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Sauce Versus Jelly: I Declare a Winner

July 27, 2013

I’ve been making lamb chops for about 10 years, always following this one recipe for pan frying, from a cookbook I received shortly after getting married. But I had two major issues with the recipe.

First, it makes my house stink…for days. There is something truly unappetizing about waking up the morning after a great meal only be assaulted with the lingering smell.

Second, the mint jelly-mustard sauce that was really my favorite part of the recipe, required me to purchase a whole bottle when I only needed a few tablespoons. Given that I didn’t make lamb very often, the rest would inevitably become a science experiment in the fridge.

A few weeks ago though, I finally found a solution to both challenges, thanks to a quick Internet search. The key is to grill the lamb chops. Ok, I probably should have figured that out before now considering we live in California and can grill year-round. But the sauce I was making used a little grease from the chops so I always felt like it would be lacking if I made it separately.

But the true highlight is a different sauce! One that uses fresh mint. From mojitos to berry salads, I love mint! Therefore, I am willing to declare that this recipe for traditional mint sauce is the winner for best accompaniment with lamb. At least for the next decade or so.

Oh, and apologies in advance, but this dish was too delicious to spend time taking photos. You’ll just have to trust me on this one. 

Traditional Mint Sauce recipe courtesy of Tiny Test Kitchen Blog

Ingredients:

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
3 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp boiling water
1 1/2 tbsp white vinegar or white wine vinegar

Directions:

1. Add the sugar to the mint in a small bowl. Stir together until the mint is coated with sugar. Leave for 3-5 minutes. Add boiling water and vinegar to the mint. Leave for 5-10 minutes, until the mint has infused the water.

2. Serve with roast or grilled lamb. Makes ¼ cup.

Duped by Good Marketing

November 25, 2012

Everyone knows that fresh baked is the best. But you also knows that sometimes, lack of time gets in the way. As does the lack of a household of people anxious to help you devour the latest caloric creation. So to appease my intense craving for pumpkin bars, I picked up the endcap impulse buy of Libby’s Pumpkin Bread kit. It had a can of Libby’s pumpkin in it, it couldn’t be that bad, right?  So, so wrong. While the package made two small loaves and 12 cupcakes, the pumpkin bread was way too dense. And the frosting, well, it disintegrated into the bread overnight. Clever packaging 1, Sarah 0.

Definitely learned my lesson. Next time I’ll succumb to my own cravings, and simply freeze the extra, bring it to a neighbor or delight my colleagues with a treat. If I hadn’t been duped by the good marketing of Target and Libby’s, here’s the pumpkin bar recipe I would have made
 

Pumpkin Bars recipe courtesy of Patty Ronning as adapted by Paula Deen

Ingredients:

Bars:

4 eggs

1 2/3 cups granulated sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

15-ounce can pumpkin (I always use Libby’s)

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

Icing:

8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened

2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using an electric mixer at medium speed, combine the eggs, sugar, oil and pumpkin until light and fluffy. Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture and mix at low speed until thoroughly combined and the batter is smooth. Spread the batter into a greased 13 by 10-inch baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before frosting. Cut into bars.

To make the icing: Combine the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and mix at low speed until combined. Stir in the vanilla and mix again. Spread on cooled pumpkin bars.

Pumpkin Bread Kit

Peeking Behind the Curtain of Kitchen Oz

August 12, 2012

One of my favorite things about playing sous chef to a truly experienced cook, is that sometimes I feel like I get a glimpse behind the curtain of the great and wonderful Oz.

On a recent trip to Southern California, I had the pleasure of cooking dinner with my friend Lisa (aka Kitchen Oz). She’s an incredibly accomplished cook and baker and has often contributed to my increased kitchen prowess with tips, tricks and recipes. On this evening, we were preparing Chicken Canzanese, a recipe she got from one of her favorite programs “America’s Test Kitchen.”

What I saw behind the curtain while helping make this wonderful meal (which included a green salad and garlic mashed potatoes), is that the great Oz, is in fact human. And sometimes, she follows a recipe.

Yep, the secret is out. Regardless of your personal kitchen comfort level, just know that laboring over a recipe, reading and re-reading every step before (and 10 times as you go) is normal. It’s expected – that’s why there are so many cookbooks, internet sites and TV shows out there providing recipes. And in the end, you may tailor it a bit to your own palate, but there is no shame in following a recipe explicitly. The great sometimes Oz does.

Chicken Canzanese recipe courtesy of “America’s Test Kitchen,” Episode 11, Italian Comfort Classics
Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 ounces prosciutto (1/4-inch thick), cut into ¼-inch cubes

4 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin lengthwise

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), trimmed of excess fat and skin

Ground black pepper

2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour

2 cups dry white wine

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

4 whole cloves

1 (4-inch) sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and minced fine (about ½ teaspoon), stem reserved

12 whole fresh sage leaves

2 bay leaves

1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Table salt
Directions:

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees F. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch heavy-bottomed ovensafe skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add prosciutto and cook, stirring frequently, until just starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add garlic slices and cook, stirring frequently until garlic is golden brown, about 1-1/2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer garlic and prosciutto to small bowl and set aside. Do not rinse pan.

2. Increase heat to medium-high; add remaining 2 teaspoons oil and heat until just smoking. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with ground black pepper. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook without moving until well browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Using tongs, turn chicken and brown on second side, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to large plate.

3. Remove all but 2 tablespoons fat from pan. Sprinkle flour over fat and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly add wine and broth; bring to simmer, scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Cook until liquid is slightly reduced, 3 minutes. Stir in cloves, rosemary stem, sage leaves, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, and reserved prosciutto and garlic. Nestle chicken into liquid, skin side up (skin should be above surface of liquid), and bake, uncovered, until meat offers no resistance when poked with fork but is not falling off hones, about 1 hour 15 minutes. (Check chicken after 15 minutes; broth should be barely bubbling. If bubbling vigorously, reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.)

4. Using tongs, transfer chicken to serving platter and tent with foil. Remove and discard sage leaves, rosemary stem, cloves, and bay leaves. Place skillet over high heat and bring sauce to boil. Cook until sauce is reduced to 1-1/4 cups, 2 to 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in minced rosemary, lemon juice, and butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce around chicken and serve. Serves 4 to 6.

 

   

Tasting Notes: This chicken was juicy and delicious. Although with all of the fresh herbs and prosciutto in there, we expected a more robust richness of flavors. As it was, everything melded well together so no one ingredient shined through.

Treasured Peanut Butter Recipe

June 28, 2012

My mom came across this article in Antique Trader that had a special recipe for peanut butter cookies. The story was from a woman who used to bake her cookies using the recipe on the Derby Peter Pan tin can as a teenager in the 1950s, but never wrote down the recipe since she thought it’d always be around. But it wasn’t. Decades later, she comes across a tin at a flea market and jumped at the chance to once again make these special cookies.

Claiming that no other peanut butter cookie has ever compared to this recipe, my mom thought I should give them a try. First challenge: finding Peter Pan peanut butter. Now owned my ConAgra, you’d think Peter Pan would have amazing distribution. But I couldn’t find it in any of my local grocery stores. And I promise you, I really tried. Second challenge: I’m not really a peanut butter cookie person - unless it has chocolate in it - so not sure I’ll be the best judge. 

The recipe calls for shortening (first time I’ve ever baked with shortening) so I first hit the gym to make room for some cooking tasting. Then, on Sunday, I did a little afternoon baking. Since I couldn’t find Peter Pan PB, I used Skippy Creamy. Might have contributed to the end result, but I won’t know until I come across a jar of Peter Pan and can try again.

Final conclusion: they’re tasty. But I honestly have no idea where they stand against other peanut butter cookies. I’m hoping one of you will give the recipe a try and let me know what you think…Are these the best peanut butter cookies ever?

Peanut Butter Drop Cookies

Peanut Butter Drop Cookies

½ c. shortening

½ c. brown sugar

½ c. white sugar

1 egg

½ tsp. vanilla

½ c. Peter Pan Peanut Butter

1-1/2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cream the shortening and sugars. Add egg, vanilla and peanut butter. Beat well. Mix in sifted flour, soda and salt. Shape into small balls and flatten.

Bake on cookie sheet for 10 minutes. Makes 44 small cookies. (NOTE: I only got about 30 out of it.)


The Best Kind of Chain Letter

April 7, 2012

“Send this to 20 friends and your dreams will come true.” “Money will be donated every time this email is forwarded.” “Post this if you have a friend who…” I’ve never been a fan of chain letters. Perhaps because I’ve been known to be gullable on more than one occasion. Or maybe because I prefer to send original content to my friends/family. Either way, I am now a convert and will loudly hail the benefits of a particular kind of chain letter – the recipe kind.

In my January 1 post, I mentioned an incredibly decadent Crème Brûlée French Toast dish that my friend Tanya brought to a holiday brunch. Turns out that delicious recipe was given to Tanya from a friend of hers, who got it from someone else. The original published source is the revered Gourmet Magazine and dates back to July 1998. But the true origin of the recipe is The Inn at Sunrise Point in Camden, Maine. Fourteen years later, I cheerfully claim this as the best chain letter I’ve ever received.

An easy recipe to make, the Crème Brûlée French Toast is perfect for a special occasion brunch and can be prepared the night before. The most time consuming part of the recipe is cutting the crust off the bread. I questioned the necessity of this step when making the dish with Connie and Lisa a while back, so we did half with and half without crust. As you’ll see, the crustless side is more attractive so if presentation is important to you, definitely trim the crust. But from a texture standpoint, Lisa and I preferred the side with the crust. Her great compromise is that if you want to create texture within the crustless version, consider adding toasted pecans to the brûlée mixture at the bottom of the pan.

Give this a try for your next brunch (or brinner if that’s more your style) and let me know if you agree that it’s the best kind of chain letter you can receive.

 

 

Crème Brûlée French Toast recipe courtesy of Gourmet Magazine, July 1998

Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons corn syrup

5 large eggs

1-½ cups half-and-half

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier

¼ teaspoon salt

1 8- to 9- inch loaf challah bread or other country-style bread

Directions:

1. In a small heavy saucepan, melt butter with brown sugar and corn syrup over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth. Pour into a 13x9x2-inch baking dish.

2. Cut six 1-inch thick slices from center of bread, reserving ends for another use (homemade breadcrumbs are good), and trim crusts. Arrange bread slices in one layer in baking dish, squeezing them slightly to fit. You may need to cut additional, small pieces if necessary—you won’t want any gaps.

3. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, vanilla, Grand Marnier, and salt until combined well. Pour evenly over bread. Chill bread mixture, covered, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bring bread mixture to room temperature.

5. Bake bread mixture, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed and edges are pale golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve hot. Serves 6.

What Should I Do With This?

March 25, 2012

My memory escaped me and I had no idea why I had a box of Pillsbury Pie Crusts in my fridge. But the expiration date was fast approaching so thought I’d turn to my Facebook friends for some suggestions. All sounded delicious, except the one with Portobello mushrooms, and it was a tough call. Final decision came down to wanting to try something healthier (yes, ironic statement given we’re talking about pie crust here) so I opted for a mixed vegetable quiche.

If you prefer the traditional eggy-quiches, this recipe won’t be for you. But if you like the idea of a versatile base quiche where you can add/subtract ingredients to the occasion or mood, this definitely fits the need. Just be sure to allow enough cooking time. This recipe calls for 20 minutes, but like most reviewers on FoodNetwork.com, mine took 40 minutes. If you’re adding other ingredients like bacon, you’ll want to adjust accordingly.

Now, I have one 9-inch crust left, what should I make next?

 

Mixed Vegetable Quiche with Cheddar and Parmesan recipe courtesy of “Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller

Ingredients:

1 (9-inch) refrigerated pie crust

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

1 cup cooked stir-fried vegetables

1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

3/4 cup grated cheddar

1/4 cup low fat milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon grated parmesan

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Press pie crust into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch, removable-bottom tart pan (or 9-inch pie pan). Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine spinach, stir-fried vegetables and place on top of uncooked crust. In another bowl combine ricotta, cheddar, milk, eggs, Dijon, oregano, salt, and black pepper. Mix well. Spoon cheese mixture on top of vegetable mixture in prepared pie crust and top with parmesan.

4. Bake 20 minutes, until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean and crust is golden brown.

Extended Family Recipes

March 18, 2012

Chances are at least one of your “go to” recipes came from your mom. Or your grandma. Or another much-loved family member. And maybe you continue to make it exactly as written, or you tweaked it to be your own. Either way, I think family recipes are a treasure trove of flavor and happiness.

But this recipe isn’t from my own family (sorry, mom), it’s from my dear friend Connie’s. After all, who do you think is going to have the most authentic lasagna recipe, an Italian or a Finn?

To teach me how to make proper Italian lasagna, Connie and our friend Lisa, came to visit. And thank goodness they did because just reading the recipe she originally sent wasn’t nearly as inspiring - or delicious - as working directly with the master prepare a dish she’s been making forever. I’ve made a few clarifications (i.e., adding measurements) to her recipe below for us novices. But trust me, if you tackle this lasagna your guests will be begging to become part of your family. The photos do not do it justice.

Big Pan Required  Carefully Placing Ricotta

Connie's Lasagna  Connie's Lasagna

So Seriously Delicious You'll Lick Your Plate Lasagna

Connie’s “So Seriously Delicious You’ll Lick Your Plate” Lasagna (ok, she doesn’t refer to it by that name, but the rest of us do)

Ingredients:

½ onion, diced (or more to taste)

4 large garlic cloves, minced (or more to taste)

2 (28 ounce) cans tomato sauce (RedPack is the best, but Hunt’s will work too)

2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes

Seasonings to taste (oregano, basil, etc.)

Olive oil for sautéing

1 lb. ground hamburger

1 lb. ground Italian sausage, mild

1 (32 ounce) ricotta

1-1/2 – 2 lbs. shredded mozzarella

1 lb. box of lasagna noodles (might want to have a second box on hand just in case)

NOTE: 1 large lasagna pan is required. A 13x9 pan will not be sufficient so if you don’t have a lasagna pan, just get a disposable aluminum one from the grocery store.

Directions:

1.  You will need two large saucepan pans: 1 to cook the pasta (it needs room) and 1 to cook the sauce. You will also need one skillet to sauté chopped meat and Italian sausage.

2.  In large pan, heat oil and sauté garlic and onions until lightly browned, careful to not burn them. Add both cans of tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Add spices to taste. (If the sauce tastes bitter add a pinch of sugar.)

3.  In the large skillet, cook the ground hamburger, and add to the sauce. Then cook the Italian sausage and add to the sauce. Do not drain the meats before adding to the sauce.

4.  Let the sauce simmer for at least 1 hour, but preferably for 1-1/2 hours. Stir constantly to ensure sauce doesn’t burn. Taste frequently and add additional seasoning as desired.

5.  In the other large saucepan add water to cook lasagna noodles to package directions. Once cooked, carefully drain noodles.

6.  Let the assembly fun begin! First add sauce to bottom of lasagna pan, lay noodles on top of sauce (usually 3 fit) then add scoops of ricotta (we did three rounded tablespoons per noodle) and mozzarella. Then add sauce again, lay noodles and repeat. The last layer just add noodle with sauce and mozzarella on top.

7.  Bake at 375 until heated through and a little crispy on top (approximately 60 minutes).

Serving Notes: Of course lasagna is great with garlic bread. But we also added a fantastic salad of kale, roasted butternut squash, parmesan and pine nuts to go with it. Interested in more details on the salad? Just let me know and I’ll post the recipe soon. 

Kale & Squash Salad

They Can’t All Be Winners

February 19, 2012

Sometimes the idea is better than the result. That was the case with my recent foray into making my own pasta. As a H-U-G-E gnocchi fan, when I came across a recipe for a basic one I thought I’d give it at try. The process of making the gnocchi was certainly easy enough (although it would have been easier if I actually owned a potato masher) but the end result was too dense for my liking.

For sauce, I made two options. Gorgonzola for myself, and an arugula walnut pesto for my husband. The Gorgonzola sauce was great and worked well with this basic gnocchi, soaking in pretty well into the fork indentations - although my photos don’t do it justice. Unfortunately, the arugula pesto however was another miss. It was simply too garlicky for these potato pockets, and didn’t distribute over the pasta as well as a creamy or traditional tomato sauce would.

So although this is a dinner I won’t be making again, I am absolutely interested in trying a different gnocchi recipe, and looking for a better base on which to enjoy the arugula pesto (cutting back on the garlic amount of course). Do you have any recipes you’d suggest? Have you had success making homemade pasta in the past?

Potato Gnocchi recipe courtesy of “Vegetarian Tasty Recipes for Every Day” by Helen Aitken 

Ingredients:

1 lb. potatoes, quartered

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

 Directions:

1.  Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 15-20 minutes or in the microwave until tender. Stir through a generous amount of salt. Drain the potatoes, then  mash until completely smooth. Transfer to a bowl.

2.  Sprinkle the flour into the bowl with one hand while kneading it into the potato mixture with the other hand. Continue kneading until all of the flour is worked in and the dough is smooth, should take a few minutes and will be sticky at first.

3.  Divide the dough into three and roll each portion into a sausage that is 2 cm thick. Cut into 2-1/2 cm lengths and, using floured hands, press each gnocchi against a fork to flatten it and indent one side (the indentation helps the sauce coat the gnocchi).

4.  Bring a large pan of water to a boil. Drop in the gnocchi, then reduce the heat and simmer until they rise to the surface, 2-3 minutes. Lift out of the water with a slotted spoon and drain well. Portion into plates and add your favorite sauce. Serves 4.

Rolling Gnocchi  Fork Indentations Help Sauce Stick

 Arugula Walnut Pesto

Ingredients:

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

2 cups tightly packed arugula leaves

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese

scant 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Place walnuts, arugula and garlic cloves in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until incorporated. Pulse in the lemon juice and grated cheese. With the lid on and motor running, stream in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes about ¾ cup.

Arugula Walnut Pesto  Arugula Walnut Pesto 

Gorgonzola Sauce recipe courtesy of “Vegetarian Tasty Recipes for Every Day” by Helen Aitken 

Ingredients:

10 oz. cream

4 oz. gorgonzola cheese, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (optional)

Directions:

Put the cream into a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Boil rapidly, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes, or until reduced by one third. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. Season with sat and pepper and pour over your pasta. Garnish with the chives.

Gorgonzola Suace on Gnocchi

Did She Just Say Thanksgiving Leftovers?

February 7, 2012

Yes, I really am talking about Thanksgiving leftovers in February. If you’re my Facebook friend (and if you’re not, I have to ask “why not?”) you may have seen my November posts about cooking my first Thanksgiving turkey. I sought out turkey tips from everyone. And got some doozies. After many hours of research and internal debate, I went with a classic brine (kosher salt and sugar) and then filled the cavity with a mix of onions, carrots, celery and thyme, and added garlic, bay leaves and white wine to the pan. It was a success! 

But it was a big bird for two. So I immediately froze some, and finally pulled it out this week to make a rustic turkey tart. Although the recipe calls for mushrooms (ick) I still made it. I just substituted broccolini and diced celery. You can easily make this anytime with a roast chicken from the grocery store or leftovers from a scratch chicken. And I highly recommend it, as it’s a nice change from the sandwich leftover option. But be warned, this is not the healthiest interpretation. Does anyone else still have Thanksgiving turkey in their freezer?

Rustic Turkey Tart  Rustic Turkey TartRustic Turkey Tart

Rustic Turkey Tart Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen “Cooking for Two 2010”

Ingredients: 

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 ounces white mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth

¼ cup heavy cream

10 ounces cooked turkey, shredded (about 2 cups)

1 scallion, sliced thin

Salt and pepper

1 Pillsbury Just Unroll! or other store-bought pie crust

2 ounces goat or feta cheese, crumbled (about ½ cup)

1 egg white, lightly beaten

Directions: 

1.  Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook until the mushrooms release their liquid and begin to brown, 5 to 7 minutes Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the broth and cream, bring to a simmer, and cook until thickened, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the turkey and scallion and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3.  Roll out the dough into a 9-inch round, about 3/8 inch thick on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper, reshape as needed. Spread the turkey filling in the center of the dough, leaving a 1-1/2 inch border, sprinkle with the cheese. Fold the edge of the dough in over the filling, pleating it every 1 to 2 inches as needed, and lightly brush with the egg white.

4.  Bake the tart until the crust is golden and crisp and the filling is heated through, 35 to 40 minutes. Let the tart cool slightly on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before serving. Serves 2.