December 5, 2011

Tree Trimming (Literally)

Sam and I went out and bought our first Christmas tree as a family yesterday!  Ok, a little two-person family, but it was fun nonetheless. A couple of observations: 1) I got used to NYC where you can find nice little trees for your nice little apartments.  In NC, these do not exist and I can only assume it's because everyone lives in palaces compared to the city.  2) Christmas trees are NOT cheap.  With these two observations, we came home with a nice "little" six foot tree although once it was up in our tiny house, it didn't look so little anymore.  We put it up in our brand-new plastic stand and thankfully had enough ornaments collected over the years to make it look good. We were pretty proud of ourselves. Until we came back into the room and the tree was nearly toppled over! Apparently we should have taken off a few of the branches at the bottom to make sure the tree fit tightly in the stand.  Off came a couple of limbs, off came the lights only to be restrung, and now our perfect little six foot Christmas tree is a nice 5 foot 8.  Much more manageable!
To accompany this activity, I decided to make an easy Bolognese sauce.  A comforting meal even though it was 70 degrees out and it didn't much feel like Christmas outside.  I put on the Christmas music and pretended we had a cozy fire and we decided to make it feel like a New England Christmas even if we were no where near one.  For the Bolognese, I turned, once again, to Giada.  Her simple Italian recipes are always spot on and are usually the perfect one pot meals.  As always, I added the cooked pasta directly into the sauce with a bit of the pasta water to make the sauce thicken.  Definitely try this technique the next time you make any pasta sauce.

Simple Bolognese (from Giada De Laurentiis)

  • Serves 4-6

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
  • 1 carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound ground chuck beef
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf Italian parsleychiffonade
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
In a 6 quart pot, add extra-virgin olive oil. When almost smoking, add the onion and garlic and saute over medium heat until the onions become very soft, about 8 minutes. Add the celery and carrot and saute for 5 minutes. Raise heat to high and add the ground beef. Saute, stirring frequently and breaking up any large lumps and cook until meat is no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, parsley and basil and cook over medium low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1/2 hour. Finish bolognese with Pecorino Romano. Check for seasoning.
Serve hot.

November 28, 2011

We Gather Together

Goodness.  Another Thanksgiving has come and gone.  This year, Sam and I hosted both sets of parents and my youngest brother here in Chapel Hill in our tiny house.  The oven was pumping all day and I spent most of it either cooking, checking, tasting, or shooing people out of the kitchen. Ok, mostly shooing.  I think I've already mentioned, I don't delegate well.  But, Thanksgiving is not a meal you can make alone.  There are just too many components, too many dishes that need to be timed perfectly to make sure everything arrives on the table piping hot.  I think I planned the meal pretty well, but it's clear I have quite a few Thanksgivings to go before I can be calm, cool, and collected in the kitchen.  A big thank you to my mom and mom-in-law for making two beautiful pies, my dad for helping to stuff the turkey and make the gravy, and to Sam for tackling the carving.  Oh, and of course to my brother and father-in-law for expertly pouring the water and champagne.  It was a full family affair.
The table (or tables)

Everyone has their own traditional Thanksgiving dishes and in my home they always included sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, gravy, and most importantly turkey.  There was often something green on the plate, but it was mostly just for the color.  The sweet potatoes went through a phase where they were covered with toasty mini marshmallows and there was one year when we had a frozen cranberry sorbet sort of thing.  But mostly, it was all about the turkey and the gravy.  Not brined, not dry rubbed, just plain, roasted turkey and always stuffed.  I've continued that tradition (although I've updated the stuffing...sorry Mom) and I think our table looked pretty good, if cobbled together.  Here are a few recipes from our meal - don't be afraid to try them out before next Thanksgiving!

Sweet Potato and Carrot Puree (from The Silver Palate)
Serves 6-8

4 large sweet potatoes (about 2 lbs)
1 lb carrots
2 1/2 cups water
1 tsbp sugar
12 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/2 tsp nutmeg
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375. Scrub the potatoes and cut a small, deep slit in the top of each. Set on the center rack of the oven and bake until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, peel and trim the carrots and cut them into 1-inch lengths. Put them in a saucepan and add the water, sugar, 2 tbsp of the butter, and salt and pepper. Set over medium heat, bring to a boil, and cook, uncovered, until the water has evaporated and the carrots begin to sizzle in the butter, about 30 minutes. The carrots should be tender. If not, add a little additional water and cook until the carrots are done and all the liquid has evaporated. Scrape out the flesh of the sweet potatoes and combine with the carrots in a food processor. Add the remaining butter and the creme fraiche and process until very smooth. Add the nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper, Add the cayenne, if desired, and process briefly to blend. To reheat, transfer to an ovenproof serving dish and cover with aluminum foil. Heat in a preheated 350 degree oven until steaming hot, about 25 minutes.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Serves 8

8 cups Brussels Sprouts
olive oil
coarse salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Clean and trim the Brussels Sprouts and cut them in half, keeping all of the leaves.  Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 30-40 minutes until the sprouts are browned and crisped.

Sam wrestling with the big bird.

Whatever your tradition, I hope you had a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends, and food. But above all, I hope you had a chance to contemplate what you are thankful for, because although Thanksgiving shouldn't be the only time of year we think about all that we are grateful for, it's a pretty wonderful time to focus on it.

Have leftovers?  Consider making Turkey Rice Soup!

November 8, 2011

When in Doubt, Make a Pizza!

Do you ever have those days when nothing seems appetizing?  You can't think of one thing that you want to have for dinner and you're not even sure that you're hungry?  Well, today was one of those days.  I had a pretty frustrating day and to be honest, all I really wanted was to have a gallon of wine. Ok, not a gallon, more like two big glasses, but you get the picture. Now in NY, with our tiny kitchen, this would have meant a quick trip to the local Chinese place around the corner or a pizza joint. But here in NC?  Those simply don't exist.  No let me rephrase that.  They exist, but no self-respecting NY foodie would be a patron of one (you heard me, "I Love NY Pizza").  Plus, Sam and I are really trying to cook at home every night of the work week  down here.  It generally hasn't been difficult, but when you run into a night like tonight when you are so uninspired you contemplate not eating dinner, it becomes quite a chore.

Enter the Trader Joe's fresh pizza dough.  Sam and I have discovered the wonders of making your own pizza fresh from the oven.  I even got these really cool circular pizza pans for our wedding with holes in the bottom to let the heat properly bake the pies evenly.  It's been a revelation and we now always seem to have pizza makings in our fridge and extra dough in the freezer.  I've already mentioned my fear of baking with yeast (hence the fact that I run to TJ's for $1.79 dough instead of making my own) so this is a wonderful substitute.  As long as you have tomato sauce and grated cheese, your option are endless.  Tonight's pie?  Arugula and salami with a taste of truffle salt.  Paired with a salad drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette, it was the perfect antidote to an otherwise uninspired meal.

When it comes to pizza, let your imagination (and fridge) guide you.  Have some mushrooms, broccolini, and potatoes?  Slice them thin and throw them on!  Have some leftover charcuterie from a delicious dinner party? That will work too! My favorite?  Fresh tomatoes and garlic. Simply delicious.

The only specific recipe I'll give you is bake your pizza at 500 degrees for roughly 12-13 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden brown.  It will come out perfectly every time.

November 3, 2011

Food52 Wrap Up

The Table is Ready and Waiting!
Well, I have to say, it was pretty cool to see my (now old) name in print last week.  In honor of the launch of the Food52 Cookbook, I told you I was going to host a potluck party  and boy did we ever.  Although we were a small group, we had enough food to feed us twice over.  In the end it was exactly what a Food52 potluck should be - friends sharing recipes, cooking tips, and favorite cooking tools.  Here are a few snaps from the party - a big thank you to the lovely ladies who bravely went into their kitchens and tried the recipes I chose from Food52.  Each dish was fabulous and delicious and the party would not have been a success without each one of them.  Next time you're thinking of throwing a potluck, take a look at the Food52 cookbook, plan the menu, then let everyone else shine.

Plus two more dishes that were so good, they went before I could take a photo of them!  Fig and Blue Cheese Savouries and Rosemary and Thyme Pita Chips.  The savouries will definitely be put into my party appetizer rotation!

Lastly, a big thank you to who provided us with 4 bottles of Gann Family 2005 Merlot from Alexander Valley, Sonoma.  (Special because Sam and I went to that area on our honeymoon!)

October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

It's Halloween and although I didn't dress up this year, I still love the excitement of the night.  I love jack-o-lanterns, roasted pumpkin seeds, and the sight of little witches, superheroes, and ghosts running up and down driveways to grab as much candy as they can, as quickly as they can before their parents tell them it's time to go home.  This Halloween, I dutifully bought a bag of candy and waited for our trick-or-treaters, but what I really wish I could have given them was a bag of homemade treats. Unfortunately, even I grew up knowing you didn't eat Halloween candy that wasn't hermetically sealed by the manufacturer.
If you do feel comfortable giving homemade treats to your neighbors, then I would recommend this easy and delicious chocolate bark. It can be changed to fit whatever your fancy - even yellow candy corn would make a welcome addition to this chocolate treat.  Oh, and don't just wait until next Halloween to try this out - I'm sure you can come up with a few excellent holiday variations on the theme as well!

Chocolate Bark  
Adapted from Whole Living magazine

2 bars of 70% dark chocolate (3.5 oz each)
1/4 cup chopped roasted almonds
1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
zest from half an orange
sprinkle of sea salt

Prepare an 8 x 8 inch pan by laying parchment paper in it, making sure the paper drapes over the side so the bark is easy to pull out of the pan when cool. Spray with vegetable oil and set aside. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and pour into the pan.  Sprinkle the other ingredients over the chocolate and let set in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  Remove, break apart, and enjoy!

October 25, 2011

Food52 Cookbook and a Trip Down Memory Lane

Well, it's finally here, folks!  Almost 2 years after you all helped to get me into the world's first crowd-sourced cookbook, The Food52 Cookbook: 140 Winning Recipes from Exceptional Home Cooks is now on the shelves. It's an exciting time and I can't wait to get my copy (which should be arriving in the mail any day now).  Food52 struck a chord with me when I first heard about it.  It was the first of its kind - a combination of a recipe amalgamator and a food driven, web-based community.  It praised home cooks, both the ambitious and the realistic, and together we began to give a voice to all of those cooks out there who put delicious meals on the table every night.

Food52 is still doing this (only this time on a fancy updated website) and will continue to do so as long as there are home cooks out there who want to be involved.  I for one now go there whenever I need a little inspiration, or help with a food question, or even just to look at pretty pictures of food - there are TONS of those - and I will continue to do so as I grow as a cook and entertainer.

This weekend, I'm hosting a launch party for the cookbook in our little Chapel Hill house.  We'll be celebrating with friends, a potluck of Food52 recipes, and, in true Food52 fashion, lots of giveaways.  But tonight, on the day of the launch of this exciting venture, I wanted to remember how it all started.  So Sam and I dined on Linguine with Breadcrumbs and Kale, my Food52 winning dish.  It's still as simple as ever, and I still marvel that I made it into the cookbook with it (thank YOU!), but it is honestly one of the most wonderfully satisfying and tasty dishes I have ever made.

So I leave you with an oldie but a goodie, and I challenge each of you to go ahead and make up your own cookbook worthy recipe in the kitchen tonight.  You might be surprised by what you come up with!

Linguini with Breadcrumbs and Kale
Serves 2-3

½ lb linguini (or other long pasta)
2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 slices day old bread, cubed
½ c. olive oil
1 bunch of kale, chopped
¼ c. parmesan cheese
salt & pepper

Boil pasta in salted pot of water.
Process bread in a food processor until it’s about the consistency of coarse cornmeal.  Heat oil in a frying pan and add the garlic.  Once the garlic is just fragrant, add the breadcrumbs, salt & pepper, and cook until the breadcrumbs are slightly toasted and golden brown.  Remove the garlic and breadcrumbs and let sit. Add more olive oil and the kale to the pan with a little bit of the pasta water and sauté quickly.
Add the drained pasta to the kale, and add back in the breadcrumbs.  Add the rest of the oil as needed and mix in parmesan, more salt & pepper to taste, and serve.

October 17, 2011

Vegetarian for a Day

It's my favorite night of the week - Meatless Monday!  I think I like it so much because it forces me to be a bit more creative in the kitchen. After living with Sam, I've pretty much mastered the protein/veggie/starch dinner combination. Nothing fancy, but consistently tasty and always satisfying. This year though, we're committed to eating less meat, for our health and for our planet.  We try to buy only humanely raised beef, pork, and chicken, but it never hurts to leave it out completely a couple of times a week.  Meatless Monday is not a new concept, but I encourage you all to try it out if it's not already a standard in your household.  It doesn't have to be Monday, but knowing that you'll be eating like a vegetarian on the same day every week will help you stick to it.
This meal is simple because it's centered around my favorite method of cooking vegetables - roasting.  By now you've realized that I roast every vegetable I can get my hands on. It's a great way to muti-task on those evenings when you have things to do at home and need a little time before dinner to get everything done.  This recipe can be altered to include any roasted vegetable you have on hand, including veggies that may have been roasted for the previous night's dinner.  I loved the combination of roasted tomatoes and cauliflower, and the sungolds happened to look amazing at the market last week, but I can imagine using kale, brussels sprouts, peppers, or even carrots.  Just remember that Farro (which can be found in most specialty food stores) has a nutty, rustic flavor that craves the balance of something a bit acidic.  Top it off with a bit of parmesan and you have a delicious meatless meal.

Roasted Tomato and Cauliflower Farro
Makes 2-3 main servings
2 cups cherry tomatoes (I used sungolds)
1/2 head of cauliflower, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups cooked Farro
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan
salt & pepper

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the tomatoes and cauliflower on a baking sheet large enough to hold them in a single layer. Coat with the olive oil and season with salt & pepper.  While you're making the Farro, roast the vegetables until the tomatoes begin to wrinkle and the cauliflower begins to brown, about 35 minutes. Remove the veggies from the oven. Once the Farro is ready, pour into a large bowl.  Pour the vegetables and their juices over the Farro and toss to combine until the Farro is coated.  Add the parsley and parmesan and toss to combine.  Season with more salt & pepper to taste, and serve with additional grated parmesan.  

October 10, 2011

Walnut Oil: It's More Than Just a Fancy Bottle!

Last week, I made one of my favorite easy weeknight meals: roast chicken.  You've seen my lazy (wo)man's recipe here and it's still the one I turn to every time I get the hankering for a juicy and flavorful chicken and also have an hour and a half to spare.  It takes absolutely no effort and the result is dinner for two for 2 or 3 nights - not bad for an hour and a half of roasting time! This time, I decided to experiment with a few nut oils I have in my cabinets - peanut and walnut.  Now, peanut oil is a staple if you're like me and love to make stir-fries at least once every two weeks, but walnut oil is a little more of an investment.  Yes, it's close to $9 at most grocery stores, and no, it's not used for that much, but when you do use it, you will be oh-so-pleasantly surprised.
I happened to get my bottle of fancy walnut oil for a specific dish, and then promptly forgot to use it in said dish. Twice.  Sam was a little annoyed so I was determined to start using the oil ASAP.  My mom found a delicious asian inspired chicken salad that includes both oils and a raspberry vinegar.  It's refreshing and satisfying and I wanted to try it with our leftover chicken but didn't want to go out and by another bottle of vinegar (remember Sam's annoyance at the walnut oil...) so just substituted red wine vinegar.  I couldn't find the recipe, so just went on taste, and I was pretty pleased with the results.  No one complained, and there were only clean plates at the end of dinner.

Chicken Salad with Peanut and Walnut Oil Vinaigrette
Adapted from The New York Times
Serves 3

3 cups chicken, chopped
1 cup chopped walnuts
5 scallions, chopped
1 tbsp. fresh basil
6 cups lettuce (or other salad greens)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup peanut oil
1/2 cup walnut oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Combine the chicken, walnuts, basil and salt and pepper in a bowl.  In another bowl, pour the red wine vinegar and then slowly pour in the oils, one at a time, whisking constantly.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and additional oil to taste.  Pour 1/4 of the vinaigrette over the greens and toss until coated.  Pour the rest over the chicken mixture and mix until completely coated as well.  Add greens to each plate and serve the chicken over the greens.  Top with scallions and more salt and pepper if desired.
This is the walnut oil I used.

October 4, 2011

Pumpkins and Pumpkin Bread

I'm officially in the mood for fall.  This weekend was gorgeous and Sam and I took full advantage of it.  We went to a pumpkin patch and picked some pumpkins, we broke out the slow cooker, we watched some football, and we threw on the wool sweaters. All in all, it was the perfect autumn weekend. The only way to make it better? Make pumpkin bread! It was a busy weekend so we didn't get to it until about 9 on Sunday night. Luckily, Sam is always up for an evening baking fest (since the outcome means he gets delicious pumpkin bread for the week).
My recipe comes from my godfather who uses honey to give the bread a richer sweetness that pairs well with the pumpkin.  And to push it over the edge, Sam and I like to doctor it with our favorite baking addition: Chocolate chips.  This recipe is easily halved, which is what I would do when we were in our tiny NYC apartment so that I could fit it in our toaster oven.  This time however, with a full-sized oven at my disposal, I decided to use the whole recipe and bake the bread in a bundt pan.  It came out beautifully and the best part? Every slice gets a whole lot of that lovely crust of which I always wish there was more.

Pumpkin Bread 
Makes one bundt cake or 3 loaves

2 sticks butter, melted & cooled           
4 eggs                                   
½ cup honey
½ cup water           
1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
3½ cups flour           
2 cups sugar 
2 tsp. baking soda           
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg           
1½ tsp. salt           
½ cup walnuts (chopped)
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour the bundt pan generously. In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs. Add the butter, water, pumpkin and honey and mix until combined.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.  Pour into the bundt pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.   

October 1, 2011

Carrot Soup for the Soul

Here in Chapel Hill it has been HOT. Hot and muggy and not that pleasant. Until yesterday. It was gorgeous! Still warm, but the humidity was almost gone and I swear it felt like Spring.  If there weren't leaves starting to fall, I would have thought we skipped a few seasons.  But I guess that's just what life is like here in sunny CH.  Tough, huh?
That said, this recipe has really nothing to do with the weather, (and today it definitely feels like fall!) I just had a hankering for it.  I found my go-to carrot soup recipe one Easter when I decided I wanted to cook dinner for my family.  The only problem?  I was living in my tiny West Village apartment of hotplate fame.  I needed something that could be made ahead and didn't require too many ingredients (since I was already making an herb crusted leg of lamb in my toaster oven and there wasn't room for much in my mini fridge!). Carrot soup fit the bill and was a festive addition to my Easter table.
Now I turn to it often.  It may not seem like it, but it's an incredibly satisfying dish (even Sam only needs one big serving usually!) It's also a great, way to use up carrots if you found yourself buying a 5 lb. bag because it was on sale.
This time, I turned to the Food52 community for some additional inspiration and I'm so glad I did.  The recipe I found called for roasting the carrots instead of just boiling them in the stock.  I took the recipe one step further and decided to roast the onions as well. What resulted was a creamy (it almost tasted like I put heavy cream in it!), fragrant soup with a lot more depth than I would have thought.   Both of my carrot soup recipes called for ginger which I decided to keep here because it brings a subtle heat to what might otherwise be a bland soup.  I still like the boiled carrot version (and it's a quicker recipe if you're pressed for time) but in the fall, I recommend trying the roasted version.  Serve it as an appetizer or with a grilled gruyere cheese sandwich or even just a delicious baked potato (bonus, you can bake it at the same time as the vegetables!).

Roasted Carrot and Ginger Soup
Adapted from Food52 member, Reeve's version

1 tbsp olive oil (+ additional to drizzle over the roasted vegetables)
1 yellow onion, quartered
10 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Salt & pepper
One of the best appliances I ever purchased!

Preheat the oven to 375. In a baking dish, spread out the carrots and onion and drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper until lightly coated.  Roast the vegetables for 35 minutes until browned and softened. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté until just fragrant. Add the carrots and onions, broth, and additional salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Reheat the soup and serve.

September 26, 2011

Kale and Sausage Yumminess, Indeed!

You know you're in for a treat when you open your gmail and the first email's subject is simply "Kale and Sausage Yumminess". How can you resist opening an email like that?  Ms. K knows how much I love kale (and how much I love a good thrifty recipe) so she was quick to pass along a dish that was simple, delicious, and most importantly, came out to about $2 a serving. We luckily had two spicy sausages in the freezer (thanks Mom & Dad!) and had stopped by the farmer's market for some of the season's first bunches of kale, so we were all set for the meal.  As I'm sure you're now aware, I can't seem to stick to any recipe, even one that's already been tweaked by a home chef I respect, so I did a little work to this one as well adding the wine and the diced tomatoes.  I think I still need to perfect it - you can see from our finished product photos that the sauce was a bit runny - but the end result was still delightful.  Sam and I both had dinner, (Sam actually had 2 servings...) we've each had the dish for lunch, and there's still more leftover!  Don't worry, I predict it will be gone by the time I get home from work tomorrow.

Kale and Sausage Pasta
(Adapted from Ms. K's version of this)
Makes 4-6 servings

2 large spicy Italian sausages, removed of the casing
6 cups kale leaves, washed and chopped
½ cup dry red wine
4 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup chicken broth
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cups short pasta like penne
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese

In a large, heavy pot, break up and brown the sausage. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Add the red wine to deglaze the pot and scrape all of the sausage bits from the bottom of the pot.  Allow the wine to reduce by half then add in a tablespoon of oil and allow to heat up. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute. Heat but do not brown the garlic. Add the kale to the pan and cook until wilted, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Add the sausage, broth, and tomatoes to the pan and bring to a boil.  Once boiled, turn down the heat and allow the mixture to simmer for up to 45 minutes. Prepare and drain the pasta reserving about half a cup of pasta water. Add the pasta to the sauce (adding pasta water as needed). Mix in the cheese and serve warm. Enjoy the leftovers for the next few days – the dish gets better as it sits!
PS.  I apologize that our photos are not quite up to par.  We haven't quite figured out our lighting situation in the new kitchen and that overhead light is just atrocious!

September 23, 2011

A Mayo-Free Chicken Salad Sandwich

Those of you who know me well know that I have a condiment phobia.  It's bad.  I still can't eat at a Panera because in high school, I ordered a dry sandwich and it came with "special sauce" on it.  Shudder... While I'm starting to get used to mustard (which I think is a really big step on my part) the one thing I still can't abide is mayonnaise.  Big, thick globs piled on a sandwich make me run in fear (or at least politely decline to take the plate in front of me). However, I love the idea of chicken salads.  They seem so light and fresh and they are a wonderful use of leftover grilled or roasted chicken breasts.  Plus, they fit in with my fantasy of fancy tea parties.  So I was determined to find one that still brought together the flavors and leftover rewards of a regular chicken salad, while steering clear of mayo.  Thank goodness for Martha.  She provided me with the start of a great version that is easily adapted to your tastes, and uses plain yogurt and dijon mustard instead of super creamy mayonnaise.  It was a hit, and I found I was able to play with the ingredients to make it feel a bit more gourmet.  Serve it on a heavily seeded sandwich bread with arugula, preferably at a tea party or a civilized picnic in the park.

Cranberry Walnut Chicken Salad
adapted from Martha Stewart

  • 2 leftover cooked chicken breasts 
  • 3/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup finely diced celery
  • Salt & Pepper

  • Take the meat off of the bones of the chicken and chop it into bite-sized pieces.  Toss in a large bowl.  In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, mustard, and salt & pepper to taste.  Add the cranberries, walnuts, celery and parsley to the chicken and toss to combine.  Pour the yogurt mixture over the chicken mixture and toss again until all of the ingredients have combined.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.  Serve on lettuce or on seeded bread with a bit of arugula.

September 19, 2011

Breakfast of Champions: Bran Muffins

I don't know about you, but the bran muffins I generally encounter are either a) so sugary that there is no way there is enough "bran" in them to constitute the title or b) so dry I almost choke on my breakfast.  Luckily, I have found a lovely compromise in Heidi Swanson's recipe from her latest cookbook Super Natural Every Day. I follow Heidi's superb blog pretty religiously and am always inspired and awed by her use of interesting ingredients in her creative vegetarian meals. I hadn't yet purchased her cookbook (you can see at the right that I already have a problem with cookbook collecting), but when I found myself with some time to kill in our local bookstore, I couldn't help but get sucked into her gorgeous photographs and recipes.  I bought the book on the spot.
The recipe that really caught my attention was her Bran Muffin recipe.  I already new I had some buttermilk leftover from the biscuits I made for Dinner Club, and the rest of the ingredients I was pretty sure I had in my pantry.  With Sam at school all day, I figured I'd get cracking on these beauties and leave him a surprise afternoon snack. They were a huge hit, and the perfect size.  And if I were you, I would definitely heed Heidi's advice and serve these warm with just a slab of salted butter.  Not a bad way to start off your morning! Now, if only I could live every day super naturally...

Bran Muffins
Adapted slightly from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day
Makes 12-15 muffins

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup barely melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup oat bran
1 1/2 cups plain, unsweetened bran cereal (I used kashi)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the middle of the oven. Generously butter a standard 12-cup muffin pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, and maple syrup. Sprinkle the bran and cereal across the top, stir, and allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. In the meantime, in a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to combine. Immediately fill each muffin cup 3/4 full. Bake for 18 minutes, until the edges of the muffins begin to brown and the tops have set. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn out the muffins on a wire rack to cool completely.

September 15, 2011

Taking Advantage of a Deal

You've heard how Sam and I are being a little thrifty these days.  Well, I hit the jackpot at Trader Joe's earlier this week.  Not only did they have big beautiful eggplants on sale, but they also had a great deal on jarred tomato sauce. I know, not the most exciting, (and not from the farmer's market) but it got me thinking about a deliciously easy baked eggplant dish that I've been dreaming up lately.  My favorite way to start a traditional eggplant parm is to batter, bread, and bake the eggplant, instead of frying it.  So I started with this idea, but put a Greek spin on it.  I had some crumbled feta and spinach in the fridge and when I sliced the eggplant length-wise, they reminded me of lasagna noodles.  With the layers of tomato sauce, feta, and spinach, it was a comforting and simple vegetarian meal.  Best of all? The leftovers were even better the next day.

Eggplant "Lasagna"
Serves 4-6

1 large eggplant
1 jar store bought tomato sauce 
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups breadcrumbs
4 cups fresh spinach
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Peel and slice the eggplant lengthwise 1/4 inch thick.  Salt the eggplant and let sit for at least 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to breadcrumbs and set aside.  Coat the eggplant with the eggs and dredge through the breadcrumb mixture. Set on a baking sheet.  Repeat until all of the eggplant slices have been coated. Sprinkle olive oil over each slice and bake for 25 minutes until the eggplant is golden brown.  Turn down the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large casserole dish, pour a cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish. Lay the eggplant slices in a single layer and top with more sauce.  Sprinkle feta and parmesan on top of the sauce and add 2 cups of spinach on top. Start the process again with the eggplant and repeat the layers until just a bit of the sauce and the cheese remain to top the lasagna. Bake the casserole for 25 minutes or until it is bubbling and golden on top.  

September 12, 2011

Cooking for a Crowd: Dinner Club!

This weekend, we kicked off Dinner Club at our house.  Sam and I cooked dinner for 9 while our friends supplied the delicious appetizers, dessert, and most importantly, the wine.  We had a wonderful time and I realized something important: I need a grown up dining table. Pronto. Everyone was a good sport and we ate on our laps, and I can't even show you photos of the finished products (except the biscuits) because we were having such a good time that I forgot to take photos once everything was served.
For dinner, I decided to consult what is sure to become a standard in our household, Cooking for a Crowd. Every recipe is made for 9-12 servings making it easy to know exactly what you need to serve a big group. The recipes are well written and the author offers full menu suggestions.  I selected two options from the "Dinner for a Summer Evening" menu (fitting, no?) and added an avocado salad with a lemony dressing and biscuits on the side.  The chicken was spicy, smokey, and fragrant, and since it was cooked on the grill, it was a perfect choice when you have 7 other people in your small house.
We decided to use boneless chicken breasts so we would have exactly the right amount for our guests, and it still turned out wonderfully. We'll absolutely be making it again.  The rice was very good, and honestly made enough to serve 24, but I think I'll tweak it if I make it again and omit the oregano - it overpowered the dish.  The biscuits were an after thought - I saw Giada make them on the Food Network and decided to start them at 5:30 when everyone was due to come over at 6:30.  They took 15 minutes to make and 15 to bake and have officially become my go-to biscuit recipe.  Finally, this is a perfect meal if you're like me and have a wealth of random spices on hand.  I was happy to have a use for all of them!

Meals from Cooking for a Crowd by Susan Wyler
Mesquite-Grilled Chicken
Serves 12

8-9 pounds chicken-either 3 quartered chickens or an equal amount of your favorite chicken parts
2 medium onions, quartered
5 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, or 1 tsp. dried
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
1 to 1 ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. coarse salt
1 ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup fresh lime juice or lemon juice
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil or peanut oil

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Put in a large bowl. In a food processor, combine all the remaining ingredients. Puree until smooth. Pour over the chicken and toss to coat. Let marinate at room temperature for up to 2 hours or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Light a covered charcoal or gas grill or preheat the broiler. If you are using mesquite or other wood, soak the chunks in water for at least 30 minutes. Let the charcoal or gas fire get very hot, then add the wood and splash with water if it flares up. Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting any excess drip back into the bowl. Put the chicken on the grill with the heat on high or the vents wide open and sear for 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low or close the vents, splash the fire with water if necessary, cover the grill, and grill the chicken, turning once, for 35 minutes, or until it is no longer pink but still juicy. (The chicken can be smoked earlier in the day. Reheat, wrapped in foil, in a 300 degree oven. Unwrap during the last 5 minutes.)

Ruth’s Spanish Rice
Serves 12 (but more like 22!)

3 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1/3 cup slivered almonds
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 pound baked ham, diced (I used sausage)
½ green bell pepper, diced
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 can (14 ½ oz.) diced peeled tomatoes, with their juices
1 ½ tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
½ tsp. crushed hot pepper
¼ tsp. saffron threads, crumbled
1 can (12 oz.) lager beer, such as Budweiser
1 imported bay leaf
 1 ¾ tsp. salt
 ¾ tsp. coarsely cracked black pepper
3 cups converted rice
2/3 cup small Spanish pimiento-stuffed olives well-drained (optional)

In a large saucepan or flameproof casserole, het the oil. Add the onions and almonds and sauté over moderately high heat until the onions are softened and golden and the almonds are lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, ham, and bell peppers and sauté un til the peppers are crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the oregano, hot pepper, saffron, beer, bay leaf, salt, black pepper, and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, then add the rice. Stir once. Cover and simmer over low heat for 18 to 20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. Stir in the olives. (I like them whole, but it yours are large, you can slice them thickly.)

**Leftovers  Revived: Burritos!
Since we have so much Spanish rice left over, I figured the best thing to do would be to make a burrito! I mixed in black beans with the rice, sauteed some spinach, and whipped up a quick "guacamole" with avocado and salsa.  Rolled up in a flour tortilla, it was a perfect leftover Monday night meal.