say it.  This is brilliant.  Instead of browning and seasoning an entire roast, you brown and season each individual slice resulting in perfectly seasoned meat.  Additionally, each slice held up to the cooking and made for a really nice presentation when serving.  No worries about trying to slice a roast afterwards! 

Next up is the red wine and tomatoes.  They create a deep rich flavor and after cooking away in the oven for 3 hours the tomatoes get all jammy.  Lastly, is the cinnamon.  It's just a pinch, but just enough to deepen the flavor and contribute some complexity to the dish.  We're talking flavorful, tender, and deeply satisfying.  And, to top it all off, Tessa suggests serving the roast with pasta or french fries, which is definitely a break from the standard mashed potatoes.

So, if you're looking for a different way to serve up roast this season then I highly suggest making this recipe.  It's fantastic!  A huge thanks to my friend Michelle of Ms. en Place for pointing this recipe out.
  Kokkinisto (Reddened)
Adapted from Food From Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros
Serves 4-6

Tessa says, "This is called Reddened because, quite simply, the meat is cooked in a tomato sauce.  Simple meats like this with tomato, and the lemonato on the opposite page, are very popular standard food in Greece.  They would be served with some pasta on the side, or with french fries, which I love.  The fries in Greece often get an unusual sprinkling of cheese, which is wonderful and casual."

6 tablespoons olive oil
6 (9-ounce) slices beef for stewing (I used a 4lb. chuck roast)
1 large red onion, chopped
1/2 cup red wine
14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (I used about 1/4 teaspoon)
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
freshly ground black pepper
3 thyme sprigs 

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven and fry the beef until deep golden on both sides.  Salt each side as it's done.  Remove the beef and set aside.  Add the rest of the olive oil (3 tablespoons) and saute the onion until softened.  Add the wine and cook until it has almost evaporated.  Add the crushed tomatoes and the paste, the cinnamon and parsley, and season with a little salt and black pepper.  Bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes, smoothing out any big bits of tomato with a wooden spoon.  Scrape over the beef.  Fill the tomato can with water and add this to the pot. Add the thyme, cover with the lid and bake for about 2 hours, turning the meat a couple of times.  Add an extra 1/2 cup of water, then bake for 30 minutes more.  At the end of this time, the beef should be very tender and the sauce thick and jammy but abundant.  If necessary, add a little hot water toward the end.  Remove from the oven and serve.

Note:  I cooked my roast for 2 hours covered and realized that the sauce wasn't getting as jammy as I'd like it to.  I removed the lid and cooked it for at least another hour and the sauce did achieve a jam-like consistency.  Next time I might cook the roast uncovered for the entire time and see what happens.

Theme: A Study in Scarlet

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Throwdown: Smothered Pork Chops

My husband has quite a few favorite dishes, but his all-time favorite meal is pork chops with macaroni and cheese.  He's told me several times this meal would be his last supper.  So, when I saw this recipe for Smothered Pork Chops in the latest Food Network magazine I knew I had to try it. 

After a day of working outside in the cold I decided to indulge my husband with a Smothered Pork Chop Dinner.  I bought four 1" - 1&1/2" thick cut pork chops. Upon looking at the sheer size of my pork chops I started to question cooking them on the stovetop as the recipe suggested.  That's when the idea for a Throwdown came to mind.  I immediately decided to cook two chops on the stovetop simmered in the gravy and two chops seared stovetop and pan roasted in the oven.

Pork Chops Cooked Stovetop:  A little softer and paler in color. Completely smothered in gravy.
   Smothered Pork Chops
Pan Roasted vs. Cooked Stovetop
Adapted from Food Network Magazine December 2011 Issue
Serves 4

4 bone-in center cut pork chops (about 1 inch thick)
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped (I omitted this)
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup buttermilk (I used regular milk)

If pan roasting chops preheat oven to 350F.

Sprinkle the pork chops all over with salt and the Cajun seasoning.  Pour the flour into a shallow bowl.  Dredge the chops in the flour, turning to coat, and tap off any excess.  Reserve the remaining flour.  

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chops; cook until browned, 2-3 minutes per side.  Transfer to a plate. 

Add the butter, onion, thyme, and a pinch of salt to the skillet.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.  Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved flour to the skillet and cook, stirring, 1 minute.  Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil and cook until reduced by one-third, about 2 minutes.

If cooking pork chops on the stovetop (in the gravy): Add the buttermilk (or regular milk) and return the chops to the skillet.  Bring the sauce to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the sauce is thickened and the chops are just cooked through, 10-12 minutes. 

If pan roasting the pork chops:  Continue to make the gravy by adding the buttermilk (or regular milk) to the pan you seared the chops in.  You will need another oven safe pan to pan roast the chops in (preferably cast iron).  Season the oven safe pan with about 1- 2 teaspoons of olive oil, add the pork chops, and place in the oven (uncovered) for about 30 minutes.  Remove from the skillet, top with the gravy, and serve.
Pan Roated Pork Chops: Slightly golden and seared on the edges with crispy bits.  Not completely smothered, but instead topped with gravy.

The Results:  I definitely think the pan roasted version of these pork chops was superior for several reasons.  The pan roasted pork chops had slightly seared golden brown edges and we really loved topping them with the gravy instead of having the pork chop swimming in the gravy.  Pan Roasting the pork chops was easier, took only 30 minutes, and the pan was much easier to clean up.  I also think when you pan roast you lock in the moisture and end up with a juicier end product.  I personally find that I'm much less likely to overcook my meat when I pan roast as opposed to other methods. 
The stovetop version tasted very similar and was really delicious.  However, since the pork chops were cooked in the gravy they didn't have as much texture.  Additionally, cooking the pork chops on the stovetop took about 45 minutes to an hour (much longer than the pan roasted version) and cleaning the pan was just about impossible. 
Both versions were delicious, but we did prefer the pan roasted version and would alter the recipe to make them this way again.  

Which one do you think you would prefer?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sausage Gravy over Cannellini Bean Puree

For awhile now I've been thinking about all the recipes that I make off the cuff.  Staple dishes that I create in my own kitchen that have become favorites and can be relied on again and again.  Often times these are my very best dishes and yet I never think to post them and I have no idea why.

This recipe, which we call Sausage Gravy, is a real family favorite and happens to be one of my favorite things to eat.  Basically is it a version of sausage with peppers and onions, but instead of keeping the peppers and onions visible and firm, I cook them down with some form of liquid (chicken stock, beef stock, tomato juice, etc.) until the peppers and onions melt into a deeply rich and flavorful gravy of sorts.  Sometimes I follow the same guideline while other times I throw in all kinds of things, depending on what I have on hand. 

Sausage Gravy is something we eat at least once a month, if not more.  If I haven't had a chance to plan my menu and I need something quick that I can grab in the store in a jiffy then I'll grab a pack of sausage and be on my way.  Most often we serve our Sausage Gravy with pierogi.  Other times we serve it with potatoes, pasta, or polenta. 

As a bean lover I will tell you that I am quite disappointed in myself that it took me this long to pair beans with my Sausage Gravy.  However, once I chose the Cannellini Bean Puree as my recipe for IHCC I knew there was only one thing that would pair perfectly with it:  My Sausage Gravy.  I actually had a visual in my mind of a decadent and creamy white bean puree with a deeply hued dark and rich Sausage Gravy sitting on top and I was so obsessed I could think of nothing else.  I just imagined it as the perfect plate of food...and it was.  
 Sausage Gravy
Created in the Stirring the Pot Kitchen
Serves 4

1 pack good Italian sausages (Johnsonville has 5 per pack)
1 medium onion, sliced
1 bell peppers, sliced
1 tablespoons olive oil
2-4cloves of garlic, minced
About 4-6 cups chicken stock/beef stock/diced or crushed tomatoes 
Possible Add In's: Tomatoes, Jalapenos, Zucchini, Red Pepper Flakes

In a large skillet (preferably cast iron)  place about 1 tablespoon of oil and sear the sausages over medium heat until they reach a golden brown color, or deep dark color (whichever you prefer).  Remove the browned sausages to a plate (adding more oil to the pan if necessary) and saute the onion and pepper until they begin to soften.  Add in the garlic and place the sausages back in the pan with the onions and peppers and begin adding your liquid about 1/2 cup at a time (beef broth, chicken broth, and/or diced or crushed tomatoes).  As the onions and peppers begin to melt into the liquid a thick sauce will start to form.  When the liquid starts to cook out and the sauce becomes to thicken, add another 1/2 cup of sauce, making sure to scrap all the goodies off the bottom of the pan and incorporate them into the sauce.  Repeat this process over and over, cooking the sausages for about a total of 20 minutes, or until they are cooked through and the sauce has the desired consistency you want (sometimes we enjoy the sauce thin and sometimes we like it thicker, depending on what we are serving it with).  Serve on it's own or over pierogi, potatoes, pasta, polenta, beans or Cannellini Bean Puree.

 Cannellini Bean Puree
Adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros
Serves 6 - 8 as a side dish

2 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked in cold water overnight
1 small carrot
1 small celery stalk
1 small onion
3 or 4 fresh/dried sage leaves
1/2 cup olive oil (I used a scant 1/4 cup and it was too much)
2-3 garlic cloves, lightly crushed with the flat of a knife
2 small springs of rosemary

Drain the soaked beans and put them in a large saucepan (I used my Dutch oven).  Cover with cold water and bring to a boil.  Remove the scum that rises to the surface with a slotted spoon and decrease the heat slightly.  Add the whole carrot, celery, onion, and sage leaves.  Cook for about 1-1/4 hours, or until the beans are tender.  Remove the beans from the heat and remove as much of the carrot, celery, onion, and sage bits as you can manage.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a saucepan with the garlic, rosemary springs, and some ground black pepper.  Heat until the oil is is well-flavored and you can smell the garlic and rosemary, taking care that they don't burn.  Let cool. 

Drain the beans, reserving the water.  Puree the beans and about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of the bean water in a blender or with a handheld mixer directly in the saucepan.  You should have a very smooth, thick, puree that is not too dense.  If it seems to be too liquid, put it back over the heat in a saucepan to thicken a bit, stirring all the time.  Season to taste and serve warm, drizzled with the flavored oil.
(Note: Take care when drizzling the oil over the bean puree.  My hand slipped and I ended up pouring a bit too much over my beans.  Secondly, I don't think you need all of the oil called for in the recipe.)
Theme: Bean There, Done That!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Baked Butternut Squash

 Sometimes I think the key to hosting any holiday dinner is doing as much of the work as possible leading up to the actual holiday.  Believe me when I tell you that I'm not an organized person at all, but I've learned from many years of experience that organization around the holidays is a must.   So to minimize any nasty surprises, I like to be ultra-prepared.  This includes getting out all my serving dishes and place settings days before.  Then, I make an obsessive-compulsive looking grocery list (you definitely don't want to be without a key ingredient on Thanksgiving day). Lastly, and most importantly, I like to prepare as much of the feast as I can leading up to the actual day. I am so thankful for those dishes that stand up well and can be made the day ahead.

This baked butternut squash was one of the dishes that really held up well to being reheated in the oven the next day.  It was a beautiful and colorful addition to our holiday table and was one of the dishes that received the most compliments.  Everyone loved the fact that the squash was cut into wedges or spears.  They raved about how creamy and sweet it was.  I thought the squash was a wonderful contrast to everything else on my plate.  It really stood out on it's own. I would give this a spot on my table any time of year.
Baked Butternut with Butter & Sugar
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Serves 6-8

3-1/2 tablespoons butter
2-1/4 pounds unpeeled butternut squash
1/4 to 1/3 cup light brown sugar
4 tablespoons water
 2 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 350F and generously butter the bottom of a large round ovenproof dish with some of the butter.  Peel the butternut by first cutting it in half, then scooping out the seeds with a spoon (save the seeds to toast in the oven for a snack).  Cut the squash into long slices that are about an inch thick.  Using a small sharp knife, carefully cut away the skin, keeping the shape of the squash slices and taking care that you don't cut yourself, as the skin is hard.  You should have about 1-1/2 pounds of butternut.

Scatter some of the sugar over the bottom of the dish and then lay the butternut slices flat, in a single layer.  Scatter the rest of the sugar over the top, dot with the rest of the butter, and sprinkle with a little salt.  Pour 4 tablespoons of water around the side and add the bay leaves.  Put into the oven for about 1 hour or until the butternut is soft and golden, even dark in places, and there is some thick golden juice bubbling away at the bottom.  Spoon the pan juices over the squash a couple of times during the cooking - if it looks a little too dry, add a dribble more water.  Serve warm.  If you aren't serving it immediately, then reheat it gently so that the butter melts again.

Theme: Attitude of Gratitude

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Slow Cook Book Recipe # 2: Mexican Meatballs

So it's Thanksgiving week and you're busy shopping, prepping, and cooking all things Thanksgiving.  With so much focus on the Thanksgiving preparation it's really hard to fit in and focus on the meals leading up to Thanksgiving.  I don't know about you, but I don't want to be eating fast food or frozen pizzas leading up to the big day.  I still want to eat a home cooked meal, but I want it to be something that doesn't burn me out on cooking before the big day arrives. 

I have two solutions to the Thanksgiving week cooking dilemma.  First, get out the slow cooker.  It's your friend, especially at times such as this. Next, pick a recipe(s) and make a big batch so that you have enough for the next night and you can skip cooking for a day or so.

Over the weekend I made these Mexican Meatballs which can easily be reheated and served over rice, pasta, in sandwiches, etc.  Tonight I'm going to be making a big batch of taco meat for tacos and a huge pan of Mexican rice and refried beans.  The idea is that I'll have dinner for tonight and tomorrow so that I can focus my energy on cleaning, Thanksgiving prep work, baking pies, etc.   

 These Mexican Meatballs were a quick fix that everyone enjoyed.  They were much like a regular meatball  in tomato sauce, but instead were flavored with cumin, jalapenos, and cilantro.  They were great served on their own with rice and they also made great meatballs subs.

Mexican Meatballs
Adapted from The Slow Cook Book 
Serves 4-6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Auto/Low: 6-8 hours

For the Meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 red chiles, deseeded if you like or with seeds if you like it hot
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons fresh white breadcrumbs
bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 tablespoons olive oil

For the Sauce:
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 cinnamon stick, broken
pinch of dried chile flakes
splash of Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
2 (14oz.) cans of whole tomatoes
2/3 cup hot veggie or beef stock

Preheat the slow cooker, if required.  Put the ground beef, garlic, chiles, and cumin into a bowl and season.  Combine with your hands, then add the egg, breadcrumbs, and fresh cilantro, and mix well again.  Shape the mixture into about 20 small balls an toss lightly in the flour.  Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and cook half the meatballs (in batch and with extra oil, if necessary) for 6-8 minutes until brown all over.  Remove with a slotted spoon and sit on paper towels to drain.  Wipe the pot out with paper towels.

To make the sauce, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in the pot over medium heat, add the onion, and cook for 3-4 minutes until soft.  Stir in the garlic and red bell pepper, and cook for 3 minutes.  Transfer the cooked vegetables to the slow cooker along with remaining ingredients.  Add seasoning, cover with the lid, and cook on auto/low for 6-8 hours.  Taste and add more Tabasco sauce, if needed.  Serve with rice and a green salad.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Little Spinach and Carrot Ramekins

Here's a question for you.  Do you find it difficult to talk about food and cooking to your non-foodie friends?  I find it nearly impossible.  In fact, it's about as awkward as talking about politics and/or religion. 

Here are just a few of the conversations that I've had lately.

Friend A:   "Kim, what did you have for lunch today?"
Me:    "Spinach and Carrot Ramekins."
Friend A:    "What the hell did you just say? Can't you just eat a sandwich like a normal person?" 

Friend B:   "So, do you cook every night?"
Me:  "No. Tonight I'm just making frozen pizzas and salad from a bag." 
Friend B:   (in a very accusatory tone) "Okay, so are you saying that frozen pizza and salad from a bag is not cooking?  Because if that's the case then I guess you're telling me that I never cook. Is that what you're telling me?"
Me:  "Well, I guess what I'm saying is that I'm making pizza and salad, but I'm not really cooking anything." (this conversation ended badly)

Friend C:  "Hey Kim, I'm on my way to the mall.  Wanna come?"
Me:    "I can't. My oven's preheating and I'm in the middle of pureeing carrots and baking veggie ramekins."
Friend C:   (big pause)  Um, okay....I'm sorry. Did you just say no to the mall?"  

All these conversations happened just this week.  I'm beginning to think that I speak another language or something.  Anyway, I thought I would share for several reasons.  First and foremost, I know you will all understand.  Secondly, it's actually pretty funny. And lastly, I have a feeling that some of you, if not all of you, have had similar conversations at one point or another. 

I chose these spinach and carrot ramekins because I've never really made anything quite like them before.  You basically make a carrot puree and add bechamel sauce and Parmesan cheese to it.  Then you blanch spinach, chop it, add bechamel, and more Parmesan cheese.  Lightly beaten egg is added to both the spinach and carrot mixture and the ramekins bake for about 45 minutes in a bain marie.  The preparation is a little bit fussy, but the end product is really pretty and definitely makes for a fun and unique main course with a nice salad on the side.
Little Spinach and Carrot Ramekins
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Makes 10

Tessa says, "I use little individual ramekins (about 2-1/2 inches wide at the top, 1-1/2 inches across the bottom, and 1-1/2 inches high).  They look good in this size and are perfect servings for all-size humans.  These are baked in a bain marie so they stay beautifully moist."

4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
5 cups loosely packed spinach leaves

Bechamel Sauce:
4-1/2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/3 cups milk, warmed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly ground nutmeg

3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter ten little 1/2 cup ramekins.  Cook the carrots in boiling salted water until they are soft.  Lift them out with a slotted spoon, puree, and put into a bowl.  Add the spinach to the boiling carrot water, and blanch for a few minutes until it is all wilted and soft.  Drain, leave until it has cooled enough to handle, and then squeeze out all the excess water.  Chop up finely and put in a separate bowl.

To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, then begin adding the warm milk.  It will be immediately absorbed, so work quickly, whisking with one hand while adding ladlefuls of milk with the other.  When the sauce seems to be smooth and not too stiff, add salt, pepper, and a grating of nutmeg, and continue cooking, even after it comes to a boil, for 5 minutes or so, mixing all the time.  It should be a very thick and smooth sauce.

Pour off any water that has collected in the bottom of the carrot bowl, then mix in 10 tablespoons of the bechamel along with half of the Parmesan.  Stir the rest of the bechamel and Parmesan into the spinach.  Taste each bowl, adding extra salt, pepper, or nutmeg if you think it's needed.  Add half the beaten eggs to each bowl, and mix them in well.

Divide the spinach mixture among the ramekins.  Rap them firmly on the table to flatten the mixture, then divide the carrot puree among the ramekins.  The mixture should just fill the molds.

Put the ramekins in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to the pan to come halfway up the side of the molds.  Move the pan to the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the molds are puffed, golden, and firm.  turn the oven off and leave the pan in the oven for about 10 minutes.  Remove the ramekins from the pan, run a knife around the rims then turn them out onto plates.

Theme: Orange Skies


So, how about you?  Have you had any interesting or awkward conversations about food or cooking lately?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies

These chocolate and cranberry cookies were one of those recipes that caught my eye right away.  The combination of dark chocolate and chewy, tart, dried cranberries is just so promising.  Not to mention, this cookie seems perfectly fitting for this time of year. 

Since I enjoy my cookies on the chewy side, I usually tend to make them a bit larger than the recipe calls for.  For example, in her recipe, Tessa calls for one good teaspoon of dough per cookie.  I went with about 1/4 cup per cookie.  Instead of 30 bite-sized cookies I ended up with 10 big cookies. 

We really enjoyed these cookies.  The tart cranberries really help bring out the deep rich flavor of the dark chocolate.  This is a deeply satisfying cookie with rich complex flavors.  It would be perfect served with coffee.

Chocolate and Cranberry Cookies
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Makes about 10 large cookies or 30 teaspoon sized cookies

Tessa says, "These I learned from my American fried Sue.  When I first made them my children said they were the best ever and I must definitely put the recipe in this book - so here it is.  I also love them with dried strawberries instead of cranberries, and sometimes my girls prefer them without the cranberries, just chocolate.  I like these small so I make them no bigger than a good teaspoon of dough, but you might like to make them larger.  I also like to take them as a gift, packed in a lovely box and tied with a ribbon.  Unless you have a huge oven, you will need to bake these in batches so have the two cookie sheets ready."

5-1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup firmly packed soft brown sugar
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 egg
a few drops of vanilla extract
1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup coarsely chopped semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup dried cranberries (dried cherries would also be nice)

Preheat the oven to 375F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Mash up the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until well mixed, then whisk with an electric beater until smooth.  Mix in the egg and vanilla.  Sift in the flour and baking powder, and add a small pinch of salt.  Beat with the wooden spoon to make a soft sandy mixture.  Stir in chocolate and cranberries.

Lightly moisten your hands and roll teaspoons of the mixture into balls.  Arrange them on the sheets, leaving a fair space between for flattening and spreading.  Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden and darkening around the edges.  Remove from the oven, but leave them on the sheet to cool and firm up.  These will keep in a cookie jar for a couple of days.

Theme: Potluck

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chicken, Pasta, and Kitchen Therapy

The month of October literally flew by.  It was a blur. When it came time for November to roll around I tried to breathe a sigh of relief, but then I remembered that contractors were coming to work on our house, I agreed to host a Pampered Chef party, my baby boy is turning 5 years old (which I seriously can't deal with), it's my mother-in-law's birthday, we have company coming, and I'm hosting Thanksgiving.   Let's not even get into all the ten year old drama that ensues everyday at approximately 3pm.  And please, for the love of God, do not begin to discuss Christmas yet.  Things will get ugly.  I may even resort to making faces at this face below.  You could get scarred for life.
My name is Kim.  I have two kids.  I have no shame.
At any rate, I think what I really need is some anxiety medication, but in lieu of that I opted for kitchen therapy and comfort food.  It may be a temporary fix, but at this point I'll take it.

So, I bought a chicken and started making chicken broth.  If you've never made your own chicken broth before I'm here to tell you that it is highly therapeutic, wonderfully comforting, and the aroma coming from the kitchen is out of this world.  Since we are cooking with Tessa Kiros at IHCC right now I chose her recipe.

Chicken Broth
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Makes 8 cups

1 chicken (about 2-3/4 pounds), suitable for boiling
2 carrots, peeled and halved
2 leafy celery stalks
small handful of parsley stalks
7 black peppercorns
3 small shallots, peeled but left whole
1 clove garlic, peeled but left whole
10 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

Put the chicken into your largest stockpot and add the carrots, celery, parsley, peppercorns, shallots, and garlic.  Add 10 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and put the lid on the pan, leaving just a little gap for the steam to escape.  Simmer for 1-1/2 hours, skimming now and then.

Turn off the heat and leave the broth until it's cool enough to handle.  Carefully take out the chicken.  Strain what's left, keeping the broth to use for pasta or dumplings.  You decide if you'd like to save the carrots to eat later on.
Once the broth was ready,  I took the chicken out and removed all the meat so that I could make Tessa's Chicken Croquettes.  My chicken was a bit larger than the one she called for in her recipe, but the measurements still worked very well.  This is where I must tell you that I've made lots of chicken croquettes before, but Tessa's recipe for chicken croquettes is the best!  In fact, I'll just go to ahead and say that I know this recipe will easily be one of of our top favorites during my six months with Tessa. The chicken mixture is highly flavorful and moist and the breading is incredibly crispy and crunchy.  The croquettes are great on their own or with a dipping sauce. Tessa's recipe makes 25 smaller croquettes, but my husband doesn't always appreciate miniature food so I made 10 large croquettes.   I figured I would have leftovers, but everyone really inhaled these.  They were a huge, huge, huge hit!  I highly recommend these, especially if you have leftover chicken that you need to use up.

Chicken Croquettes
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Makes about 25 croquettes

1 boiled chicken (the chicken used for the broth above)
3 tablespoons butter
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 - 1/2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 small cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 ripe tomato, peeled and chopped
1 -1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 egg, lightly beaten
dry bread crumbs, for coating (I used a combo of panko and cornflake crumbs)
light olive oil, for frying
 lemon wedges, to serve

Note: Anytime you bread anything you should always put it back in the refrigerator to "dry out" for at least ten minutes.  This process helps the breading to adhere to whatever you're frying.

Pick all the chicken meat off the bones and throw away all the skin, bones, and bits you don't want.  Chop up the chicken finely, and put it in a bowl.

Melt half the butter in a small pan, and saute the onion over medium-low heat until it is soft and lightly golden.  Add the celery, parsley, and garlic, and when you can smell the garlic, add the tomato.  Simmer until it has totally melted, squashing it with a wooden spoon now and then as you stir.

Meanwhile melt the rest of the butter in another small pan over medium heat, and then stir in the flour,  Whisk in the broth, and let it cook for a few minutes until it is bubbling up nicely.  Whisk well to make sure it is totally smooth.  Pour into the bowl of chicken and add the tomato mixture, too.  Add the egg, and mix everything together well.  Taste for salt, adding a little extra if you think it's needed.

Put the bowl in the fridge for half an hour or so, so that you are able to roll out the croquettes more easily.

Take scoops of the mixture, more or less the size of eggs, and shape them into croquettes.  Put the bread crumbs on a plate and lightly roll the croquettes in them.

Pour about 3/4 inch of oil into a large nonstick frying pan and put over high heat.  When the oil is hot, add enough of the croquettes to fit comfortably in the pan.  Fry until they are deep golden brown all over, turning them gently with tongs.  Lift them out onto a plate lined with paper towels to absorb as much of the oil as possible while you fry the rest.  Put them onto a clean platter to serve, with lemon wedges, if you like.
With my homemade chicken broth I made Tessa's Pasta In Chicken Broth, which consists of two ingredients, three if you're feeling feisty.  All you need to do is reheat your chicken broth and cook your pasta in the broth until it is al dente.  If you feel like it, top it with some Parmesan cheese and you're all set.  Tessa's broth was mild but flavorful and the tiny pasta is a nod to childhood that somehow takes you back and makes you feel a bit pampered.  A very pleasing and rejuvenating bowl of comfort that instantly makes you feel better, no matter what ails you.

Pasta In Chicken Broth
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Serves 4

8 cups chicken broth (see above)
1/2 (16-0ounce) package spaghettini or 1-2/3 cups other tiny pasta (I used pastina)
Grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Bring the broth to a boil in a large pan.  Break up the pasta into shorter lengths and add to the broth.  Bring back to a boil, stir a couple of times, and then cook the pasta according to package instructions.  The pasta will absorb some of the broth as it cooks.  Serve immediately, diving down with your ladle to the bottom of the pan to make sure that everyone has a fair share of pasta and broth.  Top each serving with a heap of grated Parmesan.

Theme: In My Pasta Bowl

Every Sunday @ Kahakai Kitchen