Thursday, April 30, 2009

CEiMB - Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce (or, how to make a healthy lunch)

This week's Craving Ellie in Your Belly is brought to us by Oddball Oven Mitt (what a great name for a blog!)

This one came at the perfect time for me. I've been so busy at work and at home that my meal prep is almost at zero. I look in the fridge every morning on my way out the door, see tons of food, none of it suitable for lunch (ginormous celery root, anyone?) and leave empty handed. Once lunchtime arrives, I rush out to the Student Union and grab something that's not very healthy. I opted for orange chicken the other day, and all afternoon I felt ill. Too much MSG and simple carbs made me crash around 3. After an intervention by my trainer, I spent a couple hours that evening making the meatballs for this dish, and prepping the haul from my CSA box to allow easy portability (and readiness for snacks!) The next morning, I made the sauce and packaged up several lunches for the week, along with some basil to snip on with my scissors and some (not freshly grated) parmesan cheese. Big sigh of relief.

Enough about my lunchtime angst and back to the dish. I was excited to make this one because we love spaghetti with turkey meatballs. I purchased all the necessary supplies at Trader Joe's (love that place). I didn't notice that the fire roasted tomatoes were with green chiles, a la Ro-Tel tomatoes, but we like it spicy so I wasn't worried about using them and the chipotle chile. I keep canned chipotle chiles in a ziploc bag in the freezer, and break off an appropriate piece whenever I have a recipe that calls for some. Ditto tomato paste. I made the meatballs while watching TV and doing other veggie prep, and even though I broiled them like Ellie says to do in the cookbook, they burned got very brown. They were hard and dried out and I was a little bummed. I let them cool, packed them up and went to bed.

Before work the next morning, I threw together the spicy tomato sauce. I am learning not to doubt Ellie, because she's always right and it annoys me when she proves my mental taste buds are defective. Because I was doing three things at one time (of course finishing none of them), I managed to burn make the onions very brown. So I added the garlic and cooked it a few moments, then added the rest of the ingredients over the next, oh, 20 minutes. Then I checked the recipe and realized if I was going to stretch out the cooking time like that, I should at least let the golf balls turkey meatballs simmer in the sauce. I simmered the turkey meatballs for a few minutes, and let them languish in the sauce while I started three other things, and even finished two of the things I started before. Sweet!

So, you all know that I *heart* Ellie, but I think the portion sizes are wrong on this recipe. Either that or my measuring cup is defective. Or I bought the bottomless box of spaghetti by accident, the one that they make for households with teenagers and their football player friends. I have so much leftover spaghetti, I could make a spaghetti dinner. What's that? I just made a spaghetti dinner? Oh.

I almost danced into work that morning, with my Ellie meal in hand. When it was time for lunch, I nuked it for two minutes, added the parmesan cheese, and sat down to enjoy. The sauce had transformed the burned nicely browned turkey meatballs, and the flavor was fantastic. Spicy but with a hint of sweetness from the tomatoes. This is one I'll look forward to every day.

If you'd like to join us in cooking through Ellie Krieger's recipes, visit Craving Ellie in My Belly and check out how you sign up. It would be great to have you cooking along with us. Don't you want to open your fridge and know you have a healthy, tasty Ellie meal to take to work?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TWD - Chocolate Cream Tart

Did you hear it? 

The sigh of bliss from all the chocolate loving Tuesdays with Dorie bakers?

This tart brought on the rapture...

Dorie, I love you. Sigh.

Where was I?

This week's recipe was brought to you by Kim of Scrumptious Photography. Kim, I love you, too. I love pretty much everyone after a slice of the tart you selected for us this week.

It was easy to make, especially if you THOROUGHLY read the directions and then followed them. I forgot to do that, so making this tart stretched from the afternoon into the evening and now I'm reporting to all of you at 10 PM. I still have a pile of dishes to attack (more on that later), but I am one fat and happy camper after helping myself to a slice of this tart so I could tell you about it. It was a sacrifice, but one I was willing to make. Now that I've tasted it, I know this tart will be gone in the blink of an eye after I put it out at work. It's not eye candy, but it is the chocolate lover's dream. Perfection. 

I did have a few bumps making it. I initially planned to cut the recipe in half, but after I dumped in the butter, I realized I had forgotten to cut the butter in half. I didn't read the recipe well enough and didn't realize I had to bake the tart shell (after a lifetime of making tart shells, what was I thinking??) First, I had to freeze it, then bake it, then let it cool. Then make the custard, add the melted chocolate (I used Valrhona 61%) and let it cool. Then whip the cream. Then shave some chocolate, try to get a decent photo, eat the subject of the photo, and here I am. Incoherent, but here.

I thought last week's chocolate bread pudding was amazing. Tonight I can hardly remember why I thought that bread pudding was so good because this tart is so rich, so sophisticatedly chocolaty, it's totally captured my heart.

Since I can't seem to put together a coherent sentence, let me just show you a few pictures and then give you the dish count.

The time to remember you're cutting the recipe in half is before you dust the cold butter cubes with the cocoa/flour mixture. Revert to plan B: making the full recipe.

Strain your custard before cooking it. These little yolk bits will interfere with your tart eating pleasure.

The cream cooling in the bowl. Perfect time for a quality control taste. I stressed out a little about the not-velvety texture of my chocolate pastry cream, but I didn't need to worry.

Make sure you leave a little of the cream in the bowl just in case you need another taste.

Oh no. There's a crumb. Quick, eat it.

Much better.

The body count:
Food processor (bowl, blade, lid)
Knife to cut up butter
Several spoons
2 ramekins for egg yolks (plus another for the unused egg whites)
Plastic cutting board to lightly knead the crust
Tart pan
2 whisks
2 spatulas
1 tiny spatula (to get the egg out of the ramekin)
Pan to heat milk
Small plate to rest whisks, spoons, knives, etc. on
Bowl to melt chocolate in
Pan to make custard in 
Strainer (for custard)
Mini strainer (for sifting cornstarch)
3 measuring cups 
Bowl to whip cream in
Beaters from electric mixer (no way I'm getting the KA out to whip 1/2 cup of cream!)
set of measuring spoons
Microplane to grate chocolate
Offset spatula to spread whipped cream

I would do it again in a moment. 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I don't go to Williams-Sonoma. Ever.

This is why.

I fell off the wagon today. Thank God I only had 15 minutes or it could have been much worse. To be fair, my 9" spring form pan doesn't seal well and is rusting badly. I don't own a grill pan and missed grilling this winter (I didn't succumb to the $160 Le Creuset, buying the $31 Lodge Logic cast iron instead). I'm just flat out sick of having to wash the box grater whenever I need to grate a little cheese. AND, I had a 5 year old gift certificate, so my grand total was *only* $46 (yes, I'm turbo rationalizing). 

Do new kitchen goodies make you fantasize about the fabulous things you'll cook with them?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Croque Monsieur, as Ina never imagined it

You know how sometimes you improvise a dish and it works well, or you go overboard and your mouth says "Huh?" when you eat it? I was definitely in danger of the latter this week with Kathy's (of All Food Considered) pick, Croque Monsieur, from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris cookbook. We don't eat ham, so that one was definitely out. No dijon mustard. White bread? Boring! So I went in a completely
different direction. Ina may sue, or I may be thrown out of Barefoot Bloggers, it's that different.

I started at Whole Foods, because I needed bread and cheese for the sandwich. I sometimes find Gruyere cheese to be too strongly flavored, so I decided I would mix Ementhaller and Gruyere. I happened upon a loaf of apple cinnamon bread and I just had to use it for the sandwich. Cheese and fruit are such a classic combination.

At home, I knew I had a package of sliced turkey breast and a jar of mustard, so I was all set. I grated the cheeses, warmed the milk, made the roux, added the milk and a bunch of the cheese and found it to result in a very odd mound of what I imagined was supposed to be a sauce. Hmm... Turns out I added too much of the cheese. Oops.

Since the oven took too long to warm up, I toasted the bread in the toaster, transfered it to the sheet pan, spread the bottom slice with sweet and spicy mustard, grabbed the package of turkey and only then noticed my sliced turkey breast was really pastrami. Yes, turkey pastrami.
It was too late to turn back. I had a mound of "sauce" in the pan, too many graters, dishes and pans already dirty and I was hungry, so there was no turning back. I assembled the sandwich and mounded the "sauce" on the top, precariously balancing the remaining grated cheese on the top, and popped it into the oven. After just two minutes, the mound of "sauce" became a dripping, oozy, cheesy coating of love on my sandwich, which I then browned under the broiler. I did regret not lining the sheet pan with parchment or a Silpat as the cheese laminated to the pan, but that's a problem for later. I dug into the sandwich with knife and fork, and was greeted with an explosion of flavors. The smokiness of the turkey pastrami and the nuttiness of the cheese was perfectly balanced with the sweetness of the apple cinnamon bread and the spicy sweet mustard. I can't imagine it could get better than this. Sometimes turning a recipe upside down is a mistake, but this time it was delicious.

For other crazy innovators, I present Croque Monsieur (as adapted from Ina Garten).
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup hot milk
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch nutmeg
3 ounces Gruyere, grated (1 1/4 cups)
3 ounces Ementhaller, grated (1 1/4 cups)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
8 slices apple cinnamon (or cinnamon raisin) bread, crusts removed
Sweet & spicy mustard (I get mine at Trader Joe's)
4 ounces turkey pastrami

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/4 cup of the Gruyere and Ementhaller mixture, and the Parmesan and set aside.

To toast the bread, place the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted. Or you can use a toaster as I did.

Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of turkey pastrami to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining cheese. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining cheese, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

CEiMB - Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach and Cous Cous

Craving Ellie in My Belly is a group that is cooking from and blogging about The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger. Ellie's recipes are healthy and easy, and generally are winners at the dinner table. Last week, I got carried away with modifying the recipe, including leaving out the star ingredient. It worked out well, but I felt a little guilty.

This week was going to be different. I was going to make this dish (chosen by Marthe of Culinary Delights) without substitutions or omissions. I was excited about the recipe and couldn't imagine wanting to do anything different with it.

Then, I was taken hostage by aliens.

They liked their chicken breasts thick and juicy. They liked doubling some things, but not others. They were saucy, garlic loving aliens. They said they wouldn't hurt me if I followed their orders. This is what they made me cook:

They told me to start by heating a pan and adding some olive oil, followed by chicken breasts. Then they had me turn the chicken, and cook it on the other side. One of them stuck a probe in and it registered 160 degrees. So far so good. 

They gave me a plate for the chicken, then handed me a huge pile of roughly chopped garlic. It must have been 6 or 7 cloves of garlic. I sautéed the garlic, then added a mountain of spinach; it looked like two bags worth. One of them poured a little water in so the spinach would wilt a little faster. I had to put the wilted spinach on another plate. 

Then they had me add about 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar to get the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. More water, and a whole can of diced tomatoes. I protested these recipe modifications, but they got very angry so I thought it was best to go along with what they wanted. They told me to reduce the tomato mixture until about half of the liquid evaporated.

Mysteriously, they opened the microwave and pulled out fully cooked cous cous! Before I knew it, they had plated the chicken and urged me to taste it. 

Wow! Those aliens know their stuff! The reduced balsamic vinegar added a sweetness that counteracted the garlic. This was a great plate of chicken. I looked up to ask them a question, but they were gone. Maybe they were off to another kitchen, maybe even yours, to show off another easy, tasty weeknight dinner. If they come to your home, don't be afraid, they won't harm you.

But they also won't help with the dishes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TWD - Four Star Chocolate Bread Pudding

That's right. Not just any chocolate bread pudding. Four star chocolate bread pudding. This week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection was chosen for us by Lauren of Upper East Side Chronicle. I didn't make last week's recipe, 15 Minute Magic Chocolate Amaretti Torte, but this one seemed very fast and magical in its own way. I hurried to make it as I had whole milk and whipping cream left over from other baking. I looked for challah at my neighborhood grocery store, but there wasn't any so I settled for a sweet batard.

Fortunately, the P&Q was posted on the day I made this, so I benefitted from several of the comments. I learned the chocolate flavor wasn't very strong using 60% bittersweet and it was a bit custardy, so I used 70% and added a few extra cubes of bread after 15 minutes of soaking. Love the P&Q!! 

Dorie has you heat the milk, combine the sugar with the eggs and egg yolks, and then temper the egg mixture with some of the hot milk before slowly adding it while whisking like mad. Dorie, it goes without saying, is a MUCH better baker than I am. By a lot. So even though she doesn't need to, I always strain my custards. And I always have little egg bits in the strainer. This lovely chocolate bread pudding was no exception. And maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but I don't like microscopic scrambled egg bits to mar a transcendent chocolate experience.

I licked the spoon after putting the pan in the oven and it was deeply chocolate. I lurked by the oven door, checking its progress through the glass. The house smelled amazing while it was baking, which isn't a bad thing. One time I was looking at houses and one of the sellers had brownies baking during the open house. Multiple offers. I was one of them.

After 35 minutes, it tested done. I let it cool on a rack and waited impatiently for M. to come home from work. I rationalized that we would have salad for dinner so we could eat a lot of bread pudding for dessert. He sniffed it when he got home and was on board with my plan. 

When we dug into it, I felt like Dorie had mislead us a bit. This really isn't four star chocolate bread pudding. Fourteen star, forty star, maybe. Four stars aren't enough. I both regretted and was relieved that I made a half recipe of this. 

This is by no means health food, so do what we did. Eat a salad, and save room for dessert.

Random notes:
A denser bread will give you a breadier pudding; I used a very hearty bread, and the crunch of the crusts with the creaminess of the custard was really nice.

I scraped all the chocolate remnants at the bottom of the bowl onto the bread pudding and I could really taste those tiny pockets of pure chocolate. They were so sublime, I would consider adding the smallest amount of very very finely chopped chocolate next time, maybe just some shavings.

I had a small serving with creme fraiche and my advice is don't bother, unless intense chocolate is a turnoff for you. It distracted from the flavor of the chocolate, and I missed it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

CEiMB - Lamb-less Stew with Orange

In the interest of full disclosure, I was going to sit this one out. I had a shellfish reaction last Thursday followed immediately by a very bad epinephrine reaction. It must have walloped my immune system because the cold I had rapidly turned into bronchitis. I've missed three days of work, and I rarely take sick days. So I felt like I had a pretty good reason for skipping CEiMB (although I skipped last week, the salmon was in the fridge but I was just worn out after spending the afternoon and evening in urgent care and the ER). I'm not a lamb fan, but I planned to make the stew with chicken and maybe give it a tagine spin. Until I didn't get better.

With the bronchitis hanging on longer than I'd like, I have plenty of time to visit other blogs. I was checking out my fellow CEiMB bloggers, and MacDuff at Lonely Sidecar just knocked me over with her post. First of all, she's channeling the movie Moonstruck, and that had me in stitches. Then, she 86's the lamb and makes this into minestrone. I may feel wretched, but surely I can make a pot of soup. So I did.

The soup had to be made with what I had in the house, so I skipped the parsnips and mint. I started by sauteing the onion, garlic, carrot and celery in olive oil. Then I added salt, pepper, tomato paste, chickpeas, 4 cups of chicken broth and the orange zest. I also threw in a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes and about 1/2 teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika. I supremed the orange since I thought orange segments wouldn't integrate into the dish as well. I skipped the cumin as I thought it would overpower the flavor of the orange (but I think it would be great with lamb). At the end, when it was bubbling away, I added Swiss chard from last week's CSA box and let the heat of the soup cook it.

This was FANTASTIC, and I totally thank MacDuff for the inspiration. It was spicy and fragrant with the orange zest. The only thing I might change next time would be to add half a vanilla bean to the stock and let it add its flowery notes to the soup. Otherwise, it was just what I needed to perk up my taste buds.

This week's recipe was selected by Farah of Confessions of a Novice Baker. Farah blogs from Singapore and is always cooking up yummy things that make me wish I was in her neighborhood. Check out what the other Craving Ellie in My Belly bloggers did here. I bet you'll see a lot of lamb, from people who, uh, know how to follow directions. Unlike me.

Lamb-less Stew with Orange (inspired by MacDuff at Lonely Sidecar, who started with Ellie Krieger's lamb stew recipe)
2 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups chicken broth
3 T tomato paste
1/2 t smoked Spanish paprika
zest of one orange (I used a Microplane)
segments from the same orange (I cut them into supremes)
1 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes
1 bunch Swiss chard

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large skillet. Add the chopped onions saute for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, celery and carrots. Stir and allow to saute for a few minutes. Zest the orange with the Microplane and add to the pot, along with the rest of the ingredients, reserving the Swiss chard. Taste for seasoning, chop the Swiss chard and add it to the piot. Turn off the heat and let the soup cook the chard. Ladle into bowls and serve with a crusty loaf of sourdough.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TWD Rewind - Bill's Big Carrot Cake

I have used the same carrot cake recipe for YEARS. It is always well loved but I was ready for a change. Dorie Greenspan has a carrot cake in Baking From My Home to Yours that was chosen before I joined Tuesdays with Dorie, and I figured I'd give it a try. I have heard whispers about how yummy and flat out fantastic it is from reading some of my fellow TWD bloggers' posts, and I wanted to see how it compared to my go-to recipe.

My recipe has an 8 ounce can of crushed pineapple (juice included) and no coconut. That gives it a LLOOONNNGGGG life in the refrigerator, but that isn't always a plus unless you're a "B" diner. Dorie's recipe has just cinnamon, and mine had a mixture of spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc.) Dorie's calls for raisins or dried cranberries in addition to the nuts. Otherwise, the two were similar.

The recipe came together quickly and smelled amazing while it was baking. Since I made this a couple of weeks before I needed it, I cooled the layers completely and then triple wrapped them in plastic wrap and double wrapped them in heavy duty foil. My freezer is small and my friend Susan has a humongo freezer, so they had a sleep over at her house. On the day I planned to serve the cake, I let the layers sit out at room temperature (still wrapped) for an hour or two before I assembled the cake.

Dorie's cream cheese frosting recipe uses a pound of confectioner's sugar to 8 ounces of cream cheese, but adds a tablespoon of lemon juice to counteract the sweetness. I didn't have an available lemon, so I cut back on the sugar (to 14 ounces). I left the sides of the cake bare as Dorie did in the picture in the book.

This cake rocked our world. I used Vietnamese cinnamon and it gave the cake a wonderful depth of flavor. Normally, I use about half the amount of Vietnamese cinnamon since it's so assertive, but I really liked the spiciness it gave. We even liked it without any frosting.

My old recipe? It's history. Dorie's recipe? It's the future. A very yummy future, indeed. To make this cake a part of your future, check out the book Baking From My Home to Yours. It is an amazing feast of go-to recipes just as great as this one.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

No TWD this week...

...and maybe not much else, either. See, I have something that sounds and feels like the plague (Ed.: only bronchitis, no plague). Coworkers asked me to go home. Friends and loved ones are begging me not to cook for them. As much as I wanted to make anything with "15 minute" in the title, I can't taste anything, and others aren't brave/foolish enough to. I hope to make this one up later in the month. 

I know the rest of my fellow Tuesdays with Dorie bloggers will hit this one out of the park. Please check out what they did here. And stop by and visit Holly of Phe/MOM/enon. I love her blog and am so disappointed I can't make her pick this week.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Chinese Chicken Salad

This week's Barefoot Blogger recipe was chosen by McKenzie at Kenzie's Kitchen. I LOVE Chinese chicken salad, but this one was definitely with an Ina twist. Instead of the chicken being served on a bed of Savoy cabbage, it was combined with asparagus and red bell pepper strips in a peanuty dressing.

I have been preoccupied of late with preparing for a small party I'm throwing this Saturday and so I missed Tuesdays with Dorie this week and Craving Ellie in My Belly last week. I'm throwing my new kitchen a party. So many of my friends and co-workers wanted to see it that it seemed like a fun idea.

With all my planning, I didn't plan to get a cold. Yes indeed. So all my food prep will involve wearing a mask and even more hand washing than normal.

But I digress. Given I'm busy and was just starting to get sick last night, I took a shortcut with this recipe. I bought a rotisserie chicken instead of roasting the breasts. I cut the oil in half, and added crushed red peppers. I cut out the salt entirely.

It was...OK. I hate saying that about an Ina recipe because every other one I've tried has been knock me over good. I think it needs more vinegar and ginger, or perhaps I shouldn't have reduced the oil so much. Sorry, McKenzie, it was a great pick but I think the peanut butter was a bit overwhelming, maybe because I used natural peanut butter.  

Check out what the other Barefoot Bloggers did here.