Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tuna Melt on Rye


Tuna on Rye is one of those classic combinations. Unfortunately, I hadn't had one until just a couple years ago. That sandwich changed my life. Well, relatively speaking I suppose. You see, I had never liked tuna sandwiches before that day. Tuna on Rye changed all that. Suddenly the tuna was full of magnificent flavors I had never noticed before. The combination was heavenly and within just a few bites I was in love. Hello tuna! Where have you been all my life? I never thought I'd see the day where I craved a tuna sandwich, and now I do. My favorite flavoring for tuna is the lemon-dill combination. Mmmm!


Ingredients

1 can albacore tuna (preferably in olive oil)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons diced red onion
salt and pepper
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 tomato, sliced
6 slices Rye bread
6 slices melting cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, swiss, or muenster)


Instructions

1. In a small bowl mix together the tuna, mayonnaise, bell pepper, lemon, and dill until evenly combined. Season with a little salt and pepper.

2. Line the slices of Rye on a baking sheet. Preheat the broiler.

3. Assemble the melts by spreading out some of the tuna, a slice of tomato, and topping with a slice of cheese.

4. Place under the broiler until cheese is melted and starting to brown.




Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rye Bread




My husband spent a year in Italy living in an apartment right above a bakery. His standard for bread is high. Pressure much? I've been forced to develop my baking skills and I do my best to replicate that Italian bakery taste at home. Rye is one of my husband's favorite. It is a bread that is full of flavor and brings an interesting twist to sandwiches. Classic sandwiches using rye bread are pastrami on rye, tuna on rye, and corned beef on rye, but you could use rye in a variety of different sandwiches to bring out a new flavor. Or you can go the route of my children who just devour it plain. Seriously, who would have thought little kids would love rye bread so much? This recipe is super simple to put together, gives some great bread making techniques, and makes a lovely light rye.


Ingredients

1/2 tablespoon yeast
2/3 cup water
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rye flour
cornmeal for dusting
1/4 tsp cornstarch + 1/4 cup water


Instructions

1. Combine the yeast, water, salt, caraway, and flours in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir with a spoon or mix with a hand or stand mixer until combined and there is no stray flour.

2. Cover with a dish towel and let rise for about an hour.

3. Shape it into a loaf by stretching the dough from the top center of the dough ball over the edges, and then underneath. It should look and feel like you are holding the loaf with two hands and are pulling the dough inside out with your thumbs. Give several of those pulls with your thumbs until the dough starts looking textured.

4. Dust a pizza peel or wooden cutting board with cornmeal. Put the loaf on the prepared board and let it rise for another 40 minutes.

5. Preheat a pizza/baking stone in the oven to 450 degrees. Place a shallow pan on the rack below the baking stone.

6. Dissolve the cornstarch in the 1/4 cup water. Microwave for 45 seconds. Brush the cornstarch liquid on top of the loaf and cut several parallel lines on the top.

7. Bake the loaf directly on the stone. When you put the loaf in, pour a tall glass of water into the shallow pan below. It'll pop and sizzle and steam, so watch your hands. Close the oven door and bake for 30 minutes.

***Try this great recipe for a classic Tuna Melt on Rye. Yum!***

The key to making great bakery-style bread at home is all in the method. Bakeries use steam ovens to get that wonderful chewy crust. You can create your own steam oven by placing a shallow pan of water in the oven with your bread. The water will evaporate in the heat, filling your oven with steam.

Using a baking stone or pizza stone is vital to creating both the perfect crust and the perfect crumb. Bakeries use fancy ovens of the masonry variety. See, the oven in your house cooks using radiated (the flame or the electrical elements) and convected heat (the air moving around the oven. A convection oven has fans to assist in the circulation of the air). A masonry oven is able to use conduction on top of convection and radiated heat. Masonry ovens utilize stone, just as their name suggests. Stone retain heat really well. When you put a loaf of bread directly on a hot stone, the stone transfers its heat to the bread through conduction. So when you use a pizza/baking stone, you are literally adding a third heating method into your oven. Isn't that awesome? There's your science lesson for the day!







Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Buffalo Chicken Lasagna




We love buffalo chicken in this house. I decided I wanted to make a buffalo chicken lasagna, but was unhappy with all of the recipes I found, some of which called for marinara which I thought would be way too far from the traditional buffalo goodness. I wanted to incorporate classic elements like celery and blue cheese. What I came up with was amazing. It was like eating buffalo wings in a pasta. The sauce is a rudimentary bechamel which gives a nice creamy, oniony, "dip" like element to the pasta. I kept the spice level from being overwhelming by mixing hot sauce only with the chicken, and then spreading that into two layers. I added in a layer of broiled tomatoes to give an element of mild acidity. This is a great little lasagna that will please any buffalo lover.


Ingredients

4 roma tomatoes, sliced
4 tablespoons butter
1 white onion, diced
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups milk
1 package no boil lasagna noodles
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1//4 cup Frank's Hot Sauce
3 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded


Instructions

1. Place the sliced roma tomatoes on a nonstick baking tray. Broil for about 7 minutes, until the tomatoes start to wrinkle. Set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Increase heat to medium high. Add in onions and saute for about 5 minutes, until onions are translucent and soft. Whisk in flour thoroughly to form a paste. Reduce heat to medium low. Whisk in the milk. Continue whisking and slowly increase the heat. As the mixture gets hotter, it will thicken. Once thick, remove from heat and set aside. You've just created a very basic form of a bechemel sauce.

3. In a small bowl mix your shredded, cooked chicken with the frank's hot sauce.

4. Place a couple spoonfuls of the bechamel sauce onto the bottom of a lightly greased 9x13 pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

5. Assemble your lasagna. Lay 4 no boil lasagna noodles onto the sauced pan.


  • Layer 1: Spread a few more spoonfuls of the bechamel over the noodles. Spread out half of the chicken. Top with 1/3 of the celery, and about 1/2 cup mozzarella.  Lay 4 more lasagna noodles over the top. 
  • Layer 2: Spread a few more spoonfuls of the bechamel over the noodles. Lay out all of the broiled tomatoes evenly across. Top with 1/3 of the celery, 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese, and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Lay 4 more lasagna noodles over the top. 
  • Layer 3: (Same as Layer 1) Spread a few more spoonfuls of the bechamel over the noodles. Spread out half of the chicken. Top with remaining celery, and about 1/2 cup mozzarella.  Lay 4 more lasagna noodles over the top. 
  • Layer 4: Spread the remaining bechamel sauce over the noodles. Top with remaining mozzarella and blue cheese. 


6. Cover with aluminium foil and bake in the preheated oven for about 50 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 5-10 minutes until cheese on top starts to brown.





Friday, January 25, 2013

Homemade Roasted Chicken Stock - Freeze for Later Use





There's nothing quite like homemade chicken stock. I love being able to control exactly what goes into it. It makes it easy to alter the flavor which gives an amazing boost to any recipe calling for chicken stock. Seriously, once you start making your own chicken stock you'll hate it when you run out and have to use store bought.


Step 1

Fill a large stockpot about 3/4 full with water. Add in your leftover roasted chicken bones and bring to a boil. Reducing heat and simmer for at least 1 hour, 3 hours if you have time.


Step 2

After at least an hour has passed, add in a standard mirepoix (carrot, onion, celery). This can be just leftover bits and pieces that you've collected. Only use half an onion for a recipe? Throw it in a tupperware in the freezer and save it for stock making. Those celery stalks you don't really want to it? Same thing! It's great! You'll want to cut them into about 1 inch chunks.


Step 3

Add in your herbs for flavorings. Here are some ideas:

Standard Chicken Stock: 1 bay leaf, fresh thyme, fresh parsley, 10 black peppercorns, 1 clove garlic (optional)

Asian Inspired Chicken Stock: 1 inch piece of ginger, 2 cloves garlic

Thai Inspired Chicken Stock: 1 inch piece of ginger, 1 stalk lemon grass, 1 thai chili pepper

Mexican Chicken Stock: 1 dried chipotle pepper, 1 red bell pepper, 1 bay leaf, 1 clove garlic, 10 black peppercorns

French Inspired Chicken Stock: 1 bunch fresh tarragon, 1 bay leaf, fresh parsley, 10 black peppercorns

Italian Chicken Stock: fresh oregano, 5 tomato peels, 1 clove garlic, 1 bay leaf, 10 black peppercorns

The possibilities are endless!


Step 4

Bring back to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour.


Step 5

Use a large mesh colander to strain the stock and remove all the big stuff, leaving a clear liquid. You may have to strain it twice.


Step 6

Allow the broth to cool and remove any fat that floats to the top.


Step 7

Measure out 2 cups at a time and pour into a ziploc freezer bag. Lay it out flat on a tray to freeze. (2 cups is the same as 1 can of chicken broth)





Step 8

Freeze! Remove from freezer and thaw when ready to use. 




For Other Stocks:

The same process can be used for other types of stock as well. For vegetable stock, simply skip step 1 and add whatever vegetables you'd like in step 2. For beef stock, simply use roasted beef bones. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How to Cook a Whole Chicken - Roasted or Slowcooker





You've probably eyed those sale prices on whole chickens, but let's face it: cooking a whole chicken can be intimidating. It doesn't have to be! Go out and catch one of those awesome sales and I'll teach you all about chicken.

The chickens you buy for those great sale prices (like 69 cents a pound) are fryer chickens. These are smaller birds because they only let them live to be 6-8 weeks old. The quick turn around means less feeding time which means the price is lower. These are the same chickens they use to make the store bought pre-cooked rotisserie chickens, except they seem to always use the smallest ones (2-3 lbs). The lowest price I see is about 69c/lb. A 3lb bird would be $2.07. That same bird cooked by the store would run you somewhere around $5.99. That's a 289% mark up!

Step 1

Rinse the chicken under cold water and pat it try with paper towels. Peak inside the chicken. It might have some stuff in it called giblets. Depending on the brand of chicken you buy they might be in a bag, just hanging loose, or they might not even be there at all. Some brands include the neck. You can easily snap that out too if you want. I usually save this stuff to make chicken stock later. Some people cook it and eat it. Others just throw it out.

Step 2

Loosen up the skin on the chicken. You'll be able to slide your fingers under the skin at the openings (yup, the neck and the butt). Wiggle your fingers in and slide them all around to loosen that skin right up. This will allow you to put seasonings and butter right against the meat which means a flavorful meat, and a nice crispy skin (my favorite part!). The store bought chickens don't do this. They just dump flavoring on the outside and call it good. That's probably why I can never tell any difference in flavor between the various options they sell.

Step 3

Flavor your chicken. You can follow a recipe, or just keep it simple. Personally, I prefer putting 1/4 cup butter up under the skin, and rubbing the whole bird down with Cajun seasoning. It is simple, quick, and flavorful. If I have a couple lemons on hand I squeeze the juice over the chicken and then shove the squeezed lemons into the cavity of the chicken.

Step 4

A professional chef would tie up the chicken, but you probably don't have any cooking twine on hand. Don't fret. Move on to Step 5! If you do happen to have twine, well then, truss up that chicken and tie those legs together!

Step 5

FOR ROASTING

If you have a roasting pan, put the chicken on the rack. If you don't have a roasting pan, then don't sweat it. Just put it, breast side up, in a dark metal 9x13 pan. Roast for 20 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting for about another 40 minutes. Baste every 10 minutes or so with the juices for a moist, flavorful bird. Remove from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Use a meat thermometer to check right where the leg connects to the body. Let it rest for about 20 minutes before carving.

FOR CROCKPOT/SLOWCOOKER

Put the bird in the slow cooker on low for about 8 hours. The disadvantage on the slower cooker is that you won't get a crispy skin because the appliance can't get hot enough to do it. You could always pull it out and roast it at 500 degrees for 15 minutes, or put it under a broiler to get that crispy skin. The difficulty you might run across is that your chicken will be fall-off-the-bone tender.


Step 6

Once your chicken is cooked it's time to carve it. You can either carve it at serving, or you can remove all the meat from the bones for later use.

If you look at the breast there is a line running down the center. Place a sharp knife just to one side of that line and press down firmly. You'll hear ribs crack. Do the same on the other side as well and you'll be able to remove the center bone.



At this point you'll be able to fold open the chicken and see exactly where your knife needs to go to remove the breast meat in one swoop. Cool, huh? You'll be able to remove all the chicken fairly quickly.



Now don't throw away the bones quite yet. Either put them in the fridge or freezer and use them to make homemade chicken stock. All you need to know to make your own stock is found HERE.

Also, check out THIS POST for 30 recipes that use pre-cooked chicken.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mushroom Risotto




Contestants on food shows are always making risottos and are always getting kicked off for their risottos. I feel like it gives risotto a bad rap for the home cook, scaring us all off from ever trying to make it ourselves. Perhaps it is all part of a bigger conspiracy to get us to eat out at fancy restaurants more often that serve things like risotto. Making risotto takes some love and patience, but it can totally be made by an average home cook. Now, if I were making risotto for 100 guests on some food competition it would be difficult simply because a large batch would be insane. Hopefully you as a home cook won't be cooking for 100. A regular-sized batch shouldn't be a problem, and hopefully it won't be getting you booted from your home. Now, I'm an absolute sucker for mushrooms, so of course my favorite kind of risotto to make is going to be a classic mushroom risotto. It is creamy, and full of the wonderful flavors of mushroom.


Ingredients

6 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 lbs mushrooms, thinly sliced (use any combination of portobellos, white, or cremini)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, diced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
salt
pepper
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated


Instructions

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken broth to a simmer.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat. Season the mushrooms with salt and pepper and saute the mushrooms until nicely browned, 3-4 minutes. Remove them from the pan and set them aside for now.

3. In the same skillet heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Saute the shallots for a minute or two and then add in the rice. Sprinkle on a little salt for seasoning. Toast the rice in the olive oil for about 3 minutes.

4. Pour in 1/2 cup of the simmering chicken broth at a time to the rice skillet. It should pop and sizzle and the rice will absorb the liquid. Stir, stir, stir. Stirring consistently will help the rice cook evenly. Turn the heat down to medium and keeping adding liquid 1/2 cup at a time. Once the liquid gets absorbed, add more. It should take about 30 minutes to add the entire 6 cups of chicken broth.

5. Once all the liquid has been used, stir in the mushrooms, the butter, and the parmesan. Taste, and adjust the seasonings (salt and pepper) as desired.



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Grilled Halibut




Confession: For years I didn't like fish. Turns out I was just eating the wrong kinds of fish. Halibut was the first fish I had that made me fall in love. It has a great texture, and doesn't have any of that  'fishy' business going on. When done right, it is tender, flaky, and succulent. Shoot, even when it is over cooked it is still delicious! The trick with fish is to not overcook it. It is done as soon as it can be flaked with a fork. Get it off the heat as soon as it turns white. This particular recipe is great on lots of different fish, but halibut will always be my favorite. It is mild in flavor and brings out the delicate flavors of the fish. Serve it with a spritz of additional lemon juice for that extra hit of acidity.


Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb fresh halibut filet


Instructions

1. In a small sauce pan combine the butter, honey, lemon juice, soy sauce, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Continue boiling for about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and boil for another minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Portion your halibut by cutting it with a sharp knife into 3 or 4 pieces. A serving size of fish is 3 to 6 oz so portion it depending on the particular size of your filet. Brush both sides of each with the liquid mixture.

2. Heat a pan until it is sizzling hot (a drop of water sizzles and immediately evaporates when it hits the pan. Sear the halibut for 90 seconds on each side. Reduce the heat to medium and cook each side for an additional 2-3 minutes, until the fish can be easily flaked with a fork.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Southwestern Stuffing with Bacon, Cheddar, and Bell Pepper




It isn't anywhere near Thanksgiving and here I am making stuffing. Trust me, I'm not crazy. Stuffing is just crazy good! This version won't even have you thinking Thanksgiving at all. It is inspired by the flavors of the Southwestern US. You've got your bell peppers, your cilantro, and you've got bacon. I was inspired by an episode of Bravo's Top Chef. A couple seasons back they had a Quickfire Challenge where they had to make a stuffing without using certain kitchen tools like knives. The winner was this amazing Southwestern Stuffing. I don't have you using liquid nitrogen and smashing things with a pot like he did, because let's face it, you have a knife. Nonetheless, this recipe is quite tasty and I'm sure it deserved the Quickfire win. It's an amazing creation that will have you gobbling up spoonfuls of stuffing in the middle of the year!


Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups chicken broth
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
2 cups heavy cream
1 egg
6 oz cheddar cheese, cut into very small cubes
1 loaf sourdough bread, torn into large chunks
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 lb bacon, cooked and diced


Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a 9x13 pan by spraying it lightly with nonstick spray.

2. In a medium saucepan make a roux by melting the butter and then whisking in the flour to form a bubbly mixture. Add in the chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper for flavoring. Pour in the chicken broth and whisk to combine. Add in the diced jalapeno and red bell pepper and bring to a boil. Once boiling the mixture will thicken quickly. Once it thickens remove from heat and set aside.

3. In a small bowl whisk together the egg and heavy cream. Set aside.

4. In a large mixing bowl mix together the bread chunks and cheddar cheese. Slowly pour the cream mixture over it and stir to moisten everything. Then pour the chicken broth mixture over, add in cilantro and bacon, and stir to combine. Immediately transfer it to the prepared 9x13 pan and spread it out in an even layer.

5. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes, until the top starts to brown.


***Recipe inspired by Chef Tre Wilcox as seen on Top Chef Season 8, Episode 4



Friday, January 18, 2013

Greek Pitas with Homemade Tzaziki Sauce




Some days I just really need a light lunch or dinner. I just crave veggies, but I tell you what, I am hardly ever in the mood for a salad. Like ever. Stuffing a salad into a pita pocket is genius. It transforms a salad into a sandwich that isn't weighed down with too much bread. I love it. Traditional Greek ingredients make it an absolute delight. You've got your tomatoes and cucumbers, olives and feta, red pepper for crunch, and a little red onion for that sharp bite, all over a bed of good-for-you spinach. Top it off with the delightful flavor of dill with a hint of lemon and you've got yourself the wonder that is tzaziki sauce. The best part is, this a totally healthy meal. For me that mostly just means I won't feel guilty eating dessert, but hey, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!


Makes 8 pita sandwiches

Ingredients

4 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 red bell pepper, sliced into sticks
1 cucumber, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1/2 cup crumbled feta
4 large round pita pocket breads, cut in half

Tzaziki Sauce
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cucumber, diced (optional


Instructions

1. Prepare the tzaziki sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Stir until well combined. Set aside.

2. Open up each of the pita pocket breads so that it can be stuffed full of goodness. Careful not to tear. Stuff full of the vegetable fillings, spread a little tzaziki sauce in there for flavor.



Tzaziki sauce is a greek yogurt cucumber dip. Some recipes call for mint or parsley in addition to or replacing the dill in the recipe above, depending on the region. You'll find this in countries beyond just Greece. Turkey, Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Iraq, and Iran all of their own versions. It's light, creamy, and full of bright flavors making it a versatile sauce. You can find it as a dipping sauce for breads or vegetables, on gyros, or used as a condiment.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Roasted Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Soup with Bacon, Cheddar, and Chives




Southern California had a bit of a cold spell. If you haven't seen this Youtube video making fun of us you should check it out for a laugh. I am totally one of those people bundled up for the 50 degree temperatures. I cranked up my heater, wore long sleeves, a sweater, and socks while I made some delicious warm-you-up soup. I've been avoiding grocery shopping for fear of the cold so I had to scrounge for ingredients. I had a head of cauliflower and a couple sweet potatoes so I knew I at least had a base for a soup. What sprang forth was a true delight. The vibrant colors matched the vibrant flavor. I'm sure it'll do wonders to warm the bodies of people who suffer from true freezing temperatures!


Ingredients

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and Pepper
1/4 tsp cumin
1 pinch nutmeg
1 pinch cinnamon
1/4 tsp + 1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 onion, diced
2 large sweet potatoes, pealed, cut into bite sized pieces
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
1/2 lb candied bacon, crumbled


Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet or jelly roll pan with nonstick spray. Spread the cauliflower florets out on the pan in a single layer. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, and 1 pinch cayenne pepper. Roast for about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, saute the onions (seasoned with a bit of salt) in 1 tablespoon olive oil for 3-5 minutes. Add in the cayenne pepper during the last minute or so of cooking. Pour in the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Throw the sweet potatoes in and boil for about 10-15 minutes (depending on the size of your pieces), until the sweet potatoes are tender.

3. Either transfer the sweet potato/chicken broth mixture to a blender and blend in batches until smooth, or use a handy dandy hand mixer and just blend it in the pot.

4. Return to a pot over low heat and add in the cheddar cheese. Stir until melted. Add in the roasted cauliflower, and chives. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Serve with candied bacon crumbled on top.




What does it mean when a recipe says "season with salt and pepper?" Adding salt at various stages of cooking helps to bring out the flavors of each ingredient. Soup making is all about flavor building. In the recipe above you season the cauliflower, you season the onions, and then you may add even more salt at the end. Now, you don't want to be dumping on the salt otherwise you'll just end up with food that tastes more like the ocean than a good soup. I use a salt grinder and it's literally just 2 or 3 grinds of the shaker. Just a little sprinkling is all it takes to really bring out the flavors in your food. Remember that salt poured on at the table just adds saltiness, but salt added during the cooking process adds flavor.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lamb Pot Pie





Cold weather makes me a bit grumpy. We've been having a bit of a cold spell so I needed something that just warmed me up and comforted my grumpy soul. Pot Pies are one of those things that just make you feel good. I decided to elevate the classic comfort food into something a bit more foodie-esque. This lamb pot pie gave me everything I needed. My mouth was giddy, my body was warm, and my soul was nourished. I even made a couple extras to freeze for later. 


Ingredients

1 lb lamb meat, 1-inch cubes (I used leg of lamb)
6 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 large fennel bulb, roughly chopped
5 large carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
1 cup frozen peas

4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups beef broth
1 cup red grape juice
1/3 cup fresh chives, chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 cup fresh rosemary, chopped

1 prepared pie crust recipe or frozen puff pastry (thawed according to package directions)
1 egg
1 tablespoon water


Instructions

1. In a sizzling hot skillet, sear the lamb cubes on all sides. Only sear the sides, as the meat will continue to cook in the oven. Set aside. 

2. In a large skillet, sautee the mushrooms, fennel, carrots, and onion over high heat for 5-8 minutes until everything has been cooked and is tender crisp. Remove from heat and stir in the seared lamb. 

3. In a medium saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour to make a paste. Increase the heat to high and pour in the beef broth and grape juice. Add in the herbs and bring it to a boil. Simmer for a couple minutes as the sauce thickens. 

4. Spoon the cooked veggies and lamb into individual ramekins, or into one pie dish or even just a 9x9 pan. Pour the sauce over the filling until the filling is mostly covered. 

5. Whisk the egg with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Use your fingers to rub the whisked egg around the rim of your pan(s). Top with a pie crust or puff pastry, sealing the edges along the pan. Brush the top of the crust with the egg.

6. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until the crust is golden. 





Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Raw Brownie - 3 ingredients




When I hear the words "raw dessert" or "vegan dessert" my heart sinks and I think of the time I went to a vegan Thanksgiving potluck and there was definitely no good desserts to be found. I love bacon as much as the next girl, but I also appreciate the vegan and raw diets and the amazing things they can do for your body. In fact, I do a vegan raw diet for a week every few months. These brownies have changed that diet forever and make it so much easier to stick with it. I feel like I need to shout it to the world:

I HAVE FOUND A DELICIOUS RAW VEGAN DESSERT!

Phew, I feel better. Look at the labels on this post, I labeled it as healthy. Once you check out the ingredient list you'll understand why. It totally is! I mean, it's got raw chocolate powder which has some calories, but it also has a lot of great nutritional value. I was feeding these brownies to my kids during a meeting and my friend said, "whatever works!" I laughed and let her know what was in them because they look like brownies, taste like brownies, but they are definitely not what you think of as brownies. I'm thinking this recipe isn't just going to make appearances when I'm on a diet. I think it'll be a regular staple so that I can have my dessert and eat it too! Just don't forget a tall glass of almond milk to wash that baby down.

Ingredients

2 cups walnuts
2 1/2 cups dates
1 cup raw cacao powder (can be purchased at health food stores)


Instructions

1. In a food processor (or blender), blend the walnuts until finely ground.

2. Add in the dates 2 or so at a time allowing them to incorporate into the ground walnuts until all dates have been added. Towards the end you may or may not have to pulse your processor or blender to get it to combine.

3. Toss in the cacao powder and pulse until the powder is evenly incorporated.

4. Press the dough into a 8x8 pan and refrigerate. It's ready to eat right away, but will firm up a little in the fridge making it easy to cut into brownie servings.



Monday, January 14, 2013

Brown Rice and Black Bean Casserole




On of my favorite go-to healthy meals is this brown rice and black bean casserole. I find it to be a satisfying and hearty dish. There's all sorts of vegetables in it, including carrots, which means my kids are gobbling up healthy stuff along with the rice they love. I don't particularly care for the brown rice in just anything, but in this recipe it is great. My kids totally don't even notice the difference and them crazies are picky! It's got a great flavor with the green chiles, garlic, and cumin which means adults like it too. The best part about a casserole like this is that every bite is a different adventure depending on what goodies you get on your fork. This recipe can easily be turned vegan by omitting the cheese, which would also lower the calories (which aren't very high to begin with!) As with most casseroles, this dish freezes very well. Just freeze after step 3 and bake for 45 minutes to an hour when ready to eat.

6 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups brown rice
3 cups vegetable broth (can substitute chicken broth)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 zucchini, chopped into bite sized chunks
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups prepared or canned black beans
4 oz diced green chiles, drained
3 large carrots, shredded
2 cups mozzarella cheese (can easily be omitted for a vegan meal)


Instructions

1. Place the rice and broth into a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Let simmer, covered, for 40-50 minutes until all liquids have been absorbed by the rice. Remember that brown rice takes longer to cook than white and you should check the packaging for estimated cooking times.

2. Before the rice is done, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the onions, zucchini, and mushrooms for about 7 minutes until all are cooked through. Add in the cumin and minced garlic and cook for an additional 1 minute. Remove from heat and place in a large mixing bowl.

3. In the large mixing bowl, combing the saute mixture, black beans, green chiles, carrots and 1 cup of cheese. Stir with a spoon until everything is distributed fairly evenly. Transfer to a 9x13 baking dish that has been lightly sprayed with nonstick spray. Top with the remaining 1 cup of cheese.

4. Cover with aluminum foil **(See cooking lesson below)** and bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes to let the cheese get slightly browned.

**Serving Suggestion: goes well topped with sour cream and/or avocados







Casserole type recipes topped with cheese often call for a covering of aluminum foil so that everything can bake without the cheese burning. It is important to follow this step, but can cause a mess if the cheese sticks to the foil. To avoid sticking, lightly spray your foil with nonstick spray before placing that side down to cover the cheese. You'll be able to easily remove it without the cheese sticking!

Did you know...when you are covering something with aluminum foil the shiny side should go in, leaving the dull, more heat absorbent side showing. This will allow it to absorb more heat rather than reflect some of it. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

How to Make a Stuffed Pretzel


Stuffed pretzels are the kind of stuff delicious is made of. They sound kind of intimidating though because how in the world do they get that good stuff in there? It's actually super easy. It just goes snake, flatten, fill and pinch closed.

Step 1 - Make your dough just like in the recipe for soft pretzels and divide the dough into golf ball sized lumps. Roll each ball into a snake or rope.

Step 2 - Flatten your snake with a rolling pin. Make it at least a few inches wide so you'll have room for your filling.

Step 3 - Place your desired filling down the middle of the flattened snake. Don't overfill or it'll be hard to close up.

Step 4 - Fold the dough over the filling and pinch it closed. Once it is completely pinched close. Roll the snake again gently to make it a rope again.

Step 5 - Proceed as outlined in the recipe. Twist into a pretzel shape (or whatever shape you desired), dip in the baking soda/water solution, and bake at 500 degrees for about 6-8 minutes until golden brown.

Let's take a closer look:




What are you going to fill it with? Some of my favorite are pizza (sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni), spinach artichoke dip, or cream cheese topped with cinnamon sugar. What's your favorite?



Thursday, January 10, 2013

Soft Pretzels





I'm a big fan of soft pretzels. Every time I go to the mall I have to steer clear of the pretzel places for fear that I might purchase something that costs 100 times more than it costs to make at home. That may be an exaggeration, but I don't do that kind of math for fun so I couldn't really tell you, but I do know that they are outrageously priced. Anyway, the point is that they are super easy to make at home. My kids love to help me make pretzels. At about 18 months old they could roll snakes out of dough which meant they were ready for pretzel making. At about 45 minutes start to finish it can be a great after school activity to let those minds rest and those hands get to work. So call the kids into the kitchen and whip up some of these tasty pretzels! You'll have a lot of fun!



Ingredients

Pretzels
1 1/4 cups water, lukewarm
1 tablespoon yeast
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 1/2 - 4 cups flour

Dipping Solution
1/4 cup baking soda
1 1/2 cups hot water

Topping
melted butter

Course Salt or Cinnamon Sugar 


Instructions


1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar into the warm water.


2. Add in the flour and mix until combined. No need to knead. Let the dough rise in a warm place until almost doubled which should only take about 20 minutes. 

3. Divide the dough into golf ball sized lumps. Roll each ball into a snake or rope. Twist them into pretzel shapes (or whatever shape you'd like!).

4. In a small bowl or a liquid measuring cup, dissolve the baking soda in the hot water. Dip the pretzels into the solution and place on a well-greased cookie sheet or baking pan.

5. Bake for about 6 minutes at 500 degrees until they are golden brown.

6. Remove from the oven and dip the face of the pretzel in melted butter. Sprinkle with course salt for a savory pretzel, or cinnamon sugar for a sweet bite. 






Look for a companion post tomorrow on how to make a stuffed pretzel!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Apple Pie Smoothie




So it is the new year and you are all resolved to eat better and lose the chub. It's cool. We all do it. But now you find yourself thinking about that apple pie you were enjoying a few weeks ago. You might even be rationalizing how it really doesn't look THAT bad on your thighs. Stop it. You've got this! I'm going to give you a little apple pie smoothie recipe that will make things better for you. It's just fruit, almond milk, and spices. Easy peasy healthy! Enjoy it as a nice breakfast, an afternoon treat, or even dessert. Eat healthy, feel better!


Ingredients

2 apples, cored and quartered
1 banana
2 mejool dates or 4 smaller dates
1 1/2 cups almond milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves


Instructions

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until there are no more large chunks.

2. Marvel at yourself because that is the easiest recipe ever.



When it comes to smoothie making the biggest problem I run across is not having enough liquid. If you don't add enough liquid, your blender won't be able to blend it all up, especially if you are using frozen ingredients. Start by adding enough liquid so that 3/4 of the fruit is covered by the liquid. If it doesn't blend easily, add more. If you are using all frozen ingredients you may have to completely cover the fruit with liquid for it to blend thoroughly.




Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Pasta Fresca




I don't eat out a ton, especially at chain restaurants (go local!), but when I do I must say I enjoy the pasta options at Noodles and Company. Their Pasta Fresca is nice and light and tasty to boot. It is a great low-cal pasta option, and even sneaks in healthy stuff like spinach and tomatoes. It is super easy to make at home and guess what? It is a 15 minute meal. I'm serious. It literally takes me 15 minutes to make this, start to finish. Start your water boiling for your pasta, prep your onions, mushrooms, garlic, spinach, and tomatoes, boil your pasta while you saute your veggies, combine and serve. Pretty tasty!


Ingredients

1 lb penne pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
1 package mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch (about 3 big handfuls) spinach, rinsed, stems removed

salt and pepper
feta cheese for topping


Instructions

1. In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Cook noodles according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add in onions and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and saute for about 5 minutes.

3. Add in the minced garlic and saute for another minute.

4. Add in the vinegars. It'll sizzle like crazy and reduce rather quickly.

5. By this time your pasta should be done and drained. Turn off the heat and add in the cooked pasta, cherry tomatoes and spinach. Stir to coat the noodles and continue until the spinach begins to wilt. It should only take a minute or two. Taste, and season with more salt and pepper if necessary.

6. Sprinkle crumbled feta on top and serve.






When a recipe calls for minced garlic to be sauteed, you should most likely add the garlic during the very last minute or two of cooking. Garlic burns very quickly and when burnt it brings on a bitter flavor. A minute of sauteeing will leave a pleasant, sweet garlic flavor that can really enhance a dish.  

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