Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Serious Comfort Food

Lately I've kind of been into trying things I've never done before but always wanted to try. So today, I made chicken soup (which was supposed to be chicken noodle soup, but there wasn't really any space. I made on girth-ey soup!) and crusty bread ALL FROM SCRATCH! No chicken broth added, no bread machine. And let me tell you, it might be the yummiest soup I have ever made. Yay for a huge slow-cooker.

Homemade Chicken soup
1 whole chicken, 3-5 lbs
5-6 stalks for celery, cut into 1/4~1/2 inch pieces
5-6 carrots, peeled and sliced at an angle (and cut in half at the bigger end)
5-6 parsnips, "
1 large onion, large diced
salt and pepper to taste
heavy cream

Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese or Pecorino Romano cheese
crusty bread
  1. In the bowl of a large slow-cooker, place the whole chicken, add a little salt and pepper, and cover with water. Set the slow-cooker to high, and poach the chicken until completely cooked through, 4-5 hours.
  2. Remove the chicken and let cool. Skim the fat from the broth and add vegetables.
  3. Once chicken is cooled, pull off the thighs and wings, cut apart the breasts, and place in a baking pan (this part is optional). In a 400° oven, roast the chicken pieces, skin on, for 30~40 minutes until skin is crispy and browned. Let the chicken cool again. Once cooled, take off the skin and shred the meat into medium pieces. add a little of the broth from the pot and scrape up the drippings from the bottom of the baking pan. Place the scrapings and shredded chicken into the pot and let cook with the vegetables for about 1~2 more hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When ready to serve, add 1/4~1/2 C heavy cream and in each bowl grate some fresh parmesan or pecorino romano cheese. Place a piece of crusty bread in the bowl and enjoy!
I made some Irish Soda bread (which was very very dense and tasted almost like pancakes--very similar ingredients) with this, which was really simple, but some ciabatta (which has a good crust and is chewy inside) or good french bread (whcih is much lighter in the middle) would be great, too.

Treats Wednesday

Last night I altered an old favorite. My chocolate shortbread cookies are pretty good, but wouldn't they be even better with chocolate cream cheese frosting sandwiched in between them? So I added an egg as a binder and mini chocolate chip cookies to the recipe, and instead of 2 big cookies cut into wedges, I decided to make them into little cookies. They're about 1 T each of dough, flattened by my fingers, and then baked for 8 minutes. And then chocolate cream cheese frosting. They were pretty much perfect:)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Slow Cooker Success

So I've rarely had success with the slow-cooker. Once in a while I make something wonderful, but I've never been able to improvise with it. This time was no exception. I followed the recipe perfectly. I found this recipe in Cook's Country Magazine, and actually made it a long time ago and absolutely loved it! And Blake has been talking about it since. But for some reason I never got around to making it again. But while we were planning our menu for the week, Blake mentioned that it was getting cold (it was raining like crazy yesterday), so he wanted something warm and comforting. And I thought I should finally make this chili again. So here is the recipe for the world's best slow-cooker chili. (eat it sparingly though ... this stuff is HEAVY!)

Slow-Cooker Chili
serves 10 to 12
1/2 C chili powder
1 T ground cumin
2 t ground coriander (a.k.a. dried cilantro)
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t cayenne pepper (use less if you like it less spicey)
1/2 t red pepper flakes (")
6-8 oz bacon, chopped
2 onions, chopped medium
2 red bell peppers, chopped medium
6 cloves garlic, grated or minced
2 lbs 85% lean ground chuk
salt and pepper
1 (28 oz) can tomato puree
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
2 (15.5 oz) cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  1. Toast chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, cayenne, and pepper flakes in deep pan or large dutch oven over medium heat until fragrant, about 2minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
  2. Add bacon to pan and cook over medium heat until crisp, about 8~10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and discard all but 1 t of remaining fat.
  3. Return pot to medium heat, add onions and bell peppers, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add beef, 2 t salt, and 1 t pepper. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, using wooden spoon to break up the beef unto 1/2 inch pieces, until slightly pink, about 5 minutes. Drain beef and vegetables in a colander.
  5. Add tomato puree, diced tomatoes, and toasted spices to empty pan and bring to simmer over medium-high heat, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return beef and vegetables to pan. Stor to combine, and bring to a simmer. Transfer contents to slow-cooker insert.
  6. Set slow-cooker to low, cover, and cook until tender, 6 to 8 hours, stirring in beans during last hour of cooking. Adjust seasonings and serve.
Left overs can be stored in fridge for several days, or in the freezer for several months.
Also, you can do all through step 3 the night before, simmering for an extra ten minutes. Then simmer everything for 10 minutes in the morning, and then throw everything in the slow-cooker for the day.
Also, I recommend using a slow-cooker liner when making this dish, otherwise your slow cooker insert will probably stain orange.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Another accomplishment

I finally roasted some bell peppers! I've always wanted to try, but bell peppers are expensive, and it's time consuming, so I always avoided it. But baby bell peppers were $2.50 for 2lbs at Sam's club, so I decided it was time to try. And ... don't ever try this with baby bell peppers. It was even more time consuming! What was I thinking? But in the end it was so worth it! I tossed the penne with garlic and lemon zest infused olive oil (just heat some olive oil and lemon zest on low heat and let it warm through until the garlic is golden brown). Added the peppers, chopped fresh parsley, salt & pepper, and fresh lemon juice. It was so good!

Roasted red, orange, and yellow bell peppers
Just turn on the broiler and let it heat completely. Place the peppers on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast under the broiler until the skin is blistered and black. Repeat for all sides. Pull out the peppers and place them in a plastic bag and let cool. Once they cool you can easily peel off the skin. Slice or chop and add to salads, pasta or whatever:)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A New Invention

I started bringing cookies every Wednesday for the youth in Blake's class. I guess they were having a hard time with making it a priority to come, so I thought I would try to bribe them with treats. And it worked! I don't think these boys have missed a week since I started this thing! And it's been a lot of fun for me to come up with treats to try out week after week (and not have to eat them all by myself!!!) Anyway, tonight I thought I would be creative and invent a cookie. One reason is because I love chocolate chip cookies with nuts and Blake thinks the texture of the nuts is a distraction. So to compromise, I added sesame seeds. They provided a really nice nuttiness without the distracting texture (which I think is just nice ... but people have their preferences;)). And I added a little whole wheat flour just to make me feel a little better about myself, and took out some or the butter and sugar. So in the end, this is an attempt at a healthy chocolate chip oatmeal cookie.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie
makes about 3 dozen cookies
2 C all-purpose flour
3/4 C butter (1-1/2 sticks)
2/3 C rolled oats
1/4 C whole wheat flour
1 t cinnamon
1 T toasted sesame seeds
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1/2 C light brown sugar
1/2 C granulated sugar
1 large eggs
1 T vanilla extract
2 C semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 T milk or half-and-half
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large bowl, combine the flours, oats, cinnamon, sesame seeds, band baking soda.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (with the paddle attachment), cream the butter, sugars, and vanilla. Add the eggs and mix until fluffy. About 30 seconds.
  3. With the mixer running on low speed, add the flour mixture. It might be a little stiff, so add the milk or half-and-half. The dough should be a big lump but still sticky.
  4. With a wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate chips.
  5. Drop by the tablespoon on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for 8~10 minutes, until lightly golden on the edges. Let cool for 10 minutes.
store in an airtight container.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

HUGE accomplishment!

Now I'm not the biggest barbecue fan, but since it's Blake's favorite thing, I thought I would be a little self-sacrificing tonight and go ahead and make it. And besides, Blake is always willing to try new things, even if they "scare" him. (except anything with mayo, feta or goat cheese)

I learned 2 very cool things tonight. I learned how to properly cut a whole chicken into 4 parts (thanks to this amazing book I bought at Borders for a ridiculous $6.99, Essentials of Cooking by James Peterson.), and I learned how to make my own barbecue sauce! (and I found out that barbecue sauce--yes, Blake's favorite and basically only condiment--has plenty of vinegar and mustard in it ... interesting) I have to admit, I was pretty proud of myself. I served it with oven baked steak fries, and I had cole slaw. And even if I'm picky about barbecue, I was actually ok with this meal.

Barbecued Chicken and Oven Baked Steak Fries
serves 4
1 cut up chicken, about 3 lbs

1 t hot sauce
1/3 C apple cider vinegar
1/2 C light brown sugar
1/4 C molasses
3 T dijon mustard
3 garlic cloves, minced or grated
1/2 C ketchup

vegetable oil
salt and pepper

2-3 small~medium russet potatoes
olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 425°. Wash potatoes and cut into 6 long wedges, or spears. Place on parchment lines baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil (I use an old cleaned soy sauce bottle to drizzle olive oil, works really really well) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Coat the 2 breasts, thighs, and wings of the chicken with vegetable oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in one large or 2 medium oven-safe skillets, leaving enough room to be able to pick up and flip over each piece of meat. Cover with foil or oven-safe lids.
  3. Meanwhile, simmer the hot sauce, vinegar, sugar, molasses, mustard, garlic, and ketchup, stirring periodically until sauce is reduced to about 1-1/4 C. Set aside.
  4. Place chicken and potatoes in the oven. Let the chicken cook for about 25 minutes and remove from the oven. (using an oven mitt!) place the skillet(s) on medium/medium-high heat. Coat with barbecue sauce and flip over. Continue basting and cooking both sides until sauce is caramelized on the chicken but not charred, about another 20 minutes.
  5. Pull the potatoes out of the oven, about 40 minutes or until golden and puffy.
  6. Serve with remaining sauce on the side.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Yummy and easy Ideas

I was looking through my cookbooks again and found a recipe for spinach and pine nut pesto. Now, I'm not the hugest fan of pine nuts (only sometimes) so I decided to use roasted almonds instead. And then because raw spinach doesn't have the strongest flavor, I added parsley. And I think it was perfect! And super easy if you have a food processor.

Spinach Almond Pesto
enough for 2 lbs of pasta
4~5 oz baby spinach leaves
3/4 loosely packed parsley leaves
1 garlic clove
1/2~3/4 C parmesan or pecorino romano cheese, freshly grated
juice of 1/2 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
1/3 C olive oil
1/2 C almonds (I used slivered almonds because they were on sale, but use whatever kind you want)
  1. Place the almonds on a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Let them cook, tossing occasionally, until almonds are golden and fragrant. Be careful not to burn them.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, add spinach, parsley, garlic (I recommend grating it to avoid big chunks of garlic), parmesan, toasted almonds, lemon juice and zest and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse, scraping down the sides periodically, until a chunky paste.
  3. With the food processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil until the pesto is smooth.
  4. Serve half on 1 lb of pasta, freeze the rest for another day.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tasty tasty!

Recently I've been looking through my Everday Food cookbook and discovered that there are a few very reasonable and yummy-looking meals. This one only took me about the time it takes to cook the pasta. Amazing. And one thing I love about this book is that they have nutritional information in the back. So I can tell you that this meal is actually good for you. I used Barilla Plus spaghetti instead of linguine and it was really really good. And good for you!

Spaghetti with sausage and peppers
serve 6
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
1 lb long pasta, such as linguine or spaghetti
1 lb Italian sweet turkey sausage (about 4 links), casings removed
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 yellow, orange, or red bell peppers, ribs and seeds removed, thinly sliced
4 T butter
4 C baby spinach leaves (they used arugula and that would be really really good, too. I just had spinach at home)
  1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente, about 8 minutes. Reserve 1 C pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the sauve and 2 T water in a large covered nonstick skillet over Medium heat about 5 minutes. Uncover and raise the heat to medium-high. BVrown the sausage, breaking it up with a spoon, about 7 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, bell peppers, and 1/4 C of reserved pasta water; cook until peppers soften, about 6 minutes. Add 3/4 C water and butter, swirl until encorporated.
  4. Transfer everything to the pot. Add to spinach, season with salt and pepper. Toss; add more pasta water if needed.