Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cookbook Challenge: Tomato Vegetable Casserole

This is the second time I've made a baked vegetable casserole, and once again I really liked the results. You have to put in some effort at the beginning, chopping and layering all the veggies. But then it just bakes without any effort from the cook, allowing the other dishes to be prepared at a relaxed pace. Joe and I couldn't decide if the Vegetable Tian or this dish was better... overall they're very similar and both delicious. As Giada suggests, this dish has room for interpretation, so feel free to try it with whatever vegetables you favor. Just be sure to chop the vegetables in consistently sized pieces, so they all cook evenly. And I don't know about you, but baked/roasted tomatoes are one of my favorite flavors, so I might add more next time.

Tomato Vegetable Casserole from Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis

1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 medium yam, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 red onion, thinly sliced into rings

2 small or 1 large zucchini, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick pieces

salt and pepper

2 large ripe tomatoes, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick pieces

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

2 Tbsp dried breadcrumbs

Fresh springs of basil, for garnish


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss the potato, yam, bell pepper, carrots, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss until coated. Spread vegetables evenly over the bottom of the pan.

Arrange the onion slices evenly over the vegetable mixture. Arrange the zucchini over the onion. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange the tomato slices over the zucchini.

Stir the Parmesan and bread crumbs in a small bowl to blend. Sprinkle the Parmesan bread crumbs over the vegetables in the baking dish. Drizzle with the last tablespoon of olive oil.

Bake uncovered until the vegetables are tender, and the topping is golden brown, about 40 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil sprigs, if desired.

With the relaxed kitchen atmosphere as my vegetables baked, I decided to bake some cracked wheat bread. I will post it soon, I promise!

And as always, I have to put the full plate shot. The pasta was pretty basic, and I also made pan seared yellow fin tuna that was fantastic. Tuna is great rare, and is best simply prepared, with salt and pepper.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Spanish Date Night

I know I've only been married for about a year and a half, but I think I'm ready to give out my first piece of married person wisdom. Marry someone who shares your interests. Seems obvious, but I know a lot of opposite type couples out there, and I just don't think it can be as much fun that way. Last night was a perfect example of this theory. We stayed home, cooked an amazing meal, watched a cute movie, and just relaxed. Doesn't sound like the most exciting night ever, but for us it was perfect. We shared our love of food, travel, indie films, and music, and this casual date night ended up being more fun than a lot of our fancy nights out.

Joe and I both love to travel, and as a result enjoy trying food from different parts of the world. Spanish tapas are one of my favorite types of food to eat at a restaurant, but we'd never tried to recreate Spanish dishes at home. This 3 day weekend was the chance that we needed, so Sunday night we made a date for homemade tapas and sangria.

It was a few hours of hands-on cooking, but we managed to time the parts of the meal to all be ready at the same time. It was a lot of work to make these dishes all in one night, but since Joe and I were in the kitchen together the whole time, it just made the cooking part of our fun date night. We only had one flop (saffron aioli, waaaay too much raw garlic), and it seemed to be due to a bad recipe, rather than our solid cooking skills. We did a half recipe for the goat cheese, tortilla, and croquettes, and still had lots leftover. The two recipes below are from The Wooden Spoon cooking classes, at the kitchen store where I work. The meal was delicious, the sangria even better, and the company was the best part of it all.
Chicken and Ham Croquettes
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups minced roasted chicken
1/2 cup prosciutto (I bought one large slice and diced it)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
1/4 cup all purpose flour, plus more for dredging
3/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp whole milk
2 large eggs
1 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
vegetable oil for frying

1. In a large skillet, melt butter in the olive oil. Add the chicken, ham, nutmeg and a large pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, for 3 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup of the flour, then gradually whisk in 3/4 cup on the milk. Simmer for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Scrape the croquette mixture into a bowl; let cool. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour.

2. Divide the croquette mixture into 16 equal portions. Using wet hands, roll each portion into an oval shape.

3. Preheat the oven to 325. In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining 2 Tbsp of milk. Spread the breadcrumbs and flour into two other shallow bowls. Dredge each croquette first in the flour, then dip in the egg. Next coat the croquette with bread crumbs and transfer to a platter. Repeat with all 16 croquettes.

4. In a small saucepan, heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil until shimmering. Fry croquettes 4 at a time, turning twice, until golden brown; about 3 mins. Transfer croquettes to a wire rack set over a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while frying the rest.

Baked Goat Cheese in Spicy Tomato Sauce

8 ounce log of goat cheese
3 ounces olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 onion, finely diced
1 lb ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 pint tomato puree
salt & pepper
pinch of paprika
pinch of sugar

1. Preheat broiler. In a large saucepot, heat oil and lightly brown garlic with red pepper flakes. Add the onions and saute until translucent. Add the tomatoes and tomato puree. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Season with s & p, paprika, and sugar. Remove from heat.

2. Pour tomato sauce into small oven safe bowl or baking dish. Slice goat cheese into 1/2" rounds and place on top of tomato sauce. Broil until sauce is bubbly and cheese has browned.

Serve with toasted bread slices.

I'm going to put the sangria recipe in a separate post, but let me just tell you that it was in fact as tasty as it looks!

These shrimp were really easy. The marinade was a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, s & p, garlic, and some dried herbs. We cooked them under the broiler for about 8 minutes, turning once.
This perfect tortilla recipe was from Epicurious.
We followed the recipe exactly, and the result was just like the tortilla we've had at Spanish restaurants.

After all that food Joe had to sit back and relax!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tasty Tools: Memories of Paris

If you don't know me very well, you maybe don't know that I'm pretty much obsessed with France. Specifically, I fantasize daily about moving to Paris. I'm constantly reading books about people living in Paris, and I love a good French movie. I LOVE French food and pastry, although you don't see it much in my blog because French cuisine really intimidates me. Silly, I know, but I always feel like it's a big accomplishment when I cook a French meal. Each time I am in the kitchen, though, I gain a bit more confidence and feel more like I can at least try to make any dish.

Crepes are a French treat that I always love to eat, yet they seem impossible to make at home. My friend Joelen recently helped me see how simple crepes really are to make, when she had a "Creative Crepes" class at her house. The recipe we used was simple, and Joelen said the most important thing was to just let the batter rest so that the crepes didn't tear when you flip them. I loved the ease of the recipe, and as soon as I tried them I started thinking about all the variations I could do with crepes.

For my first attempt I kept the crepes simple. I used the basic recipe you see below, and I added a tablespoon of sugar for a little sweetness. I made the batter while I was making dinner, and then kept it in the fridge for a couple hours until we were ready for dessert. I sliced the strawberries and tossed with sugar, to make them nice and sweet, and I made an awesome creme fraiche sauce to go on the crepes. I was so happy with how successful these crepes were, and my only question was, "What took me so long?!". In the next few weeks I'll have to try savory crepes, maybe like these ones from the Blue Kitchen.

This recipe was a perfect entry for Joelen's Tasty Tools event for this month, which featured recipes using blenders. Mixing the crepe batter in the blender ensured that it was smooth and well mixed. Be sure to check out the Tasty Tools roundup after June 2nd.

2 eggs
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup milk
1 cup flour
3 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sugar

Combine all ingredients in blender. Pulse until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight.

Heat a crepe pan or large skillet to medium high heat. Brush with butter. Pour enough batter into the pan to make a thin layer, and rotate the pan so the batter covers the bottom. Cook until bubbles appear and the bottom of the crepe is a nice, even brown. Use a thin spatula to flip the crepe, and cook the second side only until it is a blond color, not as dark as the first side. Remove to parchment paper and repeat with the rest of the battter.

Joe wants me to let you know that he successfully fliped a crepe a la Julia Childs-- just by flicking his wrist while holding the pan. He was quite proud of himself :)

We did our crepes rolled up, with strawberries and creme fraiche sauce inside each one. The creme fraiche sauce is just 1/2 cup of creme fraiche, 1/3 cup powdered sugar, zest and juice of half a lime, and a pinch of fine salt. It makes a great fruit dip, too, as I discovered while eating the leftover strawberries!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cookbook Challenge: Turkey Meatballs

This was a perfect weekend. We had drinks out with friends on Friday, I worked Saturday at my kitchen store job, and we got to catch up with an old friend today for brunch. The best part was Saturday night, though. We had been busy overall, so Joe and I decided Saturday night would be best spent hanging out at home. We watched some Arrested Development, played Trivial Pursuit, and just hung out all night. The best part, though, was the hardy and comforting Linguine with Turkey Meatballs that we had for dinner.

Last weekend ground turkey was a bogo at the grocery store, so that was the motivation for this meal. I love Italian food, yet I've never made my own meatballs. This stems from the fact that I don't eat red meat, but there was no reason it should have taken me this long to make meatballs with my favorite ground meat: turkey. And once I got the idea for meatballs, I knew this was a perfect recipe to make out of my Cookbook Challenge book for May. Giada's Everyday Italian is full of Italian staples, and they're always manageable versions of classic dishes.

This recipe was a great foundation for meatballs, and I'm sure I'll be using it again. I really liked the flavor, because it was simple yet interesting. The only problem was that the meatballs were softer than I expected. They didn't hold their shape very well, which made them a little hard to cook. I wouldn't want to dry them out with too many breadcrumbs, but I do know I need to do something else to hold them together a little better. I plan to play around with options for these meatballs, but overall I'm sure I'll make them again. What good cook doesn't have a meatball recipe in their repertoire for those lazy, stay-at-home nights?

  • ¼ cup Plain Dried Breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons Whole Milk
  • 2 Large Eggs (Lightly Beaten)
  • ¾ cup Grated Romano Cheese
  • 1lb Ground Turkey (Preferably Dark Meat)
  • Salt And Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • ¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 5 cups Tomato Sauce
  • 1 lb whole wheat linguine


1. In a large bowl add bread crumbs milk and mix until well combined. Mix in eggs and 1/2 cup Romano cheese and mix well. Add turkey and gently combine, being careful not to overwork the meat. Season with salt and pepper. Shape into golf-size balls.

2. In a large skillet heat the oil over medium high heat. When almost smoking, add meatballs and without moving or turning the meat, allow it to brown for about 3 minutes. Turn meatballs and brown other side. Continue to cook until all sides are golden brown, about 8 minutes total. Add tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Lower heat and allow meatballs to simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and keep warm on stove. Be careful not to overhandle the meatballs since they are soft and fragile.

3. In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 quarts of salted water. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain pasta in a colander. Do not rinse pasta with water since you want to retain the pasta natural starches so that the sauce will cling to the noodles.

4. Remove meatballs from sauce and place in serving bowl. Pour some tomato sauce over meatballs, but leave about 1 cup of sauce in skillet. Place the cooked penne into the skillet with the remaining sauce and toss well. Pour sauced pasta into a large serving bowl. Serve alongside the meatballs.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fake-It Risotto

Tonight's dinner came about because they were out of arborio rice at Trader Joe's. I went to the store without much vision, but when I found some great looking mushrooms I decided some kind of risotto would be tasty. When I couldn't find arborio rice, though, I turned towards a pasta alternative: orzo.

I looked online and found perfect inspiration on epicurious. This Orzo Risotto gave the a good foundation, and I added the mushrooms and sausage to make a filling meal. While it was not as rich and creamy as real risotto, it still hit the spot and tasted light and fresh. I was proud, too, because I use other people's recipes so often and am not always happy with my own invented meals. So here you go... Mushroom and Sausage Orzo 'Risotto' by Erin

2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic
8 ounces mushrooms (I used crimini, oyster, and shiitake)rough chopped
fresh basil, chopped
s & p
flavored sausage (I used artichoke and garlic chicken/turkey sausage)
1 box (16 oz) orzo
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

Fill pan with water and bring to a boil. Add orzo and boil until barely al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large saute pan and saute garlic for 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and basil and saute for 5 minutes. Add sausage and heat through. Put mushroom and sausage mixture into a boil, keep warm.

Return orzo to saute pan, and add two cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the stock has absorbed into the orzo. Add in mushroom mix, Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cookbook Challenge: Vegetarian Lasagna

It's a new month, so it's time for a new Cookbook Challenge. This month I decided to try more recipes from a cookbook I already use a lot: Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis. I love the simplicity of a lot of Giada's recipes, and I almost always have fantastic results from her recipes. This is a crazy busy month, with moving and Joe getting ready for his level 2 CFA test, so I thought I'd keep it simple.

For the first week, I chose Individual Vegetarian Lasagnas. I made one big pan, though, to save myself a bit of extra work. I changed a few things, and ended up wishing I'd stuck more to the original recipe. My biggest change was using ricotta instead of canellini beans, which ended up being pretty bland. I could have tried more salt & pepper or spices, but next time I think I'll just stick with the original recipe. The chopped veggies were a lot of work, but tasted fresh and healthy. I do think I'd add a few more spices to the veggies, but I was happy with them overall. Also, I used more sauce than recommended. It was one of those recipes that I might try again to hopefully improve, but I'm really not sure if it's worth the effort. If anyone tries this, let me know your suggestions!

This is the original recipe from Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis

Individual Vegetarian Lasagnas
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 medium zucchini, finely chopped
1 medium summer squash, finely chopped
8 asparagus spears, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 pound fresh plain lasagna sheets
2 cups tomato sauce, recipe follows
1 1/2 cups canned white beans, rinsed and drained
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, halved
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a saute pan over medium heat, add extra-virgin olive oil. When almost smoking, add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot and cook for 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and squash cook for 5 minutes. Add asparagus and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat when all vegetables are completely cooked but still have a good crunch. Allow to cool.

Using a 6-inch round cookie cutter, cut circles out of the lasagna sheets. You will need 18 circles. Coat the bottom of 6 (6-inch) gratin dishes with a teaspoon of tomato sauce in each. Place a circle of pasta on the bottom of each ramekin. Rinse the beans with water and season with salt and pepper. Divide the beans between each ramekin. Next, divide the spinach between the ramekins.

Place a second layer of pasta on top and gently press down. Divide the sauteed vegetables among the ramekins and top with a tablespoon of tomato sauce in each. Place the third layer of pasta in each ramekin and coat with a tablespoon of tomato sauce. Sprinkle ramekins with the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and top each with 1/2 tablespoon of butter.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place gratin dishes on top. Bake in oven for 20 minutes or until brown and bubbling.

Back to Blogging...

I'm back! After two weeks away from my blog, I'm finally able to take a minute to sit down and catch up a bit. There are other things I should be doing... the condo is still kind of a mess... but Ijust couldn't hold out any longer! The move went really smoothly, and we really have made a lot of progress in the last week. I love the fact that this place is 100% ours. Or at least ours and the bank's. It's really exciting to be homeowners, and we also love the fact that this means we'll be in Chicago for at least a few more years.

I've done a little cooking since I last really posted, but I think I'll wait until tomorrow to officially post any recipes. For a little something food related, check out our purchase from Crate and Barrel this weekend...
Isn't it cute? This purchase was pure necessity, because for the first week we were storing all our pots and pans in the stove. After at least one occurrence of turning on the stove with everything in it, we determined it was time for a storage solution. This is now my favorite part of the new kitchen.

More to come... I made enchiladas and lasagne this weekend!