Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Red, red wine

Am I still continuing the Pantry/Freezer Challenge, you ask? Well, I was out of pizza leftovers by Monday, and a girl's gotta eat, so...yes! Last night, I had a random dinner of four dates (P) stuffed with herbed brie and wrapped in prosciutto, and two ginormous quesadillas with black beans (P), red peppers and cheddar cheese. Tonight, I just finished eating some beet latkes (F - yeah sounds weird I know, what can I say I had a plethora of beets from my CSA box this summer) and spaghetti with spicy olive bruschetta (P) sauce.

Earlier in the week, I had a vision for a simple yet elegant dinner - barley risotto ("barlotto") made with portabellos and red wine. My friend left a half bottle of grenache at my place after our pizza party, and I'm more partial to pinot, so I figured it could be a star in this recipe...not to mention I could use up some other pantry/freezer ingredients.

Full disclosure - this recipe did not turn out at all as I had thought it would. Yup, that's right...I put my pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else. I envisioned sitting down to a creamy, pale pink risotto with the delicate taste of mushrooms and red wine dancing on my tongue. What I ended up with was more down home peasant food than uptown girl - but overall, still tasty and a great use of ingredients!

Recipe Notes: I had to use some short-grained brown rice to supplement the barley, because I didn't have enough, which is likely why the result wasn't quite as starchy and creamy as I would have hoped. In the recipe below, I recommend using all barley! Also, it didn't occur to me that portobello mushrooms would exude so much color to the dish, which is why it's very, very...dark. You could substitute other mushrooms to still get a delicious, woodsy mushroom taste with a lighter colored result. Finally...if you're ever concerned about a recipe...just add parmesan cheese.

Portabello and Red Wine Barlotto
(serves 2)

1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 t fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 portabello mushroom caps, stem removed, medium dice
1/2 c pearled barley (P)
1/2 c red red wine
1 c chicken stock, separated (F)
3 T parmesan cheese
optional garnish: crispy strips of prosciutto (why not?)

In a medium saute pan, heat a few teaspoons of oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook for about 3 minutes till they start to soften, then add the rosemary and the chopped mushrooms. Cook for about 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally and letting the mushrooms brown, then add the pearled barley to the sauce pan. Allow the barley to toast and the veggies to continue cooking for about 3-5 more minutes. At this point, season with a little salt and pepper (don't add salt earlier, you want the mushrooms to brown instead of just get mushy). Add the red wine to deglaze the pan, and stir to get up any bits off the bottom. Let the wine simmer and almost evaporate, about 3-5 minutes, before adding the first 1/2 cup of stock. Let the stock simmer until almost evaporated, another 5 minutes, then add in the last 1/2 cup of stock. Cover the pan and let everything simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid, taste the barley to make sure it's al dente, and if it is then stir in the parmesan cheese. Top with delicious, salty, crispy prosciutto strips if not a vegetarian.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

It's a pizza party

Hi friends! This week I'm still trekking along with the Pantry/Freezer Challenge. I've  significantly whittled down my supply of assorted muffins and baked goods from the freezer (served along with some frozen fruit for breakfast), and I've given serious thought as to how to creatively use up the rest of my ingredients.

Even just a few days into this challenge, it's reminded me to be thoughtful and intentional about shopping and eating - something that was a big part of my life during my year in Americorps. It's so easy now to take for granted that I can run to the store for whatever I need, rather than make use of what I already have on hand.

So, in the spirit of resourcefulness and creativity, PIZZA seemed like a great way to use up random foodstuffs. Anything tastes good on a pizza, right? I made the dough Thursday night, then invited some girlfriends over to make and eat the pizza Friday night...proving that even when cooking straight from the pantry, you can still have a party! (I think three of us still counts as a party - don't you?) :)

Kathleen forming her crust
Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
(makes 2 small crusts)

1 T active dry yeast
1 t sugar
1 1/2 c warm water (110 degrees - use a thermometer if, like me, you cannot approximate this exact temperature of water and don't want your yeast to die or not activate)
1 T olive oil
1 t salt
2 c whole wheat flour
2 T ground flaxseed (optional) (F)
2 T fresh chopped oregano and rosemary (optional)
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the sugar in the water. Sprinkle on the yeast, and let it stand and foam for 10 minutes. Stir in the oil and the salt. Add the whole wheat flour, flaxseed and herbs (if using) and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour and mix with a fork or spoon until the dough comes together. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour over a clean, dry surface and turn out the dough. Knead it, incorporating the rest of the flour, for about 5-10 minutes. Spray the mixing bowl with some nonstick spray, and place the dough back in the bowl, covered with sprayed plastic wrap. Let it double in size, which will take about an hour (you could totally go to the gym while it's rising, like me). Remove the plastic wrap, cut the dough in half, form each half into a ball, place each in their own sprayed bowl, and cover with sprayed plastic wrap. This time, let it rise for another 30-45 minutes. At this point, you can refrigerate and use the next day or use right away. I don't like soggy pizza, so I always pre-bake my crust before adding the toppings (350 degrees for about 6-7 minutes).

Amazing* From-Scratch Pizza Sauce
(makes enough for your 2 small pizzas)

1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, drained well (over strainer) and juice reserved (P)
2 T tomato paste (F)
1 t olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 heaping t fresh chopped oregano and rosemary
1/2 t dried basil
1/2 t salt
1/4 t sugar
black pepper

Add the whole peeled tomatoes (which have been drained well over a strainer) to a food processor/blender along with 1/2 cup of the reserved tomato juice and buzz until pureed. (You'll have 1 1/2 cups of tomato juice left over.) In a medium saucepan, add the pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, olive oil, minced garlic clove, fresh and dried herbs, salt, sugar and pepper. Stir well to combine everything, and simmer on low heat at least 20 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before adding to pizza.

*Not to toot my own horn here, but this sauce did taste pretty amazing. I've always used store-bought pizza sauce, but I didn't have any, and challenge rules are challenge rules! The key to using canned whole tomatoes is draining them well and adding only some liquid back - which makes for the perfect consistency!

We topped our pizzas with artichoke hearts (P), roasted red peppers (P), spicy olive bruschetta topping (P), pesto (F), spinach, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Yum!

Pizza glamour shot
What do you like on your pizza? Any ideas how I can use that extra tomato juice? 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Pantry/Freezer Challenge, Recipe #1 - Veggie Burgers

Welcome to the first recipe post of my new self-imposed challenge! Over the weekend, I did inventory in my kitchen for the first time ever, and counted a whopping 67 items between my pantry and freezer. Enough is enough! No more buying yet another can of tomatoes or bag of frozen broccoli just to get home and realize that I already have 2 waiting on me. No more throwing away leftovers that become good friends with freezer burn, or canned beans that occupied the bottom drawer since President Bush was in office.

My mission is clear: I can only buy fresh fruits and vegetables until I've cleaned out my pantry and freezer. 

Armed with an exhaustive list of staples and my new set of rules, I've been brainstorming recipes that will help use up my given ingredients. Seeing lots of beans and grains on the list took me back to my days as an Americorps volunteer, when the food budget for my house of 12 women was about $12 per person per week. Needless to say, we got creative with our grocery shopping and relied heavily on whole grains and alternative protein sources to keep us satiated, and thus - the inspiration for this recipe.
*Note - pantry/freezer ingredients will be noted as such in the recipe with a (P) or (F) next to it.

Annie's Ultimate Vegetarian Burgers
(makes 10 palm-sized patties)

2 celery ribs, chopped into large pieces
1 small onion, chopped into wedges
1/2 c rolled oats and/or oat bran (P)
1/2 c frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained (F)
3/4 c cooked brown lentils (P)
3/4 c cooked wild rice (P)
1 15-oz can soybeans (P)
1/2 29-oz can black beans (P)
2 t fresh oregano, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 t black pepper
1 t salt
1 t fresh basil (or 1/2 t dried)
1 t fresh cilantro (or 1/2 t dried)
1 t cumin
3/4 t paprika
2 eggs, beaten

**To make this recipe extra-simple, I used my food processor. If you don't have a food processor, you can absolutely do without - just use your fine knife skills and a potato masher to get the right consistency.

Add the celery and onion chunks to the food processor and pulse until chopped finely, about 3 1-second pulses. Empty into a mesh strainer over a small bowl, and squeeze the celery and onion to release moisture. Add the celery and onion to a large mixing bowl. Return the processor bowl to the machine, and add the wild rice and lentils. Pulse these ingredients until chopped and broken down slightly, but not a paste - about 3-5 pulses. Add to the mixing bowl. Add the soybeans and black beans to the food processor, and repeat the pulsing until they have been chopped but are still in chunks, not pureed - about 5 1-second pulses. Add the thawed, drained spinach to the mixing bowl, along with the finely chopped oregano, minced garlic, all other herbs/spices, and rolled oats/oat bran.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Make a well in the large mixing bowl of ingredients and pour the beaten eggs into the well. Using your hands, mix together all ingredients and incorporate the eggs, making sure everything is well combined.

Form the veggie burger mix into 10 palm-sized patties, about the thickness of your hand. If saving for later, wrap individual patties in plastic wrap then foil and freeze. If cooking now, heat a few teaspoons of olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Cook patties for about 3 minutes on the first side till nicely browned, then flip, lowering heat to medium-low and covering with a lid for about 3 minutes, to allow to fully heat through. Then remove the lid and crank up the heat for the last minute to brown the bottom. 
Serve on a bun like a burger, or crumble burrito-style in a tortilla with toppings. Delicious and nutritious!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Guest Post on Food Wine & Mod Podge!

Pop on over to my friend Katie's blog, Food Wine & Mod Podge, to check out my guest post on a healthy and filling snack, Guilt-Free Granola Bars - and make sure to bookmark her site for the future! She's quite the connoisseur of all things culinary and crafty, and her blog just underwent a major redesign for 2011. Lookin' good, Katie! :)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Simple soup for supper

It's official - this is my 4th soup post this winter (or 5th if you include the sidebar on chicken stock from this post).  What can I say? Soup is the perfect wintertime food because it's quick and easy to make with whatever ingredients you have on hand, it can be really healthful and filling, and it's comforting after a long day.

Egg drop soup, stracciatella, avgolemono - whatever you want to call it, I've bookmarked dozens of these recipes. The short ingredient list and stove-to-table time will appeal to anyone looking for a simply painless weeknight meal. When I opened the fridge yesterday and saw eggs and chicken stock staring up at me, I figured it was a sign from the universe to just make this soup already.

Egg-Lemon Soup
(makes 2 large servings)

3 c chicken stock
1/2 c pre-cooked rice (I had leftover wild rice, even leftover white rice from Chinese takeout would be great in this)
2 eggs
2 T grated parmesan cheese
1 T fresh chopped basil
1 c frozen chopped spinach (or 1 c packed fresh spinach)
1 T fresh lemon juice
freshly ground pepper & salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a boil and add the rice. While the rice boils, about 2 minutes, crack the 2 eggs in a bowl and beat with a fork to break up the yolks. Add the parmesan cheese, basil and some salt and fresh black pepper to the eggs and mix with the fork till combined. Lower the heat on the stock to medium-low, so it's no longer simmering, and using the fork, stir in a circular motion as you drizzle the egg mixture into the soup, continuously stirring. The eggs will cook immediately as they hit the hot liquid and create little rags. After you've added all the eggs, add the spinach and cook until wilted, stirring occasionally, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Serve with a piece of crusty bread, and you've got yourself a light and delicious meal.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Indian at home = easy

Indian food is one of my favorite cuisines, but I don't go to Indian restaurants that often. When I got a gift card to The Spice House for Christmas from my lovely roommate J, I seized the opportunity to finish equipping my pantry for at-home Indian cooking, and picked up two fragrant flavorings - cumin seeds and garam masala. Combining those with pantry staples like curry powder, turmeric and coriander, now I'm covered to make Indian food at home whenever I get a craving! 

For my first foray into Indian territory, I used this recipe as a starting point. Chickpeas, tomatoes and yogurt turn into brilliantly golden and fragrant stew-like meal that's perfect over rice and served with some garlic naan (I tried out Trader Joe's brand and it's pretty good!).

Enjoying my meal with a nice cold glass of Riesling
Chickpeas in Tomato Yogurt
(adapted from Big Caprese Salads, original recipe here)

1 1/2 T vegetable oil
1 small onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano chili, seeds and ribs removed, minced
1 1/2 t coriander
2 t cumin seeds
1 t turmeric
1 T garam masala
1 14 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 c stock or water (I used chicken stock, but you can make this vegetarian if you wish)
1 can chickpeas, drained
2/3 c plain yogurt
2 T heavy cream, half and half or whole milk

Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and minced garlic and chili, and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions have begun to soften. Add all the spices to the pan, and stir frequently to coat the vegetables and toast the spices, about two minutes. Add the tomatoes, drained chickpeas and stock to the pan, and stir everything to combine. Simmer on medium heat, and allow the liquid to reduce and start to thicken. Remove the pan from the heat, and slowly stir in the yogurt and cream to incorporate. Important: When I did this last step, either I mixed it in too quickly or there was too much residual heat left in the pan, but either way - the yogurt curdled a little. What I'll do next time is mix in some of the liquid in the pan into the yogurt first, almost to 'temper' it like you would with egg yolks, and then add the yogurt to the pan. Done!

Everything's better with butter

I was making my shopping list last weekend and realized I was getting drastically low on delicious chunky peanut butter. In a rare stroke of genius, it dawned on me - why buy more when I could probably make my own using up some various nuts in the back of my pantry? 

A quick google search revealed that yes, it was as easy as I thought. Step 1: Roast nuts (any kind). Step 2: Process until you have butter. Simple enough, right?

I used a combo of sliced almonds and whole hazelnuts that I had in my pantry left over from another recipe. I popped in the toaster oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes until they were smelling great and nice and toasted, then dumped them in the food processor and went to town, occasionally wiping down the sides with a spatula. Stop when it looks like butter! You can also add oil and/or salt and other seasonings, however you like it. Also, I will note that roasting the nuts is optional (in case you're a 'raw food' person) - but roasting not only gives a great depth of flavor, it helps draw out the natural oils in the nuts and makes the blending/processing a LOT easier. If you use raw nuts, you might have to add oil to get a spreadable consistency (and not just meal).

Enjoy with a lovely apple, spread on a bagel or just with a spoon! :) Store in the pantry, no refrigeration needed. 

Anyone out there ever make their own nut butter? What's your favorite? I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mom's "Italian Chili" and what's coming next

One of the reasons I wanted to make roast chicken was so I'd have plenty of homemade stock. One of the reasons I wanted plenty of homemade stock was so I could make this soup. My mom first made this a few months ago, and apparently it's been a runaway hit at home among my brothers and dad - so I asked her for the recipe. In all fairness, I changed it a fair amount based on what I had on hand and the fact that I'm only one person and she seemingly makes it for an army at a time (3 cans of cannelini beans? 3 cans of tomatoes? yikes!) - and though it'll never taste as good as Mom's, it's definitely inspired by her recipe.

Mama P's "Italian Chili"

1 T olive oil
1/2-3/4lb italian turkey sausage (about 3 sausages), casings removed
1 celery rib, small dice
1 small carrot, small dice
1 small onion, medium dice
1/2 large green bell pepper, medium dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 t fennel seed, crushed (in your hand is fine)
1 T dried basil
1 T fresh oregano (or 1 t dried)
1 t cumin
1 T chili powder
1 bay leaf
1 19-oz can cannelini beans
1 24-oz can tomatoes (not diced; I used peeled whole and pureed them in my food processor, but you can use crushed or tomato puree/sauce)
4 cups chicken broth

In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, add the oil over medium-low heat and add the sausage to the pot, breaking up with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook the sausage, stirring and breaking up, until fully cooked, about 5-7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage to a bowl and reserve. Pour off excess fat from the pan, leaving about 1 T left. Add the celery, carrot, onion, bell pepper and garlic, and season with salt. Let the veggies begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and all the spices and herbs from fennel to chili powder, and cook for another 2 minutes, allowing everything to coat the vegetables and begin to toast and release their oils. Add the bay leaf, cannelini beans, sausage*, tomatoes, and chicken broth, stirring it all to combine, and bring up to a boil over high heat. Once it boils, reduce heat and simmer on low for at least 10 minutes to let all the flavors meld. Taste, and stir in additional salt/chili pepper as necessary.

*Note: Instead of just dumping the sausage back in the pot, I make sure it's well-drained, and then like to finely crumble it with my hands as I add it back into the pot. I can never get it in that small of pieces using the spoon while I cook it, and this way there's more sausage throughout the soup, rather than just select spoonfuls.

Coming your way tomorrow: homemade nut butter and my first authentic (I think!) at-home Indian dish. Get excited! :)


That's the only word I have to describe this homemade egg nog. Or delicious. Or comforting. Or delicious. Anyway...when I was planning my annual holiday brunch (3rd year running, got 31 people crammed in my apartment this year!) a few weeks ago, I decided it would be really impressive cool if I made homemade egg nog that people could drink hot with coffee (Starbucks latte style) or spike with rum/bourboun if they wanted. Hilariously, one of my brunch attendees accidentally mistook the nog for gravy (?) and put some on her plate next to her bacon-egg casserole and french toast...but whatever! It turned out so well that I made it again a few days ago, this time just for myself.

This mug was a Christmas present from my mom. She has me pegged pretty well :)

Adjustments I made from her recipe over at Mommie Cooks! - I lessened the sugar to 1/3 cup instead of 1/2 cup, added a pinch of cloves, and used 1% milk instead of whole milk. Next time I think I could even sub 1/2 and 1/2 or light cream for the heavy cream, and I don't think the texture would suffer. This recipe is creamy and rich, but not too overwhelming.

Fun fact: Egg nog = crème anglaise. (More or less. Did I just blow your mind?)

Classic Roast Chicken

Holy 2011, Batman! It's been almost a month since my last post, but that's what happens when the holidays come around I suppose. Don't worry though, I've been cooking up a storm - when I wasn't catching up on 5 1/2 seasons of Bones (my new obsession) or cramming 11 cookies into the VCR my mouth, that is. I hope everyone had a lovely holiday season; mine was awesome and I always come back from home feeling recharged and grateful for my wonderful family.

One of the first things I wanted to make when I returned to the city was a roast chicken. It's easy, there's plenty of leftovers, and I had a few upcoming recipes I wanted to try that needed chicken stock (which I'll post about after this).

I've made roast chicken before, but this time I was thinking about brining. I've read so much about it, and I know it's supposed to make all the difference - but I wasn't sure for how long, and whether I could possibly get the same effect with just salting the bird several hours in advance. After researching dozens of recipes, I settled on rubbing the rinsed, patted-dry 3.75lb bird with a tablespoon of kosher salt, setting it on a platter and letting it hang out/dry in the refrigerator for about 3 hours (and another hour out of the fridge coming up to room temperature). In my research I also found that loosening the skin from the meat all over the bird would help the skin crisp up and not get soggy while cooking.

The result? A delicious, well-seasoned bird with crispy skin. I think this will be my go-to method from now on.

You're used to my bad-picture disclaimers by now. This one was taken on my phone and I had already started carving before I remembered to take a snapshot!

Classic Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

1 whole chicken, 3-4 lbs (if you use a kosher chicken, which is already salted/brined to remove impurities, DO NOT salt the bird in advance and follow the recipe after that)
1 T kosher salt
2 T butter, softened
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 one lemon
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 sprig fresh oregano (or 1 t if dry)
4 sprigs fresh rosemary (or 2 t if dry)
1 small potato
1 sweet potato
1 large carrot
1 large parsnip

If salting the bird, shoot to do this in the afternoon before you cook that evening (ideally at least 4 hours in advance). Remove remove giblets and discard, then rinse all over and pat inside and out with paper towels till very dry. Use your fingers to loosen the skin in between the meat all over - the breasts, thighs, back, legs. Liberally rub kosher salt all over the inside and outside of the bird and under the skin, using about 1 T of salt (if your bird is smaller, you may use less). Place on a plate, uncovered, in the fridge for 3 hours. Remove from the fridge about half hour to an hour before you want to cook it to allow to come to room temperature.

While the chicken is coming to room temperature and you're preheating your oven to 350 degrees, chop the root vegetables into 1-inch pieces along with 2 cloves of the garlic. Distribute evenly on the bottom of a roasting pan - since I don't have a roasting rack, these veggies act as my roasting rack (I couldn't just say 'rack' there, lol) - but even if you have one, you could still do the veggies underneath. 

Using paper towels, wipe all visible salt off the chicken. Stuff the half of a lemon, the fresh herbs, and the remaining 3 garlic cloves inside the cavity of the chicken. Using your hands, rub the entire chicken - on the skin and underneath the skin - with the softened butter. Season with black pepper. IMHO trussing = a waste of time, not to mention I never have kitchen twine, so I didn't truss - and I actually think it helps crisp the skin better this way anyway. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, and roast in the oven for approximately 20 minutes per pound, plus 20 minutes, flipping the veggies/rotating the pan once, until skin is golden brown and the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh is around 160 degrees. Remove from oven transfer chicken to a cutting board/platter and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before you DIG IN!

Note: Don't you dare throw away your leftover chicken bones and bits! Make soup, people! Throw the chicken parts into a pot with celery, onion, carrot, bay leaf, some peppercorns, cover with water, and simmer for a few hours!