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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