Welcome to my space to discuss my cooking forays (experimental and nonexperimental), share new recipes, brainstorm food ideas, and talk about anything else that might be interesting. :)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Snowed in with a Chicken Pot Pie

Honestly, there are very few meals I'm willing to eat multiple times in only a few days....one of those is chicken pot pie. Depending on whether I make this meal on a weeknight or a weekend, I make it different ways. The best part of it is that it tastes almost as good using a bunch of shortcuts as it does making everything from scratch, so whatever works that day, and whatever you have on hand. I admit that I've never actually made the pie crust from scratch, but one day, I'll get brave enough to attempt that venture. I'll list the recipe both ways here so that everyone can see the shortcut and the long version....give it a try. It's a very flexible recipe that's nearly impossible to mess up and I think you'll enjoy it!

Shortcut Chicken Pot Pie
1 rotisserie chicken
1 bag frozen peas
1 bag frozen cauliflower, broccoli and carrots
1 can reduced fat cream of chicken soup
1 can reduced fat broccoli cheese soup
1 package of 2 rolled Pillsbury pie crusts (found near the break and bake cookies)
1-2 tsp kosher salt
15 grinds black pepper
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
dash cayenne pepper
1 beaten egg or 1 tbsp melted butter

Pull apart rotisserie chicken and add 2 cups of small pieces to a large bowl. Put the entire bag of cauliflower, broccoli and carrots (minus a few stem pieces) and 2/3 cup of peas in a colander and rinse to thaw slightly. Add to bowl. Open cans of soup and add to bowl. Add all spices to bowl and stir everything thoroughly. Spray cooking spray into a pie pan or round casserole and put bottom crust in pan. Pour in all filling and put the top crust on, crimping around the edge (I usually use my fingers, then a fork). Add a few slits in the pie crust so steam won't build up underneath, and brush top with egg or butter (to enhance browning). Bake at 400 for 35-50 minutes, or until top is fully browned.

Homemade Chicken Pot Pie
2-3 boneless skinless chicken (depending on size)
3/4 cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock (Kitchen Basics, or if you have homemade, so much the better)
1 cup fresh broccoli florets, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup fresh cauliflower florets, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup fresh carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into small half-moons
1 cup fresh peas
1 cup russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 shallot, minced
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1/4 cup half and half or cream (can use fat free half and half)
1-2 tsp kosher salt
10 grinds black pepper

1/2 tsp white pepper
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
dash cayenne pepper

homemade pie crust or 2 rolled store-bought pie crusts
1 beaten egg or 1 tbsp melted butter

To prepare chicken: Bring 1 cup chicken stock, 1 cup water and 1/2 cup white wine to a simmer. Add a pinch of kosher salt. Poach chicken breasts, whole, until fully cooked through. Remove and cool slightly, then cut into pieces. Add to a large bowl.

To prepare vegetables: Put broccoli and cauliflower in a microwave safe dish, add 1/4 cup water, cover with plastic wrap (with slits in the top), and microwave for 5 minutes to cook through. Bring salted water to boil in a saucepan and boil carrots and peas until soft. Drain all vegetables and add to the large bowl.

To prepare sauce: Melt butter and saute shallot until soft, then add flour, whisking, to make a roux. Let bubble for about 1 minute. Add 1/4 cup of white wine, whisking. Add 2.5 cups chicken stock (the other half cup in the recipe is in case it's too thick and you need more) and whisk, bringing to a bubble, until thickened. Add half and half or cream, whisking. Add all spices and whisk. Add sauce to the bowl until your filling is the consistency you like it (you may not want to use all of the sauce).

Spray cooking spray into a pie pan or round casserole and put bottom crust in pan. Pour in all filling and put the top crust on, crimping around the edge (I usually use my fingers, then a fork). Add a few slits in the pie crust so steam won't build up underneath, and brush top with egg or butter (to enhance browning). Bake at 400 for 35-50 minutes, or until top is fully browned.

Monday, February 1, 2010

"The Rice" and the power of thinking about dinner on the way home

A few years ago, I had a culinary breakthrough in the car on the way home from work. It was perhaps the first time I've ever come up with a recipe by really thinking about which complementary ingredients would go well together. I immediately stopped by the grocery store, came home and proceeded to make the recipe in this post. It became such a staple that my roommate and I started calling it "the rice" (fear not, we also had "the salad" and "the pasta"...speaking of which, I should post those too).

I think the best thing I can say about this recipe is that I enjoy it so much that I've never felt the need to modify the recipe (unlike most other recipes) and I've made it over an over. I hope you enjoy as much as I do. It's a great side dish for chicken or pork, or even with a seafood dish.

Saffron Rice with Almonds (Also known here as "the rice")
2 cups jasmine rice
4 cups chicken stock (I like actual stock, like Kitchen Basics brand)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped red pepper
1/2-3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp saffron
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2/3 cup grated fresh parmesan cheese

Once all vegetables have been chopped, melt butter and olive oil in a saucier or saucepan with a lid. Add vegetables, salt, white pepper and saffron, and saute until vegetables are sauce and juice has come out to join with the butter and oil. Add the dry rice to the pan and stir around, toasting slightly, for about a minute. Add the chicken stock, stir, bring to a boil and cover. Reduce the heat to low or medium low (depending on the heat of your stove) and cook for 20-25 minutes or until rice is soft and liquid is absorbed.

While the rice is boiling, toast the slivered almonds in a 300 degree oven for 7-10 minutes (until you can smell them, and they are browned, but not too dark).

Remove the rice from the heat, stir in almonds and parmesan cheese and serve.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Foundation for one of the greatest foods on earth

My husband and many of my friends (not to mention yours truly) would probably prefer to have pizza to most any other food on the planet. I was lucky to have delicious homemade pizza as a child. My father found a great dough recipe and was able to get it super thin in the pan, with just the right ratio of crust to sauce to cheese to toppings...perhaps because he's an engineer by trade and pizza was yet another project.

At any rate, I've made pizza many times myself and took Dad's pizza dough recipe and made it my own, adding some cheese and spices to give it even more oomph. You can either press the dough out immediately and add sauce and toppings, or press it into the pan and cover it with a warm moist towel, allowing it to rise slightly for a medium or even a pan-style crust.

Pizza Dough
1 package active dry yeast
2 cups flour (plus some for board)
3/4 cup warm water
1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. italian seasoning
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp olive oil

Mix yeast into water in measuring cup and add sugar, cheese, italian seasoning, salt, and olive oil. Measure flour into large bowl and add liquid mixture, combining fully and add more flour if dough is too sticky. Knead dough in bowl for approximately 3-4 minutes. Lightly oil pizza pan (if not non-stick) and press dough into pan. Top and bake!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Making veggies even more palatable (wrap it in puff pastry with a bunch of cheese)

Nearly two years ago, when my now husband and I first started dating, I made some filled pastry recipes for a gathering of our friends. For that occasion, I decided to try to make (for the first time, which is always of dubious wisdom when entertaining) both ham and cheddar-filled puff pastry triangles and spinach and cheese-filled puff pastry triangles. The ham ones were good, but the spinach ones turned out great. Spinach held nearly all of the cheese inside the pastry and resulted in a moist, cohesive, and flavorful filling. The pastries were much loved, particularly by one friend (the same friend for whom I made the cannelloni), and I've made them probably 10-15 times since then, mostly at her request, though I also had a chance to make them at Christmas this year both for a party that I went to and for our family's traditional Christmas Eve gathering. They were well-received (really, how hard is it to go wrong with a dish that contains both pastry and cheese, right?)

I was reminded of this recipe this week when we tried a frozen Spinach and Feta Pie from Trader Joe's for a quick dinner this week. While I found their pie definitely less than ideal, a great (and admittedly probably slightly less healthy) alternative would be to take this appetizer recipe and make it into a casserole-dish sized pie with a sheet of puff pastry on the top and one on the bottom.

Again, this recipe, inspired initially by the greek dish spanakopita, is a method more than a particular recipe. I've probably never used the same quantities and cheeses twice, and have added and omitted different ingredients at different times. One of the key ingredients I always leave in, though, is nutmeg....it goes well with both the spinach and cheese for a balancing and slightly unexpected flavor. You may want to double the recipe for a large gathering.

Spinach and Cheese Pastries (known by some as "Spinach Delights")
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
10-15 grinds black pepper
1/2-1 tsp kosher salt
dash crushed red pepper
dash nutmeg
1/2 beaten egg
1/4-1/2 cup half and half (can use fat free)
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2-3/4 cup fontina cheese, shredded
1/2 cup sharp aged cheddar, shredded
1 box Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets, defrosted in fridge for a day or two
1 box frozen chopped spinach
1-2 tbsp melted butter (optional)

In a saute pan, melt butter into olive oil and add crushed red pepper, chopped garlic and shallots, salt and pepper, and saute over medium heat until soft. Add to large bowl.

While those ingredients are cooking, defrost frozen spinach in the microwave, put in the middle of a kitchen towel and wring out excess water. Break spinach ball apart and add to the large bowl.

Add cheeses, nutmeg, and half beaten egg to large bowl and mix together. Add half and half, stirring, until mixture sticks together. The filling is done.

Using flour and a rolling pin, roll out each pastry sheet until it's approximately 1.5 times the size it started. Cut into squares with a pizza roller (16 or 20 per sheet for small or 9 or 12 per sheet for large).

To create individual pastries, put about one tablespoon of filling in the middle of each square, brush two adjoining sides with water (with your finger or a pastry brush) and fold into a triangle, pressing the moist sides to non-moist sides. Use a fork to ensure that the edges are pinched together, and brush each pastry with melted butter (using a pastry brush).

Bake on cookie sheets for 15-30 minutes (depending on size) at 400, or until brown on top. Cool on rack.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Making Vegetables Palatable (subtitle: Cover it in Sauce)

For the past nearly two years, I've been on a quest....you might call it a mission.....to try to help my husband like (and not even just tolerate, but actively want to eat) vegetables. Keep in mind that this is a man who, when we first started dating, would pick even small pieces of onion out of spaghetti sauce and wouldn't dream of touching a substance like vegetable lasagna (despite the fact that lasagna is his favorite food).

He feared that all vegetables were bland, had a bad texture and weren't worth eating. I've turned him around to the point where he prefers some vegetables over others (and even says "mmm" while looking at the bowl), but never fails to have at least one serving (and sometimes two!) Granted, I haven't brought forth the much feared and maligned lima bean yet, but I have him somehow believing that I can make lima beans worth eating (I, for one, am not sure that lima beans are ever actually worth eating).

I've found the key to this transformation has been adding flavor to the vegetables through seasoning and, often, a sauce. I try to use sauces that enhance the flavors of the veggies (like a cheese sauce with broccoli, for example).

Here is a simple recipe that combined his love of spicy foods (speaking of which, he will eat anything, if covered in buffalo sauce) with the desire to have sauce on the vegetables. (Yes, yes, there's quite a bit of butter, but hey, vegetables plus a little butter is better than no vegetables at all, right??) I served this to my extended family at Christmas and it disappeared....always a good testimony. The spiciness really balances out the natural sweetness of carrots, and when combined with salt and black pepper, brings forward a very well rounded flavor.

Sweet and Spicy Glazed Carrots

6-8 carrots, washed, peeled and cut into rounds
1 tsp sambal (a garlic chili paste found in the asian food aisle)
3 tbsp butter
2-3 tbsp brown sugar
generous pinch kosher salt
10-15 grinds black pepper

Boil cut up carrots in generously salted water until fork tender. Drain and let steam dry slightly.

Meanwhile, melt butter and brown sugar together in a pan over medium low to medium heat until slightly bubbly. Add salt, pepper and sambal (be careful, it will splatter if the pan is too hot!) and stir together. Once cooked together, add carrots and toss to coat. Voila!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Learning from Emeril

While whiling away the minutes trying to decide what to add next, I was reminded of how much my love for cooking has evolved over the last five years, and I am forced to admit that I learned most of what I know from the Food Network, which really ended up setting off my own experimentation. It started slowly, in about 2003, when I started grad school and began watching Rachael Ray and Emeril on short breaks from the copious reading packets, progressed to Giada DeLaurentis, then Tyler Florence and Barefoot Contessa....ever learning more advanced culinary methods. I now enjoy Iron Chef America, Chopped, and Secrets of a Restaurant Chef (where else are you going to learn how to make a semifreddo?!)

I remember a distinct time in 2003 or 2004 when I watched Emeril LeGasse make a mushroom risotto....though the idea of making such a dish was daunting, I was ready to give it a try. I'm sure it took me about twice as long as was necessary, but the risotto was the best thing I'd ever tasted (back then). I credit that experience with much of my love for cooking (and my particular love for the combination of sauce and carbohydrates...a likely theme joining many of the recipes in this blog).

I realize this all seems a little overdramatic, but learning to make a risotto is an important corner to turn when learning to cook; it requires patience, teaches you about the science of the ingredients, and once you understand the method, the taste possibilities are really endless.

Below is the recipe for a risotto that I made for my parents, aunt and uncle, and friends when I visited home last year. Remember that it's just a method (toast arborio rice in fat, stir in liquid(s) slowly until the rice has softened, add any additional flavors (at varying points in the cooking process), serve!), so customize however you like!

This particular recipe benefits from several different flavors, the most important of which, I've actually discovered, is the acidity of the tomato. It's a great balance for the seafood and adds tremendous depth of flavor next to the wine and parmesan cheese. There is no substitute for the coolness of the goat cheese atop the finished dish. I also realized recently the wonder of fresh peas (rather than frozen....I'm never willing to entertain canned peas even as an option).

Risotto with Shrimp, Peas and Mushrooms

2 cups arborio rice
1/4 cup pinot grigio (or other white wine)
4 cups seafood stock
4 cups chicken stock
1 can died tomatoes
1 lb peeled deveined shrimp
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
3/4 cup fresh peas, blanched in salty water until nearly soft
3/4 cup fresh mushrooms, cut into chunks (cut twice each direction)
2 large shallots, peeled, halved and sliced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
6 tbsp butter
1/4-1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
kosher salt
black pepper
crumbled goat cheese (for garnish)

Mix together seafood stock and chicken stock in a separate saucepan and heat to a near simmer.

Melt the butter in a dutch oven and add garlic and shallots, a large pinch of kosher salt and 20 grinds of black pepper and saute until soft. Add shrimp, cooking until just opaque and remove with tongs to a separate bowl (try to leave shallots and garlic in pan). Add peas and mushrooms and saute until soft. Add arborio rice and toast for about 2 minutes in the butter and vegetable mixture, stirring frequently.

Once rice is toasted, deglaze the pan with white wine and stir. It will bubble off quickly. Pour in the entire can of diced tomatoes (including liquid) and add tarragon. Stir until liquid is mostly gone. Add the stock, ladle by ladle, stirring after each ladle or two, cooking until the liquid is mostly gone each time. Keep repeating, stirring very frequently, until the rice is soft, always keeping the pot at a simmer.

Once rice is soft, add parsley, cooked shrimp and parmesan, stirring until heated through. Serve in bowls, garnished with crumbled goat cheese.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Replicating Cannelloni

So I have a friend who has always disliked "macaroni." By this, she has so far meant any pasta of any kind cooked any way. This is a woman who has a great affinity for the carbohydrate, and for cheeses, so I've always been determined to find a way to help her integrate the many wonderful pastas (particularly those combined with cheese) into her repetoire of beloved dishes. Much to my surprise and delight, when we went out for my birthday dinner at a famous local restaurant, she adored the cannelloni that my husband ordered. I took a bite myself and noted that it was covered in a delicate cream sauce with parmesan and nutmeg and that the cannelloni was quite al dente! (I learned that it's more the "jiggly" texture of pasta that she didn't like, so highly al dente works best!)

I (foolishly) told her that I'd be happy to try to make her a clone, and woke up one morning to do so, realizing that I had only tasted the sauce and pasta and not the filling (which the menu claimed was made of mortadella and "three cheeses"...which specific cheeses were undisclosed...oy!). I also remembered by sight that there was spinach in the mixture, and knew there were mortadella pieces of some description (my husband said "small and thin"), but was awash in an atmosphere of uncertainty about all of the other ingredients!

After going to the local grocery store and staring at the cheese case, I selected three cheeses: ricotta (to make up the bulk of the mixture), mozzarella (to add the traditional salty Italian element), and italian-style fontina (to add creaminess and a depth of flavor to the cheese mixture). Okay, okay, I also added a fourth cheese, parmesan, because honestly, what italian dish doesn't have parmesan?

My friend (and my husband) loved the dish and proclaimed it to taste "exactly like the original, but better"...what luck. :)

Below is the recipe that I came up with (fair warning: I guessed on the quantities I used!):

Three-Cheese Cannelloni with Mortadella in Cream Sauce

One package manicotti or cannelloni

3 tbsp butter
1-2 tbsp flour
12 oz heavy whipping cream
2-4 oz skim milk
1 tsp garlic powder
4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
dash cayenne pepper
dash fresh nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

1/2 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and broken apart
6-8 oz sliced mortadella ham (found in deli section)
1 large shallot, chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, chopped
dash crushed red pepper
3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups part skim ricotta
1.5 cups shredded italian style fontina
1.5 cups shredded mozzarella
1/2 beaten egg
1 tsp salt
15-20 grinds black pepper

To prepare the sauce, melt the butter in a small saucier and add flour, stirring to let the roux (butter/flour mixture) come together. Add the garlic powder, cayenne, and nutmeg and cook through. Gradually stir in the cream, whisking, and let the mixture come to a bubble over medium heat. Use the milk to thin the sauce slightly if the texture is too thick. Add the parmesan cheese and use salt and pepper to taste. Take off the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, boil the pasta in salted water (should taste like the ocean) for a minute or so less than the range listed on the pasta package. It should have a lot of bite (though no crunch), because it will be further cooked in the oven. Rinse the pasta to ensure it doesn't stick together while you work on the rest of the dish.

For the filling, cut up the mortadella into small strips. Mine were about 1/4 inch by 1 inch. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet and add the garlic, shallot and a dash of crushed red pepper to the pan. Salt them (to draw out moisture) and cook until nearly translucent. Add the cut up mortadella to the skillet and cook for several more minutes, until the meat is slightly browned. Remove from the heat.

Mix together mozzarella and fontina cheeses together and save out 1/4 of the mixture for the top of the dish, once assembled.

Add the mortadella/garlic/shallot mixture, spinach, the three cheeses (ricotta, remaining mozzarella and fontina mixture), and salt and pepper to the bowl. Mix through and taste for proper seasoning, THEN add half of a beaten egg to a bowl and mix together. Add a ladle or two of the sauce and mix (as much as you need to make the mixture stick together like a thick paste).

With all of the components, completed, assemble the dish by adding a ladle of sauce to coat the bottom of a 9x13 pan/lasagna pan. Add the filling to a freezer bag and cut off the corner so that you can use it as a piping bag. Pick up a manicotti/cannelloni, and squeeze some of the mixture to the bag into each side of the pasta. Place in the dish and repeat until the filling is gone and/or you have filled the dish. Ladle the sauce over until there is a lot of extra (it will bake in in the oven and it will reheat a lot better if there is a lot of sauce in the pan). Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella/fontina mixture and some additional grated parmesan over the top.

Bake in a 375 oven for 30-45 minutes (or until top is browned). Putting the pan, if it's shallow, on a cookie sheet is a good idea, just to catch any sauce that drips over during cooking. Let set for at least a few minutes when it comes out of the oven so that the sauce can redistribute and the dish can cool slightly.