Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Curry Cheddar Pockets

These are like a cross between Indian samosas and English pasties. Rather than use traditional pastry crust, this recipe uses a biscuit dough for added tenderness and flakiness, which is accompanied perfectly by the cheesy filling. Also nice is that a can of ready-to-use biscuit dough (like Pillsbury) tastes nearly as good as homemade biscuit dough (although it's not that hard to do).

  • 2 Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into a large dice
  • 2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons apple jelly
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Indian curry powder (not Thai curry paste!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon white (or black) pepper
  • one pound biscuit dough (or one large can of refrigerator biscuit dough)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Mix the apples, cheese, jelly, curry, and pepper in a mixing bowl. Divide the biscuit dough into 8 pieces (about 2 ounces each). Roll one of the pieces out on a floured work surface until it is a thin circle about 7 inches across. Scoop about 1/2 cup of the apple mixture onto the dough circle, spreading it out over one side of the dough and staying about 1/2 inch from the near edge:
The yellow circle is the dough and the orange blob is the filling.
(I am clearly not a graphic designer - sorry I forgot to take actual pictures)

Fold the far side of the dough over the filling, leaving the 1/2 inch of the near side hanging off:
Fold the near flap back over the pocket to close it off (the grey part above). Press with a fork to tightly seal the pocket. Place the pocket on the sheet pan and repeat with the remaining dough. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the pockets are golden brown.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Green Tomato Pickles

Where I live (Utah), the weather is not exactly perfect for Tomatoes. The Springs are chilly and the Summers are short, so during some years the tomatoes don't all get to ripen before temperatures get to freezing. Unless you want to waste those green tomatoes you have to figure out how to eat them. Most people have heard of fried green tomatoes (thanks to the movie), but green tomato pickles are quite tasty too.

  • 4-6 Green Tomatoes, sliced into 8-10 wedges each
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 teaspoon pickling spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

Place the tomatoes and onions in a large glass jar (or other non-reactive vessel). Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil in a stainless steel saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Fill the jar with the pickling liquid. Seal tightly and let cool on the counter for 1 hour. Refrigerate for 3-5 days. They keep for 3-months in the fridge.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pan-Seared Chicken with Tomato Chutney

One of the worst things you can do to chicken is to overcook it. That is especially true of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. However, due to the risk of food-borne illness, you must thoroughly cook your poultry. This leaves you with a razor-thin line: fully cooked, but not overcooked. I avoid dry, tasteless chicken by using a hybrid method: 1) Sear the chicken's outside over high heat. 2) Make a sauce using the fond created by the searing process. 3) Slowly finish cooking the chicken in the sauce. This method has many advantages: searing brings flavor, slower finishing makes it hard to overcook, and cooking in the sauce enhances flavor and moisture. Make sure to use an instant-read thermometer several times during the last few minutes of cooking to ensure your chicken is safe to eat, but not dried out.

  • 3 tablespoons Canola oil, divided
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, trimmed of any excess fat or rib meat
  • 1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
  • the zest of one lemon
  • the juice of half a lemon (i.e. the one you just zested)
  • ¼ cup onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup green pepper, chopped
  • 1 large or 2 small granny smith apples, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • 2 Tbs. brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels. Lightly salt them on both sides. Heat 2 tablespoons of the Canola oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet until it just starts to smoke. Lay the chicken breasts in the pan, spread out as much as possible. Sear without moving or stirring in any way for 3-5 minutes, or until the breasts have fully released from the pan on their own and have a deep golden crust (if you do this with sufficient oil and a hot enough pan, it will not burn, however you may want to use a splatter guard). Flip, searing for another 2-3 minutes, Remove from the pan, put on a plate covered with foil and set aside. Immediately reduce heat to medium to prevent the fond from burning.

Add the remaining oil to the skillet. Saute the onions and green pepper for 3-5 minutes, until the peppers are crisp-tender and the onion is softened. Cook the garlic for 30 seconds to a minute, until it becomes fragrant and has lost its raw bite (do not overcook it). Deglaze the pan with the tomatoes, scraping any brown fond off the bottom of the pan. Add the apples, lemon zest, brown sugar, cinnamon, red pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Nestle the chickens into the chutney as deeply as possible (pouring any collected juices back into the pan), bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the chickens have reached an internal temperature of 155-160 degrees. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice or couscous.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lamb "Korma"

I am not an Indian food expert - although I do love to cook and eat it! My problem lies in terminology: Based on several Wikipedia articles, I'm pretty sure that a "saag" always contains spinach, "vindaloo" is marinated in wine or vinegar, and "tandoori" is roasted in a clay oven, "keema" is made with ground meat, and "korma" is made with stew meat - although I'd appreciate any correction by someone who has actual first-hand knowledge of Indian culture and cuisine. One thing I do know for sure: the following recipe is tasty. Even if it isn't "real" Indian food, it is at least Indian-inspired, and for that I thank my subcontinental friends.

  • 3 tablespoons oil, divided
  • 2 pounds lamb stew meat (or lamb chops that have been cut off the bone and cut into 2-inch cubes, or you could use beef stew meat like chuck)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala (an Indian spice mixture containing cumin, coriander, cardamom, pepper, and cinnamon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (for medium heat) or cayenne pepper (hot), optional
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup half-and-half or milk
  • 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Lightly salt the meat and toss in two tablespoons of the oil. Working in batches, quickly brown the meat in a large skillet over high heat (do not crowd the pan). Reduce the heat to medium. Add one tablespoon oil and sweat the onion with a pinch of salt for 3-5 minutes, until the onion is softened. Add the garam masala, chili flakes, garlic, and ginger and cook for 1 more minute. Add the meat (and any collected juices), sweet potatoes, beans, half-and-half and yogurt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook on low heat for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add lemon juice, and simmer for another 2-3 minutes. Serve over rice or pita bread.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Three Bean Stew

So I'm putting on my Seinfeld hat: What's the deal with three bean salad? Why don't we ever see other foods with three beans: Three bean burritos? Three bean baked beans? Three bean hummus? If three beans is good for salad, we must make it good for other things too - like stew! I love bean stew. Normally you see soups and stews with only one kind of bean: canellini (minestrone), pinto (chili), red (jambalaya). Well here we have it: Three Bean Stew. The base recipe is vegetarian, but you could add grilled and sliced sausage (like kielbasa), bacon bits, or ham (practically any pork product!) if you wanted some extra meaty goodness.

  • 2/3 of a cup each of dried pinto beans, red beans, and garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 8 cups of water (use filtered if your tap water tastes funny)
  • 2-4 cups leftover vegetable parts (celery and bell pepper tops, carrot sticks, onion slices, parsley stems, or other aromatic veggies, see note below), roughly chopped
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup each of onion, celery, carrot, and red bell pepper, cut into a large dice
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice (from half a lemon)

Soak the beans in the water overnight. Make sure that as the beans soak up the water, there is enough to keep them fully submerged at all times. Do not let the beans soak for more than 24 hours or they will start to become mushy and flavorless.

Put the leftover veggies, bay leaves, and garlic in a cotton stuffing bag. Put the veggie bag, beans (with their soaking water), and 2 tablespoons kosher salt together in a stock pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for 1-2 hours, or until the beans are cooked, adding more water as necessary to keep them covered. (They will not be a mushy as canned beans. They should have a pleasant toothiness when cooked correctly, but they will not be crunchy.) Remove the veggie bag and discard (the veggies, that is, not the bag - it can be washed and reused). Drain the beans in a colander, catching the cooking broth in a bowl. Reserve the beans and broth for later.

Heat the olive oil in the stock pot over medium heat. Sweat the remaining diced veggies with a heavy pinch of kosher salt for 3-5 minutes, or until the carrot starts to soften but is still a little crunchy (do not brown the veggies - turn the heat down to medium low if necessary to avoid frying or sauteeing). Using a fine mesh strainer, sift the flour over the veggies, stirring to evenly coat them. Continue to cook over medium-low heat until the flour starts to brown, another 3-5 minutes. Slowly pour in all but 1/2 cup of the broth, stirring constantly. Stir in the thyme, sage, and pepper. Add all but 1/4 cup of the beans and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, blend together the reserved beans and broth in a blender or food processor and pour the mixture back into the stew (you can skip this step and just pour all the broth and beans into the stew if a thinner consistency is desired). Season with more salt and pepper to taste, add the lemon juice, and simmer for another 3-5 minutes, until the stew reaches a desired thickness (it will thicken slightly as it cools). Remove from heat and serve over rice with hot sauce on the side.

Cooking the beans with the leftover veggie parts basically turns the bean cooking liquid into veggie broth, saving you from having to buy some and using up a bunch of vegetables you were probably going to throw away. If you don't have any leftover veggies (for example, you gave them all to your potbellied pig), you could add 1-2 cups of vegetable broth to the soaking liquid before boiling the beans, as well as using additional broth to top off the beans if too much liquid cooked into the beans or evaporated. Back to ingredients.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Brats with Peppers and Onions

Now that fall is upon us, we must consider tailgating! Fall is my favorite time of year to be outdoors - the crisp air, the smell of leaves on the grass, the awesome power of 300-pound offensive linemen crushing a makes you almost giddy with excitement! Great tailgating is all about preparation: it's hard to do a lot of cooking over a portable grill. To be successful, you must do as much cooking as possible at home, then use the grill as a last-minute finisher. Brats are a great example of this technique.

  • 4 bratwurst sausages
  • 1 bottle beer (regular or non-alcoholic)
  • 1 red onion, frenched
  • 1 green bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 4 hoagie rolls
  • 1 bottle of mustard (regular or spicy)

At home: Simmer the sausages in the beer over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Tightly wrap in plastic and store in a sealable container in a refrigerator or cooler until grill time. Put the peppers and onions on a large piece of aluminum foil. Add the oil, salt, and pepper and toss to evenly coat. Spread the veggies into a single layer and seal the foil into a packet not wider than your grill. Refrigerate with the brats and proceed to the grill location.

Grill time: Heat the grill for direct heat (all burners on high for gas grills). Put the veggie packet on the grill, flipping once per minute for 5-10 minutes, or until the veggies are cooked and caramelized (if using charcoal, you can put the packet right on the coals). Grill the brats for 2 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Toast the buns for 30-60 seconds. Place a sausage in each bun with mustard and veggies.

Note: If you're just having this at home, you can forgo the grilling and do this on a griddle or flat top. Just sautee the veggies over high heat, brown the brats, and toast the buns in the oven or broiler.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Kielbasa with Cabbage, Apples, and Sweet Potatoes

I know, the title isn't very creative, but it sure is descriptive! No "Cabbage Surprise" or other such nonsence. I like to know what I'm getting in a recipe up front, and this certainly delivers. Now, a couple of notes on this recipe: The sweet potatoes can be steamed any time from immediately before doing the rest of the dish, up to a day or two before, so don't get discouraged at the extra prep (I originally encountered this dish with canned sweet potatoes - don't be tempted to use them!) Second, if you like beer with your sausage (and if you're a beer drinker, I assume you do!), you could substitute the apple cider in the recipe for a bottle of beer for a more earthy (i.e. beer-y) flavor. I am not a beer drinker, so I'll stick with the cider for myself.

  • 12 ounces steamed cubed sweet potatoes, cooked al dente (not all the way soft)
  • 8 ounces unsweetened apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 6 cups coursely shredded cabbage (about 1/2 of a head)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound fully-cooked keilbasa sausage, cut on the bias into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch wedges (toss the pieces in a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice to prevent browning if they'll sit for more than 5 minutes before cooking)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Bring the cider, mustard, and caraway seeds to a boil over medium-high in a large skillet. Add the cabbage and salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the cabbage starts to wilt down, 5-10 minutes. Add the kielbasa, apple, sweet potato and pepper. Gently stir to combine and cook for another 2-5 minutes, or until the apples and cabbage are crisp-tender but not raw.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Easy Pasta Casserole

This quick pasta casserole is very good and rediculously easy to do. With the exception of the dairy, all of the ingredients are inexpensive pantry (or freezer) staples, making this great for cooking on a budget while still being nutritious and tasty.

  • 1 pound tri-color rotini, farfale, or other casserole-friendly pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound frozen spinach, thawed
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tub (15-16 ounces) of ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesian cheese, divided (Please use the good stuff - ideally, it should have a rind that has "Parma" stamped on it. If you do use pre-ground stuff, at least get some from your store's deli instead of from a green can.)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (Yes, fresh from an actual nutmeg nut!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 4 jerks Worchestershire sauce (It's the secret ingredient!)
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup course breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve a 1/4 cup of the pasta water, drain, return to the cooking pot and set aside off heat.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add spinach, shallot, garlic, and a heavy pinch of salt. Cook 2-3 minutes, until the shallot has softened and the garlic has lost its raw bite. Add ricotta cheese, half the Parmesian cheese, milk, nutmeg, chili flakes, pepper, and Worchestershire sauce. Contintue to cook over medium-low, stirring constantly until the cheeses and milk have come together. Add remaining kosher salt to taste. Dump the spinach mixture into the pasta pot and stir to combine. Spray a large casserole with nonstick spray. Pour the pasta/spinach mixture into the casserole and top with the mozzarella cheese. Mix the remaining Parmesian and breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the mozarella cheese. Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese has melted. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Marinated Potato Salad

If you want your potato salad to have lots of flavor, you really should start it at least 8 hours before you want to eat it. This gives the vinegar enough time to really penetrate the potatoes and give it some underlying acidity before putting on the creamy mayonnaise dressing. I guarantee that no one will think this salad is bland!

  • 2 1/2 pounds red potatoes, cleaned but not peeled
  • kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (homemade would be nice)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
  • one half to one whole clove garlic, sliced as thinly as you can
  • 2-4 tablespoons diced dill pickles or dill pickle relish, to taste
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Place potatoes in a large pot. Add just enough cold water to cover by 1/2 inch and add a very heavy pinch of kosher salt per quart of water. Bring to a gentle boil and cook, uncovered for 20-30 minutes, or until the potatoes are just soft - do not overcook. Gently drain and rinse under cold running water for 30-60 seconds, until just cool enough to handle with a tea towel. Rub the skins off with the towel, being careful not to mash them. Once peeled, slice into 1/2 inch slices and put into a large plastic bag with the vinegar. Marinate for at least 8 hours, up to 1 day.

Mix together remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl with a couple of pinches of kosher salt (to taste). Gently fold in marinated potatoes and any vinegar left in the bag. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

Note: Other herb combinations can be used instead of parsley and tarragon. You could also use basil and thyme, mint and dill, or cilantro and oregano. Just add whatever fresh herbs you think you might like 1-2 tablespoons at a time until you think the flavor is strong enough!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chicken Parmesan

Traditionally, Chicken Parm is pan-fried. This puts a lot of people off of it because of the mess and extra fat content that comes with it. However, it doesn't have to be that way. It is possible to bake a delicious and juicy Chicken Parm that has very little mess and only a fraction of the fat.

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, "enhanced" or brined*
  • 1 1/2 cups course seasoned bread crumbs (homemade or store bought)
  • 1/2 cup ground good Parmesan cheese, with the rind cut off and reserved
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup flour
  • kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely minced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced fine
  • 1 14-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped fine
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove chicken from brine, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry with paper towels (or thaw and dry enhanced chicken breasts). Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray. Mix the bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese in a pie pan or other wide, shallow dish. Mix the eggs and water in another similar dish. Put the flour in one more dish. Dredge a chicken breast in the flour, shaking off any excess. Coat with the egg mixture and then move to the bread crumbs, coating all sides and pushing firmly to adhere. Put the breaded chicken on the baking sheet and repeat with the other pieces. Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and a heavy pinch of kosher salt. Sweat for 5-7 minutes, or until the onions are soft and translucent (do not brown them, if they start to sizzle or jump around, turn the heat down). Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the tomato sauce, chili flake, black pepper, and Parmesan cheese rind. Simmer very gently over low heat until the chicken has baked for 20 minutes. When there are 5 minutes left, remove the rind and discard. Add the basil and gently simmer for the remaining baking time.

Remove the chickens from the oven. Place a thin layer of sauce over each one (2-4 tablespoons, as you like it). Put 2 tablespoons mozzarella cheese on top of each one and return the baking sheet to the oven for another 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the chickens have an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Serve with pasta marinara and garlic toast.

*Enhanced chicken breasts have been injected with a salt solution that makes them juicier and more tender. They are usually sold individually quick frozen (IQF) in bags labeled "Chicken enhanced with a solution..." or something like that. If you don't have (or want to buy) enhanced chicken, you can brine your own (which will probably taste better anyway, but takes more time). Mix 12 ounces of pickling salt, 1/4 cup sugar, and 2 quarts of water in a 2 gallon plastic tub (or clean picnic cooler). Whisk until the sugar and salt are dissolved and add the chicken breasts. Brine for 6-12 hours in the refrigerator, or add a pound of ice in a tightly sealed zipper bag if doing in a cooler (changing the bags every 4 hours or whenever it melts, making sure the ice water doesn't leak and dilute the brine). Back to ingredients