Monday, December 28, 2009

Recipe Spotlight: Asian Noodle Salad

The day after Christmas I had the pleasure of hosting my closest friends for lunch. At this annual meal I always try to cook something a little decadent and balance it with something healthful. This year I made Cheesy Chicken and Wild Rice soup (see last post), and to offset its "decadence" I served this phenomenal Asian Noodle Salad. I discovered this salad on my new favorite cooking blog, Pioneer Woman Cooks ( Oh my gosh this blog is such an inspiration! Not only does she cook fantastic meals, but she photographs each step of the process, making it easy for even the least experienced home cook to make her recipes. Her Asian Noodle Salad was delicious and healthy, and made enough to feed a crowd! It is also such a great base recipe that you could add anything you want to it- broccoli, sprouts, herbs, beans, pea pods, water chestnuts, the list goes on. Here is the main recipe. If you don't have all the ingredients just work with what you do have, adding and deleting flavors you love or dislike. Remember, cooking is a very organic process, and you're in charge! 

Asian Noodle Salad
Serves 12

1 package Linguine Noodles, Cooked, Rinsed, And Cooled
½ heads Sliced Napa Cabbage, Or More To Taste
½ heads Sliced Purple Cabbage, Or More To Taste
½ bags Baby Spinach, Or More To Taste
1 whole Red Bell Pepper, Sliced Thin
1 whole Yellow Bell Pepper, Sliced Thin
1 whole Orange Bell Pepper, Thinly Sliced
1 bag Bean Sprouts (also Called Mung Bean Sprouts)
Chopped Cilantro, Up To 1 Bunch, To Taste
3 whole Scallions, Sliced
3 whole Cucumbers Peeled And Sliced
1 can (about 10 Oz.) Whole Cashews, Lightly Toasted In Skillet

1 whole Lime, Juiced
8 Tablespoons Olive Oil
8 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons (up To 3 Tablespoons) Sesame Oil
⅓ cups Brown Sugar
3 Tablespoons Fresh Ginger Chopped
2 cloves Garlic Chopped
2 whole Hot Peppers Or Jalapeno's, Chopped
Chopped Cilantro

Mix salad ingredients together. Whisk dressing ingredients together and pour over salad. Mix with tongs or hands and serve on a platter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Recipe Spotlight: Cheesy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Every December my mom's family in Iowa gets together for a lovely Christmas feast, complete with caroling, presents and celebrating the new year. And every year the casually delicious spread is the same- sandwiches, salads, dips, jellos, punch and... Cheesy Chicken and Wild Rice soup! This soup is the highlight of the feast, and my mother and grandmother often make three large crockpots full. We love it! It is so easy to make, and incredibly delicious, with a creamy smooth texture and rich flavor. No, it isn't health food, but hey, it's the holidays!

Cheesy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
Creamy, cheesy and mmm mmm good! 
Serves 6

1 qt. half and half
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 onion, diced
2 c. cooked chicken breast
3 c. cooked wild rice
2 c. shredded carrots
1 c. sliced fresh mushrooms
1.5 lb. Velveeta cheese, cubed

Mix ingredients together and put in crockpot. Cook on low heat for 3.5 - 4 hours.

Reduced fat variation: Use 2% milk instead of half and half, reduced fat cream of mushroom soup, and reduced fat Velveeta cheese.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Recipe Spotlight: Indian Shrimp with Creamy Coconut Sauce

It is not often that I step outside of my Italian themed dinners, but last night I was inspired to make something new. My new favorite cuisine is Indian- I just love the exotic creamy sauces and tender morsels of the most delectable stewed meat imaginable. But I'd never attempted to cook it at home because, well, it just seemed too complicated! Exotic ingredients, unattainable cookware, and hours of stewing just not did not seem appealing to me. That is, until I realize that it doesn't have to be so difficult! I adapted the recipe below from Emeril to make it as easy and delicious as possible, and I have to say I loved the finished product. Succulent shrimp, crispy vegetables and a creamy sauce that was both sweet from the coconut and spicy from the chili sauce, with a distinctive ginger flavor that almost had my head in the pan, soaking in the aroma. I hope this recipe inspires you to make Indian food at home too!

Indian Shrimp with Creamy Coconut Sauce
Exotic flavors shine in this easy-to-make knockout! 
Serves 2-3

2 T. vegetable or canola oil
2 tsp. mustard seeds
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 red onion, diced
1 tsp. chili sauce, or more to taste
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 T. minced garlic
2 T. tomato paste
1 package frozen stir fry or harvest blend vegetables
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes OR 3-4 fresh tomatoes, chopped and mixed with 1/4 c. chicken stock
1 5 oz. can coconut milk
3/4 pounds raw shrimp (peeled, deveined and tails removed)
1 tsp. salt
3 T. chopped fresh cilantro OR parsley leaves
2 cups instant white rice, for serving
1 c. chicken stock, optional

Set a 14-inch saute pan over medium heat. Add the oil and toast the mustard seeds and cumin until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the onions, ginger and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions are slightly caramelized, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste to the pan and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the diced tomatoes and frozen vegetables. Cook for 3-4 minutes until vegetables are softened and tomatoes begin to reduce.

Meanwhile, prepare the instant rice by bringing 1 c. chicken stock mixed with 1 c. water up to a boil, add the rice, and remove from heat. Cover and let sit 5-8 minutes until liquid is absorbed. (If you don't have chicken stock use all water.)

Back to the sauce, raise the heat to high, add the coconut milk, and cook for 2 minutes. Season the shrimp with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Add the shrimp to the pan, stirring often, and cook until curled and pink, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped cilantro and season with additional salt to taste.

*Try chicken instead of shrimp. Add cooked chicken to the sauce when you'd normally add the shrimp for a delicious variation! 

Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dinner Party Menu: Chicken Piccata, Scalloped Potato Gratin and Roasted Broccoli

Kevin's parents came to visit last weekend, and I was in charge of Friday night's meal. Shortly after their arrival Kevin surprised them with the story of our recent engagement. Luckily they were thrilled! I'd cooked for my in-laws-to-be once before, but this time the stakes were high. The meal was to be consumed shortly after they learned I would become their daughter-in-law. So I put together a menu that I thought would be special and satisfying, with a little bit of "she'll be a good wife to my son" on the side. Mission accomplished!

The entire meal, yum!

Chicken Piccatta 
Lemony, creamy and tender with a bright sauce.
Serves 6

2 large lemons
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup flour
4 T. vegetable oil
1 small shallot or 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. chicken stock
2 T. capers
3 T. unsalted butter
2 T. fresh parsley, minced

Prepare chicken breasts: Place each breast smooth-side up on a cutting board. Holding one hand on top of the cutlet, carefully slice the cutlet in half horizontally. This will yield two pieces, each about 1/2 inch thick. 

Halve one lemon pole to pole. Trim ends from one half and cut crosswise into slices 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick; set aside. Juice remaining half and whole lemon to obtain 1/4 cup juice; reserve.

Sprinkle both sides of cutlets generously with salt and pepper. Measure flour into pie tin or shallow baking dish. Working one cutlet at a time, coat with flour, and shake to remove excess.

Heat heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot, about 2 minutes; add 2 tablespoons oil and swirl pan to coat. Lay half of chicken pieces in skillet. Sauté cutlets, without moving them, until lightly browned on first side, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Turn cutlets and cook until second side is lightly browned, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes longer. Remove pan from heat and transfer cutlets to plate in warm oven, or cover with foil and place in microwave to keep warm. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to now-empty skillet and heat until shimmering. Add remaining chicken pieces and repeat.

Add shallot or garlic to now-empty skillet and return skillet to medium heat. Sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds for shallot or 10 seconds for garlic. Add stock and lemon slices, increase heat to high, and scrape skillet bottom with wooden spoon or spatula to loosen browned bits. Simmer until liquid reduces to about 1/3 cup, about 4 minutes. Add lemon juice and capers and simmer until sauce reduces again to 1/3 cup, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and swirl in butter until butter melts and thickens sauce; swirl in parsley. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Creamy, lemony and bright, chicken piccata is a crowd pleaser!

Scalloped Potato Gratin
A supper club classic jazzed up with fresh herbs. 
Serves 6

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for broiling

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, heat up the cream with two sprigs of thyme, two sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped garlic and nutmeg.

While cream is heating up, butter a casserole dish and finely chop the remaining thyme and rosemary.  Place potatoes in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Remove cream from heat, discard herb sprigs, then pour cream in bowl to cover the potatoes. Add grated Parmesan and fresh herbs and stir to combine. Pour mixture into casserole dish and bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Sprinkle some more Parmesan on top and broil until cheese browns, about 5 minutes.

Recipe inspired by Tyler Florence, 

This scalloped potato gratin is rich and creamy with incredible depth of flavor from nutmeg, garlic and herbs.

Roasted Broccoli 
My favorite side dish. 
Serves 4-6

2 heads fresh broccoli
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 T. olive oil
Fresh lemon juice

Put cookie sheet in oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Cut broccoli off of stems and separate into florets. Mix with sugar, salt and olive oil. Carefully place broccoli on hot baking sheet removed from oven. Bake in oven for 10 minutes. Remove to bowl and mix with fresh lemon juice and fresh pepper.

Fresh roasted broccoli is the perfect side.

Garlic Bread
Serves 6

One loaf french bread
4 T. unsalted butter
4 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut loaf the long way and separate the two halves. Spread each with half of the butter and drizzle with the olive oil. Add one minced garlic clove to each bread half. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Place two halves together to reform loaf, and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake in oven for 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil, slice and serve.

Use bread to mop up the lemony cream sauce from the chicken piccata. Heaven!

A special occasion called for a special bottle of wine. We enjoyed a bottle of Muscardini Cellars Tesoro that we bought in Sonoma Valley. It was delicious, smooth and rich, a perfect example of the power of Sonoma Valley reds.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Must-Have Ingredients to Stock Your Kitchen!

In honor of my newly married and engaged friends who are busy setting up households and learning to cook for their hubbies, today's blog is all about suggested ingredients to stock your kitchen. With this list you can make most of my recipes, and most importantly you can throw the ingredients together to create your own specialties! The ingredients I listed are based on what I keep in my kitchen at all times. I don't tend to use recipes, and instead combine the listed ingredients in various ways to create delicious dishes! Use this list to begin to stock your kitchen, and you'll find that whipping up delicious meals is a cinch!

- Dried Pasta (one long, such as spaghetti or linguini, and one short, such as rigatoni or penne)
- Potatoes (potato wedges are a go-to side!)
- Whole wheat bread
- French bread (for bruschetta or garlic bread)
- Instant rice (side dish or use to bolster up soups)
- Pizza crust (pre-made, such as Boboli, or Pillsbury raw dough is great for pizzas or calzones)
- Tortillas (enchiladas, fajitas, soft tacos, etc)

- Frozen chicken breasts
- Frozen chicken tenderloins (for chicken strips or to thaw quickly, dice, and add to pasta/soup/casseroles)
- Frozen lean ground beef (burgers, meatballs, tacos, etc.)
- Frozen Italian sausage links (separate the links into ziplock bags to thaw quickly, and use for pizzas, pasta sauce and meatballs)
- Canned black beans (Mexican food)
- Canned garbanzo beans (delish on salads)
- Pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, soy nuts (add crunch and flavor to salads) 
- Prosciutto (sandwiches, pasta, pizza, and even in quesadillas with apricot jam and sliced apples)

- Tomatoes (bruschetta!)
- Red onions (use raw on salads and cooked in anything and everything)
- Garlic (adds flavor and complexity to pasta, pizza, sauces, meat marinades, etc)
- Green peppers (pizza topping, bolsters pasta sauce, grilled fajitas, raw in salads)
- Frozen spinach (thaw and add to casseroles for easy iron)
- Frozen broccoli (so good as a side or in a chunky tomato sauce)
- Canned crushed tomatoes (saute onion and garlic, add tomatoes, salt & pepper and simmer for easy tomato sauce)
- Kalamata olives (fabulous in salads and pastas or on their own)
- Sun dried tomatoes (add to pasta, pizza, pasta salad, sandwiches, bruschetta, anything!)
- Banana peppers (salads, pizzas and sandwiches)
- Avocado (guacamole, on sandwiches, bruschetta and salads)

- Apples (delish in salads with creamy cheese, or saute with onions for an easy pork side dish)
- Pears (pair with brie and enjoy with red wine or in a salad)
- Dried cranberries (add to salads)
- Pomegranate seeds (fantastic with goat cheese and pecans in salad)

- Goat cheese (great in salads or add to hot cooked pasta with reserved pasta water for a creamy sauce)
- Feta cheese (make a quick Greek salad with feta, kalamata olives, banana peppers and lettuce)
- Shredded cheddar and mozzarella (classic pizza cheese)
- Parmesan (do NOT buy pre-grated/shredded, it has no flavor! Buy in a wedge and grate it over pasta and pizzas, or peel thin slices to top salads or eat raw with rich red wine)
- Brie (creamy and amazing spread on paninis or with fruit)

Spices and Herbs
- Cinnamon (on toast or sweet potatoes)
- Nutmeg (add to any creamy sauce)
- Paprika (season chicken or brighten creamy casseroles)
- Chili Powder (Mexican food or seasoning)
- Rosemary (dried or fresh with potatoes, garlic bread and pasta sauce)
- Oregano (garlic bread and pasta/pizza sauce)
- Fresh parsley (finish dishes with its bright color and fresh flavor)
- Steak seasoning (also great with burgers)
- Garlic salt (quickest way to add garlicky flavor to just about anything)

- Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce (Oh the possibilities)
- Wishbone Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing (favorite for salads)
- Wishbone Light Done Right Italian (pasta salads)
- Dijon mustard (for sandwiches and mixed with olive oil and balsamic for salad dressing)
- Apricot Jam (spread on warm bread with apples and prosciutto, yum!)

- Extra virgin olive oil (salad dressing and cooking)
- Balsamic vinegar (reduce to a syrup for bruschetta, saute with butter for a pasta sauce, salad dressing)
- Kosher salt (table salt has no flavor)
- Black peppercorns (to crack fresh in pepper grinder)
- Unsalted butter
- Flour (coat chicken and saute in olive oil for a golden crust)
- Breadcrumbs (top casseroles or baked pastas, or coat chicken)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Recipe Spotlight: BBQ Chicken Sandwiches and Sweet Potato Fries

My fiance Kevin loves barbecue. When I suggest he choose the restaurant for dinner, he regularly suggests Famous Dave's (which I regularly reject). But I know it's important to keep my man happy (why else would he propose?) so last week I made Rachael Ray's BBQ chicken sandwiches at home, complete with homemade BBQ sauce. The meal was a cinch to prepare and was delicious. The meat was tender, the sauce bursting with flavor, and the accompanying pickle relish and sweet potato fries added unique and delicious flavors.

BBQ Chicken Sandwiches
A saucy treat that's quick to make and fun to eat! 
Serves 4-6

1 cup chicken stock
1 bottle lager beer
4 pieces, 6 ounces each boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon hot sauce
2 tablespoons grill seasoning
3 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1 large sour deli pickle, chopped
6 to 8 slices dill pickles, chopped
6 soft burger buns

Bring liquids to a simmer in a small to medium skillet and slide in the chicken breast meat. Gently poach the chicken 10 minutes, turning once about after 5 minutes.

While chicken poaches, heat a second medium skillet over medium low heat. To hot skillet, add extra-virgin olive oil and garlic and onion and gently saute until chicken is ready to come out of poaching liquids. Combine the next 5 ingredients in a medium bowl and reserve.

When the chicken has cooked through, add 2 ladles of the cooking liquid to the bowl, combining with the sauces, spices, brown sugar and tomato paste. Once the liquids and seasonings are combined, remove chicken, slice it, and transfer to the medium bowl. Using 2 forks, shred the chicken and combine with the liquids. Add the shredded chicken to the onions and garlic and combine well. Simmer together 5 to 10 minutes, using extra cooking liquids to make your chicken as saucy as you like.

Combine sour and sweet pickles in a small bowl. Split rolls and fill with scoops of shredded chicken. Top with pickle relish and serve.
Recipe adapted from Rachael Ray

Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Fries 
Sweet, chewy and healthy!
Serves 4

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
3 T. olive oil
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. seasoning salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss sweet potatoes with oil and seasonings. Spray baking sheet with non-stick spray and bake in oven for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Recipe Spotlight: Rigatoni with Goat Cheese, Spinach and Ham

I had a ton of leftover ham after Thanksgiving, and I wasn't sure what to do with it. I can only eat so many ham sandwiches! What I was really craving was pasta, so I decided to be resourceful and make a ham pasta.  It may sound strange, but trust me, ham is delicious in pasta. (Think prosciutto!) I decided to take a healthful approach to my pasta lunch by adding in a ton of  fresh spinach. I could never feel guilty eating a huge bowl of pasta if it's jam packed with this iron-packed power food! So, for my day-after-Thanksgiving lunch, I cooked up a huge pan of rigatoni with wilted spinach, creamy goat cheese and salty ham, and it was the best use of leftovers ever! (If you don't have leftover ham just buy some in the deli, sliced extra thick.)

Rigatoni with Goat Cheese, Spinach and Ham
A deliciously different power-packed pasta!
Serves 4

3/4 lb. Rigatoni pasta
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh spinach (about 2-3 handfuls)
1/2 lb. thick-cut cooked ham, cubed
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
Salt and Pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, sprinkle with salt, and saute until softened.

Meanwhile, cook rigatoni in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite. Before draining pasta reserve a coffee mug full of the pasta water.

Add drained pasta to large skillet with onions and garlic and add ham. Raise heat to medium-high, add in fresh spinach and pasta water, and cover for 2-3 minutes until spinach is wilted. Remove cover and stir to combine, cooking off any remaining liquid. Finally, add in fresh crumbled goat cheese, stir until melted, and remove pasta from heat. Top with pepper and serve.

Recipe author: Sarah Saubert