Sunday, November 14, 2010

Roasted Root Vegetable Gratin

This is another dish that came up in my search for new Thanksgiving sides.  I think this one fits quite nicely into what I consider traditional New England Fall cooking, with a tiny bit of a modern twist (I doubt my mother or grandmother ever got their hands on a wedge of aged Asiago).  This recipe is pure comfort, a little sweet from the carmelization of the vegetables, a little salty, a little creamy with a slight sharpness from the Asiago... just perfect.

I will admit that this was my first experience with parsnips.  I'm not really sure why I'd never had them before, both of my parents claim to have liked them, and they were certainly a readily available local ingredient in New England.  My best guess would be that I have to blame my younger brother for never having tried them before.... as a child he absolutely refused to eat any vegetable unless it was orange or yellow, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, and corn were about the only veggies he would eat without an hour's worth of dinner table drama.  I remember him dropping green vegetables under the table for the dog, and then trying to reason with my parents that if the dog wouldn't eat it there must be something wrong with it.  Amazingly, he'll eat almost anything now. 

Ok, back to the point... if you're a fan of root veggies, this is a MUST try, and it will definitely be on my Thanksgiving day menu :)

1  small butternut squash (about 2-1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
2  medium parsnips (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium rutabaga, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces
1  large sweet red pepper, cored, seeded and sliced into 1/4-inch strips
1  medium red onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch wedges
2  tablespoons olive oil
1/2  teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp onion salt
1/4  teaspoon black pepper
1  tube(18 ounces) heat-and-serve polenta
1/4  cup half-and-half
1/2  cup shredded Asiago cheese
8  sprigs fresh thyme
1. Heat oven to 375°F.
2. Toss squash, parsnips, red pepper and onion with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place vegetables in a large roasting pan and roast at 375°F for 45 minutes, stirring twice.
3. Coat a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Slice polenta into 12 slices, each about 1/2-inch thick. Fit slices into the bottom of the baking dish.
4. Spoon vegetables over polenta slices. Drizzle with half-and-half and sprinkle with cheese. Scatter thyme over top.
5. Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes or until bubbly. Allow to cool slightly before serving

Baked Creamy Orzo and Spinach

I've been on the hunt for Thanksgiving side recipes for a while now, this one isn't quite what you'd call traditional, but it meets a few criteria: it's easy and fairly quick, it's very good (kind of like a gourmet florentine mac and cheese) and it makes a lot!  The kids and I both loved this... it has a nice contrast of textures, from the velvety softness of the orzo to the creaminess of the cheese and cream to the crunchiness of the onions.  Definitely a keeper for the recipe files!

1 tablespoon salt
1 pound orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
two 10 ounce packages frozen spinach
2 garlic cloves
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup canned chicken broth
2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
a few handfuls french fried onions

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the salt and orzo and boil 4
minutes. Add the
spinach and cook 5 minutes more or until the orzo is al dente.
Drain the mixture
in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Drain well.

Mince and mash the garlic to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt and
add put it in a
large bowl. Add the cream, broth, cheese, pepper, nutmeg, orzo
and spinach and combine
well. Transfer the mixture to a buttered baking dish.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes until bubbly and beginning to brown a bit.  Sprinkle french fried onions over the top for the last 5 minutes of cooking time.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Baked Cranberry Sauce

My Mom makes the best homemade cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, seriously, people rave about it.  For some reason I always thought it was some long involved process that I would never have the patience for... something similar to making preserves and canning them (I know... not that hard, but just can't bring myself to do it!).

Last Thanksgiving was my first shot at hosting the day as my Mom had to work.  Granted I didn't have a houseful of people coming (that would be done at my Mom's the next day), but I wanted to make a good show of it... and as my children informed me, it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without homemade cranberry sauce.  Believe me, I considered buying a few cans of the whole berry stuff and faking it, even thought about begging my Mom to make a little extra for me. Then I put on my big girl pants and Googled it.... really??  that's IT?  You're kidding.  ---- Nope.  This is really all there is to it.  My Mom got a good chuckle out of me thinking it was some big secret project she did every year too...  so maybe you can make someone think this is your big secret project this year.   Enjoy! :)

1 (12- ounce) bag fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup brandy
pinch of cinnamon

Combine the cranberries, sugars, and cinnamon in a 2 qt backing dish and cover with foil and bake for 1 hour at 350º. Remove the cover and stir to make sure there's no undissolved sugar. Return to the oven, uncovered and bake for about 5 to 10 more minutes, or until the cranberries are soft and sauce has thickened to a syrupy consistency. Remove from the oven and stir in brandy. Allow to cool and then refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight before serving.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Potato Leek Soup

It's officially Fall, and if you know me, you know that I've kicked into soup mode... even if the Fall temperatures haven't quite hit FL yet. We've had a rainy, gloomy week and I've been sick... all good enough reasons for me to make this, a quick, creamy, warming soup that happens to be my son's favorite.  You really can pull this off in about 45 minutes, so it's definitely feasible for a weeknight... just serve with a tossed salad and some garlic bread or rolls. 

A little background on how I came up with this recipe:  A few years ago I took my son and his best friend to Epcot for my son's 17th birthday.  Toward the end of the day, the kids wanted one more ride on Soarin', but being MUCH older than they are, I just wanted to sit for a bit before the drive home.  While they hit the fast pass line I wandered over to Sunshine Seasons (the counter service restaurant in The Land pavilion) and found that one of the soups of the day was potato leek.  I ordered and sat down with this HUGE bowl of perfection... much much more than I expected from a counter service place.  The flavors were perfectly combined, yet still defined... it was creamy, but still a bit chunky to make it heartier than the potato leek soups I'd had before that were blended to death.  I found myself taking note of each flavor I could place... the brightness of thyme, the subtle bite of just the right amount of black pepper, slight sweetness of carrot, and a depth of flavor from chicken stock and cream sherry.  When I got home I checked all of my Disney cookbooks and online resources, but could only find the recipe from The Rose and Crown... which is good, but a bit more mild in flavor.  I started working on my own recipe and after several tries came up with this one.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!

2 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
3 leeks, chopped and washed well
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
1 finely minced shallot
4 cups chicken stock
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup cream sherry
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning
1 Tbs dried parsley
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
shredded Gruyere cheese for garnish (optional)

Saute leeks, celery, carrot, onion, garlic and shallot in butter and olive oil over medium low heat until vegetable are very tender.  Add chicken stock, sherry and potatoes;  bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until potatoes are very soft.  Mash potatoes with potato masher; add thyme, Tony Chachere's and parsley.  Simmer a few more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Puree soup with hand blender and add heavy cream.  Taste and season with salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Boeuf Bourguignon

I've cooked from a good number of cookbooks over the years, some recipes were quick and easy, others not so much.  In general, I'm not intimidated by long ingredient lists or involved preparations... so I'm not really sure what it was about Julia Child's cookbook that had me a little nervous.  Maybe my fear of this book was brought on by Julia's reputation, after all she really was the first celebrity chef, or at least the first one I'd ever heard of, or maybe it was the many accounts I'd read of other people making a disaster of her recipes.  Regardless of what it was that kept me away from trying this recipe for so long, it was all unfounded.  There's nothing in this recipe that requires a great deal of skill, it is a little involved if you follow it to the letter (which I did as much as possible), but my total hands on time for this was about 2 hours, maybe a bit more and the result is out of this world!  There are probably a few things you can shortcut, however I'm glad I took the time to do it right the first time... every step in this recipe has a defining purpose in how it all comes together and the overall flavor.  Be brave, give this a try!

One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 white onions, small
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered

Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sauté lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.

Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat.

Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes.Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and coves the meat with a light crust).

Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.
Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove.
Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.

While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.
Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly.
Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet.
Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.

Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms. Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan.
Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.

Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning.
Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.
Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chicken and Vegetables Over Couscous

Couscous is my new "thing".  I'd really never had it before until about 2 years ago when it came with my meal at Restaurant Marrakesh in Epcot... to be honest, that was my first experience with Moroccan/Middle Eastern food... but I was pretty much hooked from that point on.  I really love the flavors, the mix of sweet, savory and pungent that seems to be the base for many of the dishes,  as well as how the blank slate that is couscous ties it all together.  I admit, this one is not exactly traditional, but I was craving couscous and had enough on hand to drum up something close to chicken and couscous dishes I've had elsewhere.... and pretty darn good as well.  I suppose this recipe could be considered on the lighter/healthier side as well... definitely something I need to do more of.

Fair warning, this recipe makes a lot of food, the kids and I ate it for 2 days and I still had a little left to take for lunch.

2 boxes Near East Garlic & Olive Oil flavored Couscous (5.8 oz each)
4 boneless chicken breast halves, cubed into bite size pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium zucchini, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 small bunch asparagus, tough ends trimmed, remaining stalk cut in thirds
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
handful golden raisins

Marinade for Chicken

1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs olive oil

Mix together all marinade ingredients, then toss with chicken to coat.  Marinate chicken 30 minutes to an hour.

Heat a little olive oil in the bottom of a large heavy pan over medium high heat.  Add chicken and marinade and cook, stirring occasionally until meat is no longer pink.  Remove chicken from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add onions and zucchini to the pan and cook, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes.  Add the bell pepper, asparagus, white wine and chicken stock.  Continue to cook, stirring, until vegetables are desired tenderness.  Add the chicken back to the pan and also add the raisins and warm through.

Prepare couscous according to package directions, serve chicken and vegetables over couscous.

Serves 8 with leftovers.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Homemade Chicken Soup

Early Spring seems to be the time my kids get colds. They survive the winter without so much as a sniffle, but bring on the change in the weather and excess pollen... and BAM, we have sick children in this house.

When I was a kid, if you got a cold you were almost guaranteed to be having chicken soup for dinner, and my parents didn't mess around... Campbell's was not an option. If you were sick, you were getting the real deal, a whole chicken, onions, celery, garlic and herbs simmered until cooked through, the meat removed and the bones returned to the pot until a rich stock was created. The aroma coming from the kitchen could cut through the worst stuffy nose and begin to comfort you long before it was ready to eat. To this day I still crave this soup when I need some comfort, but now I have to make it myself, and I gladly do so. My kids have picked up on just how comforting this soup is and without fail will ask for it when they don't feel well.

This is another one of those recipes I was taught to make by eyeballing ingredients, and it's very forgiving... so you can't really mess it up by adding more of this or less of that... it's just done to your taste. I'm just going to give you the basics, and let you take it from there.

1 whole fryer chicken, about 4 lbs
water to cover the chicken
4-5 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 large onions, quartered
3 large carrots, cut in large chunks
2 celery stalks, with leaves, cut in large pieces
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup white whine
1 lb baby carrots, cut in half inch pieces
1/2 bag frozen green beans
1/2 bag frozen peas
1/2 bag frozen corn
16 oz bag medium egg noodles
salt and pepper to taste

Remove giblets from chicken cavity an rinse chicken. Place chicken, onions, garlic, celery, carrot chunks, wine, thyme and bay leaf in large stock pot with water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2 hours or until chicken is tender and falling off the bone. Remove chicken from pot and remove as much meat as possible, chopping into bite size pieces, cover meat and set aside in refrigerator until ready to use. Return chicken carcass to pot with white wine, and continue to simmer until stock is reduced and becomes a nice golden color, about 1 more hour. Strain stock through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl.

Return strained stock to pan and add baby carrots, simmer for 5 minutes. Add in egg noodles and continue to cook 5 minutes. Add remaining vegetables and seasoning to taste, let simmer until vegetables are tender but still retain some of their color and noodles are cooked through. Add reserved chicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper, allow to stand covered for 20 minutes and serve.

Corn Chowder

One thing I'm always on the lookout for is a recipe that's inexpensive, quick, makes enough for leftovers. and still tastes GOOD as leftovers. These types of recipes seem to be difficult for me to find for a few reasons, mostly because with 4 kids in the house, a recipe has to make a lot for there to be leftovers (which can cut into the inexpensive requirement) but also because I'm not too crazy about the way a lot of foods taste reheated. Soups, however, fit the bill nicely, and I tend to make them year round (central a/c is wonderful if you're a soup lover in the middle of the FL summer!).

Corn Chowder is a recipe I grew up on, it's a bit of a New England staple I suppose, great on a cold night or even on cooler summer nights when the local corn harvest is readily available. My Mom made this frequently, probably for many of the reasons I do, and I've never grown tired of it. There are a lot of "fancier" recipes out there for corn chowder, but to me this simple version stands up to all of them and is still my favorite.

6-8 slices of bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
2 Tbs butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cans creamed corn (or 2 packages frozen)
1 bag frozen corn (not creamed)
4-5 large potatoes, cubed and boiled in salted water til tender
2 cups half and half
whole milk
1/2 tsp onion salt
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
chopped green onions (optional)

In a large, heavy pan (I use a 6 qt) cook bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels, and crumble when cool. Set aside.

Drain off some bacon grease, leaving enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium if you cooked the bacon at a higher temp, and add butter. When butter is melted add chopped onions and cook until soft. Add frozen corn and saute until heated through. Add in creamed corn and potatoes, mix well. Stir in half and half, sugar, crumbled bacon (reserving some for garnish if you like) and onion salt, stirring until heated through. Add milk to desired consistency (this should be a bit on the thin side) and salt and pepper to taste. Heat through but do not allow to boil. Let stand covered for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes (this allows the flavors to develop a bit more). Garnish with green onions and remaining bacon when serving if desired.