Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pre-Thanksgiving Cooking

Earlier this fall my mom sent me a great Thanksgiving cookbook. She had looked through Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers at one of her friend's houses, and decided my sister and I each needed a copy to inspire us this Thanksgiving. I was very impressed with this cookbook, and couldn't wait to try it out! The recipes were approachable yet gourmet enough for my tastes, and the author had really detailed notes and explanations to go along with the recipes.

I was disappointed when I realized I wouldn't be able to use this cookbook on Thanksgiving day, since we'll be spending 8 hours in the car before sitting down to our turkey dinner. I think cookies are the only travel friendly thing I'll be able to contribute, but that doesn't mean I can't test out some Thanksgiving inspired recipes some other time. I tend to have time and inspiration on Sunday afternoons, and last Sunday that inspiration turned into this menu.

The Butternut Squash and Rice Tian was from Thanksgiving 101, and it stood out as a recipe that didn't have to be saved for Thanksgiving day. I'm also addicted to butternut squash, so I was excited to find a new way to cook it. I made a pork tenderloin stuffed with provolone cheese, prosciutto, and sage, which was primarily inspired by the fresh sage that was left over from a previous dinner. I'd never made a stuffed pork tenderloin before, but now I can see numerous variations on this idea. I rounded out the meal with some biscuits from last month's Bon Appetit, which turned out so flat and horrible that I refuse to show them here. Seriously, I thought biscuits would be an easy thing to make!?! But two thirds of this dinner turned out fantastic, so I'll share the successes with you.

Butternut Squash and Rice Tian
from Rick Rodger's Thanksgiving 101

Serves: 8 to 10 (or half it like I did, and it fits perfectly in a 9 x9 square baking dish)

3 lbs butternut squash
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese
4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage, or 2 teaspoons dried sage
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs, preferable from day-old crusty bread
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Peel the squash, core the inside, and cut into about 1/2 inch cubes. They might be irregular shapes, but try to keep the size consistent.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat and add the squash. Cook until barely tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 3 tbsp of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and red bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until the onion is golder, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Cool the vegetables until tepid, about 10 minutes.

Bring another pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the rice and cook until just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 10 x 15 inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the rice, squash, sauteed vegetables, Gruyere, sage, salt and pepper. Spread in the prepared dish. Mix the bread crumbs and Parmesan, and sprinkle over the top. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil.

Bake until the center feels set when pressed lightly, about 45 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Sage and Prosciutto Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

1 pork tenderloin
salt and pepper
4 slices provolone cheese
6 slices prosciutto
15 sage leaves

Cut the tenderloin lengthwise from top to bottom, cutting about 1/2 inch from the bottom. Open up the tenderloin and cut each side lengthwise, so the tenderloin is able to spread out. Click here is a great example of what I mean. Cover with plastic wrap and pound flat.

Season the pork with salt and pepper. Lay the slices of cheese over the meat, cover with the slices of prosciutto, and place the sage leaves on top. Roll the pork up jelly-roll style, securing with about four pieces of cooking string along the length of the pork.

Place in a baking dish and bake uncovered for about 25 to 30 minutes at 425 degrees. Let the pork rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fall Flavored cookies

A quick post is better than none at all, right? Work has me swamped again this week, so I am only making a brief visit to the blog for tonight. These cookies are simple to make, and they are a perfect representation of fall flavors. At first I wasn't sure how I would like chocolate chips with the pumpkin flavoring, but they added a richness to the otherwise light and cake-like cookies. They puff up nicely because of the pumpkin, so these cookies always end up looking really pretty. And if you're husband is bored and hungry, he can make them on his own (the pictures are from his batch!).

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
from an unknown online source (aka scrawled down a couple years ago and stuck in my recipe book)

1 cup pumpkin
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg

In a separate bowl, combine:
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

In a small bowl, dissolve:
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp milk

Mix all parts, then add:
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups chocolate chips

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, until light brown and firm.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mustard Chicken Stew

This is an example of efficient prep ;)

Good news everyone! After a busy month of traveling and starting my new position at work, I'm finally starting to feel normal again. There have been a lot of long days at work, which has left me little energy or inspiration to cook. Joe has really picked up the slack and kept us very well fed, but I've started going into withdrawal over my lack of cooking. Thankfully, I'm starting to feel more in control of my new job, and it's making my life happier overall.

Tonight I had extra motivation to get into the kitchen... Top Chef starts up again tonight! Foodies around Chicago have really gotten into this show during the last two seasons, as chefs from our city have cooked their way to the final episode each time. I love this show! It has just enough drama to qualify as reality TV, and getting to know the different chefs as the season progresses is really inspiring. While I have no desire to be a restaurant chef, their ideas and passion are so exciting to watch. There is a chef from Chicago on again this season, so I'll be cheering for her from the beginning.
What better time than Top Chef premier night to get back into the kitchen? Joe and I decided to cook together tonight, and we choose a comforting sounding dish from a well known blogger's cookbook: Chocolate and Zucchini. It is really starting to feel like winter here, and this dish sounded like comfort food with a french twist. Plus, it wasn't too many ingredients or complicated steps, so I knew we could handle this on a weeknight.
The result was really satisfying and had great flavor. I was afraid of the number of onions it called for (I used 4 instead of 6), but the red onion flavor really mellowed out while it was cooking. The wine and mustard added a nice acidic zing, and I loved the thyme flavor. Clotilde was right when she said the leftover sauce would be great over pasta; the rich and satisfying flavor was addicting! My only complaint was that using pieces of a whole chicken meant a whole lot of skin and bones to deal with. I guess French people are better with their knife and fork, but I couldn't think of a neat and easy was to enjoy bone-in chicken as part of a stew. The flavor was great, but trying to eat the meat off the bone while enjoying the rest of the meal was a challenge. I think next time I'll compromise by using boneless chicken thighs, for that dark meat flavor without the obstacle of the bones.

Mustard Chicken Stew
From Chocolate and Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier

- 1 whole head garlic
- Olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- One 3-4 pound whole chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces (2 breasts, wings, thighs, legs)
- 6 medium red onions (about 2 pounds)
- One 28 to 32 ounce can good quality whole peeled tomatoes, drained
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- A pinch of chili powder
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 3 Tbsp old-fashioned whole seed Dijon mustard (or 1/4 cup regular Dijon mustard)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Peel away the outer layers of the garlic bulb skin, leaving the skins of the individual cloves intact. Using a knife, cut off 1/4 to a 1/2 inch of the top of cloves, exposing the individual cloves of garlic. Place garlic head on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle olive oil over the garlic, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap the garlic head with the foil and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes or until the flesh of the cloves are light brown feel very soft when pressed with the tip of a knife. Set aside to cool.

3. While the garlic is roasting, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (with lid) or Dutch oven, on medium high heat. Rinse the chicken pieces in cold water then pat dry with paper towels. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken pieces, starting them skin-side down, cooking them a few minutes on each side, working in batches so that you don't crowd the pan.

4. While the chicken is browning, peel and quarter the onions. Remove chicken from pan when nicely golden with tongs or a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate. Discard any fat and oil beyond about 1 Tbsp left in the pan. Put the onions in the pot and cook them until softened, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.

5. Add the tomatoes to the pot, the thyme, bay leaves, and ground chili powder. Put the chicken pieces on top of the tomatoes. Pour in the wine and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time so that the vegetables don't stick.

6. After the garlic has cooled enough to handle, squeeze out the roasted garlic from the cloves into a small bowl and crush with a fork. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to serve with the chicken stew.

7 When the chicken has cooked, add the mustard to the pot and stir to blend. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook uncovered for 10 more minutes, or until the sauce is thick enough to cling to the meat. Remove bay leaves. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve stew over rice or pasta, with the garlic paste on the side.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday Night Comfort Food

As you may have noticed, I've started my new job and have been pretty absent from the blogging world lately. I've been working pretty long days (even going into the office on Saturday), so I haven't had much time to cook. And when I have made it into the kitchen, it's been pretty uninspired and not very blog worthy. Take this morning for example... I really wanted some breakfast potatoes to go with my egg sandwich, but decided to just eat french fries for breakfast because that was a lot easier to do! Joe has been great at picking up the slack, so we've eaten well thanks to him. But tonight I was determined to get back into the kitchen for at least once decent dinner.

I checked out a couple of my cookbooks for inspiration, and saw a baked ziti dish that got me craving pasta. I decided to up the ante on my pasta, though, and make a baked ziti with sausage, artichoke hearts, and spinach. Once I had the idea of baked pasta in mind, I threw out any recipe ideas and just went with my own plan. Here's the cheesy, yet otherwise healthy, baked ziti I came up with.

Baked Ziti by Erin

1 box frozen chopped spinach
1 box frozen quartered artichoke hearts
1 box ziti or other short pasta
4 cups marinara sauce
One onion, diced
4 to 5 turkey Italian sausages
2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Defrost the artichoke hearts and spinach. Drain the artichoke hearts, and squeeze all the excess water out of the spinach. Set aside until ready to assemble.

Fill a stockpot with water and add salt. Place on the stove to start to boil, and prep the sausage while waiting for the water to boil. Take the sausages out of their casings, and brown the sausage over medium high heat, breaking into bite sized pieces. Place the cooked sausages in a bowl, and drain off any fat.

When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the pasta. Set the timer for two minutes less than instructed on the package, so the pasta will be slightly undercooked. Meanwhile, in the same pan the sausage was cooked in, add the diced onion. Saute for about 5 minutes, until the onions are soft. Add the marinara sauce and spinach to the onions. Heat through, and adjust seasoning as needed.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pot. Add the marinara sauce mixture and toss to coat the pasta. Add the sausage and artichokes, and carefully toss until completely combined. (At this point I should have added 1/2 of the cheese to the pasta mixture. I put all the cheese on top when I made it this time, but next time I'll mix some of the cheese in.) Scoop pasta mixture into a large casserole dish, and sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 to 15 more minutes, until the pasta is heated through and the sauce is bubbling on the sides.