Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Julia's Broiled Chicken

Ever since I became interested in cooking, it has been a given that I'll get some foodie gifts for Christmas. This year was no exception, and Joe got me the perfect set of gifts that I hadn't even asked for! As I've written about before, I really enjoyed the book My Life in France, and the movie Julie & Julia. I have cooked a few Julia Child recipes that I've found online or in magazines, but I didn't own a copy of the cookbook that started it all. Joe surprised my with the combination of the book Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the movie Julie & Julia! I am married to the most thoughtful guy (as of today we've been married 3 years! Yeah, it's our anniversary today!).

Cute movie, classic book, happy cook named Erin :)

Being the cheesy person that I am, I knew I needed to make dinner from the cookbook the same night that I watched the movie. My recipe of choice was Poulets Grilles a la Diable (Chicken Broiled with Mustard, Herbs, and Bread Crumbs). I did kind of change the recipe to suit our tastes and to be a little healthier, but for the most part I did what Julia said. The chicken was tender and flavorful, and just buttery enough to pair nicely with the movie. I also made the Brussels sprouts from Thanksgiving, and boiled some small potatoes to serve on the side. This ended up being a better dinner then I planned, although the work I put into it was evident when Joe went into the kitchen to do the dishes!

I'll type the recipe pretty much how it appears in the book. My changes were pretty simple. First, I used chicken legs (thighs & drumsticks, still in one big piece). I cut most of the skin off before cooking, because I knew we wouldn't eat the skin, and I didn't want all the mustard sauce to come off with the skin. Julia would probably shake her head at this slightly healthier adjustment, but I know I'll never use this cookbook if I make the recipes exactly how she wrote them! I used dried thyme, because it is what I had at home already, but I think fresh herbs would be really nice. For the breadcrumbs, I toasted some french bread cubes that I was going to put in the food processor, but then I was talking to my sister on the phone and burned the crap out of the bread. So, I used store bought from the can bread crumbs, because I really didn't feel like toasting more bread. I think fresh bread crumbs would be way better, so next time I'll try to pay more attention!

Poulets Grilles a la Diable

from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

2 ready-to-cook, 2 1/2 lb broiler chickens, halved or quartered
6 Tbsbsp butter, 2 TB oil, melted in a saucepan
6 Tbsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp finely minced shallots
1/2 tsp thyme, basil, or tarragon
1/8 tsp pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
4 cups fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven broiler to moderately hot. Dry the chicken thoroughly, paint it with the butter and oil, and arrange it skin-side down on the broiling pan. Place it about 5 to 6 inches from the broiling element, and broil 10 minutes on each side, basting every 5 minutes. The chicken should be lightly browned. Salt it lightly.

Blend the mustard with the shallots, herbs, and seasoning in a bowl. Drop by drop, beat in half the basting fat to make a mayonnaise-like cream. Reserve the rest of the basting fat for later. Paint the chicken pieces with the mustard mixture. Pour the bread crumbs into a big plate, then roll the chicken in the crumbs, patting them on so they will adhere. (I only painted the mustard on the top of the pieces of chicken, then sprinkled the bread crumbs on top. Partially because the bottom of the pieces of chicken was mostly bones, and partially because I was feeling lazy and didn't see the need to dirty another dish for the crumbs!)

Arrange the chicken pieces skin-side down on the rack in the broiling pan and dribble half the remaining fat over them. Brown slowly for 10 minutes under a moderately hot broiler. Turn, baste with the last of the fat, and brown 10 minutes more on the other side. The chicken is done when the thickest part of the drumstick is tender, and when the juices run clear. (Since I only did mustard & bread crumbs on the top of the chicken, I finished it by only broiling it with the mustard side up, for about 15 minutes. And yes, I did pour the extra fat over the chicken! Made it extra crispy. And tasty.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Seasons Greetings!

Hello everyone! I think this might have been my longest absence from this blog since I started writing it. School was CRAZY busy the last couple weeks of the semester, and as much as I wanted to blog, I had to force myself to study and do final projects instead. And, really, I didn't have much to blog about. My kitchen was sorely neglected the month or two, between working evenings, having a night class, and just being too darn busy. I've been eating too much junk from my freezer and dining out more than I'd like, and I can't wait to get back to planning meals like before!

Next semester I'm only taking one class, and I've quit one of my part time jobs. I hope to start substitute teaching this spring, to help my job prospects for next year. My schedule will still be sporadic, but at least I know I'll be home (and less stressed) more often than this semester. And what better time to get back to cooking and blogging than this time of year? I LOVE CHRISTMAS! I think it's my favorite holiday because of the fact it is spread out over a month, and everyone seems to get more friendly and easy going as they run around more crazily than usual. I know, it's not quite that perfect, but don't you find yourself with an extra spring in your step come December? Great example- I went to lunch with a friend at the huge Macys on State Street today, and even thought it was a total zoo, I just smiled and enjoyed the whole experience. Typically, I can get totally bitchy in these crowded store/slow tourist situations, but somehow at Christmas I just deal with it a lot better. Anyone else feel this way?

I also love the traditions that surround Christmas. Every family has them, and it is so fun to compare notes with friends. In the last three years of marriage, Joe and I have worked some of our old family traditions into the holidays, and have also started trying to incorporate some of our own. One non-negotiable tradition I've taken from my mother is baking and sharing TONS of Christmas cookies. Last year I told you about the three recipes I have that my mom has baked for as long as I can remember. They showed up in my kitchen again this year, but I also decided to mix things up and add a couple recipes of my own.

The first recipe I made was Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkles, which I found on epicurious.com. They had kind of mixed reviews, but I found the recipe to be a total success. They were chewy and had a rich chocolate flavor, and the hazelnuts really added a special holiday flavor. I loved the way they looked, too, with the powered sugar and cracked appearance. Most likely I will make these again next year, and I might not reserve them just for Christmas!

I also made sugar cookies, which is nothing new, but I challenged myself by decorating them with royal icing. What a fun project it was! I used a box of sugar cookie mix, because someone had given me a cookie making gift, but next time I will try Annie's recipe. I used the Royal Icing recipe from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book, which I borrowed from a friend. I think royal icing is pretty standard, though, so I'll probably just try Annie's recipe for that next time, too! No matter what recipes you use, check out her tutorial before you decorate, because it's amazingly helpful. Thanks Annie for all your great ideas! I put off royal icing for a long time, but now I'm brainstorming all the reasons I might have to make decorated cookies in the future. So much fun (and yes, Joe thought I was a little crazy... but cute, too!).

Gel food coloring is important, so you don't thin out your icing.

First we outlined the cookies, with thicker icing.

Then, we thinned out the icing, and filled in the shapes.

The finished product! Not bad for a first attempt, right?

Happy Holidays everyone! I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and that 2010 is a year to remember!

Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies
from epicurious.com

* 2/3 cup hazelnuts
* 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
* 6 oz fine-quality bittersweet
* chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
* 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
* 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
* 2 large eggs
* 1/4 cup whole milk
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 3/4 cup confectioners sugar

* Special equipment: parchment paper


Make dough:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan in oven until skins split and nuts are pale golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven (turn oven off), then wrap hazelnuts in a kitchen towel and rub to remove any loose skins. Cool nuts completely. Pulse nuts with granulated sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.

Melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water or in top of a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and set aside.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in melted chocolate until combined. Add milk and vanilla, beating to incorporate. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in nut mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Form and bake cookies:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl. Halve dough and chill 1 half, wrapped in plastic wrap. Roll remaining half into 1-inch balls, placing them on a sheet of wax paper as rolled. Roll balls, 3 or 4 at a time, in confectioners sugar to coat generously and arrange 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets.

Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are puffed and cracked and edges feel dry (but centers are still slightly soft), 12 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies (still on parchment) to racks to cool completely.

While first batch is baking, roll remaining dough into balls. Line cooled cookie sheets with fresh parchment, then coat balls with confectioners sugar and bake in same manner.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

And so it begins!

It's hard to believe that another holiday season is already begun! The last year has flown by, and I'm looking forward to a wonderful holiday season this year. It was off to a great start this past week, when Joe and I got to spend Thanksgiving with my family for the first time since 2003. My family moved overseas while I was in college, so I spent the last handful of Thanksgivings either with extended family or with Joe's family. I have yet to have a bad Turkey Day, but nothing compares to spending the day with my parents and siblings.

The master chef prepares the table.

I think Thanksgiving is a lot of foodies favorite holidays, and I can see why. My mom, sister, and I had been discussing menu ideas for weeks, and we ended up cooking quite a feast. My future brother in law is a vegetarian, so his dietary restrictions added a fun challenge to planning our meal. I planned two dishes to contribute-- a savory bread pudding (like stuffing on steroids), and maple glazed Brussels sprouts. The bread pudding was vegetarian and everyone seemed to love it. I couldn't resist making Brussels sprouts with bacon, because I really believe there is no veggie friendly alternative to bacon. They were amazing, and I think these will be a side dish that could fit in with any fall or winter meal. We also had 3 kinds of home brewed beer-- an E.S.B. from Dan, a Pumpkin Ale from Joe, and a Grand Cru from my dad. They are a talented bunch of brewers!

My Savory Bread Pudding is in the top right corner of the picture, and the Brussels sprouts are in the middle on the left.

Our after dinner tradition is a nice long walk around the neighborhood, and this year the weather in St. Louis was perfect. It wasn't warm, but the brisk temperature was the definition of great Thanksgiving weather. We finally invested in a copy of the movie Elf this year, and enjoyed that while eating apple and pumpkin pie. It was a relaxing day, full of fun family bonding, and I couldn't have asked for a better Thanksgiving! I hope everyone else had a great holiday weekend!

These recipes are all from Thanksgiving classes at The Chopping Block.

Sweet Corn and Gouda Bread Pudding with Gravy

Yield: 6-8 servings

1 sourdough loaf, cut into 1 inch pieces (about 8 cups)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, sliced thin
1 pound Tuscan kale, torn into 1 inch pieces
4 cups frozen corn, defrosted
Salt and pepper to taste
7 eggs
2 1/4 cups half and half
6 tablespoons dry white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon thyme, rough chopped
3/4 pound Gouda cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Mushroom Gravy (recipe below)

1. Lay the cut up bread out to dry for about 2 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 350° and butter a large baking dish.
3. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Sauté the red onion, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized. Add the kale and cook until wilted. Fold in the corn and season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half and half, white wine, Dijon mustard and thyme.
5. Fold in the bread, kale mixture and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow this mixture to soak for 30 minutes.
6. Pour into the buttered baking dish and bake on a parchment-lined sheet tray until the center is set and the top is golden brown, about 40 minutes.
7. Allow to rest for 10 minutes and then serve with the Mushroom Gravy.

Mushroom Gravy
Yield: 3 cups

1/2 stick butter
1/2 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon parsley, rough chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a saucepan over medium heat and add the butter. Sauté the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized, about 8-10 minutes.
2. Stir in the flour. The mixture will look very pasty. Cook the roux for about 2 minutes.
3. Whisk in the stock, wine and soy sauce. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 10 minutes.
4. Whisk in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Glazed Brussels Sprouts
Yield: 4-6 servings

1/4 lb bacon, cut into matchsticks
1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed & cut in half
3 Tbsp walnut mustard
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup chicken stock
salt & pepper to taste

1. Heat a heavy, wide pan over medium-low heat and add the bacon pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just crisp.
2. Toss in the Brussels sprouts, and saute until lightly caramelized.
3. Add the mustard, maple syrup, and chicken stock, and mix well. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced to a glaze and the sprouts are just tender, about 5-7 minutes.

Ready for the feast to begin!

Lounging around, recovering from far too much good food.

I wish I remembered what was so upsetting ... either Elf of the black Friday deals!

A perk of my family living in St. Louis is that I get to see awesome friends like Danielle when I go back for the holidays! We had dinner and drinks in Lafayette Square, a really cute area near downtown. Miss you Dani!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A New Kind of Fajita

You know you've found a good recipe when you make the same exact thing for dinner two nights in a row. This is totally different from leftovers... I literally went back to the store and bought more of the ingredients to make the same exact dish again a day after trying it the first time. I can say this happened for a few reasons. First, it was stinking good! This taco filling was a twist on typical fajitas, with red onions, baby bella mushrooms, and poblano peppers. The flavors blended but still held their own, and the cumin sprinkled over top tied it all together. Adding slices of avocado and fresh pico de gallo put it over the top. I have to admit the other reason I made this was because the ingredient list is short and simple, and I was just not inspired to create anything that involved actual thinking. This recipe will be showing up in my kitchen again, I promise. Black beans on the side add protein and make it a well rounded meal, and I also think cut up grilled chicken would be amazing.

I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit when it first came out, but I have to give props to my friend The Kitchen Witch for inspiring me to actually try it. I owe you girl, because these were awesome!

Here's the full recipe, and if you're like me you can just make the filling and put it into plain soft tacos, or even make bigger burritos. Do follow the Kitchen Witch's advice to add avocado, and other yummy taco toppings you have around. Sky's the limit here! Also, I discovered that the leftovers are quite tasty over some brown rice, topped with cheese of course :)

Poblano and Mushroom Tacos
Makes 4
from Bon Appetit Magazine

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 fresh poblano chile, halved, seeded, thinly sliced into long strips
1/2 small red onion, sliced
3 ounces crimini(baby bella) mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 corn tortillas
4 thin slices Monterrey Jack cheese
chopped fresh cilantro
crumbled feta or Cojita cheese
Assorted toppings (such as shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and hot sauce or salsa)

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add poblano chile, red onion and mushrooms; saute mixture until brown, about 5 minutes. Mix in ground cumin. Season to taste with salt. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add tortillas in a single layer, draping up the sides of skillet to fit. Divide mushroom mixture among tortillas, mounding on only 1 side. Place slice of Monterrey Jack cheese atop filling in each tortilla. Fold plain tortilla halves over filling and press firmly. Cook until tortillas are brown, about 1 minute per side. Transfer tacos to plates. Open tacos; sprinkle with chopped cilantro, crumbled feta or Cojita cheese, and toppings.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Revolution Worth Joining!

After drooling over the new Jamie Oliver cookbook, Jamie's Food Revolution, for about a week, I broke down and bought a copy of my own. I really like Jamie's overall approach to food... for one thing, he's all about seasonal, local, and natural food and cooking. His recipes aren't overly fussy, and he really seems to practice what he preaches. This cookbook is a bit different from his others, though, because it's got a huge (maybe revolutionary?) message behind it. If you read much in the online food world, maybe you've already heard about it. Jamie's twittered about his project, and I've read about it on Tasting Table last week. His goal: by having people "pass on" recipes and cooking advice to friends, family, coworks, or other people they know, maybe we can get huge portions of our population into their kitchens to start cooking for themselves and their families.

The recipes in this book are based around the idea that everybody can cook. They're simple, with tons of beautiful photographs, but Jamie has mastered the idea of keeping flavor and some sophistication even in simple recipes. I strongly agree with Jamie's point of view, and I love the idea of sharing recipes and inspiring other people to cook. Both of my part time foodie jobs are related to this mentality-- assisting with classes at The Chopping Block and working as a chef instructor for Common Threads. Jamie is actually a member of the Chef Advisory Board for Common Threads! So, overall, I love this book not only for the yummy recipes and adorable Britishness, but I also really support the message Jamie is trying to spread. He's actually taping a TV show about the Food Revolution in America right now, which will be airing on ABC in early 2010. If you want to know more, you can check out this New York Times article.

Also, if you are my friends and family that have been inspired by my blog, know how much it means to me! Every time one of you mentions trying a recipe I posted, I get so excited. I guess I see this blog as my version of the food revolution :) If you ever want any more recipes, or if you want to come over to my house and cook together some time, just let me know! Ask my friend Christie... we made homemade pasta a couple weeks ago, and it was so fun!

And now, how about a recipe? This is the first recipe I have made from Jamie's Food Revolution, and it was awesome! Joe and I were blown away by this version of meatloaf. Take everything you've ever thought about meatloaf and throw it out the window, because this one is totally different and a fantastic departure. The original recipe was for ground beef, but as you know by now I don't eat beef, and the ground turkey in our fridge made a great substitution. The tomato-chickpea sauce is what really made this dish, and Joe and I talked about potentially just making the sauce and spooning it over rice sometime. We did skip the bacon, to be slightly healthier, but obviously it would be delicious with some pieces of bacon to top it off!

There was enough sauce to drown our meatloaf, so we cooked some of it in a separate container.

Pot-Roast Meatloaf
by Jamie Oliver, in Jamie's Food Revolution

2 medium onions
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 heaped tsp ground coriander
12 plain crackers, such as saltines
2 tsp dried oragano
2 heaped tsp dijon mustard
1 lb good quality ground beef or turkey
1 large egg
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 to 1 fresh red chili, to taste
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans
2 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
12 slices of smoked bacon (I omitted)

Preheat oven to 475. Peel and finely chop on of the onions. Place in a large frying pan on medium high heat with 2 lugs of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the ground cumin and coriander, and fry, stirring every 30 seconds for around 7 minutes. When the onions are softened and lightly golden, put them into a large bowl to cool. Put the crackers into a plastic baggie or kitchen towel and smash until fine. Add the crackers to the bowl of onions with the oregano, mustard, and ground meat. Crack in the egg and add another good pinch of pepper and salt.

With clean hands, scrunch and mix the meat up well. Shape into an oval shape, rub with a little oil, and place the meatloaf into a dutch oven or baking dish. Put into the preheated oven and turn the temperature down immediately to 400 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes.

To make the sauce, first peel the other onion and chop into 1/4 inch pieces. Peel and slice the garlic, and finely dice the red chili. Place these three ingredients into a large pan on medium high heat with 2 lugs of olive oil, the paprika, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for around 7 minutes, stirring often, until softened and lightly golden. Add the Worcestershire sauce, garbanzo beans, tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and slowly simmer for 10 minutes. Taste the sauce, and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Pick the rosemary leaves off the stalks and put them into a little bowl (next time I'll mince them first). Remove the meatloaf from the oven and pour all the fat from the pan over the rosemary leaves and mix well (not much fat from Turkey, so I mixed the rosemary with olive oil). Spoon your sauce around the meatloaf, and lay the bacon over the top of the meatloaf and sauce. Scatter the rosemary leaves over the top. Put the meatloaf back into the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the bacon turns golden and the sauce is bubbling and delicious.

This was great served with Liz's Twice Baked Broccoli Stuffed Potatoes, which you can read about here. They were really good, especially if you add some cheese like she recommends!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Butternut Squash Baked Pasta

I have been dying to tell you all about this dish for at least a week and a half, but school was more busy than usual and kept me away from blogging more. But this baked pasta is so good I considered blowing off my homework to tell you about it... or maybe blowing off my homework in order to go make more! I was able to talk myself out of it, but I hope you now understand how good this pasta is! It is creamy and silky, almost reminiscent of mac and cheese, but other than the carb overload it's pretty darn healthy. If you like pasta and butternut squash, you will love this.

I added a couple things in order to make this a complete meal. First, I crumbled up tempeh, and added it in as I was finishing up the onions. It added protein, and also a nice nutty flavor. If I haven't' convinced you yet, maybe this will be the dish that inspires you to try tempeh. I also added some spinach, for extra nutrients. It had good flavor, and I wished I had added even more spinach (I happened to have some in my fridge, so it initially went in as part of a fridge cleaning). Also, I didn't feel like going to the grocery store just for three slices of crusty baguette, so I just sliced up some regular wheat sandwich bread. Just as good, and maybe even healthier! This is a satisfying dinner and perfect cold weather comfort food.

Baked Shells with Winter Squash
From Everyday Food by Martha Stewart Living
Serves 4

Butter, for baking dish
4 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 8 oz package of tempeh, crumbled
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 pound small pasta shells
1 package (12 ounces) frozen winter squash pur
ee, thawed**
4 cups of baby spinach leaves
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 slices crusty baguette, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (1 1/2 cups)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions; season with salt and pepper. Cover; cook until onions are soft and release liquid, 15 minutes. Uncover; raise heat to medium. Cook, stirring, until onions are browned, 20 to 25 minutes. Add the crumbled tempeh with about 10 minutes of cooking time left for the onions. Stir in 1 teaspoon rosemary.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water 2 minutes less than package instructions suggest. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups cooking water. Return pasta to pot.

Stir squash and reserved pasta water into onions; simmer 2 minutes. Toss squash mixture, the spinach, and 1/2 cup Parmesan with pasta. Transfer to prepared dish.

Combine bread cubes with remaining Parm
esan, rosemary, and oil; season with salt and pepper. Top pasta with bread cubes; bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

** Want to make your own squash puree? Take a whole butternut squash, cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, and roast in the oven. I sprinkled a little salt and pepper on top, and roasted for about 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven. When the squash is very soft, remove from the oven and let cool. Scoop out the squash, and puree in a food processor or blender. It's easy, but make sure you plan the extra time for it to roast!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekend Breakfast Treat!

I mastered the art of pumpkin pancakes a few weeks ago, and have been dying to tell you about the recipe I officially adore. But I wanted to be strategic, and hopefully inspire you a little! That's why I couldn't do this post any old day... if you heard about pumpkin pancakes on Tuesday, you might forget all about them by the time the weekend rolled around. And this is a recipe you don't want to forget. You want to grab a post it, jot down ingredients you might need, and head to the store on your way home tonight. If your weekend is going to be as rainy and mellow as mine, then it is perfect timing to cook some of these babies for breakfast.

While you're at it, check out the awesome blog I got the recipe from. It's Pinch My Salt, and I don't know how I hadn't run across it before. It's great! I am kind of in awe of Nicole's pictures... maybe some day I'll try to learn more about taking great pictures and editing them to look like hers. For now, I'll just admire other people's pictures and work on my cooking skills. One thing at a time, right? My friend Katie gave me the excellent suggestion to try this recipe when I had leftover pumpkin, and now in the last month I've made pumpkin pancakes on multiple occasions.

Before I share the recipe, let me give you a pancake tip if you're like me and only cooking for one or two people. Pancake batter can make a lot, right? And while you could scale down the recipe, that is a lot of dishes and effort for only 4 or 5 pancakes. I like to put in the effort once, and eat the results on multiple occasions! But pancakes are only good in the fridge for a couple more days before you have to throw them out. So... why not freeze them? The trick is to freeze them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, then put them into a ziplock freezer bag once they're already frozen. They go from frozen to delish about about 45 seconds in the microwave, and can be a great way to get yourself moving on a weekday morning that's really dragging. And while I'm on the subject of freezing stuff, it turns out canned pumpkin also freezes well. Put 1 cup portions into baggies to freeze, then grab a bag and thaw in the sink when you're craving these pancakes!

And in case you guys think my fridge is out of control, here's proof that I'm not crazy :

See, look at all that space! I have some frozen meat, ice cream, pasta sauce... all normal stuff, and not too much of it! And Matt, I'm glad to hear you're freezing bananas at your house, too :)

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes
From Pinch My Salt

1 C. whole wheat flour

1/2 C. cake flour

1 t. baking soda

2 t. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

1 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 t. ground ginger

1/2 t. ground nutmeg

1 C. buttermilk

1 C. canned pumpkin puree

2 eggs

2 T. oil

1 t. vanilla

2 T. dark brown sugar

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the first eight ingredients (whole wheat flour through nutmeg). In a separate bowl, whisk together the last six ingredients (buttermilk through brown sugar).

2. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and blend together with a wooden spoon until just combined. Lumps are ok, just make sure all the flour on the bottom of the bowl is mixed in. If batter seems too thick to pour, you can gently stir in a little more buttermilk.

3. Drop pancakes by ladleful onto a medium-hot griddle. Pancakes are ready to turn when the edges start to look a little dry and you can see small bubbles forming on the surface.

If you really want to enjoy these pancakes, splurge on real maple syrup. It is so worth it on these pancakes!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The best quiche I've ever made...

Working at the Chopping Block, I see a lot of great recipes that I'd like to try at home. But there are not enough meals in the day, especially when I'm only cooking dinner a couple nights a week lately! So I try to be really selective about which recipes I see in class and want to make at home. This quiche recipe jumped out to me as soon as I saw it. I didn't even get to taste it, because the people in the class took their leftovers home, but I knew I needed a copy of the recipe. I made it within a day or two, which is a quick turn around for me. Boy was I glad I did make it quickly, because it was amazing!! The flavors blended together perfectly, and I felt like it was a great balance of protein, dairy, and veggies. Ever since we started consciously trying to eat less meat, quiche has been one of my favorite things to cook. It's not the healthiest option out there, with a buttery crust and cheese on top, but I do think quiche is a great way to get a well balanced meal out of one dish. Add a salad on the side, and this makes the perfect lunch. I also loved a little slice for breakfast, with yogurt or fruit on the side.

Sun Dried Tomato, Spinach, and Goat Cheese Quiche
from "The Breakfast Club" class at The Chopping Block

2 tbsp butter
2 shallots, sliced thin
4 cups baby spinach
1 cup sun dried tomatoes
2 Tbsp parsley, rough chopped
4 eggs
2/3 cups half and half
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
blind baked tart/pie crust (see note below)
3/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add the butter. Gently saute the shallots until lightly caramelized, about 3-4 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until just wilted. Fold in the oven dried tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper.

Whisk together the eggs, half and half, milk, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Stir the spinach mixture into the eggs and pour into the blind baked crust. Dot the top of the quiche with th egoat cheese and bake until puffed and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool for about 15 minutes and then cut into wedges.

** My Note: With my busy schedule I've been looking for shortcuts to help me maximize the time that I'm in the kitchen. One shortcut I've been loving is buying pre-made pie crusts. I've made a couple quiche recipes using these crusts, and I think they are worth the time I save! The pre-made crusts that come in their own pan are smaller than a regular pie dish, though, so you'll need to scale back your liquids accordingly. I did about 2/3 cup total of heavy cream and skim milk (the dairy I had on hand already- worked perfectly), and I used only 3 eggs. I kept the spinach the same, and did about 3/4 cup of tomatoes. I also did a little less cheese on top, to keep it from being too rich. Don't be afraid to experiment!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Masa Bread is the new Cornbread!

Quick, when I say "chili", what is the first accompaniment that comes to mind? It's cornbread, right? That's been my answer every since I started making chili a few years ago. I love inventing new types of chili based on my mood, but the side dish never varies. And even though I usually like trying new things, this corn bread requirement never really bothered me.

Last week I planned to make a big pot of chili, and for whatever reason I stopped myself before I gathered the ingredients for cornbread. I had finally reached my limit, and determined that I needed something else to fill the "yummy carb" food category of this meal. That lead me to pull out a few cookbooks, and when I stumbled across a bread recipe from my mom I knew I had found my answer. Masa bread is something she used to make all the time when I was younger, and I loved it. I can't tell you what it is about this bread, but it's amazing! Maybe it's the texture... it's pretty dense but not tough or doughy. Maybe it's the flavor... it tastes like corn, but only subtly. Whatever it is, this bread is a wonderful alternative to cornbread, especially with chili or any type of mexican stew (like my Mexican Chili or Chile Verde).

Masa Bread
from Breads of the Southwest, by Beth Hensperger

-3 3/4 to 4 1/4 cups all purpose flour
-1 1/4 cups masa harina para tortillas (the masa I found said "instant for tamales" and it worked great!)
-1 Tbsp/package active dry yeast
-3 Tbsp packed brown sugar
-2 tsp salt
-2 cups warm water (about 115 degrees)
- cornmeal, for sprinkling
- 2 Tbsp corn oil, for brushing

In a mixer with a paddle, mix 1 cup all purpose flour with the masa, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add hot water and beat until smooth- about 1 minute. Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix on low until dough just clears the sides of the bowl.

Switch to a dough hook, and knead until soft and springy- about 1-2 minutes for the machine. Dust with flour 1 Tbsp at a time to prevent sticking. The dough should be smooth and springy, not dry. Put the kneaded dough into a greased bowl, and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1-1/12 hours at room temperature.

Turn the dough out onto the counter to deflate, and form into two loaves. Place the loaves onto a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, at least four inches apart. Brush the loaves with corn oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until double, about 45 minutes.

About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the over to 375 degrees.

Brush the tops of the loaves again with corn oil. Bake on the center oven rack for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown and hallow sounding. Place the loaves onto a cooking rack immediately. Bread is best warm or at room temperature on the day its baked.

My Notes-- since it makes two loaves, I slice one and put it in the freezer. Then I can easily grab a slice or two without defrosting the whole loaf. This bread is fantastic for breakfast, toasted with butter and honey on top.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Julia's Ratatouille

If you're like me, you probably had not idea what exactly ratatouille was when that cute animated film by the same name came out a couple years back. I saw the movie, actually, I insisted on purchasing the movie, yet I still had no clue what the actual French dish was. I'd heard reference to it being some kind of vegetable casserole, but couldn't have picked it out if someone set a dish right in front of me.

Thankfully, that all changed when Julie and Julia came out this summer, and recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking started popping up all over the place! I found the recipe for Julia Child's Ratatouille in Bon Appetit, and knew I had to try it. Basically, I would describe it as a mix of stewed vegetables, including peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. While the ingredients are mostly summer vegetables, the method of cooking makes it so that you could use sub-par out of season veggies and still pull off a good dish. I think it would be great this time of year, when you still have some veggies around, but also want a warm and satisfying dish. You'll be amazed at the great flavor you get from such simple ingredients!

by Julia Child, reprinted in Bon Appetit

1/2 pound eggplant
1/2 pound zucchini, trimmed
1 tsp salt
7 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 8-oz onion, thinly sliced
2 green bell peppers, thinly sliced into strips
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 pound firm but ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4 inch thick strips
3 Tbsp minced fresh parsley

Peel eggplant; cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices, then cut into 3-inch-long, 1-inch-side strips. Cut zucchini into same size strips. Place vegetables in large bowl, sprinkle with 1 tsp salt. Let stand 30 minutes. Drain; dry with paper towels.

Heat 4 Tbsp oil in large skilled over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add eggplant and zucchini to skillet; saute until light golden, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to plate; reserve. Add 3 Tbsp oil to skillet; heat over medium heat. Add onion and peppers; saute until just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in garlic. Season with salt and pepper.

Place tomato strips atop onion-pepper mixture in skillet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover skillet; cook over low heat until tomatoes begin to juice, about 5 minutes. Uncover; baste vegetables in skillet with juices. Boil until juices are almost evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfew 1/3 of onion-pepper-tomato mixture to 2 1/2 quart pot; sprinkle with 1 tbsp parsley. Top with half of eggplant and half of zucchini, then remaining onion mixture; sprinkle with 1 Tbsp parsley. Cover; simmer over low heat 10 minutes. Uncover; tilt pot and baste with accumulated juices. Increase heat to medium; simmer uncovered, basting several times with pan juices until only 2 to 3 Tbsp juices remain in pot, watching closely to avoid scorching, 10 to 15 minutes loger. Season with salt and pepper, and serve warm or at room temperature.

I served the Ratatouille with chicken flavored by a simple
lemon and herb marinade and oven roasted potatoes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Banana Muffins with a Seasonal Twist

What do you do with bananas when they get a little too brown for eating? Do you stick them in the freezer to use for baking? That was always my mom's strategy, and ever since I've lived on my own I've done the same thing. That way, whenever I get the urge to make banana muffins, I have the main ingredient waiting in the freezer. I've had some roommates in the past who thought I was weird for freezing too many random things (Chris, Matt, are you reading this?), but it's so convenient to have softened bananas on hand for baking!

Sometimes, however, the blackened bananas start taking over the freezer. This weekend I noticed that was starting to be the case, so I decided it was time to make some banana muffins. I was headed straight towards my regular muffin recipe, from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, but something caused me to pick up my binder full of handwritten recipe cards. As I flipped through my old recipes, one from last year caught my attention: Pumpkin Banana Muffins. Perfect! This recipe allowed me to use up a couple of the bananas that were taking up precious freezer real estate, and also gave me a chance to make my first pumpkin recipe of the season. These muffins were as good as I remembered from last year, and were the perfect breakfast to usher in this fall-like weather.

I do have a problem that I might need your help with. I had to buy a big can of pumpkin, since that was all my little local grocery store had. This recipe only calls for 1/2 cup of pumpkin, which means I have at least two cups of pumpkin puree sitting in my fridge. What's your favorite pumpkin recipe that you think I should try?

Pumpkin Banana Muffins
I wrote down this was from allrecipes.com, but can't find the recipe on the site any more

1/2 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup mashed bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg

1 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup oats/nuts
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Mix the wet ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, make a well in the center, and add the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined. Spoon into greased muffin tin, and top each muffin with 1 Tbsp of topping. Bake at 375 for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Notes: Since we don't eat a dozen muffins very quickly at my house, I tend to freeze at least half of them. They microwave well in about 20 to 30 seconds. The topping on these was kind of a pain, and didn't stick very well. Any suggestions?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Something's brewing in our kitchen...

As you can imagine, I haven't been making very good use of my kitchen recently! I'm still cooking, since 2 of my part time jobs involve cooking lessons, but have had very few chances to actually get into my own kitchen. For example, the next two nights I work at the Chopping Block until late, then Saturday I'm in a food safety class all day, then I babysit Saturday night and work all day Sunday. I've eaten more Turkey sandwiches in the last month than I'd eaten in the last couple years, and granola bars or goldfish crackers have become essential parts of my diet. I'm eating like a six year old a lot of the time, which is kind of sad.

But the kitchen has been getting some use from Joe. He's made a couple dinners on nights when I've been working all day while he's at home. He made a fantastic butternut squash soup from Jamie at Home on Sunday, which I'm bugging him to blog about. He's cooked other dishes here and there, but that's not what I want to tell you about today. What I want to tell you about is his new hobby... brewing beer!

The brew master takes over the kitchen!

I'm not sure if I've emphasized enough that Joe and I are big beer fans. We've been known to choose a craft brew over wine even at a fancy restaurant, and would be content hanging out at a beer-centric bar in Chicago any night of the week. We used to live only a block or two from the Hopleaf, one of the best beer bars in the city, and would walk there on a random weeknight to enjoy one of the over 100 beers they had on hand. We've toured a few breweries together, and have spent many evenings talking with my beer obsessed father about different brews that we enjoy. My dad has been brewing his own beer for years, and finally inspired Joe to try his hand at the art of home brewing.

Last summer we visited Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee,
which I would highly recommend if you're ever in the area.

A few weeks ago my dad and I visited the Schlafly Bottleworks in St. Louis.

One of the things I love about Joe brewing is that he's as obsessed with it as I am with cooking. He's started hanging out on the message boards of homebrewtalk.com, and more than once apologized for talking about brewing too much. He didn't want to use a pre-packaged kit, and ambitiously used a recipe his first time. His first batch of wheat beer was a success, and we enjoyed sharing it with friends and family. Like cooking, brewing gives you a sense of pride for creating something for people to enjoy.

The first day of brewing... this is when the kitchen is a bit of a mess! After this day it goes into a huge jug to ferment. At that point we store it in the basement, to keep it in a cool environment and also to get it out of the way!

Two to three weeks later it's time to bottle. Once the beer is in bottles and caps have been securely attached, it has to condition for another couple weeks. It gets bubbly during this part of the process.

Our first batch made around 45 bottles, which went pretty quickly when we started sharing it with everyone.

Sharing the fruits of his labor is probably Joe's favorite part... and everyone has enjoyed the brew so far!

Right now we have a Pumpkin Ale fermenting, and I think Joe will be bottling it this weekend. It should be prime for drinking in October, just in time for the change in season. If you want to know more details about the specifics of brewing, let me know and I'll put you in touch with Joe. And maybe I can convince him to do a guest post one of these days to tell you more about the process. If you have a second, I'd love to hear a comment about your favorite brew! I think Magic Hat #9 is one of my favorites... but I also really love the Goose Island reserve brew called Sophie, which I think you can only buy in Illinois. Cheers!