Search for some tasty bits:

Custom Search

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Salad that Saved Scallops

On a slightly ambitious whim, I bought some scallops the other day.  Not just some. A pound.  Now this might not sound like a big deal, but:

A. There's only me and Ty.  And a pound  = 15 BIG scallops.
B. I've never cooked scallops in my life
C. I don't even really LIKE cooked scallops.

I mean, just look at them.

So you can see why this might have been a rash decision.

But they were on sale!  And it was a challenge!  Two things I can never say no to.

Truthfully, the only scallops I ever really enjoy are raw and tucked in sushi rolls with other stuff.  When they're cooked, they seem like sort of fishy, flavorless lumps of rubbery something-I'd-rather-not-think-about.  I've eaten them....but I have never really honestly enjoyed them.

Until maybe now.

Now I will admit something: cooking scallops is harder than it looks.  Sure, when you watch Hell's Kitchen and see Gordan Ramsey throw a pan of imperfect scallops across the dining room because a competitor has sent them raw up to the pass, you think, "Jesus, all you're doing is searing them in a little oil- how hard is it to watch them turn golden?"  Or at least I do.  But you DO have to have the heat just right- high enough to get a nice, browned exterior without leaving the inside underdone, yet low enough that you don't burn the oil and destroy a very nice, $100 all-clad skillet (like I nearly did).  Most of my scallops came out all right for it being my first time, but I had a few that were a little rubbery.  So I'm sorry Hell's Kitchen contestants- I will now only continue to judge you on your horrendous personalities, rather than your cooking abilities.

So this is the salad that saved scallops for me.  The best thing about it is that it is quick to prep and easy enough to make as a decadent lunch to impress someone special...or just treat yourself.  Hazelnut oil is my new-found love, and I plan to use this dressing in many other salads.  The balance of a hearty amount (and I do mean A LOT OF) blue cheese, crispy red onions, and fresh dill combined with the sweetness of the dressing compliments the simplicity of the scallops.  It just all comes together very nicely, and YES- Tyler and I did eat a whole pound of scallops for lunch.  And I liked it.

Seared Scallop Salad with Orange-Hazelnut Vinaigrette
adapted from Perfect Spanish Cookbook

1 lb fresh shelled scallops, (bay or sea)
1/4 red onion, sliced very thinly
6 oz blue cheese or gorgonzola
4 Tbsp orange juice
3 tsp hazelnut oil
4 tsp olive oil, divided
1/2 clove of garlic, pressed or chopped very finely
2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
salad greens
salt and pepper

Whisk together orange juice and garlic.  Continue to whisk while slowly pouring in hazelnut oil and 1 tsp olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.

Rinse scallops and pat dry.  Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the scallops and cook over high heat until each side is golden brown.  Transfer scallops to a bed of salad greens, scatter blue cheese, dill and onions over the top, and drizzle with dressing.  Serve warm.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Homemade Cherry Garcia Ice Cream

Since we are smack-dab in the middle of summer here in Sacramento, and the temperature has started to skyrocket, I find myself craving ice cream nearly all the time.  AND I've decided not to feel guilty about it.  You see, ice cream is not meant to be just an after-dinner treat.  When Ty and I went to Peru a few years ago, I remember 10am and 2pm being appropriate times to enjoy an ice cream cone out in the plaza- not just for us, but for all the local kids...and businessmen.  It was like clockwork.  The ice cream carts were busier than I've ever seen them here in Sacramento, and no one looked like they felt guilty about indulging in an after breakfast/lunch dessert.  There is nothing quite like sitting on a park bench on a breezy midmorning watching adults walk around with ice cream cones in their hands and smiles on their faces.

So why, oh why, can't I?

Tyler brought home two bags of fresh cherries the other day, which prompted me to experiment in making my favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor and discover how it stands up to the original.  The result: very satisfied! This recipe is EASY and delicious- and not terrible for you.  If you want to go all out and experience a much richer, creamier texture, you can always sub in more cream for the half and half/milk portions- it's up to you. 

Homemade Cherry Garcia Ice Cream

3 c fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1 1/4 c sugar, divided
4-5 Tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 c milk
1 c heavy cream
1 3/4 c half and half
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 12 oz bar of dark chocolate (I used 70% dark, but you can use your favorite)

In a small bowl, combine the cherries with the lemon juice and 1/2 cup of sugar.  Stir gently and allow the cherries to macerate in the juices for at least 3 hours (overnight if you can wait that long).  Gently mash the cherries with a fork or potato masher, then strain, reserving the juices.  Take about 1/3 of the cherries and puree them with a blender.  Set juices, halved cherries, and pureed cherries aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixter on low to combine the milk and remaining sugar until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes.  Stir in heavy cream, half and half, vanilla, cherry juice, and pureed cherries.

Chop the chocolate into chocolate-chip sized chunks, no bigger or it could ruin your machine.  Set aside.

Pour the mixture into your ice cream machine* and let it do it's thing.  Five minutes before mixing is completed, add the halved cherries and chocolate chunks.  Mix-ins should be completely incorporated before stopping your machine.

*Make sure to follow your ice cream machine's directions for mix-ins and quantity.  This recipe makes about 7 cups of ice cream, so double check your machine's specs before you start!

For firmer consistency, transfer to a freezer-safe container for at least 2 hours to set.  Or enjoy right out of the machine, like I did.  Yummy!

A Fresh Twist on Fish

Ok. Let me preface by saying that I love me a good fish dish.  Cook it any way you like- fried, sauteed, seared, baked or breaded- and I will gobble it up.  Seriously, mothers around the world would be proud of how well I can clean my plate when it comes to seafood.  Now that its summer and Tyler and I have been focusing on lighter fare to escape the heat, fish has become an excellent (and cheap, if you shop at TJs) staple in our dinner (and sometimes lunch) diets.

But how to keep it interesting?

I came across this fantastic recipe on, and can honestly say I've never tried anything like it.  It is an extremely simple recipe, a quick clean-up (which Tyler likes), and the flavors are new, interesting, and refreshing.  I made this for Sarah last time she came to visit, and I wish I could make it for every house guest I ever have.....but come to think of it, why couldn't I?

Now, if you're not exactly an adventurous cook, you may need to make a quick grocery list before making this dish.  The sides are optional, but I found that red quinoa was a beautiful (and light and healthy!) addition, and counted loosely as a "starch" (I know it's a seed, but it's close enough).  For greens, wilted spinach or mustard greens were delicious- I even tried out a new Thai spinach from the farmers market, which had much bigger leaves than normal spinach and were highlighted with beautiful streaks of purple....nothing like adding some beauty to your meal, especially after you make something like this.  But feel free to use rice, potatoes along with a salad or green long as you have a starch and a veggie to balance it out. (Another hint: It's also DELICIOUS if you pile all those ingredients + fish + sauce on a crispy piece of toasty ciabatta....I'm just sayin'....)

I've made this dish with both halibut and talapia, and I assume it would work with most varieties of white fish. The halibut was a much "meatier" meal, being a heavier fish, and stood up nicely against the spicy sauce, but the talapia was fresh and light and as long as you went a little lighter on the sauce, the subtle flavors were not overpowered.  So in addition to being delicious, this is a very versatile recipe, so good luck and good eats!

Garam Masala Halibut with Spicy Mint-Cilantro Yogurt Sauce

1  serrano pepper*, halved**
1/2  cup  fresh cilantro leaves
1/2  cup  chopped green onions
1/4  cup  Greek-style yogurt
4  tsp  low-fat cream cheese
1 1/2  tsp  fresh lemon juice
1/2  tsp  minced peeled fresh ginger
1/8  tsp  salt
1/8  tsp  sugar
1/8  tsp cumin seeds
1  garlic clove, crushed
2  Tbsp  chopped fresh mint
1/2  tsp  garam masala
1/4  tsp  salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4  (6-ounce) skinless halibut fillets (or any white fish you like)
1  Tbsp  olive oil
1  Tbsp butter

*Serranos are notoriously spicy, despite their small size.  I used a whole pepper and had trouble finishing my meal without 2 or 3 beers....I would recommend using HALF a pepper to start- maybe even a quarter if you are a weakling (no judgement).

**Also, if you do not have gloves, use small plastic baggies (sandwich bags work well) to cover your hands whenever handling these peppers. The juice from these babies are brutal, and linger long after you think you've washed it all away.  Contact-lens wearers, I'm talking to YOU.  I'm speaking from experience here, so chop safely, people.

Remove seeds from half the serrano pepper; leave seeds in other half of pepper. Place both pepper halves in a mini food processor and pulse until minced. Add cilantro and next 9 ingredients (through garlic) and process until smooth.  Add mint, and pulse about 5 times (you want the mint to be more chunky than the rest of the ingredients).  Set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Combine garam masala, salt and pepper; sprinkle evenly over both sides of the fish. Add oil and butter to pan; swirl until butter melts. Add fish to pan; cook about 3 minutes on each side (depending on type of fish!) or until desired degree of doneness.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hearty Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread

I know what you're going to say.  It looks gross. I prefer to call it "rustic." I have a beautiful tart recipe I really wanted to try, but I also had pounds of zucchini in the this is what came of that.  I remember buying lots for a specific reason.....I just don't remember that reason now.  So I made a favorite snack from smitten- quick zucchini saute (a MUST never thought something so simple could be so delicious)....but still had a lot of leftover zucchini.

So zucchini bread it is.

I can honestly say I've never tried making it before now.  Can you tell by the first picture?  Of course, I HAVE gobbled it up when coworkers and friends have offered me some, but for some reason I'd never gotten around to making my own.  I remembered my mentor teacher from phase III of my teaching credential program talking about how she loved to jazz up her baking recipes with extra cinnamon and flax seed, subbing whole wheat flour for the normal stuff. I was inspired to come up with a slightly healthier version that I could get away with eating without feeling guilty; one that would last me a week's worth of busy teacher breakfasts (once I lock down that job...).  And this was the result.

I started with smitten's recipe and went from there- as usual, adding and adjusting to my hearts content. I still think this recipe is a work in progress: next time I will try omitting all the oil for applesauce just to see how it comes out (and I'll let you know- I'm afraid it will change the consistency- we'll see)...but I thought it turned out pretty darn amazing.  It's probably not as sweet and light as traditional zucchini breads you're used to, but that's sort of the point.  The whole wheat flour makes it much more dense and filling.  One big slice of this stuff will fill you up.  And it makes two loaves, so unless you plan on sharing with family or coworkers, you might want to freeze one for later!

Hearty Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread
loosely adapted from SmittenKitchen

3 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon
2-3 Tbsp ground flax seed (optional)
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)
1 c raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
3 large eggs
2 1/2 c grated zucchini
1/2 c olive oil
3/4 c applesauce
1 1/4 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
softened butter for greasing the pans

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease two loaf pans* with butter and set aside.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, and cinnamon.  Add flax seed, walnuts, and raisins/cranberries if you like.

Whisk eggs and sugar together until sugar is dissolved.  Add remaining wet ingredients and mix well.

Add wet to dry and fold together until combined.  Pour evenly into the two loaf pans and bake for about 50-60 min, or until a toothpick or knife comes out clean.

*You could also use muffin tins, but the bake time will be cut down substantially, so watch them closely!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Curry Carrot Soup

It's been a while since I've posted, and I have a crap ton of recipes to share from over the past month or so.   A lot has happened since you last heard from me.  I'm still frantically applying for teaching jobs, hoping to snag one by August, but it's not looking good....and as a result I have turned back to food service..which I swore I would never do once I had my credential.  But lo and behold, California is financially f***ed right now, and teachers (among many other important professions) are paying the price.

So I found a job at a casino, quickly quit after experiencing a week and a half of horror, and was lucky enough to get my old job back at the Marriott where I have picked up 4-5 shifts a week in room service, the restaurant, and bar.  Although it's not my dream job, I'm glad that I work so close to home with great people and a good boss....and it pays the bills....barely.  Although it's not ideal, I'm content for now; though one downside is that I have far less time for cooking now that I work nights, since dinner seems to be my meal of choice.  However, I have been saving up a few recipes to share with you, so I vow to keep the posts short and more frequent, because there are some dinners and desserts coming that will blow your mindhole.

This is my favorite carrot soup recipe to date- especially for summer.  Its great hot or chilled, and you can vary the heat factor depending on your tongue's tolerance.  Personally, I love a good, spicy kick in the teeth, but for you sensitive types, I recommend using about half the curry paste the recipe calls for to start.....and you can always add more.

Silly lil' side note: I came up with this recipe the same day Sarah posted hers.  I guess great minds think alike!  For her non-curry version (and other gluten-free creations) check out her blog here.

Curry Carrot Soup

5 cups carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
1 tsp red pepper flakes
5 Tbsp fresh ginger, diced
3 large cloves of garlic, diced
1 box + 1 1/2 c of veggie stock
1 can coconut milk
1 1/2 Tbsp red curry paste (I used Thai Kitchen)
2 tsp fish sauce
pepper to taste

Coat a stock pot generously with olive oil on medium heat.  Once the pot is hot, add the onions and shallots, stirring every now and then until they become slightly translucent.  Add pepper flakes, garlic and ginger and cook at least 2-3 minutes more, or until the flavors mix and your kitchen smells like heaven.  Some stoves may run a little hotter (like mine), so watch this mixture and turn down the heat a little if you need to- just don't let the garlic burn!  Next, mix in carrots and half the stock, kicking up the heat to high, and cover until the carrots are softened.  Stir in red curry paste until incorporated.

Remove carrot mixture from heat and transfer to a blender.  Puree (in batches, if necessary) until smooth.  Transfer back to stock pot and return heat to a low simmer.  Stir in remaining stock, coconut milk, fish sauce and pepper.  Serve hot with a garnish of fresh basil or cilantro.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Very Veggie Pizza with Gorganzola White Sauce

Now don't take this the wrong way, but one of the best things about getting married is all the new kitchen stuff you get to register for.  I know Tyler backs me up on this, because he gets to eat all the yummy creations I come up with while using this stuff.  The registering part is fun- going kind of crazy with that geeky little gun...."I want THAT....and THAT....ooooo and THAT...."

And don't even get me started with the online registry.  It can go on for daaaaaaays. Literally pages and pages for each store.  So many wonderful gadgets that I could never possibly afford, let alone fit in our tiny midtown apartment.

Which is why, with our one-year wedding anniversary rapidly approaching, I recently logged in to my online registeries, created a year and a half ago, to mourn the possibilities that were never actualized...the beautiful All-Clad waffle-maker, Vita Mix, and elusive Kitchen Aid mixer I WILL have before I die.....but also to celebrate the precious little machines we did receive that have made such a huge difference in my culinary life. bread machine.

I know there are people on both sides of this argument.  Some swear that certain breads are better when made by hand the old-fashioned way, rising in a oil-covered bowl...and I don't doubt it.  Until I expand my baking knowledge and practice, I will believe the experts.  But for those of us who live in tiny little uninsulated apartments with no temperature control...for those of us who have not yet graduated past basic french and whole wheat....for someone like me....I prefer the ease and efficiency (and temperature regulation) of my beloved Cuisnart bread machine.

You LITERALLY just throw the ingredients in and forget about it until it beeps at you!  Amazing!  And my favorite feature?  Pizza dough.

It's completely opened up a world of possibilities with homemade pizza.  Garlic herb crust?  Whole wheat?  Perhaps a honey cinnamon (mmm dessert pizza...)?  Oh the possibilities!

Over the past year I have experimented with many different types of pizzas (mostly vegetarian varieties), and each time I make one, Tyler swears it's the best one yet.  But honestly, every one seems to be the best one.  Maybe it's the careful spacing of the toppings (cooking is one of the only activities where I seem to have major OCD), maybe it's the homemade sauce, or maybe it's all the love that goes into it- but nothing seems to beat homemade pizza.

This is just the latest concoction, though also my first pizza post on this blog.  Expect many more to come.  Because here in the Madden house....we sure do like our pizza.

Wheaty Parmesan Pizza Crust:
2/3 c luke-warm water (about 80-90 degrees) (I found I needed a liiiiittle bit more as it was mixing)
1/2 tsp sugar or honey
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 c bread flour
3/4 c wheat flour
1 Tbsp toasted flax seeds
1/4 c finely grated parmesan
1 1/4 tsp yeast

2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 c warmed milk
2-3 oz gorgonzola crumbles
salt and pepper to taste

a small handful of cornmeal
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 c mozzarella/parmesan cheese mix
1 large red onion, cut in 1/4 inch slices
2 small zucchinis, sliced as thinly as possible
a couple big handfuls of spinach
2 thinly sliced tomatoes
1 head roasted garlic*, roughly chopped
1/4 c toasted pinenuts, if you can afford them scrounge some up

*Cut the tip off the head of garlic, exposing the cloves.  Place cut-side up in a pouch of foil.  Drizzle with a healthy amount of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Close up the pouch, twisting the foil at the top (almost so it looks like a garlic clove!).  Roast in oven at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes.  Let cool for about 5-10 minutes, then remove cloves by squeezing from the bottom.  They'll pop right out!

Start with the dough.  Place ingredients in order listed in the bread machine and follow your appliance directions.  While the dough is working, prep the toppings and sauce (directions to follow).

In a small saucepan, heat butter on low until melted but not browned.  Whisk in flour, continuing to mix occasionally for 2-3 minutes.  Slowly and continuously whisk in warmed milk, stirring constantly.  Once the mixture is smooth, continue to cook, stirring every so often to allow sauce to thicken.  Remove from heat and stir in gorganzola crumbles until just incorporated.  You want to keep it kind of lumpy!

Coat a medium-sized skillet with olive oil and bring to medium-high heat.  Add zucchini and saute for a few minutes, until slightly softened.  Drizzle with balsalmic and cook for about a minute more.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, remove from heat and transfer to a small bowl. 

Wipe out skillet with a paper towel and again, coat with olive oil and bring to med-low heat.  Add onions and continue to stir occasionally for about 10 minutes, until the onions are softened and starting to brown the bottom of the pan.  Deglaze with a small amount of balsamic or red wine (oh yum), cook for another few minutes, then remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees (or as hot as your oven will go) and put a pizza stone in the oven (if you have one).  Once the dough is ready, remove it from the machine and transfer to a lightly floured counter top surface. Roll flat and stretch dough to the desired shape and thickness.  Remove heated pizza stone from the oven and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal.  Transfer crust onto the hot stone.  It will quickly start to shrink, so you may need to continue to stretch the dough as needed.  With a fork (or your fingernails- they're clean, I swear!), poke very small holes in the crust.  Brush crust with olive oil and put in the oven for about 4-5 minutes, or until the crust starts to turn slightly golden.  Remove crust from oven, add ANOTHER drizzle (yes! again!) of olive oil, and with a rubber spatula spread the sauce as evenly as you like (I like the sauce to reach the very edge, but you might be a little less crazy).

Layer the toppings in the following order**:

**Think of the cheese like glue; it's important to do a few different layers, especially if you have a lot of toppings, otherwise your toppings may fall off in one big chunk, and you certainly do not want that.  So see?  There is always. always. always! a method to my madness.

Cook at the highest oven temp you can go until the cheese is melted and the edges of the crust are nice and crispy.  Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes before cutting (so the cheese can set).  Top with red pepper flakes and extra fresh grated parm if you like.  Yummy!

In my next pizza post I will tell you about Fat Tuesday...every Tuesday.  It's sick, really.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Mahi Mahi Corn Chowder and Popovers

I know that most people are probably sick of these unseasonably cold storms and ready for the sun to start shining, but to tell you the truth, I sort of like them.  They've inspired me lately to experiment with cozy soup recipes, and now....well, I'm a little obsessed.

Not to say I don't love the warm weather. Actually, I revel in it. But I've JUST gotten into all the variations and limitless possibilities that come with making soups- just in time for the Sacramento heat to start stretching it's scalding fingers across the valley and force us to flee indoors to the safety of our AC or into the American River where we'll spend all day floating with sixers of Simpler Times.....

Ok, ok.  I AM ready for summer.  But I'm NOT ready for my soup obsession to stop!

I just had to come to terms that I'll have to experiment with cold soups- something I'm not a huge fan of (though I do love me some good gazpacho).  It's just not the same.  I guess I could concede to the fact that warm weather does not mean the death of warm soups- I mean, in Peru, even in the dead of summer, soup is always always ALWAYS the first course (and man, do they make some good soups).  Maybe I just need to wrap my head around that philosophy.  Maybe I should try always having a soup on hand like that for a starter, and see if that practice can survive a Sacramento summer.  Maybe....

Or maybe I can resign to putting the stockpot back on the shelf until the leaves start falling and the wind starts blowing.  Maybe I can supress my soup craving with an abundance of summer smoothies and fresh salads and heralicious pasta sauces.

But maybe not.  We'll see.

For now, until I lose that lovin' soup feeling, I'll continue to experiment.  I've been wanting to make a corn chowder for a while, and when I came across a recipe in Good Eats for a talapia corn chowder, I almost died, thinking "I WANT NOW."  No talapia in the fridge, but I did have mahi mahi, which I thought would be an easy substitute.  However, the recipe reviews were not great.  Many complained that the chowder was too thin, and for me, this was a dealbreaker.  I do not do thin chowders.  For me, a good chowder is thick and creamy and chunky.  It's got to really warm your soul.  Thin, runny chowders are unacceptable.

So I did some scouting, looking up other corn chowder recipes, until I came to the Barefoot Contessa's recipe where she uses turmeric, and I thought, "Yes. Mama like."  (Sidenote- although she uses a lot more fat than I usually like, I ADORE Ina Garten's recipes, and can usually alter them just enough so I don't feel too guilty about make them.) So using a combination of suggestions from Ina and Good Eats, plus a little divine culinary inspiration, I came up with this recipe. And I love it I love it I love it. I was a little scared that the mahi would make it too fishy, but it didn't turn out that way at all.  In fact, I LOVED the addition of fish, and I honestly don't know how I could ever go back to just plain corn chowder.  It was a combination that made me excited, yet a little apprehensive, but turned out to be absolute perfection.

 I used russet potatoes only because we had tons leftover from Ty's birthday, but I think baby reds would be slightly less starchy and add some accent color.  You'll notice that my measurements for this recipe aren't really exact- partly because I like the fact that you can tweak it to your own tastes, but mostly because I just sort of threw things in a pot and added by taste.  When I went back in my head to try and actually remember everything I did, it took a while.  Some suggestions- depending on how thick or thin you like your chowders, add or subtract the amount of stock.  I actually used a little less than two boxes, because I like the chunky ingredients to really clutter up the soup.  Increasing the amount of potatoes will help as well- as they cook down, the starches will act as thickeners.  You can add more dairy if you like it creamier, like a traditional New England clam chowder (I didn't go that far), or you can add more lemon juice if you'd like a more acidic bite.  As always, play around with the measurements! There is some room for error here, but I wouldn't sweat it- you can always add more of something to balance it out.

Oh, the beauty of soups!

Mahi Mahi Corn Chowder

3-4 Tbsp olive oil
5 strips of bacon, chopped
2 1/2 c chopped mirepoix  (celery, onion, carrot)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste (I like a lot of pepper!)
3 Tbsp flour
a couple glugs of a good IPA beer
2 32 oz boxes of chicken or veggie stock
4 c chopped potatoes
3/4 - 1 c half and half or whole milk (or a mix!)
mahi mahi filets, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 12 oz cans of corn
3-5 Tbsp lemon juice 3 scallions, chopped, for garnish

In a large stockpot cook chopped bacon and olive oil on med-high heat until bacon is crispy.  Remove bacon bits with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add mirepoix and butter to rendered fat.  Reduce heat to medium, stirring occasionally until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and all spices to mixture and give it a good stir, allowing those flavors to meld for 3-4 more minutes.  Add flour and reduce heat to med-low, incorporating for about 1 or 2 minutes.  Add beer, and cook for another 1-2 minutes.  Add potatoes and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce for a simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes or so.

When the potatoes are softened, add corn, reserved bacon, half and half, and mahi mahi pieces, continuing to simmer.  The fish should cook fairly quickly, within 4-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.  Serve, topped with a garnish of chopped scallions and a popover on the side.

adapted from Ina Garten

1 1/2 c milk, room temp
3 large eggs, room temp
1 1/2 c flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted, but not hot, plus more for greasing the pans

*I made this recipe with muffin tins- if you have popover pans, you may have to adjust the cooking time slightly.  Also, if you forget to take the eggs out of the fridge until the last minute (like I did), warm them to room temp by placing them in a warm water bath for a few minutes.  Works like a charm.

Makes about 18 popovers.

Preheat oven to 425.

Grease muffin tins liberally with butter. Really get it in there.  Set aside until oven reaches temp.

Whisk together eggs, flour, salt, milk and butter.  No need to incorporate in any particular order. The batter will be very thin, and that's ok!

Pop the greased-up pans into the oven for exactly 2 minutes.  Remove heated pans and fill muffin tins halfway with batter.

Return to oven and bake for 27 min.  In this time you should try to do everything in your power to NOT open the oven door.  If you're anything like me, this will be very, very difficult...I'm a notorious peeker.  This is especially hard to do on your first popover batch, when you don't really know how your finicky oven will treat these delicate little puffs of goodness.  So you may have to play with the bake time, depending on your appliance. Ina's original recipe called for 30 minutes, which was too long for mine, and I ended up with popovers darker and crispier than I would have liked.  They should puff up above the tin, and be slightly crispy on the outside and full of...well, nothing on the inside (except delicate, eggy, buttery air).

These were delicious with a little extra butter (BAD ASHLEY, BAD), then dipped in the soup. I think I may have a new popover obsession....and they're so EASY.  Easy to make, easy to eat.  Since they consist mostly of air, it's reeeally easy to eat 3 or 4.....or 5 of them.  I plan to play around with different variations, so I'll keep you updated.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Lemon Garlic Cream Fusilli with Roasted Tomatoes, Peas and Spinach

I know it's a long name, but I had to fit everything in to really convey the full experience.

Every culinary endeavor is like a puzzle for me:  how to use the ingredients I have to create something awesome WITHOUT having to make a trip across the street to the grocery store.  When you don't have a lot of money and your husband is in grad school and the state's budget cuts are seriously impeding finding a job (*shakes fist defiantly at the capitol building*), you really have to get creative.  I can't go out and simply buy a $10 chunk of greuyer whenever I feel like it (though sometimes I do).  I don't like to splurge on out-of-season veggies or primo cuts of meat.  So this daily challenge is something I revel in.  It's my own personal little Iron Chef episode, and the fewer ingredients, the more exciting (or frustrating, in some cases) it can be.

But now that volleyball season is over and Ty comes home early, I can sometimes send him to the store for that much-needed missing ingredient that I just HAVE to have (but could probably do without).  I'm a little spoiled in a way, though I know he doesn't mind walking across the street for a few minutes while I whip up a fantastically healthy and delicious meal.  So see?  It all balances out.

So the other night when I sent him to the store for milk, he didn't question it.  He just put on his headphones and good-naturedly started out the front door.  When I yelled down the hallway as he was leaving to also get some half and half, cream, and a quart of whole milk, he sort of looked at me funny. 

"A bag full of dairy?"

"I'll make you ice cream."

I'm a pretty good wife.

Truthfully, this dish could be made without a cream sauce, but something about the cream and lemon and garlic mixture compliments the sweetness of the peas so perfectly that I couldn't skimp.  If you wanted to cut out the dairy, make sure you save about a half a cup of the pasta water to throw in, along with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.  This also tastes great, and is really nice in the summer heat when you can't stand the thought of milk products.  But tonight, in the wake of an unseasonly cold and rainy storm, I was craving a cozier meal.

What I love about this dish is the fact that it is so chock-full of veggies, it's almost like a salad and pasta in one. No need for a side salad with this one- it's already incorporated.  Although I do feel the need to express that a nice zinfindel and some crispy garlic bread are almost required to complete the perfection of this meal.  So remember: don't skimp.

I'm too embarrassed to post a picture of the final dish because I actually roasted the tomatoes a little too long and they disintegrated, making the final meal look like a hot mess.  But it still tasted good.  (Trust me?)

Lemon Garlic Cream Fusilli with Roasted Tomatoes, Peas and Spinach

12 oz whole wheat fusilli pasta
1 c frozen peas, thawed
12 oz grape or cherry tomatoes
a couple handfuls of fresh spinach
1/3 c parmesan reggiano, finely grated
olive oil
salt and pepper
parsley, for garnish

for the sauce:
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
juice from 1 lemon (meyers work best- more juice)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 c milk or cream
1/2 shallot, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400.  Place the tomates on a baking sheet lined with foil, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for about 7-10 minutes, or until they start popping.  Once the skin looks a little wrinkley and they are softened, remove from the oven.  You do not want to over roast the tomatoes or they will fall apart once they are mixed into the pasta. 

Transfer the tomatoes to a large serving bowl.  Add spinach leaves and peas.  Set aside

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil.  Add a big pinch of salt, and throw in the pasta.  Follow the suggested cook time on the box and cook to al dente.  Once the pasta is cooked to your desired firmness, drain the water and add the pasta to the spinach, peas and tomato mixture.  Cover the bowl with a plate, lid or foil.  This will trap the heat and help to wilt the spinach a little while you make the sauce.

For the cream sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan on low heat.  Add shallots and sautee for a few minutes, until the shallots are softened.  Be careful to control the heat and keep it low, because you don't want the butter to burn.  During this time, warm the milk separately.  You can do this either in a microwave or on the stove.  You do not need it to be hot, just warm, and you do not want to scald it.  Once the shallots are softened, whisk in the flour one tablespoon at a time.  The mixture will bubble and grow a bit.  Continue whisking until it becomes thickened, then slowly add the milk, about 1/3 of a cup at a time.  Continue to whisk as you add the milk, until the butter/flour mixture is smoothly incorporated.  Add garlic, salt and pepper, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for at least two minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.

Remove the cover from the serving bowl and pour the cream sauce over the pasta.  Add grated parmasan and mix gently.  Sprinkle a little reserve parm and chopped parsley over the top for garnish and serve.  Yummy.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heal-Me Won-Ton Soup + Potstickers

Traveling can sure take a lot out of you.

Tyler and I have been sick, altogether, for the past two weeks- some sort of nasty bronchial thing, where you feel like you have one of those weird prickly pod things that fall off the trees from elementary school lodged in the back of your throat, and every time you swallow it's like the roughest grade of sandpaper scratching against your tonsils.  Not strep, luckily, but let me tell you, we sure have been eating our fair share of soups. 

Thank god TJs has cheap chicken stock, because I had to practically buy out their entire shelf for the week to get us through this.

I started making the go-to chicken noodle, without the chicken, so I guess you'd call it veggie noodle with chicken broth.  Please don't ask me to explain. Let's just say I have nothing against the flavor, I just don't want chunks of chicken-y flesh floating in my soup.  So I subbed in some mushrooms, threw in some noodles, and we sipped and sipped the sweet healing broth.

But after a couple days, I was still sick, and now sick of chicken noodle soup.

We ordered in for pizza one night (bad idea), and the next day we were back to soup.  I've been experimenting with asian cooking a lot lately, and decided to try my hand at a nice and simple won ton soup.  For sickies everywhere, this is my favorite heal-me meal.  It must be the combination of ginger and garlic- maybe it's in my head, but that duo makes my immune system flex it's sad little sickly muscles and say, "I'm here! I'm aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive! Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeal meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

You could be a go-getter and really drag this recipe out by making the actual won-ton wraps from scratch....if you want.  Personally, when I'm sick, I like the least amount of prep as possible.  Thai Kitchen has won-ton wraps you can buy in the grocery store- I found them at Safeway- the square ones work best.  This recipe is so easy, with not a whole lot of ingredients; it may look like a lot, but the spices and flavors in the broth are mirrored in the meat, so there's not a whole lot of shopping to do.  I plan to make this recipe again and again and again and again, and may never order take-out Chinese as long as I live...... least the soup.

Heal-Me Won-Ton Soup

1/4 lb ground turkey, pork or chicken (your choice)
1 large shallot, finely diced
3 green onions, finely diced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp sesame oil
3-4 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp garlic, finely diced
2 Tbsp grated ginger
1 dash of fish sauce

2 32 oz containers of chicken or veggie broth (chicken is best)
1 1/2 c mirepoix (french word for a mixture of onion, celery and carrot), finely chopped
3-4 Tbsp diced ginger
2-3 Tbsp diced garlic
1-2 tsp red pepper flakes (amount depends on how you like your heat)
olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
10 oz white button mushrooms, sliced

5-6 leaves of napa cabbage, chopped in 1 in pieces
Thai Kitchen square won-ton wrappers
3 green onions, chopped, for garnish

Coat the bottom of a large stock pot with olive oil and bring to medium heat.  Once the oil is hot, add in the mirepoix and sautee 3-4 minutes, until slightly softened.  Add diced garlic and ginger, along with red pepper flakes.  Cook about 3 more minutes, being carefuly not to let the garlic burn.  Add mushrooms, seame oil, and rice wine vinegar.  Sautee about 5 more minutes, until the mushrooms being to soften.  Add stock and kick up the heat to medium high.  When the soup comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover for about 20 minutes to allow the flavors mingle and love on one another.

While the soup is simmering, prepare the meat.  This means combining all meat ingredients completely.  Bare hands work best, but if you get squeamish around ground meat, you can use a large fork.  Once everything is mixed together, line a clean, dry plate with won-ton wrappers.  With a small spoon, scoop up a small amount of meat and place in the center of each wrapper.  The amount should be a little more than a teaspoon, but less than a tablespoon.  You don't want the meat to spill out when you cook your wonton, so make sure you don't put in so much that you cannot seal it shut.

Fill a small bowl halfway with water.  Dip a finger in the water and "paint" two edges of the won-ton wrapper.  Fold the wrapper over so it now looks like a triangle.  Pinch the edges together- the water will act as a seal to keep the edges together (much like an envelope).  Do not allow any air inside the pocket; the wrapper should encase the meat completely.  Made sure all the edges are sealed.

Drop the won-tons one by one into the simmering broth.  Continue to simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until the won-tons float to the surface.  This will tell you the meat inside is fully cooked.  Then turn off the heat, stir in the chopped cabbage leaves, and serve.  Top with fresh chopped green onions.

*If you have extra won-tons left over (and no doubt you will): 

Potsticker Sauce

1/2 c soy sauce
1/4 c rice wine vinegar
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4-1/2 tsp sesame oil
olive oil
1 tsp sugar

For the sauce:
Coat a small saucepan with olive oil and bring to low heat.  Add garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes and sautee until flavors combine, about 1 minute or so.  Then add sesame oil and cook about 30 more seconds.  Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat.

For the potstickers:
Bring a large saucepan full of water to a boil.  Drop in the won-tons.  They will sink to the bottom at first.  Continue to boil until the won-tons float to the surface.  Once they are are floating, remove from boiling water.  Transfer the won-tons to a large skillet coated in oil, with the heat on medium high.  Fry until each side is browned and crispy.  Transfer from the skillet to a plate lined with paper towels.  Plate, and serve with potsticker sauce.