Monday, January 31, 2011

Still trying to keep those resolutions? Chickpeas to the rescue!

Recently, I got one of those "recipe o' the day" emails from a site called Kitchen Daily, where they shared a Greek-style chickpea salad that looked fairly light and very tasty. As a bonus, it looked pretty quick and easy, especially if you start with canned garbanzos. So one night last week when I didn't have the time or energy for an elaborate dinner, I threw a double batch of the salad together, then I just marinated some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in fresh lemon juice and zest, lots and lots of garlic, salt, pepper, dried oregano, and a pinch of hot pepper flakes, and seared them in a skillet. In less than a half hour, I had Pan-Seared Greek-Style Chicken Breasts and Chickpeas with Red Onion, Feta, Dill and Lemon.

When I served some to my roommate, she joked around, saying it all looked too healthy, like a dietician had prepared it. But soon thereafter, I heard her "mmm's" and "ahh's," so it must not have tasted TOO healthy!  Tee hee. Actually, you can make this a little healthier by going easy on the amount of vinaigrette that you use. In the original recipe, there is more than TWICE the amount of dressing that a reasonable person would actually desire. So I am doubling the salad ingredients below, as I did when I made it so that we would have plenty left over for lunches to take to work. And you know this is the kind of thing that is even better the next day!

Chickpeas with Red Onion, Feta, Dill and Lemon
(Source: adapted from Gail Simmons at Kitchen Daily)

3 cups dried chickpeas, (or 2 - 15.5 oz cans of chickpeas)
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 1/2 cups grape cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2/3 cup finely sliced red onion
2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh dill (I used one of those small clamshell boxes of baby dill)

1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, peeled and gently bashed (I used 3 or 4 large cloves, minced)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
kosher salt* and freshly ground black pepper
**I also added a generous teaspoon of dried oregano

Rinse dried chickpeas and place them in large bowl of water to soak overnight. Drain and place them in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water by 2 inches; add bay leaf and cloves of garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer beans until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Drain and remove the bay leaf and garlic. Allow to cool. (If using canned chickpeas, simply place in a colander and rinse under cold running water).

Make vinaigrette: In a large bowl whisk lemon juice, lemon zest, mustard and garlic. Slowly drizzle in olive oil and whisk to emulsify. Season with sugar, salt* and pepper (and oregano, if using). Set aside to macerate while you prepare vegetables then discard garlic. (I doubled the garlic, minced it, and threw it right in!)

To the bowl, add crumbled feta, sliced tomatoes, red onion, and dill. Add chickpeas and toss to coat everything evenly. Season with more cracked black pepper if desired.

*Note: I do not recommend the addition of salt, as the feta brings plenty of saltiness to the party!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

You say it's your birthday...

Oh my gosh! I just realized that today is a momentous one! Not only is it my sweet puppy Grady's SEVENTH birthday (how is that possible?), but it is also the FIFTH anniversary of the creation of this little blog o' mine. My oh my, time sure does fly...

This doubly festive occasion calls for a very special treat. I started back to work today, so there was no time to make a cake or anything as troublesome. But I had another delicious plan. The new Bon Appetit arrived a few days ago, and as a February issue demands, the main focus was CHOCOLATE (a welcome change from January's interminable health consciousness)! There's a brownie recipe in there that I am dying to try in my wonderful edge pan, but I am a bit "brownied out" right now. So I thought I'd try another chocolatey recipe that caught my eye: Crisp Cocoa Pecan Cookies. Isn't the name itself enough to make you smile? It was a pretty easy recipe, although it requires a lot of passive cooling and chilling time. My advice is to make the batter the first day, then bake them off the next. Then, it's a snap!

As it turns out, and despite their name, my cookies came out more chewy than crisp--ironically, kind of like a flat brownie. Maybe I needed to bake them another minute or two? I followed what the recipe said and let them puff up and then flatten out. But on such a dark cookie, it was hard to see if they were beginning to darken around the edges. Also, I only baked one half sheet pan at a time, with six cookies about 2-3 inches apart, not 5 inches as the recipe stated. They were fine and did not spread into each other on the Silpat, but maybe those choices affected the texture? Not sure.

In any case, the cookies were very tasty, especially with the bittersweet chocolate drizzle on top! I considered leaving it off, but that would have been a mistake, as it took them over the top, both in looks and taste! And birthday or no, Grady is NOT getting one of THESE cookies! He will have to settle for some chicken-flavored Pupcorn and a big rawhide chewie. ;-)

Crisp Cocoa Pecan Cookies
(Source: Bon Appetit, February 2011)

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder (scooped into measuring spoon, then leveled)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
10 tablespoons (11/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon (generous) salt in medium bowl. Stir butter and next 5 ingredients in another medium bowl until smooth. Stir in flour mixture, then nuts. Cover and chill until firm enough to scoop, at least 4 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 3 large baking sheets with parchment. Measure 2 level tablespoonfuls dough; roll between palms into ball. Place on prepared sheet. Using fingers, spread out dough to 3-inch-diameter disk. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing 5 inches apart.

Bake cookies 8 minutes; reverse sheets. Bake cookies until flat and beginning to darken around edges, about 10 minutes. Transfer cookies on parchment to rack (cookies will crisp as they cool). DO AHEAD Can be made 4 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Place rack inside rimmed baking sheet. Place chocolate chips in small microwave-safe bowl. Heat chips in microwave in 15-second intervals until smooth, stirring occasionally. Place cookies on rack. Drizzle melted chocolate over cookies. Let stand until chocolate sets, about 30 minutes.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Need a warm-up?

Last night, I stayed up all night--until five this morning--because the weather report predicted that it was going to hit THIRTY BELOW with a -45 wind chill factor! Having never experienced that kind of cold in this house, I was very worried about pipes freezing and such; so I was the overnight monitor, keeping the wood stove burning brightly and the taps a-trickling. However, the wind advisory was cancelled, and by 5am, it was obvious that we weren't going any lower than 21 below with no wind chill to speak of. Now to those of you from other climes, that may seem impressive (and hideous), but I experienced -23 a couple of years ago, so it wasn't especially exciting, nor worth staying up all night for! :-(

But it was cold enough that most local schools and many businesses were closed today, and my roommate even stayed home from work to try and stay inside and keep warm. (However, when I finally got up and came downstairs at noon, I found her boiling water in the kitchen in a panic because the kerosene monitor heater was "out of fuel." Um...or she could have just hit the reset button! Can I not sleep for a few hours without everything falling apart? Sheesh!)

So the goal for dinner tonight was to make something hot, hearty, and using ingredients I already had on hand, as I was not about to venture out into the frigid weather to go to the store. Of course, I thought to make a soup or stew, but my roomie has this prejudice against soup, believing that it's not substantive enough to count as a proper dinner. So I found a recipe online that I thought would fool her into believing it was, as she put it, "real food." I made a big cauldron of a copycat version of Olive Garden's pasta fagioli soup., and besides a little bit of veggie chopping, it was easy and really good.

Unfortunately, we don't have an Olive Garden in our town--the closest one is in Burlington (VT). So this recipe is handy to have to be able to make one of their tasty soups at home. Because it feed a lot of folks inexpensively, this would also be great for a potluck gathering to take in your crock pot. Actually, I found the recipe on a slow cooker website, and it can even be cooked in a crock pot, which is even handier. But I made it on the stove top in my lovely cassis-colored Le Creuset dutch oven because I was home today to tend to it. Either way, it's yummy and warm and spicy and filling--just the ticket during a deep freeze.

Olive Garden-Style Pasta Fagioli Soup
(Source: adapted from A Year of Slow Cooking)

1 pound lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled and diced (about three very large)
1 cup celery, diced (about two large stalks)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 cups beef broth
2 cans (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes (and juice)
1 jar (16.5 oz) pasta sauce (like Prego)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup small dry pasta (cooked separately*)

In a five-quart stock pot, brown the ground beef. As the meat is browning, add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute until the meat is completely brown, and the veggies are somewhat tender. Add the beef broth to the pot, along with the tomatoes and pasta sauce. Stir in all of the seasonings, bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the pasta separately* to an al dente consistency. Set aside. When the soup has simmered long enough to suit you, add the beans and warm them through. Add cooked pasta to individual bowls and ladle soup over. Garnish with a generous sprinkle of grated parmesan (the real stuff--not that green crap in the can!) before serving.

*If you add dry pasta to the soup to cook, it sucks up too much of the broth. Also, the pasta becomes mushy if you reheat or freeze. So it's best to add it separately. And I would prepare at least a half a (pound) box.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Goldies" for the Globes

A couple of posts ago, I was blathering on about the short list of things that I wanted to accomplish over my winter break, but I neglected to mention the most important goal of all--to see all of the Golden Globe-nominated films before the awards. That's always my goal over winter break, and I never fully realize it, because I live in a podunk town where smaller-release films are slow to come, if they ever come at all, and one can only afford to travel to Montreal and Burlington so often! But I did pretty well this year, and I'll surely be sitting pretty come Oscar time.

So far, my favorite films of the year are The King's Speech and The Social Network (my money's on one of them for Best Picture). I think Best Actor will go to the dishy Colin Firth for playing the tongue-tied monarch, George VI, and Best Actress will be Natalie Portman for the beautiful but creepy Black Swan. The Fighter had an interesting yet predictable story, but absolutely marvelous performances, so I am rooting for Christian Bale as a crack-addicted ex-boxer for Best Supporting Actor and Melissa Leo as a tough-as-nails, opportunistic mother and boxing manager for Best Supporting Actress.

Who knows how the awards season will actually play out, but one thing is for sure--I will have a fitting and thematically-appropriate menu!  Tonight, for example, my Golden Globes dinner will include: Mixed Green Salad with Bacon, Blue Cheese, Almonds and Golden Delicious Apples, Teriyaki Pork Steaks, Creamy Golden Egg Noodles with Broccoli, and for dessert, Golden Yam Brownies (I might just call them "Goldies").  I found the recipe for these "brownies" doing a search for the word "golden" on All Recipes. In doing do, I came across these unusual treats made with...wait for it...YAMS!

I read all of the reviews before starting out (always a good idea), and many of them commented that the "brownies" were a bit bland and very, very sweet. So I followed their advice and added a little spice (cinnamon) and cut back on the sugars (from a total of two cups to one and a half). Oh, and I added a cup of chopped pecans because it seemed like the right thing to do. ;-) The recipe calls for a powdered sugar glaze, too, but even after cutting the sugar in the bars themselves, they were plenty sweet without the topping. However, as close as these come to the carrot cake family, I think I might try a cream cheese frosting in the future.

Whatever you're snacking on tonight, enjoy the Globes! And get out there and see some of the nominated films! (The winter is long, and most of you probably can't get outside to do stuff anyway.)

Sweet Potato "Goldies"
(Source: adapted from All Recipes)

1 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar (I cut this to 3/4 cup)
1 cup white sugar (I also cut this to 3/4 cup)
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
*I added 1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups peeled and finely shredded yam/sweet potato (the finer the shred, the better)
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

Glaze (optional):
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish*.
2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; stir into the batter just until blended. Fold in the shredded yam. Spread the batter evenly in the greased baking dish.
3. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, until a toothpick inserted into the center, comes out clean. Mix together the confectioners' sugar, butter and milk until smooth. Spread over the brownies while they are still warm. They will absorb some of the glaze. Serve hot or warm.

*I baked these in my fabulous Baker's Edge brownie pan, and they took 35 minutes.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

BRRRR! It's chilly/chili time!

You may infer from the scribblings of this blog that I am something of a gourmet. But once in awhile, I crave something lowbrow and bad for me. Often in my household, the consumption of crap food occurs on a Saturday night, accompanied by the viewing of films (which may or may not be crap). This weekend, I was overcome by desire for what I call Chili Fritos, but is alternately known as Frito Pie or Walking Tacos. You know, you love it...the dish that is comprised of Fritos corn chips on the bottom, topped with chili, and garnished with (my preference) a drizzle of ranch dressing, or perhaps sour cream and salsa. Oh, I know, I know. You don't need to say it. But once in a blue moon, it really hits the spot!

To redeem the junk food meal a bit, I did make the chili from scratch. And even though I was kind of throwing things in the pot willy-nilly, it came out GREAT! So I need to make a record of (approximately) what I did for posterity.

Beef and Bean Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 large onion, diced
1 large red pepper plus 1 Fresno pepper, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes with green chiles
1 pint homemade (seasoned and herby) tomato sauce
1 small can regular tomato sauce
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained
1 can seasoned black beans, drained
2 tablespoons spicy BBQ seasoning/rub
2 tablespoons dark chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
scant cup of water

Heat the olive oil in a five-quart Dutch oven. Brown the beef. Add the onions, peppers, and garlic and cook until veggies are tender. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, all of the seasonings and the water, and stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for as long as you can stand it before you have to have some (the longer the better--add a little more water as needed).

Even after two people had a hearty helping of Chili Fritos, there was lots of chili left over. So I chucked the remainder in the freezer for a future dinner. But the future came sooner than expected when I was invited over to my friends' house for a potluck and game night a few days later. I was assigned the entree, but I had already been to the store, and it was so cold that day that I didn't want to make another trip out.

So I began to contemplate a hearty dish that could serve a lot of folks that could be made with what I had on hand. I thought about the chili, but it didn't look like there was enough to serve everyone just on its own. So I decided that it had to be some sort of casserole. Naturally, I considered involving cornbread, but I didn't want to do that thing where you bake the batter on top of the chili and then end up with runniness on the bottom and a big dry chunk on the top.

What I really wanted was to simulate something that had the flavor and texture of a tamale, but without all the work! So I stole an idea from a recipe that I found on the Whole Foods website here. And I think it turned out just as I had envisioned it. Here's what I did to make what I am now calling Tamale Casserole:

I prepared two boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix with a can of creamed corn and a can of drained whole kernel corn (making a softer, moister, denser and sweeter cake to simulate tamale texture). I baked this in a sprayed 9x13 pan for 30 minutes at 400. When cooled, I cut off about an inch all around the cornbread (saving the crispy sides for me to enjoy later!) and crumbled up the rest.

I cleaned the 9x13 pan and sprayed it again with nonstick cooking spray, then added half of the crumbled cornbread, about five cups of homemade leftover beef chili, the rest of the cornbread crumbles, and about a cup and a half of shredded co-jack cheese. I baked it for 30 minutes at 350 degrees*, and served it with salsa and sour cream on the side.

*The one thing I would do differently next time is to cover the casserole with foil while baking to keep the cheese on top soft and melty, though the dinner guests said they preferred it with a crunchy top. Personal preference, I suppose!

Saturday, January 08, 2011


I don't have any major plans for my winter break except to sleep (A LOT), read (A LOT) on my new Kindle that Santa brought me for Christmas (YAY!), catch up on blogging, and maybe squeeze in a few day trips to Albany, Burlington and Montreal, should the weather allow. One of the things I love best about Montreal is all of the wonderful, authentic ethnic cuisines to be sampled there. And you can hardly go a block in that town without encountering a Vietnamese pho (noodle) shop. But I can't drive two and half hours round trip every time I want a bowl of noodles! Thus, I decided it was high time to learn to make my own.

It only took two days, but I did it--made a reasonably authentic and perfectly delicious bowl of pho! It took two days because of my poor planning in starting it too late one night. But the broth really does need to cook for at least three hours, and the longer, the better. I'm sure it actually tasted better the second day, after all the flavors melded. Also, I was able to de-fat the broth more easily after it chilled. So, it all worked out for the best.

I read a lot of recipes online, and this is my amalgamation of all those that I consulted:

Pho Bo, or Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 large beef marrow bones (could also use knuckle bones or a combo)
1 large onion, cut in half
2-inch piece ginger, sliced into thick coins
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and cracked
8 cups water, plus more as it reduces
4 cups beef stock
1 teaspoon beef bouillon (I like "Better Than Bouillon")
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I used low sodium)
1 teaspoon sugar
3 whole cloves
3 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
pinch of whole peppercorns
1 lb. boneless chuck
1 lb. (dry) rice noodles
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced (optional...I had some that needed to be used up)
1/2 lb. rib steak (or steak of your choice), frozen and sliced paper-thin, against the grain

bean sprouts (if you can abide them--I can't!)
red chiles, thinly sliced
green onions, thinly sliced (both green and white parts)
fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
lime wedges
soy sauce

In a five-quart stock pot, heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil and brown the marrow bones on all sides. Also brown the onion halves, and the ginger pieces and garlic cloves. After the bones and veggies have browned, cover them with the water, beef stock, bouillon, fish sauce and soy sauce. Add in the sugar, cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick, bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about an hour.

After the broth has been simmering for about an hour, skim off any fat and impurities that have gathered on top (continue to do this periodically throughout the cooking process, also add more water as needed). Submerge the piece of chuck and cook for another two hours, until the meat is tender enough to shred with just a fork. Remove the meat, shred, and reserve. Also, use a spider or slotted spoon to remove the bones, vegetables and spices from the broth and discard.

When the broth has cooked for at least three hours total, cover the rice noodles with boiling water and let them soak for about ten minutes until tender, then rinse them in cold water and drain. Meanwhile, stir-fry the sliced mushrooms briefly in the other tablespoon of vegetable oil. Slice the frozen steak as thinly as you can manage, going against the grain. Also thinly slice the red chiles and the green onions, chop the cilantro leaves, and cut up some lime wedges.

When you are ready to assemble your soup, get the broth back up to a rolling boil. In a large soup or pasta bowl, put a good spoonful of the mushrooms, some of the shredded chuck, a handful or two of the softened noodles, 10 or 12 pieces of the raw steak, some bean sprouts (if using), red chiles slices, and green onions. Ladle the boiling broth over everything, enough to cover. Sprinkle on a generous amount of cilantro, a big splash of soy sauce and a drizzle of sriracha, and serve with a lime wedge to be squeezed over the soup. Mix it all together and enjoy!