Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Roasted Broccoli

We eat a lot of broccoli in this house, and it's usually prepared either steamed or roasted.  Broccoli just seems really easy.  I just wash it, peel the stem, and cut it.  It's not labor intensive at all, and I don't really have to think about it, so it's my go to side dish.  Roasting broccoli is very easy, and if you haven't tried it you should. The outside of the broccoli becomes crispy while the inside gets velvety smooth.  Because of the texture, this is a really nice side dish to go with mashed potatoes and a protein, but honestly, we eat it with just about everything.

The directions are really simple.  Preheat oven to 400 F. (The temperature is not set in stone.  If you are baking something else just throw the broccoli in with it.  I've done this with temps ranging from 350 to 425, but adjust the time a little)  Wash broccoli and peel the stem with a vegetable peeler or knife.  Don't throw the stem away!  The stem is excellent, and all you need to cut off it a little bit at the end.  Cut broccoli into pieces (I cut on the large side, but whatever size you like is fine).  Place broccoli pieces on a baking sheet.  Try not to let them touch, so they can get crispy.  Drizzle broccoli with olive oil, salt, and pepper, you could also add garlic and/or red pepper flakes.  Roast broccoli for about 25 minutes.  You want the broccoli to be brown in places.  Serve immediately.
 Going into the oven
 Coming out of the oven
Crispy and delicious

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sausage, Potato, Kale Soup

While on my quest to make a soup my husband actually likes, I came across a recipe for Sausage, Potato, and Kale soup.  My kitchen calendar this year has a recipe for each month, and this was January's recipe.  I looked at the ingredients and thought yum, I like potatoes, onions, bacon, sausage, kale, heavy cream, garlic, and chicken broth (really that's it.)  I couldn't find kale in the store, so I substituted collard greens, and it was great.  I will be making this again.  Jason's verdict: "It wasn't terrible; I could eat this a few times a year."  Okay, maybe we're getting somewhere.  This was served with the cheese straws from yesterday's post, which made a delicious accompaniment.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cheese Straws

I've mentioned before that my husband does not like soup.  I still make it thought, but I try to make something special to go along with it, as to enhance his (bribe him) soup eating experience.  I have heard about cheese straws as a Southern party appetizer for a long time, but I have never had them or made them.  I thought they would be a nice side for the soup I made, which I will post tomorrow.  For those of you who don't know, cheese straws are basically a cheese bread stick.  They are made by rolling out puff pastry, sprinkling with copious amounts of parmesan cheese, rolling some more, cutting into thin strips (I used a pizza cutter) and then baking in the oven.  They were amazing.  This was my first time working with puff pastry, and it was very easy.  Eventually, I'll attempt making the pastry from scratch, but for now I'll stick with the frozen pastry.  One box of puff pastry made a lot of straws, so I put some in a freezer bag before baking.  Now, next time I make soup I can just defrost and bake them.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Weeknight Kitchen: Pasta with Greek Cinnamon Tomato Sauce

This pasta looked amazing, and contained all the things I like in a pasta sauce: white wine, tomatoes, oregano, garlic and goat cheese just to name a few.  It also contained one big problem: Cinnamon.  I have never eaten pasta with cinnamon and other than a few Mexican dishes I have never eaten cinnamon in anything savory.  It turns out that I don't really like it.  This recipe contained a lot of cinnamon, 2 tablespoons, and was a little spicy because of it.  I guess it's a cultural thing that I just didn't grow up with, and I will probably give it another try sometime, but sadly, most of these leftovers were tossed out.  

Once again, if you haven't already, sign up for the weeknight kitchen newsletter from Splendid Table.  Honestly, the recipes lately have not been for me.  I'm still making them though because I like to try new flavor profiles.  I'm making a new one tonight, so hopefully it's a winner.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weeknight Kitchen: Green Beans with Pecans and Cilantro

Okay, so this isn't really what it was called in the weekly newsletter, but I really didn't like the other two items that went with it (it was salmon with a broccoli slaw, and much too sweet for my tastes), so I threw the recipe away, and now I can't really remember what they were called.  I also know they called for almonds or walnuts, but I only had pecans, and they were delicious.  The green beans steamed and then tossed with soy glazed pecans, a sweet and sour dressing, and cilantro.  I'm going to experiment with this to see if I can get a dressing that isn't quite so sweet, and if it turns out I'll post it soon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Beer Battered Shrimp

I've mentioned many time that my husband does not like soup.  He also doesn't really like shrimp, but like soup, I made beer battered shrimp anyway.  I don't fry very much and I'm not sure that I've ever battered anything, but it was really easy.  I used the recipe from The Joy of Cooking, and I fried the shrimp in my electric skillet for a few minutes on each side.  They were served with some lemon squeezed over the top.  My husband actually requested them again, so I guess they were a hit.  Now, I'll keep working on a soup he likes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Homemade Caramels

One day while doing my weekly shopping in an Amish market near our town I gave in; I just had to try the homemade caramels I had seen every time at check-out.  I ate it in the car on the way home, and I knew it was a problem.  The caramel was rich, buttery, gooey, and perfect.  I dreamt about that caramel until the next week when I bought two more.  That's when I realized that I needed to learn to make caramels myself.  I looked up a recipe, and I found out that caramels really aren't difficult to make, they just take patience, a lot of stirring, and obscene amounts of butter and heavy cream, and they are so worth it.  Make sure to use a heavy bottom pan and keep stirring, so it doesn't burn on the bottom.  I use this recipe, but I double it because these freeze really well.  The recipe doesn't say to do this, but please, please, please, line your pan with parchment paper.  The first time I made these I didn't, and it took my husband and I about an hour and a half to pry the caramels out of the pan.  We then had to reshape them all before they were wrapped.  Last time I just lifted the caramels out in one big piece and cut them with a large pizza slicer (the kind that is u shaped and cuts the entire pizza at one time)

Everything melting together
After about 10 minutes of cooking it will bubble up quite a bit, so make sure you use a large pan.
It's starting to come to temp, stir, stir, stir
Almost ready!
Line the pan!

Friday, February 17, 2012

When the Meal Plan is Ignored We Must Improvise: Creamy Mushroom Sauce with Chicken

I plan out my meals every week.  I made a chart in a word processing program, and every Thursday night or Friday morning I sit down and type in all the meals we will have for the week, and then I make a grocery list.  This is not because I'm super organized.  In fact, I wouldn't even classify myself as a little organized, but people who know this about me seem to be impressed and wish they could do the same (you can, it's really easy).  The reason I do this is because (1) if I go shopping without a list all hell breaks loose.  I end up with $80 worth of groceries and nothing that really constitutes an entire meal.  (2) This allows me to go through my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer and use up anything before it goes bad.  I really hate to waste food, and once again, I'm not organized so every little bit helps.  (3) It saves time because I don't have to figure out what I will make each day.  A lot of times I can prep meals the night before, or I can make sure I have enough time for complicated recipes.  So, the menu plan is a lifesaver for me, and I think it would be even more so if I had a bigger family.  I did this when I lived by myself, and it was helpful.  

The point to this long explanation of why I do a menu plan is that last week I ignored it.  I took an unexpected trip, which meant that I didn't get groceries, so I didn't have the stuff to make what was on the plan.  This threw the entire week off.  We ate some meals from the freezer, but eventually I needed to cook.  I looked through the shelves for something to make and then inspiration hit.  I came up with Chicken and Creamy Mushroom Sauce over Couscous.  This is a really great method, and if you don't like mushrooms use something else.  You could use broccoli, cauliflower, onions, spinach, or nothing at all and just have a cream sauce.  You could use canned cream of mushroom soup if you're in a hurry, but really this doesn't take long at all, and it's so much better than the canned stuff.  If you don't like couscous use rice, potatoes, pasta, or bulgar.  I will continue making this, but next time it will be on plan.

Creamy Mushroom Sauce and Chicken

1lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 tablespoons butter
1tsp. seasoning salt
4 oz can chopped mushrooms, drained
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk (you may need a few more tablespoons depending on the thickness of the sauce)

1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and place in bowl with seasoning salt.  Coat chicken breasts in butter/salt mixture.  Place chicken breast in hot pan and cook through, adding remaining melted putter to pan.  Place cooked chicken on cutting board to rest.
2. In a small sauce pan melt 2 tablespoons butter.  Whisk in 2 tablespoons flour and cook for about a minute whisking constantly.  Slowly add milk while whisking constantly.  Add mushrooms to sauce.  Cook over low heat, adding salt and pepper and stirring until sauce thickens.  If your sauce is too thick, add a few more tablespoons of milk.  I needed to add about 2 more tablespoons when I made my sauce.  Keep in mind that the sauce will thicken even more as it cools.   (I add a lot of pepper to mine because we like really spicy white sauces in my house)
3. Slice cooked chicken breasts.  Place chicken in saucepan and cook for 2 minutes over low heat to incorporate flavors.  Serve over couscous, rice, pasta, or potatoes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Herb Roasted Chicken

This is a super easy chicken method, and you can vary the spices.  I think it's even better the next day right out of the refrigerator because the spices have a chance to really get into the chicken.  I don't have a roasting pan, so I take a wire cooling rack and set it on a cookie sheet instead.  This was my first time breaking down a whole chicken, but it was actually pretty easy.  You will have leftover chicken backs, but you can (and should) save them for broth.  This is why I prefer to buy bone-in chicken breasts.  They are cheaper than the boneless, skinless kind, and I can keep the bones for soup. I keep a gallon zip-lock bag in my freezer and I put chicken pieces in it.  When it gets full, I put all the parts in the crock pot with some garlic, cover it with water, and let the crock pot run all day.  Then I strain the broth and freeze it for soup.  Seriously, don't buy broth!  I do the same thing with vegetable scraps.

Herb Roast Chicken

1 whole chicken cut into legs, wings, breast, and thighs.  
1 tablespoon mixed dried herbs (I used parsley, basil, rosemary and oregano)
salt and pepper
olive oil

Rub olive oil on chicken and then rub on herbs, salt and pepper.  Let sit in the refrigerator for 1/2 an hour.  Place chicken in roasting pan, or on wire rack on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 F. for about 25 minutes.  You can check to see if it's done by putting a thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh.  It should read 165 F.  You can also pierce the thigh and see if the juices run clear.
I served the chicken with steamed green beans and an Asian pasta salad.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Weeknight Kitchen: Baked Eggs in Nests of Spinach and Mushrooms

This is another Weeknight Kitchen recipe.  If you're just tuning in, Weeknight Kitchen is a weekly newsletter from The Splendid Table.  You can sign up here if you're interested.  I try to make as many of the recipes as possible and then report back how they turned out.  I find them a little hit or miss for my tastes.  I've been making some good things like the baked eggs I will discuss here, minestrone and cornish hens, but the last few recipes have not worked for me.  I will post about those in the next few weeks.  That being said, the newsletter is worth checking out.  It allows me to discover flavor profiles that I might not have thought about putting together.

The baked eggs were excellent.  I won't post the recipe because it's not mine, but it involves cooking spinach, mushrooms, and onions, making nests, cracking the eggs in the nests, and baking.  I sprinkled cooked sausage on top more for the saltiness it would provide than anything else.  I served these with hash browns, which are still my nemesis, not because I don't like them, but because I can never get them to turn out right.  I won't use the exact recipe for the baked eggs again, but I will use the method.  It's easy and fast.

I apologize for the lighting in the picture.  I don't know what happened.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mexican Rice Bowls

In a previous post I discussed how my husband, Jason, loves Mexican food, so we always have Mexican Mondays here.  I get tired of tacos every week, so I try to mix it up.  I decided a rice bowl would be a nice change of pace.  I don't really have a recipe, but you can use the method and change it up with different spices, veggies, and proteins.  This could easily be made vegetarian or vegan.  This also reheats nicely, so it would be a great lunch to take to work.

Here's what I did:  I cooked a couple of chicken breasts and then sliced them after letting them rest.  I set these aside.  While the chicken was cooking I put some rice, chicken broth (for white rice you need a 2 to 1 ratio of liquid to rice.  I used 1 cup rice and 2 cups broth), taco seasoning, onions, and bell peppers in a pan, brought this to a boil and then simmered with a lid on for about 15 minutes (until the rice was tender).  After the rice was cooked I added the cooked chicken, about 1/2 of cup of salsa, chopped green olives, and cilantro.  I gave this a stir and then served it in bowls.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Layered Cabbage Unrolls

I love cabbage rolls.  To me they are very comforting, but I don't make them very often because rolling the cabbage is difficult for me.  The cabbage always breaks apart, and I never seem to have big enough leaves, and the stuffing falls out everywhere, and well, it's just a big mess.  I had some leftover cabbage a few weeks ago, and I decided I would make cabbage rolls.  Halfway through trying to carefully peel perfect cabbage cups from the head of cabbage I was working with, it hit me that I didn't need to be doing this.  Instead of rolling the stuffing in the cabbage, I alternated layers of cooked cabbage and filling in a casserole dish like a lasagna.  This worked perfectly, and I will never roll cabbage again.  

I don't really have a recipe for this, but the filling is about a pound of ground beef, or turkey, a cup of cooked rice (couscous would work too), salt and pepper to taste, a tablespoon of Worchestershire sauce, and an egg.  Mix the filling and layer with the cabbage leaves.  Top with tomato sauce, and bake at 350 F. for 1/2 an hour.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Weeknight Kitchen: Minestrone

My husband doesn't like soup.  I know, I know, it's weird.  He will tolerate soup occasionally, and he really does enjoy chili, but other than that he doesn't really believe that soup is a meal, and it's only acceptable when sick. I make very hearty chicken noodle soup, and I've served it to him many times.  He has no memory of it. I even asked him if he wanted some chicken noodle soup for supper the next week, and he asked "what's your chicken noodle soup like?"  Let me also state that we had eaten this soup for lunch that day.  Despite Jason's disdain for soup, I still made the Weeknight Kitchen Minestrone when it showed up in my inbox a few weeks ago.  The minestrone was filled with vegetables, tomatoes, beans, and pasta and reminded me of eating a pasta sauce, but in a good way.  Jason liked it, but he won't be requesting it any time soon.   Fortunately, the recipe made quite a bit, so I have a few boxes stashed in the freezer.  Maybe someday I'll actually find a soup Jason requests.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Nacho Night and a Recipe for Refried Beans

Jason, my husband, loves tacos.  Every week when I'm making up the menu I ask him what he wants, and he always says "tacos."  Instead of making tacos every week I decided we would have Mexican Mondays, so he does get his tacos about every other week and something with similar flavors when I don't make tacos.  Last Monday I decided it would be fun to make nachos.  I made up different ingredients, and we made our own plates.  Of the available toppings we had: roast chicken, pork chorizo, homemade refried beans (see recipe below), grated cheese, lettuce, cilantro, tomatoes, green onions, and black olives.  The nachos were really tasty, and I think this would be fun to have at a party.  If I was having a party, I would probably offer some kind of cheese sauce along with the grated cheese.  

I've been making refried beans quite often lately.  They are very easy, and they are so much better than store bought.  They do take a little planning in advance because I use dried beans, but I always make my dried beans in the crock pot, so it's really not a hassle.  You can serve these lightly mashed (I use a potato masher) or creamy in a blender or food processor.  If I use them on nachos or in a burrito I will blend them, and if they are a side dish I leave them mostly unmashed.  Last time I made these, I made a double batch, and we had more leftovers than we could eat.  They are currently in the freezer, and when I thaw them out I will let you know if they freeze well.

Refried Beans

1 cup dry pinto beans (soaked and cooked), reserve a cup of cooking liquid
4 strips bacon
1/2 onion chopped
1/2 to 2 tsp. salt

1. Cook bacon until crispy.  Reserve grease.  Crumble bacon into beans.
2. Cook chopped onion in bacon grease.  Add grease and onion to beans.
3. Add salt, starting with 1/2 tsp.  to beans
4. Mash or blend beans.  If the beans seem to dry add some of the cooking liquid.  Blended beans tend to require more liquid.
5. Taste for salt; add more if necessary.

 My plate of nachos 
One of my new obsessions: Ginger Beer

Friday, February 3, 2012

Chicken Strips and They're Actually Cooked!

Ever since we moved I've been have trouble making chicken strips.  It's not something we have often, and we never buy them frozen, but every once in awhile I make homemade, crunchy chicken strips (the recipe is below).  I just can't make them on the electric stove.  For some reason it seems like I can't regulate the heat as well, and the heat certainly doesn't come down as fast as on a gas stove.  The chicken strips either turn out anemic looking or burnt on the outside and raw in the middle.  Fortunately, my parents bought be an electric skillet for my birthday.  It was great!  The heat was very even and consistent, so the chicken strips turned out perfect.  Next up on the electric skillet, pancakes and my nemesis hash browns.   I've seriously tried to make hash browns more than a dozen times in the last month and they are always weird, gray, and mushy.  I have baked them, broiled them, parcooked them, and tried all kinds of pans, but I won't give up.

Crispy Chicken Strips

1 lb. chicken breasts sliced into strips
1 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
homemade bread crumbs (please make your own, especially if you have a food processor)
2 tsp. dried parsley, oregano, basil, or a mix of all three (optional)
oil for frying, I use canola

1. Get out three pie plates, bowls, or dishes that are big enough to fit the chicken strips.  Put the flour in one bowl, the beaten eggs and buttermilk in the second bowl, and the bread crumbs with salt, pepper, and herbs (if using) in the third bowl.  Place bowls in a line on the counter in the order listed.  Place an empty plate at the end of the line.

2.  Put your chicken strips, one at a time, in the flour, then the egg/buttermilk, then the crumbs, and place on the plate at the end.

3. Once all the chicken strips are coated, heat about an inch of oil to between 350 and 375

4. Once the oil is hot, place chicken strips in the oil and fry for 3 to 5 minutes per side until golden brown.  You will need to do this in batches, so I always set the oven to warm and place the chicken strips on a cookie sheet in the oven when they're finished, so the others can cook.