Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Dinner: Chicken Parmigiana (w/ Homemade Tomato Sauce) Edition

It's been another week of less is more (aka less is all I have time for) cooking at our apartment: leftover goulash, veggie and cheese fritatta, and roasted pear salad with a night of takeout Thai thrown in for good measure. I've been feeling kind of guilty about the lack of excitement in the kitchen so I decided to try something new and different for tonight: chicken parmigiana. My mom used to make this when I was in high school so I thought I would ask her for her recipe. Turns out her version is so easy it doesn't even require a recipe-- all you do is bread and brown up some chicken cutlets, place them on top of some spaghetti that has been doused in tomato sauce, top with more sauce and some shredded cheese and bake for 30 minutes. So simple that I decided to use the extra time to try my hand at homemade tomato sauce. A total success- I made a double batch and am planning to use some in shrimp creole later this week and then to freeze the rest for future use. Honestly, both the sauce and the chicken were so good that I'm already looking forward to tomorrow night's leftovers! (Thanks Mom.)

Chicken Parmigiana
From My Mom

8 ounces of spaghetti
2-3 cups of tomato sauce
2-3 TBL olive oil
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 large egg
2 TBL water
4 chicken cutlets
4 ounces shredded mozzerella cheese

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly coat a 13x9 baking pan with cooking spray. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and return spaghetti to pot. Add 1 cup or so of tomato sauce and stir until spaghetti is coated. Spread spaghetti and sauce on the bottom of the prepared baking sheet.
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. In a shallow bowl/plate mix egg and water together to form an egg wash. Place flour in a second shallow bowl/plate and the bread crumbs in a third. Bread chicken cutlets by dredging them first in flour, then the egg wash, followed by the bread crumbs.
3. Brown chicken in oil, 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown. Place browned chicken on top of spaghetti.
4. Pour remaining tomato sauce over chicken. Top with shredded cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 2-3 minutes until cheese is melted and starting to brown. Serve!

Homemade Tomato Sauce
From Simply Recipes

2 TBL olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot (or 1/2 large carrot), finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, including green tops, finely chopped
2 TBL chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
2 TBL chopped fresh basil
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, including juice, or 1 3/4 pound fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste
Salt and pepper

1. Heat olive oil in a skillet or pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion, carrot, celery and parsley. Stir to coat. Reduce heat to low, cover pot/skillet and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until vegetables are soft and cooked through.
2. Remove cover and add minced garlic. Increase the heat to medium high and cook for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes. If using canned tomatoes, shred with your fingers (or use kitchen shears to break them up). Add tomato paste and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a low simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook (uncovered) until thickened, about 15 minutes. Use blender, food processor, etc. to give it a smooth consistency.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Perfect Pear

For a long time I did not eat pears. At all. I think it stems from all the canned pears I had as a kid-- there is just something about the texture that I could not overcome. So I was convinced that I just didn't like pears--canned, fresh, or otherwise. But as I've gotten older I've started revisiting those foods that used to be on the "do not like" list. For the most part I have outgrown my childhood food prejudices (although a few do still remain-- I still don't really like bananas in anything other than banana bread and I still think crab tastes too fishy. Oh and don't get me started on canned tuna--yuck!) While I probably wouldn't count pears among my favorite fruits of all time, I definitely like them in certain preparations. For example, I love a good roasted pear salad. Come on! Who wouldn't love pear halves stuffed with a combination of cheese, nuts, and dried cherries all of which is then roasted (and steamed) in a shallow bath of balsamic vinegar?! It's easy, it's delicious and versatile. Good enough to make even the pickiest, pear haters in the world convert.

Before going into the oven.

Roasted Pear Salad
Adapted from a couple of recipes

2 ripe but firm Anjou Pears
Juice from one lemon
3-4 TBL crumbled goat cheese or blue cheese (most recipes call for blue cheese but Jason is not a fan so we use goat cheese-- just as good!)
2 TBL chopped walnuts
2 TBL chopped dried cherries
3 TBL Balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 TBL brown sugar
5 TBL olive oil
Arugula or other salad greens

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Peel pears and cut in half through the core. Use a spoon or melon baller to scoop out the core, making a cavity for the stuffing. Cut a sliver off the back so the pears sit straight. Place pear halves in a baking dish.
2. Pour lemon juice over pear halves to prevent them from turning brown.
3. Mix together goat/blue cheese, walnuts, and dried cherries in a small bowl. Spoon filling into pear cavities, mounding over the top.
4. In the same bowl you used to make the filling, mix together balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and olive oil. Taste to make sure everything seems in proper proporition. Pour your makeshift vinaigrette over the pears and into the bottom of the dish.
5. Place into the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes. Remove and cover with aluminum foil. Return to oven and cook for another 15-20 minutes or until pears are tender.
6. Place arugula or other salad greens on to plates. Spoon some of the balsamic vinegar over the greens and top with pears (two for an entree or one as a side).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sunday (and Monday) Dinner: Goulash Edition

When trying to decide what to make for dinner on Sunday night (usually the one night of the week that I have the time/inclination to make more difficult and/or more time consuming meals) I knew exactly what kind of dish I wanted: something warm, hearty, and comforting. But I was tired of my usual repertoire of soups so I went in search of something new that would beat the winter chill. Fortunately one of my go-to food blogs, Smitten Kitchen, had just the thing: Goulash. Goulash is a Hungarian soup/stew consisting of meat, vegetables, and spices--the most important of which is paprika. Smitten suggested making into more of a stew and serving it over potatoes, egg noodles, or even gnocchi.  I decided to go with the egg noodles.

Now I can't say for sure just how authentic this recipe is, but it was good. Lots of different flavors coming together in a wonderful stick-to-your ribs dish perfect for a cold January day. Or days. It makes a lot--I halved SK's recipe and it still made enough for two days of meals (and we did not skimp on the serving size either). But that was just fine with me-- unlike most leftovers, this was one dish that was even better the second time around.

Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

3 slices bacon, chopped
1.5 boneless chuck, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (you can else buy pre-cubed stew meat)
1 TBL vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 TBL Hungarian sweet paprika
3/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
3 TBL flour
2 TBL red wine vinegar
2 TBL tomato paste
2 1/2 cups beef broth
1/2 cup water or beer (more if you want it to have a thinner, soup-like consistency)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 red bell pepper, chopped fine
Egg noodles, cooked according to package directions (optional)

1. In a large pot or dutch oven, cook bacon over moderate heat, stirring, until crisp. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl. In remaining fat, brown chuck in small batches over high heat, transferring as browned with slotted spoon to bowl.
2. Reduce heat to moderate and add vegetable oil. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until golden.
3. Stir paprika, caraway seeds, and flour and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Whisk in vinegar and tomato paste and cook for another minute.
4. Stir in broth, water/beer, salt, bell pepper, back and chuck. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer soup, covered, stirring occasionally about 60 minutes. Serve with egg noodles.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Full Disclosure

A friend asked me this week whether I ever come home from a long day of work and decided to order pizza.  Apparently my blog has given the (completely false) impression that I cook dinner every night. The truth is I would like to cook dinner every night but I don’t. The weekends are usually the designated for eating out but even during the week there are times when I am too busy or too tired to cook much of anything.  On those nights we 1) order pizza, 2) assemble dinner (salads are a good example of these non-cooking meals), or 3) have breakfast for dinner (which Jason usually makes).

Take this week, for example:

Monday: We made homemade pizza (because it was a holiday and neither of us had to work)

Tuesday: a quick and easy salad with rolls
Wednesday: book club (Jason went out for dinner and I made a super easy appetizer—see recipe below)
Thursday: cereal (because I had to go Baltimore for the day and got home late and Jason had a networking thing after work)
Friday: Pancakes (courtesy of Jason because it was too cold to go anywhere)

So there you go…full disclosure :)

The one real thing I cooked this week was an easy appetizer of puffy pastry with soppresata and Gruyere from my BFF’s new cookbook How Easy Is That? The answer to that question is incredibly so.

Puff Pastry with Soppresata and Gruyere

From Ina Garten

1 package of frozen puff pastry, defrosted overnight in the fridge
2 TBL Dijon mustard
12 slices of soppressata salami
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 egg

1.Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place on sheet of puff pastry onto parchment lined sheet pan. Lightly roll pastry until it is a 10 inch square.
2.Spread Dijon mustard over puff pastry leaving a 1 inch border. Layer soppressata over the mustard and then top with shredded Gruyere cheese.
3.Beat egg with one TBL of water to create an egg wash. Brush the one inch border of the puff pastry with egg wash.
4.Roll the other sheet of pastry into a 10 inch square. Lay it directly on top of the first square, lining up the edges. Brush the top with the egg wash and cut three large slits for steam to escape. Chill for 15 minutes.
5.Trim the edges of the pastry with a sharp knife (or pizza cutter). Bake in the center of the oven for 20-25 minutes until puffed and brown. Allow to cool for a few minutes, cut into square, and serve.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Quick Treat Tip

Hot chocolate + roasted marshmallow =

Best Sunday night treat ever!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sunday Dinner: Late (Lentil Soup) Edition

Posting about Sunday Dinner on a Tuesday.....lame, right?! I couldn't agree more. But we did eat Sunday Dinner leftovers tonight so it sort of counts...maybe?

Y'all know I like to make soup. It's usually pretty easy, it makes a lot, and it's one of the few categories of food I am more than willing to eat more than once. I had been feeling in a bit of a soup rut so when I saw Molly Wizenberg's recipe for Curried Lentil Soup in Bon Appetit, I decided to give a try. Most of the ingredients are pretty standard fare around our apartment--garlic, chickpeas, lemon, curry. The one exception? Lentils. I don't have much experience with lentils. I can probably count the number of times I've eaten them on one hand, not to mention cooked with them. But my inexperience made the recipe all the more intriguing.

Unfortunately, it also most likely led to the dish being only so-so.

Because I am not familiar with lentils, I followed the recipe to the letter. It said to cook the soup's base (which included the lentils) for 30 minutes or until the lentils were tender. The problem was I didn't know exactly what that meant. Just how tender were the lentils supposed to be? Somewhere between hard and mush was my guess....but that didn't help too much.  I tried turning to Google for help, but that wasn't of much help either. So after 30 minutes I called it a day. The result? More al dente than tender. The soup still tasted good, don't get me wrong, but the texture just didn't seem quite right. I should have cooked them longer. Which is what I will do the next time I make this. That, or pre-soak the lentils before adding them into the soup (which is apparently a trick to quick-cooking lentils). Despite the firm lentils, it was still a warm and hearty meal that is sure to satisfy.

Curried Lentil Soup
From Molly Wizenberg

3 TBL olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrott, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 TBL curry powder
1 cup French green lentils
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 lemon
2 TBL butter
2 green onions, thinly sliced

1. Heat 1 TBL of olive oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and carrot; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until onion is translucent, stirring occassionally, about 4 minutes.
2. Add half of choppsed garlic. Stir until vegetables are soft but not brown, about 4 minutes longer.
3. Add curry powder, stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).
4. Add lentils and 4 cups of water. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until lentils are tender (30 minutes or longer).
5. Meanwhile, puree chickpeas, juice from half the lemon, 1/4 cup water, remaining olive oil and garlic in food processor or blender.
6. When lentils are tender, add chickpea puree and butter to soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper and additional lemon juice. If the soup is too thick, you can thin it out with water until you reach the desired consistency. Serve with fresh green onion on top.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Making Winter A Little More Bearable

Now that the holidays are over and winter is fully upon us it is easy to get a little bummed but. I know I have. Lately I've felt like there is not much of anything to look forward to. My job is going well but I'm trying to save what little vacation I have/accrue on a monthly basis for a big trip that Jason and I want to take this summer so the months until spring seem a little never-ending at this point. And I've been a little down/grumpy/in a bad mood this week as a result. I've been trying to focus on the little things that make me happy these days and thought I'd share some of them with you.

1. Dried Cherries
These are my new favorite snack/ingredient. I bought some for a recipe a few weeks ago and ended up eating most of them myself. I'm not sure why I am so obsessed with these at the moment but they are just so good....tart but sweet and have some nutritional value to boot. I've started sticking them in my lunch and incorporating them into meals left and right. Last night I made a roasted pear salad with dried cherries, goat cheese, and pecans to eat with Jason's specialty-- seared salmon (recipe for both to come soon-- I want to make a few tweaks to the salad before I share).

2. Amaryllis Blooms
Every year my mom gives me an amaryllis kit (bulb and planter) around Christmas. We started ours in mid-December and it is now in full (and glorious) bloom. We lucked out this year with a double bloom which makes it even more beautiful to behold.

3. American Pickers
This is a TV show on the History Channel that Jason and I recently started watching. We came across it randomly at my parents' house on Christmas Eve and Jason in particular was hooked. Thanks to a couple of holiday marathons and the fact that Season 1 is available for streaming on Netflix, we've been watching it a lot lately. It's about these two (slightly goofy) guys in Iowa who travel around to different parts of the country "picking."  Basically they find people who "collect" old things and see if they can buy stuff from them that they can turn around and sell for a profit. Old bikes, old signs, old oil cans, old motorcycles...pretty much anything that they see as "rusty gold." It's strangely fascinating to get a peak inside some of the homes of the collectors and even more so to see how much money they can make off of things that I would deem to be junk. It's Hoarders meets Antique Roadshow.

4. New Ways to Eat Leftovers
Y'all know I'm not big fan of most leftovers. But lately I've noticed I like them more if I can find a new/different way to eat them. When Jason suggested using our leftover meatballs to make meatball subs for dinner one night I was a bit skeptical-- I've never really eaten a meatball sub before and the idea was not all the appealing. But he was so excited by the idea I decided to give it a try. Maybe I was just starving after work but it turned really well and was appreciated more than if we'd eaten them on more spaghetti.

5. My New Kindle
I am now the proud owner of an Amazon Kindle (thanks to the generosity of family members this Christmas) and am a big fan. It looks pretty cool (or as Jason would say has an awesome form factor), is easy to use and is perfect for my daily reading on the metro. I used it to read "Just Kids" (this month's book club pick which I'd highly recommend) and am now reading "Home Buying for Dummies" and "Mortgage Ripoffs and Money Savers."

I'm hoping that focusing on these fun little things will help make the doldrums of winter go by a little bit faster!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sunday Dinner: Spaghetti and Meatballs Edition

We did a lot of eating out last week. We used a Groupon for Hook that was about to expire one night, met a friend for dinner another, and then celebrated NYE with a fancy dinner out. I tried to counterbalance all the expenditures by cooking a lot at home this weekend. Cinnamon rolls for breakfast, chili and cornbread for dinner last night, and spaghetti and meatballs for dinner tonight.

I don't know about you, but I did not grow up eating too many meatballs with my spaghetti. We tended to go with a meat sauce instead, but whenever I see someone make meatballs on TV I am intrigued. So when I saw that my BFF Ina had a recipe for spaghetti and turkey meatballs in her new cookbook How Easy Is That (a SIGNED copy of which I got for Christmas-- thanks Mom!), I decided to give it a try. Ina's recipe further sold me on the idea for a couple of reasons-- 1) the meat in the meatballs include not only turkey but sweet Italian sausage and proscuitto as well which sounded like a great combination and 2) you bake the meatballs instead of pan-frying them which seemed less time consuming and less messy. Done and done.

Overall we liked the recipe quite a bit. It was easy and really flavorful. My one gripe is that it makes A TON. Even with halving the recipe, we ended up with 18 good size meatballs! Fortunately Jason is already plotting how he can turn some of the leftovers into meatball subs later in the week.

Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs
Adapted slightly (primarily to halve the recipe) from Ina Garten

1 1/2 cups bread cubes (about 2 slices of bread, crusts removed)
1/3 cup milk
1 lb ground turkey (92% lean)
2 sweet Italian pork sausages, casings removed
2 thin slices of prosciutto, finely chopped
1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
3 TBL olive oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1-2 large jars of your favorite marinara sauce (depending on how much sauce you like-- we used two and it was a lot)
1 1b spaghetti (I acutally only made half this amount but will need to make more for the leftover meatballs)

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper (do not skip this-- you'll thank me at clean up time!)
2. Place the bread in a food processor and pulse until you have medium crumbs. Transfer to a small bowl and add milk. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, combine turkey, sausage, proscuitto, bread mixture, Asiago, parsley, oregano, red pepper flakes, 1 TBL salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Combine with your hands. Mix 1 1/2 TBL olive oil and egg together and add to the mixture. Stir with a fork.
4. Use your hands to lightly roll mixture into 2inch (golf ball size) balls. Place onto sheet pan and brush the top of each with olive oil. Bake for 35-40 minutes until tops are browned and inside is cooked through.
5. Pour marinar into a large low pan. Add meatballs and bring to a simmer.
6. Meanwhile bring a pot of water to boil and cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and plate. Top each plate of spaghetti with 3 meatballs and as much or as little sauce as you like. Serve with grated cheese if desired.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

2011 is here. I have a feeling it's going to be a big one--not only will we both say goodbye to our 20s this year, but we're hoping to finally become homeowners and to take a fun trip or two as well. To welcome the new year with all of its possibilities, I decided to make a fun and festive breakfast of cinnamon rolls!

Homemade cinnamon rolls are not too hard to make but they are a bit time consuming. Fortunately, King Arthur Flour's Now or Later Cinnamon Buns recipe provides great tips for making them ahead of time so all I had to do this morning was pop them in the oven for 15 minutes and make a quick powdered sugar-based glaze. The best part? The recipe makes two pans of 8 rolls which means we'll be able to pull the second pan from the freezer and relive the deliciousness again soon.

So far, 2011 is off to a great start :)

Make-Ahead Cinnamon Rolls
From King Arthur Flour

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 TBL non-fat dry milk
2 TBL granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 TBL softened butter
2/3 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup lukewarm milk
3 teaspoons cinnamon
2 TBL melted butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 TBL milk
1 TBL cream cheese (optional)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

1. Combine the first 8 ingredients (through the lukewarm milk) in a large bowl and mix and knead (using hands or stand mixer) to make a soft, smooth dough (you'll know it's ready when it is no longer super sticky).
2. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl and allow dough to rise for 60-90 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
3. Deflate the dough and transfer to a lightly greased work surface (I used parchment paper-- no greasing needed!)
4. Roll the dough into a 20 inch long rectangle that is about 12 inches wide. Sprinkle evenly with cinnamon.
5. Starting with the long side, roll the dough into a 24 inch log. Use a sharp knife to cut into 16 even pieces.
6. Lightly grease two 8 inch cake pans. Divide the rolls between the two pans. Cover the pans and let rise until they're crowded against each other and puffy about 60-90 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 325 (350 if you are baking them for immediate use).
7. Bake buns for 15 minutes--they will be set but not browned. Remove from the oven and cool completely. You can wrap both tightly and freeze or freeze one pan and save the other for the next day. If you freeze them, let them thaw overnight in the fridge. When you are ready to eat, preheat the oven to 350 and bake for 10-15 minutes until they are a light golden brown. (If you don't freeze them and want to cook as soon as you make them-- bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes until golden brown). Brush the top with melted butter.
8. Make the glaze by mixing powdered sugar, vanilla, milk, and cream cheese together. Note the amount listed above makes enough for one pan of rolls....if you are making both at the same time, you should double the amount.
9. Top warm rolls with glaze and serve!