Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy belated...

So two things to belatedly celebrate - my friend Kathleen's birthday, and my first blogaversary! (Okay, I promise to never use that word again.) For me, a year of blogging is an accomplishment - so let's pretend the pictures below are for both occasions :)

For Kathleen's birthday, I hosted a 'comfort' theme party...meaning, I made some of my favorite comfort foods and encouraged everyone to wear comfy clothes so we could just relax and enjoy some games and each other's company. On the menu? Chicken casserole, homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese, butternut squash gratin with pesto, and apple tarts for dessert.

Eating our comforting dinner
This chicken casserole is something my mom has made for as long as I can remember; I even requested it as my birthday dinner growing up. It's totally unsophisticated - heck, it's only 6 ingredients! - and yet totally comforting and delicious. Think of it like chicken pot pie in casserole form - yum!

Mom's Chicken Casserole
(super-stuffed 13x9 serves 12, regular 13x9 serves 8)

1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 bag regular-seasoning stuffing mix
1 8-oz container sour cream
1 14.5-oz can of low sodium chicken broth
1 14.5-oz can of cream of chicken soup
2 rotisserie chickens, meat taken off the bones and shredded (sure, you can cook some chicken yourself, but why complicate an otherwise no-fuss dish?)
1/2 bag of frozen peas/carrots mix (optional - my mom doesn't do this, but I felt a little guilty serving all that comfort food so I threw in some veggies!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, add the bag of stuffing mix and the stick of melted butter (hey, I never said this was healthy) and mix it all together to distribute the butter. Spread 2/3 of the stuffing mixture onto the bottom of a 13x9 baking dish. In another bowl, whisk together the sour cream, the cream of chicken soup and 3/4 of the can of chicken broth until it's combined and smooth. Add the cooked, shredded chicken evenly around the baking dish on top of the stuffing, then pour the sour cream/soup mixture over the chicken and spread out so all the nooks and crannies get covered. Top it all off with the other 1/3 of the stuffing mix, then drizzle the remaining 1/4 can of broth over the top of the whole thing. Bake for 40 minutes, or until it's bubbly and golden brown and crispy on top.

Kathleen blowing out her scented, non-birthday-candle candle

Everyone does birthday cake, right? I had to go for individual apple tarts!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Roasty toasty soup

Surely, sweltering summer said sayonara and autumn arrived abruptly...
(Annie adores alliteration!)

...which is why I'm bringing back soup! That, and also because once again, I was too lazy to go grocery shopping. Yup, another weeknight, another dinner born from ingredients on hand and a little experimentation. I'm psyched to say that this is now going to be one of my go-to soup recipes! You can use regular peppers and tomatoes in this, but the fire-roasted variety lend a smoky, slow-building heat that's incredibly warming - and the addition of brown rice and lentils makes it a healthful and filling meal in a bowl.

Fire-Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup
(makes about 4 servings)

1 T olive oil
1/2 c chopped onions (about 1/2 medium onion)
2 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground coriander
1 t chili powder
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1 jar fire-roasted bell peppers, drained and chopped
1 14.5 oz can fire-roasted or 'chili-ready' chopped tomatoes with juice
1/2 t kosher salt
1/4 c to 1/2 c chicken/vegetable stock or water
1/4 c dried lentils, picked over and rinsed (I used French green lentils)
1/4 c short-grain brown rice (I used a boil-in-bag)

(Note: Cook the lentils and rice together in a separate pot while the soup is going, and undercook them, as they'll finish in the soup - refer to your package directions and go about with about 5 minutes less cooking time. Also, 1/4 c of each may not sound like a lot, but trust me - your soup will be packed!)

In a 2-qt saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onions, sweating for about 1 minute. Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder and black pepper to the onions, and cook for another 5 minutes, until the onions have softened and the spices have become fragrant and toasted. Add in the chopped roasted peppers and stir to coat in the onion/spice mixture, cooking for about 1 minute. Add in the can of tomatoes along with the juice and the salt, stir everything to combine, and turn up the heat to bring the mixture up to a simmer for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, and carefully transfer the mixture to a food processor (or use a blender/immersion blender); first process on low for about 30 seconds to get things going, then scrape down the sides and continue to puree until the soup is almost entirely smooth. In between your pulses, add the chicken/veg stock or broth, using your judgement about how much you need. If you had a really juicy can of tomatoes, you may need less, and if your mixture is really thick, you may need more. I used about 1/2 c total of additional liquid.

When the soup is the desired consistency, transfer it back to the original saucepan and bring up to a simmer. Add in the slightly undercooked lentils and rice, and allow everything to simmer together for another 5 minutes. Serve with crackers or crusty bread!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Aarti Party in my kitchen

One of my favorite shows is Next Food Network Star - I feel like it's one of the few reality/competition shows that still focuses on what's important (um hello, the FOOD!) and mostly avoids mind-numbingly dumb drama. [SPOILER ALERT] I'm excited that Jeff won this year, I can't wait to try out some of his terrific Sandwich King recipes. I'm also a fan of last season's winner, Aarti Sequiera - she's so genuine and loveable, I'm really glad she won and is now sharing her love of Indian food with the masses.

Having recently scored a huge knob of fragrant, spicy ginger, I knew I wanted to use it in something with the classic Indian spices I already had. Although at some point I'd like to attempt Chicken Tikka Masala or Indian Butter Chicken, the ingredient lists and number of steps can be impossibly long - and last night, I wanted something a little simpler. Aarti's recipe for Kheema looked quick and straightforward and got great reviews, so I decided to go with it, swapping turkey for beef. Bonus - no trip to the grocery store needed!

It's kind of like an Indian-style shepard's pie (minus the pie part)

Kheema (Indian Ground Beef / Turkey with Peas)
adapted from Aarti Sequiera (original recipe here)

2 T olive oil

1 medium onion or 1/2 large onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch thumb fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 t ground coriander
1 t paprika
1/2 t garam masala
1/2 t ground cumin
1/4 t cayenne
1 T tomato paste
1 pkg ground turkey (1-1 1/4 lbs)
1/2 large sweet potato (about 1 1/2 c), chopped into 1/2" pieces
1/3 c water
1 t kosher salt
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c frozen peas, thawed
2 t apple cider vinegar
1 t frozen chopped cilantro (if you have fresh, use about 1/4 c chopped)

In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium, then add the onions and cook until golden. Add the garlic and ginger, and saute for another minute. Stir in the spices (coriander, paprika, garam masala, cumin, cayenne) and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the spices have toasted and the onion/garlic/ginger mixture has taken on a deep color and fragrance. Add the tomato paste and really work it into the mixture, stirring and cooking for another 2 minutes.

Add the turkey, breaking up lumps with a spoon, and saute for about 5 minutes (meat will not be done yet). Add the sweet potatoes and stir to combine, then season with salt and pepper and cook another 2-3 minutes. Next, turn up the heat to medium-high and add the water, then simmer covered for about 3-5 minutes until potatoes are cooked through. Remove the cover and add the frozen peas, vinegar and cilantro. Stir to incorporate everything, allowing to cook for another minute (the peas will warm through in this time). 
For serving: I spooned this on top of oat groats I'd cooked overnight in the slow cooker earlier this week, but you can serve with rice, naan or even tortillas.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fast, fresh Friday fiesta

When I think of fresh and simple summer cooking, Mexican-inspired food often comes to mind. Maybe it's the citrus (I LOVE LIME), or the fresh veggies, or the fact that it's so easy to vegetarianize...whatever it is, I love it! On Friday my friend came over to watch a movie, and we noshed on what I like to call Fiesta Bowls (not to be confused with the football game) beforehand.

We layered romaine lettuce, cilantro-lime brown rice, black beans with scallions and cumin, and this salsa (plus the addition of fresh-off-the-cob corn) in wide bowls and topped with some crunchy tortilla chips. With a crisp, cold Corona in hand, it's the perfect light and healthy summer supper.

Our bowl station ready to go - they're endlessly customizable!

With the chips, for a glamour shot.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Breaking the spell(t)

Okay folks - let's talk about SUMMER. I LOVE SUMMER. For months and months of gray dreariness in Chicago winter and spring, I wait longingly for the turning of the season...for sundresses, for ice cream, for reading in the park, for wearing sunglasses...

However, in case you're unaware, this summer Chicago has experienced a nearly unbearable and prolonged explosion of heat and humidity, so much so that I can barely sleep, and our oven hasn't been used in at least 2 months. Maybe it's like this every year, and we simply forget about it while huddled in our thermal blankets in February. Either way, I love summer, and despite its sometimes icky-stickyness, I'll embrace it just to counteract the other seasons.

Anyway, the point of this soliloquy: since it's been so hot, as I mentioned, I haven't wanted to use my oven. But, when Bob's Red Mill products were on sale at Dominick's a while back,  I couldn't resist picking up some spelt flour. And if there's one thing I know about flour, it's that you use baking. After some quick online searches, I found a great recipe, and it (along with the flour) has been sitting on my counter for weeks, waiting for a cool enough day to justify using the oven. 

Today was the day my non-baking spell(t) was broken - and I'm so glad it was.

Cranberry Orange Spelt Muffins
slightly adapted from King Arthur Whole Grain Baking - makes 6 muffins and 1 loaf, or 12 muffins

1 1/4 c dried cranberries
1/2 c orange juice
1 1/4 c whole spelt flour
1 c AP flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c milk
1/4 c honey
2 large eggs
1 T olive oil
2 T fresh orange zest
1/2 c chopped walnuts
Notes: 2 medium-sized oranges will give you enough juice and zest for this recipe. You'll notice this recipe calls for an overnight rest; this is to allow the spelt flour enough time to absorb moisture from the other ingredients so it's not too dense. If overnight isn't doable, a 2-hour rest should do the job.

Microwave the orange juice on high in a heatproof bowl for about 30 seconds, then add the cranberries and cover with plastic wrap (the juice won't totally cover the cranberries; that's okay). In a large bowl, whisk together the spelt flour, AP flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, honey, eggs, oil and orange zest. Add the wet ingredients to dry, mixing just until flour is incorporated. Fold in the walnuts and cranberries/orange juice until just combined. Cover bowl and refrigerate batter overnight.

3 T unsalted butter, softened
1/4 c brown sugar
2 T rolled oats
1/4 c chopped walnuts
Mix together all the above ingredients in a small bowl until crumbly.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and remove the batter from the  refrigerator. Scoop batter into a lightly greased muffin tin (or loaf pan) until almost full, and spoon about 1 t of the streusel on top of each muffin (or spread some over the loaf).

Bake at 400 F until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean - for my tray of 6 muffins in my toaster oven, this took about 18 minutes. For the loaf pan which I did after the muffins, it was about 25 minutes - but I covered it with foil after 15 minutes.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ravioli is not a four letter word

I have a great summer Saturday routine. Wake up around 9, throw on some easy clothes, grab my grocery bags, and head out the door. I stop by the corner store for some fair trade coffee, then stroll through the farmers' market, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the best wares the Midwest has to offer.

This particular Saturday, a particularly vibrant vegetable caught my eye - and just like that, I knew what I was making for dinner.

*Note: You CAN make ravioli! Yes, you! Sure, there's a pasta-from-scratch way which can be spectacular when you have the time and patience - but there's no reason not to use this method and whip together some fresh ravioli on any given weeknight.

Cavolo e prosciutto ravioli in brodo
(Kale and prosciutto ravioli in broth)
Makes 12 raviolis

For the ravioli:
1/2 large bunch of kale - any variety will work; organic and local if possible! :)
4 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 c grated parmesan cheese
4 thin slices prosciutto, thinly sliced into ribbons
1/2 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
24 wonton wrappers

For the brodo (1 serving):
1 1/2 c good quality homemade chicken stock (the thicker and richer, the better)

To prepare the kale, rinse it well and tear the leaves off of the stems - but do not cut or chop. In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, bring about two inches of water to a boil. Add the kale leaves, using a spoon to submerge them, and allow to blanch for about a minute. Drain the water and kale into a colander, and allow the kale to cool for a moment. Grab a clean kitchen towel or some paper towels and wring out the moisture, then stack the kale on a cutting board, chop, and add to a medium bowl.

To the bowl, add the ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, prosciutto ribbons, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Using a regular spoon, mix the ravioli filling together until well combined - and since there's no egg, feel free to taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

I like to use a cutting board as my 'staging area' for assemble the ravioli, with my egg wash (the 1 egg beaten with a little water, in a small bowl) one one side and the filling bowl on the other. Since wonton wrappers can dry out easily when exposed to air, keep a damp paper towel over the stack of them while you work. Lay out two wrappers side by side. Spoon about 2 teaspoons of filling to the center of one wonton wrapper - don't overfill! You don't want it to burst and come out during cooking. Using a pastry brush or your finger, outline each wrapper with some egg wash, then flip one of the wrappers onto the other, lining up the edges. Use your finger to get out any air bubbles, then use a fork to crimp the the edges closed all the way around. If you're not cooking your raviolis right away, you can layer then in a tupperware with parchment or wax paper, and store in the fridge for up to three days (or freezer for longer).

Sorry for the extra-poor image quality - my camera is broken at the moment, so these are phone pics!

To prepare the ravioli in brodo: In a large pot, skillet or saucepan, heat up your 1 1/2 cups chicken stock to a boil, and slide in the raviolis one at a time (about 6 per serving). Unlike when cooking pasta, when you use a large pot full of lots of liquid, in this case, it should be very shallow. The ravioli only take about 3 minutes to cook because the wonton wrappers are so thin, and cooking them shallow helps prevent them from breaking open. Gently remove the ravioli to a large, shallow bowl, and pour the brodo over them. Serve with a sprinkle of freshly grated black pepper and some more parm.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Europe in review, part two

All right folks, continuing on my European culinary journey, I left the Netherlands and headed for Germany. After a quick stop in Koln to visit an old family friend, we continued on to a wonderful little town on the Rhine called Bacharach.

After a steep hike to drop our bags off at the hostel (which was a legit CASTLE, by the way) and then another hike back down, we had worked up a big appetite for dinner.  We chose a little place on the main road that had a nice outdoor seating area, and proceeded to have our most memorable meal of the trip.