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So I think this recipe is my own twist on one I originally tore out of an issue of Real Simple or something, and where it’s a simple idea, it’s really amazingly flavorful and would make a WONDERFUL Valentine’s Day dinner.

Even if you aren’t usually the cook in your house/relationship, if you do this in steps and don’t try and do everything at once, it’s EASY. Just be sure to leave yourself enough time to do everything. I put the time required for each step, so you can plan and look in control of everything.  However, sometimes a nice pre-dinner melt down and an emergency run-out for pizza can be just as romantic, so there’s your back-up plan;)

This recipe also dirties a lot of pots so your love will KNOW you worked really hard to make something special for them and that’s half the battle right there.

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So here’s what you need:

some white wine (for cooking and drinking)

1 big supermarket rotisserie chicken (or 1.5 smallish ones)

a stick of butter

5 Tbsp flour

4 cups of broth (you could use canned or make it from the bones of the rotisserie if you have time)

(Optional: 1/2 a  Star brand Porcini cube to add to the broth)

1 large onion, chopped

(optional: 1/4 of a bulb of fennel, chopped very fine)

2 tsp ground thyme

5-6 carrots peeled and chopped into coins

1 (10 oz) pack of mushrooms, sliced

10 oz of petite frozen peas

Sheets of frozen puff pastry (taken out to defrost a good 30 minutes before you start cooking)

Method:

For novice cooks: prepare all ingredients and put into separate bowls like they do in cooking shows.  It will make it much easier and less stressful. Also, unbutton your shirt and lean over a bit  like Giada or Nigella, you know,  just to get some good mojo going. (If you have a hairy chest, try to do it away from the food.)

1. Take the pastry out to defrost.

2.  Chop up all the chicken into bite sized pieces (takes about 15 min) and put it into a large baking dish. If the chicken fills the dish, you need a bigger dish!

3. Heat oven to 425 degrees

First 7 minutes: The Gravy

1.Set a burner to medium and melt 5 Tbsp of butter in a sauce pan. STAND THERE AND DO NOT WALK AWAY OR IT WILL BURN. Now add the flour and whisk it in.  KEEP STIRRING (sorry for the yelling) until a paste forms and it bubbles for 3 minutes.

2. Add the broth and keep stirring.  Turn up the heat and bring it to a boil.  Then lower the heat and let it simmer (with little bubbles) for 5 minutes. Take it off the heat and let it sit.

15 Minutes: The Carrots

 1. In a frying pan, melt 2 Tbsp of butter and add the chopped onion (and the fennel if you are using it) and stir occasionally for 7 min. then add the carrots and thyme and keep cooking for 5 more minutes. Add a splash of wine and let it cook off for about 2-3 minutes. Then add the carrots in with the chicken.

5-7 Minutes: The Mushrooms

1.  In the same pan as before, melt the rest of the butter and add the mushrooms.  Let them cook for about 5 minutes until they release a bunch of liquid.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add in with the chicken.

5 minutes: Putting it all together

1. Add the frozen peas in with the other ingredients and add the white sauce to it also.  Mix well with a wooden spoon.

2.  Carefully unfold the sheets of puff pastry.  They usually come in pairs.  Place one on the other and roll them until together they become a thin layer large enough to cover your dish.

3.  Place it over the dish and seal it tightly around the edges like a pie.  Trim the edges and make little hearts if you want to put them on top.  Cut some slits so the steam can escape.

45 Minutes:  Baking

Place the dish on a cookie sheet (because the pie might boil over a little bit  while baking) and place it on the lower middle rack in the oven.  Bake for 20 minutes and then lower the temp. to 350 degrees. Bake for 10 more minutes and then place some foil around the edges of the crust to prevent burning. Cook for 15 more minutes.

LET IT STAND FOR AT LEAST 15 MINUTES BEFORE YOU CUT INTO IT!!!

(Sorry for yelling again…Happy Valentine’s Day!)

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“Pumpkin” Custard

Well, it’s not exactly a 1,2, 3 operation, but basically you roast the pumpkin or the squash and then make the custard (which is a pumpkin pie recipe I altered and baked in ramekins in a water bath). So here goes:

First you need something other than pumpkin.

I know. It seems wrong and against everything you ever believed to be true.  It’s like (I would imagine) when the lights come up after a rave and you find out you’ve been making out with the ugly kid from Spanish class. Unexpected, but maybe nice. (Not that I would know.  When MY friends went to such places, I stayed safely home…situated safely behind a pair of knitting needles and clicked away the evening watching Mr.Lawrence Welk wave that very long baton of his.)

Funky music indeed.

Anyway, my favorite pumpkin alternatives are butternut squash and God-Knows-What-This-Is-Called (if you know, lemme know). They sell it at a local farm stand and it is AMAZINGLY DELICIOUS.

To Roast:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and then slice your squash and remove all the seeds and stringy pulp.

Then place the large chunks, flesh side down, onto a greased cookie sheet or roasting pan and prick the tops with a fork (which may or may not be necessary…it’s just one of those things you think you should do). They will probably need about 45 minutes in the oven.  The skins should bubble a bit and brown (see the “due” picture at the top of this post for the right color).

After you roast them, let the pieces cool and peel the skins off and discard them. Then you need to puree them, adding some water if need be, until they are smooth and resemble the (ahem) canned variety.

Now for the pie bit.

Ingredients:

1  1/2 cups of pureed squash

1/2 cup brown sugar (light)

3 large eggs

3/4 milk (I add some cream to the milk for my hips)

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp salt

2 Tbsp flour

1 Tbsp butter (melted and cooled)

1-2 tsp vanilla

Method:

1. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and place a roasting pan with tallish sides into the oven.

2.Then put everything in standing mixer, adding the ingredients one by one.

3. Put a large sauce pan of water on to boil.

4.  Now pour or ladle the mixture into your ramekins and place them onto the roasting pan in the oven.  Space them evenly.

5.  Without sliding the rack out, pour the water into a corner of the pan until it rises 3/4 of the way up the sides of the ramekins.

Cook time:  You don’t want these to split, so cook them for 15 minutes and then check every ten until they are dry to the touch and softly bounce back.

Serve with cinnamon whipped cream….and don’t be angry when it melts;)

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And You Shall Have No Pie

I didn’t buy pie.  I passed the world’s best pie place today TWICE, but in the sunny-warm afternoon, I didn’t know just how badly we would need it until it was dark and cold and way too late.

It’s autumn, and that’s great, but the nights are getting chilly and it’s too soon to turn on the heat.  I feel like pie is the only thing that works (I mean, how much tea can one drink?) and there we were tonight after a very lame dinner of leftovers, pie-less and cold.

But then it hit me: how about we fake it in a pretty dish?

So I chopped up 3 apples, sauteed them in a teaspoon or so of butter until they were soft and brown (5-10 minutes), then I added fresh nutmeg and some cinnamon and about a tablespoon of water until a nice glaze formed.

Fresh whipped cream on top and SHA-ZAYM. The still warm apples and the cream….. nobody missed the crust.

It was so simple and basic and necessary.

I think we might make it through now;)

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So this is a very beautiful, basic idea that I learned about by reading this recipe by the wonderful Lidia Bastianich. It never ceases to amaze me how differently people do things, especially simple things like frying zucchini.  Until tonight I have put zucchini in egg and milk first and then in breadcrumb and parmigiano cheese, the way I do eggplant when I want to make parmigiana. But a super crisp crust doesn’t like to roll-up, so sometimes I just leave  my involtini naked like I do with eggplant involtini which I grill and then bake with sauce and cheese.

Kids, however, at least in my house, don’t do well with the texture of zucchini or eggplant without it being dressed up as junk food. And so Lidia’s recipe was worth a shot and the oil splatter, too.

I started tonight’s little bites, by doing it Lidia’s way and slicing the zucchini nice and thinly, although I had to use much larger zucchini than the ones she uses.  It looks like our garden will only have a few more coming and they are really small still.  So, I sent my husband to the farm stand for these.  Beggars can’t be choosers, I know, but this beggar will be more specific next time, I assure you. Regardless, you slice them about 1/8 of an inch thick.

Then you set out a colander (on a plate) and two bowls.  In the first bowl you beat 5 eggs (yup) and in the second you just put a few cups of white flour. A slice gets floured, then dipped in the egg, then waits in the colander to drip off a bit before frying.

After letting the slices fry on both sides until golden, you drain them and allow them to cool on a bed of pater towels. I waited until they were cool enough to handle and then I started rolling them up with grated cheese inside.

Lidia uses a caper inside each one, which I would love, but we were out of capers and my kids would never eat them if there was an unfamiliar surprise inside.

I also didn’t have toothpicks, and I wanted these to be grab-able, so I used a skewer to make a place for a little carrot matchstick to slide in.  It actually gave them a nice little crunch and reminded me of veggie tempura sushi.

In the end, one of my kids popped these into her mouth one after the other, while the other one had a reaction I will not describe, but reminded me of that scene in the movie Big when the man-child realizes he’s just eaten fish-eggs.

Oh, well. It’s not like I spent any amount of time standing over a hot sizzling stove to make these.

(Can you hear the guilt dripping off with the excess oil?)

The Flying Zucchini Brothers!!!!!

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My uncle married a great woman.  She’s down to earth and generous and funny and real. (Real people are my very favorites.) Plus, she told me about this idea, for which I will always be grateful. Thank you, VL. I’m so glad you are in our family.

So this idea, which is simple and brilliant, is to substitute grated zucchini for crab in your Maryland style crab cakes. You will be SHOCKED to discover that the texture is so similar that the Old Bay tricks your mouth into saving over twenty bucks a pound on crab meat. Plus, eating bottom feeders is a lousy idea for some people with certain health problems and  for women who are pregnant. I really wish I had known about this recipe when I was expecting.  I really craved crabs and beer and all the while I could have been feasting on these and washing them down with Near Beer. Oh, well.

After trying these a few times, I discovered that they fry up better than they handle broiling. Also,  you need to chill the grated zucchini before you create the patties. In most crab cake recipes, after you form the patties, they need to chill in the fridge for an hour or so in order to hold their shape while cooking. If you include this step with the zucchini variation, however, the squash will release all of its liquid and everything below the patties in your fridge will be covered in drippy, eggy, zucchini water, causing you to pick a fight with your husband… and it just snowballs from there.

So here’s what you need:

Ingredients

2 medium sized zucchini, grated (on the side pictured above)

breadcrumbs

1 Tbsp mayo

1 Tbsp yellow mustard

1 Tbsp Old Bay

1 egg

flour

Method

1. Grate the zucchini and place in a colander lined with paper towels. Let it chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

2. Beat the egg in a bowl and add the breadcrumbs (one tsp. at a time) until you have a paste. Then mix in the  mayo, the mustard, and the Old Bay. (Now’s the time to turn the heat on under the frying oil.  Use medium heat, whatever that might mean on your stove. Also, set the oven to 350.)

3. In a mixing bowl, use a spatula to mix the paste into the grated zucchini.  In about 2 minutes you will have a scraggly batter (the only way to describe it, really).

4.Prepare a flouring dish and line a baking dish (or cookie sheet) with wax paper.

5. With a cookie scoop if you have one (or a quarter cup measure), create patties out of the wet batter and flop them onto the flouring plate, coating them on each side.  Then place them on the wax paper.

6. Fry them in a pan until the edges are golden, then flip.


7.  Now you can test one.  If the zucchini still tastes too firm, set them on a towel to drain their excess oil and then place the patties in the heated oven for about 5 minutes on each side.

Serve them as you would normally.  For me, the tomato is the clincher.  (And a beer.)

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At times like this, I feel like maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to be the grown up.  I mean, my mother would never have even entertained the idea of making these back in the late 70’s when (for a brief , but emotionally scarring time) she tried to pass off carob chips as treats.  Sadly, not only did I make these tonight, but I’m considering letting the kids have one after (for) breakfast. Maybe afterward I’ll take them to my mom’s until they run off the sugar;)

Anyway, they aren’t my invention, but they are currently in my fridge and in my belly (and probably heading for my hips as we speak), so they might as well be in yours, too. The good news is that they ARE billed as a healthier version of Rice Krispies treats, but that’s like claiming you picked the “normal” brother. In the light of day, when we step back, we know that what we are left with is a total nut-job and a tray of coconut butter-balls.

The reason I’m trying to sort of talk you out of making these is that once you make them, you will always be making them.  And people will ask you to bring them places and you’ll be buying Rice Krispies with just the pure intention of eating them with milk, but we know what you’ll end up doing. It’s going to be a downward spiral of sticky, sugary, coconut goodness and I’m sorry.

So,  think before you click: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/angel_delights.html

And where I can’t really improve on this sweet little piece of heaven, I can suggest replacing a bit of the coconut with orange zest and using some almond extract in the place of the vanilla. I used less than a teaspoon because to me it is more noticeable than the vanilla. Also, another time, I didn’t have enough dates, so I chopped up dried figs and nobody noticed.

Anyway, sorry.  Maybe you can stand next to a rather fat aunt in your next family photo.

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Peach Granita

There are only two hard parts to this recipe: restraining yourself from just eating the peaches as you peel them and not gulping down everything as a smoothie before it even makes it to the freezer.  But you mustn’t do either because this is such a perfect way to cleanse your palette and to cool off on a wretchedly hot day like today. Today, like yesterday and the day before that, when you walk outside you feel as though you are swimming in soup. YUCK.  But this granita is honestly the best answer to all this sweltering, muggy, summer-ness.

You need:

a fork

a roasting pan

a blender or food processor

6 or 7 pretty ripe (or even overly ripe) peaches, peeled and sliced

sugar

a bit of water

Directions:

1. Put the peeled, sliced peaches into the food processor and puree until smooth, adding QUITE a bit of sugar until it tastes sweet enough for you. (I won’t tell you how much I put, but I started with 1/2 cup and went up from there. Pretty far up actually.  Remember, life is short, but hot days last FOREVER.)

2. Pour the contents of the processor into the roasting pan and add about a cup of water.  Stir it in until it’s all mixed. (My reasoning is that I HATE it when the food processor spills over and/or leaks out the bottom due to excess liquid, so I add the water in the pan.)

3. Put the pan in the freezer and wait 15-20 minutes. The sides will be firm and the center will be slushy. With a fork, mix the sides in until it is a uniform consistency. Then, repeat in another 20 minutes.

4. After that (see picture below), you can leave the tray in the freezer for a few hours and then when you are ready to serve, you scrape the surface with a fork and scoop the crystal-ice into bowls.

5.  You can put panna on this (slightly sweet fresh whipped cream) as you can with strawberry or coffee granita. Traditionally this is eaten with brioche, but not the French kind.  The kind I mean is Sicilian and tastes like challah, but is sweeter and a bit softer and is shaped like, well, a breast with a huge nipple in the middle. (I think they must have been invented by a baker whose wife had a really flat chest…or maybe they were the implants even before tissues were invented!!) As soon as I figure out a dough recipe that is even remotely close, I will post it. I have been trying for 6 years, so don’t hold your breath. Nothing online that looks close, tastes right:/ Meanwhile, challah in boob shapes is what I’ve got,  and  for now it has to be good enough.

Stay cool.

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