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.

September 8, 2011

The Best Cupcakes You'll Ever Make

I'll add a subtitle which is "As Long As You Love Peanut Butter".  This cupcake recipe is not for the diet conscious or the faint of heart (what Ina recipe is?), although you could almost make a case for these little bite sized indulgences simply due to their miniature stature. The problem?  You can't stop at just one.
I can't remember when I first made Ina Garten's Beatty's Chocolate Cake recipe.  But I can tell you that it's now the only chocolate cake recipe I turn to (sorry Anne!).  It's delightfully light (in texture, not calories) because of the buttermilk and with the little bit of coffee added in, the chocolate flavor really shines through.  It's for this reason that I ignored the cupcake recipe that Ina paired with this amazing peanut butter icing and instead stuck to my guns and altered my favorite chocolate cake to fit my needs.
One thing I do remember is the day I first made this combination of mini cupcakes.  It was Sam's birthday and our second to last month in our little non-kitchen apartment.  I made all 4 batches in our tiny toaster oven (thank goodness my mini-cupcake pan was just the right size!) and when I brought them to our local bar where we were celebrating his birthday with friends, I knew it had been worth it - when I looked up, every last one of them was gone.
This batch I made in North Carolina in our grown-up kitchen for Ms. K, but the results were the same - little bites of goodness.  We happily munched on them all weekend long.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cupcakes
Individual recipes from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa At Home (2006)
Makes 3 dozen mini cupcakes

Beatty’s Chocolate Cake
(recipe is halved and adapted for mini cupcakes)
1 Scant cup of all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ cup buttermilk
¼ cup vegetable oil (I used melted butter)
1 extra-large egg, at room temperature
½ tsp. vanilla
½ cup freshly brewed coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line the mini cupcake pans with cups. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the better into the prepared cups and bake for 17 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Kathleen’s Peanut Butter Icing
You may have leftover icing from this, but I promise you won't mind!

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tbsp. unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp sea salt
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place the confectioner’s sugar, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until creamy, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as you work. Add the cream and beat on high speed until the mixture is light and smooth.

September 6, 2011

Friends, Frittatas, and Fun

It's really hard to believe that Labor Day has already come and gone.  We had a wonderful weekend with our good friends from NYC, Ms. K and her fiance, MD.  I spent much of last week planning the menus for the weekend and Sam was good enough to indulge me in my pursuit of creating the best meals possible on a (pseudo) budget.  Ms. K is a special person in my life, and last year, instead of doing the one thing she asked for for her birthday, I was a terrible friend and didn't make her the chocolate peanut butter cupcakes she wanted.  Instead, I cried at work and Ms. K ended up taking me out for a very dirty martini to drown out my sorrows.  Is she a good friend or what?
This weekend, even though it wasn't her birthday, I was determined not to mess up.  I made those chocolate peanut butter cupcakes (I'll post about them later this week) and succeeded in my goal of making this wonderful couple as full and happy as humanly possible.  What can I say?  I think I was meant to be an Italian grandma.
The weekend started with a delicious frittata and bloody marys (with gin, of course) to greet our guests after their arduous 1 1/2 hour flight.  It was a perfect way to start off the weekend.  The best part?  Sam and I got to eat the left over frittata for dinner tonight with a delicious cobbled-together gazpacho made with all of the leftover vegetables we had in the fridge.  A thrifty and truly revived leftover meal.

Tortilla Espanola Frittata
Serves 8 as sides

6 eggs
5 small red potatoes, thinly sliced and par-boiled
1/2 an onion, diced
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Turn on the broiler. Beat the eggs, cream, salt & pepper in a large bowl.  In an oven-safe, non-stick frying pan heat the oil and add the onion, sauteing until just tender.  Add the potatoes and cook for another 2 minutes.  Turn down the heat to medium and pour in the egg mixture.  Let cook until the bottom of the frittata is set (about 5 minutes) then place in the broiler to finish off the top.  This should take about 2 minutes, but watch in case this part goes quickly.  The frittata will have risen and puffed up quite a bit and should be nicely browned and set on top.  Serve immediately, or put in to the fridge a eat over the course of a few days.

Bloody Gazpacho
Serves 4

1/2 red onion, chopped
2 Roma tomatoes
1 large tomato
1/2 of a hothouse cucumber, chopped skin-on
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup bloody mary mix
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
salt & pepper
Chopped parsley and cucumber for garnish (optional)

In a food processor, process the onion, tomatoes, cucumber, celery, garlic, salt & pepper until finely chopped and nearly soupy.  Add the liquids and process until mixed.  For optimum flavor, let sit in the fridge for at least an hour.  Serve chilled.