Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Art of Living...with Cast Mates That Have Food Issues

I am performing in a musical this weekend, and unfortunately, I picked the worst time in the world to get a cold that then developed into a respiratory infection with bronchitis and laryngitis ("Ain't nobody got time for that!"). So while I was at Walmart yesterday waiting for my prescriptions for antibiotics and codeine cough syrup, I wandered around the store and decided I should make a Mexican fiesta for my cast mates before tonight's performance. The problem is, I've got one gluten-free gal, two vegetarians, one person who hates all vegetables, and two who don't do "spicy." Plus, there are another 20 or so more "normal" eaters in the cast and crew, so I had a lot of different mouths to feed. Talk about a complicated order!

So I made two enchilada casseroles: one was vegetarian and gluten-free using corn tortillas, brown rice, both black and chili beans, sauteed onions, garlic, red and yellow peppers, zucchini, and fire-roasted tomatoes, and then cheese and red sauce. The meaty, gluten-filled version was made with flour tortillas, mild Anaheim pepper strips, chicken spiced with cumin, paprika, and chili powder and mixed with sauteed onions and garlic, along with cheese and then mild green enchilada sauce. There was sour cream to cool things down and my friend Jamie's red savina hot sauce to spice them up.

I also served an easy taco-type salad on the side: iceberg/carrot/cabbage mix topped with shredded cheese, black olives, (prepared) corn and black bean salsa, crispy tortilla strips, with (bottled) avocado ranch dressing. I thought everything turned out great, but I came home with a lot of the GF/vegetarian version, and I actually thought that one was slightly better! Oh well, I won't have to cook tomorrow...or the next day!

P.S. And I came up with what I think is an ingenious idea for keeping the casseroles warm throughout the show. I used an extra-large heating pad underneath the two foil lasagna pans. Worked like a charm, except that it shuts off after awhile (safety feature), so you have to check on it and turn it back on every so often. Still, am I not clever??

Gluten-Free/Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole

2 cups uncooked brown rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion
2 sweet peppers (yellow & red)
1 medium zucchini, shredded
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
2 teaspoons each: paprika, cumin, chili powder
1 teaspoon each: ground celery, seasoned salt, sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
40 oz. red enchilada sauce
18 small corn tortillas
2 cans beans, drained (I used chili beans and black beans--pinto would also be good)
4 cups shredded Mexi-cheese blend

sour cream and/or hot sauce to garnish

Steam the brown rice and set aside. In a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and sauté the onions, peppers, zucchini and garlic until tender. Pour in the can of tomatoes and stir in the spices and sugar. Set aside.

Assembly: In a 9x13 pan, layer in one quarter of the sauce, corn tortillas, half the rice, half of the beans, half of the veggie mixture, about a cup and a half of shredded cheese, and another quarter of the sauce. Repeat the previous layers, ending with a final layer of tortillas and the last quarter of the sauce.

Bake uncovered for about 45 minutes at 375 until bubbly, hot in the middle, and slightly browned around the edges. Add another cup of cheese on top and put back in the hot oven for five minutes just to melt the cheese.

Green Chicken Chile Bake

deli roaster, skinned, boned and shredded
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons each: paprika, cumin, chili powder
1 teaspoon each: ground celery, seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
40 oz. green enchilada sauce
8-10 medium-sized flour tortillas
1 large can (27 oz. or two small cans) mild Anaheim chiles, drained and ripped into strips
4 cups shredded Mexi-cheese blend

sour cream and/or to garnish

Skin, debone, and shred a deli chicken. Set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and sauté the onions until tender. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Mix the onions and garlic and spices to the reserved chicken.

Assembly: In a 9x13 pan, layer in one quarter of the sauce, flour tortillas (cut to fill in spaces), half of the hand-torn pepper strips, half of the chicken mixture, about a cup and a half of shredded cheese, and another quarter of the sauce. Repeat the previous layers, ending with a final layer of tortillas and the last quarter of the sauce.

Bake uncovered for about 45 minutes at 375 until bubbly, hot in the middle, and slightly browned around the edges. Add another cup of cheese on top and put back in the hot oven for five minutes just to melt the cheese.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Stew...for you! (And you and you and you!)

As I mentioned before, I got my BFF Kurt an Instant Pot for Christmas, and he's taken to it like a duck to water. He recently sent me his favorite stew recipe from his favorite classic cookbook that he adapted himself for the IP. Of course, I can't leave well enough alone, so I fiddled with the recipe to suit my tastes, and here's what I came up with. DELISH!

Instant Pot Crazy K Ranch Beef Stew
(Source: adapted from Kurt Proctor and Heritage of America Cookbook)

2 lbs stew meat, cut into 1” cubes (I used sirloin)
seasoned salt

2 tablespoons olive oil
12 oz hot strong coffee
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons double-concentrated tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 large bay leaf
4 medium potatoes, cut in large dice
3 large carrots, scrubbed and cut in large dice
3 large stalks celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1/3 cup cold water
3 tablespoons corn starch
salt, to taste

Heat large skillet over medium high flame. Add oil and coat bottom of the pan. Season the meat. Brown the meat on all sides in the hot pan, but do not cook the meat through.

When browned, put the meat and the drippings no browned bits into the IP and add the coffee, molasses, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, oregano, black and red pepper, and bay leaf. Cover and set to the Meat setting which defaults to 35 minutes.

When the time has elapsed, do a quick release, and then remove the lid. Add the vegetables and beef broth and stir. Replace the lid and set to Manual/high pressure and adjust time to four minutes.

When time has elapsed, do a quick release and remove the lid. Set the IP to Saute mode. Whisk together the cold water and corn starch. Add to the simmering stew and cook until thickened, about three to five minutes, stirring frequently. Correct seasoning if necessary.

Kurt says: "Serve on a freshly baked biscuit, or with the biscuit on the side. Prepare yourself for the oncoming adoration!"

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cheesy, Hearty, and Polenta-ful!

Something came across my Facebook feed recently from Honest Cooking that looked really comforting and delicious called Cheese and Mushroom Polenta Bake with Greens and Caramelized Onions. This dish can be a very hearty and satisfying meatless entree, and also makes a wonderful side dish. The leftovers are great for brunch topped with a fried egg. Oh, and this is a gluten-free dish!

The only significant change I made to this recipe was to use goat cheese and mascarpone instead of ricotta, as that's what I had on hand. But it was delicious and I would do it that way again. Moreover, when I make this the next time, I will make two more changes: I would add some grated Parmesan cheese to the polenta to enhance the flavor, and most importantly, I would cut the total amount of polenta in HALF! The ratio of toppings to polenta would be much better that way, IMHO.

Cheese and Mushroom Polenta Bake with Greens and Caramelized Onions
(Source: adapted from Honest Cooking)

2 cups polenta (I would cut this to 1 cup)
8 cups water (I would cut this to 4 cups)
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons butter 
1/2 cup Parmesan, optional
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
16 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
12 ounces baby spinach or other greens (I used a baby spinach/baby kale mix)
6 oz. log of goat cheese
4 oz. mascarpone
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)

Preheat oven to 375. In a heavy pot, bring six cups (I would just use three cups) water and salt to a boil. Gradually stir in polenta, stirring quickly to avoid lumps. Turn heat to low. When water is completely absorbed, add another half cup of water and continue to stir occasionally. Continue adding water, a half cup at a time, after each time water is absorbed by polenta. Continue to cook for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in butter last (and Parmesan, if using).

In a wide saute pan over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add the onions and stir to coat the onions in oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook over medium low heat until onions are golden and caramelized, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Transfer onions to a bowl and set aside.
Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in the same pan. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook until mushrooms release their liquid and then evaporates. (Also add thyme here if using dried.) Add greens and stir together until just wilted. Return onions to pan and stir to combine.

Spread the polenta on the bottom of a lightly oiled 9 x 13 baking dish. Arrange mushrooms, greens, and onions over the polenta. Mix the goat cheese and mascarpone together, then drop dolloped mounds of the blended cheeses over the vegetable mixture.

Bake for 20 minutes until cheese is melted and soft. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves to serve.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hot Avocados? (Don't Be Afraid.)

Have you seen that Tip Hero recipe video for Avocado Chicken Tortilla Soup going around the interwebs lately? Well, I did, and I made it tonight, and I adapted the recipe to make in my magic pot, and it turned out DEE-licious! It's also easy and so good for you. Now don't let me hear you say, "Eww" to hot avocados. They make this soup creamy and luscious, without any actual cream. It's the good kind of fat, yo! And this dish is endlessly variable, depending on what kinds of toppings you add before serving. This one's a winner, folks.

Instant Pot Avocado Chicken Soup
(Source: adapted from Tip Hero)

1 quart chicken stock (homemade from the IP, please!)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 lbs frozen boneless skinless chicken thighs (sprinkled with seasoned salt, black pepper, granulated garlic, cumin, and chili powder)--about five thighs
1 cup chopped green onions, stems removed
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and cracked
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon chicken soup base
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
juice of two limes
1 teaspoon of honey (or sugar)
2 large avocados, pits removed, scooped out of the shell

Pour the chicken stock into the IP and turn on low saute, then heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat on the stove top. Brown the seasoned chicken thighs on both sides (leave rolled up, don't flatten out), and then put the browned chicken pieces in the pot with the hot stock. Add the onions, jalapeño, garlic, cumin, chicken soup base, and black pepper. Set the IP to Manual/high pressure for eight minutes, then do a quick release.

Remove the chicken from the pot, then shred it into smaller pieces when it has cooled enough to handle. Meanwhile, add the cilantro, both avocados, and honey or sugar to the pot and use an immersion blender until creamy and smooth. Taste and use more seasoned salt if necessary. Lastly, stir in the pulled chicken and lime juice.

Garnish with tortilla chips, shredded cheese, salsa or fresh tomato, sour cream, etc.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Instant Pot Chicken Fajitas for a Potluck Fiesta

I was invited to a potluck dinner last night that I thought started at 6pm. I got home at 5pm, checked the event notice, and realized it actually started at 5. Ugh. Magic pot to the rescue! I took a big package of half-frozen boneless/skinless chicken thighs, seasoned and browned them, cooked them in the IP on high for eight minutes, pulled the meat and threw it in a crock pot with onions and peppers and a package of fajita "skillet sauce," and I was out the door lickety-split and off to my party! (And I brought home an empty crock afterwards! ‪#‎winning‬)

To be more specific, I started with a big package of semi-frozen boneless/skinless chicken thighs (8-10 thighs) that I sprinkled with a cilantro seasoned salt, black pepper, cumin, granulated garlic, and chili powder, then browned on both sides in a large skillet on the stove top with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (I left the thighs rolled together, not flattened out). Next, I put a cup of hot water in the IP and added the browned thighs on top of the trivet, and cooked them on high for eight minutes. Meanwhile, I sauteed two sliced red onions and a scant two cups of sliced red and yellow sweet peppers in a couple more tablespoons of olive oil (on the stove top in the same skillet in which I browned the chicken). 

When the chicken was done, I did a quick release, and then used two pairs of tongs to pull the hot meat apart. I combined the vegetables and pulled chicken along with a pouch of McCormick Roasted Chile, Garlic, and Lime Skillet Sauce. Along with the chicken fajita mixture, I took to the potluck: flour tortillas, a package of shredded Mexi-cheese, a carton of sour cream, prepared medium-hot salsa and mild pico de gallo, some leftover corn and black bean salad, and shredded iceberg lettuce. (Someone else brought guacamole, and I knew the host had a vast collection of hot sauces.) Then folks could make their fajitas as they liked--from mild to wild. Oh, and there were also corn tortilla shells for the one gluten-free guest. Great party idea, right?!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

You need a few bites of sunshine!

I can't complain too much about the North Country winter this year. I mean, heck, it was darn near 70 degrees on Christmas Eve, and the lowest temps we've had so far have been in the single digits (this is often 20-30 below time of year). Still, it's cold and dark, and spring is still months away for us. But fortunately, it's citrus season in the supermarkets, and who couldn't use a little tropical-flavored goodness? Since two of my friends had birthdays this week, I decided to bake some sunny, lemony cupcakes to take to share at karaoke last night. And they turned out just DELICIOUS, if I do say so myself!

Ok, ok, I started with a box mix as a time-saving short cut, but there are lots of things that you can do to make a box mix taste more like homemade. You can swap out milk, buttermilk, or sour cream for the water. (For a chocolate cake, swap out coffee or dark beer or red wine. For white or yellow cake, swap out lemon-lime or grapefruit soda or lemonade or ginger ale.) You can--and should--swap melted butter for the vegetable oil for better texture and flavor. You can add one extra egg for a slightly denser texture. Fresh lemon zest in a white or yellow cake is always a fine idea, as is adding a teaspoon of vanilla to any flavor of cake mix. You can also add other spices, extracts, nuts, berries, chocolate chips, or whatever is hanging around in your pantry or freezer that looks like it would be tasty in your cake. But the most CRUCIAL step in making a boxed mix cake taste special and like you made it all from scratch--hear me now, my people--is to make a luscious, homemade frosting to go on top!

For this particular batch, I used a lemon cake mix (otherwise, I might have used a yellow cake mix and added the zest and juice of a lemon), I swapped out whole milk for the water, melted butter for the vegetable oil, added a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste, and a pinch of salt. Then for the frosting, I made this creamy, dreamy stuff:

Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 stick (6T) butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
zest of a lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

In a stand mixer, blend the cream cheese and butter with the paddle until completely smooth. Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time. Mix until very smooth, then blend in the lemon zest and vanilla. Use to frost 24 completely cooled cupcakes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Helping You Hang onto That New Year's Resolution!

Ok, you MUST make this for dinner! It's CRAZY delicious and so good for you! Seriously, you can eat this and still maintain your tenuous grasp on your New Year's resolution...until the Valentine chocolates are upon us (literally, like on our hips and thighs). Plus, it's like a little taste of summer in the dead of winter. I give you Cajun-Spiced Chicken Breasts (cooked in the Instant Pot) on a Bed of Black Japonica Rice (also cooked in the magic pot) Topped with "Veggie Crack" (aka Black Bean Salad with Corn, Red Peppers, and Avocado in a Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette). Oh yeah.

For the chicken, I seasoned then browned two pounds of FROZEN boneless/skinless breasts in a very hot skillet in two batches, then placed them in the Instant Pot on the trivet over 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth and pressure-cooked them on Manual/high for four minutes with a quick release. For the black Japonica rice, I cooked 1 1/2 cups of rice in a scant two cups of water for 24 minutes on Manual/high in the IP, releasing after 10-15 minutes.

The best part of this meal is the so-called "Veggie Crack," the Pinterest favorite that is so nicknamed because you just can't stop eating it! Of course, this salad would be delicious on its own, and perfect to take to a party or potluck. I followed the recipe almost to the letter, except that I had to use frozen corn because, duh, it's winter. I just steamed a bag of sweet corn in a little water in the microwave for ten minutes then chilled it in ice water for a few minutes, drained it, and added it to the salad. Oh, and I used one red pepper and one yellow, because that's what I had.

Black Bean Salad with Corn, Red Peppers and Avocado in a Lime-Cilantro Vinaigretteaka "Veggie Crack"
(Source: Once Upon a Chef)
Servings: 6-8

15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained

3 ears fresh cooked corn, kernels cut off the cob (or frozen--steamed then cooled)
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced (or any combination of red, yellow or orange)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons peeled and minced shallots, from one medium shallot
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lime zest (be sure to zest limes before juicing them)
6 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
2 Hass avocados, peeled, seeded and chopped

Combine all ingredients except for avocados in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and chill for a few hours or overnight. Right before serving, add avocados and mix gently, being careful not to mash avocados. Garnish with a more chopped cilantro if desired. Serve at room temperature.