Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Spinach Mushroom Phyllo thingies

Just wanted something I could make with stuff I already had, to go with leftover Lentil soup.  I had the mushrooms because I was intending to add them to the Shepherd's Pie (but it seemed unnecessary once I saw how much filling there already was).  And the spinach and cream cheese were from the enchiladas.  Add some Feta- which I often have on hand for salads and such- some scallions and dried dill...

I was lucky to get a good batch of Phyllo.  It can be hit or miss with that stuff.  2 layers, brushed with butter, then rolled up burrito style, and baked at 400' for 15 - 20 minutes.

I made 3 pastries and no leftovers!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Shepherd's Pie

I had some frozen tri tip steaks from Trader Joe's and I wasn't sure how to cook them (sometime I'll have to tell you why I have so much frozen meat from TJ's).  So I hedged my bets and minced it in the food processor for Shepherd's Pie.  

The meat is browned; celery, carrot, and onion are added and softened, then some green beans, beef broth, and a spoonful of leftover tomato sauce go in.  After all is tender, the gravy is thickened by a flour and water slurry.

I had help mashing the potatoes!

Ready to bake for about 20 minutes at 425' - just until lightly browned and bubbling.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Enchiladas with Green Sauce

I don't really know how to classify this dish.  I wanted to use some homemade tomatillo sauce I had in the freezer and make plain chicken enchiladas, but it wasn't going to be enough. Then I saw someone at the store put spinach into her cart and I thought "if I was a good mom I'd give my children spinach tonight as well,".... and also, a cheese craving struck.

It's a petty complicated recipe unless you happen to have some homemade tomatillo sauce, let me just say the sauce was tangy and creamy, the filling was spinach, cream cheese,and  rotisserie chicken shreds.  Rolled up in corn tortillas...I finally gave up on trying to make decent enchiladas without frying the tortillas in a little fat before rolling them.  My fat of choice?  Dare I tell?  It's actually lard leftover from frying carnitas.  It is unbelievable. Use in moderation.  You can get it at the meat counter at El Rey.

Here they are covered in the sauce and Monterrey Jack cheese,

And on the plate with frijoles refritos and a saute of corn, zucchini, and red pepper with some scallions, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Protein Fix

Most of the time I don't even come close to the  recommended 30% of daily calories from protein.  Tonight I far surpassed that.  The 3 most important factors to great steak at home are (duh) great steak to start with, using a well seasoned cast iron skillet, and letting them rest for at least 5 minutes before you cut them.

These strip steaks actually were not that great because they had been frozen.  But they started out pretty good.  I like to season steak liberally with Montreal Steak seasoning to get a really flavorful crust.  Then they're just seared in a hot (and I'm talking about preheating your pan on high for 2 minutes hot) pan- turn on your fan- left undisturbed until they have that nice char, then flipped for a total of maybe 6 minutes for rare/med rare.  This probably goes without saying but take them out of the pan to rest.

One big sweet potato, honey roasted.  And escarole.  That would be 'scaROlay if you're in my favorite Italian restaurant in Queens. I wanted to show how to cook it because I know a lot of people are unsure, and it's really tasty.  Below is the head of escarole.  Escarole resembles lettuce more than it does than sturdy greens like kale.  Just cut it into pieces the same way you would cut leaf lettuce for a salad, if maybe on the larger side.  Make sure the escarole is as clean and dry as possible. Then, it needs quick cooking over medium high heat in enough olive oil or butter to "dress" it.

Heat the pan, add good olive oil and a clove of minced garlic.  Cook until the garlic loses its raw smell, about 20 seconds.

Then add  the escarole.  This is that whole head.

Toss it around with tongs for no more than 2 minutes, until it is wilted but not browning or completely withered.  This is how much it cooks down.  Only salt it at the very end because salt draws out the moisture and instead of having a nice juicy dish of  lightly dressed wilted green, you'll have soggy lettuce water running all over your plate.

The finished product.  Now way did we finish all that red meat- there was almost a whole steak leftover!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Eggplant- finally!

I finally got to make the Eggplant involtini- slices of tender eggplant wrapped around creamy ricotta and napped with a quick fresh tasting tomato sauce, then topped with sharp provolone and browned in the oven.

The eggplant cut on the bias into 1/2 inch thick slices,

Rubbed with olive oil and lightly browned in a hot (450') oven for about 10 minutes, 

Topped with the ricotta mixed with salt, pepper, and Parmesan.  I LOVE the Grande brand ricotta.  It's a local company and the cheese is fresh and delicate but flavorful.  I smeared the eggplant slices with some pesto and put a slice of leftover roasted red pepper on top, too.

Rolled up, topped with with sauce (just a can of tomatoes simmered with some garlic and onion cooked in olive oil), and sprinkled with Grande Aged Provolone- a super awesome cheese that is smoked ever so lightly, sharp, and creamy.  Don't drown these in sauce- it's better to keep some sauce hot in the pan fir the pasta than to have the involtini drowning and overwhelmed.

Ready to pop in the oven for around 20 minutes at 400'  I served it with penne and a salad.
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Lentil Soup

My husband has issues with soup for dinner.  I guess he automatically envisions a slosh of pallid broth with perhaps a meager crust of bread, then being sent to bed hungry.  This is unfortunate, as I love soup.  But old demons die hard.  I can get away with chowders or bean/ pea soups, though.  I decided to make Lentil soup because I found a bit of ham in the freezer (from a party ham) and I also had about 1/2 cup of corn from the other night that I could fold into some cornbread batter.  It's not really so much about using leftovers as it is getting an idea from somewhere.

Here's the fixin's for plain old Lentil soup...

First, the celery, carrots, garlic, and onions get "sweated" (that means salted and cooked in a little fat until they soften but don't brown).  Then the ham and some chopped tomato are added...

Then, the lentils, water, and a bay leaf...and the soup simmers for about an hour, until the lentils are tender.  I used half a bag of lentils and got about 6 large serving of soup.

I added a cubed Idaho potato during the last 15 minutes, then pureed a few batches of the soup in the blender to make it smoother.  Sometimes I feel like a soup full of whole beans or pulses is just a little too unappealing.  Call me a prima donna but chewing your way through an entire bowlful can feel like health food penance.  I like a base of silky smooth puree with lots of chunks of vegetables.  One could cook the lentils long enough that they would just disintegrate, but then your other vegetables are mush as well. 

One word of caution....don't fill your blender over 1/3 full with hot liquids.  Ever.  They tend to explode out the top and make a big mess.

I made a small batch of cornbread to serve with the soup.  I love the recipe off the Quaker cornmeal box as a guide....I happened to use buttermilk and I added that leftover cooked corn, too.  I find that half a recipe (for a 9 x 9 pan) bakes up perfectly in a 9 x 5 loaf pan.  It's only about 2 inches thick, and my family can eat the whole leftovers!

Now the leftover soup is another matter....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Arroz con Pollo

There's a gazillion authentic ways to prepare this popular dish.  I used to work with a lot of people from the Caribbean- especially Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic.  They taught me how to make Arroz con Pollo their way.  Normally I use chicken thighs, but breasts are lighter.   

I tried another shortcut last night.  Ideally, I would use a medium grain rice and a seasoning product called "Sazon Goya con Azafran," but the store had did have this Vigo Yellow Rice Dinner stuff, which I bought and used and it was pretty much OK.

This is the cured "Spanish" Chorizo, which is very different from raw Mexican Chorizo. The texture is more like pepperoni than, say, bratwurst. Look for Goya brand if you're not sure what to buy.  You need to peel it and then slice it thin.  It's more of a flavoring than a meat item in your dish.

I browned the 3 chicken breasts, then sauteed a red pepper, half an onion, garlic, and 1 chorizo link in the same pan:

Then the rice got added, the liquid called for on the package, and the chicken was tucked in there and it was covered to cook through.  I removed the chicken when it was done (about 7 minutes into the 20 minute cooking time).

Rice is cooked- a final garnish of fresh cilantro and green olives gets incorporated...

The chicken sliced and added back to reheat for a few moments...

That's it.  The whole bag of rice was a bit much for 3 chicken breasts and 2 adults/2 kids, but other than that, it was a good old favorite dinner for a chilly evening.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spaghetti with Rapini and Scallops

I had no idea what was going to be for dinner last night when I sent the kids down to the basement so I could cook it.  I was confounded by the ruination of my plans to make eggplant involtini- there were no eggplants at Sendiks.  So I grabbed a big zucchini instead and figured I'd come up with something using that and the fresh ricotta.
Well I didn't- but I did have some cooked rapini that I had decided not to use for book club crostinis- and some frozen scallops (from Trader Joe's- surprisingly good).

Rummaging around in the freezer I came up with a few slices of pancetta, which I cooked til crisp.  Added garlic and the rapini, a little pasta cooking water and spaghetti:

The I seared the scallops in olive oil, deglazed the pan with white wine and a small splash of balsamic vinegar:

Like the sexy boudoir lighting?  Oooh, succulent....I need to work on these photos :(
Anyway, it was pretty good, considering it was seat-of-the-pants cooking!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Club Goodies

The book was "Mudbound," set in rural Mississippi right after WWII.  Thumbs up on the book. 
The most popular munchie was Cherry Almond Phantoms (recipe at bottom):

I also made Bourbon Apple Strudel,

Mini Brie and Apricot Mustard panninis,

And Prosciutto Parmesan Palmiers.

The Phantoms are really delicious cookies.  The recipe was given to me by a very excellent pastry chef who used to work at the Hotel Metro.  They are extremely fudgy and creamy in the center with big chunks of nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit.  The exterior is a shiny, thin, melt in your mouth crust that barely holds all the goodness in.  You can definitely switch up the chunks (for example- craisins, white chocolate, and walnuts).  I've always liked this combination of flavors. though.  Don't think it will be better to chop up the chunky stuff.  Normally I'm not one for big chunks (like whole almonds) in cookies, but this recipe creates an awesome synergy between the ganache-like creaminess of the dough and the large chunks of nut and fruit.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  

 2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 t vanilla
8 oz good chocolate semi or bittersweet
1 oz butter
3 T flour
1/4 t baking powder
pinch salt

1 c chopped chocolate
1 c toasted blanched almonds
3/4 c dried cherries (if they are not moist, plump in hot water for a minute, then drain)

Melt 8 oz chocolate and butter.  Cool to lukewarm.
Whip eggs and sugar with a mixer until thick and pale.  Add vanilla, then melted chocolate.
Sift flour, bp, and salt, add to batter.
Fold in the chunky additions.
Chill batter about an hour.
Scoop onto parchment or silpat lined baking sheet by rounded tablespoonfuls.
Bake at 350" 7-9 minutes, until cookies look dry on top.

Freeze if keeping longer than one full day.  If you want to serve these at their peak on a busy day, try to just make the batter the day before, then scoop and bake the day of serving. Or, freeze as soon as they are cool.  They freeze really well, actually.  

Here's what beaten thick eggs and sugar look like.  When you lift the beater, it forms a ribbon that dissolves slowly back in:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Variation on a Chicken Sandwich

Whole wheat pitas with marinated chicken, roasted red pepper, tomato, lettuce, and a Turkish influenced yogurt sauce.

The sauce was Greek Yogurt (one of my favorite staples), cilantro, parsley, lemon zest, honey, salt, pepper, a touch of garlic, and freshly toasted and ground coriander and cumin seeds.  Those last two are in the mortar there.  I can practically see you rolling your eyes....but it's not that big a PITA.  I have a little pan I only use for toasting spices so it only really needs to be wiped out, and my mortar and pestle are stored within reach.  And it honestly makes a big difference in a simple sauce like this!

  Chicken thighs (boneless and skinless)  marinated in a bunch of stuff I threw in the blender (like olive oil, a pepperoncini, a few cherry tomatoes, garlic, shallot, wine...).  They stay nice and juicy under the broiler:

Cheap, easy, pretty' real, baby.  Peace out.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Butternut and Mushroom Lasagna

Deliciousness accomplished.

I had some leftover cooked butternut squash that I decided to turn into a lasagna along with mushrooms, cheese, and bechamel sauce.
I sauteed white mushrooms in oil (I use Crisco oil rather than olive or butter so I can get the pan really hot and brown the shrooms), added some crushed garlic, sherry, and Penzy's Poultry seasoning- the sage and marjoram are great partners for winter squashes.

Bechamel is white sauce- you know, equal parts butter and flour cooked together, milk added, brought to the boil.  I made about 4 cups with say 1/3 cup flour, for a 7"x 11" pan.   The sauce for baked pasta dishes needs to be both more liquidy and more abundant than you might think.  Here's the proper consistency:

The no boil lasagna noodles are great.  Better than the regular kind, even without the convenience factor.  I do always wet them with warm tap water before layering, so they soak up a little less sauce (because they do soak up sauce, you need to account for that in your layering).  They expand, too...I never overlap them in the dish.

Layer 1:  Sauce, pasta, squash, Parmesan, more sauce...

Layer 2:  The mushrooms and some Fontina cheese, then more sauce....repeat...

Ready to bake.

The broccolini all nestled in the steamer.  And then I ducked out and went to Zumba, leaving my husband to serve dinner to the children.  I love Zumba nights.  Sometimes a mom just needs to get the heck away, ya know?!?

When I came home there was plenty left.  This lasagna was very, very tasty.  I mean, throw enough cheese at anything and it's going to be good, but still... the squash gave it an extra creaminess and  sweet flavor, while the mushrooms added an earthy tone and toothsome texture.  The austere and slightly bitter broccolini was the perfect foil, on the side.  You should make this.