Tuesday, March 31, 2009

He bakes, too?!

I don't know if I've told you before, but I have the best husband ever. I mean, seriously, how many husbands get inspired to bake on a random Sunday afternoon? This Sunday I was in a cooking frenzy as I assembled my homemade lasagne (see the post below this), so dessert hadn't crossed my mind. Joe, on the other hand, was feeling a bit bored, and started hanging around the kitchen. Since dinner was pretty much under control, he decided it would be his responsibility to bake something sweet for after the lasagne coma set in.

After digging through websites and cookbooks he settled on a recipe for Chocolate Almond Bars from Epicurious.com. It sounded relatively simple, and also called for ingredients that we had on hand already. The baking process was two steps, so this wasn't the quickest recipe, but the result was worth the wait! These bars were fantastic, and I was very impressed with my husband's baking skills. I think these would make a fabulous addition to the next potluck or get together you attend... as long as you don't eat them all before you leave the kitchen!

Chocolate Almond Bars
from Gourmet Magazine, March 2003

For crust and topping
1 1/4 sticks (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

For filling
1 1/2 teaspoons instant-espresso powder or instant coffee
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (4 1/2 oz)

Make crust and topping:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes with a standing mixer or 3 minutes with a handheld. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour and salt just until a dough forms. Pat two thirds of dough evenly over bottom of a buttered 8- by 2-inch square metal baking pan. Bake crust in middle of oven until edge is golden, about 12 minutes. While crust is baking, work almonds into remaining dough with your hands until crumbs form, then reserve for topping. Cool crust in pan on a rack.

Make filling while crust cools:

Dissolve espresso powder in vanilla in a small cup. Beat together cream cheese and sugar with cleaned beaters at medium-high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes, then add egg and espresso mixture and beat well. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour filling onto cooled crust and crumble topping evenly over filling. Bake in middle of oven until edges are golden, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack. Cut into 16 bars.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Daring Bakers: Emilia-Romagna Lasagne

I joined the Daring Bakers last summer because I felt the need for a challenge. I've always been more of a cook than a baker, and I thought this group would be the perfect opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and try something new. I have gained a lot of confidence in my baking since joining the group, and look forward to each new monthly challenge. Baking does still intimidate me some times, but I love the experience of trying a new recipe or technique and finding success at the end. Edible results are always the best!

I still would call myself a cook more than a baker, though, so I was quite excited when I saw the Daring Bakers challenge for March. Authentic Italian lasange was the perfect middle ground between cooking and baking. I've been wanting to make homemade pasta for months now, but have had some major frustrations with the Kitchen Aid pasta attachment I own. The Daring Bakers lasagne suggested hand rolling your pasta, and I was eager to see if the old fashioned way would be more successful than my pasta attachment.

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

I was plesantly surprised that this recipe was not as complicated as I anticipated. It took a couple hours to make the pasta, but it didn't feel too hectic or demanding. A perfect Sunday afternoon activity. The bechamel was simple and came together perfectly, and I made a vegetable ragu to layer in between bechamel and pasta. The end result was elegant and delicious, and I wished I'd had the foresight to invite friends over to join us. It was rich from the bechamel, but the vegetable sauce kept it from being too heavy. Overall, I had a great time making this authentic lasagne, and can't wait to try more homemade pasta recipes!

Since the recipe is a bit extensive, I'm not going to post the whole thing here. Check out Mary's blog, Beans and Caviar, for detailed recipes. Below is my vegetable tomato sauce recipe, since it was my own creation.

Chunky Vegetable Tomato Sauce

3 carrots
1 zucchini
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
2 cans (14.5 oz ) diced tomatoes--I cheated a little and got the Hunts brand tomatoes that were already flavored with basil, garlic, and oregano
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp onion powder

Peel the carrots, and dice into 1/4 inch cubes. Dice the zucchini into similar sized cubes. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium, then add the carrots. Turn the heat to medium low, and let the carrots saute for about 15 minutes, until tender. Add the zucchini, and cook about 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

When zucchini and carrots are tender, add the tomatoes. Season to taste with extra oregano and onion powder. Simmer on medium for 30 minutes, until sauce has thickend. This vegetarian sauce was perfect with the lasagne, and would also be tasty with a short pasta like penne or fusilli.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Weeknight Stuffed Peppers

I'm trying to make up for lost time on my blog. I've been steadily slowing down on posting for the last few months, and February was the worst yet--2 posts for the entire month! Lots of stuff has been going line out in my "real" world, and it's been hard to keep up with cooking decent food and finding time to write about it. It hasn't been all bad stuff lately, though... I've figured out I'm going back to school in May (and leaving my full time job that I don't really love...), and I've been helping my parents sort out a move to St. Louis. My husband didn't have a job through the holidays and January, but now he has a new job that he's settling into. Plus, winter weather was really wearing me out!

But spring is around the corner, and I'm turning over a new blogging leaf :) I've been getting back into the kitchen a lot recently, and am trying out new recipes that I'd love to share. I haven't done anything too complicated recently, focusing more on day to day real food. This recipe was from Everyday Food, and it's exactly the type of recipe that fits into my busy weeknight schedule.

I do think simple food is something you have to be careful with. There are times when three or four ingredients can come together perfectly, like when you stuff dates with cheese and wrap them in bacon. Combine those three ingredients and invite some friends over, and they'll think you're a kitchen goddess! Other times, though, simple food ends up being boring food. I have an Everyday Food cookbook, and have had success with some of the simple recipes in it. This Stuffed Greek Peppers recipe was from Martha Stewart's website, and I felt like it was a simple recipe that ended up not quite as tasty as it sounded. I think next time I'd pre-cook the couscous, and just bake the peppers in a dish, without the water in the bottom. Also, I didn't season it any more that the recipe called for, but I know next time there would be more salt, pepper, and other dried herbs. I love the idea of Stuffed Peppers, and I think this recipe is a good starting point for making your own version.

Greek Stuffed Peppers
Adapted from Everyday Food

4 large bell peppers (I used green peppers)
1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (I used chickpeas, because we'd had a dish with cannellini beans a couple days before)
1 cup crumbled feta (4 ounces)
1/2 cup couscous
4 scallions, white and green parts separated, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
5 mushrooms, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Coarse salt and ground pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Slice a very thin layer from the base of each bell pepper so they sit flat. Slice off tops just below stem. Discard stems; chop tops, and place in a medium bowl. Remove ribs and seeds from peppers.

To bowl, add chickpeas, feta, couscous, scallion whites, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic, and oregano. Season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Stuff peppers with bean mixture. Place upright in a 5 quart dutch oven, add one cup of water. Place the lid on the dutch oven, and bake until peppers are tender, about one hour. (Next time I would just put in a glass dish, cover with foil, and bake until tender. I think steaming with water really diluted the flavor.)

Serve with scallion greens and lemon wedges.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Broccoli and Walnut Pasta

This recipe jumped out of the pages of "Real Simple" magazine a couple months ago. The meatless recipe really appealed to me, and I loved the idea of walnuts for the protein. I love broccoli, and the fact that this pasta was sauceless made it seem healthier. Roasting the broccoli gave it great flavor. I was so pleased with the results of this recipe! It was simple, healthy, and really satisfying. While a salad and bread might make a nice addition, this is a pasta that would be great as a one-dish meal.

Pasta with Roasted Broccoli and Walnuts
From "Real Simple" magazine, February 2009

12 ounces orecchiette or other short pasta (3 cups)
1 bunch broccoli (1 1/2 lbs), cut into florets
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
kosher salt and black pepper
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (extra doesn't hurt!)

Heat oven to 400° F.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve 3/4 cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta, and return it to the pot.

Meanwhile, on a rimmed baking sheet, toss the broccoli, walnuts, oil, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Roast, tossing once, until the broccoli is tender, 18 to 20 minutes.

Toss the pasta with the broccoli mixture, butter, and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water. (Add more water if the pasta seems dry.)

Sprinkle with the Parmesan before serving.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Getting Creative with "Soyrizo"

I was at the grocery store a few days ago, checking out their selction of non-meat protein type products, and I couldn't help but notice the "Soyrizo", which looked exactly like chorizo. I was intrigued, and decided I needed to try this product out. I wasn't sure exactly what I'd do with it, but knew I'd get inspired once I brought it home. I thought this was a major discovery, but after googling "soyrizo" I found that I'm not the only one to experiment with this meat substitute.

I decided I wanted to take another stab at enchiladas, to try to make up for the mushy mess I produced last time I made a chicken version. I figured my mushy enchilada problem came from too much sauce on top, and maybe crowding too many filled tortillas into one dish. Less sauce and more space seemed to do the trick, because these enchiladas were delicious! Now that I've figured out how to properly make enchiladas, I'm excited to see what flavor combination I can work out. This 'soyrizo' and black bean combination was a great starting point, and I think I could trick any meat lover into enjoying these!

Soyrizo and Black Bean Enchaladas

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 package soyrizo
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
mexican cheese
12 corn tortillas
1 can red enchilada sauce

Preheat oven to 325.

Heat the oil in a large skillet, and add the red onion. Saute for about 3 minutes, then add the soyrizo. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until soyrizo is warm and getting crisp. Add the drained black beans, and let cool for a few minutes. Mix in about 1 cup of shreaded cheese.

Spread a couple spoonfuls of enchilada sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish. Heat tortillas two at a time in the microwave to soften them; about 15 seconds at a time. Spread a heaping spoonful of the soyrizo mix in each tortilla, roll, and place seam-side down in the dish. Repeat with remaining tortillas. I split the twelve tortillas into two smaller dishes, so they weren't overcrowded. Spoon about a half cup of enchilada sauce over each batch of enchiladas, and sprinkle with shreadded cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes, until heated through.

I served the enchiladas with the mexican rice I love, and I made the recipe vegetarian by using vegetable bullion instead of chicken stock.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Meatless Middle Eastern

I've given up meat for lent this year, so you will be seeing more meatless meals in the upcoming weeks. I've been trying to eat less meat for a while now, and I'm looking forward to expanding my vegetarian horizans. This couscous salad and falafel meal was a well rounded and flavorful meatless meal.

The couscous salad is a staple in my house, and I'm shocked I haven't shared it on my blog yet. I got this recipe from my mom, and she got it from her friend Ina. Ok, maybe not her friend... but Ina's cookbook is around enough that she feels like a friend :) This couscous is a staple for parties and potlucks, and I make a big batch as a treat for Joe every once in a while. It's a great side dish with grilled chicken or pork, and also goes great with middle eastern dishes like falafel. The leftovers make a perfect lunchtime salad, too, and adding some sliced lunch meat or cheese makes it a complete meal.

I made the couscous salad to go with some falafel and pitas. I did the falafel from a boxed mix, and thought it tasted pretty decent. After dinner I found this recipe from Mark Bittman, which I'll have to try next time I want falafel. I added spinach leaves, red onion, and a yogurt sauce to the pitas, and since I baked the falafels it turned out satisfying and fresh tasting. This meal made me dream of the warmer wather that's just around the corner!

Curried Couscous
from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

1 1/2 cups couscous
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup small-diced carrots
1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins (I use golden raisins)
1/4 cup blanched, sliced almonds
2 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
1/4 cup small-diced red onion

Place the couscous in a medium bowl. Melt the butter in the boiling water and pour over the couscous. Cover tightly and allow the couscous to soak for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, curry, turmeric, salt, and pepper. Pour over the fluffed couscous, and mix well with a fork. Add the carrots, parsley, currants, almonds, scallions, and red onions, mix well, and season to taste. Serve at room temperature.