Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Savory Cheddar-Chive Bread

Last night I didn’t feel like cooking. Still tired from our holiday travels, I was not in the mood for elaborate culinary experimentation. So, I asked Stan if he’d mind eating eggs for dinner. As I’ve told you before, he’s not really a foodie, so he couldn’t care less what we eat. In theory, this should have meant about 3 minutes of prep work and 5 minutes of cooking.

But no, not if you are me. Because of course, if you are eating eggs, you need toast. And if you are like me, you will not be content to simply toast up some boring sandwich bread. Oh no. You will be tempted to check your “need to try” recipe file for something bread-like to go along with your simple egg dinner. Even if it will add an hour onto your dinner prep/cooking time. Oy. If you are like me, I feel for you. You just can’t help yourself. And neither could I. But it was worth it.

My egg accompaniment of choice was a savory quick bread. Chock full of cheese (shredded and cubed!) and fresh chives, the bread has a rich taste and a fragrant aroma. I used a sharp white cheddar cheese, which was delicious and nicely complimented the delicate flavor of the chives. Next time I make this, and there will be a next time for sure, I might try using thinly sliced green onions along with my cheddar, since I do not usually have chives in my fridge. Either way, I know my simple scrambled egg dinner will thank me for making the extra effort. And just maybe, my non-foodie hubby will thank me too.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tortellini Soup

Phew, I’m back. Did you miss me? I know, I know, it’s only been about a week since my last post, but I feel like I’ve been around the world and back since then. Ok, it was really only to Florida, Kentucky, and Ohio, but that covers a lot of ground and a lot of family! I decided to unplug (technologically speaking) and leave my laptop at home. This allowed me a whole week of rest from the kitchen and the opportunity to enjoy someone else’s cooking. Now it’s back to reality.

I don’t know about you, but when I get back from a trip, I tend to feel like I need a vacation. You know the feeling, you had a great time away, but when get back you are so darn tired. That’s how I was feeling this morning – tired and lazy and wanting something warm and comforting for lunch. Since I, ahem, might have indulged a bit over the past week (who likes Russian food? I do, I do!), I was looking for something on the lighter side too. 

Enter this soup: plump tortellini and fresh spinach in a tomato-y broth. It’s quick and simple to make, and it packs a lot of flavor in every bite. This is just the thing to get you back into shape, mentally and physically, after a long week – whether you were stuck in the office or visiting as many relatives as possible.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bulgarian Pepper Casserole

Recently Stan started lifting weights. He’s doing this in part to be healthy, but mostly to gain some muscle mass. As a result, he eats all the time – even when he is not hungry. Sigh… must be nice… While his Herculean caloric consumption is not so great for our budget, it is good news for you folks because it means I have been cooking up a storm.

I came across the recipe for this casserole one day after talking with Stan about what types of food will help him pack on the pounds. Protein and whole grains topped the list. This casserole has both of those components, stirred together and baked in the oven. Now, I’m the first to admit I was a little skeptical of how this casserole would taste. I like all of the ingredients on their own, but I’d never thought about putting them all together. However, the Moosewood Cookbook has never led me astray, so I decided to give it a go. Let me tell you, the leap of faith was worth it.

Imagine, if you will, brown rice scented with lemon and dill, combined with sautéed bell peppers and onions, and tossed with feta cheese. Cottage cheese, blended smooth, binds the casserole together before it is topped with sliced tomatoes, olives, and slivered garlic. You can serve it as an entrée with a green salad and some crusty bread, or make it a side dish to go along with something like the Dijon Chicken I told you about the other day. That’s what we did, and it made for a delicious, protein-packed meal, guaranteed to help Stan pack on the pounds and healthy enough to keep me from doing the same… hopefully.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dijon Chicken

Everyone has his or her favorite go-to chicken recipe, the one that is fast, easy, and always tasty. This one’s mine. The idea for this recipe originally came from one of my college roommates. Her version used non-fat mayo (which I don’t use) and required pounding the chicken breasts (which I am almost always too lazy to do). To make it work for me, I changed it around just a little bit, and it’s been my quick-fix chicken recipe ever since.

The method is simple. Season your boneless chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Slather the tops of the breasts with a mixture of equal parts Dijon mustard and mayonnaise. Broil the chicken until it is cooked through and there is a nice dark crust on top. Eat, enjoy, and feel proud of yourself that you made something so tasty with so little effort.

If you don’t have boneless chicken breasts stocked in your fridge or freezer, or if your broiler is broken, there are ways to adapt this basic method. My mother-in-law likes to smear the mustard-mayo mixture on bone-in chicken pieces and then bake them in the oven. The chicken doesn’t get a crust like it does with broiling, but the mustard mixture seals in all the juices resulting in incredibly tender, flavorful meat. Try it both ways and see which you prefer!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rosemary Foccacia

Holy moly, friends. I baked bread. Genuine, from scratch, wheaty, yeasty bread. Perhaps just as exciting (if not more), I used my KitchenAid mixer for the first time. You know the one, the one gals and guys who love to bake dream about. Seriously, when I really got into cooking several years ago, I dreamed about owning my own fancy, schmancy mixer – with all extra the attachments, of course. And believe you me, when Stan and I went to register for our wedding, I dragged him straight to the KitchenAid display. (Thanks Grammy, for the special gift!)

Now let’s get back to that bread. Warm, fragrant, chewy rosemary foccacia. Perfect for cutting into wedges and dipping into olive oil, filling with your favorite sandwich fixings, or just tearing into straight from the oven.

In the interest of full disclosure, this wasn’t my first attempt at baking homemade bread – it was just the first attempt successful enough to earn its way onto my screen and into your homes. It was, however, my first time making this particular type of bread, so you can rest assured this is not a difficult recipe. Frankly, I was amazed how easy this bread was to make. The recipe has few steps and the times are very forgiving. I got distracted during a couple of the rise times (life gets hectic, you know) and the extra time didn’t hurt the bread at all – which I think makes it a perfect recipe for the busy holiday season.

On an unrelated note, I just have to share that I have the bestest husband. He came home yesterday with a surprise Hanukkah gift for me – a tripod! While some may not think this is a romantic gift, I was fairly giddy and might have done a little happy dance. Okay, I totally did a happy dance – all the way across the apartment. Stan actually remembered me mentioning weeks ago that I can’t always get a steady shot with my camera, and he filed that information away for the right moment. Seriously thoughtful gift. I was touched, and you, dear readers, will hopefully be the beneficiaries of better pictures. So really, it’s a present for all of us!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

A couple times a month Stan has meetings that keep him out past dinnertime. I don’t mind the time by myself, but I eating dinner alone has never been my favorite thing. This week, however, I was looking forward to my solo dinner with some anticipation. Not because I’ve suddenly developed a love of solo dining, but because I had something special planned. Something decadent and just a little bit girly. Of course I’m talking about food. Pasta with roasted red pepper sauce. I came across this recipe a few weeks ago, and I’ve been holding onto it for just such night.

Now Stan is pretty open to just about anything I cook, but he is still a meat and potatoes guy, not-too-deep-down inside. He goes along with my meatless meals a couple of times a week, but if I go for more than that, he starts to get a little cranky. What can I say? The boy likes his meat. Add that to the fact that he started lifting weights recently and is actually trying to gain weight (sometimes I hate him just a little), I knew he wouldn’t be thrilled with the idea of a light pasta dinner.

Which is really too bad, because this pasta is delish. And simple too, which is always nice – especially when you’re only cooking for one. Roasted red peppers puréed with toasted pine nuts, shallots, and garlic. A little cream stirred in to make it luscious. Top it off with some parley and Parmesan, and you are good to go – whether it’s alone or with the ones you love.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lentil Soup

Pretty much everyone seems to like lentil soup, but I wonder if everyone knows how easy it is to make homemade. Like, I wish someone had told me this years ago, easy. Plus it’s made with ingredients you probably have on hand all the time, except maybe the lentils. But since those can last a long time in your pantry, you can keep those on hand too.

I don’t know about you, but I like recipes that I can throw together with odds and ends pulled from the deep recesses of my fridge and pantry – especially on chilly winter days when we’re pretty much out of groceries and don’t want to brave the cold to get more. I know I know, I shouldn’t complain about Nashville winters – I used to live in Cleveland. But let me tell you, warm weather spoils a girl! Until spring comes, I guess I’ll just have to make to do with a big bowl of steamy, homemade lentil soup.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Goo – what? That’s about the response I got from my family when I announced I was planning to make these little gems to go along with my mom’s birthday dinner (which I was also making). Goo-zhair I told them, stringing the word out slowly. Blank faces continued to stare back at me. Little crispy, cheesy poufs? There was some recognition but still not all the way there. So I told them to just wait and see. And they did… then they gobbled them up.

For those of you wanting a little more description than “little crispy, cheesy poufs”, gougères are French cheese puffs, which are often served as appetizers. They are made from pâte à choux, which is the same type of pastry dough used to make cream puffs, profiteroles, and éclairs. The basic dough contains only water, butter, flour, and eggs. The steam produced during baking is what causes the dough to rise. The results are crispy on the outside and light and airy on the inside. And addictive. Sort of like that certain junk food adage – once you pop, you can’t stop. At least you won’t want to.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sole Meunière

Mmm… butter.

For those of you who love butter, this is certainly a dish worth trying. It sounds fancy, looks impressive, and is easy to make. Sole Meunière is a classic French dish featuring filets of sole dredged in flour, cooked in butter, and drizzled with a lemon butter sauce. My take on the dish is mostly traditional, differing only in the substitution of extra-virgin olive oil for some of the butter. I don’t think you’ll notice the difference, but feel free to use all butter if that’s what makes you happy. And I promise, this recipe will make you happy.

** In case you are curious, the veggies in the picture are the Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic I posted awhile back. Delish.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lentil and Bulgur Salad

Vegetables… vitamins… healthy food… please!!

No, this is not an early New Year’s resolution. This is merely what my stomach would be saying, could it actually speak to me. After a week in Ohio visiting the family, not only for Thanksgiving, but for two birthday celebrations, my poor stomach needs a break. I imagine many of you feel the same way. Not that family feasts aren’t fabulous – but there’s definitely a waist-pinching downside to the holiday season.

Enter the mighty salad. Now, don’t worry, this isn’t some little leafy thing, destined to cause your stomach to go into shock from its rapid culinary about-face. This is a hearty, healthy, filling meal on a plate (or bowl). It’s sort of a jazzed up tabouli.

For those of you unfamiliar with tabouli, it is a Middle Eastern salad composed of wheat bulgur, parsley, tomato, lemon juice, olive oil, and a host of other random ingredients. It is light and refreshing, but not particularly filling. This particular recipe includes the basic tabouli ingredients and kicks it up a notch with the addition of some extra veggies, salty feta cheese and olives, and high-protein lentils. You can serve it as an entrée with some pita chips or as a side dish with any number of dishes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Brandied Cranberries

Never fear dear readers. Lest you think I’ve completely forgotten about Thanksgiving and all of its culinary possibilities, I’ve decided to post a recipe that could certainly be included in this year’s gluttonous, er, bountiful festivities. But first, a question: What do you get when you cross traditional cranberry sauce with more than a couple shots of good liquor? The answer: brandied cranberries.

Not as saucy as your usual cranberry sauce, but softer and more syrupy than a relish, brandied cranberries offer a different take on a classic Thanksgiving condiment. Fresh cranberries are tossed with sugar, orange zest and brandy, then baked in the oven until they are softened and almost candied. And let’s not forget the extra kick of flavor from the brandy. (I’m sure most, if not all, of the alcohol cooks out of the cranberries while baking, but kiddos and those of you working on kiddos might want to eat in small doses.)

The recipe couldn’t be easier. It’s definitely a good option for busy days (and big holiday dinners) when you want to impress your guests with something homemade that requires barely more effort than opening a can. Not that there’s anything wrong with the stuff in the can – especially the jellied stuff with the ridges on it – but why not show off a little? It’s a heck of a lot easier than roasting a turkey!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Banana Bread

I’m sure everyone has a family recipe that they are convinced is the absolute best version of that particular dish in existence. In my case, over twenty-plus years of personal taste-testing research has confirmed what I’ve known since childhood – my family recipe for banana bread is the best banana bread there is. It is moist but not sticky, sweet but not cloying. It’s got just the right amount of banana, and it’s good with or without walnuts. What more could you ask for? Well, maybe for a big slice of this banana bread and a cold glass of milk…

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Taco Soup

Every home cook needs an arsenal of good, easy recipes that can be put together quickly with ingredients that are likely always on hand. These are the throw-together recipes for when you are in a hurry, have unexpected company, or are just tired and don’t want to spend a lot of time making (and cleaning up) dinner.

This is the perfect recipe to add to your arsenal. (If I use the word arsenal much more, you’re going to think I watch a lot of police shows… You would be right.) It’s quick, easy, and only uses one pot, which makes my dirty dish-hating husband a happy camper. Basically it’s taco night in a bowl. And who doesn’t love taco night?

Perhaps the best thing about this recipe though, is that it is incredibly versatile. Don’t like zucchini? Substitute some green pepper. Out of corn? Stir in some cooked rice. You get the idea. So go fill up your bowl with hot soup, top it off with some cheese, sour cream, or chips, and dig in. It’ll be like a fiesta in your mouth.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Roasted Root Vegetables and Winter Squash

Summer may give us some beautiful, amazingly flavorful produce, but fall isn’t such a slouch either. When the temperature gets cooler and daylight is fleeting, fall’s more hearty offerings are a welcome change from summer’s lighter tastes.

One of the best things about fall produce is how simple much of it is to prepare. Simple roasting brings out vegetables’ natural sugars resulting in sweet, caramelized morsels with very little effort. You can roast any number of things. Mellow sweet potatoes, assertive turnips, mild carrots, sweet butternut squash, spicy parsnips – you are only limited by the selection available at your local grocery store or farmers market. Serve your roasted vegetables as a side dish, puree them to flavor sauces and soups, or eat them hot right off the baking sheet.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fresh White Cheese

Cheese is absolutely one of my guilty pleasures. Stinky, melty, gooey, crumbly – I love almost all of it. Though I must admit, I’m one of the few people I know who has lived in France and does not like Brie – at all. And I can’t blame it on the smell since, as most of you well know, I cannot smell! Weird aversion to Brie aside, I’m a serious fromageophile.

Until recently, the idea of making cheese myself never occurred to me. I’d only ever seen cheese being made in specialty cheese shops, where they use huge vats and mixers and all other sorts of equipment that my small kitchen certainly does not contain. (And really, whose does?) Imagine my surprise, then, while skimming through Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, when I learned that I could actually make cheese at home. And not only could it be done, it would be so easy there was no good reason not to try. So with recipe in hand (and one of my favorite cooking co-conspirators nearby for moral support), try to make cheese I did. It worked, and it was pretty darn cool.

Now, this particular cheese is not your typical stretchy or stringy white cheese. It is a fresh cheese, whose texture is soft and crumbly. The taste is very mild. It resembles other fresh cheeses like Mexican queso fresco or French fromage blanc. You can slice it and drizzle it with honey for a sweet treat or make it savory crumbled up over salads, tacos, or hot pasta.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Risotto with Spicy Garlic Shrimp (and shrimp stock)

Risotto is one of those “restaurant” foods. You know, foods you only eat at restaurants, but never make at home. Why? Because it seems too scary, too difficult, too labor intensive. Whatever the reason, people seem to be afraid of attempting homemade risotto. Until very recently, I was one of those fearful people. If risotto was on a menu, I’d order it in a flash, but make it at home? Despite how easy the chefs on Food Network always made it seem, I was reluctant. But no longer. I made risotto for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and it was amazing. Unbelievable. Like at a restaurant. Victory was mine. And it can be yours too.

(That particular glorious recipe will be posted soon, once I make it again to get some better pictures.)

If you haven’t had it before, risotto is a Northern Italian specialty traditionally made with short-grained Arborio rice. The rice’s natural starch makes the rice creamy without actually adding any cream. It is slow cooked with gradual additions of hot stock, resulting in plump, creamy yet still al dente rice.

For this recipe, I used shrimp stock. I have to confess, I normally buy good quality stock at the store. However, when a little research told me how easy shrimp stock is to make, I decided to be adventurous and make my own. The research was right – homemade shrimp stock is simple and basically free to make, if you purchase shrimp that still have their shells. For me, it was actually quicker and easier than making an extra, last minute run to the store. For you, do whatever is easier.

The real star of this recipe though, is the spicy garlic shrimp. Marinated in lemon juice, garlic, and red pepper flakes, the shrimp’s flavor explodes in your mouth. The marinade and shrimp juices combine to form an unbelievably flavorful sauce, with very few ingredients and very little effort. Most of the shrimp are chopped up and stirred into the risotto, so you get a chunk or two in every bite. The remaining shrimp are left whole, decorating the top of the plated risotto, inviting you to dive in. That is, if you manage not to eat all of them while waiting on your risotto…

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cranberry Orange Nut Bread

Do you ever have those mornings where you wake up feeling all warm and cozy and want nothing more than to settle in on the couch, cuddled up under a blanket, preferably with the one you love? I have those days a lot. And usually when I do, I want something warm and cozy to munch on while cuddled up under that blanket.

So today was one of those mornings and I was craving something a little sweet, a little tangy, and a little decadent for a weekday morning breakfast. (Though truth be told, when you are unemployed, the weekday mornings don’t differ too much from the those on the weekends.) Basically, I wanted something I didn’t have readily available, so if I wanted it, I was going to have to bake it.

Cue the recipe for Cranberry Orange Nut Bread I’ve had socked away for the last week or so. It fit the bill perfectly: sweet, tart, and easy enough for a weekday morning. And this bread is seriously easy. It’s your basic quick bread (mix dry ingredients, mix wet ingredients, combine, bake) with a couple of fun ingredients added to the usual mix. Fresh cranberries are the real star here, with orange juice and zest adding another big punch of flavor.

One quick cautionary note: this recipe requires you to cut the cranberries in half. Be careful! They are slippery little suckers and will try to roll away from you. Having a sharp knife will help, but make sure you have a firm grip on the cranberries and don’t try to cut too many at a time. Your fingertips will thank you.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Israeli Couscous with Roasted Tomatoes and Olives

Awhile back, I came across a recipe for Israeli couscous. Israeli (or pearl) couscous is made from semolina flour and looks like small round balls of pasta. It has a chewy texture and is seriously fun to eat. If you can’t find it at your regular grocery store, look for it at Trader Joe’s (where I got mine) or natural foods stores like Whole Foods. (Orzo would probably be a good substitute if necessary.)

This particular recipe is admittedly a bit time and labor intensive. Don’t be scared off by the number of steps though. It’s very easy to make. You just need to give yourself a little time – it is worth it. The recipe pairs Israeli couscous with sweet oven-roasted tomatoes and garlic, salty olives, and fresh herbs and lemon juice. It’s a pretty versatile dish. You can serve it warm as a side dish or room temperature as a sort of salad. (It even tastes good cold out of the fridge!)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Panko Crusted Glazed Salmon

I love seafood – pretty much all of it – and salmon is definitely one of my favorites. Maybe it’s because I grew up eating it almost every Monday night. Maybe it’s because it’s just plain delicious. Either way, I love it.

I’ve always found that Asian flavors go particularly well with salmon. This recipe calls for coating the salmon with a glaze that touches your taste buds with sweet, salty, sour, and umami – the savory fifth taste. In other words – YUM. The glazed filets are then sprinkled with panko bread crumbs and roasted to crispy, flaky perfection.

For those of you who haven’t tried them, panko are Japanese-style bread crumbs. They are lighter and flakier than traditional dried bread crumbs, and they add an awesome crunch to whatever you coat with them. Definitely a product worth trying!

Panko Crusted Glazed Salmon

1 1/2 lbs salmon filets
2 T. tamari or low-sodium soy sauce
2 T. honey
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Juice of one lime
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine tamari, honey, mustard, and lime juice. Pour into a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until the liquid reduces slightly and reaches a glaze-like consistency (5-10 minutes). Allow to cool to room temperature.

While glaze is reducing, place salmon filets on the baking sheet. When glaze is
cooled, brush over salmon filets, coating evenly.

Sprinkle panko over salmon filets.

Roast 10-20 minutes, depending on thickness, until desired doneness.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4.


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