Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Carrot Jalapeño Soup with Apple Cheddar Quesadillas

I recently harvested all the veggies I planted because I knew it was going to freeze.  What I picked included about 7 jalapeños and about a bajillion carrots which was perfect because Brandon had been bugging me to make Carrot Jalapeño Soup he tried at a local restaurant and loved.

We all know that carrots are a really healthy food.  They are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, especially beta-carotene and falcarinol, which is essential for colon health.  They are low in calories and high in fiber, and boiling carrots actually concentrates the falcarinol levels, making it easier for your body to absorb more.  Jalapeños, like all chile peppers, contain capsaicin.  That's the phytochemical that makes peppers taste hot.  Capsaicin has many benefits, and in order to keep this short and simple, I'll just list them: it helps fight cancer, relieve pain, prevent sinusitus and relieve congestion, fight inflammation, soothe intestinal diseases, burn fat and lose weight, and protect your heart by reducing cholesterol.  

So basically, this soup is not only delicious, it's a nutritional power-house.  It's thick and creamy, filling, tastes amazing and totally in season right now.  There's no reason not to make this soup ASAP!

*tip, don't worry about chopping all the veggies super small, you're going to blend them all up!

Carrot Jalapeño Soup
2 T olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
6 celery stalks, sliced
6 carrots, peeled and sliced
5 jalapeño chiles, halved and seeded
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 t ground allspice
1/4 t cinnamon
1 t dried thyme
8 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup fat-free half and half
1 cup graded sharp cheddar cheese

Heat olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat.  Add onions and sauté until tender.  Add celery, carrots, jalapeños and garlic and sauté until carrots begin to soften.  Add 4 cups stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently about 30 minutes, until carrots are tender.  Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender (or transfer, in batches, to a blender, with the center of lid removed).  Add remaining stock and half and half.  Heat until warm.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with cheese.

Apple Cheddar Quesadillas

Slice one large, or two small, apples.  Sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese over one half of a tortilla.  Arrange apple slices, barely overlapping, on top of cheese, and top with more cheese.  Fold tortilla in half.  Melt a small amount of butter in a large skillet and cook each quesadilla until golden brown on the outside, and the cheese has melted.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Creamy Tomato Soup = Heaven

Ok, I know I've stated this phrase before, but I absolutely love this dish!  I am a sucker for tomato soup.  Interestingly enough, according to Wikipedia, tomato soup is the top comfort food of the United States and Poland.  So if you are an American, or Polish, you know about the phenomenon of this classic soup.  In fact, it ranks among the top 3 flavors of soup produced by Campbell's.  While I began my love affair with the canned variety, as our relationship grew deeper, I wanted the real thing, Fresh Homemade Tomato Soup with Cream.  One of the best things about the homemade version is that it can be frozen and reheated for months to come.

This is the time of the year where fresh picked tomatoes are are their peak, and this soup is best when fresh tomatoes are used, but it's still stellar if you use really good canned tomatoes.  San Marzano tomatoes are considered by most chefs to be the best canned tomatoes.  Compared to Roma tomatoes, they have a thicker flesh and less seeds, which leads to a richer, stronger flavor, more sweet and less acidic.  Their flavor is complex, which when combined with ingredients, becomes more intense.

This recipe is the best one I've found so far, (but I'm not done looking...) and to make things even better, it super easy to make!  It is adapted from a Splended Table recipe.  The key to keeping the flavor fresh is to add the cream in after dishing up the soup; don't cook it in.  This recipe makes a lot of soup and freezes really well.  A tip from my kitchen; freeze it in one-  or two-serving sized batches.  That way, it takes less time to thaw, and you won't have to thaw it all at once.

Tomato Soup with Cream

Olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped
Salt and peper
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon tomato paste (I love Amore, the kind in the tube)
2 1/2 to 3 cups chicken broth
A big handful fresh basil leaves, torn
3 28-oz cans San Marzano tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream (for serving)

Pour a generous amount of olive oil into the bottom of a 12-quart pot and set over medium high heat.  When warm, add onions and about 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions start to change color.  Stir in garlic, red pepper, and tomato paste and cook 1 minute.  Add broth, basil, and tomatoes.  Bring in a lively simmer, cover the pot, and cook 15 to 20 minutes.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Once soup has cooled, use an immersion blended, blend in a traditional blender until smooth.  Rewarm and serve, stirring a generous tablespoon of cream into each bowl.

The only thing that could make this soup better is some homemade croutons scattered atop!

Saute cubed day-old bread (from a baguette or french bread is best) in butter, season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder.  Once coated with butter and seasonings, place in a heated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until crispy.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Tale of Two (Mac and) Cheeses...

I recently received the newest issue of Cooking Light Magazine in the mail and the cover photo was a dish of delicious-looking macaroni and cheese, ooey and gooey with a crispy breadcrumb topping.  I wondered to myself, "Who in the world would think this was a good idea, mac and cheese on the cover of Cooking Light?  No way..." So I immediately flipped to the page to find out exactly how they planned to sell me "light" macaroni and cheese.

A little backstory, first, though.  I love macaroni and cheese.  I love pasta and I love cheese, so it's a natural fit.  Box-made or home-made, I love it all.  Over the years, I've tried to find the perfect Mac and Cheese recipe.  I've tried a lot, thought most were just ok, but I have found a few that I fall back on, time and time again.   All of these recipes involve cream, butter, a flour-based roux, and about a million calories, which is good, but sometimes I want mac and cheese and not feel like I have to change into my "fat-pants" before I eat it.

Ok, back to the original story.  So I immediately flipped to the page to find out exactly how they planned to sell me "light" macaroni and cheese.  The secret ingredient..... butternut squash!  This secret weapon not only cuts over 500 calories, 400 milligrams of sodium and 30 grams of saturated fat, but it helps the dish retain its creaminess and classic color, while sneaking in a healthy serving of vegetable that is chock full of vitamins!  I made this for dinner, and it did not disappoint!  I could tell that it wasn't the real deal, but it was creamy, cheesy and provided that comfort-quality I was looking for!  I will definitely keep this recipe!

For comparison sake, I am providing another mac and cheese recipe that I use frequently, if you are looking for something to splurge on.  Enjoy!

Creamy and Light Macaroni and Cheese (adapted from a Cooking Light recipe)

2 12-oz boxes frozen winter squash
1 1/4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups fat-free milk
2 cloves garlic
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 T fat-free Greek yogurt
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded Gruyere cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) grated pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1 pound uncooked cavatappi pasta
cooking spray
1 t olive oil
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine the frozen squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until squash is complete incorporated with the liquids.  Remove from heat.  Place the hot squash mixture in a blender (or leave in saucepan if using an immersion blender).  Add salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt.  (Remove the center piece of the blender lid and cover hole with a towel to avoid splatter.)  Blend until smooth. Add in Gruyere, pecorino Romano, and 2 T of the Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Stir until combined.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Add pasta to squash mixture, and stir until combined. Spread mixture into a 13 x 9-inch class or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add panko, and cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from heat; stir in remaining 2 T Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Sprinkle evenly over the hot pasta mixture and lightly coat topping with cooking spray.  Bake at 375 for 25 minutes or until bubbly.  Serve immediately

Classic Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound macaroni,
2 T butter
2 T all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 t salt
1/2 t fresh ground black pepper
1 8-oz block sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
1 T butter
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat; whisk in flour until smooth.  Cook, whisking constantly, 2 minutes.  Gradually whisk in milk, and cook, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until thickened.  Remove from heat.  Stir in salt and pepper, 1 cup shredded cheese and cooked pasta.  Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 2-qt baking dish; top with remaining 1 cup cheese. Melt butter in a small sauce pan and add in bread crumbs, saute until lightly browned.  Top pasta mixture with bread crumbs, bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until bubbly.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer Vacation

Clearly, my blog has been on summer vacation, as I have not posted anything since early May.  I have finally succumbed to the hoards of fans (a few friends...) who have been begging me to write again (commenting on my laziness).  It's been a little difficult to come up with inspiration this summer.  Not only have we been SUPER busy, but I love grilled food, and to be quite honest, that's pretty much all we've eaten all summer.  So, since that's all I've done (food-wise) this summer, that's what I've got to write about. To make up for the lack of posts the last few months, I'm giving you 3 delicious recipes to try!

Eating in the summer is incredibly easy, especially if you've got a grill.  You really never have to turn on the oven.  Almost anything you can do on the stove-top or in the oven can be done on a grill.  It takes maybe a little extra creativity, but it's worth it.  Imagine the delicious flavor of your food but with the added authentic grilled flavor.  Amazing!

The trick to grilling something that you would normally cook in an oven boils down to two grilling basics: temperature and indirect heat.   Indirect heat is most easily explained as the source of the heat (ie: flame, coals) all on one side of the grill and what you are grilling on the other side of the grill.  This is important because direct heat will burn foods that need to be grilled for a longer period of time.  If you do intend on successfully "grill-baking," you will need a good grill-thermometer.  This type is very different from a meat-thermometer because it actually tells you the internal temperature of your grill.  Once you've got these basic concepts down, you are ready to "grill-bake"or "grill-roast" a delicious meal.

Grilled Lasagna
-recipe courtesy of, makes 4 lasagnas, serves 4

Photo by Antonis Achilleos,
1 lb mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 large tomatoes (2 thinly sliced, 1 grated)
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
8 cups baby spinach (about 5 ounces)
1/3 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil

Preheat grill to medium (about 350). Combine the mozzarella, parmesan, red pepper flakes, 1/2 t salt and all but 1/4 t garlic in a bowl;  drizzle with olive oil and toss to combine.  Season the sliced tomatoes with salt.

Lay out 4 double-layer sheets of nonstick foil.  Drizzle each with olive oil, top with 1 noodle and sprinkle each noodle with 1 T water.  Divide half of each of the spinach, sliced tomatoes and mozzarella mixture among the noodles.  Repeat to make another layer of noodles, water, spinach, tomatoes and mozzarella mixture.  Finish each stack with a noodle, 1 T water and a drizzle of olive oil.  Bring the foil together and crimp tightly closed to make 4 flat packets.

Grill the packets, covered, over indirect heat, about 10 minutes per side.  Let rest 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix the grated tomatoes, a pinch of salt, the reserved garlic and 1 T olive oil in a bowl.  Open the packets and cut the lasagna in half, if desired.  Top with the tomato mixture, ricotta and herbs.

Grilled Romaine Caesar Salad

24 romaine leaves
3 T olive oil
Salt and Ground Pepper
Parmesan cheese, fresh grated

Brush the leaves of romaine on both sides with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Grill on each side for 30 seconds.  Place 6 leaves on each plate, drizzle with caesar dressing (I like Romano Caesar Dressing from Trader Joe's) and garnish with parmesan cheese and croutons.

Grilled Pineapple with Mascarpone Cheese and Honey

1 Pineapple, skinned, cored and sliced into 1/2-inch thick rings (step-by-step directions here:
Mascarpone Cheese or Creme Fraiche (both equally delicious)
Chopped Pistachios, optional

Spray grill with cooking spray.  Grill the pineapple rings 2-3 minutes until nicely caramelized.  Remove from grill and distribute rings evenly on plates.  Top with a dollop of mascarpone cheese or creme fraiche, drizzle with honey and sprinkle with some chopped pistachios.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A First Taste of Summer

When the weather starts to get nice out, I start getting excited about grilling and fresh foods!  One of my favorite dishes for this time of year is Rigatoni with Grilled Peppers and Onions.  Grilled peppers are so incredibly delicious and with the added flavor of fresh basil, the dish just explodes with layers of flavor and color.  I found this recipe in a Real Simple Magazine about 3 years ago, and every year it helps me transition from spring to summer, but this dish can be made just as easily in the winter (or if you don't have a grill) by broiling or sauteing the vegetables instead of grilling them.  The original recipe is vegetarian, but you could easily add grilled chicken or sausages to this dish.  

The trick to this pasta dish, and other dishes you might make, is to reserve some of the pasta water.  As the pasta boils, starch from the pasta seeps into the water and when you use this pasta water to make your sauce it thickens and makes a "saucier" sauce than just plain water would.  It's really easy to forget to reserve some pasta water, so instead of draining your pasta, just use a slotted spoon to transfer your noodles to your dish, or set a measuring cup beside your colander to help you remember not to dump all the precious starchy pasta water down the drain.

Rigatoni with Grilled Peppers and Onions

1 box rigatoni
2 med red onions, cut into 1/2 inch thick rings (keep together for ease of grilling, if possible)
1 red and 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into quarters
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper
1 bunch spinach, stems trimmed, or 1 5-oz package
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water; drain the pasta and return it to the pot.  Meanwhile, heat grill or grill pan to medium-high. In a large bowl, toss the onions, bell peppers, oil, and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper.  Grill the vegetables, turning occasionally, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into bite-size pieces.  Add the grilled vegetables, spinach, reserved pasta water, and ¾ cup of the Parmesan to the pasta and toss to combine.  Top with the basil and the remaining ¼ cup Parmesan before serving.

Eat this and think of summer!  I do.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wine, Cheese and Bread: A Celebration!

First off, I must thank my readers for helping me reach over 1,000 page views!  It's a huge deal to me that people actually read my blog.  I really appreciate all of the comments that people have left me and I am going to attempt to do a better job of responding to any comments that ask me specific questions or ask for specific recipes.  As for the recipes I've already written about, I hope that some people have tried them, liked them, and added them to their collection.  I truly believe that recipe sharing is an amazing way to leave a legacy and I hope that this is just the beginning for me.

                     Thanks, and keep reading!!!

If you were to stroll down almost any Parisian boulevard at lunchtime, you will find many French madames et monsieurs eating a meal consisting of cheese and bread, washed down with a glass of wine.  Simple is the name of the game.  The bread, coming from a local boulangerie (bakery), would be une petite baguette baked fresh that day since, by law, French bread is required to avoid preservatives.  The cheese would almost certainly be a strong yet sweet Comte, made from unpasturized cow's milk in the Franche-Comte region of eastern France.    The wine, whether red or white, would complement the meal beautifully because most French styles of wine have been adapted to accompany food, rather than to drink on their own like wines from many other countries.

If you were to stroll into my kitchen the morning after a bonne soiree, you would find left overs of stale french bread, a variety of cheeses purchased from my local Trader Joe's, and a few half-drunk bottles of wine just waiting to be used or tossed.  I choose to USE!

This recipe is a phenomenal thing to use when your pantry looks like mine after a party, because it's an especially easy thing to do with leftover wine!  Plus, it has a fun name!  I actually found this recipe on one of my favorite websites:   I think they have fabulous recipes (simple!) as well as other interesting things to read and do.

Photo by Marcus Nilsson, Real Simple

Drunken Cheesy Bread

butter for the pan
1/2 a baguette, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 of a small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/8 lb of thinly sliced, fully cooked ham
3/4 cup white wine
pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups grated gruyere cheese

Heat your oven to 400 degrees.  Place the bread in a buttered ovenproof skillet, a 9-inch baking dish, or a casserole.  Scatter the onion and ham over the bread.  Pour the wine over the onion and ham and sprinkle with the pepper and gruyere.  Bake until the cheese has melted and begun to brown at the edges, about 20 minutes.  Spoon on to individual plates.

The great thing about this recipe is that it's so versatile. Use it as a main dish or serve it along side of some tomato soup. Say you have leftover prosciutto instead of ham, use it.  You have leftover chardonnay or sauvignon blanc?  Both work just as well.  Swiss instead of gruyere?  No problem.  I feel fairly certain that you could even make it work using Fat Tire Amber Ale and some grated American cheese, kinda like a de-constructed grilled cheese....  

This one will not disappoint, I guarantee!

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Salad Named for Bob

One of our favorite things to eat starting at the beginning of spring, just when you really feel the need to kick the heavy food habit, are Cobb salads.  A meal in themselves, they contain all of the necessary components: veggies, protein, salty, sweet, tart, crunchy, creamy, and color!  The Cobb salad was invented in Hollywood in the 1930's by the owner of the Red Derby restaurant.  His name was Robert Cobb, yes, Bob Cobb!  I love this fact!  The story goes, Bob and a friend got hungry one night after the restaurant closed and began rummaging around in the refrigerator.  He pulled out some lettuce, hard boiled eggs, grilled chicken, tomatoes, chives, cheese and some crisp-cooked bacon.  He tossed all of these odds and ends together with some red wine vinaigrette.  His friend thought it was so delicious that he came in the next day and ordered the "Cobb salad."  It was so good, it landed on the menu.  (sounds like huge garbage-salad success, to me!)

Here's my version of Cobb Salad (this amount served 2 of us for dinner):

2 heads of Romaine, washed and coarsely chopped
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1/4 red onion, sliced thinly
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 roma tomato, diced
2 ripe avocadoes, sliced
6 slices of crisp-cooked bacon, coarsely chopped
red wine vinaigrette (recipe to follow)

Plate up the lettuce on 2 plates.  Top with half of the remaining ingredients and dress with the vinaigrette.

Red Wine Vinaigrette

This is a really, really easy dressing to make.  When I make it, I don't measure everything out, I just make it to taste.  Here's a version from with all of the measurements:

1/4 c red-wine vinegar
1 T Dijon Mustard
1 t sugar
salt and black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper together in a small bowl.  Whisking constantly, add the oil in a slow, steady stream and continue whisking until thickened.

*I put the first 4 ingredients into my mini food processor and pulse until combined.  Then I add in the olive oil and then blend until thickened.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pub Fare Made Easy

Saint Patrick's Day was last week and while I am over the whole "drink green beer all day" thing, I do think it's kinda fun to celebrate culinarily. I had intended on making traditional corned beef and cabbage for dinner, but got ixnayed at the cabbage, so I switched gears and made a traditional Irish Pub meal of Shepherd's Pie, Guinness Battered Onion Rings and Black and Tans to wash it all down. 

The Black and Tans were not so successful. Traditionally made with Bass Pale Ale and Guinness, I had Smithwick's in my fridge already so I substituted that for the Bass. Ordinarily, a pint glass is filled halfway with the Bass, then the Guinness is poured over an upside-down spoon gently on top of the Bass and since it has a lighter density than the Bass, it stays layered that way. My Black and Tans did not stay layered but they did taste great!

The Shepherd's Pie is a stand-by for my household. It's a really easy and tasty recipe that is hearty and filling without being too heavy since it's mostly veggies. Shepherd's Pie, or Cottage Pie as it's been known as, became popular when potatoes were introduced as a cheap food for the poor. The recipe was most likely made up by frugal peasant housewives looking for a creative way to serve up leftover meat. Whatever the history, I am glad to have it, because it's one of my favorites!

Shepherd's Pie
1 lb hamburger
1 cup low sodium beef broth 
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper 
2 medium bay leaves 
2 whole cloves 
dash of dried thyme 
2 medium carrots, sliced 
4 oz button mushrooms, sliced 
2 ribs celery, diced 
1 cup corn 
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon flour 
1/2 cup beef broth 
1 lb potatoes; peeled, diced and cooked 
1/2 cup fat free milk 
1 T light margarine 
1 T snipped chives or green onions 
4 oz shredded mozzarella
Preheat oven to 375. Brown the beef and drain. Stir in 1 cup broth, pepper, bay leaves, cloves and thyme. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 30 minutes. Stir in vegetables; simmer, covered, 4-5 minutes until veggies are tender. Remove bay leaves and cloves. Put flour in small bowl. Gradually add the 1/2 cup broth. Whisk until smooth. Stir into beef mixture. Simmer 5 minutes until slightly thickened. Pour into medium casserole dish. Mash the potatoes with milk, chives and margarine. Spread over meat mixture. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 10 minutes at 375.

Probably the highlight of the meal were the Guinness-Battered Onion Rings. I had never deep-fried anything before so I decided to go all out and give it a try.  Now, I suggest using a Dutch oven and a deep-fry thermometer otherwise you really have no idea how hot your oil is and you basically want it to be pretty exact or else your food ends up either overly greasy or completely burnt.  This recipe is pretty labor-intensive but totally worth your time because they came out perfectly golden brown and delicious! A few tips to keep in mind before trying: get everything in an assembly-line set up before you start, and keep deep-fried onion rings warm in a 200-degree oven while frying the remaining batches.  

Guinness-Battered Onion Rings (this recipe makes a ton, I halved it and we still only ate half!)
2 large Vidalia onions, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups flour
salt and pepper
1 12-oz bottle Guinness
4 cups canola oil

Seperate sliced onions into rings, transfer to bowl and cover with buttermilk.  Combine 1 cup flour, salt and pepper in a bowl and stir to blend.  Combine 1 cup flour and the beer in a bowl and whisk to blend.  Heat oil in a deep heavy pan or deep fryer to 350 degrees. Working in small batches; remove onions from buttermilk and drain.  Dredge through flour and shake off excess.  Dip in beer batter; drain off excess.  Carefully lower onion rings, one at a time, into hot oil (do not overcrowd) and deep fry until golden brown, turning several times during frying with tongs.  Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.  Repeat process with remaining onions.  Season with salt if desired, serve hot.  

Trust me, these recipes won't disappoint!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Easy as... Brisket?

I never tire of beef.  Growing up on a cattle farm, we had what seemed like an endless supply of beef in our freezer.  Steaks, hamburger, roasts...  I am a beef lover.  One cut of beef that I particularly enjoy is a brisket.  Brisket is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest of beef, or the pectorals.  Interesting fact: cows do not have collar bones, so these areas on the cow are supported by the brisket muscles.  The cut of meat from this area therefore has a lot of connective tissue which means the meat must be cooked correctly in order to be tender and juicy.

When buying brisket in the grocery store, there are a couple of things to know.  First of all, the weight of the uncooked meat will NOT be the weight of the cooked meat.  This is true for most meats, but it especially holds true with brisket.  This is because as the brisket cooks a lot of the fat and connective tissue breaks down and dissolves resulting in sometimes a 35% loss in weight.  Second of all, don't look for the leanest looking cut.  Usually you can't even see the layer of fat, because the meat will be packaged with the fat on the bottom, but a significant layer of fat is necessary to help keep the meat moist while it cooks.

When cooking brisket, think "Low and Slow."  Brisket is a really very simple meat to cook.  Some recipes call for a dusting of flour, searing, or dry rubs, but with the amount of fat on the meat, and some simple ingredients, all I do with my brisket is season and cook.  Mine always turn out moist and delicious with very little work.

My recipe for beef brisket is really versatile.  Use what you have on hand!  It makes a lot, so I always freeze half, tightly wrapped.

1 beef brisket (usually between 5-7 lbs)
1/2 cup whisky, or dark beer, or cola
1/2 cup soy sauce
garlic salt
onion salt
worcestershire sauce

Marinate the meat in the whisky and soy sauce for 2 hours up to overnight.  (I do this in the bowl of my crock pot the night before so I don't dirty an extra dish).  Sprinkle meat with onion salt, garlic salt and worcestershire sauce.  Turn the meat fat side up (so the fat can melt down through the meat as it cooks), cover with lid, and cook at 300 degrees for 4-6 hours. (Or in a crock pot, on high for 1 hour, then low for... eh... 5 hours or so...)  You can't really overcook brisket, as long as it's covered.  Once it's cooked, the meat should be fork-tender and practically fall apart.  I let it cool to room temperature, take the fat off, and refrigerate in it's juices overnight.  When I am ready to serve it, I let it come to room temperature, then heat, covered, in a 300 degree oven for about 20 to 30 minutes or until hot.  Brisket is yummy, but reheated brisket is delicious!!!

Try it, you'll love it!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Soup and Bread

I started a new job recently and have had much (MUCH) less time on my hands, which means I haven't really cooked much lately.  Something else it means is that I have been wanting to eat things that are easy to make, warm and filling, and delicious.  That means soup!  I've had 2 different soups in the last few days, one I've made and one I've bought.  But before I get to that, let's discuss the perfect accompaniment to soup.  Whether grilled with melty cheese in the center, or just lightly toasted, I love me some bread with my soup.  I actually am not the greatest at making grilled cheese sandwiches.  I usually am not patient enough to make proper grilled cheese.  I've learned a few things from friends that have helped me though, and I am getting better at it.

I actually prefer to use basic sandwich bread for my grilled cheese, and I pre-heat my skillet to a medium heat.  Once the pan is hot, I spray the pan with some non-stick spray (instead of butter, it's just easier and healthier, and I don't even miss the butter) and plop down 2 slices of bread.  In a minute or two, I flip one slice over and spray the opposite side of the other slice with the non-stick spray.  I put the second slice non-toasted side down into the pan, slap down a couple slices of american cheese (hey, I can't always be a purist...) and top with the first slice of bread.  This is where the most important tip comes in: cover the sandwich with a lid while it finishes toasting.  This will help the cheese melt all the way through to the center.   That's it, that's how I make my grilled cheese.

Now for the soups: one of my favorites is Trader Joe's Organic Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup.   I love tomato soup and I love roasted red peppers so the combination of the two is perfection.  If you've never tried it, I HIGHLY recommend it!  The other one I made tonight.  My mom's recipe of Chicken Corn Chowder. I had some frozen corn from last summer's fresh harvest on the family farm and a couple of chicken breasts that we grilled a few weeks ago, also frozen, so it only made sense.  I called my mom last night for the recipe and made it tonight after I got off work.  Since my chicken was already cooked, it only took me about 15 minutes to make the soup.  Here's the scoop:

Chicken Corn Chowder

3 T butter
1/4 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 lb chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
1 t cumin
2 c half and half
1 c water
2 t instant chicken bouillon
1 16 ounce can creamed corn
1 4 ounce can green chiles
1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese

Saute the onion and garlic until translucent and soft.  Add in the chicken, cumin, water and bouillon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked.  Stir in the corn, chiles, half and half and cheese.  Heat until warmed through and the cheese is melty.  Top fresh tomatoes, sour cream, fresh diced avocado, crushed tortilla chips, whatever you like!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What to do with Leftover Rice

Leftover rice.  A friend of mine emailed me this morning letting me know that she's tried several different stir fry variations since reading my blog post about it.  One thing she did ask me was what to do with leftover rice.  I must admit, rice doesn't really last too long at our house, but I did do some research and found a couple of common ideas: rice salad, rice pudding, fried rice, and just freezing it to use later.  I found that I've actually had made all of these ideas, I just hadn't thought to make them using leftover rice.  I just made rice to make the recipe.  Next time we make rice for our stir fry, I might just make extra intentionally!

When it comes to freezing it, most places I've found agree that once the rice is cooled, just put single-serve portions into freezer bags and squeeze as much of the air out as you can.  To reheat, just thaw in the refrigerator or on the counter and heat in a microwave save dish with a touch of water.  It should reheat nicely.

Make a rice salad the way you might make a pasta salad.  Toss with a little italian dressing, fresh herbs and some cooled, steamed veggies.  Or for a southwestern flavor, toss the cold rice with some black beans, diced tomatoes, cilantro, green onions, cumin and lime juice.

For a rice pudding, combine 1 cup rice; 1 1/2 cups of milk (or a little extra); 1/4 cup sugar; small pinch of salt; and 1/4 cup raisins, currants or dried cherries (my fave!) in a sauce pan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and add 1/4 cup raisins, currants or dried cherries (my fave!) and 1/2 t vanilla extract.  Let simmer until milk is absorbed (depends on how dry the rice is to start with.  Once the liquid is absorbed and the rice is creamy, stir in 1/4 t cinnamon.  Serves 2-3.

For fried rice, this is an interesting and really helpful article to read before diving into frying rice.  Once you've read it, proceed with this easy recipe, prepping completely before starting, as it goes quickly:

Fried Rice
3 c cooked rice
2 eggs
2 carrots (whole, not baby), cut into matchstick-size pieces
2 c finely chopped veggies (maybe some of the same you used for your stir fry last night?)
2 T vegetable oil
1 T minced garlic
1/3 c soy sauce
1/2 lb meat (pork, chicken, beef -- leftovers from other meals work really well here, too)

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and saute the garlic for a few seconds then add soy sauce and heat until simmering.  Place meat in skillet and cook until meat is cooked through. Add carrots and veggies and cook until almost tender.  Push meat and veggies to the edge of the skillet and crack the eggs into the center of the skillet and scramble them.  Once the eggs are cooked, mix them with the meat and veggies, and toss in the rice.  Stir until heated through and serve.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Two Simple Favorites

The weather has been really nice for a few days and I've just been in the mood to grill out.  So, tonight we grilled steak for dinner, and it was of course, delicious.  However, the steak was not the highlight of the meal, at least for me.  I had been craving two side dishes for the longest time, and a grilled steak set the scene for pan con tomate and grilled peppers with cheese. Both of these dishes use fresh ingredients that require very little manipulation so they are very easy to make and their flavors are simple, crisp and robust.

The peppers are really simple.  I first started eating these a few summers ago when my parents grew banana peppers in their garden, and summers at my parents house involve quite a lot of grilling, so dad would toss those peppers on the grill, top them with some cheese and voila! A really really yummy treat!

Preheat your grill and cut banana peppers or other small, sweet, colorful peppers in half, devein and de-seed.  Cut a brick of monterey jack cheese, or pepper jack cheese if you like it a little spicier, into chunks about the size to fit nicely into the pepper halves.  Place the pepper halves cut side down on the grill until they flatten out a little and are a little soft.  Turn them over and fill each half with the monterey jack cheese chunks.  Make sure the peppers aren't over too hot a spot so they don't char too quickly. Once the cheese is almost melted, sprinkle a little parmesan cheese over the peppers and close the top of the grill, just long enough to finish melting the cheese.  Take them off the grill and just try to keep people from eating them right away!

I was too excited about finished product that I forgot an "after" photo...

Pan con tomate is actually a spanish dish and the name literally translates to bread with tomato.  That's about all there is to it.  It is traditionally served with lunch or dinner as a lighter side dish, or at breakfast even, by rubbing sliced garlic and tomato directly onto toasted bread but I prefer the heartier version.  It's so simple and delicious, it'd be easy to make a meal of it by itself. (I have...)

Pan Con Tomate  (serves 4 as an appetizer or side)

1/2 of a french baguette,
      cut diagonally about 1/4" - 1/2" thick
3 medium roma tomatoes, cut in half
2 T olive oil
2 t crushed garlic
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
sea salt
fresh cracked pepper

Move rack in oven to the highest position and preheat the broiler on high. Place baguette slices on a baking sheet and put under broiler.  Toast until a nice golden brown.  Do NOT walk away at this point! This might only take 30 seconds. I have burned more bread than not by trying to multi-task at this point! Once the bread is toasted and cooled a bit, rub the whole cloves of garlic on one side of the bread slices, maybe only 3 or 4 times.  If you aren't a huge garlic fan like me, you could omit this step.  For the tomato topping, grate each tomato cut side down using a box grater into a bowl.  Grate until all of the seeds, juice and pulp are pressed through (discard the skins).  Add the olive oil, crushed garlic and salt and pepper to taste.  I like a lot of garlic so I usually use more, and I like it fairly salty (another weakness of mine) so I use more salt than I probably should.  Serve the tomato mixture with the toasted bread.

You won't be disappointed with either of these!  Guaranteed!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Garbage Pasta

Sometimes there are times when I just haven't had time to go the store and have no idea what I'm going to make for dinner.  Those times are when I make garbage.  These dishes are combinations of what leftovers I've got in the fridge, freezer and pantry.  Garbage can be in the form of salads, pastas, omelets, or even soups.  I've been traveling a lot for work and haven't had time to do a lot of shopping, but I wanted to make a dish that I could take with me and reheat at work for dinner tonight, so I made Garbage Pasta.

I cooked half a box of rotini I had in my pantry, and cut up half a jar of roasted red peppers (also a stable in my pantry) and a quarter of a package of cocktail sausages that I had in my freezer.  Once the pasta was cooked, I drained it but reserved about half a cup of the starchy water.  I tossed in a couple of cubes of frozen pesto I always keep in my freezer along with the pasta water, peppers and sausage and stirred until the pesto had thawed.  I also added in a pinch of crushed red pepper and about half a teaspoon of crushed garlic, again, always in my fridge.  And that's it!  

My garbage recipes are always a little different each time I make them, and honestly, they don't always turn out to be blog-worthy, but it's always exciting to try something new.  This one turned out pretty good.  It'll be nice to eat something homemade for dinner tonight, instead of something from the drive-through!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

And Presto...Pesto!

So, my last post mentioned freshly made pesto to use in the recipe for the most delicious pizza in the world.  Pesto is another food that I prefer to do myself.  You could always buy it pre-made in a jar but it's always really oily, never tastes amazing, and you never really know what you're getting with some of that stuff.  So, it's another thing in my DIY kitchen!  I'm going to just give you the recipe for basic green pesto but this recipe can be altered to fit your tastes.  If you can't find pine nuts, don't give up. Exchange them for pistachios or almonds.  Toasting the nuts creates a deeper flavor.  Green doesn't always have to mean basil either; try using different greens such as spinach, arugula, mint, flat-leaf parsley or even raw broccoli!  To add yet another dimension, add in some sun-dried tomatoes (dry, not packed in oil), or omit the basil completely and make "red pesto" with fresh (skinned and de-seeded) or sun dried tomatoes.  Find your favorite and make your own!  It keeps for about a week in the refrigerator or your can divide it into a plastic ice cube tray and freeze until solid, then put into a freezer baggie and just pop one cube out when you need it.  One cube is about 2 tablespoons.

Green Pesto
1 cup packed basil leaves
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/4 t cracked pepper

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.

What to do with your fresh pesto:

toss it with hot pasta, top grilled chicken with it, spread it on dough for pizzas, toss it with roasted or grilled vegetables, add it to soups to "freshen" up the flavor, toss it with cold pasta for a quick pasta salad, top grilled bread with it for a different take on garlic bread, add to baked or mashed potatoes or use it as a dip for baked french fries, use it as a marinade for chicken or fish, stir into mayo and spread onto your turkey sandwich, mix with olive oil and vinegar to make a really fresh tasting vinaigrette for your salads,  mix into your basic chicken salad,  spread some onto your corn on the cob instead of butter, stir into your potato salad...

the possibilities are endless!

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Best Pizza I Ever Ate Was....

...the Pestoral Pizza at The Roman Candle Pizzeria in downtown Middleton, Wisconsin.  The use fresh, organic ingredients, mostly produced or farmed within a 50 mile radius of their locations in the Madison, WI area and you can really tell in the flavors.  We've had other pizzas from them as well and all of their toppings are cut generously enough to get a nice big bite of fresh tomato or sausage with every bite.

We've tried some of their different pizzas: The Professional with feta, mozzarella, broccoli, bacon, green pepper, chicken breast and jalapeno; The Bacon Cheeseburger with ground beef, bacon, onion, cheddar and mozzarella cheese; The Supreme with sausage, mushroom, green pepper, onion and pepperoni.  And they have lots of other interesting pizzas: The Algo Malgo with alfredo sauce, beets, garlic, walnuts, caramelized onions, blue cheese and arugula; The Dead Man Walking with premium cut bacon, ham, pepperoni, prosciutto and sausage, and The BBQ Chicken with barbecue sauce, chicken breast, green pepper, red onion, bacon, cheddar, mozzarella and jalapenos.

We easily ate Roman Candle Pizza at least 3 times a month, since it was within walking distance to our downtown Middleton apartment.  So it was convenient in nice weather for us to walk down and grab a pizza, or in bad weather, it would be delivered to us piping hot!!!  While all of their other pizzas are very different and delicious in their own right, we always went back to The Pestoral.  It's no wonder why it's Roman Candle's best selling pizza.

So when we moved away from Wisconsin, and my pizza cravings kicked in, I had to get creative and make my own Pestoral pizza.  Here's what I did:

Pestoral Pizza
1 large 16-inch thin crust pizza crust (I get mine fresh from the Italian counter in our local grocery store)
1/4 cup fresh made pesto 
2 to 3 medium roma tomatos, sliced as thin as possible
1/2 cup artichoke hearts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 15-oz jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into bite-sized pieces
6 oz feta cheese
6 oz fresh mozzarella cheese (I like the Bel Gioioso "pearl" sized pieces, because as they melt, the flatten out to the perfect size)     

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the pesto on the crust up to 1/2 inch from the edge.  Top with the tomato slices, artichoke and roasted red pepper pieces, and feta and mozzarella cheeses.  Bake for 20 minutes until the mozzarella cheese is melted.

That's it.  So delicious!!!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Spread

In football, the spread is the term used to define the difference in points scored by the two teams.  The spread for tonight's Super Bowl was Packers by 3.  Which is a good thing, because my boyfriend is a huge Packers fan.  Our spread was 9, because that's how many things were spread out on the table...  I went all out this year, even though it was just the two of us.  We could have just done the easy thing and ordered a pizza, but what kind of post would that have created?

So, what was my spread?

Crudites with 3 different dips: green goddess dip, onion dip and chili dip
Taco wonton cups
Little smokies with homemade cocktail sauce (equal parts chili sauce and grape jelly, trust me!)
Chips and salsa
Low-fat buffalo chicken strips with yogurt blue cheese dressing
Low-Fat chicken and wild rice soup for after the game (if we're still hungry)

Low-fat buffalo chicken strips

3 T nonfat buttermilk
3 T hot sauce, such as Frank's Red Hot, divided
3 T distilled white vinegar, divided
2 lbs chicken tenders
6 T whole wheat flour
6 T cornmeal
1 t cayenne pepper
2 T canola oil

Whisk buttermilk, 2 T hot sauce and 2 T vinegar in a large bowl.  Add chicken and toss to coat.  Transfer to refrigerator and marinate for 10 minutes up to 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, whisk together flour, cornmeal and cayenne pepper in a shallow dish.  Whisk the remaining hot sauce and vinegar and set aside.  Remove the chicken from the marinade and roll in the flour mixture until evenly coated.  Discard remaining marinade and flour mixture.  Heat 1 T oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add half the chicken, placing each piece in a little bit of the oil.  Cook until golden brown and cooked through, 3-4 minutes per side.  Transfer to a platter and repeat using the remaining 1 T oil and the rest of the chicken, reducing the heat if necessary to prevent burning.  Transfer to the platter.  Drizzle the chicken with the reserved hot sauce mixture.  Serve with carrots, celery and blue cheese dressing.

Low-Fat Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced into 1/2 to 1/4 chunks
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
2 cups cooked wild rice*
5 cups fat-free low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup fat-free half-and-half
3 T flour
butter-flavored cooking spray
2 T dry sherry
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 t thyme

In a large stock pot, saute chicken until cooked through and remove to a bowl. Add the wild rice to the bowl.  Add the half and half, sherry and flour.  Set aside.  In the same pot, spray the onion liberally with the cooking spray and cook until soft and translucent.  Add carrots and celery, salt and pepper and thyme.  Cook, stirring, about 5 minutes.  Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the wild rice and chicken mixture.  Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until heated through.

*To cook 2 cups wild rice: rinse 3/4 cup wild rice under water until the water runs clear.  Bring 3 cups salted water to a boil and add rice.  Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes, or until rice is tender, stirring occasionally.  Drain excess water and rinse with hot water until water runs clear.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Football Party Food; Part 4

This dish can easily be made with whole chicken breasts and served as a main dish, but since it's the day before the Super Bowl, and I've been doing Football Party Food all week, I'm using chicken breast tenders to make my delicious Italian Dressing Chicken.  One thing I really like about this dish, besides that it's super-easy, is that if you double the recipe (using whole breasts), you can use the leftovers to make make-shift chicken parmesan.  I'll get to that in a minute.

Italian Dressing Chicken Tenders
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breast tenders
1 packet of dry italian dressing mix (we use the fat-free Good Seasons brand)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (I always choose panko over regular breadcrumbs, they get crispier)

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with non-stick spray.  On a dinner plate, mix together the dressing mix, cheese and bread crumbs.  Get your stations set up next to the sink: sink, plate of bread crumb mixture, baking dish.  Take each chicken tender, trim any excess fat off rinse under cold running water and let extra water drip off but don't dry, roll the tender in the bread crumb mixture and then place into the baking dish.  Continue until all of the tenders are coated with bread crumbs and in the baking dish.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.  To serve as tenders, serve with some marinara sauce or ranch.

Leftover Make-Shift Chicken Parmesan. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Put the chicken in a baking dish and bake for about 10 minutes or until it's heated through.  While it's heating, heat up about 1 cup marinara sauce and boil some pasta for the base.  When the chicken is hot, top with about 1/4 cup marinara sauce and about a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese.  Put under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly and melty.  Serve on top of a nice pile of spaghetti.

Oh, so delicious!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Discussion About Crudites...

Remember in one of my last posts I mentioned how much I loved vegetables?  Well, I'm touching on that one again.  Fresh, raw, crisp, cold veggies are one of my favorite snack-y foods!  In fact, I snack on some almost every day. At a party, they can provide some crunchy, freshness amidst a table of hot and gooey foods.  They balance it all out.  And, anything you can eat on a cracker, you can eat with crudites ("cr-ood-eh-tay").  At home, I like to dip mine into Trader Joe's Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (oh, so delicious), but almost anything will work.  What goes onto a great crudite platter? Red, green and yellow bell peppers, baby corn, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, green onions, radishes, snow peas, cherry and grape tomatoes, olives, etc...  Cut everything to about the same size, the peppers, celery and carrots into strips; the broccoli and cauliflower into florets, and the cucumbers and radishes into thin, round slices.  Also, it's much cheaper to buy the whole veggies and cut them yourself, than it is to buy them pre-washed, pre-sliced and pre-packaged.  I'm a big fan of the DIY kitchen!

Some Ideas:

Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip
Boil 1 cup thawed, chopped frozen spinach and 1 1/2 cups chopped artichoke hearts in 1 cup of water until tender and drain.  Heat 6 ounces cream cheese (I always use fat free) in microwave 1 minute or until hot and soft.  Stir in 1/4 cup sour cream (fat free, again) 1/4 cup mayonnaise (low-fat, here), 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, 1/2 t red pepper flakes, 1/4 t salt and 1/4 t garlic powder.  Serve hot.

Hot Crab Dip
Combine 1 lb jumbo lump crabmeat, 1 cup grated pepper jack cheese, 3/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, 1/4 cup minced green onions, 2 cloves minced garlic, 3 T Worcestershire sauce, 2 T fresh lemon juice, 1 t hot pepper sauce (I love Cholula, but Tabasco is fine), 1/2 t dry mustard, salt and pepper in a casserole dish.  Bake for 40 minutes at 325 degrees. Serve hot.

Hot Caramelized Onion and Blue Cheese Dip
Caramelize 2 large vidalia onions, halved and thinly sliced.  (To do this: heat 2 T vegetable oil and 2 T butter in a large skillet.  Add the onions and 2 cloves minced onions.  Cook, about 20 minutes, until the onions are soft and a caramel color.)  In a food processor, pulse together 4 oz blue cheese, 2 8-oz packages of softened cream cheese, 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 1/2 cup sour cream.  Place in a bowl and add the caramelized onions.  Season with salt and pepper and pour into an 8 x 8 baking dish.  Sprinkle with 1/3 cup bread crumbs.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes and serve hot or at room temperature.

Cold Green Goddess Dip (the fresh herbs in this dip really pop with crudites)

Place the following into a food processor or blender (chopped up): 1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted and peeled; 2 scallions (green onions), coarsely chopped; 1/4 cup fresh tarragon; 1/4 cup fresh parsley; 3/4 cup buttermilk; and 1/2 t salt.  Puree until smooth.

Onion Dip (from scratch!)
Caramelize 1 1/2 cups diced onions with 2 T olive oil and 1/4 t salt (read directions above), set aside to cool.  Mix together 1/2 t salt, 1 1/2 cups sour cream, 3/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 t garlic powder, 1/4 t ground white pepper.  Add the cooled onions and refrigerate until cold. Stir again before serving.

Guacamole Dip from This Guac Rocks! posted 1/28/11

Of course, you could use those prepackaged dip powders mixed with sour cream, but when you can make it from scratch with fresh ingredients, why wouldn't you?

(FYI: Most of the leftover veggies from your crudite platter can be steamed the next day or perhaps used in a stir fry. )

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Football Party Food; Part 2

Wonton wrappers are another really versatile thing to have in your kitchen.  You can find them packaged in the produce section of your grocery store and they keep really well in the freezer.  Just portion them off, maybe 25 or so in a portion, wrap them really well with plastic wrap, put them into a zip-lock freezer bag and freeze.  You can bake them or fry them, leave them open as little cups or close them up like raviolis, and the filling can be left up to your imagination.

To use as cups, push 1 wrapper into each cavity of a non-stick muffin tin leaving the sides up and bake for 5 minutes or until crispy.  If your filling is cold, just cool, fill and eat. If your filling is hot, fill and bake another 3 minutes or until filling is bubbly.  To use them closed, put 1 teaspoon of your filling into the center of an uncooked wrapper, fold over diagonally and pinch closed.  Then you can bake them or deep fry them.

Filling Ideas for approximately 25 cups:
Southwest Chicken
2 cups cooked diced chicken, 1 cup southwest ranch dressing, 1/2 cup diced red peppers, 1 small can sliced black olives, 1 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cup Monterrey jack cheese
2 cups taco seasoned hamburger, 1 cup salsa, 1/2 cup black beans, 1 small can diced green chilies, 3 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
Crab Rangoon
4 oz fat free cream cheese, 4 ounces fresh or canned crab meat, drained and flaked, 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, 1/4 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce, 1 green onion finely sliced
Zesty Italian
3 ounces Italian turkey sausage, 1/8 cup chopped white onion, 2 oz shredded mozzarella cheese, 1 T grated Parmesan cheese, 1 T chopped parsley
1 package pepperoni diced, 4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese, 1 cup marinara or pizza sauce

Sweet options:
Bananas and Nutella with chopped nuts; ice cream and chocolate sauce; Pumpkin pie filling, pumpkin pie spice and sugar

Wonton wrappers can even be sliced into strips, fried and then topped with sea salt and used on salads or in soups, or topped with cinnamon and sugar and eaten with ice cream

The possibilities are endless! Enjoy!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Football Party Food; part 1

Some of my favorite things are hors d'oeuvres or heavy appetizers because you get to taste a lot of different things. With the Super Bowl coming up next Sunday, a lot of people will be planning a menu to feed a crowd.  Heavy appetizers are perfect for an occasion like this.  All week, I'll be sharing some of my favorite "football party foods" with you to help you plan your menus or at least what you'll be taking to the party! The one I'm going to share with you today is a good one to prepare in advance and then pop under the broiler at halftime.

Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella Bruschetta

1 French Baguette, sliced on the diagonal to 1" thickness
2 cups diced roma tomatoes
1 cup packed fresh basil
1 8-ounce package fresh mozzarella, sliced to 1/4" thickness
3 cloves garlic, whole, peeled
1 t. olive oil

Pre-heat your broiler on high.

Put tomatoes, basil, 2 cloves garlic and 1 t. olive oil in a food processor.  Pulse until mostly smooth.  A few chunks are good.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Line up baguette slices on a baking sheet and put under the broiler until lightly toasted.  Do not walk away at this point, as this could only talk a matter of seconds.  Take the little toasts out of the oven.  Rub the remaining garlic clove over each slice of toast, only about 3 times.  Top each toast with a slice of mozzarella cheese  and place back under the broiler until melted and bubbly.

Remove from oven and top each slice with 1 tablespoon of the tomato topping.

To make ahead: Make the tomato topping, slice the mozzarella, and make the toasts up until you top them with the cheese.  Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Friday, January 28, 2011

This Guac Rocks!

Avocados are a really nutritious food to incorporate into any diet.  They have about 60% more potassium than bananas and have a high fiber content (1/2 of a  medium haas avocado has 6 grams of fiber!!!) They are low in carbohydrates and while they have a higher fat content, it is primarily monounsaturated fat which has been shown to lower the bad cholesterol and raise the good cholesterol.  They are also a good source of folate and vitamins K, B6, and C.  So, if you can handle the calories (1/2 a medium is 150 calories), try to fit in some avocado!

A great way to do this is with Guacamole.  I make the best, if I do say so myself...  I not only eat it with tortilla chips, it's also good on sandwiches instead of mayo, with crudites (carrots, celery, peppers...), or on a spoon....

A word about ripeness: you know when an avocado is ripe when it's soft to the touch.  You can also gently try to flick the dark, bumpy nub off the end.  If it comes off too easily, it's overripe and should be eaten immediately.  If the nub won't come off for anything, and the avocado is hard, it's under ripe but can be ripened in a small paper bag on the kitchen counter.  If I'm using the avocados on the day I am buying them, I try to find something ripe, otherwise I like to buy them a little under ripe.  You can slow the ripening by putting them in the fridge.

4 medium haas avocados, ripe            juice from 1-2 limes
1 roma tomato, diced                          1 t salt
1/4 white onion, diced                        2 t ground cumin
1 jalepeno pepper, minced

Cut each avocado in half.  Carefully tap the blade of a large, sharp knife into the pit so it wedges in.  Give the knife a quarter turn and the pit should come out of the meat of the avocado.  It will be stuck on the knife.  Do NOT try to remove the pit with your bare hands, it will be very slippery and you could cut yourself.  Use a kitchen towel or tap the pit against the side of the sink or trash can to get it to fall off.  Slice the meat of the avocado in the skin lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop it out.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the avocado and using a fork, mash until desired consistency.  I like mine a little chunky.
I like mine super smoky so I add more cumin than it says, and you'll have to play around with the lime juice.  Some limes are juicier than others, and it also depends on your taste.

Some people think that by putting the pit in the guacamole, it will keep it from turning a dark brown color.  This is a myth.  The reason it turns colors if from the oxidation that happens when exposed to air.  The only way I've found to keep it from turning brown is to put a layer of plastic wrap on the guacamole and press it down so that there are no pockets of air.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Most Comforting Comfort Food

I have always been a pasta lover.  I could eat pasta with every meal, serious!  Spaghetti is my most comforting comfort meal.  After a really long day, or if I'm getting home from traveling, all I want to do is boil up some noodles and pour some delicious tomato sauce over the top.  While jarred pasta sauce is fine and dandy, a home-made sauce is always better.

This recipe is my absolute fave!  It's super easy to make, even easier to eat.  All of you Weight Watchers fans... 1 serving is only 2 points!  You'll be absolutely amazed at the deep, rich flavor of this sauce, achieved by using only 3 simple ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.  Don't be intimidated by the large amount of garlic in this recipe.  It really mellows out and gets deliciously sweet after simmering with the tomatoes for an hour. Just make sure your dinner-mates eat it too and no one will notice the garlic breath.  (FYI, if you didn't know: a bulb of garlic is the whole thing, a clove is just one piece off the the bulb.)

      Garlic Tomato Sauce (makes 3 cups, enough for 1 lb pasta, 4 servings)

     - 2 lbs Fresh Roma Tomatoes (about 16)
     - 2 Bulbs of Garlic
     - 3/4 Tablespoon Olive Oil

  1. Peel each clove of garlic.  This is made super easy by laying the flat side of the blade of a chef's knife over the top of the garlic clove and hitting it with the heel of your hand.  You should end up with 24-30 cloves of garlic.  Don't bother chopping up the garlic at this point.  
  2. To peel the tomatoes easily, bring a large stock pot of water to a boil.  Slit an X in the bottom of each tomato and carefully put them into the boiling water.  After about 30 seconds, you should notice the skins starting to peel up where the X was cut.  Take the tomatoes out of the water as soon as you notice this.  Quickly put them into a large bowl of ice water to keep them from continuing to cook.  Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, the skins should easily slide off.
  3. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium-sized stock pot and saute the garlic just long enough until you start to smell it.  Add the tomatoes and adjust the heat so the whole pot starts to simmer.  Cover and simmer for 1 hour.  Stirring every now and then to help the tomatoes break up.  Once the sauce has cooked for 1 hour, remove from heat and let sit for 20 minutes or until the sauce is cooled a little.  
  4. If you have an immersion blender, use it to completely puree the sauce.  If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer the sauce a little a time to a standing blender and puree.  Remember to take the plastic center out of the lid of the blender to make sure the heat of the sauce doesn't blow the lid off.  Cover the whole with a dish towel to keep the sauce from splattering everywhere.
  5. Serve hot!
This sauce freezes really, really well.  I usually make a double batch and freeze most of it, so I can pull it out on a night I don't feel like cooking and toss it with some pasta.  You can find fresh roma tomatoes in the grocery store pretty much all year long, but if you're feeling lazy and don't want to take the time to peel all those tomatoes, you could use 1 28-oz of whole tomatoes in juice.   It'll make a little less sauce so feel free to use a little less garlic if you want.  If you're feeling extra lazy, you can buy packaged peeled garlic at stores like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.  It's obviously not as fresh-tasting, but much easier.

I like to serve this sauce on top of whole wheat spaghetti.  Some people are scared of wheat pasta because it has a stronger, nuttier flavor than regular white pasta.  Something to think about is that wheat pasta has more protein and is more filling, so you tend to eat less of it.  If you want to try to ease wheat pasta into your diet, try a blend of wheat and regular pasta, upping the wheat pasta portion each time until you are used to the flavor.  Also, the smaller the noodle, the less intense the flavor; so your angel-hair or thin spaghetti noodles are going to be less wheat-y than penne or rigatoni.  And, if your sauce is flavorful enough, you won't even notice the taste of the noodles.

If you like tomato sauce, I guarantee you'll love this recipe!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Old Standby

I love vegetables.  I have eaten an entire can of green beans for a meal before.  True story.  But I can't bring myself to serve a can of green beans to Brandon for dinner, so I went to an old stand by: vegetarian stir-fry.  I've been making stir-fry for years and I'm sure it's not a totally foreign dish to anyone, but we love it at our house.  No matter how much you try, it always makes a ton of food, which is ok because Brandon loves the leftovers. Sometimes I cook chicken with it, often I leave it out, because it's so damn tasty you don't need the chicken.  Another great thing about my vegetarian stir fry is that it's soooo low in calories and fat that I can eat till I'm stuffed and not feel too guilty about it. 

I have two types of woks, electric and non-electric.  The electric wok is a really nice piece of equipment to have because it comes with a temperature dial so you can control how how the pan gets.  It also came with some other tools such as grates that hang on the side and sit in the bottom which are great for steaming.  I don't use this (I haven't even moved it from my parents' house yet) because it's really big and bulky.  My non-electric or standard wok I do use more frequently, but mostly I just use my 7 1/2 quart saute pan.  It has tall sides which is essential for keeping all of that food in the pan.  It's easier to clean than my wok, and I can reach it (my wok is on top of the refrigerator... don't joke).

The key to cooking stir fry evenly, and getting all of the veggies done at about the same time, is to try to get all the veggies cut to about the same size.  Carrots will take longer than the broccoli, so if they're cut thin enough, they should take about the same amount of time.  If you've never thought about it, I suggest opening your can of water chestnuts and aiming to cut the veggies no thicker than the circumference of a sliced water chestnut.  

Here's what generally goes into mine:

1 green bell pepper, julienned (cut into matchstick size pieces)
1 red bell pepper, julienned
3 carrots, julienned
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 white onion, julienned
1 5-oz can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 5-oz can bamboo shoots, drained
1 8-oz can baby corn, drained and cut into bite-sized pieces

Heat a little bit of vegetable oil in a wok (or large saute pan) until very hot.  Toss the fresh veggies in.  If their is any water on the vegetables, the oil will spatter so be very careful of this. Try to stir the veggies as little as possible.  This will allow them to get the "fry" part down.   It will take between 8-12 minutes to cook the veggies to a nice crisp-tender.  The best way to see if they're done is to taste.  About 2 minutes before they're perfect, add the canned veggies and cook until heated through.  As for sauce, our go-to is House of Tsang Classic Stir Fry Sauce, but Brandon just told me that he wanted to try some different kinds of sauces so we'll be venturing outside of our comfort zone, which is always exciting in the kitchen.  I don't add any sauce to the whole thing, I add a little on my own plate.  That way I can control how much is on my serving.  I serve this dish with white jasmine rice.

If anyone has any recommendations for a different stir-fry sauce, let me know.  I especially like spicy black bean sauces.

Monday, January 24, 2011

National Hot and Spicy Food Day

I bought myself a Food Network daily calendar for my kitchen counter and it has recipes, tips and fun food facts for each day.  Yesterday was National Hot and Spicy Food Day!  How fitting because I was literally in the process of cooking up some eggs for some huevos rancheros (well, more like egg and bean burritos, but it's what we had in the fridge).

Along with the hot and spicy theme, I made Chicken Tikka Masala for dinner.  My brother, Casey, introduced me to this dish this past summer.  He was in town over his birthday, visiting from Chicago.  He was a little sad because his (then-fiance) wife wasn't able to come with him, and so I told him I'd cook him whatever he wanted for his birthday dinner and he picked this.

I've done some reading online about chicken tikka masala and it's a little foggy where it's origins lie.  Some say it started in Punjab, the region between India and Pakistan, however it's known as "Britain's true national dish" and that it started in Soho, London.  Some attempt to clear up this confusing by claiming it was first created in a British Pakistani or Bangladeshi restaurant.  So it's either British or Indian... Either way, it's amazing!

Chicken tikka are chunks of chicken that have been marinated in yogurt and spices.  The great thing about using yogurt (I use fat-free plain greek) as a marinade is that it's super thick and allows all of the spices and seasonings to stick to the meat better than if using a water-based marinade.  It also helps keep the chicken super moist!  The chicken chunks are either baked or grilled, or broiled, depending on your preference, and served with a beautiful, orange-colored, creamy, spicy, tomato sauce.

I like to serve chicken tikka masala over jasmine rice with some curried cauliflower.  This cauliflower dish has a very different flavor, but is really, really good!

Chicken Tikka Masala
     1 cup plain yogurt                       1 t butter
     1 T lemon juice                           1 clove garlic, minced
     2 t ground cumin                         1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
     1 t ground cinnamon                   2 t ground cumin
     2 t cayenne pepper                      2 t paprika
     2 t ground pepper                        1 t salt, or to taste
     1 T minced fresh ginger              1 8-oz can tomato sauce
     1 t salt, or to taste                        1 cup heavy cream (I use fat free half and half)
     3 boneless skinless chicken         1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
         breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

- In a large bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, pepper, ginger, salt and chicken.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Thread chicken onto skewers and grill.  Discard leftover marinade.
- Melt butter and saute garlic and jalapeno 1 minute.  Season with 2 T cumin, paprika and salt.
- Stir in tomato sauce and cream and let simmer 20 minutes or until slightly thickened.
- Add chicken and simmer 10 minutes more.
- Serve with rice and top with chopped cilantro.

Curried Cauliflower
Chicken Tikka Masala

Curried Cauliflower

12 cups cauliflower florets                             3 1/2 t curry powder
1 large onion, peeled and quartered               1 t cumin
3/4 c olive oil                                                 1 T Hungarian hot paprika                                           
1/2 cup red wine vinegar                               1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place the cauliflower florets in a large roasting pan.
- Pull apart the onion quarters into separate layers; add to cauliflower.
- Whisk together oil, vinegar and dry spices to make a vinaigrette.
- Pour dressing over the vegetables and toss to coat. Spread in a single layer.  Roast until tender, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes.
- Mound vegetables in a large bowl, sprinkle with fresh cilantro.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.


(photos have been borrowed from other websites, and are not my own pictures.  I hope to have some good pictures of my own food soon.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's for dinner?

I often ask Brandon this seemingly simple question, "Brandon, what do you want to eat for dinner?"  He always laughs at me and reminds me that this is a hard question for him to answer.  Hard because I usually have something in mind, and it almost always becomes more of a guessing game for him to pick the meal I'm thinking of instead of him suggesting something new.  So, he just smiles at me, throws a few random ideas into the air and let's it go.  He knows that whatever he gets for dinner will come from the heart, even if it involves frozen chicken nuggets.

What am I going to use this blog for?  It will evolve on it's own, probably into something involving recipes, pictures (hopefully), and thoughts and insight about food.  I hope my readers will enjoy it!

Last night, we gorged ourselves on delicious meat of the bovine variety...

NY Strip with a Red Wine Shallot Reduction Sauce.
Here's what you do:

- Heat the oven to 450 degrees.  Let the steak come to room temp and season it with salt and pepper, and rub it with a good amount of olive oil.
- Heat an oven-proof skillet over high heat for a few minutes.  Put the steak into the dry pan.  It will sizzle, but don't move it because it's forming a nice crust.
- Check the steak after about three minutes.  It should be golden to dark brown.  Once the steak is the right color, flip it over and stick the whole thing in the oven. (If you aren't using an oven-safe skillet, transfer it to a baking dish.)
- Using a meat thermometer, check the temp of the steak after about 2 minutes.  For medium-rare, it should be at 120-125 degrees.  Once steak is cooked to your desired doneness, take it out of the skillet and put it on a plate to rest.  Tent it with foil to keep it from getting cold.
- Return skillet to the stove on medium-high heat.  Toss some chopped up shallots or white onion into the pan and let saute in the juices from the steak until tender, about 2-3 minutes.  Once shallots are tender, pour in about a cup of your favorite red wine (the wine you would be drinking with the steak is perfect and makes the steak mesh with the wine really well).  Simmer the wine, while scraping up the bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.  This is where the really deep flavor comes from.
- Once the reduction sauce has thickened, serve it on top of the steak.

It will be delicious, guaranteed!!!