Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Teamwork Yields a Succulent, Savory Midweek Meal

It's getting to be end-of-the-semester/end-of-the-year crunch time at school, and I don't want to fall into the bad habit of just picking up takeout on the way home from work. So for dinner tonight, I enlisted my roommate's help to cobble together some sort of shepherd's pie for dinner. While I was still at work, I had her make the topping--a carrot and potato mash with buttermilk, ricotta (goat cheese would have been even better!), and a touch of garlic. Then when I got home,  I fashioned a base of ground beef and spicy pork with veggies (a mix of asparagus, sugar snaps, red peppers, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and squash that I unearthed from the freezer) in a savory gravy. I think it turned out delicious and took care of the cooking for two nights! YAY!

Shepherd's Pie with Carrot-Potato-Goat Cheese Mash
(Source: adapted from A Cozy Kitchen)

4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into small dice
4 oz. goat cheese (or any soft cheese you have on hand, like ricotta, farmer's or cream cheese)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
splash of buttermilk, to desired consistency
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
salt, to taste

1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. Italian sausage (hot or mild, as you prefer)
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 lb. asparagus stir fry mix (frozen), or cut veggies of your choice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
splash of red wine (a tablespoon or two)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup beef broth

1. Peel and cut the potatoes and carrots. Place them in a large saucepan and cover with cold water and a good pinch of salt. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender and easily crushed with tongs, approximately 15 to 17 minutes. Drain the carrots and potatoes in a colander and then return to the warm saucepan. Mash the carrots and potatoes, then add the butter, milk, goat cheese and mash until smooth. Add the granulated garlic and salt and pepper to taste.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. In a large saute pan, brown the ground beef and sausage with the onions. In the last couple of minutes before the meat is fully browned, add the minced garlic and continue to cook. Drain the excess fat. Add the frozen veggies and cook for another five minutes or so until tender enough to suit you. Stir in the soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, red wine, and pepper. Sprinkle the meat and vegestable mixture with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for about another minute. Add the beef broth and bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for another five minutes or so, or until the sauce is thickened slightly.
3. Spread the meat and vegetable mixture evenly in a 13 x 9 baking dish. Top with the carrot-potato-goat cheese mash, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling u,p and then smooth with a rubber spatula. Place on a parchment lined sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 30 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bitchin' Brownies!

I am a recent convert to Bitchin' Kitchen on the Cooking Channel. Nadia G is HI-larious, and her recipes always look amazing! Yesterday, my roomie helped me make Nadia G's Dark Chocolate and Goat Cheese Brownies. The recipe calls for refrigerating them after baking and cooling, so I just tried one today, and they ROCK! They have a dense texture, deep, fudgy flavor with notes of caramel (due to lots of brown sugar), and the goat cheese swirl is much like cream cheese, but with more tang. The only changes that I made to the recipe were to make half again as much of the goat cheese topping (to use the whole 6 oz. roll), and I sweetened it with white sugar so that it didn't turn the topping brown. Oh, and I added a teaspoon of vanilla, so maybe it was off-white. Anyway, they are DELISH!

Dark Chocolate and Goat Cheese Brownies
(Source: adapted from Bitchin' Kitchen)

1 cup chopped unsweetened dark chocolate
2 sticks butter
2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour (or pecans, if you prefer)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

3/4 cup fresh creamy goat cheese, at room temperature
5 tablespoons (white) sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Making the batter: Place a double boiler over medium heat. Add the dark chocolate and butter to the top pan and stir until the chocolate has melted. (I did this in the microwave.) Once melted, remove the pan from the heat and let the chocolate cool slightly. Whisk in the brown sugar and eggs. With a wooden spoon, fold in the walnuts, flour and sea salt.

Making the goat cheese mixture: In a large mixing bowl, combine the goat cheese, sugar, egg, and vanilla. Blend using an electric beater set to low speed.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Making the brownies: Line a baking dish with parchment paper and grease with the butter. (I just sprayed the pan.) Pour the brownie batter into the baking dish, then evenly scatter spoonfuls of the goat cheese mixture over the batter. With a knife, score the surface into a pattern.

Bake the brownies for 40 minutes. (I would say mine took 50 minutes or a bit longer.) When done, remove to a wire rack to cool. Once cool, cut the brownies into bars, remove them from the baking pan and refrigerate.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Like it or not, it's still soup season.

It snowed yesterday...on April 20th. *sigh* Since winter refuses to give up its icy grip on spring completely, I am forced to continue to produce bubbling cauldrons of soup. The first was a quick accompaniment to Reuben sandwiches that turned out really delicious, and I admit, was a throw-together from random pantry items. To recreate my tomato, succotash, and spinach soup, combine one can of Campbell's Tomato Bisque, one can of Campbell's Harvest Orange Tomato Soup, two cans of Margaret Holmes' Triple Succotash (undrained), a cup of half-and-half, a teaspoon of granulated garlic, lots of black pepper, and a few shakes of hot sauce. Once the soup is hot, throw in a cup of chopped fresh spinach leaves. Garnish with grated Parmesan.

Then today's very tasty creation was devised of odds and ends from the fridge that needed to be used up, and as I had a matinee theatre performance at Plattsburgh State to attend, I employed my trust crock pot. Thus, I give you...drumroll, please...sauerkraut soup! Savory and hearty stuff, and it made so much, that I will have plenty to take into work and share with my co-workers tomorrow...if the idea of sauerkraut soup doesn't frighten them away. Tee hee.

Crock Pot Sauerkraut Soup

3 tablespoons bacon drippings, divided
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
2 medium onions, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 large red pepper, seeded and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 large carrots, large dice
2 parsnips, diced (optional)
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 lbs. sauerkraut, squeezed and drained (rinse it first, if you prefer)
2 quarts beef stock (or enough to fill your crock pot)
bunch of thyme, tied with kitchen twine
1 teaspoon pepper
salt, to taste
1 pound smoked kielbasa, sliced

In a large skillet, melt one tablespoon of bacon fat and cook the sliced mushrooms until tender and somewhat browned. Strain and add the cooked mushrooms to the crock pot. Melt the other two tablespoons of bacon fat, and saute the chopped onions, celery, and red pepper until tender. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add all of these veggies to the crock pot. Then throw in the carrots, parsnips (if using), potatoes, sauerkraut, beef stock, thyme bundle, pepper and salt. Stir to combine, cover, and cook for 4-5 hours on high, or 8-10 hours on low.

When the soup is almost done, brown the sliced kielbasa in the skillet, then stir into the soup. Remove the thyme bundle, then serve the soup with an extra grinding of pepper, and a piece of buttered rye bread on the side.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Never too much bacon...

Here's one that has been tearing up Pinterest and Facebook lately (sorry, but I have no idea of the original source to give proper credit). Having made it for our dinner tonight, I can see why it's all the rage at the moment. This one's a keeper and destined to go in the regular rotation around here!

Loaded Potato and Chicken Casserole

2 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cut in 1" cubes (I used 2 3/4 pounds)
8-10 medium potatoes, cut in 1" cubes (skins left on)
1/3 cup olive oil (1/4 cup would have been enough, I think--esp. as I used extra chicken and had plenty of marinade)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons granulated garlic (you read that right, but feel free to use just 1 T if you're scared)
6 tablespoons hot sauce (we used 3, and it was perfectly spicy for us)

2 cups shredded fiesta blend cheese (I used Colby jack mixed with 1 tablespoon dark chili powder)
1 cup crumbled bacon--12 thick slices (but 1/2 cup, or 6 slices, would have been plenty)
1 cup sliced green onion (I used 6 green onions which was less than a cup, but that was enough for me)

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Spray a 9X13" baking dish with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix together the olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder and hot sauce. Add the cubed potatoes and stir to coat. Carefully scoop/strain the potatoes into the prepared baking dish, leaving behind as much of the olive oil/hot sauce mixture as possible in the bowl. Bake the potatoes for 45-50 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until cooked through and crispy and browned on the outside.

While the potatoes are cooking, add the cubed chicken to the bowl with the leftover olive oil/hot sauce mixture and stir to coat. Once the potatoes are fully cooked, remove from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Top the cooked potatoes with the raw marinated chicken. Return the casserole to the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. 

In a bowl, mix together the cheese, bacon and green onion. When the chicken is just about done, sprinkle the cheese mixture on top of the casserole and bake for another five minutes, just until melted and gooey!
*This is supposed to be served with sour cream or ranch dressing, but I think it is plenty decadent and flavorful without that. However, a green salad on the side with some ranch or blue cheese dressing is the perfect complement to this dish.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


For the past several year, I have had students recruited from Chongqing, China in my public speaking classes, and they often give speeches on where they are from and their culture. In these speeches, mention is often made of Chongqing's spicy Yu cuisine, and its most famous dish, hot pot. In the seventies, when fondue-ing was all the rage, my mother and I often made a meal of a variety of meats cooked in hot oil in the fondue pot, dipped in soy sauce, and eaten with rice and vegetables. Hot pot is the same sort of deal, but guests around the table cook various meats, vegetables, and dumplings in a fiery, bubbling broth, then dunk each piece into a special dipping sauce before eating. Afterwards, you might throw some noodles in the remaining broth and eat the rest as a soup.

I was teasing my students in class recently about having never been invited to share a hot pot with them, and next thing I know, one of the gals brought in this ginormous package of hot pot seasoning mix for me to try. Wasn't that lovely? (She also brought me some green and black tea. "A" in the class for that student! Tee hee.) So tonight for dinner, I thought I'd create my inaugural batch of hot pot. Now my roommate and I enjoy spicy food, and my student recommended using a quarter of the package, but I quite wisely, as it turns out, only used an eighth of the package, and it still cleared out our sinuses and made our eyes tear!

Instead of sitting around the hot pot and dipping individual pieces in ("Ain't nobody got time for that!"), I made it on the stove top, boiling each kind of food--Asian vegetables, pork pot stickers, skirt steak, and shrimp--and then throwing some softened rice noodles in at the end, and garnishing the whole dish with sliced scallions and chopped fresh cilantro. For the dipping sauce, I used soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, mustard, Hoisin sauce, and garlic, just eyeballing the amounts and tasting it until it suited me.

The verdict on hot pot? Fiery but FABULOUS! However, I did not care for the industrial lubricant quality of the pre-fab hot pot seasoning, so next time, I would just fashion my own hot pot mixture, and in doing so, I will be able to take the heat level down to wimpy American standards. ;-)

Saturday, April 13, 2013

This sh-- is bananas....B-A-N-A-N-A-S!

I hate bananas and banana-flavored things, but I LOVE banana nut bread! So every time my roomie's bananas start to turn brown, I rescue them by chucking them (skin on, just as they are) right into the freezer. Then when I am ready to make banana bread, I thaw them in the sink or in a bowl for just a little bit (as they thaw, they release a lot of moisture), and then they peel easily to throw the fruity innards into the batter. Recently, every time I open the freezer door, a couple of frozen black bananas jump out at me and fall on the floor. I took this a sign that it was time to bake with them.

However, I decided to try to make banana cookies instead, and I don't know why this didn't occur to me before! These cookies are soft and cakey like banana bread (in fact, the batter is nearly identical to my favorite banana bread recipe), but they are browned and crispy all over, like the best part of banana nut bread--the edges! And they keep for a long time, staying soft and not going stale, if you can avoid gobbling them all up in the first day or two, that is!

Banana Nut Cookies
(Source: adapted from Simply Recipes and Vanilla Garlic)

1/2 cup (one stick) butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar (I used half white/half brown)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 1/2 large bananas)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
pinch of salt (1/4 teaspoon if using salted butter, 1/2 teaspoon if using unsalted)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (walnuts and chocolate chips are fine alternatives--I used 1 1/2 cups toasted and chopped walnuts)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

In a bowl, mix the mashed bananas and baking soda. Let sit for two minutes. The baking soda will react with the acid in the bananas which in turn will give the cookies their lift and rise.

Mix the banana mixture into the butter mixture. Mix together the flour, salt, and cinnamon and sift into the butter and banana mixture and mix until just combined.

Fold into the batter the pecans, walnuts and/or chocolate chips. Drop in dollops onto parchment paper or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until nicely golden brown all over. Let cool on wire racks.

Yield: Makes about 30 cookies (I got 31 using a regular cookie scoop and having added an extra half cup of nuts)