Sunday, July 8, 2012

Avocado Gruyère Wrap

I don't know that this deserves to be on a cooking blog, since there isn't any cooking involved. However, I get easily bored with sandwiches, and I'm never quite sure what flavor combinations will work well together. And, to be honest, by the time I usually get around to making a sandwich, I am too hungry to want to experiment with flavor combinations that might turn out to be horrific. So, it seemed like a good idea to share with you one of my favorite sandwiches.

There is no meat on this wrap. I went for years in school where my mother used to pack me soups, salads, or pasta for lunch because I really didn't like sandwiches or wraps. I am not intellectually opposed to lunch meat, but once I start reading the nutrition labels (the salt content!) and peeling it out of the package (it gets slimy!), I am pretty grossed out in practice. I do however think that this wrap would be delicious with some extra lunch meat added, or diced pieces of grilled chicken tossed in.

In the summer, I find that heat generally makes me not hungry. If I am hungry, I tend not to want to cook; I want what I'm eating to be quick, easy, light, and chilled, if possible. In this triple digit heat with air you could probably slice, plate, and serve, the less my oven and stove are on the better. This wrap has been one of my staples over the past few weeks. It meets all of the above criteria, transports well, and is not hard to do. 

Avocado Gruyère Wrap

1/2 small avocado
2 Tbsp. sweet onion, diced
2 oz. Gruyère, diced
1 tsp. ranch dressing
1 whole wheat flour tortilla, fajita size

Place the tortilla on the plate.  Scoop out the flesh of one half of an avocado onto the tortilla, using the knife to mash it up a bit.  Add in the onion, cheese, and ranch dressing.  Use a spoon to mash/stir until everything is well blended.  Wrap up the tortilla; slicing is optional.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

As you can see, these are not your every-day breakfast, but they are good for the occasional decadently indulgent weekend, even if I forgot to snap photos of them glazed.  I LOVE cinnamon rolls.  Unfortunately, it's surprisingly hard to find a delicious, melt-in-your-mouth basic recipe that is feasible to do.  I don't know if it's just because people buy cinnamon rolls now-a-days, or if it's because coffee cake has occupied the field, or what, but I finally settled on a recipe that is both practical and feasible. 

The trick to these cinnamon rolls is that you make them the night before.  They still have to rise in the morning, but the timing is such that it is not impractical.  I first made these the night before my graduation from law school.  My mother spent the night, naturally grumbling about how she could just run to the store and pick up a can of them so I wouldn't have to be using the stand mixer at 11:00 p.m. when she was trying to sleep.  My father and sisters were coming up no later than 7:30 a.m. the next morning, and if I were them, I would want coffee and hot delicious breakfast waiting, not from a refrigerated can.  They got such pampering.  Unfortunately, due to a dress snafu (who knew bloating could cause one to go up an entire dress-size?), I only got one bite before I had to run out the door to make it to the Lawn.  While standing around waiting for the ceremony to begin, I probably should have been reflecting on how far I'd come.  Instead, all I could think about was the deliciousness my family was enjoying without me. 

I was determined to make these again, so that I might actually get to eat them.  Fortunately, while house and dog sitting for my mother last month, I scheduled a puppy play date with a friend.  I came bearing cinnamon rolls, she made coffee cake, and we had a lovely brunch while the dogs played in her backyard. 

The recipe is originally borrowed from Our Best Bites.  I changed a few of the proportions for both ease of cooking and taste.  Her dental floss trick for cutting them proved to be invaluable.

Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

1 package active dry yeast (about 1 Tbsp.)
1/2 c. warm water (105 F)
4 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. Kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
2 Tbsp. butter, melted

1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon

1 c. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla

In the bowl of the stand mixer, pour the water and sprinkle the yeast over it.  Let it stand for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is bubbly and foamy.  Whisk (by hand) until smooth, and whisk in 1/2 cup flour.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let the mixture stand in a warm, draft-free place for about 30 minutes.  I usually set a pan of hot water on the counter, place a wire cooling rack perpendicular to the 9x13 pan, and place the bowl on top of the rack. 

Attach the mixer bowl to the stand mixer. Add the sugar, salt, eggs, vanilla, and stick of softened butter.  Add the remaining 4 cups of flour.  With the dough hook, knead the dough until it is smooth, for about 10-12 minutes.  Set a timer.  You will want to stop mixing before that because the dough briefly comes together.  Then you will think it will never come together as it starts sticking to the sides of the bowl again.  But somewhere around 11 minutes and 30 seconds, the dough magically stops sticking to the sides of the bowl and comes together in a smooth, supple ball that you can tell even by looking at it is going to produce tender and airy rolls. 

Grease (or Pam) a large glass bowl.  Pull and tuck the dough into a ball, place it upside-down in the bowl, and then flip the dough so that the top is now greased.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap (you may want to give the underside of the plastic wrap a quick spray too), and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 2 hours.  I use the same wire rack over a pan of hot water trick as above, occasionally replacing the water when it cools. 

When the dough is nearly doubled, start making your filling.  In a bowl, beat on medium speed the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon until fluffy and combined, about 1 minute.  You will find that it is the consistency of a thick (and grainy) paste. 

Next, butter your pan.  I have used a 9x13, a 9 inch tart pan combined with a 9x9 pan, and several oval casserole dishes.  Use whatever you think will best hold 10-15 cinnamon rolls in the way you want to serve them. 

Punch down your dough, and put it on a large floured work surface.  I frequently use a floured silicone mat or the back of a placement.  Roll the dough out (I found that a French-style silicone rolling pin is most effective) into a 10x15 rectangle.  Using a spatula, glop the filling onto the dough and spread it out to the edges.  Tightly roll the dough up lengthwise. 

Using the dental floss tip from Our Best Bites here, slice your rolls into appropriate sizes, depending on your audience and the number you intend to bake.  Arrange the slices in your pan (or pans, as the case may be).  Brush the tops with the melted butter.  You may want to sprinkle a little extra cinnamon over the top (personal preference).  Cover your pans with plastic wrap (grease the underside first) and let rise in the fridge overnight. 

In the morning, take the pans out of the fridge and let rise in a warm spot (the back of the preheating oven, or the wire rack over your pan of warm water) for about an hour.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown.  While they are cooling in the pan, mix the glaze ingredients in a small bowl and then pour over your rolls.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Barbeque Blue Potatoes

So, I don't have a photo for you because my latest obsession really would not photograph well.  I, frankly, make it a point not to look too hard at the bowl when I eat these, because the result is not aesthetically pleasing.  If I shared a photograph, you might be too unenthused to ever try these, and that, my friend, would be a serious mistake.  However unappealing the aesthetics, the taste is phenomenal.

The first time these came into being was a happy accident; I like barbeque sauce on my potatoes anyways, and a little bit of the gorgonzola from my steak had toppled onto the potatoes.   The second time, it was intentional.  And, well, we won't go into how many times after that because, really, you don't need to know.

Barbeque Blue Oven Potatoes

2 large baking potatoes
1 medium sweet onion
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt & pepper
Barbeque sauce
Gorgonzola crumbles

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  You can peel or not peel the potatoes; for me that depends on how thick/eye-ridden the skins are and how hungry I am (peeling takes time).  Chop the potatoes into about 1/2 inch chunks.  Place in a single layer in a jellyroll pan.  Mince your onion.  Spread it on top of the potatoes.  Drizzle the olive oil and sprinkle the salt and pepper over the top, and then give everything a good mix with your hands.  Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until fork-tender, stirring once about halfway through.  Top with barbeque sauce and gorgonzola crumbles then stir.  Close your eyes (barbeque sauce over potatoes and onions isn't the prettiest thing), take a bite, and realize that it's totally worth not looking at for those flavors to melt together on your tongue.

Creamy Ravioli

I can't believe it has almost been a month since I made these.  The sheet of paper I jotted the recipe down on has practically been crumpled beyond recognition after a month in the behemoth I like to call a purse.  That's just the way life has been these days.

Most people, after finishing up a grueling final year of law school (and yes, I'm aware I did something wrong somewhere because it was not supposed to be that way), would go out drinking, or, more likely, pass out for a week-long nap.  I decides I wanted real food.  Real food, as in something other than peanut butter on a honey wheat english muffin, crackers and cheese, or cereal (my I'm too tired to care what I eat staples). 

Starving, I dug around in my kitchen to find that I hadn't purchased real food in weeks.  But, in the back of my freezer, underneath the soup I didn't really want either, I found a package of Asparagus & Gruyere Ravioli I had picked up from Costco back when my subconscious knew there would come a day that I needed a delectable meal of minimum fuss.  Those sound really heavenly, right? 

Any sane, rational person would have tossed the ravioli in some butter or olive oil, probably with a sprinkle of parmesan, and called it delicious.  I was not so lucky.  Instead, I made this delectable sauce that turned delicious into heavenly.  The sauce makes the ravioli melt into your mouth, and adds that extra punch of flavor that pushed these over the edge. 

Creamy Ravioli

1 package ravioli, ~ 9 oz.
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
2 c. 2% milk
1/2 c. grated parmesan
salt & pepper

Cook the ravioli as the package directs.  In a small saute pan, heat the oil until it is shimmery and a drop of water skitters and pops across the pan.  Add the onion and garlic, and saute until translucent and softened, approximately 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Once it is melted and hot, whisk in the flour, and cook, continuing to whisk, until the mixture is bubbly and lightly brown, approximately 2-3 minutes.  While whisking, slowly and evenly pour the milk into the roux, so that the roux is fully incorporated into the milk rather than becoming chunky.  Add the onion and garlic to the milk.  Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened and begins to boil, approximately 5-7 minutes.  Reduce heat to low, and whisk in the parmesan.  Add salt and pepper to taste; pour over the ravioli.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Nutty Goat Cheese Penne

I had this recipe saved for a long time in one of my many "recipes to try" collections. At first, it sounds kind of crazy: who puts nuts in pasta? I mean, I suppose pine nuts go in pesto, and sometimes you'll find them in pasta primavera mixes, but who puts walnuts in pasta?  Then I thought about how much I love cashews on my salads.  Seriously, if you've never tried it, swap the bag of croutons for two tablespoons of cashews and finely mince them on a cutting board before topping your salad with them. Delicious.  You may never eat croutons again.  So, a few weeks ago (perhaps several months at this point), I decided to give this recipe a try.

Nutty Goat Cheese Pasta (from Good Housekeeping)

1 box pasta (~14.5 oz.)*
1 pound frozen peas
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 c. walnuts, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
6 oz. goat cheese, softened
1 c. reserved pasta water (since I frequently forget if it's not in the ingredients list)
Salt and pepper

*I used penne, because that's what I keep in my house (if you hadn't already figured that out). The original recipe called for shells. I really like this with the Barilla Plus pasta, because it has a slightly nutty flavor to it that really melds with the walnuts.

Fill a saucepan or stockpot with water and heat to boiling. Add a teaspoon of garlic salt to the water once it is boiling. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Add the peas when there are two minutes left so that they cook in the water with the pasta. Remember to reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, in a medium-sized skillet, heat the olive oil until it is shimmery and a droplet of water skitters across the pan.  Saute the garlic and walnuts until toasted and golden. They should smell delicious. Stir in a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Remember to reserve your pasta water (are you sensing a theme?). Return the drained pasta and peas to the pot.  Stir in the cup of pasta water, the goat cheese, salt, and pepper. I find that the goat cheese melts more easily if you stir it in as chunks or dollops rather than the entire log. Top with the garlic and walnut mixture. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Slutty Brownies

I first ran across these brownies on Pinterest, and ultimately asked my sister to try making Gaby Dalkin's iteration from her blog What's gaby Cooking for our Easter dessert.  This is what our version (really my sister's, I was busy cooking other things, or studying, one of the two) of Gaby's looked like:

They were, in a word, to-die-for (hyphens totally make it one word).  For interested parties, the platter is a hand-crafted piece from Hawksbill Pottery

A few notes on Gaby's recipe.  My sister forgot that you only needed half the cookie dough.  As stand alone chocolate chip cookies, I didn't find them terribly appetizing (by which I mean when I only have so many calories to blow on sweets, I want every bite to be out-of-this-world, and that they were not), so I would suggest only making half of the chocolate chip cookie dough recipe she includes.  My sister also used double-stuffed Oreos, which I only realized after making my version below, and I think double-stuffed is the better choice.  Finally, Gaby's recipe only makes a 9x9 pan.  These are very rich, but they are very popular, so you may need more than that if you are feeding even a moderately sized crowd.  

Loving these so much, but wanting to shave some time off of them, I decided to substitute boxed brownie mix for the brownies and my Nestle Toll House recipe for the cookie dough, since I know that one by heart and could probably do it while half asleep.  These are what mine looked like when I made them a few weeks ago before finals (note that I only used regular Oreos; I won't be repeating such a mistake in the future):

All in all, if you have the time, I would go ahead and make Gaby's.  If you're looking for something still pretty awesomely tasty but just a little easier, try mine below.

Easier Slutty Brownies (makes one 9x9 and one 9-inch pie pan*)

Brownie Mix
1 box Betty Crocker Fudge Brownie Mix**
1/4 c. water
2/3 c. vegetable oil
2 eggs

2 pkg. Double-Stuffed Oreos

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (Nestle Toll House but with more chips)
1 c. (two sticks) butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. chocolate chips

* You could probably do both of them in a 9x13 pan.  However, I intended to freeze one of my pans, and I find that splitting the recipe into two pans so that one goes immediately into the freezer once they're cooled leaves me a happier (and skinnier) person. 

** This is my favorite brownie mix of all time.  My mother is vaguely concerned that I can taste the differences between brownie mixes, but there you have it.  Also, I bet these would be amazing if you used the Dark Chocolate Fudge Brownie (my second favorite mix) and dark chocolate chips.

Preheat the oven to 350F.  First things first, do yourself a favor.  Line your two pans with heavy duty aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray.  This will accomplish two things: (1) it makes it easier to cut them when they're done and (2) it makes it easy to freeze them without having to freeze your pan.

Start with the chocolate chip cookie dough.  Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Stir in the vanilla.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.  In a small separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Gradually add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture (I usually do it in thirds or quarters), beating well after each addition.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Spread your dough in the bottom of your two pans, using your fingers to flatten it out and press it into the edges.

Next, layer your Oreos over the cookie dough, edges slightly touching, and lightly press them into the dough.

Using a fork (or an awesome batter whisk), mix together the brownie mix, water, oil, and eggs until smooth and free of lumps.  Pour over the Oreos in both pans until they are covered.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.   

To Freeze: Let cool in pan until both the brownies and the pan are cool.  Place the pan with the brownies in it in the freezer (uncovered is fine) for about 1 hour, just to get the brownies nice and firm.  Lift the foil-wrapped block of brownies out of the pan.  Securely wrap in plastic wrap, followed by another layer of foil, and place in a gallon-sized Ziploc freezer bag.  Freeze until you finish the first pan (or longer if you're a better person than me).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Vegetable Stir Fry

Some days are rough, as in too exhausted to even think about cooking, yet burdened with guilt over the knowledge that you promised yourself that post-graduation, you would focus on losing weight before you went crazy in July focusing on not failing the bar.  That means delivery is not an option. It's days like these where I'm reminded of a comment Deb Perelman made a few weeks ago in one of her posts over on Smitten Kitchen:
This thing where you can grab anything at random without a shopping list in hand or recipe in mind and transform it effortlessly into a LQLACSD [lightning-quick, lazy, and completely satisfying dinner], this is real cooking. This is what separates those grandmothers that cranked out dinner like clockwork every night for 60 years, that didn’t throw in the towel because they only had canned peas and stale rice in the pantry, from the dilettantes.
I too aspire to be one of those people one day.  Today demanded one such dinner.  I am not a morning person, not by any stretch of the imagination.  Despite not nearly enough sleep, I managed to be semi-cheerful this morning, until I realized that despite my mother's household being one in which 5 out of 5 of the most frequent bodies that inhabit the kitchen drink coffee, there was not a commuter mug to be found, anywhere, dirty or clean.  And so the day started with an hour long commute with a ceramic mug that didn't quite fit into the cupholder of my car and rapidly cooling coffee.  That, combined with a lecture that ran close to five hours instead of the promised three and a half to four and a half, a detour to water my plants again because the last person who watered them did a poor job and they were already wilting after only two days, and another hour-long commute back, and I was ravenous and cranky.  I snacked on some leftover sweet potatoes while hunting through my mother's cabinets for something for dinner.

Fortunately, I had the foresight to grab a few staples from my pantry before making the drive this afternoon.  I had whole grain brown rice.  Mom had mentioned she had purchased some stir fry vegetables from a small neighborhood grocer this week.  Some serious digging and I discovered (shockingly) both soy sauce and sesame oil.  Vegetable stir fry was born.  Quick, filling, and not terribly unhealthy, all the while being incredibly tasty.

Vegetable Stir Fry (makes 4 servings)

1 c. whole grain brown rice
2 1/4 c. water
2 tsp. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/4 lbs. stir fry vegetables*
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tsp. soy sauce, divided
1/2 tsp. sesame oil

*Mom had a Stir Fry Medley from Tom Leonard's that included broccoli, asparagus, yellow squash, green squash, red onions, orange peppers, yellow peppers, and green peppers. While not listed, I'm also 95% sure there were radishes in there, because I definitely tried a bite of one. 

Combine the rice, water, and butter in a medium saucepan and bring to boil.  Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, or until the water is fully absorbed but before the rice starts to stick to the pan.  Let cool, transfer to a container, and let chill in the fridge or freezer, depending on your time constraints.  I know this step is not quick.  I have heard there are faster ways to make rice, and yet I still prefer it the long way.  The good thing about rice (like bread) is that it doesn't require much attention.  I made the rice while studying, put it in the fridge, and then took the puppies for a long walk.

Drizzle the olive oil in a wok.  Heat the oil over medium high until a drop of water crackles and pops.  Add the stir fry vegetables and the onion, and let cook about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the onions are starting to look translucent.  Add the garlic, 2 tsp. of soy sauce, and the sesame oil, and continue to cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are the consistency at which you like them (I prefer mine on the crisp side of crisp-tender).

Once the vegetables are done, add the chilled rice to the wok, as well as the remaining 2 tsp. soy sauce.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes, or until the rice is warmed through.  Serve and enjoy.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Roasted Tomato and Onion Rice Medley

I wanted something to go with my Butternut Squash Rounds, and I was a little tired of pasta after all of the pasta I've been eating lately.  Whole grain brown rice is one of my favorite foods.  Yes, it takes a while to cook, but it also keeps me feeling very full after I eat it, and that means I'm less cranky.  You really could substitute any sort of vegetable in with the rice, but I feel like the tomato and onion gives it a light, summery feel. 

Roasted Tomato and Onion Rice Medley

1 c. whole grain brown rice
2 c. water
2 tsp. butter
2 c. grape tomatoes, halved
2 medium sweet onions, diced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
Parmesan for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450 F.  Combine the rice, water, and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Once the rice is boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover, simmering about 30 minutes, until all of the water is absorbed.  It is better if you don't burn the rice such that it sticks to the bottom of the pan, but I've never quite been able to master that, and so I usually just scoop out the nonstuck parts and then set the pan to soak overnight and it works out just fine. 

While the rice is cooking, spread the tomatoes and onions in a shallow cookie pan/jellyroll pan.  I just picked up these pans a few weeks ago (after my favorite pan for roasting from college started banging around in the oven by itself it was so warped), and so far I absolutely love them.  Drizzle the onions and tomatoes with the olive oil and sprinkle liberally with the salt and pepper.  Mix them together so that the vegetables are evenly coated.  Roast at 450 F for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 10 or so, until the onions have started to turn golden, the tomatoes are looking a little blistered, and there is a fair amount of juice in the pan. 

Once the rice is done, combine it with the tomato-onion mixture, tossing to let the juices/olive oil evenly coat the rice (if you burn the bottom of the rice pan like me, this is best done in a separate bowl).  I don't like to mix parmesan in with the rice, because then it gets melty and stringy and sticks something awful to the spoon, but rather to grate a little over each individual portion once it's on the plate.  This works really well as a side dish, or topped with the Butternut Squash Rounds as a complete meal.

Butternut Squash Rounds

Apologies for the blog hiatus.  Law school finals kind of consumed my life.  I was still cooking (because I needed to eat), but not all of what I was eating is suitable for sharing (Honey Nut Cheerios and/or bread and cheese is a meal right?). I did try to take photos of some of the good stuff, so the next few posts will be "catch-up" so to speak. 

I keep picking up butternut squash at the store.  I know it's not in season, at least not anywhere nearby, but it's so delicious, even out of season, that I can't resist.  I actually got the idea for these rounds from Pinterest, my latest online obsession.  I was wondering what to do with the butternut squash that had been in my fridge for a week after my latest round of hunger-induced impulse buying, and then I saw this post for zucchini parmesan crisps and the idea was born.  These are great as a side dish (Mom and I had the leftovers with burgers one night) or as part of the main meal (toss over a salad or some brown rice and you have a tasty vegetarian light dinner). 

Butternut Squash Rounds

1 medium butternut squash
1/3 c. olive oil
1 c. Italian-style breadcrumbs
1/2 c. grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Peel and slice the butternut squash into 1/2 inch thick rounds.  For the bottom part of the squash, I just cut meal-sized chunks and used them as best I could.  They weren't as pretty, but they sure were tasty.  Pour the olive oil into a shallow bowl.  Similarly, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl as well, mixing thoroughly.  Next, dip each  round in the olive oil (both sides), and then dip in the breadcrumb mixture.  Place on a greased cookie sheet (I used my silicone cookie sheet over a regular cookie sheet rather than greasing), and bake at 400 for about 20-30 minutes, flipping every 10 minutes, until golden and crispy on the outside. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Lemon-Basil Penne

This recipe is adapted from here. I originally pulled the idea because it seemed like a fresh take on pasta. I wasn't too sure how the tart lemon would taste with the pasta, and it took some getting used to. By the time I finished my leftovers though, I was absolutely loving the flavors. It has a nice, light, summery feel to it that was perfect for the warm weather we had last week.

The original recipe called for fresh basil. My mommy had just planted me some basil for my patio, and I wasn't about to go pick from the baby basil plants. Part of what is fun about cooking is taking the ingredients you have on hand and turning them into something scrumptious, without a lot of time or effort. Therefore, I substituted in some dried basil. If I had fresh basil on hand, I would definitely have used it.

I used, I think, 6 or 7 small lemons to get my lemon juice. There aren't many things I am missing in my kitchen, but one of them was a juicer. Needless to say, after squeezing that many lemons between my palms, I promptly picked up a juicer the next time I was out. My hands smelled lovely all day though.

Lemon-Basil Penne

~ 14.5 oz. penne
1 1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan (the food processor is great for this)
3/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2/3 c. olive oil
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. lemon zest
2 tsp. dried basil (or 2 c. finely chopped fresh basil)

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Stir together the cheese and the lemon juice in a medium mixing bowl. With a hand (or stand) mixer running on medium, slowly pour in the olive oil, and continue to beat until the mixture is thickened, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the salt, pepper, lemon zest, and basil. Toss with the pasta. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

French Onion Soup

French Onion happens to be my mother's favorite kind of soup. I have had a "go-to" recipe for years that I have adored, and it has gotten good reviews from friends and family. While I was skiing at Whistler (really Blackcomb, since we liked that mountain better) in March, my sisters and I ate twice at this lovely restaurant on the mountain, Christine's. They had amazing French Onion Soup. Chatting with the waitress, she mentioned that the chef uses his grandmother's recipe, and that he uses both red and yellow onions. I don't know why it had never occurred to me to put red onions into my soup, but let me tell you, they add an incredible depth of flavor.

The recipe I started from is an old Southern Living favorite, Bistro Onion Soup, tweaked a little bit (as usual). It's from Southern Living Homestyle Cooking, a favorite that lives on my cookbook shelf. Maybe one of these days I'll do a post of my favorite cook books. Just last week I tried mixing in red onions and the result was to-die-for. I also intend to try the soup in the next week or two, substituting canned stock for the bouillon and water, which I suspect will be even better, although it's difficult to imagine because, as it is, this soup is delicious.

I love this soup because it makes the house smell wonderful, and it tastes sinfully rich without being heavy. It's also fairly quick, as long as you have a mandolin to speed up the slicing. I usually do not bother to top it with bread and cheese, because it's perfectly capable of standing on its own. I was visiting my mother last weekend, and while I started the soup, I had to run out before it was done. Leaving my mother in charge of finishing it, she naturally ran to the store to get bread and cheese to top it. Healthy soup no more I suppose. It also freezes really well. For tips on a convenient way to freeze soup, check out this post over on Corporette.

French Onion Soup (makes 4 servings)

1/4 c. butter (half of a stick)
2 large sweet onions
2 large red onions
2 Tbs. flour
5 1/4 c. water
1 c. wine*
4 chicken bouillon cubes
4 beef bouillon cubes
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1/4 tsp. black pepper
8 (1/2 inch) slices of french bread (optional)
8 slices Gruyère cheese (optional)

*The original recipe calls for 1/2 c. dry white wine and 1/2 c. dry red wine. I am a lightweight and can't usually get through two bottles of wine before they go bad. I use 1 c. of whatever wine I happen to have on hand (that I naturally would drink). I find that the white wine gives a lighter flavor and the red more of a deeper, richer flavor, but play with it to find the combination you like.

Melt the butter in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Thinly slice the onions into your pot. I highly, highly recommend using a mandolin for this, because you get nice even rings and it is very quick, and I actually rest mine on top of the pot so that the onions fall directly in. This will look like a lot of onions; do not be alarmed; they will cook down significantly.

Cook the onion in the butter over medium heat for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring often, until the onions have reached a deep golden caramel. This step is the key step in getting the depth of flavor that takes the soup from tasty to out-of-this-world. The deeper the color, the deeper the flavor.

Once you are satisfied with the color, stir in the flour and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Add the water, wine, bouillon, bay leaves, salt, sage, and pepper. Let the soup come to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes. You can actually let the soup simmer longer, depending on when you're ready for dinner. Remove the bay leaves.

Optional Step: Ladle the soup into 4 ovenproof ramekins or soup bowls. Set the bowls on a baking sheet so as to catch any drips and reduce the chances of tipping them over while removing them. Place two bread slices and top with two slices of cheese on each serving, and broil about 6 inches from the heat until the cheese is golden and bubbly (only a few minutes).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sweet Potato Chunks

These are my latest addiction. They taste more like eating candy than like eating a vegetable. Even my mother, who doesn't really like sweet potatoes, thought these were good. Furthermore they're really easy to make, in small batches or large.

Roasted Sweet Potato Chunks

1 sweet potato per person
Olive oil
Coarse salt

Preheat oven to 450F. Peel the sweet potatoes and slice into about 3/4 inch chunks. Place in a single layer in a jellyroll pan. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Mix them together in the pan, either with a spoon or your hands, until evenly coated. Roast in the oven until fork tender about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your pan and the amount of potatoes in it. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Vegetable Chowder

Forgive the photo; apparently photographing soup is more difficult than I thought. I went to the grocery store last week hungry, again. Fortunately, I have thus far been able to restrict my impulse buys to the produce section, but when the bag of mini sweet peppers was on sale for $2.99, really, how could I resist? My grandmother passed away this weekend, and as with all of the stress of my life, I frequently find refuge in the kitchen, which explains why I now have this oh so lovely soup to share with you. It tastes fresh, light, and summery, and used up about half of the bag of said sweet peppers. I froze two full quart-size baggies, and poured the rest into leftover containers. I suspect, although I did not measure, that the soup makes about 1 1/2 gallons.

Full disclosure: This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart's Vegetable Chowder. Her recipe called for 5 cups of water; I found that the soup was far too watery and ended up adding some flour to thicken it and boiled off some of the water. I believe starting with 3 1/2 c. water would solve the problem in the first place.

Vegetable Chowder

3 Tbs. butter
2 large sweet onions, diced
2 medium bell peppers (~ 2 cups diced)*
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
3 c. 2% milk
3 1/2 c. water
4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced into about 1 inch chunks
2 ~15 oz. cans of sweet corn, drained
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 ~12 oz. package of frozen, chopped broccoli

*I used about 2 cups diced of the mini sweet peppers I had.

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, add the diced onion, bell peppers, and thyme. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are starting to become translucent and the peppers have softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the milk, potatoes, and water to the soup. Bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender. On my 1980s electric stove, this means I have to cover the pot to bring it to a boil, and it takes about 10 minutes of simmering after that. I would recommend not covering the soup if you want it to be thicker though. Once the potatoes are tender, add in the corn, salt, and pepper, and cook until the corn is warmed through, about 3-4 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop about 4 cups of the vegetables into a blender, along with about 1 cup of the broth. Using the blender, puree the solids until smooth, and then return them to the stockpot. Add the frozen broccoli and return the pot to a simmer, cooking for another 3-4 minutes until the broccoli is done. While I did not feel the need to add cheese to this, I would imagine it would taste very good served with some cheddar or parmesan sprinkled on top.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Roasted Vegetable Goat Cheese Pasta

I don't know why I have been on a roasting kick lately. Before I started doing this blog, I probably hadn't roasted anything in months. It could be that there is all this yummy-looking produce out now that spring is upon us, and that the high temperatures just bring out the caramelized goodness in all those foods. I have been thinking about goat cheese on pasta ever since I saw this recipe for Asparagus, Goat Cheese and Lemon Pasta over on smitten kitchen pinned on Pinterest a few weeks ago. Combine that with this Martha Stewart recipe for Pasta with Goat Cheese and Roasted Asparagus, and I was sold.

You may notice in the photo above that my asparagus pieces do not have heads. Feel free to include the heads, but I am much more a fan of the crunchy stalk part than the finely textured, almost feathery heads, so I chop off the heads when I trim off the bottoms as well. Weird, I know.

My sister came for dinner the weekend before last, and I made a turkey breast I'd had in my freezer for a while. What with her not being a fan of goat cheese, I decided to make the pasta as a "side" for my turkey leftovers. I've also had a larger portion of it as a stand-alone meal, and it works great in both respects.

Roasted Vegetable Goat Cheese Pasta

1 box of pasta (about 14.5 oz)*
2 large sweet onions
1 c. grape tomatoes
1 large bunch (2-3 inches in diameter) asparagus spears
4 Tbs. olive oil
Salt & pepper
~ 5 oz. softened goat cheese
1 c. reserved pasta water

*I used 1/2 Barilla Plus Rotini and 1/2 Barilla Whole Grain Rotini.

Preheat oven to 450F. Chop the onions into pieces the size of the grape tomatoes. Slice the grape tomatoes in halves. Toss with 2 Tbs. olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and spread in a jellyroll pan. Trim the asparagus spears into about 1 inch chunks, remembering to trim and discard the bottom inch or so (and the heads if you're strange like me). Toss with the other 2 Tbs. olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and spread in a second jellyroll pan. You want them in separate pans because the timing is different.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. While it is cooking, place both pans of vegetables into the oven. The asparagus will be done in about 15 minutes. I tend to stir every 7-8 minutes or so. The tomatoes and onions will take a little longer, probably closer to 30 minutes. I test doneness by taste; I like my asparagus still crisp-tender, but my onions and tomatoes beginning to caramelize.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1-2 cups of the water. Return to the pot, and mix the vegetables in. Add the goat cheese and 1 cup of the reserved pasta water, stirring over low until the sauce has melted together. You may need to add more pasta water, depending on how saucy your pasta looks. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pretzel Bites

These pretzel bites were a surprise baking event this past weekend. You see, I am on a quest to make a white chocolate cookie. There are a ton of recipes out there for white chocolate chip/chunk cookies or white chocolate macademia nut, but what I want is a cookie with the white chocolate in the batter. I had an epic failure this weekend trying to adapt a recipe for chocolate cookies into white chocolate (batter baked too thinly, scraped directly into the trash failure). In the course of attempting to make those, I did the math wrong and ended up with an extra half cup of melted butter. What to do with extra melted butter? Make pretzel bites of course!

My pretzel bites are adapted from a Country Living recipe. The original recipe called for rolling them into pretzel shapes, which my sister and I have done before. I decided that was too tedious, and that they would taste just as awesome in little pretzel ball form. For more tips on what "smooth and elastic" dough should look like, see my posts on Crusty French Rolls and Pizza Crust.

Pretzel Bites (approximately 25 golf ball sized bites)

1 1/2 c. warm water (about 110F)
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1 tsp. brown sugar
4 c. bread flour
2 tsp. salt
4 Tbs. butter (melted) (1/2 stick)
1 Tbs. molasses
4 c. water
1/4 c. baking soda
2 Tbs. butter (melted)
2 Tbs. Kosher salt (the chunky kind of salt)

In a 2 c. liquid measuring cup, combine the yeast, water, and brown sugar, stirring to dissolve, and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, whisk (by hand) together the flour and 2 tsp. salt. Add the half stick of melted butter, the molasses, and the yeast mixture. I usually stir with a wooden spoon just to get everything sort of incorporated before I turn on the mixer.

Knead the dough with the mixer for 8-10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough will smack against the sides of the bowl and the bowl will be left pretty clean by that point. With floured hands, pull the dough off of the hook and pull and tuck it into a smooth ball.

Grease a glass bowl (I just use cooking spray), and place the ball of dough upside down, then turn it right side up so that the top of the dough is greased. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free place to rise. Since I was attempting (and failing) to bake cookies, I just let it rise on top of the heated oven. You will want to let it rise until it doubles in size, which depending on various factors will take roughly an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Punch down the dough. You could put it back into the stand mixer, but at this point I usually just find it easier to knead by hand. You will want to knead the dough for about 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface. So as to keep clean-up easy, I tend to flour either an old plastic placemat or one of those flexible cutting boards, and then that goes into the sink, rather than working directly on the countertop.

Tear off pieces of dough and roll them in your hands until they are about the size of golf balls. Set them on a floured surface, lightly mist with cooking spray, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the balls rise for 15 minutes.

While the dough is rising, bring the 4 c. water and 1/4 c. baking soda to a boil in a saucepan. Alternatively, you can use a large stockpot and double the proportions. Drop the pretzel balls into the boiling water for about 45 seconds, turning them throughout. Using a strainer, place the poached bites onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Using a pastry brush, coat the pretzel bites with melted butter, and liberally sprinkle with the Kosher salt. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until they are golden-brown.

You can serve these with various kinds of sauces (I think a cheddar-based sauce would be delicious), but I prefer them plain or dipped in a little melted butter.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stovetop Style Mac & Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite comfort foods. I experimented with various recipes for years before I settled on the one below, which is adapted from EatingWell's recipe. Most homemade mac & cheese recipes all involve cooking the pasta on the stove, tossing it in a casserole dish, pouring cheese sauce over it, and topping it with some sort of breadcrumb. I don't care for those recipes for two reasons: 1) I'm terribly impatient, and having to wait for water to boil, pasta to cook, and the dish to brown/bubble in the oven takes entirely too long and 2) I'm in the "al dente" camp when it comes to pasta, and this means that for me, even undercooking the pasta on the stove, the post-oven pasta is too mushy and not properly chewy.

The fun thing about macaroni and cheese is that it is customizable. You can eat it plain, like the first photo above. You may or may not try dabbing it in a little BBQ sauce (yes, I know I'm crazy). Alternatively, you could caramelize some onions and mix them in (second photo above). Caramelized onions take mac & cheese to an entirely new level. I was out of town last weekend, and so I had very few veggies in the fridge, but adding peas or asparagus or broccoli to the pasta water 3-4 minutes before the pasta is done is an easy way to sneak in veggies.

A note about caramelizing onions. I swear, every recipe I see online says this takes 20 minutes. I have never in my life been able to caramelize onions in under an hour. I slice them thinly, toss them in olive oil, and let them cook over medium-low heat in a nonstick saute pan, stirring occasionally, until they are are an oh so delicious caramel color. Theoretically, I suppose you could speed up the process by adding extra sugar, but I've never seen the point.

I also learned something new about caramelizing onions this week. If you put a saute pan on, and the onions have cooked for 30 minutes and are translucent, perhaps slightly brown, all is not lost if one of your best friends guilt-trips you into leaving your perfectly cozy kitchen to get killed at trivia night at a local pub. I put the onions in a covered glass bowl in the fridge, and when I got home I put them into a saute pan over medium-low heat and they finished caramelizing just fine. This might come in handy if you were planning to serve them for a dinner party and wanted to pre-cook them so that they wouldn't take so long before dinner.

Stovetop Style Mac & Cheese

1 box (about 2lb) of pasta*
3 c. 2% milk
1/2 c. 2% milk
6 Tbs. flour
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ground mustard
8 oz. (2 cups) shredded sharp cheddar**
2 oz. (1/2 cup) shredded Parmesan

Optional Add-ins: chopped broccoli, peas, chopped asparagus, caramelized onions, sautéed tomatoes, etc.

Cook your pasta according to the package directions. If you are adding broccoli, peas, or asparagus, just add them to the pasta water a few minutes before the pasta is done.

Meanwhile, heat the 3 c. milk in another large saucepan over medium until little bubbles form around the edges and it is steaming. You want it just below a simmer, but you absolutely do not want it to boil. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the remaining 1/2 c. milk, flour, garlic salt, white pepper, and mustard. Slowly whisk in this mixture to your original pot of milk. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, for about 5 minutes until the mixture has thickened. Whisk in the cheddar and Parmesan. Pour over the drained pasta (or pasta with veggies) and stir.

*I used 1/2 box Barilla Plus Rotini and 1/2 box Barilla Whole Grain Rotini, so that I get both protein and whole grain. The Plus will add a slightly nuttier flavor (which I happen to prefer), but their Whole Grain has a taste and texture that I find indistinguishable from regular pasta.

**You may be tempted to use 2% milk reduced fat sharp cheddar. I have tried that before, and it just doesn't melt properly. The texture of the cheese sauce will be stringy and grainy, so stick with the full-fat cheese instead.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Leftover Pork BBQ Sandwiches

So, I roasted a 4 pound pork loin this week. At the time, I sliced half of it to eat for leftovers, and the other half I sliced into narrow, thin strips/chunks, about 2inx2inx7in. I promptly put said chunks into the freezer because I didn't know when I'd have time to cook again and I didn't want them going bad before I could use them. Well, this afternoon, I ran out of leftovers, and I unexpectedly had some extra time on my hands.

After much googling, pork barbeque seemed like the best (i.e. tastiest/easiest) option for my leftover roast. I highly recommend a food processor for this recipe, as I'm not entirely sure of the best way to shred roasted pork by hand. Normally, I prefer Bull's Eye Original for my barbeque sauce (described to me by a friend at one point as the grown-up version of ketchup), but I had an open bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's in the fridge, so that's what I used.

Leftover Pork BBQ Sandwiches

6 sandwich rolls, and I highly recommend making Crusty French Rolls
~ 3 c. roasted pork loin (mine was leftover from this)
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 large sweet onion, cut into sixths
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 3/4 - 2 c. BBQ sauce
salt and pepper to taste

I defrosted my hunks of pork tenderloin while I was making the rolls. Place the onion and garlic into the food processor with the chopping blade and pulse until they are finely diced, but not liquid. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan until a sprinkle of water sizzles and dances across the surface. Add the onion and garlic mixture to the oil and cook until the onions are translucent, but not browned.

While the onion mixture is cooking, swap the chopping blade for the shredding/grating disk in the food processor. While the food processor is running, use the food chute to push the strips/hunks of pork through the processor until they are shredded. Add the now-shredded pork loin to the saute pan to heat through. Mix in the BBQ sauce, and simmer on medium-low for about 20 minutes, until heated through and well-flavored. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve about 1/2 c. of pork mixture per roll.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Crusty French Rolls

I love bread. I also don't eat bread quickly enough to keep any in the house, so on the days when the cravings get really bad, I make my own. I have been experimenting with dinner roll recipes for several years, trying to find the perfect one. I don't think these are perfect, but they're getting close. They also make amazing sandwich rolls. Hard and crusty on the outside and amazingly soft and chewy on the inside. I may have burnt my tongue because I didn't let them cool before I had to eat one. They are that good. The impetus for my bread-baking this time around was some leftover pork I was hoping to turn into BBQ pork (that will be another post), which, naturally, requires a sandwich roll on which to put it.

While I suppose you could make these by hand, that would be a lot of kneading. Fortunately, I have a KitchenAid, which I absolutely adore, and it makes kneading bread a breeze. I halved the recipe because these rolls will turn rock solid very quickly. If you don't intend to eat them in a day or two, I would freeze the remainder to take out as needed. A full recipe makes 16, but it is fairly easy to halve such that you will have 8. Note that when you halve the recipe, your rising times will also decrease.

Crusty French Rolls (from Country Living)

2 pkgs. active dry yeast
2 1/2 c. warm water (about 110F)
6 1/2 to 7 1/2 c. bread flour
1 Tbs. salt
2 Tbs. cornmeal

In a large liquid measuring cup, stir the yeast into the water with a plastic spoon and set off to the side to stand for 5 minutes. In order to get the water the proper temperature (yeast are temperamental), I run the faucet and stick a thermometer into the stream and play with it until I get it to about 110F, and then I fill my measuring cup. That's much less frustrating than filling and measuring multiple times.

Add 4 c. flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer and turn it on stir (using the paddle attachment) for about a minute. Alternatively, you could whisk the flour and salt together. Once the yeast have foamed a bit on the top (about 5 minutes), pour the yeast mixture into the flour and salt. Beat with an electric mixer (paddle attachment) on medium-low (I think mine was at 2) for 10-15 minutes until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and the paddle appears to "cut" through the mixture so to speak. Pictures below help illustrate that. You might think this is a long time; my advice is to set a timer for 10 minutes and then walk away, rather than compulsively watching the dough come together, wondering if it is done. After 10 minutes, you can start staring at it to determine when it has reached the proper soft dough stage.

Take the paddle out and let the dough "rest" for 10 minutes. This translates to set a timer and walk away from the yummy, yeasty smell. Put the dough hook on the mixer and turn it to medium-low (I set it on 2). With the mixer running, slowly pour the remainder of the flour in and knead for an additional 5 minutes, until the dough looks smooth and elastic. Smooth and elastic is a bit of a term of art in the dough world, but hopefully the pictures below will help clarify. You will need to speed the mixer up to medium or so (I put my KitchenAid on 4 for this stage). The dough is going to smack against the side of the bowl. Do not be alarmed. At the end of 5 minutes, you want the dough to look like the pictures below.

Grease a large glass bowl (a spray of Pam usually does the trick). Take the dough out of the mixing bowl and form it into a ball with slightly floured hands. The best way to do this is to pull little pieces and tuck them underneath until you get a smooth ball. Place the ball upside-down into the bowl and then flip it so that the round smoothness is on top and oiled.

Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free place to rise. I usually turn my oven on warm, let it heat, and then turn it off and place the bowl in there. Alternatively, you can place a pan of very hot water on a lower rack and then place the bowl of dough on top. If, for instance, it is Thanksgiving and your oven has been going for 3 days straight, another good technique is to fill a 9x13 pan with steaming water, place a wire rack over it, and set the bowl on top of the wire rack.

You want to let the dough rise until it is doubled in bulk, which for a full recipe will take about 2 hours, and for a half recipe in my warm oven takes about an hour. Then you will punch the dough down. Take a fist and push it into the middle so that all of the air comes out. Push around the dough to eliminate any air bubbles, and reform it into a ball to rise again. The second rise will go faster, again until doubled in bulk, which will be about 1 1/2 hours for a full batch and about 45 minutes for a half batch.

Water in the oven is what creates the crusty outside deliciousness on these rolls. Fill a 9x13 pan with water, and place it in the bottom of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Take your dough that has now finished its second rise, and divide it into equal parts (8 for a half-batch, 16 for the whole). Sprinkle a cookie sheet with the cornmeal. Tuck the sides of each roll under until you have little rounded lumps, and cover loosely with greased plastic wrap. Let the rolls rise while sitting on top of the preheating oven for 30 minutes. Take a very, very sharp knife and slice across the top of each roll. Place the rolls in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Apple Cider Risotto

As I may have mentioned, I am a picky eater. I am just now reintroducing pork into my repertoire, which is a big step for me as I still won't go near ham or bacon. Pork tenderloin was on sale at Kroger a few weeks back for $1.99/lb, so I picked one up for the freezer and decided I would try my hand at it.

Clockwise, you have the Roasted Pork Tenderloin, the Apple Cider Risotto, some roasted apples and onions, and some broccoli (I decided I needed something green). The pork is drizzled with a balsamic reduction.

The original recipe from which I started, courtesy of Martha Stewart here, called for the reduction to be used as a glaze. I'm sure that would be delicious, but I intended to repurpose half of the half loin and did not want the balsamic flavoring if I turn it into a BBQ pork sandwich (as a single person, I cannot eat 4 pounds of roasted tenderloin without getting totally bored, no matter how amazing it is). I ended up slicing about half of it to go with the risotto, and I put the other half in the freezer to be repurposed at a later date.

The risotto recipe was actually inspired by another lovely cooking blog, How Sweet It is, where she posted a beer risotto last month. I, unfortunately, do not care for beer, but immediately thought of doing an apple risotto with hard cider instead of beer. The result was absolutely delicious, and I imagine that if one loves bacon (sadly, I do not), a little bacon or pancetta crumbled in would make it even better.

Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Onions

Glaze (or drizzled topping):
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs. maple syrup

Pork Tenderloin:
Salt and Pepper
1 4lb boneless half pork loin
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 medium apples (look for a tart, baking apple)
1 large sweet onion

Preheat the oven to 450F. I covered my pork loin liberally with salt and pepper and placed it on a rack in a roasting pan. Peel and core the apples, and then slice them into 8 wedges each. Slice the onions vertically so that you get strips approximately 1/2 inch wide. Toss the apples and onions with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and place them in a jellyroll pan.

I put the apple/onion mixture and the pork loin into the oven at the same time. I cook my meat by temperature, rather than by time. I took the apples and onions out after about 15 minutes, and put them in for the last 10 minutes or so, until they were golden brown. I cooked the pork until it hit 160F and then let it rest for 10 minutes after removing it from the oven. I think it took about an hour, but that probably depends on the size of your cut of meat and how well your oven heats. I probably overcooked my meat, but I'm one of those crazy people who eats even filet mignon butterflied and well.

While the pork and vegetables were cooking, I combined the balsamic and maple syrup in a small saucepan and boiled them together, stirring frequently, until they had reduced by about half. I then let the syrup cool and drizzled it over the sliced meat. Warning: make sure to hold your breath and look away from the reduction (or close your eyes) while stirring. Vinegar fumes singe the eyes and nose, as I learned the hard way. Put it on a back burner and turn on the range fan.

Also while all of this was going on, I started my risotto, which finished right before the pork came out.

Apple Cider Risotto

2 Tbs. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 c. arborio rice
1 large tart cooking apple, finely diced
1 Tbs. lemon juice (to prevent browning)
1 large sweet onion, finely diced
12 oz. hard cider (I used Hornsby's since it was in the fridge, but any will probably do as long as you like to drink it)
3 c. chicken stock (by which I cheated and used 3 c. of boiling water mixed with two chicken bouillon cubes) (you could also use vegetable if you wanted to do a vegetarian version)
1/4 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour oil in a large, deep skillet and heat over medium heat until sprinkled water dances across the surface. Add in the garlic, and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring to prevent burning. Add in the rice, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly so that the rice gets thoroughly coated with the oil. Add in your apple mixed with the lemon juice and onion, and cook for another 2 minutes or so, until the juice has been cooked out.

Pour in the cider in thirds, waiting until all of the liquid is absorbed before adding more, stirring very frequently. Continue adding chicken stock by the half cup, waiting until each pour is nearly completely absorbed before adding more and continuing to stir frequently. At this point it becomes more of an art than a science. Taste test to see if the rice is pleasantly chewy or if it's still crunchy (one is done, the other is not). You may need more or less liquid; I actually ended up adding a 1/4 c. of water at the end because my rice was just a little too firm for my taste by the time I'd used up all of my stock.

Once the rice is to your preferred texture, stir in the parmesan and salt and pepper. Like I mentioned before, I imagine that if one liked bacon, this would be delicious with some bacon crumbled in.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Apologies, but I was out of town skiing in Whistler. I made these lovelies before I left, topped with a little maple syrup. What I actually did was mix all of the dry ingredients and store them in an airtight container for a few days until I had a morning slow enough to be able to make them. The recipe made 7 waffles in my Belgian waffle maker. With the leftovers, you let them cool, and then place them in the freezer in a Ziploc. The following morning, you just pop one straight from the freezer into the toaster (or in my case, toaster oven) until they are hot and crispy. Homemade eggo's, essentially. This is not a light recipe, but it is a wonderful indulgence. I will continue to experiment with other recipes to find something a bit lighter for day-to-day breakfasts.

Waffles (from Southern Living)

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbs. sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 c. milk
3/4 c. vegetable oil

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Stir until thoroughly combined. Combine all of the wet ingredients (eggs, milk, oil) and whisk them together in a large measuring cup. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones, and stir with a whisk until everything is moistened. The batter will still be a little lumpy, and it will make some bubbling sounds. I used about 3/4 cup of batter per waffle in my belgian waffle maker, and I had to turn the cook time (it has an automatic timer) up one more than I usually do to get them appropriately brown and crispy.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lightened Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant was on sale at the grocery store this week, and I made the mistake of shopping while hungry. Fortunately, I limited my impulse buys to the fruit and veggie area, but I still came home with a lovely purple eggplant.

I wasn't entirely sure what I would do with said eggplant, but I watched The Chew a week or two ago where one of the features was eggplant parmesan. I remembered this particular episode because they talked about how eggplant is in the nightshade family, which was a trivia clue later that week at our local trivia spot; yay for daytime television! Thus, pondering my eggplant, I decided the natural thing to do would be to try my hand at my first-ever eggplant parm.

I don't like to fry things. I love fried food, but I hate the smell of fried oil that permeates the kitchen. My waistline doesn't particularly care for fried things either. The recipe below is my spin on a combination of these two recipes: Martha Stewart's Lighter Eggplant Parmesan and EatingWell's Eggplant Parmesan.

Lightened Eggplant Parmesan

1 large eggplant (cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds)
3 eggs
1 c. italian-style breadcrumbs
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. 2% milk
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
4 cloves garlic (minced)
1 c. marinara sauce (I used some I had frozen from a batch a few months ago)
1/2 c. shredded part-skim mozzarella
1/2 c. shredded parmesan

Preheat oven to 450F. Beat the eggs in a bowl with a fork until scrambled. Combine the breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Dip the eggplant slices in the egg until covered and then in the crumb-cheese mixture, and place on a greased jellyroll pan (I don't grease, but I have silicone pan-liners (which I absolutely LOVE)). Bake until lightly browned and crispy, flipping halfway through, approximately 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together 1/4 of the milk with the flour and garlic in a saucepan until thoroughly combined. Add the rest of the milk and 1/2 of the marinara sauce and whisk until thoroughly combined. Turn the heat to medium, and cook, whisking occasionally, until the sauce begins to boil. Once it starts to boil, turn the heat to low and simmer for 2-3 minutes, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. In this particular case, thickened meant I could see the bottom of the pan when whisking the sauce. Remove from heat.

I used a large silicone meatloaf pan, but I would imagine this would work well in an 8x8 or metal loaf pan, but be sure to grease thoroughly. Spread half of the remaining marinara (about 1/4 c.) in the bottom of your dish. Place a single layer of the baked eggplant, and top with the tomatoey béchamel. Repeat until you have filled the pan with your eggplant and sauce. Pour the remaining 1/4 c. of marinara over the top, and sprinkle with the shredded mozzarella and parmesan. Cook for approximately 20-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese has browned, as below.