Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ummm, marinara sauce anyone?

(from Anne Burrell)

You know how sometimes you find a recipe and it has another recipe accompanying it? For example, a recipe for lasagna that has a recipe for marinara sauce that follows. Why do they always make it so the recipe that follows is SOOOO much more than you need for the recipe? That was the case with this one. I watched Anne Burrell make lasagna on FoodNetwork and it looked sooo good. And lasagna makes for really good freezable leftovers. So I decided to make the marinara sauce the night before I made the actual lasagna. Note: this is not the kind of recipe you can make real quick and then go to the library to study. It requires occasional stirring. It is, however, a good one to make while you watch an episode of Glee. It's like commercial breaks were just made for you to go stir the sauce. Another note: when a recipe calls for 4 28-ounce cans of tomatoes and you think that seems like a lot, IT IS. I ended up with sooo much marinara sauce I don't even know what to do with it all. Mom recommended freezing it because you can totally add meatballs real quick, use it for chicken parmesan, add it to some pasta, etc. She's such a thinker.

Step 1: Coat a skillet with extra virgin olive oil. Add 1/4 lb. diced pancetta (or bacon might be tasty) and cook a few minutes. Add 2 chopped Spanish onions and cook those until soft and smelling good, but don't let them get any color by stirring occasionally. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic and cook another few minutes.

Step 2: Pass the tomatoes through a food mill (HA!). I remember Anne
Burrell once said that the food mill was one of her favorite kitchen tools. I really don't know what she uses it for so much because this is the first time I've ever encountered a need for one, so I improvised. Improvisation has failed me many a time, but not this time! I thought I would first try to mash the tomatoes through a strainer. Same effect, right? I'm not really sure what happens to tomatoes when they go through a food mill, but I can tell you that mashing them through a strainer is some serious work and absolutely not worth it. So I just dumped my 112-oz. of San Marzano's tomatoes into the pot and smooshed them a bit. Fill one of the 28-oz. tomato cans with water and add to the pot.

Step 3: Season the sauce with lots of salt, adding a little bit at a time and tasting it along the way, because tomatoes need lots of salt to bring out their flavor. Cook 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally (like during commercial breaks).

Lasagna recipe follows...

Chicken and Wild-Rice Soup

Chicken and Wild-Rice Soup

Impulse cooking! What do you do when you have two midterms to study for, a quiz to study for, and a paper to write? You make soup! (Duh, I don't know what you guys were thinking) I saw this recipe in Everyday Food: Fresh Flavor Fast and it just looked so delicious! I've had these stuffy-head cold symptoms for like 4 weeks now, and somehow, soup, especially chicken soup, just makes that all better. So soup it was! The flavor was decent the first day, but it got waaay better the next day. It made 4 big servings, so I ate some throughout the week and put some in the freezer. Mom says the rice will fall apart, but I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. I'll let you know how that turns out...

Chicken and Wild-Rice Soup
My modified recipe...

Chop an onion and saute it in some olive oil. Season with S&P. Cook until they get soft (3-5 min). Add 32 ounces chicken broth (preferably low-sodium), 2/3 cup wild rice blend and about 2 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, turn it down to a simmer, cover and wait 35 minutes.

Chop up a couple of carrots and celery (2-3, give or take depending on how much veggie action you like in your soup) into pieces the size that you would like to eat. (I chop things like that a little smaller than my mom does. She's all about the big pieces of things. I'm all about being able to fit it in my mouth) Dump this into the soup pot along with the 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Boil it again, reduce to a simmer, and cook uncovered until the veggies are tender and the chicken is opaque (about 15 minutes). Remove chicken with a slotted spoon and shred it with two forks.

Put the now-shredded chicken back in the pot, season with S&P until it tastes good. Feel free to add some lemon juice on the first day you eat it to bump up the flavor.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Alright, I know I’m totally behind, but this is what I made for Valentine’s Day. Don’t worry, though. Your sweetie appreciates chocolate covered strawberries at all times of the year (unless your sweetie is allergic)! Chocolate covered strawberries are great because 1) they’re delicious and 2) they’re totally impressive and really not that difficult. The hardest part is probably clearing enough room in the fridge to put a cookie sheet. Seriously. I made these on a whim because strawberries were on sale at the store and they looked extra tasty. Here’s what ya do:

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Create a double boiler by putting some water in a pot, maybe about an inch or two deep. Nestle a glass bowl (or, if you don’t have any glass bowls like me, metal) on top. You want to make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl on top. Put it over medium-low heat and pour your favorite kind of chocolate chips into the bowl. Make sure you don’t get any water in the chocolate because that will make it separate. Stir occasionally while the chocolate chips melt.

Wash your strawberries and lay them out on a paper towel to dry. Line a cookie sheet with wax paper if you have it. Otherwise, an un-lined cookie sheet will work fine. Once the chocolate is melted, dip them one at a time in the chocolate. Do a little twist with your wrist so you don’t drip chocolate off the end. Set it on the wax-lined (or not) cookie sheet. Repeat. Once they’re all dipped and on the cookie sheet, put it in the fridge for them to set up.

If you really want to get fancy, you can put some of the melted chocolate in a Ziploc bag. Cut just the very tip off and then squeeze some squiggles over the strawberries to give it a fun look. Do this at the very end after the dipped strawberries have already hardened a little bit. You can do white chocolate on a darker chocolate or darker chocolate on white chocolate…unless you’re like me and somehow completely mess up melting the white chocolate. I’m not sure what happened, but it melted a little bit, but then it got clumpy and weird. So I improvised. I just use the darker chocolate and drew squiggles and hearts (for Valentine’s Day, of course!) on the strawberries.
When it comes time to take the strawberries off of the cookie sheet, let them sit out for a few minutes so you don't lose the bottom part of the chocolate because it stuck to the cookie sheet. If you're in a rush and don't have time to let them sit out, dampen a dish towel with warm water from the sink, lay it out flat, and set the cookie sheet on top for a few seconds.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A twist on a Super Bowl favorite

Beijing Wings

I'm not a football fan, so to me the Super Bowl means commercials, half-time show, and snacks. Around this time of the year, though, Mom starts talking about Super Bowl snacks, which always includes her awesome hot wings, but this year we decided to mix things up a bit. Mom tried this recipe and said they were sooo delicious, so I had to try the recipe, too. Not living at home makes me miss Mom's cooking, but it's sort of fun to recreate something she made. It's almost like we're together! Almost. Except her food usually turns out better than mine.

If you can skip straight ahead to this point (i.e.: buy them already cut up), you should probably just do that.

First of all, cleaning chicken is gross. I'm not a fan. I'd rather actually watch the football part of the Super Bowl than clean chicken. But Meijer didn't have any ready-to-go chicken wings the day before the Super Bowl (Who would have guessed? It's like they're in high demand this time of year or something), so I had to cut some chicken wings to separate the wing and the little drumstick-looking part. Let me tell you, it's not pleasant. I would honestly recommend that, unless you have a strong stomach, don't even bother making chicken wings if you can't find the ready-to-go kind. To me, it's not worth it, and I usually revel in every step of the cooking process.

Top left: This is apparently called a 3-joint wing. Bottom: This is what you end up with: the drumette on the left and the mid-joint wing on the right. Just ditch the wing tip (on the far right).

Beijing Wings

Dump 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce, 1/8 cup brown sugar, 4 cloves minced garlic, and 1Tbsp. grated fresh ginger into a big 'ole sealable plastic bag with the chicken wings that, hopefully, have already been prepped for you. Shake 'em around to coat them, seal the bag, and stick it in the fridge for 1-8 hours.

Heat your oven to 450℉. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Spray the foil lightly with cooking spray. Place the wings on the cookie sheet evenly spaced and cook them until the meat firms up and cooks through and the skin gets all caramelized and delicious and crispy (about 15 minutes).

Put about 2 Tbsp butter, 1 Tbsp. sriracha (or tabasco if you don't have sriracha), juice of 1/2 lime, and 1/8 cup brown sugar. Once the butter melts saute the wings in it for a couple of minutes until the sauce starts sticking to the wings. Decorate them nicely with sesame seeds and scallions (if you so desire).

Mom was right, these chicken wings had great flavor and they're easy to freeze and re-heat for a quick dinner. Just one thing: this was my first time cutting up chicken and I noticed these little hair-looking things sticking out of the chicken skin from where the feathers used to be. I certainly didn't know what to do with them. I though they would just go away once you cook them. That doesn't happen. They stay there, apparently unless you trim them away with kitchen shears. I didn't find this out until after the fact, so I ate them for dinner, all the while being a little bit grossed out by these little hairs. Moral of the story: trim little hairs on the chicken before cooking.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Indian Food and a Lesson Learned

This is one of the recipes I planned ahead for. I picked out a few recipes and made a master shopping list based on a quick read-through of all the recipes I planned to make. I started making it while the Salmon Florentine was in the oven, which proved to be a bit of a disaster. It was already 9:30 or so and my dear friend, Preetal, was waiting for me to go with her to meet some friends and there were BURNING MUSTARD SEEDS POPPING EVERYWHERE. But I wanted to have this recipe done for the next day so I could just reheat it real quick. Yep, I bit off more than I could chew.

The recipe called for NOT YELLOW mustard seeds. I, of course, didn't read the recipe closely enough when making my shopping list. The recipe said "black or brown mustard seeds (not yellow)." So what did I do? I bought yellow mustard seeds. I figured since those were the only ones I saw at Meijer, those were the most common ones and probably the ones I needed. Wrong-o. I actually didn't realize my mistake until I tried making the recipe again the next day. But let me tell you about the popping mustard seeds, first...

The recipe says to heat oil in a pan until smoking, put the mustard seeds in and cover immediately. Well, I was doubling the recipe, so I had to dip my little measuring spoon into the bottle twice. I dipped once, dumped them into the pan. I went in quickly for the second dip and POP! POP! POP! POP! POP! When they say cover immediately, they mean COVER IMMEDIATELY. Those babies pop all over the place! Yes, in the time it takes you to measure a second dose of mustard seeds, the first round is already popping. Moral: measure all the crazy
popping mustard seeds first before dumping them into the smoking hot oil. You know how they do on Martha Stewart's show? All she has to do is dump the contents of those pretty little glass ramekins into her big mixing bowl, put it in the oven, and MAGIC. Out comes a perfect cake. Yeah, that's how it happens in my kitchen, too (pff).

Not only did they pop all over the place, but man, did they burn! I have one of those fancy super-mega-burners on my stove and it burns everything you put on it. Unless you're boiling a pot of water. It's hard to burn water because it tends to just evaporate. But that's pretty much all it's good for. I should have known better because I've burned many a food item on that burner. I'll learn one of these days. Do you know what burnt mustard seeds smell like? They smell like the most permeating Heinz yellow mustard scent. Seriously, my apartment smelled like mustard for days. Maybe those black or brown mustard seeds smell differently, but those yellow ones... They smell like your favorite Coney Dog topping. Moral: know your equipment... and accept it.

Eventually, I accepted my defeated and committed myself to trying the recipe again the next day.

Chana Bateta- Second Attempt: Success.
Let's just call my late-night Chana experience a trial-run. Once I learned my lesson(s), things really went rather smoothly. And let me tell you, that stuff is tasty!

Another one from Ellie: Egg in a Basket with Asparagus

Leftover asparagus bits + bread + egg + lunch meat = healthy and tasty breakfast.

This was another one from Ellie Kreiger's So Easy. It was so easy (like the title tells you)!

Egg in a Basket with Asparagus

Butter a slice of bread. Use a cookie cutter, or, since not that many people actually have a circular cookie cutter, you could use a glass to cut a hole in the middle of the bread. (If you wanted to get really crazy, you could use a cookie cutter shaped like a heart or Santa or something) Put it in a warm skillet and crack an egg in the newly made (something shaped) hole. The recipe called for cooking the egg until it was set, but I recommend cooking it a little less if you like a runnier yolk. Flip the bread/egg combo.

Meanwhile, steam some asparagus pieces. Place a piece of turkey lunch meat in a skillet and cook until the edges start getting a little golden, but not too long or else it will dry out. Cut it into long slices. Sprinkle over top of the bread/egg combo along with the asparagus and devour it!

Side note: check out this cool pot Mom got me for Christmas! it has a strainer thingy and a steamer thingy, too! It's multi-purpose.

Hello, asparagus? Are you in there?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Salmon Florentine from Ellie

I came home from my last class of the week and decided to pick out a few recipes to make this weekend. I had been flipping through one of the many cookbooks Mom got me for Christmas, So Easy from Ellie Krieger (if you don't know who she is, she's great. She a nutritionist who comes up with DELICIOUS, but healthy recipes) and saw a picture of some seriously tasty looking salmon. My brother bought salmon the last time he went grocery shopping and hadn't used it yet. (He does that- buys various meats and leaves them in the fridge for a long time) So I thought I'd take care of that.

I went through the recipe quickly, wrote down what ingredients I needed to buy and did the same for the other few recipes I was going to make. I thought this recipe would be a breeze- it seemed simple. And surely it would have been if I had a grasp on the concept that things sometimes take longer than the recipe says. And if I hadn't forgotten to buy shallots. But Mom said I can substitute with onion and a little bit of garlic. She's a life-saver. Moral of the story: read through your ingredient list carefully.

Here is the general concept of this recipe...
Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add shallots until they soften. Add garlic. Add defrosted frozen spinach, chopped sun-dried tomato, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Let cool. Stir in part-skim ricotta cheese. Put the mixture on top of the salmon fillet. Cook in the oven. Eat.

After the called-for 15 minutes in the oven, plus a handful more, I scooped all the spinach topping off the salmon and onto the side because the middle of the fish just didn't seem to be cooking. After I did that, though, it still took a while for the salmon to cook. I even bumped the temperature up a little bit. In the end, though, it took about 30 minutes for the salmon to cook, but it was quite delicious. Definitely worth trying again. I'd also throw in more ricotta and sun-dried tomatoes. Moral of the story: it's okay if something takes longer to cook than the recipe calls for.

Salmon Florentine
Recipe... (and nutritional info)

I was planning to serve this with another of Ellie's recipes- Parmesan fries. They looked and sounded so great, so I put the ingredients on my shopping list. But when I got home and got cooking, I realized that logistically it was just not going to work. I had after-dinner plans and the fries were going to take too long and needed a higher temperature than the fish, so I opted for Mom's roasted asparagus recipe instead. Convenient, because she gave me a bunch of asparagus out of the blue and it needed to be used. Moral of the story: read through your recipe carefully before you start, not just the ingredients.

Another little trick I learned from Mom: cut or snap off the ends of the asparagus that you can't use anyhow. It's typically sold by the pound, so then you're paying for something you can't use. Silly. Mom may not know this, but I apply these tricks to other things in my life... like ginger. I just lopped off the amount I needed because what's the sense in buying the whole thing?

Mom's Roasted Asparagus

Preheat oven to 400℉. Snap off the end of one asparagus where it naturally breaks. Line up the tips of all your asparagus on a cutting board and chop the ends off with a knife. Arrange asparagus in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Spray with vegetable spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake 8-12 minutes (depending on the size of your asparagus).

Meanwhile, melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a saucepan, about 3 minutes, until just starting to brown. Take off the heat and add 2 tsp. low sodium soy sauce an d1 tsp. balsamic vinegar. Drizzle over asparagus and enjoy!