Monday, August 30, 2010

EatingWell's Louisiana Catfish with Okra and Corn

Monday, Monday.  Is the weekend really over?  I kicked ours off by making my husband a Southern-style dinner.  He loves catfish, so I cooked up Louisiana Catfish with Okra and Corn.  I served it with cornbread and collard greens, prepared our favorite way

The catfish recipe was so quick and easy, but light and packed in a lot of flavor.  I love Cajun seasonings!  i found the recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks...EatingWell on a Budget.  I have a feeling I have talked about this one before...but it is really that good.  This is the only cookbook that I've really found that includes recipes that are quick, healthy, and inexpensive.  Do you know any other cookbooks that cover all three?  I find a lot that can fit in two out of three of those categories, but this is the only one I know that is three for three!

I followed the recipe pretty accurately, so I encourage you just to click on over to the EatingWell website and check it out!  It's a keeper!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fruit Cobbler

Here in Internet-Land, there are some recipes floating around for really beautiful, classy cobblers.  This ain't one of them.  If this blog were a Nigella Lawson cookbook, this recipe would go in the "trashy" chapter. 

But, this little cobbler, however humble, is delicious.  And it is healthy (well, healthier than most), and it is quick, and it is cheap.  And I like it. 

But you see those day-glow cherries up there?  Yup.  From a can.  I have no shame about this.  I am not even sure that it should actually be called a cobbler, myself being untrained in the classification of buckles, cobblers, crumbles, etc. 

All of these things aside, this is a nice light dessert.  It's not too sweet.  The crust is moist and comforting.  This literally will take you under 15 minutes to get into the oven.  And it has those little day-glow cherries.  I love day-glow cherries.  I actually used to make this recipe fairly often when I was in high school...with peaches (from a can, of course!).  But I can't convince my husband to eat peach cobbler, even though he ate all the peaches in the fruit cocktail cobbler I used as a substitute.  And went back for seconds (I saw that, honey!).  I think we should all forgive him for coming between me and the canned peaches, since it is thanks to him that we have here a cobbler with day-glow cherries.

Fruit Cobbler
serves 6

1/4 cup light butter, melted
2 16-oz cans fruit cocktail in light syrup, undrained (I used a Triple Cherry Fruit Cocktail in Light Cherry Syrup)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup skim milk

1. Place the melted butter in the bottom of a 9 inch square baking dish.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Drain the fruit cocktail, reserving 1/2 cup of the syrup.
3. Mix together the flour, baking powder, and sugar.  Add the reserved syrup and the milk.  Mix well to combine.
4. Pour the batter directly over the light butter in the dish.  Spoon the fruit cocktail on top.  Do not stir.  Place into the pre-heated oven.  Bake for 35-40 minutes.  Serves well hot, warm, or cold.  Whipped cream or ice cream would not hurt. 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sesame Chicken with Spicy Dipping Sauce

Last summer, my husband and I went to Vermont for a lovely weekend.  We stopped in Quechee in the way home.  Have you been there?  It is an adorable town.  One of us was very excited to visit the Simon Pearce Mill, and one of us was not shy or quiet about the lack of enthusiasm (in other words, dragged).  Nevertheless, both of us had a GREAT time there.  We loved watching the potters and glass-blowers hard at work.  We also had a fantastic lunch at the Simon Pearce Restaurant at the Mill.  Everything about the meal was so lovely.  The setting is gorgeous, over-looking the gorge.  And the Simon Pearce table settings are beautiful.  I think they were even noted by the one of us who was dragged.  We had the Sesame Chicken with Spicy Dipping Sauce, and still fondly remember it a year later!

Naturally, you can imagine my excitement at finding the recipe in Rachael Ray's travel guide: Rachael Ray: Best in Eats in Town on $40 a Day.  It was just as delicious at home, though I lightened and streamlined the recipe a little to make it healthier and quicker.  The original recipe is located at the Simon Pearce website, and if you are curious, you can find it here.  I made less chicken since it is just the two of us, but made the full recipe for the marinade.  I reserved some of the marinade BEFORE putting it on the raw chicken, and then used that to dress the greens and noodles.  This is a really tasty meal!  I made the marinade and dipping sauce ahead of time, and marinated the chicken over night.  When I got home to make dinner, all I had to do was to cook up the chicken tenders and pasta, which took 30 minutes.  It was totally feasible for a week-night.
Sesame Chicken with Spicy Dipping Sauce
serves 4

Sesame Chicken Strips
1 small onion, cut into 1 inch chunks
3 cloves garlic
1 1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger
1/3 cup lemon juice
4 tsp olive oil
3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
3 Tbsp orange juice
1/2 Tbsp crushed red pepper
1 Tbsp brown sugar
pinch salt
1 lb chicken tenders
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 cup all-purpose flour
cooking spray
tender, young greens for serving

1. In a food processor, combine the onion, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, olive oil, soy sauce, orange juice, crushed red pepper, sugar, and salt.  Puree to make a thick marinade/vinaigrette.  Divide the mixture in half.  (This is important; you cannot use the marinade that the raw chicken has been in to dress the pasta/greens.)
2. Combine the chicken tenders with 1/2 the marinade in a plastic container or large Ziploc bag.  Shake and stir to coat.  Marinade in the fridge overnight.
3. The next day, combine the flour and sesame seeds in a shallow dish.  Pre-heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat, and coat the pan with cooking spray.
4. Dredge the chicken tenders in the sesame-flour mixture.  Add the chicken to the hot pan, and cook for about 4 minutes on each side, until the chicken has begun to brown and is cooked through.

Sesame Noodles

13 oz thin whole-grain spaghetti
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 cup scallions, thinly sliced
4 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp soy sauce

1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, in salted water. 
2. Drain, and toss with the scallions, cilantro, sesame oil, and soy sauce.

Spicy Apricot Sauce

2 cup apricot jam
1/2 cup light balsamic vinaigrette
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine

1. Boil down the white wine until it reduces by half.  Lower the heat to medium.
2. Add the remaining ingredients.  Cook over medium heat until the jam melts, and whisk until smooth.
3. Allow to cool to room temperature to serve.  If it becomes too thick while cooling, add a little water.

To serve:  arrange the noodles and greens side by side on a large plate.  Drizzle with the reserved marinade (not the marinade used for the chicken).  Arrange chicken strips on top of the noodles, and serve a small bowl of the dipping sauce on the side.

I am linking this post to one of my favorite features on one of my favorite food blogs -- Saturdays with Rachael Ray over at Taste and Tell.  Do check it out!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sneak Peek at Next Week

I have a lot of teacher trainings next week and some later days, so we are going to realy heavily on the slow cooker!  Here's what we're having...

-Summer Squash Enchilada Casserole with Three Cheeses
-Vegetarian Cholent
-Easiest Pinto Bean and Brown Rice Chili
-Arugula Salad with Toasted Walnuts and Crisp Turkey Bacon

Can you guess which one is NOT going in my slow cooker?!?!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Corn and Chive Cakes Topped with Caramelized Onions and Feta

I bet you are beginning to see how much we like to eat breakfast for dinner!  I am such a zombie in the morning.  My husband makes a mighty fine breakfast, which is the only way I get out of bed.  But sometimes I make breakfast foods for supper.  Pancakes are a great way to save time and money during the week.  These corn and chive cakes are a savory twist on corn cakes, also known as johnnycakes.  We are not big meat eaters, so we are both happy to eat a nice plate of these for dinner.  But if you like more meat in life, I think these would be GREAT with some grilled sausages, or even just some bacon, to stick with the breakfast theme! 

These corn cakes get great flavor from from a combination of fine-ground yellow cornmeal and fresh corn.  The corn flavor marries perfectly with chives -- really, this is one of my favorite flavor combinations.  The sweet caramelized onions and tangy salty feta are a wonderful compliment. 

Lately, I have been making large batches of caramelized onions ahead of time.  This is a great ingredient to make ahead and have on hand!  You can turn them into so many things.  They are great fillings for paninis and quesadillas, and delicious whirled into pasta.  They can also quickly be turned into French onion soup.  I use my food processor to chop or slice the onions, since I have incredibly sensitive eyes.  Then they just cook up when I am doing other things in the kitchen.  I use less fat in mine than the average bear; water works just fine to keep them from burning and sticking, but I just had a thought to try using a little stock or wine next time!  I am curious -- what things do you make ahead to save time?

Caramelized Onions
serves 4 (recipe doubles easily)

2 large yellow onions, sliced or chopped
4 tsp olive oil or butter
water, as needed

1. Place the onions with in a stainless steel skillet with the lid on, over medium heat, for 15 minutes.  Check towards the end to be sure that they are not burning. 
2. When the onions look dry, and are just beginning to stick to the pan, add the oil or butter.  Turn the heat up to medium-high, and remove the lid. 
3. Continue to cook the onions, stirring every few minutes.  They will be tangy and rich in flavor after about 15 more minutes.  You can continue to cook them up to 40 more minutes, at which time they turn deep brown, very sweet, and almost jam-like.  Cook them to your personal preference.  Add water (about 2-3 Tbsp at a time) if they begin to burn or stick to the pan.  (This is almost like making risotto!) 

Corn and Chive Cakes Topped with Caramelized Onions and Feta
serves 5 as a main dish, more as a side dish


1 cup fine-ground yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
2 Tbsp canola oil
corn from 2 large ears, removed from the cob
1 cup chopped chives
caramelized onions
feta crumbles


1. Heat a griddle over medium-high heat.
2. Mix the dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar) well with a whisk.
3. Mix the wet ingredients (eggs, buttermilk, and oil).  Stir the corn and chives into the wet ingredients.
4. Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture, gently.  Do not overmix.
5. Spray the griddle with cooking spray.  Ladle 1/4 cup of the corn mixture into the hot griddle.  Cook over medium to medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes on each side.  Repeat until you have cooked up all of the batter.
6. Serve hot, topped with caramelized onions and feta crumbles (about 1 Tbsp per person).

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Kasha Varnishkes

Well, it is my last day of summer vacation!  This has been the first summer that I have taken completely off, because there really wasn't all that much time between when we got back from our honeymoon and when I go back to work.  It has been really nice.  But now I can't decide how to spend my last day...organizing or relaxing?  What would you do?

Kasha varnishkes are a traditional Eastern European Jewish dish that combines buckwheat with caramelized onions and noodles.  Growing up, we often ate this at Friday night dinners at my grandparents' house.  I always had seconds and thirds and fourths!  This is traditionally a side dish to a meat meal (such as a roast chicken), but I always wanted to just eat the kasha varnishkes.  Now I am a grown up, and there is no one to tell me to eat some chicken I don't!  I just make this as a main dish, and top it with a little sliced hard-boiled egg for protein. 

I make mine with a little less fat, and use whole-grain pasta.  That makes this dish a terrific source of whole grains, protein, and fiber!  Traditionally, this is made with the mini-farfalle (the smaller bow-tie pasta), but I can never find that in whole grain, so I just go ahead and use the bigger noodles.  For the egg topping, I just used the whites on mine, so I could watch my fat and calories a little more careful -- you can use the yolk (like my husband!) if you prefer.  Also, I topped mine with a little extra caramelized onions from a larger batch I had made earlier in the week, which was delicious!  You could just go ahead and use a cup or two extra onion and then reserve some for the garnish. 

Kasha Varnishkes
serves 6-8 as a main course, many more as a side dish
adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman


3 cups chopped onion (I use my food processor!)
2 Tbsp canola or olive oil
1 egg
1 cup kasha, or buckwheat
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups fat-free, reduced sodium chicken stock
1 13 oz box whole-grain farfalle (bow-tie pasta)
extra caramelized onions for garnish (or caramelize extra and reserve)
6-8 additional eggs, hard-boiled for garnish

1. Put the onion in a large skillet with a lid, over medium heat.  Don't fuss around with it, but do check it towards the end so that it does not burn. 
2. Once the onion has become dry, and nearly sticks to the bottom, add the oil.  Raise the heat to medium-high.  Stir a little more frequently, until the onions are nicely browned.  When caramelizing onions, I find it helpful to add a few tablespoons of water now and then if they are drying out too much and sticking.  (Or, if you are more decadent, you could add extra oil.)  Cook for an additional 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, beat the egg.  Add the kasha, and stir thoroughly.  Also, cook the pasta according to package directions.
4. Once the onions are caramelized, add the kasha mixture, along with some salt and pepper (less is more, you can add more to taste later).  Toast the mixture for 3 minutes, until it gains a little color. 
5. Reduce the heat to low, and add the chicken stock.  Cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.  Add the cooked noodles and stir through, then adjust the seasonings to taste.  Garnish with egg slices and additional caramelized onions and serve.

FYI -- I found a box of kasha (the brand is Wolf's) in section of Jewish/Kosher foods of my supermarket.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chicken Ragu over Polenta

Well, it is raining here in the Boston area today.  I cannot remember the last time we had a true rainy day (not just an afternoon thunderstorm).  The novelty of it all is almost kind of nice. 

Here is a meal that would warm your belly...a hot steaming bowl (or plate) of creamy polenta topped with a sweet, smoky tomato-meat sauce.  My husband and I both love to eat polenta, and I love cooking it because it is so healthy, inexpensive, and low in effort.  I've finally found a good, easy technique for lump-free polenta, which I'm happy to share with you!  It took me years to find a way to get the lumps out of my polenta, and I found it in the most unusual of cookbooks, a little volume called Babe's Country Cookbook.  Babe as in the pig from the movie.  I guess you just never know when you will a good recipe! 

The sauce here is adapted from Patricia Wells Trattoria to be a little lighter, but it is a light sauce to start with.  Instead of a dense, rich sauce packed with meat , this is instead a light and flavorful sauce where the meat acts as more of a flavoring or garnish.  Wells calls for sausage meat -- I lightened it up by using ground chicken.  To replace some of the flavor lost by that choice, I added in my top-secret ingredient...1 Tbsp of fennel seeds.  My husband is a fennel-hater, so that was why it was top-secret!  But he really loved this sauce, fennel seeds and all.  Put those seeds in, even if you are a fellow fennel-hater!  They add a sweetness, smokiness, and lovely depth of flavor.  This sauce makes a big old batch.  Now that we are heading back into fall, it is great to have a little tub of this in your freezer just waiting for a last minute pasta supper or a lasagna.

Chicken Ragu
serves 8
adapted from Trattoria, by Patricia Wells

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 strips turkey bacon, chopped
salt to taste
about 8 oz ground chicken
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes in their juice
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, optional
1 Tbsp fennel seeds

1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
2. Add in the onion, celery, carrot, turkey bacon, and a little salt.  Cook until the vegetables begin to soften, and the bacon begins to cook (about 4 minutes).
3. Add the ground chicken, and cook through over low heat, about 7 minutes.  Use a spatula or wooden spoon to break it up as it cooks.
4. Add the crushed tomatoes directly to the skillet, and add the crushed red pepper flakes (if using) and the fennel seeds.  Cook uncovered over low heat until the sauce begins to thicken up, around 20 minutes or so.   Add salt and pepper to taste. 

And now for lump-free polenta!  This is actually a breakfast recipe...cooked for a shorter time, it makes a nice, loose "cornmeal mush" that we love to top with a little milk and honey or maple syrup for breakfast.  If you're in a rush, it's just fine to serve this topped with the ragu  (or anything else) after 10 minutes.  It will just be'll want to serve it in a bowl.  If you want a thicker polenta, give it a good 30-45 minutes when cooking.  You'll notice that the sides begin to move away from the pan, and it will be thick enough to stand a spoon up in!  Also, for a smaller number of people, go ahead and half this recipe.

serves 6
adapted from Babe's Country Cookbook, by Dewey Gram

6 cups water
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 tsp salt
2 cups cold water

1. Bring the 6 cups water to boiling in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. 
2. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine the 2 cups cornmeal with the salt and the 2 cups water.  This stops the lumps in their tracks!
3. Once the water is boiling, add the cold water-cornmeal mixture gradually, stirring the whole time.  Bring back to a boil, but BE CAREFUL.  Polenta can splatter!  Once it reaches a boil, turn down to low, and simmer, from 10-45 minutes, depending on personal preference.
4. Before serving, add salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Apple Zucchini Muffins

I am a true muffin addict!  I crave these little guys.  I love all kinds...blueberry, chocolate chip, bran, morning glory, name it!  I have so many muffin recipes that I am eager to try that I rarely make the same recipe twice, but I like these so much that they've become a favorite (and repeated!) recipe.  I think that this is the perfect muffin for August...a great way to use all that zucchini, and start eating some apples!  These are made with no butter or oil, but the zucchini and buttermilk keep them nice and moist.  I make mine in my mini-muffin pan, and they make great little snacks to pack and a delicious breakfast.  The original recipe calls for just white flour, but I mixed it half and half with some whole wheat flour, which works well with all the zucchini and apple.  But feel free to just use white.  Hope you enjoy these as much as I do!

Apple Zucchini Muffins
yields 12 regular sized muffins, and 24 mini-muffins

3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oat bran
1  1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup buttermilk OR 3/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup grated zucchini (if your zucchini is quite watery, add in a couple Tbsp flour)
1 cup peeled, cored, and chopped apple (chop finely for mini-muffins)
cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spray the muffin pan with cooking spray, and use paper liners if desired.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, oat bran, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt.
3. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs until they are pale yellow.  Add the brown sugar, buttermilk (or yogurt), and vanilla.  Mix thoroughly.  Fold in the zucchini and apples.
4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just blended.
5. Fill each muffin cup so that it is about 2/3 full.  (A cookie scoop or ice cream scoop is excellent for this task.)  For regular sized muffins, bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center of a muffin comes out dry.  For mini-muffins, bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan, and bake for another 5-10 minutes.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sneak Peak at Next Week

Well, I am back to work next week, starting Wednesday.  It was hard to remember how to find some quicker recipes to make!  But, I managed.  Here's what we're having:

-- Salad with Potatoes, Green Beans, and Corn in my Buttermilk Dill Dressing
-- Sesame Chicken with Spicy Dipping Sauce
-- Corn Cakes with Chives, Caramelized Onions, and Feta Cheese
-- Huevos Rancheros
-- Louisiana Catfish with Okra and Corn, served wtih Cornbread

We'll be having lots of side salads this week, due to my big win.  Yes, my big win!  I won a bunch of coupons for Olivia's Organics salads from the lovely Megan over at Delicious Dishings, one of my favorite Boston-area food blogs.  This represents the first time I have won something since I was six and won Chipper the goldfish at the Forest Park Elementary School fair (Chipper was a good fish who lived a long time and who I still miss).  I cannot tell you the excitement these salad coupons have created!  Usually those Olivia's Organics salads are things that I stare at sadly and longingly, and then walk by, since they are a little out of our usual budget.  But not now!  It is great to be able to start off the school year with quick, healthy options ready to go in the fridge.  My mother-in-law LOVES those salads, and she always saves the containers for me to use in my classroom.  Now I will start the school year off with a double stock!  They are great for storage, for art projects, and for planting things in!  Word on the street is that my mom-in-law is a little jealous of all the salad coupons...perhaps I should invite her over for a good salad dinner! 

Hope you all have a great weekend.  What are you doing?  We are going to a Red Sox game tonight!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Braised Celery with Peperoncino and Garlic

Well, here I am again.  Back with that celery recipe.  So glad that you actually came back for a celery recipe.  But seriously, how often do you buy celery, use a stalk or two in a salad or a broth, and then throw out the rest a week or so later?  I do it all the time, and this drives me crazy, because my inner 75-year-old Jewish woman HATES to throw food out. 

(Actually, my poor husband, also known as the Dishwasher, gets stuck with the task of cleaning out the fridge because I just can't stand to see stuff go down the garbage disposal.  It is lucky for him for many reasons, and not just because I would be food hoarder without him and that would be gross.)

But back to the is SO delicious.  I never would have thought of serving cooked celery as a side dish on its own, but I was watching an episode of Lida's Italy last weekend, and was fascinated by the idea.  That, and I had to use that celery!  So we drove all the way to the library so I could check out Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy  and voila, I found the celery recipe and made it. 

Remember how I said my husband liked it even more than the mac and cheese the other night?  Well, I don't know about that, but this recipe can indeed made celery taste good enough to rival mac and cheese, even to me, a HUGE mac and cheese fan.  The celery gets  soft and tender, a little sweet and concentrated in flavor.  It balances nicely with the sweet onion, the garlic, and the spicy red pepper flakes.  If you don't love spicy things, go ahead and leave the red pepper flakes out.  One more thing -- this recipe calls for cooking the celery for about an hour.  I think I cooked it for closer to 40 or 45 minutes...everything else was ready, and it already tasted great, so I just served it.  But try cooking it longer and let me know what I was missing!

Braised Celery with Peperoncino and Garlic
serves 4-6
adapted from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy: A Feast of 175 Regional Recipes, by Lida Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali

2 1/2 pounds celery (1 large or 2 medium heads)
4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup pitted black olives, optional (I did not use them)
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 cups hot water

1. Separate the heads of celery, and clean them well.  Cut into large 4 inch chunks (or smaller pieces, according to preference, which I did).  Include the leaves.  Use a peeler or a paring knife to remove the thick skin and strings on the outer stalks.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven oven medium heat.  Stir in the garlic cloves and the onions.  Heat them until they are sizzling and fragrant.  Add in the celery, and sprinkle the salt and red pepper flakes in as well.  Stir, so that the celery is coated with the oil.  Cook over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes, until the celery starts cooking.  Stir in the olives if using, and turn up the heat a bit.  Cook the vegetables for about 15 minutes, until the celery and the onion begin to brown and caramelize on the edges.
3. Meanwhile, stir the tomato paste into 2 cups hot water to make a braising liquid.  Once the celery is a little bit browned, pour the liquid into the pot and bring it to a boil.  (I used a little less celery, and knew I would be cooking it for less time, so I did not add all the liquid...closer to 1 cup.)  Cover the pan and lower the heat, adjusting the heat as necessary so that the liquid slowly simmers.  Cook for about 45 minutes (or 25-30, in my case!), until the celery is completely soft and caramelized, and the liquid has reduced to a glaze.  (My liquid reduced much less due to my impatience, but the dish was still delicious.)

This is also great cold the next day!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Light Skillet Mac and Cheese

People, this mac and cheese will knock your socks off.  At least it did mine.  Well it would have, if I were wearing socks, but I hate socks.  That's another story.  As for this story, the mac and cheese, I know that people often either prefer the baked kind with the bread-crumb topping, or the stove-top kind.  This is the stove-top kind.  And it is deliciously gooey and cheesy.  And it comes together about as quickly as the stuff in the box.  For real.  Only this is made with whole-wheat pasta and real cheese.  Take that, Kraft! 

Check out the technique cook the pasta in the beginnings of the sauce.  The technique comes from a brilliant cookbook, The Best 30-Minute Recipe, put out by the editors of Cook's Illustrated (of course).  If you are looking for a quick cookbook, this is the one to buy.  The techniques, such as in this recipe, save time brilliantly, and the dishes all taste like they took hours to cook ... even the Chicken Soup with Rice!  All of these recipes can actually be prepared by me in around thirty minutes, while my average for a Rachael Ray recipe (who I am knocking, love her) is more like 45 minutes. 

But me being me, I lightened this recipe up quite a bit.  I used non-fat evaporated skim milk instead of regular.  And...get this...I used less than half the cheese they called for and skipped the butter.  And it was still amazing!  I know, I know, I could hardly believe it myself.  I am still talking to my husband about it, and it's a good thing I have the whole Internet to tell now, because word on the street was he was sick of talking about the mac and cheese.  Basically, I used a half cup of Parmesan cheese to get a ton of flavor from a little bit of cheese, in with a nice, gooey shredded Mexican cheese blend.  And in a moment of craziness or brilliance, am still not sure what, I added two light Laughing Cow cheeses, which melted and really thickened the sauce up. 

So people, if you try one recipe from this blog, try this one.  And then come back tomorrow, because I have the most amazing celery recipe for you.  I know what you're thinking, "A celery recipe?"  But yes, that pesky green stuff that tends to get forgotten about in your veggie bin is totally worth cooking and totally delicious.  (Actually, my husband said he liked the celery even more than the mac and cheese last night, but who's listening to him!?)
Light Skillet Mac and Cheese
serves 3-6


3 1/2 cups water
1 12-oz can non-fat evaporated milk
12 ounces (3 cups) whole wheat pasta, such as elbows or spirals
salt and ground black pepper
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp hot sauce
1 cup shredded low-fat Mexican cheese blend
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (or use half Asiago, half Parmesan, as I did)
2 wedges Laughing Cow cheese, Light Herb and Garlic

1. Get out all of your ingredients and line them up on the counter so you can work quicker.
2. In a 12 inch skillet, combine the water with 1 cup of the non-fat evaporated milk, the pasta, and 1/4 tsp salt over high heat.  Bring to a simmer, and stir often.  Cook until the macaroni is tender, about 8-10 minutes. 
3. Meanwhile, measure out your cheeses.  Unwrap those little Laughing Cow wedges, and cut them into small chunks.  Also, combine the remaining 1/2 cup non-fat evaporated milk with the cornstarch, dry mustard, and hot sauce.  I did this right in the can to save on dishes!
4. Once the pasta is tender, add the evaporated milk mixture.  Continue to simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened.
5.  Turn off the heat, and remove the pan for a minute to stop the boiling.  Add the cheeses, a handful at a time, and stir to melt the cheese.  Stir in the Laughing Cow cheese last, and season with salt and pepper to taste.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to School Time and Sweet and Sour Greens

Well, the countdown starts one week, I am back at work for staff orientation!  I always love this time of year...getting organized, getting the classroom set-up, and buying school supplies.  Just the same, it is always hard to say good-bye to the relaxation of summer.  I am pretty sure the kids have no clue that the teachers often feel the same way they do!

One of the things I am looking forward to this fall is taking a couple of cooking classes at Boston University's Metroplitan College. Have you ever taken any cooking classes?  My husband and I have taken a bunch of classes at BU in the past.  They are demonstration classes, often led by local chefs and food artisans as well as national chefs and cookbook authors.  Each chef spend a day with the BU Culinary students (did you know that program was founded by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin?), and then in the evening, they lead a demonstration class open to the public.  While they are showing you how to cook a few recipes, the BU students are preparing the dishes behind the scenes.  So you get to eat a delicious meal while absorbing everything that you can! We've seen Joyce Goldstein, Helen Chen, Iron Chef Jose Garces, Barbara Lynch, Joanne Chang and Michael Leviton, among others, in the past.  And my favorite part is that you often get to take a cookbook home with you.  Really, I have learned a lot this way.  And we've had a much better experience there than elsewhere in the city.  This semester I am really excited to see David Leite, author of The New Portuguese Table. 

To get your noggin ready for the fall, here is one of my favorite recipes for dark, leafy greens.  This comes together quickly, and it's a great side dish for baked beans, barbecued chicken, grilled sausage, etc.  I've used this recipe with both beet greens and collard greens in the past, and I would recommend trying it with any such green (kale, Swiss chard, even spinach).

Sweet and Sour Greens
serves 4-6
adapted from the American Dietetic Association's Cooking Healthy Across America

3 slices turkey bacon
2 tsp canola oil (approximate)
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp white vinegar
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp salt
12 cups greens, washed, dried, trimmed of stems, and chopped coarsely

1. In a very large skillet (preferably non-stick), cook the turkey bacon according to package directions.  Get the flour, oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and 1/3 cup water ready to go.
2. Remove the bacon from the pan, but leave any fat that has melted off.  You are going to make a roux with the remaining fat and the flour.  Because different brands of turkey bacon have varying amounts of fat, you may need to add a little oil.  Eyeball it -- the goal is to have about a tablespoon of fat/oil in the pan.  Add the flour over medium heat, and whisk it.  It will make a very dry paste.
3. Add in the water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper.  Whisk together to make a thick sauce.  Reduce the heat to low.
4. Add the greens, one handful at a time, stirring after each addition.  Cover the skillet and allow the greens to steam for up to 15 minutes.  Stir frequently so the sauce doesn't just hang out on the bottom!
5. Crumble the bacon and stir back in before serving.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Caramel Sauce

Okay, so I don't know quite how to say this, so I'll just go ahead and say it.  The first time I made this, the Barefoot Contessa let me down.  For real.  Big time.  I followed the directions from Barefoot Contessa At Home, word for word.  And I made...crystallized sugar.  Which was what I had started with.  And which does not make for an exciting ice cream topping.  I fretted.  I stressed.  I managed not to cry.  And then I googled the recipe.  I should do so more often, mainly, before I start a new recipe.  Because it turns out that about 63 other people have also followed this recipe and made crystallized sugar.  So, while my husband was running out to the store to get more sugar and cream, I hatched a plan.  And then I hatched out a successful batch of caramel sauce!
On my stove, this took A LOT longer than the book said it would.  I learned to be patient.  I also learned that it's important to use cane sugar, and not beet sugar.  A few people suggested adding 2 Tbsp corn syrup to prevent the crystallization.  I used 2 Tbsp of Lyle's Golden Syrup, which lent the sauce a most fabulous flavor. If you don't have that (it's a British ingredient), go ahead and use a little corn syrup. 
All of my stress aside, once I made this recipe with a few changes, it was actually marvelously easy.  It took a little while, but you can be puttering around doing all sorts of other things while it's up and going.

Caramel Sauce
yields about 1 and 1/2 cups
adapted from Barefoot Contessa At Home, original recipe here

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp Lyle's Golden Syrup (or corn syrup)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Mix the sugar in 1/3 cup water in a medium, heavy bottomed saucepan.  Mix in the Golden Syrup.  Place the pan over low heat, and cook without stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Ina says it should take 5-10 minutes...I think it took me more like 20-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, measure out the heavy cream and add the vanilla so you are not freaking out at the last minute. 
2. Increase the heat to medium, and boil covered until the sugar turns a warm chestnut brown.  Um, for me, I cooked it until it was the color of my hair (see picture at right), but if you don't have brown hair, go with the chestnuts.  Again, Ina says this takes 5-7 minutes, but it took me much longer (about 20 or so).  Swirl the pan from time to time, and watch it more carefully towards the end.  Using the golden syrup makes it a little harder to see the color change, but it should look significantly darker.  If you have a candy thermometer, the temperature should reach 350 degrees.
3. Remove the pan from the heat.  Add the heavy cream.  Stand back and do this carefully -- the caramel is VERY hot.  The cream will bubble; the caramel will solidify; things will look bleak.  Just put the pan back on low heat, and stir until the caramel dissolves (this only takes a minute or two). 
4. Allow to cool to room temperature.  The caramel will thicken as it cools.  Stays well in the fridge up to 2 weeks, if it lasts that long.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Whole Grain Spaghetti with Summer Squashes, Red Peppers, and Garlic Bread Crumbs

Did you see The Next Food Network Star last night?  I was super excited to see Aarti Sequeira win, since I'd been rooting for her all along.  The series finale followed a great meal at Rialto, in Cambridge.  I am far too finicky to be a restaurant critic, but that was by far the best meal I've ever had for restaurant week.  Delish! 

Speaking of delish...this pasta ain't Jody Adams' pasta, but it's definitely worth trying.  This is a little different, in that there's no real sauce.  The pasta gains it flavor from the slightly sweet, fresh summer vegetables and the crunchy garlic toasted bread crumbs and walnuts.  You can really taste the freshness of the veggies.  The bread crumbs introduce a delightful crunch, and they enhance the nuttiness of whole wheat pasta.  Bread crumbs on pasta might seem strange, but they're actually a traditional Italian substitute for cheese, originating with peasants who had stale bread and no cheese.  Well, I may not be an Italy, but I do live on a peasant's food budget!  (Well, with the exception, of, ahem, that dinner at Rialto.)

Whole Grain Spaghetti with Summer Squashes, Red Peppers, and Garlic Toasted Bread Crumbs
serves 4

2-3 slices hearty whole-grain or whole wheat bread
4 cloves garlic, crushed or thinly sliced
1 1/2 Tbsp finely chopped walnuts
2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow summer squash
1 cup shredded carrots
1 and 1/2 red bell pepper, julienned
1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 pinch nutmeg

1. In a food processor, pulse the bread to create fine crumbs.  Heat 1/2 Tbsp olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add the sliced garlic once it is warm.  Toast the garlic for up to a minute, until it is just starting to gain some color.  Add the bread crumbs and the walnuts.  Toast for about 5minutes, stirring frequently, until the bread crumbs have started to brown.  Add 1/2 tsp salt, mix thoroughly, and pour into a small bowl.
2. Use the shredding disc of your food processor to shred the summer squash and zucchini, as well as the carrot (if necessary).  Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the shredded vegetables to the pan, and saute until tender, about 5-7 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions.  Once the carrots and squash have softened, add the julienned red pepper.  Add the basil, oregano, and the pinch of nutmeg to the vegetable mixture.  Add 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste), and season the vegetables generously with freshly ground black pepper. 
3. Once the pasta is cooked, spoon it into four bowls.  Top each pasta with a mound of the vegetable mixture, and then a few spoonfuls of the bread crumbs and serve.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chicken Teryiaki and Grilled Pineapple

This made for a fairly quick and delicious dinner last week.  Sometimes I like serving fruit on the side instead of livens things up a bit!  Teryiaki has always been one of my favorite flavors because I love the combination of sweet and salty, and I put tons of ginger in mine to liven things up.  Making your own teryiaki sauce is really quick and easy.  I use my mini-food processor to whir it up.  Do you have one of these?  I can't believe I ever lived without it!  It's great for chopping an onion, mixing a sauce, and goes right into the dishwasher without being a total space-hog.  Speaking of appliances...we live in an apartment with no outdoor space.  So I used my new Cuisenart Griddler to grill up my pineapple.  I had the Griddler on our wedding registry, and I will 'fess up now...I was sort of campaigning for it.  My mom got it for us (how did she ever know?), and I LOVE it!  It's great for grilling in larger batches, making a ton of pancakes at once, or making panini.  Plus, it heats the apartment up less than a grill pan on the stove.  And the grill/griddle plates can pop right into the dishwasher, which is much more than I can say of the George Foreman grill I used years ago.  I am sort of an appliance junkie, and so you should trust me when I say this one is quite fabulous!

Chicken Teryiaki
serves 4
adapted from All Around the World Cookbook, by Sheila Lukins

1 cup white wine
4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 1-inch size chunk fresh ginger, peeled, and quartered
3/4 lb chicken tenders, or the equivalent in boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
cooking spray
steamed brown rice, for serving

1. Boil the white wine until it has reduced by half.
2. In a mini-food processor or blender, combine the reduced white wine, the garlic, the soy sauce, the sugar, the canola oil, and ginger.  Process until well combined.
3. Marinate the chicken in the teryiaki sauce for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Coat with cooking spray.
5. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the chicken from the marinade and add to the hot pan.  Cook about 3-4 minutes on each side, until browned.  Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch into the remaining teryiaki sauce.
6. Add the teryiaki sauce to the skillet, and stir well.  Cook for an additional 4-5 minutes, until the sauce has become thick and sticky.
7. Serve over steamed brown rice.

Grilled Pineapple
serves 4-6

1 pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into large wedges
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp agave nectar
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves

1. Preheat a grill or grill pan. 
2. To make the marinade, combine the honey, agave nectar, lime juice, canola oil, cinnamon, and cloves in a medium-sized bowl.
3. Use tongs to dip each piece of pineapple into the bowl before placing it on the grill.  If there is remaining marinade, use a brush to baste the pineapple with it as it cook.  Grill the pineapple for 5-7 minutes on each side, until tender and golden. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sneak Peek at Next Week

Next week is my last full week of summer vacation, though I am already obsessing over where to put the furniture in my new classroom!
Here's what's on our menu:
-- Polenta with Meat Sauce
-- Carmelized Onion and Cheese Panini
-- Kasha Varnishkes, topped with Hard-Boiled Egg
-- Skillet Macaroni and Cheese
I am especially excited about the macaroni and cheese...that's one of my favorite things to eat!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pinto Bean Burgers

I adapted this recipe from another favorite cookbook of mine -- The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook.  This book has a great emphasis on whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.  What makes it stand out to me among the millions of health-oriented cookbooks is the's set up like the food pyramid!  It starts with vegetables and fruits, then moves up to whole grains, then beans and legumes, then seafood, then meat and poultry, and finally, desserts.  I enjoy this set-up as I find it helpful in planning meals centered around whole grains and vegetables, as opposed to meat.  We've tried a lot of the recipes in this book, and none of them has disappointed!  Not all of the recipes in this book are quick, however, they are often easily adapted to become quicker.  For example, the following bean burger recipe calls for dried beans.  If you don't have an hour or so to cook them, you could easily substitute 2 drained and rinsed cans of pinto beans.  It also calls for 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice.  I just made some quick-cooking brown rice, but now that it's becoming easier to buy frozen brown rice, that would be a great way to save a little time!  This burger is definitely worth's crispy on the outside, and packed with flavor from beans, rice, nuts, veggies, and cumin.  It's definitely better than anything from the box!  Top it with your favorites...lettuce, tomato, and a little cheddar cheese would be good.  I made a homemade chipotle ketchup, and the spicy, smokey flavor complimented the burger perfectly.

Pinto Bean Burgers
serves 6-7

1 1/4 cups dried pinto beans, soaked over night
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 Tbsp canola oil, divided
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pushed through a garlic press
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tsp cumin
1/2 cup brown rice
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup whole-grain bread crumbs
6-7 whole grain buns (I actually just used sandwich thins)
your favorite burger toppings

1. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the beans, bay leaf and 3 cups of water to boil.  Lower the heat, and cover partially, simmering for 60-70 minutes, or until the beans are soft. Drain them and throw-out the bay leaf.
2. In a skillet, heat 1/2 Tbsp canola oil.  Add the chopped yellow onion, and cook until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add the red bell pepper, and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Add the garlic, and cook for another minute or two, until the garlic is fragrant.  Add in 1/4 tsp salt, stir.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
3. In a food processor, combine the drained beans, the onion and pepper mixture, the brown rice, the walnuts, the cumin, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Pulse a few time, until the mixture is coarsely chopped (but not pureed).  Fold in the beaten egg and the bread crumbs. 
4. Form the mixture into patties, about 3/4 inch thick.  (This should yield 6-8 patties.)  Heat the remaining tablespoon canola oil in the same skillet used to cook the onions and bell peppers.  Cook the patties, turning once, until they are browned on each side.  This should take about 7-10 minutes, total.
5. Serve each burger on a bun or sandwich thin, topped with your favorite toppings!