Tuesday, November 30, 2010

the batch I am baking this week...

I am getting ready to channel my inner Giada on Thursday and film all day, but before I focus on that I want to whip up a great batch of cookies for my book club gathering tomorrow evening. While I'd love to get a jump start on cut-out gingerbread and sugar cookies, I think I'll leave the extra rolling & cutting step for a lazy weekend morning. Instead, I'll make a batch of those Molasses Crinkles I dream about January-November...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quick & Easy Bouillabaisse

I'm done with turkey. Tonight I wanted to make something that was the opposite. In a matter of minutes, I made the base for Bouillabaisse, then when my husband got home I tossed the fish & shellfish in so we could sit down to a relaxed dinner with his parents. He asked what the secret ingredient was this time...it might have been this aioli? Everyone got a dollop tonight because we can't just go from decadence to healthy in one fell swoop this week...

Bouillabaisse (a.k.a. Hearty Fish Stew)
Makes 8 servings
(can always half or quarter this recipe)
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
1 fennel bulb, chopped
6 stalks of celery, chopped
zest of 1 orange
1 bottle white wine
32 oz can crushed tomatoes
32 oz diced tomatoes
3-4 lbs fish & shellfish*
aioli (optional)
crusty bread + stinky cheese (optional)

* tonight I used a combination of shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, and halibut

In a large stock pot, saute the onions, garlic, fennel and celery in a bit of olive oil. Add orange zest and white wine and boil until wine is reduced by about half. Add fresh thyme and parsley and contents of both cans of tomatoes-- chopped and crushed (not drained). Let simmer for about 15 minutes. Add salt & pepper to taste. At this point, you can turn the heat off and just let the pot sit covered until a few minutes before you are ready to eat...

When ready to eat, bring the contents of the pot back up to a heavy simmer and add the fish & shellfish. Let cook for about 8 minutes, or until fish is cooked through and shells have opened. (Discard any mussels or clams that do not open).

Ladle a few chunks of fish and a few scallops, shrimp, clams and mussels into each bowl, with some of the aromatic broth. My husband is convinced that the dollop of aioli made this out of this world tonight. Perfect served with some a crusty bread for dipping.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jane's Pumpkin Bread (a.k.a. The Best Pumpkin Bread Ever)

One of my friends mentioned that the day after Thanksgiving is the day she goes from pumpkin to peppermint. I did notice a proliferation of Christmas lights as we drove home from dinner last night. Still, I'm not giving up on pumpkin just yet...particularly because my friend, Jane, shared her recipe for (the best) pumpkin bread (ever). So simple and worth sharing. (If you have already moved on to peppermint, just bookmark this for next fall.)

Jane's Pumpkin Bread
(which is really an adaptation of Vern Bertagna's recipe via a '95 Bon Appetit and then epicurious, but since I got the recipe from Jane, it will forever be known as "Jane's Pumpkin Bread" to me)
Makes 2 full-size loaves or 5 mini loaves

2 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
2 cups (or 1 16-ounce can) solid pack pumpkin
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves*
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon*
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg*
* OR 3 teaspoons of "pumpkin pie spice" if you have that kicking around your spice drawer
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Turbinado sugar (to sprinkle on top, optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans (if they aren't non-stick). Beat sugar and oil in large bowl. Mix in eggs and pumpkin. Add the flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg (or the pumpkin pie spice if you're going that route), baking soda, salt and baking powder. Stir until combined. Divide batter equally between baking pans. Sprinkle with Turbinado or other coarse sugar before baking (optional). Bake about 1 hour, or until tester inserted into center comes out clean. Transfer to racks and cool. These loaves freeze beautifully.

(No silly, I do not sift the dry ingredients in a separate bowl...)

a few fabulous ways to use up that turkey!

Well, I wasn't sure it was worth the extra step, but I must say that this year's turkey was my best ever (if I might say so myself). I really do think the brine I made off of The Pioneer Woman's blog made a huge difference. I took detailed notes and photos so I can pass them along to you next year (in advance of the big cook day). But this weekend, I thought it would be most helpful to share my favorite uses for leftover turkey...If you're not up for cooking again just yet, simply shred your leftover turkey and put it in a big zip-loc in the freezer, then bookmark this post for when you decide to re-enter the kitchen!

I have a bunch of tried and true recipes here on the blog that can be made with any turkey meat you may have on hand. These are my six favorites:

Turkey Chili (substitute shredded turkey for the ground turkey)

Hearty Bean Soup with Turkey (simply substitute chunks of turkey for the sausage)

A zesty picadillo made with shredded turkey is a nice counterbalance to the richness of Thanksgiving dinner (and the past few days of leftover stuffing...)

If your pantry is well-stocked then you probably have a seasoning packet you could use for soft tacos (substitute turkey for the pork) or maybe you have one of these great sauces on hand and you can whip up a simple curry.

... and of course, you can always whip up a batch of Chicken Enchiladas with turkey instead. Simply shred the meat and go from there! My recipe varies a little bit each time I make them (depending upon what I have on hand) but here's one and here's another.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Let the cooking begin!

I'm a few minutes into cooking this year's Thanksgiving feast and already I am having to improvise...I thought I would start with the cranberry sauce. That's easy to knock off the to-do list before the school bus comes rumbling up the street. My itunes workout mix is cranked up. Happy cooking music. After sneaking out for an hour and half of paddle tennis this gorgeous Fall morning, I am ready to come inside and start whipping up side dishes. No port wine on hand, so instead I've got a mixture of brandy and cointreau reducing. Kitchen smells amazing. I am operating with my friend's mantra that Thanksgiving is "really just dinner with a few extra sides". So here we go! I'm sticking to the plan I wrote about a few days back: turkey, gravy, stuffing, green beans with walnuts and frizzled onions, roasted brussel sprouts with lemon zest, maple mashed sweet potatoes, regular mashed potatoes with fresh herbs, cider-braised cabbage for something tart and this delicious cranberry sauce with cointreau and brandy instead of port this year. Let the cooking begin!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The turkey: to brine or not to brine?

I forgot to order a turkey. In all of the happy hub bub of turning my kitchen into a savory pumpkin cannelloni factory for a bunch of the teachers at my older son's school, I completely forgot to get my own Thanksgiving planned. No biggie. There were plenty of perfect turkeys sitting around just waiting for me to pick one. Who knew? I always thought you had to order the perfect bird! Now there's one less thing I have to worry about going forward, hmm. Anyway, brining seems to be the hot topic these days. A friend asked me last week and I kind of dismissed it, saying I'd tried it a few years back and I didn't notice a major difference. Every year since then I've just been going the rub-down-with-butter route and it's been great. (The turkey, not me. Get your mind out of the gutter.) Anyway, enough of you have asked me if I am brining (and you all have this wild look in your eyes saying how you're so excited about brining) that I am going to try brining again this year. One glitch-- Whole Foods was sold out of brining kits. (See, I told you it was big. Man, I wish I owned a brining kit company this year.) Thankfully, the Pioneer Woman's got me covered. Here's her recipe for the perfect brine.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pumpkin Pie Alternative: Maple Pumpkin Pots de Creme

I was up early, trolling my favorite sites for an alternative to pumpkin pie. I can't do my Thanksgiving shopping yet, since my fridge is totally stuffed with 24 dishes of savory pumpkin cannelloni, but I would like to get my shopping list in order. I love flan, so I thought maybe I'd give pumpkin flan a try this year, but all of the recipes were too involved. I don't think I can follow a new recipe step by step this week, so that's out. Remembering how easy (and delicious) those chocolate pots de creme were this winter, I was thrilled to find a recipe for Maple Pumpkin Pots de Creme on epicurious. I think these will be a perfect make-ahead dessert that everyone will like!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Big weekend of cooking: Savory Pumpkin Cannelloni

Big weekend of cooking... I'd hoped to get around to posting step-by-step photos of how to make the Savory Pumpkin Cannelloni with Sage Cream Sauce but ran out of time because we were having so much fun with our friends who came to visit today. Hoping to get those pics posted tomorrow! If you're doing your marketing before I have a chance to post, just click on the link for the post from last year which has all the ingredients you'll need for this fabulous fall dish.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thinking ahead: Thanksgiving Sides

A few friends have emailed asking about my go-to Thanksgiving sides. Each year, I cook something a little different but cover all the Thanksgiving basics: stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, a veggie or two... For example, last year I made some Balsamic Glazed Carrots that were good, but I don't plan to go to the market that has the itty bitty round carrots, so I'll probably pass on that side this year. Realistically, I won't make my shopping list until next Tuesday but I know some of my friends are planning ahead so I wanted to share a few of my favorites:

Cranberry-Apricot Sauce (my go to cranberry sauce-- so easy)

Then I always do some variation on sweet potatoes, and flipping through my binders of tried and true recipes, this one caught my eye this year: Sweet Potato and Orange Puree with Almond Streusel. I have had this recipe forever, and it's fabulous. But if I run out of steam and don't feel like making the streusel topping, then this is my other go-to recipe for sweet potatoes that is equally delicious, just a bit more simple to prepare: Maple Mashed Sweet Potatoes.

For stuffing, I've done it from scratch and I've started with a bag/box of bread and doctored that up. I have no idea what I'll do this year, until I see how my week is but you can count on it including: sauteed onions, celery and apple, chestnuts, fresh sage, a handful of dried currants and a little garlic in addition to the butter and broth.

Green beans are simple to make: blanch them (boil 5 minutes then drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking) and toss them with walnut oil (or butter) and some finely crushed walnuts and a pinch of good salt.

Then, I like something tart at the table to balance out the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce. Something with more texture... so I'll probably whip up a batch of Cider-Braised Cabbage, which is super simple (and also delicious on the next day's turkey sandwiches).

Oh, and my husband usually requests regular mashed potatoes and this is my go-to for that: 4 lbs Yukon gold potatoes + 2 garlic Boursin brand soft cheese + 1 1/4 cup skim milk. Peel potatoes and cut into 2" chunks. Cook at a low simmer for 25 minutes, then drain and return to the warm saucepan. Mash the potatoes (using a fork) with the cheese and milk. Can be made ahead of time then reheated in the oven, covered with a bit of foil, at 375 for about 30 minutes.

I think that covers the basics. I'll let you know what I decide to make next week!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Who has time to cook from scratch every night?

I don't cook from scratch every night. Even if I wanted to, there's no way that I could pull that off.

Last night, I had dinner plans with a friend. We were high tailing it into town for some kid-free conversation. Still, my husband and the kids needed dinner. In a matter of minutes, I "made" a mild curry (which my kids proclaimed to be "the best ever"), brown rice and roasted butternut squash.

The curry was simply Stonehouse 27's Cashew & Cream cooking sauce + chicken + a bag of organic frozen peas + a hearty handful of roasted, unsalted cashews...tossed in a large saute pan and heated until the chicken was cooked through. Most supermarkets have already cooked brown rice in the freezer section. And cubes of butternut squash (yes, bought pre-cut) were simply roasted at 425 on a cookie sheet with a drizzle of olive oil + kosher salt + pepper + cumin + cinnamon + and chili powder for about 20 minutes, while I had a relaxing cup of coffee with another friend and five kiddos took a Spanish class in my living room. Amazing meal, very little effort, happy mom.

Busy day today... tonight was a similarly easy "homemade" meal. What can I say? With a lot going on and major Thanksgiving cooking on the horizon, I am not going to burn the candle at both ends this week before!

That is our dinner in the photo above. Not bad for a Tuesday night. The soft tacos were made with ground beef sauteed in Frontera's new Taco Skillet Sauce (which is so new that I can't find it on their website under "products"? But I can tell you that our local (Darien, CT) Whole Foods is definitely stocking it in the Mexican/Southwestern aisle. While I couldn't find a product link, I did manage to find a grocer wholesale sheet. So, if you want that for your local retailer, here it is.) + shredded cheese + sour cream + chunks of avocado. I meant to make cumin roasted cauliflower, but I forgot to turn the oven on...oh well.

The point of this post is that a well-stocked pantry or popping one or two simmer sauces, rubs, or similar into your shopping cart each week allows you to create amazing meals in minutes. So, no more "I tried your enchiladas and they were amazing but I haven't got time to cook like that every night!" The truth is, some nights neither do I!

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas....holiday baking on a budget for Walmart

Today I was Supermom. Up at the crack of dawn to make our kitchen look a bit like Christmas (you'll see why later), made healthy breakfast for all of us, one school bus caught, one on time preschool drop-off, a little "me" time, a preschool pick-up, a lunch made, a walk to the neighbor's to drop my little one off so I could meet a producer from "More for My Family" on Yahoo Shine, and then I spent the next few hours filming a short gig on baking holiday gifts on a budget for Walmart. Then the producer left, I snapped the kitchen back into shape, made my children dinner and poured myself a (much deserved) glass of wine. Oh, and did I mention that it's my birthday? Had my extraordinarily thoughtful neighbor not popped over with flowers, I might have forgotten myself!

I promise to post the video once it airs. But, for those who cannot wait, here's the recipe for the Cinnamon Chocolate Brownies with Chocolate Ganache that I whipped up. I must say, this was an excellent challenge: come up with a homemade holiday gift that is under $5/each, including the packaging. I am proud to say that my recipe came in well under that amount. I shopped for all of my ingredients at Walmart ($19.29, and I have tons of flour, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla left over) and the festive mylar gift bags were only $1 for 20. One batch made 14 decadent little gifts, at just $1.50/each! Since my children have together come up with 27 teachers they'd like to give a gift to this holiday season, this tried and true recipe and packaging find are going to come in handy!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Simple and delicious morning - make ahead breakfast ideas

Mornings can be nutty. But that doesn't mean your family has to throw back a handful of cereal as you dash out to meet the school bus. With a little planning ahead, and maybe 1 hour of cooking each week, you can get a few recipes made ahead of time so that breakfast is ready to go on the busiest of mornings.

The photo above is our breakfast yesterday morning. Looks good, doesn't it? Particularly for a Tuesday morning! Total time spent making it Tuesday morning: about 5 minutes to plate and reheat the slices of frittata (which I had made on a lazy Sunday morning) and cut up an apple, and wash a few berries. I make a frittata at least once a week with a variety of veggies because it's so, so easy. Here is the original post that had my super simple frittata recipe.

Last week, I taught a cooking class for a group of young athletes. The topic was "healthy breakfasts" so they can be at peak performance at school, and at their meets. After hearing from so many friends that their kids are "picky eaters", or "they definitely won't try this or that", I was thrilled that this group of kids not only tried-- but relished-- each of the recipes we made together, including a veggie filled frittata. So, I encourage you to give that recipe a try. My go-to protein pancakes were another major hit at that lesson. The kids topped them with applesauce, berries and kept coming back for more. Since I am short on time to do in-person lessons right now, here's a video of the protein pancake recipe in action. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The upside of those recipe swap chain emails: Asian Chicken Salad

You know those (really annoying) emails you get from friends asking you to forward an email on to 20 of your friends asking them to participate in a "recipe swap" and then send a recipe to the top person on the email... well, I always do them because some part of me feels guilty that I have this awesome cache of recipes. Either that or I am afraid that I didn't read down to the bottom where it says "if you don't do this you'll have bad luck for a year", or something to that effect. Anyway, this last go round I actually ended up with some new ideas for quick meals from people I had never heard of. And (drum roll) I finally got my hands on Daneille's mom's Asian Chicken Salad recipe. I had only been badgering her for this recipe for what would you say Daneille, about a year? Ironically, another local friend sent me her version of this salad. Tonight I combined the two recipes for a salad my kids proclaimed "the best salad ever". Thanks to you both, this one is a keeper.

Asian Spinach Salad with Chicken
(makes 6-8 servings)
12 tablespoons olive oil
5 tablespoons turbinado sugar (or regular sugar)
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 seasoning packet from 1 Dr. McDougall's Soy Ginger Noodle bowl

In a blender, combine all of the above. If necessary, add more olive oil or more vinegar to reach desired taste.

2 containers Dr. McDougall's Soy Ginger Noodle Bowl, dry noodles only, coarsely broken
2 bunches green onions, chopped
1 small head of cabbage, chopped
spinach, coarsely torn
1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and shredded
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted (if they aren't already roasted)

Combine all in a large bowl. Toss with dressing right before serving. If your children are eating earlier than you, simply toss the salad ingredients first and just add dressing to individual bowls.

Here it is in pictures for those that like to see it in action:

Contents of 2 Dr. McDougall noodle bowls, noodles and dried scallions only. (Even though these bowls are Whole Food's "healthier" answer to ramen, they're still really high in sodium (590 grams if you used a whole packet). So,I took the separately packaged flavor packets out, using 1/2 of one of them in the dressing and keeping the other for some other use down the road.)

Scallions next...

Then cabbage...

A big bag of baby spinach...

And one rotisserie chicken, shredded...

Finally a cup of almonds that I carefully toasted on a cookie sheet under the broiler for a few minutes.
Since my children eat at 4:30 (yes, you read that right... you'd have to if you went to bed at 6:30!) I simply tossed the salad ingredients then individually dressed their bowls of salad. When my husband gets home I'll add the remaining dressing to the big bowl for our dinner.

My boys claimed this was "the best salad EVER!". So, it's a keeper around here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What is farro?!

Thank you to my friends who emailed me, I realized that I posted that amazing farro risotto recipe, but didn't properly describe what farro is! Here's a quickie explanation taken straight off the package: "farro is one of the oldest unhybridized forms of wheat and has been a part of the Italian diet for centuries...high in fiber and minerals, it is very versatile. It's a hardy plant which does not require the use of fertilizers or pesticides."

Don't feel bad if you'd never heard of farro before my last post. I was first introduced to farro a few years ago when I took a "Healthy Cuisines" professional development course at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone campus with my dear friend, Cindy. Ah, fabulous memories of that week. When not donning our chef whites and holding our own as the only two women in the kitchen, Cindy and I were trolling vineyards and restaurants and filling our suitcases with farro to bring back home. Nowadays, it's much more readily available so do give this delicious farro risotto recipe a try!

As promised...my Farro-Butternut Squash Risotto recipe

Really, is there anything better than a comforting, healthful meal on a cold, rainy night? After basically ignoring my family for a few days as I prepped and then taught several cooking lessons this week, yesterday was my day to redeem myself. My older child read and hung out in the kitchen with me, and my little one brought me Lego creation after Lego creation to admire as I stirred the risotto. Unlike most of the recipes I have passed along to you that have quick assembly and then a half hour or so cook time, this one requires you to attend to the pot for that half hour. But it is worth it, trust me.

Farro-Butternut Squash Risotto
(Makes 8-10 servings)
olive oil
whole farro (I used a 1.1 lb package b/c I wanted to make enough for a small army)
2 lbs butternut squash, chopped
1 onion, chopped
a few cloves of garlic, chopped
fresh sage
2 quarts of broth (vegetable or chicken, your choice)
5 oz. tub of shredded Parmesan
1/2 cup boursin, marscapone, goat cheese, cream cheese or heavy cream (optional)

In a large saucepan, heat a bit of olive oil. Add the onion and butternut squash and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden and softened. (The squash will not be cooked through, that's ok as it will continue to cook with the farro.) Add the farro and cook for about 1 minute, stirring to coat it with the oil. Add enough stock so you can still stir the risotto without it sloshing out...proper risotto recipes will tell you to "warm the stock and add it 1 cup at a time", but let's be realistic-- who has time to do that? It'll be just fine adding the whole first quart as long as your pot is big enough to hold that much liquid. (And room temp is just fine.) This is the half hour you'll be at the stovetop, so grab a glass of tea or wine and relax. Gently stir the risotto while the liquid is being absorbed. After that first quart of broth is absorbed, I add a handful of the Parmesan, stirring so it melts, and then I add more broth from the second quart-- this time go easy, adding the broth a little at a time while you're stirring so you don't overdo it on the liquid. (Last night, I went through about 1 1/2 quarts of broth.) Towards the end of the cook time, you may add a little extra creaminess (marscapone, goat cheese, boursin, heavy cream) if you'd like, and the remainder of the shredded Parmesan and the fresh sage. The farro is done when it is al dente (farro grains don't melt into each other like Arborio rice) and enrobed in the thick, creamy liquid, about 25-30 minutes total. Season with salt and pepper.

The benefit of using farro is that farro risotto holds up much better to reheating than regular aborio rice risotto. So, once it's cooled down, you can package up the remainder for a delicious lunch or dinner in the next few days. Simply add a bit of the leftover broth to your risotto when reheating it.
Here is the recipe in photos. Enjoy!

In a large saucepan, I sauteed the onion and butternut squash over moderate heat until the onion was softened.

Add the farro...

and cook for about 1 minute, stirring to coat it with the oil.

I wasn't kidding when I said I poured the whole first quart of broth in. Patience is not my virtue. It works just fine this way. Then you simply stir the risotto until that first batch of broth is absorbed.

I forgot to take a photo of the risotto when the first batch of broth was absorbed... this was about halfway through the cook time. I had added more broth, the fresh sage, and a handful of Parmesan and continued to stir the risotto.

You can see that the broth is getting a sort of "creamy" look to it...

Towards the end of the cook time, I added a hearty dollop of Boursin I had in my fridge. This just makes the risotto a little creamier, but it's totally optional.

The last handful of Parmesan went in...

and the farro is done when it is al dente (try a piece) and enrobed in the thick, creamy liquid, The whole cook time should take 25-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Enjoy! Oh, and if any of you have trouble finding farro in your local market, here's a link to order some. I bought mine at Whole Foods, in the pasta aisle (Rustichella d'abruzzo brand).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

New Food Crush: Belle Chevre's Breakfast Cheese

I am a happy girl when I get to go to the supermarket...alone. Usually I bring my kids along. They like to ride on the side of the shopping cart (until we get chastised for doing so), and I'll let them choose foods along the way. My boys will eat anything, but eating's not really their thing. Lingering any longer than we have to in the cheese section or the bulk foods aisle is kind of torturous for them. When I get to go to the market alone I savor the time to peek at things I might normally miss.
Today, I found a new item at Whole Foods in Darien that instantly became "crush" status. And those of you who have been following my food crushes know that my recommendations are fabulous (if I might say so myself).

I was picking up some parmesan for the farro-butternut squash risotto I am going to make tonight. (Delicious-- particularly on a cold, rainy Fall day...will post the recipe once I whip that up.) Anyway, right there at eye level were these simple packages that boldly said "honey." and "fig.". I am a sucker for good, clean packaging. "Handmade. All Natural. Award Winning. Belle and the Bees Breakfast Cheese." Breakfast Cheese? Last night I taught a cooking lesson all about healthful, easy breakfast ideas. I'd listed all sorts of ideas for the athletes, but this was one I hadn't thought of: "an incredibly yummy and healthy alternative to cream cheese". Genius.

I picked up one of each. Delicious. Spread on a slice of whole wheat walnut bread, this stuff made me swoon. It seems like all of my "food crushes" have a good story behind them. This one is no different.