Sunday, February 28, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again: Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese

I know that I have been MIA lately. To provide full disclosure on the subject: I have honestly been much more interested in ordering pizza and watching the Olympics than lighting a fire in the kitchen. I am no avid sports fan, much to my husband’s dismay. However, I love the Olympics, particularly the Winter Olympics. When I was younger I used to dance around my parents’ house pretending to be a figure skater. In fact I did it in my own house just the other night as I was demonstrating to my husband the intricacies in identifying different skating jumps. Anyone want to see a single loop jump done on carpet?

While Sundays are typically my marathon cooking days, I awoke early today and had a jam-packed day including an excellent Pilates class, an airport run, and a delicious dinner at my parents’ house. I still managed to squeak in one recipe to make some food for a dinner or two this week.

My sister first introduced me to this recipe over a year ago. She started making this for her son when he first began eating whole foods. She made it with regular gouda cheese (instead of smoked), but she sold it on me either way. This is a mac ‘n’ cheese that you can feel good about. For the record, Cooking Light states that it has 399 calories per 1 ¼ cup serving size. It is packed full of spinach and the cream sauce is made with fat-free milk. Although the recipe calls for regular macaroni pasta, I use multigrain pasta, such as Barilla Plus. The cheese adds smoky flavor to this vegetarian dish. I use breadcrumbs sparingly in this dish, and I think that they could be omitted altogether.

Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese
(From Cooking Light, March 2003)
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup thinly sliced green onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups fat-free milk
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup (2 ounces) shredded smoked Gouda cheese
1/3 cup (about 1 ½ ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
5 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach
4 cups hot cooked elbow macaroni (about 2 cups uncooked)
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place bread in a food processor, and pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure ½ cup.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic; cook 1 minute. Add flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add milk, salt, and pepper, stirring constantly with a whisk until blended. Bring to a boil; cook until thick (about 2 minutes). Add cheeses; stir until melted. Add spinach and macaroni to cheese sauce, stirring until well blended.

Spoon mixture into a 2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes or until bubbly.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Seafood Season: Spaghetti with Clams

It is the time of the year when fast food chains start advertising their “fresh fish sandwich” on television commercials, and most restaurants will serve clam chowder as their soup du jour on Fridays. We also know this time as Lent. Dietarily speaking, Fridays during Lent are no different than any other day of the year for me, however we make special consideration for my husband to avoid meat. This means lots of seafood in our house, which makes us both happy.

I began making a clam and pasta recipe when I was a teenager. It was one of the recipes in my repertoire that I would cook on my own. A few years ago, I found a similar recipe by Giada de Laurentiis. We tried it, and with her alterations, we quickly let her Spaghetti with Clams take the place of our old Clam Sauce with Linguine.

The old version that I made used dried herbs and a regular onion. Giada’s use fresh parsley, lemon zest, and shallots, making it taste so bright and fresh. Her recipe calls for Manila clams, but to keep this recipe easier and more affordable, I use canned clams. If you decide to use canned clams, this recipe is pantry-friendly (most of the ingredients you can keep on-hand), and easy to make any night of the week!

Spaghetti with Clams

(Adapted from Everyday Italian)
1 pound dried spaghetti
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
5 to 7 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 ½ pounds Manila clams, scrubbed clean (Kate uses 2 or 3 cans (6.5 oz.) minced clams, drained)
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced into small cubes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, zested, for garnish

In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 quarts of salted water. Add pasta, stirring constantly in the beginning to prevent it from sticking together. Cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan. When almost smoking, add shallots and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the clams and wine. Cover and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes or until most clams have opened. (If using canned clams, cook until thoroughly heated.)

Add 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. Whisk in butter to thicken sauce slightly.

Drain pasta in a colander. Do not rinse pasta with water - this will remove the pasta's natural starches. Place pasta into the clam sauté pan and mix thoroughly. Check seasoning.

Pour pasta into large serving bowl. Zest lemon over the dish, being careful not to zest the white part of the lemon, which is bitter. Garnish with remaining parsley. Serve immediately.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pom Figs: Dried Fig and Blue Cheese Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

The final piece to our Valentine’s dinner is a new salad that I tried. I wanted to make a salad with some dried figs, and after a bit of searching online, I found this one that also uses blue cheese (a perfect use for the gorgonzola leftover from the steak I made).

The star of this salad is the vinaigrette. The pomegranate juice is tart (and filled with antioxidants!), but the honey sweetens it up a little. You can make the vinaigrette ahead of time. Mine took a while to boil down to one-third of a cup. My husband really liked this salad!

Dried Fig and Blue Cheese Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette
(Adapted from Southern Living, Christmas 2007)
Yield: 6 servings
18 dried mission figs
1 (16-oz.) bottle pomegranate juice (2 cups)
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ cup olive oil
9 cups mesclun salad greens
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

Place figs and pomegranate juice in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes or until figs are softened. Remove figs with a slotted spoon; set aside.

Bring pomegranate juice to a boil over medium-high heat; boil 2 minutes (Kate's took much longer) or until syrupy and reduced to 1/3 cup. Transfer reduction to a bowl; let cool to room temperature.

Add honey and next 3 ingredients to pomegranate reduction; stir with a wire whisk. Gradually whisk in oil.

To serve, divide mesclun greens among 6 serving plates; top each salad with 3 figs. Drizzle evenly with vinaigrette, and sprinkle with blue cheese. Serve immediately.

Make-Ahead Note: Cooked figs and vinaigrette can be stored in refrigerator up to 2 days.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Way to a Man's Heart: Petite Filet with Gorgonzola and Porcini Mushroom Sauce

Today is “Fat Tuesday” and people in these parts are stuffing their faces with pączkis (pronounced "poonch-kees"). We, on the other hand, are still working on leftovers from our Valentine’s dinner. When I asked my husband if he would mind dining in, I added a steak into the equation and it sealed the deal!

I tried this steak for the first time a couple of years ago, when I made it for my husband and father. They both loved it. During the warmer months of the year my husband will just toss a steak on the grill with a little seasoning. The freezing temperatures and snow piled on top of our grill kept us inside, and this was the perfect indoor steak to make. The creamy mushroom and gorgonzola sauce make it extra special.

You can make the sauce ahead of time, and it makes a good amount. The recipe below has you only cooking one steak, but you can adjust the amount of filets for the amount of people you’re serving. The sauce should easily be enough for 4 servings. If you have leftover sauce (which I did), you can use it for another meal. I put some on a baked chicken breast for my husband to eat the next night. I also think it would be good on a baked potato.

You will want to sear your steak on a very hot pan. I used my Le Creuset 5-Quart Braiser and it browned perfectly. My husband said that the steak had a nice crust on the outside, but was perfectly medium-rare on the inside. Bring you steak up to room temperature before searing it (you do not want it to go directly from the fridge to the frying pan!). You can do this by letting the meat sit on the counter while you make your cheese sauce. On Sunday I served this with some fingerling potatoes, roasted in olive oil, sea salt, and Herbes de Provence.

Petite Filet with Gorgonzola and Porcini Mushroom Sauce
(As seen on Everyday Italian)
Serves: 1 serving
1 (4 to 6-ounce) petite filet of beef
Pinch salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil

Gorgonzola and Porcini Mushroom Sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms, soaked and strained
1 shallot, sliced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup dry white wine
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces (about 3 tablespoons) Gorgonzola cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

For the sauce:
Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and the shallots and cook until golden brown and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme, white wine, salt, and pepper and continue to cook until all of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 more minutes.

Meanwhile, put the Gorgonzola, mayonnaise, and mustard in a food processor and combine until smooth. Transfer the Gorgonzola mixture to the skillet with mushrooms and shallots. Gently stir the cheese mixture into the mushroom mixture.

For the beef:
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Sprinkle both sides of the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in an oven-safe medium skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, carefully place the filet in the pan. Cook until browned on both sides, about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Transfer the steak to the oven and bake until a meat thermometer reads 130°F. for medium-rare, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the beef from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes.

Slice the beef and serve topped with a dollop of the cheese sauce. Reserve leftover sauce for another use.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentines Dessert: Chocolate Molten Cakes with Raspberry Coulis

Happy Valentine’s Day! My husband and I usually like to use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to indulge in a fabulous meal at a trendy restaurant. With it falling on a Sunday this year, I actually requested that we stay in and I would cook something fabulous. (Sundays are my cooking day and much needed time at home to get ready for the week.) I made my husband a steak, we opened a nice bottle of wine, and topped it off with a chocolate dessert!

Chocolate molten cakes are my very favorite dessert to make and to eat. This recipe is so easy! It takes just minutes, and uses basic ingredients. I love to make these for other people, as they’re delicious and quite impressive. You can garnish them with mint leaves, fresh berries, and a powered sugar dusting, creating a beautiful presentation. The chocolate can be rich, so serving them with a little ice cream or whipped cream balances them out. I also like to make a raspberry coulis with them, giving the dessert more color and an added element.

You can make the cake batter ahead of time, refrigerate it, and then pull it out to bake when you’re ready to serve dessert (I recommend bringing it up to room temperature before baking). You’ll have to watch them in the oven, as the size of your ramekins will and the nuances of your own oven will determine the baking time. (I use these great silicone round mini pans that my mother got for me when taking a class at King Arthur Flour.)

Chocolate Molten Cakes
4 squares Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate
½ cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
6 Tbsp. flour

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray custard cups or soufflé dishes with cooking spray. Place on baking sheet.

Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwavable bowl on high for 1 min., or until butter is melted. Stir with wire whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar until well blended. Whisk in eggs and egg yolks. Stir in flour. Divide batter between prepared custard cups.

Bake 13-14 min. or until sides are firm but centers are soft (you want a soft center about the size of a quarter). Remove from oven and let stand for 1 min. Carefully run small knife around cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto dessert dishes.

Serve with vanilla bean ice cream or whipped cream; and raspberry coulis (recipe follows) and/or fresh berries (raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc.). Garnish with mint leaves and dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

(Batter can be made a day ahead. Pour into prepared custard cups, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bake as directed.)

If custard cups are not available, use a 9 cupcake tin and bake for approximately 9 min.

Raspberry Coulis
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup water
2 cups fresh raspberries
Splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil on high; reduce to medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Add raspberries. Stir until thick and reduces by ¾ (about 5-8 min.). Remove from stove and strain to remove seeds. (To strain you will need to use a fine strainer or cheese cloth and will likely need to use a spoon to work the mixture through the strainer.) Add water and/or lemon juice if too thick. Refrigerate right before serving.

(I put the mixture in a squeeze bottle, which makes it easy for decorating plates. You can buy one at Bed, Bath & Beyond for about $0.99. Put the coulis in the squeeze bottle, drizzle it in a zig-zag or other pattern on plates, and then place molten cake and ice cream on top.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sweet, Spicy & Simple: Sweet-Spicy Glazed Salmon

Salmon is one of my favorite fish, and I always keep some frozen fillets in my freezer. I have two go-to recipes for salmon that are quick and use ingredients that I always have in my kitchen.

One recipe is a rub with Cajun seasoning. The other is a sweet and spicy glaze that comes together so quickly (and with very few ingredients!) and always has a great taste. I’ll interchangeably use Chinese-style hot mustard and wasabi (and since I like my food on the spicy side, sometimes I’ll double up and use both!).

Sweet-Spicy Glazed Salmon
(From Cooking Light, August 2003)
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
4 teaspoons Chinese-style hot mustard
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick)
Cooking spray
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Combine first 4 ingredients in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

Place fish on a foil-lined jelly roll pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake at 425°F for 12 minutes. Remove from oven.

Preheat broiler.

Brush sugar mixture evenly over salmon; broil 3 inches from heat 3 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Coney Island: Chicken Lemon Orzo Soup

My husband and I began dating in college. Once we met, we were instantly inseparable and pretty much spent every waking hour together that we weren’t in class. (And we did find a way to take a couple classes together, even with different respective majors.) On days that we had a short break in between classes for lunch we would grab a bite at a Coney Island that was just a block from campus.

I was some type of vegan or vegetarian at the time, and would order a simple plate of hummus and pita. My husband had his regular order as well, which was chicken lemon rice soup and two “Coneys”. While I’m pleased to say that we’ve since moved up in the world as far as restaurants that we frequent, and our visits to Coney Islands are few and far between. However, my husband will still order chicken lemon rice soup wherever he can find it.

Lucky him, he found it just the other day cooking on the stove in our kitchen! I was flipping through Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave a few nights ago and saw a recipe for this type of soup, but made with orzo instead of rice. The soup is very easy, and he loved, loved, loved it! As soon as he tasted it, he instantly informed me that I would be making it again soon. It has been in our fridge for just about 24 hours, and he has already snuck back with a spoon to sneak a taste several times.

I doubled Ellie’s recipe to have a bigger batch to get through the week. I also skipped her step of cooking chicken breasts, and instead added the (already cooked) meat from a rotisserie chicken at the end. I carefully tempered the eggs in a bowl with the hot broth, not in a saucepan (as the recipe calls for), and I thought that worked just fine. This soup gets thicker with each second you let it sit. My husband likes that consistency, but if you find that your soup has become too thick after a day or so, you can add more broth to it. I also added a few extra tablespoons of lemon juice, to make it extra lemony. Next time I might add some lemon zest too.

Lemon Chicken Soup with Orzo
(From The Food You Crave)
4 teaspoons olive oil
8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into small chunks
1 pinch salt, plus more to taste
1 medium onion , diced (about 1 ½ cups)
2 stalks celery, diced (about ½ cup)
1 medium carrot, diced (about ½ cup)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup orzo (preferably whole wheat)
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with the salt, add it to the pot, and cook, stirring, a few times, until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a dish and set aside.

Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the pot. Add the onion, celery, carrot, and thyme and cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add 5 cups of the broth and bring to a boil. Add the orzo and let simmer until tender, about 8 minutes. Turn the heat down to low to keep the soup hot but not boiling.

Warm the remaining 1 cup broth in a small saucepan until it is hot but not boiling. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Gradually whisk the lemon juice into the eggs. Then gradually add the hot broth to the egg-lemon mixture, whisking all the while. Add the mixture to the soup, stirring well until the soup is thickened. Do not let the soup come to a boil. Add the cooked chicken to the soup. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Superbowl Sunday: Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili

It is Superbowl Sunday, and the first one in several years that we are not watching the commercials game at my sister’s house. After a weekend packed full of obligations and chores, we needed a few hours at home this evening to get our wits about us before beginning another long week. (Okay, I needed a few hours at home and my husband was kind enough to find contentment in watching the game from our own couch.)

My sister usually makes a chili and a fish stew to serve for her party guests during the Superbowl, followed by fondue or another fun dessert. My husband and I just finished off my second batch of Cioppino, so I opted to make some chili for us to eat tonight. A few weeks ago I found a recipe online for a vegetarian chili that calls for black beans and sweet potatoes – two of my favorite foods (that fortunately pair so well together, like in Sweet Potato & Black Bean Burritos).

I made this yesterday, and completed it today by stirring in the cilantro and garnishing with some cheese, sour cream, and diced avocado. The recipe is quite simple, and you can feel free to adjust the seasonings to your own taste buds (the chipotle powder will make it smoky and spicy!). The recipe states that it serves two, so I doubled it. I wound up with a good amount that will last us into the week. I hope that your Superbowl Sunday was filled with some good eats, regardless of where you happened to be!

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili
(From Eating Well)
Serves 2
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground chipotle chile (Chipotle peppers are dried, smoked jalapeno peppers. Ground chipotle can be found in the specialty spice section of most supermarkets.)
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 1/3 cups water
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and potato and cook, stirring often, until the onion is slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, chipotle and salt and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add water, bring to a simmer, cover, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the potato is tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes and lime juice; increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in cilantro.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Supporting Character: Quinoa Pilaf with Pine Nuts

I’ve been on a quinoa kick, and while my other quinoa recipes have all been "stars" (main courses), this quinoa is a supporting character. I found this recipe in Ellie Krieger’s new cookbook. She paired it with salmon, and I think it would pair well with any protein. I actually served this with my Creamy Carrot Soup. It is quick, easy, and tasty. I even ate mine with a little freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano sprinkled on top!

Quinoa Pilaf with Pine Nuts
(From Ellie Krieger’s So Easy)
2 cups of low sodium chicken broth (Kate uses vegetable broth)
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
¼ cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ large onion, chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
If desired, Salt and pepper, to taste

Put the broth and quinoa in a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and grain is tender.

Meanwhile, toast the nuts in a large dry skillet over medium-high heat until golden brown and fragrant, about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove nuts from pan and set aside. Heat the oil in the same skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and begin to brown, about 6 minutes.

When the quinoa is done, fluff with a fork and transfer to a large serving bowl. Stir in the pine nuts, onions, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Food Matters: Creamy Carrot Soup

Where does your food come from? Is this a question that you have ever asked yourself? I don’t mean which specific grocery store or restaurant, but who is growing your food and what does it go through to arrive on your plate? Have you ever wondered why you can find tomatoes in the produce section of a Northeast grocery store in the middle of winter, when the closest ripe tomato plant is hundreds of miles away? Have you wondered what chickens and cows are being fed before the wind up on your dinner plate? Do you recognize all of the ingredients listed on the nutrition labels of the food you eat?

In Food Matters, Mark Bittman explores the link of the food you eat, your health, and the environment. He brings to light that it requires 40 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of beef protein, and that 2,200 calories are required to provide a 12 oz. can of diet soda. It is a quick, worthwhile read, followed up by dozens of recipes using whole foods.

You may have noticed that I’ve been cooking with a lot of root vegetables and canned food lately (while gazing longingly at recipes that call for fresh tomatoes). This is great website to help you think fresh, local, and seasonal when planning your meals.

This carrot soup recipe is one found in Mr. Bittman's book. I’ve made it several times, and love any simple soup recipe that uses a sauté of onions in olive oil and a root vegetable that is then simmered in vegetable broth. Try this with butternut squash, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, etc. You can also add a splash of milk or cream, if you like. This soup is simple, healthy, and filling.

Creamy Carrot Soup
(Adapted from Food Matters)
3 tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 ½ pounds carrots, roughly chopped
1 large starchy potato, peeled and roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 cups vegetable stock
½ cup chopped Italian parsley, for garnish

Put the oil in a large, deep saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the carrots soften a bit. Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pan. Or cool the mixture slightly (hot soup is dangerous), and pass it through a food mill or pour it into a blender. Puree until smooth, working in batches if necessary.

Garnish with parsley and serve.