Friday, January 31, 2014
What to have cooking on the inside . . .
when this is going on, on the outside.
With all the crazy weather going on around the country this past week, I have seen lots of friends on Facebook talk about how wild the weather is in their area. I hate to tell everyone, the weather is not just crazy where you live, it is crazy everywhere. Be it Texas, Colorado, Kansas or Nottingham, England, the weather is unpredictable all over the world, especially during the winter.
Where I usually make a mistake is thinking that the good weather days are typical winter days. No, those are flukes, the snowy, cold days are typical winter days and that's what we should expect and not act surprised when we are hit with an ice storm. Here in Colorado we have a few beautiful days in the middle of January and I settle in, then complain about the cold and snow, in January, in Colorado.
Well, we had a few days of sunshine in the high 50's earlier in the week, and now we have snow on the ground and more moving in. I've decided to try something new this time and settle in and enjoy the snow. I've promised myself that this time I'm going to watch the snowflakes fall gently to the ground while sipping an Irish coffee under a blanket while watching a good movie. I'm also going to put a pot of soup on to bubble away my winter blues, and it just so happens that I have the perfect recipe in mind, spaghetti soup.
This recipe for spaghetti soup is basically a lighter version of my family's favorite meal of all time, spaghetti and meatballs. The slightly thick tomato broth is tangy and a little bit cheesy from the Parmesan that flavors the meatballs. This soup is both substantial and satisfying and just perfect for a cold winter day. All you need is a loaf of crusty bread, a roaring fire, and maybe a little Irish whiskey for your coffee, and you are all set.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 pound ground turkey (ground beef and/or ground pork can be used as well)
1 slice of stale sandwich bread, crumbled into breadcrumbs (about 2/3 cup)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped and divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 slightly heaping tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 - 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth (plus a little more if you like it thinner)
Splash of white or red wine (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 large clove garlic, crushed
5 ounces dried thin spaghetti, broken into thirds
Pour flour out onto a plate; set aside until ready to use.
Place the ground turkey in a large bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, 1/2 of the onion, salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese and beaten egg. Gently mix together being careful not to overwork the meat which will make it tough. Measure out rounded tablespoons of the meat mixture. Roll between your palms to form meatballs. Roll the meatballs in the flour; set aside. This recipe makes approximately 18 meatballs.
Place vegetable oil in a large non-stick or cast iron skillet. Heat over medium high heat until the oil is hot and simmering. Place meatballs in the pan with the hot oil and brown on all sides. When they are golden brown and cooked through, transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon; set aside.
In a large stockpot, pour in the tomatoes, the remaining onion, chicken broth, wine, sugar, Italian seasoning and garlic. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
After 30 minutes check the sauce to make sure that the onion is tender. Gently add the meatballs, replace the cover and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed.
*While the sauce is cooking, cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain, rinse and set aside.
To serve, divide the spaghetti equally between 4 - 6 bowls. Top the spaghetti with equal amounts of the soup and meatballs. Serve piping hot with grated Parmesan cheese and crush red pepper.
Yields 4 - 6 servings.
*I cook my spaghetti separately because I don't like it to get too soft sitting in the sauce if there are any leftovers. If you prefer, the spaghetti can be cooked in the sauce, but I would advise adding an extra cup of chicken broth to make up for what the spaghetti will absorb and to counteract the thickening caused by the pasta starch. I would add it to the sauce shortly before the meatballs are added and cook until tender.
Monday, January 27, 2014
It is no secret that I'm not a football fan, but for just a moment I'm going to jump on the Super Bowl bandwagon with everyone else for this post. Since I'd rather take a stick in the eye than watch the game, I will be at a movie when the game is going on, but that doesn't mean that I won't be making some great snacks for my guys that will be home in front of the TV loving every minute.
Even though I don't get the love of the game, I do get the importance of snacks for the game. The goodies that I leave behind will give my super fans the strength that they will need for all the yelling and clapping that will not only terrorize my dog, but will surely help the Broncos beat the Seahawks.
Inspired by a movie premier that I attended a few days ago, this year I've decided to fly some healthier snacks under the cholesterol radar for the big game. "Super Shrink Me" (click here to watch), is the brainchild of registered dietitian, Boulder native, and super fit, Ande Anderson. It follows her and her partner Ike Allen on his quest to lose 16 pounds in 30 days while eating at fast food and casual dining restaurants. Through Ande's guidance and a little bit of humor, she and Ike show their audience how with a little advanced planning and exercise, anyone can do the same.
After watching this movie and seeing how some simple swap outs or minor omissions (if you call leaving off the cheese and bacon minor), can make a big difference, I am now inspired me to start making some small changes in the foods I cook. I mean if you can find healthier choices at McDonald's then I should be able to do that around here too.
So, I've decided to start lightening up beginning with one of the main attractions of our Super Bowl buffet table, the foot long sandwich station. Usually a bacchanalian feast of meats, cheeses and creamy dressings, I've decided to give this year's sandwich a makeover and serve a version of one of my favorites, the Vietnamese banh mi. For those of you who have never had a banh mi, in a nutshell this sandwich is a combination of pickled vegetables, roasted meat, fresh cilantro, and lots of mayo (at least on mine) piled inside a French baguette.
Wanting to throw my guys off the track of my "evil" lighten up scheme, I still plan on throwing in a creamy component in the form of a chicken salad mixture to keep them guessing. I considered making my sandwich even healthier by putting it on a multi grain baguette and using yogurt instead of mayo, but we're taking baby steps here and I don't want to completely blow their minds.
As you can tell from the photos shown here, I recently made a dry run of this recipe for this post. I have to say that this is better than I hoped it would be. Spicy, sweet, sour, cruncy and creamy, this sandwich is da bomb! And the best thing about it is that I didn't miss bacon and the cheese not one little bit. Oh yeah, Go Broncos!
Spicy Chicken Salad Banh Mi
1 pound boneless chicken breasts
3 cups chicken broth
1 star anise
1 - 2" piece cinnamon stick
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 large carrot
5 large radishes (I used regular old red radishes)
1/4 of a small onion (red or yellow)
1 large cucumber, peeled with seeds scooped out of the middle with a teaspoon, then sliced in 1/4" slices across
2 heallthy dollops (about 1/3 cup) mayonnaise (reduced fat mayo or plain yogurt can be used as a substitute)
1 - 2 teaspoons sriracha
1 small clove garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon fresh gingerroot, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
1 French baguette1 small bunch fresh cilantro, with leaves removed and stems discarded
Place chicken breasts in a medium size sauce pan. Add the chicken broth, anise, cinnamon stick and cloves. Place the pan over medium high heat and bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer breasts until cooked through, approximately 15 - 20 minutes, depending of the size of the chicken breasts. Transfer the cooked chicken to a cutting board and let cool, discarding both the broth and the spices. Cut the chicken into small cubes and chill until ready to use.
In a small sauce pan bring the rice vinegar, sugar and water to a simmer. Stirring occasionally, cook until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
While the pickling solution is cooling, either chop the carrot into small matchstick size pieces or shave 1 - 2" pieces with a potato peeler. Next slice each radish into about 6 thin slices before stacking the slices and julienne slicing those. Repeat with the remaining radishes. Thinly slice the onion into julienne slices from pole to pole. Place all the vegetables in a bowl and cover with the cooled vinegar mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes but preferably 1 hour.
In a medium size bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sriracha, garlic, gingerroot and salt and pepper. Add the chilled chopped chicken to the mixture and gently fold together to completely coat the chicken; set aside.
Cut the baguette down the middle lengthwise. Scoop out a channel in the bread on the top and the bottom. Discard the extra bread or save to use for breadcrumbs. Spoon the chicken mixture into the channel on the bottom. Top with cucumber slices. Spoon the pickled vegetables over the cucumbers, draining as you do with a slotted spoon. Top the vegetables with the fresh cilantro. Close the sandwich by gently pressing the top half of the bread over the filling. Serve with lime wedges to squeeze over the vegetables if desired.
My long and skinny baguette was about 18" long which accommodated my filling amount perfectly. Your sandwich may be thicker or thinner depending on the size of your bread.
As is, this my sandwich served 4 adults. If using as part of a snack table, place on a cutting board with a sharp knife and let your adult guests cut off their desired size piece, or precut into 2 - 3" snack size pieces for easy serving.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
This post is kind of a public service announcement about getting your flu shot if you haven't already. Personally I have never gotten a flu shot. A couple of years ago when the H1N1 flu hysteria was at a fever pitch, I threw a fit out of worry and concern for my kids and made them get one, but I took a pass thinking that I was immune to any kind of flu after years of nursing the sick and wounded in my family. Wrong!
Thursday night my husband mentioned that he had an annoying little tickle in his throat. By Friday morning he was reporting that he had spent the most uncomfortable night of his life with a cough, migraine, chills and body aches. By Saturday morning he was in full blown, moaning and groaning flu misery. I was so relieved and maybe just a little bit smug about the fact that I had dodged the flu bullet and was free to nurse him . . . again.
It was Saturday night when I felt a strange little sensation in my own throat that I knew I was probably in trouble. Knowing that even though my flu probably wouldn't be as bad as my husband's (it never is for some reason), I figured that I would probably be absent from the kitchen for a day or two. I quickly started throwing together the ingredients for a Basque style chicken stew to give my son something to eat during my down time.
I had originally purchased the ingredients for this recipe planning on a blog post about a great slow cooker meal. I love this tomatoey, sweet and sour chicken stew which is inspired by the flavors of the Basque Country that straddles the northern border dividing Spain and France. Not only is it bright and flavorful, but the fact that you just kind of throw it all together makes this recipe close to perfect. Little did I know how comforting it was going to be for not only my hungry son, but also for me and Mr. H when we arose from our death beds needing a little sustenance on the road to recovery.
So I have decided that in the future Mr. H and I will definitely be getting our flu shots every year. I have also decided that it is probably a good idea to have the ingredients for this delicious, nourishing stew on hand just in case we do get sick and need something to bring us back to the land of the living.
Basque Chicken Stew
6 boneless chicken thighs cut into 2" pieces
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons oil
1 medium to large size bell pepper (yellow, orange or red), julienne sliced
1 medium to large size sweet yellow onion,, julienne sliced from end to end
1 large orange, supremed (peeled and separated into skinless sections)
1 teaspoon orange zest
6 large sun dried tomatoes, julienne sliced
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine (red wine is nice too if you prefer)
1 - 15 ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice (I used fire roasted)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 large bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 handful (about 12 - 16) pitted black olives (I used kalamata)
1 handful medium (about 12 - 16) green pitted Spanish olives with or without pimentos
Season chicken thighs liberally with salt and pepper; set aside. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. When oil is good and hot, add chicken pieces and brown on each side. Transfer chicken to slow cooker or stock pot. Add the bell pepper, onion, orange, orange zest and sun dried tomatoes to the chicken.
Add the chicken broth to the frying pan to deglaze it, stirring to loosen any bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour broth over the chicken and vegetables. To this mixture add the wine, tomatoes, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, red pepper, and olives. Give it all a good stir and cover.
Set slow cooker to high and cook for approximately 1 - 1/2 to 2 hours after it starts simmering, or simmer on low on the stove top for 1 - 1 1/2 hours until chicken is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve as is or over cooked noodles or rice. I also like to serve it with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt on top and a sprinkling of cilantro.
Serves 4 - 5 without noodles or rice, or 6 with accompaniments.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
The only black eye on our delicious meal was the bread pudding that we ordered for my birthday dessert. It is a house specialty at this particular restaurant, so to say that we were disappointed in what we got is an understatement. It is usually so good. I'll have to give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk this up to being an off night.
After taking her disappointing spoonful, my daughter happened to make the comment that she never really liked bread pudding anyway and hadn't ever had a good one. Well I couldn't really figure out where that came from because through the years I have made some pretty darn good bread puddings. I guess she never tasted them because she couldn't possibly have been talking about any of mine.
I promised her that night that I would revisit a couple of bread pudding recipes and post them here on my blog for her to make some day. My first recipe was for a savory pudding that was just delicious. It is perfect for any meal of the day. Loved it with a green salad for lunch or dinner or a fruit salad for brunch.
Today I'm sharing a recipe that I know my daughter is really going to like. It is my version of a Delia Smith recipe for chocolate bread and butter pudding. I've kind of simplified Delia's recipe a bit by using cocoa powder instead of bar chocolate, and I promise you it is still very good. The only thing that is non-negotiable in this recipe is the time it needs to set before cooking. Without enough absorption time, there will be white bread in the center and it just won't be at its optimum fudginess when you serve it and that would probably be a chocolate related crime.
Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding
This is a great recipe for a dinner party because it can and should be assembled 1 to 2 days before baking. You can put this together on Thursday or Friday before a Saturday night supper and take the pressure off yourself for one course at least.
10 slices thick sliced white sandwich bread
2 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons dark rum or Kahlua
6 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
1 pinch of cinnamon (optional)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Remove crusts from the bread. Then cut each slice into four triangles; set aside until ready to use.
Place the whipping cream, rum or Kahlua, cocoa, sugar, salt, butter and cinnamon in a heavy bottomed sauce pan which is set over medium heat. Stirring constantly, heat the contents until the sugar and cocoa are dissolved and incorporated into the cream; remove from the heat; set aside.
Whisk the eggs and vanilla extract together in a large spouted bowl. Whisk in about 1/2 of a cup of the hot chocolate mixture into the eggs to temper them. While continuing to whisk, pour the remaining chocolate into the eggs; set aside.
Spray an 9" square baking dish or a pan of the equivalent size with non-stick cooking spray. Give the chocolate mixture another good stirring and pour enough in the bottom of the baking dish to come to about 1/2" up the sides, reserving the rest.
Arrange the bread triangles into rows, overlapping them as you do, on top of the chocolate in the baking dish. Gently pour the remaining chocolate over the top of the bread, completely covering the tops of the bread. If necessary, gently push the bread down with the back of a spoon or fork to cover with chocolate being careful not to compress the bread.
Cover the dish with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for at least an hour and up to 2, before transferring to the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 and up to 48 hours before cooking.
To cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap and bake in the preheated oven on the middle shelf for 25 - 35 minutes or until the top is brown and crunchy, but the bottom is still fudgy and glossy. Be careful not to overcook as this will make a dry pudding. Let pudding stand for approximately 10 minutes before serving with cold heavy cream poured over or vanilla ice cream and lightly toasted pecans.
Serves 6 - 8 very happy diners.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Even though I decided long ago not to get all caught up in my blog stats, I'm no different than most bloggers in the fact that I do check them regularly. I don't check them to see how much my readership grows from day to day, I check them to see what posts get the most views to get an idea of what kind of recipes people are looking for.
Even though the single most viewed recipe on my blog is for Honeycomb Toffee, casseroles and one meal dishes run a close second. In the casserole category, my recipes for Chicken Enchilada Mac and Cheese and King Ranch Chicken lead the pack of views and most pinned on Pinterest. This tells me that home cooks love nothing more than a hearty, easy to make meal. Ok, I got the message.
When I was a kid there were a couple of casseroles that my mom made that I really loved, and I plan on getting around to those, but today I am going to make one that my own children loved as they were growing up, and one that I still enjoy preparing to this day.
I have been making this casserole for so long that I have totally forgotten where I got it from. No kidding, I thought it was Southern Living so I checked my cookbooks and their website, no dice. Then I started combing through the old favorite cookbooks that I use most often, no luck. I'd like to give the original source credit, but I give up. If any of you have any idea where this recipe originated, I hope you'll leave me a comment and let me know.
This particular recipe can be made in just a few minutes by using jarred Alfredo and spaghetti sauces, and I will admit I have done that a time or two while in a pinch, but if I have the time, homemade is the only way to go. Who can resist one creamy, cheesy Alfredo pasta layer and one meaty, tomatoey Bolognese layer all covered in cheese and baked until bubbly and brown? Your family is really going to love this casserole, I promise.
Alfredo Bolognese Pasta Bake
10 ounces mezzi rigatoni (or large elbow macaroni)
1/2 pound lean ground beef, turkey or Italian sausage or a combination of both (for a vegetarian version in place of the meat use sautéed mushrooms, olives, chopped zucchini and/or carrots, or plain marinara)
1/2 medium size yellow onion, chopped
1 - 15 ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 - 8 ounce can tomato sauce
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon granulated garlic (or 2 cloves garlic, crushed), divided
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk or half and half, warmed to room temperature or slightly above
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated Italian blend cheese
Cook rigatoni al dente according to package directions, drain; set aside until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Brown ground beef in a medium size frying pan which has been set over medium high heat. Add onion and sauté for 3 minutes or so, or until the start to sweat. Add chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce, 2 tablespoons butter, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon (or 1 clove crushed) garlic and Italian seasoning; stir well. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until onions are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add salt and pepper to taste and set aside until ready to use.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the bottom of a medium size sauce pan set over medium high heat. Stir in flour to form a paste. Reduce heat to medium and add 1/2 teaspoon (or 1 clove crushed) granulated garlic. Gradually add the milk while stirring vigorously.
Kick the heat back up to medium high. Bring sauce to a boil, stirring constantly; cook the sauce for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, add the Parmesan and salt and pepper to taste, stir well then fold in the pasta; set aside until ready to use.
Spray a 9" x 13" glass baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Pour the pasta and Alfredo sauce into the dish, spreading evenly with a spoon. Spoon the Bolognese sauce over the top of the pasta, forming as even layer as possible. Sprinkle evenly with the Italian blend cheese.
Place baking dish into the preheated oven and bake until it is heated through and the cheese is melted and bubbly, approximately 15 - 20 minutes. Since everything is already cooked, you are just heating it up so be careful not to dry it out by overcooking. Remove from the oven and rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Yields 6 nice size portions.
Friday, January 3, 2014
Happy New Year everyone! Even though it is really just another day, January 1st still gives us all a reason to wipe the slate clean of any of our bad habits and start anew. Where as I love this symbolic restart, I quit making resolutions long ago due to the inevitable loss of momentum after a couple of weeks, giving way to disappointment and self-loathing.
For example, for many years in a row I resolved to quit smoking, but was never able to claim success with a January start. Every time I tried to quit and failed, I felt worse about myself than I did before I tried to quit. I probably repeated this process ten times over.
Success for me finally began one ordinary April day many years ago and took me two years of patches and nicotine gum before I could really claim victory. I have been smoke free for 13 years now, but have to admit that I still have the occasional craving and dreams about smoking. If I live to see my 100th birthday I plan on buying a carton of cigarettes and smoking every one. I feel free to say that I'm sure this is one resolution that I won't find difficult to follow through with. Hey, don't judge.
I guess if someone put a gun to my head and forced me to make a resolution, I would definitely choose to lose some weight. Most of my life I was the skinny kid that could eat anything and as much of it as I liked. It was not until I quit smoking that I started to gain weight. Oh, what a cruel twist of fate that is.
I probably can't blame it all on smoking cessation. I guess I have to look at my food blogging as a contributor. It just seems like there is never a good time to diet. Take right now for instance. Even if I wanted to start a diet I couldn't because the new Downton Abbey season premiers this Sunday and I owe it to all of you out there to post a delicious recipe in case you want to celebrate.
I've been further sacrificing my figure for these past few days in order to find something that I believe is quintessentially English. After a great deal of testing and tasting (see what I mean?) I decided to go with a dish that I know Ms. Pattmore would have probably made many of. I'm not sure how many she served to the family upstairs, but I know that the downstairs would have eaten a ton of them. So whether you are cooking for a group that identifies with the upstairs, or the down, they will certainly all LOVE these.
I chose to make individual size puddings here, but you can easily make one large one by using the same method as below but with a 10" skillet or baking dish. These are delicious served as a starter or side dish filled with meats, gravies, stews or even served with butter and honey. This is also a great Toad in the Hole batter. Just remember, the secret to a good pudding is letting the batter set for at least an hour, sizzling hot oil in the pan and resisting the temptation to open the door while they are cooking.
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
Meat drippings or vegetable shortening or oil for the pan
Place eggs and milk into a large spouted bowl. With an electric mixer, fork or balloon whisk, beat until frothy. Cover loosely and let stand for 15 minutes.
After standing time, whisk in the salt and flour and beat well until smooth and frothy. Cover loosely once again, set in a cool place (not the refrigerator) and let stand for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
For individual puddings, place a pea size amount of meat drippings (this produces a much better tasting pudding in my opinion), vegetable shortening, or oil in the bottom of each cup of a 12 cup muffin tin. Place in the oven for a few minutes or until it is smoking hot.
Remove the muffin tin from the oven. Quickly whisk the batter and pour about 1/4 of a cup into each section. You'll know if the pan is hot enough if it sizzles just a bit when the batter hits the hot fat.
Return the tin to the oven and bake for approximately 15 - 20 minutes or until the puddings are puffy and dry. Serve immediately.
Although delicious as written below, I've dolled my gravy up here with a bit of garlic, dried thyme and bay leaf.
2 tablespoons oil or 3 tablespoons meat drippings
1 tablespoon butter (if not using meat drippings)
1 medium size onion, very thinly sliced into rings, then cut into quarters
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups beef broth, warmed
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil or meat drippings and butter in a medium size frying pan. Once it is hot, add the onion pieces and saute until they are soft and slightly browned around the edges.
Sprinkle the flour over the top of the onions; stir well to coat. Slowly stir in the warm broth, stirring constantly to prevent lumping. Continue to stir until the gravy begins to boil. Lower the heat and simmer for at least 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve while piping hot.
If gravy seems a bit too thin for your liking, simmer uncovered until the desired consistency is reached. If it seems a bit too thick, add some extra broth or water.
Makes approximately 3 cups.
Since most of my readers are American, I used a muffin pan because pudding pans would be hard to find here but it does produce puddings that look more like popovers, and shape is about the only difference in the two. Just for fun I made a second batch of puddings using my pudding pan from England. Again, this pan makes individual puddings, but it is much shallower than a popover or muffin pan.
This pan only makes 4 at a time and each section is about 4" inches wide and 3/4" deep. The trick to this pan is not to overfill it. Just about 1/3 full and 10 - 12 minutes in the hot oven will produce wonderful puddings.