Monday, November 30, 2009

Vegetarian Version: French Onion Casserole

I don’t know where this recipe originated from, but I know it’s been showing up at family holiday dinners for years. We all have our “usuals” that we’re assigned to for family gatherings, and last year I added the French Onion Casserole to my contributions. The recipe calls for beef stock, but I knew that if I made it myself I could substitute with vegetable stock, and then be able to eat it myself. (Sneaky, I know.)

The casserole resembles French Onion Soup, complete with toasted bread and melted cheese. The recipe as follows should be doubled if you’re bringing it to an event and serving for a crowd. For our Thanksgiving dinner last week I went a little overboard on the cheese (I was trying to use up the Swiss I had purchased), and a little extra melted cheese is not a bad thing! You can use store-bought croutons, although I always find myself purchasing fresh French bread, cubing it, and toasting it in a 350°F oven for 10 minutes to make my own homemade croutons.

French Onion Casserole
4 medium onions
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all purpose floor
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
¾ cup vegetable stock
¼ cup dry sherry
1 ½ cups plain croutons
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 ounces processed Swiss cheese, shredded (about ½ cup)
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated

Cook onions in the 3 tablespoons butter until just tender. Blend in flour and pepper. Add stock and sherry; cook and stir until thickened and bubbly.

Put onion mixture into a 1-quart casserole dish. Toss croutons with the 2 tablespoons melted butter; spoon atop onion mixture. Sprinkle with Swiss and Parmesan cheese. Place under broiler until cheese milts, about 1 minute. Serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings (double for the holidays).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Leftover Meat: Kate's Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup

My husband and I have enjoyed our long weekend by putting up our Christmas tree, catching up on our favorite television shows, and trying to make a dent in the plentiful leftovers from our Thanksgiving dinner. Not having to cook for several days gave way for time to catch up on sleep and cleaning. However today I found myself cooking up a storm to prepare for a long and busy week ahead. I’d imagine that many people are currently trying to find innovative ways to finish up food from last Thursday. While we typically enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers in their original state, if I have a lot of turkey, I’ll sometimes turn it into a soup.

My husband loves my homemade chicken noodle soup. After Thanksgiving, turkey meat and turkey broth can take the place of chicken, however I’ll make this recipe throughout the winter with chicken. I find myself buying rotisserie chickens for various recipes, and I’ll use the leftover meat (usually dark meat) to toss into this soup. It’s also a great way to use up any leftover celery and carrots in my refrigerator. I like to use the crinkle-cut carrots, because they look nice, however today I had leftover shredded carrots from a recipe I made for myself.

I have adapted my soup to match my husband’s preferences, which includes a lot of egg noodles (you can substitute whichever pasta you prefer). I make it particularly chunky for him, but if you like more broth, you can add a fourth container of broth. The peas and parsley add a lot of color to the soup. By using cooked chicken and letting the pasta cook in the soup, this is a very easy recipe. These days you can even purchase your mirepoix pre-chopped at the grocery store to make this even quicker. This makes a ton of soup. You'll be set for the week!

Kate’s Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped (or shredded, or sliced)
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 (32 oz.) containers of low sodium chicken broth (use only 3 for an extra chunky soup)
3 bay leaves
1 (16 oz.) package broad egg noodles
2 cups chicken, shredded or diced
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
½ cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, and carrot. Cook for approximately 10 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Add garlic, salt, and pepper, and cook for 1 minute. Add chicken broth and bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Add egg noodles and reduce to low heat. Simmer for approximately 20 minutes, until noodles are cooked. Add chicken, peas, and parsley. Discard bays leaves and serve immediately.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving: Merry Cranberry Margaritas

I hope that everyone is having a memorable Thanksgiving, filled with food, family, and fun. We celebrated at my parents' house with the usual suspects and repeated our menu from last year. We had a delicious meal that was complemented by laughter from the words and actions of my two-year-old nephew and eleven-month-old niece. Our Thanksgiving is a potluck of sorts, with everyone contributing several dishes.

Floating Cranberry and Votive Candle Centerpiece

Cheese Tray

Salami Tray

Citrus Garnishes

Mashed Potatoes

Buttered and Peppered Corn

Turkey Breast with Sage

Cremini Mushroom Gravy

Green Bean Casserole

French Onion Casserole

Pureed Butternut Squash

Sweet Potato and Pecan Casserole

Cranberry Sauce

Apple Sauce

Vegetarian Stuffing

Pecan Pie (my sister's very first - and very successful - attempt!)

Chocolate Bread Pudding

Pumpkin Pie

Apple Pie

Pumpkin and Cream Cheese Roll


In addition to our planned menu, my mother had prepared (unbeknownst to us) a fun cocktail. She decided to try the cranberry margaritas that she had seen in her most recent edition of Sunset Magazine. They were tasty, and when served in the punch glasses she had chilled, they were the ideal size. The color and presentation are perfectly festive for the holidays.

Merry Cranberry Margaritas
(From Sunset Magazine, December 2009)
  • 1 1/4 cups cranberry juice cocktail, divided
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed
  • 3/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 cup tequila
  • 1/2 cup orange-flavored liqueur, such as Cointreau
  • 3 cups coarsely crushed ice
Pour 1/4 cup cranberry juice into a shallow bowl. Pour 3 tbsp. sugar onto a plate. Dip rims of 4 to 6 widemouthed glasses (6 to 8 oz., suitable for margaritas) into juice, then sugar. Set glasses aside.

Reserve 12 cranberries. In a blender, whirl the remaining cranberries, cranberry juice, and sugar, the lime juice, tequila, orange liqueur, and ice until smooth and slushy. If necessary, blend in 2 batches, then mix together. Divide among glasses and garnish with reserved berries, skewered on toothpicks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Spiced Wine: Winter Sangria

My husband and I were spoiled with sangria from the start. There was a local Italian-style tavern in the college town where we met during undergrad, which was known for having the best sangria. At the ripe age of 21, we, along with our friends, had many fantastic evenings (followed by unfortunate mornings). Spring and summer evenings were spent sitting elbow-to-elbow at long picnic tables in their outdoor garden. The establishment’s strong sangria was served in mason jars filled with red wine and fresh fruit. Each subsequent sangria that we’ve since tried has been compared to this first taste. Few have held up to our prominent college favorite.

While our beloved sangria from yesteryear is a red sangria, I’ve made several white sangrias that we enjoy during hot summer days. A recent edition of Cooking Light included a recipe for a holiday-inspired red sangria. I purchased a bottle of Zinfandel and decided to give it a whirl. The recipe calls for satsumas oranges, which I was unable to find. Per their suggestion, I substituted with tangerines. (When I make this again I will slice the tangerines instead of segmenting them. There are far too many seeds to remove from a tangerine, and doing so while pieces are segmented nearly destroys each section of fruit.) This sangria is delicious! It is a cross between a mulled wine and a sangria. It is much more refreshing than a mulled wine, but still presents the flavors of the holidays with the clove and cinnamon.

Winter Sangria
(From Cooking Light, November, 2009)
• 1 cup fresh satsuma orange juice (about 4 satsumas)
• 1 cup satsuma orange sections (about 2 satsumas)
• 1/3 cup Triple Sec (orange-flavored liqueur)
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 2 whole cloves
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges
• 1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
• 1 (750-milliliter) bottle fruity red wine

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Apple Applications: Baked & Stuffed Apples and Apple Chips

Apples happen to be my husband’s favorite fruit, if not one of his favorite foods. He’ll eat them any which way. He loves apple pie, and I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve only made an apple pie once in my life. I did it a of couple years ago for his birthday. The pie turned out wonderfully, but when you’re cooking healthy meals for two, apple pie doesn’t make it into the regular rotation.

The October, 2009 issue of Cooking Light had a couple ideas of how to be innovative with this well-known fruit. These aren’t your typical apple applications, but they are quite tasty and a lot of fun. They would be a fun treat for kids to try! (Particularly the Apple Chips, which are a bit addictive!)

Apple Chips
* 2 apples
* 1 teaspoon sugar
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Use a mandolin to cut paper-thin slices of apple. Arrange apple slices in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle apples with sugar and cinnamon, and bake at 200°F for 1 ½ hours or until lightly browned. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

Stuffed and Baked Apples
* 4 apples
* ½ cup brown sugar
* 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
* 1 tablespoon butter, cut into small cubes

Peel top of apple skins, then core, stopping ½ inch before you reach the bottom to keep filling inside. Use a melon baller or spoon to scoop out core, if necessary. Mix brown sugar, walnuts, and butter in a small bowl. Fill apples with brown sugar mixture.

Place apples in an 8-inch square baking dish, cover with foil, and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes; uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes or until a knife is easily inserted into flesh.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Great Minds Think Alike: Chickpea and Winter Vegetable Stew

My friend, Christina, just sent this recipe to me the other day. Coincidentally, I had already flagged it in my most recent edition of Cooking Light. I have relished all of the recipes she has been sending me, and this incident clearly indicates that she and I are on the same wavelength with food!

While I had planned on trying this recipe, it is comforting to know that someone’s taste buds that I trust endorsed it! The recipe calls for Harissa, which is a fiery spice paste used in Moroccan cooking. Unable to find Harissa myself, and per Christina’s recommendation, I substituted with Sriracha. This dish is loaded with vegetables. It has great, warm flavors, and is spicy from the chili paste, and sweet from the honey.

Chickpea and Winter Vegetable Stew
(Adapted from Cooking Light, November, 2009)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup (1/2-inch) slices leek
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
3 2/3 cups vegetable stock, divided
2 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash
1 cup (1/2-inch) sliced carrot
3/4 cup (1-inch) cubed peeled Yukon gold potato
1 tablespoon harissa
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound turnips, peeled and each cut into 8 wedges (about 2 medium)
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/3 cups uncooked couscous
8 lemon wedges

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and leek; sauté 5 minutes. Add coriander and next 4 ingredients (through garlic); cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add 3 cups vegetable stock and the next 8 ingredients (through chickpeas); bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes. Stir in parsley and honey.

Remove 2/3 cup hot cooking liquid from squash mixture. Place cooking liquid and remaining 2/3 cup stock in a medium bowl. Stir in couscous. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Serve with lemon wedges.