April 30, 2011

Mushroom and White Bean Stew with Campanelle

Today's featured recipe was inspired by a recipe presented at Kalyn's Kitchen.   That recipe - Mushroom, White Bean and Tomato Stew with Parmesan - looked pretty good, but there were a few things I knew I'd want to do differently.  One of the primary changes I made was to saute the mushrooms along with the onions, rather than adding them in later.   I knew doing that would intensify the flavor of the mushrooms.  I also changed up the amounts of various ingredients and added a wider range of seasonings.  None of these changes made the dish any more difficult or added significantly to the length of time necessary to prepare the dish.

This recipe makes a thick, hearty bean and vegetable stew, served hot atop pasta and topped with grated Parmesan... what's not to like about that?   Frankly, it's delicious, and hearty enough to be quite satisfying without any meat.   It's also easy and fast to make. 

Mushrooms and White Bean Stew with Campanelle

yield = 4-5 servings

1            cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 3/4      teaspoons table salt
2            tablespoons olive oil
1            large yellow onion, thinly sliced
8            ounces cremini mushrooms, washed, trimmed and quartered
8            ounces button mushrooms, washed, trimmed and quartered
1            teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
4            teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2      teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2      teaspoon ground fennel seed
3/4         teaspoons dried oregano
1/4         teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8         teaspoon dried sage
1            can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
2            cans (15 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2         cup freshly-chopped parsley
1            pound campanelle, farfalle, penne or other hearty pasta
              freshly-grated Parmesan cheese for serving (to taste)

Heat the chicken broth in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Boil until the broth is reduced by half.  Set aside.

Add 4 quarts water and 1 teaspoon table salt to a large pot.  Bring to a boil.

While the water is heating up, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have started to brown, then add the mushrooms, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their juices and the liquid is mostly cooked off. 

Clear an area in the center of the skillet and add garlic, thyme, fennel, oregano, crushed red pepper and sage.  Cook until fragrant (about 1 minute), then stir to mix.

Add the tomatoes, beans, parsley and reduced chicken broth.  Stir to mix, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Simmer 10 minutes or until the liquid has thickened.

By now the water for the pasta should be boiling.  Add pasta to the boiling water and cook per directions, then drain.

Serve mushroom and bean mixture atop the pasta and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

One could make this into a vegetarian dish by using vegetable broth in place of the chicken broth.  Going the opposite direction, this dish would also be good if one added some Italian sausage.

I used both cremini and button mushrooms, mostly because I didn't have enough creminis on hand, but for extra-rich mushroom flavor, you can double the creminis and skip the button mushrooms.

April 29, 2011

KCups: Another Top 5 - Plain Jane Coffee That's Easy to Love!

My favorite coffees are flavored, hands down.  But I've found some unflavored coffee varieties I like, too.  Unsurprisingly, most of them use light or medium roasted coffee beans.  However, the Emeril and Paul Newman coffees both surprised me with how much I enjoyed them, since they're dark roasted.  I doubt I'll ever be able to drink my coffee black like mom, but these were all great with the requisite Splenda and flavored creamers.  So, in no particular order:

1.  Green Mount Coffee Breakfast Blend - This is a light roast, and pairs very nicely with the French Vanilla and Hazelnut creamers I like.

2.  Green Mountain Coffee Nantucket Blend - This is a medium roast, and the taste reminds me of the kind of coffee you'd get at a waffle-house-type restaurant.  Very good.

3.  Green Mountain Coffee Vermont Country Blend - Another medium roast coffee, very pleasant on a chilly morning.

4.  Emeril's Big Easy Bold- A dark roast that I found surprisingly good.  Perfect for mornings when I can't quite seem to wake up.  This coffee is my favorite of the ones featured today.

5.  Newman's Own Organics Special Blend - This is a blend of medium and dark roasted beans.  It's also the only one of the five I've listed today that I can readily buy at the Des Moines grocery stores we sometimes shop at on the way home from work.  The flavor is deep and bold, but never bitter. 

I love coffee, I love tea.
I love the java jive and it loves me.
Coffee and tea and the java and me,                     
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup!

April 28, 2011

Red Curry Beef with Eggplant and Mushrooms

Today's recipe is something I tossed together, a Thai-influenced beef and vegetable curry.  It's quick and easy to make, and full of flavor.

A lot of people find eggplant bitter, and sometimes it is, especially larger eggplants.  For this recipe, use a medium-sized one, or two small ones. 

One of the keys to this dish is the trick of cooking the curry paste in the hot oil.   This is a trick common to Indian curries as well as Southeast Asian ones, and it serves both to intensify the flavor of the seasonings and to flavor the oil, so that everything cooked in it is imparted with the flavors. 

I didn't have any Thai basil around when I tossed this together, but if I had, I'd have added a half-cup or so of the Thai basil (a half-cup or so) along with the beef and skipped the cilantro garnish.  If you have access to Thai basil, give that a try.   I think it will make the recipe even better.

Red Curry Beef with Eggplant

yield = 4 servings

3                       tablespoons fish sauce
2                       tablespoons lime juice
2                       teaspoons cornstarch
1                       pound beef sirloin, sliced thin
2                       tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
2                       tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1                       can (14 ounces) coconut milk
1                       tablespoon granulated sugar
8                       ounces button mushrooms, quartered
1                       medium eggplant, peeled and cut into chunks
1                       tablespoon fresh cilantro leaves to garnish (if desired)

Whisk together two tablespoons fish sauce, one tablespoon lime juice and cornstarch in a medium bowl.  Add the sliced beef, toss to coat and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the oil is shimmering, stir in the curry paste and cook until fragrant and bubbling, about 1 minute.  Add the beef mixture and stir fry until just browned on all sides.  Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Add the coconut milk, remaining 1 tablespoon fish sauce and lime juice and sugar to the skillet.  Heat to a simmer, then add the mushrooms and eggplant and cook for about 10 minutes or until the eggplant is tender and the sauce has thickened.

Return the beef to the plan.  Stir and cook until the beef is heated through.  Remove from heat, garnish with cilantro leaves and serve over jasmine rice.

April 27, 2011

Broke Out the Grill Last Weekend

This past Sunday, the weather was really nice most of the day.  Sunny, not much of a breeze, it was really quite delightful.   And not surprisingly, the beautiful spring day got me thinking about breaking out the grill for the first time of the season.   As it happened, one of the area stores had had an incredible special deal on Amana NY strip steaks - a pack of 5 beautiful, 8-ounce steaks for $15.  By the time I actually got back home from the office, the weather wasn't quite as nice - it had gotten clouded over, though there still wasn't much wind - but I wasn't going to let that get in my way.

I decided I'd season the steaks with the seasoning blend I came up with recently for Pan-Seared Steaks.  I seasoned the steaks on both sides, then left them out as I got the coals ready.  As it turns out, it works great for grilling, too, and since a grilled steak is pretty much always going to be better than one cooked on a stovetop or in an oven, this seasoning blend ends up being even better with a grilled steak.

The steaks cooked up quickly; four minutes on each side was enough to edge them to the medium side of medium-rare.  They had a great, browned outer crust while remaining juicy and tender on the inside, and the seasoning enhanced the rich beef flavor without overwhelming it.  I served the steaks up with a Caesar salad and Fast Baked (microwaved) Potatoes topped with sour cream and garden-fresh chives.  That combination made for a great dinner.

I'm glad the 5-pack of steaks was simply too good a deal to pass up.  I sliced up the leftovers for steak sandwiches.  The next morning I made up a couple sandwiches, topping them with slices of the Cabot extra-sharp cheddar we like.  Microwaved for a minute or so, Juli and I both thought these were the best steak sandwiches we'd ever had.

Cooking Tip:
If you haven't yet discovered the wonder of a chimney charcoal starter, I strongly recommend you check into one.  They make it fast and easy to get your charcoal ready for grilling, with no mess and without the chemical flavor you can get from using starter fluid or treated charcoal.  Weber makes a few models, including the one I use, the 7416 Rapidfire Chimney Starter.  It's easy to find, sturdy, reliable and a great buy for the cost. 

April 26, 2011

Repeats, a Giveaway Winner and a Nice Surprise

Much as I love making new recipes - both those of my own creation and others' recipes that are new to me - I also like revisiting tried-and-true recipes.  There's definitely something to be said for making something you know is going to turn out great.

Juli's Pineapple Custard recipe has been seeing a lot of use lately.  In addition to us featuring it with our own Easter dinner, I brought a double batch to my most recent work potluck last Wednesday.   The theme this time around was food with eggs and/or an Easter theme, so the Pineapple Custard went well with that.   It was a big hit.  There wasn't any left at the end of the lunch period, several of my coworkers commented on it, and one asked for the recipe so she could feature it for her own family's Easter dinner.   That's about as high a compliment as one can get when it comes to food.  Juli and I were especially pleased when she got back to me and reported how much of a hit that dish had been with her family.

On Saturday morning I baked up a double batch of my Glorious Morning Glory Muffins.   I'm not sure how making double the recipe ended me up with more batter than needed to make two tins of muffins, but that was the case, so I also made a tin of mini-muffins.  As before, these muffins turned out great... moist, just the tiniest bit spicy due to cinnamon and grated ginger, and full of fruit flavor.  There's a reason I keep making these!

We kept a few to warm up as a quick breakfast - they keep well for several days, and taste almost as good as fresh out of the oven if you just microwave them for about 45 seconds - and I took the rest of the muffins to work to share with my coworkers.   They were as big a hit among my colleagues as they have been in our home.

We randomly selected among the readers who commented on our blog as part of our first-ever giveaway, and the winner was Lena, a longtime reader and fairly frequent commentator.  Our hope is that the prize wll be as big a hit with her as the two dishes featured above have been for us.   We'd also like to thank all of the other readers who left comments.  We appreciate all our readers, but we also appreciate feedback.

Speaking of feedback, on Saturday, April 23, our blog got the most hits it has ever gotten in a single day.   We don't think it cooincidence that a lot of those viewers checked out Juli's Easy Easter Dinner post.  Past posts featuring dishes such as roasts, ham balls and lamb chops.  We concluded that a lot of people were checking out the blog, or returning to get a recipe they'd seen here before, in order to find something to make and serve over the Easter holiday.  We were very pleased to have so many people turning to our blog for so meaningful a meal.  If any of our readers did end up making any of the dishes we've featured, we would love to hear how they turned out.

April 25, 2011

Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry

I haven't been cooking as many Indian dishes lately as I did when I first got back into cooking in a big way, last summer.   That doesn't mean Indian isn't still on my mind a lot, though.  I've collected some Indian recipes I'm waiting to try out, and I've been working on a few Indian-inspired recipes of my own as well.  I finally tried one of those out.

One thing I love about Indian food is that the meatless dishes are just as good as the ones with meat.  Indian seasonings are quite versatile, and they're great for enhancing the flavor of vegetables without overpowering them.  Today's recipe is a good example.  Cauliflower and chickpeas are supported by fried carrots and onions and accented by classical Indian seasonings. plus a bit of yogurt added right before serving.   It's easy to make, fairly fast, and very, very flavorful.

This one turned out to be so great that Juli and I had seconds, and ended up with barely enough left over to make one lunch.  I will definitely be making this again.

Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry

yield = 4 main-dish servings (8 side-dish servings)

1                 tablespoon vegetable oil
2                 large carrots, peeled and diced
1                 large white onion, finely chopped
2                 tablespoons peeled, minced fresh ginger
2                 teaspoons minced garlic
1                 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2              teaspoon ground coriander
1/2              teaspoon black mustard seed
1/2              teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4              teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/2           cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2              teaspoon table salt
2                 pounds (1 medium head) cauliflower, cut into small florets
2                 cans (15 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2              teaspoon garam masala
1/4              cup plain low-fat yogurt
2                 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  When the oil is shimmering, add the carrots and onion.  Cook until the onions have thoroughly browned and the carrots are tender (about 8 minutes), stirring often.

Clear a spot in the center of the Dutch oven and the ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, black mustard seed, turmeric and cayenne.  Cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the broth and salt.  Heat until the broth is boiling, then stir in cauliflower and chickpeas, reduce heat, cover and simmer.  Stir every 5 minutes or so and cook until the cauliflower is tender (about 15 minutes).

Sprinkle with garam masala, then remove from heat and stir in the yogurt and cilantro.  Serve with rice and naan or other Indian bread. 

April 24, 2011

Maple and Brown Sugar Glazed Ham

When it came time to prepare the ham for our Easter meal, I decided to skip the glaze that came with the ham and make one of my own.  That was a really easy decision since the glaze was full of unspecified "food starches" and other unappetizing-sounding ingredients.   I knew I wanted a combination of brown sugar and maple flavors, and for the glaze to give the ham a bit of browning on the outer layer.

The glaze was ready in a couple of minutes, and it took only a few more minutes to get the ham ready for cooking.   I figured out how much time it would need to cook, based on weight, and took off the foil covering the ham during the last 20 minutes of that time, to allow the ham to brown.

For a minimum of work, we got a great, flavorful ham.  It tasted great as part of our Easter feast (I particularly liked it topped with Pineapple Custard), and now we have lots of ham for sandwiches and for other dishes. 

Maple and Brown Sugar Glazed Ham

2              teaspoons granulated (white) sugar
2              teaspoons light brown sugar
2              teaspoons maple sugar
1              bone-in, spiral-sliced ham

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Add white, brown and maple sugars in a small bowl and stir to mix thoroughly.   Place the ham on its side in a foil-lined baking pan.

Rub the surface of the ham lightly and evenly with the sugar mixture. 

Fan the slices of ham and sprinkle in a bit more of the sugar mixture, then sprinkle the remainder of the sugar mixture on the top surface of the ham. 

Wrap in foil and bake for about 15 minutes per pound weight of the ham.  Remove foil cover for the last 15-20 minutes of baking.

Remove ham from the oven, slice and serve.

Our Easter Dinner

Our Easter Feast:  (from top) buttered dinner rolls, Cheesy
Potato Casserole, steamed asparagus and Maple and
Brown Sugar Glazed Ham topped with Pineapple Custard

As Juli posted in her Easy Easter Dinner post, we have our Easter dinner on the Saturday before Easter rather than on Easter day.  We do this due to our busy work schedules; by the time we get home on Easter, we generally don't have the energy to prepare or to really appreciate a big meal. 

Fresh from the oven

Our dinner included a Maple and Brown Sugar Glazed Ham (the recipe will be included in a separate post), Overnight Cheesy Potato Casserole, Pineapple Custard, Springtime Strawberry Gelatin Salad, steamed asparagus and dinner rolls (we like Sister Schubert brand, which is carried by Wal-Mart; just brush on a bit of melted butter and toss them in the stove for a few minutes and you get tasty, golden-brown rolls).   You can find the recipes for Pineapple Custard and Overnight Cheesy Potato Casserole here.

Our dinner table (not pictured:  Springtime
Strawberry Gelatin Salad

Since Juli prepared the potato casserole and gelatin salad last night, it was really very little work to make the meal.  Most of the time spent was simply time with things baking in the oven, and we baked the ham, the casserole and the custard at the same time (the ham went in first, and cooked for awhile before we added the others), then tossed in the dinner rolls and steamed the asparagus.  We'd eaten a late breakfast, so we had our Easter feast mid-afternoon, then nibbled on some leftovers in the evening.

Everything turned out great, and we've got lots of tasty leftovers.  I haven't yet decided whether I'm going to cook something tonight or whether we'll just reheat some of our Easter feast.  It depends how late I am getting home from the office.

For those of our readers who celebrate Easter, we hope you enjoy your feast as much as we did ours.

April 23, 2011

Springtime Strawberry Gelatin Salad

I wanted a cold salad to go with all the Easter hot dishes, and came up with this simple idea for a jello salad.  This is an embarassingly easy recipe!  Using the carbonated water cooler instead of the usual cold water to make the jello adds a refreshing zest. Best of all, no added sugar!  This will be a great addition to a ham and potato-based work lunch next week.

Springtime Strawberry Gelatin Salad

2  .60-ounce packages of sugarfree strawberry Jello gelatin
4 cups boiling water
1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 peeled oranges, each segment cut into 3 bite-size pieces
1 liter bottle (4 cups) 0-calorie strawberry-flavored carbonated water

1.  Place both boxes of gelatin into a large serving dish.  I used the largest of my four nested Pyrex bowls which holds just over 2 quarts. 

2.  Measure 4 cups of water into a 4-cup capacity Pyrex glass measuring cup.  Heat the cup in the microwave on high until the water boils, about 10-11 minutes depending on how powerful your microwave is.  While you wait for the water to boil, prepare the strawberries and oranges. 

3.  When you can see that the water is boiling, remove (use an oven mitt or potholder!) and pour over the dry gelatin.  Stir for 2 minutes, then add the bottle of strawberry water cooler.  The mixture will foam up temporarily.  Add the fruit and stir well.  Cover and place in the refrigerator to set, at least 2 hours for a firm set.

Easter Dinner 2011.  Yes, there are some bites taken.  I couldn't wait!

Crab Rangoon

I'm a big fan of Crab Rangoon, when it's made right.  But that's the problem.  In my opinion, the versions you get in restaurants are rarely very good.   More often than not the filling tastes of nothing but cream cheese, and much of the time it's questionable whether any crab meat has ever been in the same room as the Rangoons, nonetheless in the filling.  With this being the case, and with the two Chinese restaurants where I live being pretty much dreadful, I decided to satisfy my recent craving for Crab Rangoon by making my own.

From the outside, Crab Rangoon may appear somewhat fussy to make.  Folding the wrapping around the filling, sealing it, then the messy deep-frying.  In truth, though, it really doesn't take long to make them, the technique is simple and as long as you use a deep enough pan, the mess isn't that great.  Done right, the results speak for themselves.  These crispy, golden-brown packets of flavor make a great appetizer or a great side to another Asian dish. 

When making Crab Rangoon, you should also consider what dipping sauce(s) you are going to use.  Much of the time homemade is the way to go, but since we made these on a weeknight along with a main dish, we went with the fast-and-easy option of using the sauces sold in the supermarket.  One or more sweet or sweet-and-sour sauce is a must, and for me personally, hot mustard is also a must-have.

Crab Rangoon
yield = approx. 4 dozen

2                packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese
1                can (6 ounces) lump crab meat
3                tablespoons chopped fresh chives or green onion tops
1                teaspoon sugar
1/2             teaspoon white pepper
1/2             teaspoon table salt
1/8             teaspoon garlic powder
1                package wonton wrappers
4                cups peanut, canola or vegetable oil (for deep frying)

Microwave the cream cheese for about 1 minute to soften it.  Add the crab meat, chives (or green onion tops), sugar, white pepper, salt and garlic powder.  Stir to mix thoroughly.

Spoon about two teaspoons of the cream cheese mixture in the middle of a wonton wrapper.  Wet the edges of the wonton wrapper, fold over to close, press the edges together and fold over the outside edges, pinching tightly.  Continue with the remainder of the cream cheese mixture.

Add 4 cups peanut, canola or vegetable oil to a Dutch oven.  Heat to 350 degrees.  Add 6-8 rangoons to the hot oil.  Fry 2 minutes or until the edges start to turn deep brown; flip and fry another minute or so, then transfer to a plate lined with paper towels, then transfer to a serving plate and cover with a clean dish towel.

Continue with the remaining rangoon, letting the oil heat back up between batches.  Serve with dipping sauces or other Asian condiments of choice.