Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Duo of Shu Mai

On the rare weekend where there really isn't anything urgent to accomplish, Paul and I like to undertake some type of cooking project together while the child naps.  When Matthew naps, he is normally passed out for at least 2 hours, leaving us with a wide window of opportunity to expand our culinary skills or just make something fun for dinner.  Normally, we try to make something in bulk that can be frozen for future hectic weeknights when we may need to prepare dinner in a hurry.  In the past, we have tackled Chinese BBQ Pork Buns, Gnocchi (both regular and sweet potato), Ravioli, Tortellini, and Sushi.  A few weekends ago, Paul and I decided to make a couple varieties of steamed dumplings that one might find in a Chinese dim sum restaurant.

We chose to make a bunch of these little dumplings, but wanted to make two types of filling.  We settled on a more traditional pork filling and a delicious-sounding Thai-style chicken filling (we have really been loving our green curry paste so why not incorporate this ingredient into a steamed dumpling).  The fillings came together in a jiffy, thanks to our handy dandy food processor, but shaping and filling the dumplings took a little bit of practice.  As you can see from the photos, we never really managed to make these look outstandingly professional, but at least the filling was contained and nothing exploded during the steaming process.  After filling and shaping the dumplings, we set up our steamer basket over a pot of simmering water and cooked the little things until the meat was completely firm.  Served with a side of soy sauce (or Fish Sauce and lime juice for the Thai-style dumplings), this was a fun and delicious dinner! We even made sure to pick up some chopsticks from the sushi bar at our grocery store.

We made about 60 dumplings with these recipes and froze 2/3 of them for later dinners.  The frozen dumplings can be steamed directly from frozen by simply adding an extra 5 minutes to the cooking time. They taste almost as good as fresh!

Shrimp and Pork Shu Mai
from Cook's Illustrated

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
1 pound boneless country-style pork ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled, tails removed and halved lengthwise (see note)
1/4 cup water chestnuts, chopped
4 dried shiitake mushroom caps (about 3/4 ounce), soaked in hot water 30 minutes, squeezed dry, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine (Shaoxing) or dry sherry
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 package 5 1/2 inch wonton or eggroll wrappers

Combine soy sauce and gelatin in small bowl. Set aside to allow gelatin to bloom, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, place half of pork in food processor and pulse until coarsely ground into approximate 1/8-inch pieces, about ten 1-second pulses; transfer to large bowl. Add shrimp and remaining pork to food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped into approximate ¼-inch pieces, about five 1-second pulses. Transfer to bowl with more finely ground pork. Stir in soy sauce mixture, water chestnuts, mushrooms, cornstarch, cilantro, sesame oil, wine, vinegar, sugar, ginger, salt, and pepper.

Divide wrappers into 3 stacks (with about 6-7 per stack). Using 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut two 3-inch rounds from each stack of egg roll wrappers (you should have 40-42 rounds). Cover rounds with moist paper towels to prevent drying.

Working with 6 rounds at a time, brush edges of each round lightly with water. Place heaping tablespoon of filling into center of each round. Following illustrations below, form dumplings, crimping wrapper around sides of filling and leaving top exposed. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with damp kitchen towel, and repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

Cut piece of parchment slightly smaller than diameter of steamer basket and place in basket. Poke about 20 small holes in parchment and lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray. Place batches of dumplings on parchment liner, making sure they are not touching. Set steamer over simmering water and cook, covered, until no longer pink, 8-10 minutes.

Thai-Style Curried Chicken Filling
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup minced onion (from 1 small onion)
1/4 cup minced celery (from 1 small celery stalk)
1 small clove garlic, minced, (at least 1/2 teaspoon)
2 medium carrots, shredded (about 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon red curry paste
3 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk
6 ounces ground chicken
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
Pinch of table salt
2 tablespoons shredded fresh cilantro leaves
1 package wonton wrappers

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onions, celery and garlic; sauté until almost softened, about 3 minutes. Add carrots; sauté until vegetables soften, about 2 minutes longer. Add curry paste and coconut milk; cook over medium-high heat, stirring to incorporate curry paste, until most of coconut milk has been absorbed. Transfer vegetables mixture to a bowl; cool to room temperature.

Mix in remaining filling ingredients. Let stand about 30 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to make dumplings.

Fill and steam dumplings according to the directions detailed in the recipe for Shrimp and Pork Shu Mai. Serve with additional fish sauce seasoned with sugar and lime juice!  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Homemade Kit Kat Bars

Ever have one of those days where you wake up feeling completely exhausted, as if the 6 hours you had just spent tossing and turning in bed did nothing to rest you but rather left you with a rather large sinus headache?  That's how I woke up this morning when Matthew cheerily shoved my glasses into my face: "Up Mommy! Help make coffee! And cereal, please?"

Ugh. Duty calls.

The day continued to show no improvement:

  • I burnt toast so badly that our finicky fire alarm went off (it didn't even go off when Paul set the stove on fire...and there were actual flames then).  

  • Since I burnt the last pieces of bread in the house, I decided to eat some plain oatmeal for breakfast and immediately developed heartburn (who develops heartburn from oatmeal?!).  

  • When pulling the laundry out of the dryer, I discovered that I had forgotten to put aside my favorite pair of pajama pants to be line dried and they had thus been reduced to a size befitting a female dwarf.  

  • Matthew then asked me to put together a huge Winnie-the-Pooh shaped floor puzzle with him.  After about five minutes, he got sick of me trying to sort the edge pieces out and got up to turn on a compilation CD of the most obnoxious Disney songs every recorded.  As he danced around me, I was cussing under my breath at the stupid puzzle because it was definitely outsmarting me.  The fact that the box was prominently labeled "Appropriate for Ages 3-8" made me feel even more stupid.  When I finally got the dang thing all put together, Matthew swiftly ran up, patted me on the shoulder, and declared: "Yay! You did it Mommy!"  Then he proceeded to stomp on it and tear it apart.  That was an hour well spent.

Considering my inability to operate a toaster and put together a simple toddler floor puzzle, it's a good thing that the next cookie recipe on my list was so dang simple.  And did not involve the oven. Otherwise, we might have had a visit from our local Fire Marshall. 

I had a lot of fun putting these together with Matthew.  His main job was lining the pan with the Club crackers (and he did a fine job other than throwing in a couple that had obvious bite marks).  He also was in charge of quality control and thus tasted every single component before it went into the cookies (and I can confirm that he found the chocolate chips especially delicious).

I know most of your holiday baking is probably set in stone, but if you must make something a little bit different this season, give these cookies a try.  They are easy, delicious, and have that addicting sweet/salty quality.  While not exactly like Kit Kat Bars, the mild crunch from the Club Crackers is reminiscent of a Kit Kat Bar, but I would equate the flavor more to that of a Twix.  Either way, they are pretty addicting and will surely disappear quickly from the cookie jar!

Homemade Kit Kat Bars
from Paula Deen via Serious Eats

75 Club crackers
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips

Line 9x13 baking pan with one layer of Club crackers (you may need to break some to fit).

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add graham cracker crumbs, dark brown sugar, milk, and granulated sugar. Bring to boil. Boil for five minutes, stirring constantly. Remove pan from heat. Pour half of butter mixture over crackers in pan. Smooth surface with spatula.

Arrange another layer of Club crackers over butter mixture. Pour remaining butter mixture over surface. Smooth surface with spatula. Arrange a third layer of crackers over top.

Combine peanut butter, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips in small saucepan. Melt over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Spread evenly over crackers.

Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate two hours (I actually recommend at least 24 hours before attempting to cut!).  Bars will keep for two weeks, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Maple Sausage Breakfast Bake

What are your plans for Christmas morning?

We normally attend the midnight Christmas Mass.  It's beautiful and exciting to be out in the wee mornings of the hour, rushing through the cold and wet to witness the celebration of the nativity just like the shepherds did on that holy night over two thousand years ago.  When we return home, we have a snack of wassail and Christmas cookies and then head to bed.  As soon as the child awakens in the morning, we open presents under the tree and then sit down to a delicious breakfast of coffee cake, eggnog, fresh cut pineapple, and some sort of egg bake.  We are really looking forward to it!

In the meantime, every evening we get to watch Matthew desperately huff and puff in an attempt to blow out the candles on our Advent wreath.  These pictures make me giggle each time because, despite all that effort, he could not manage to blow that candle out.  Paul secretly had to give the little guy a little assistance.

If you do not have a menu picked out for Christmas morning, I have an unusual and delicious recipe suggestion.  Paul has always talked about his love of eating pancakes topped with eggs and sausage with maple syrup poured over the whole concoction.  It sounded rather strange to me, but apparently he is not the only person who thinks this is a fantastic flavor combination.  When I came across an article written by the editor of Cook's Illustrated about easy entertaining, the featured recipe for an breezy company brunch was a casserole consisting of frozen waffles, maple sausage, cheddar cheese, soaked overnight in an egg custard and baked in the morning.  It sounded interesting enough to try.

We enjoyed this for the Feast of Saint Lucia.  Despite its humble appearance, this really was a memorable breakfast. It completely converted me to the idea of eating sausage with waffles/pancakes.  I think Paul ate half the casserole by himself.  It's really not very sweet, but the maple flavor is certainly prominent.  I'm sure this would be a welcome addition to any holiday brunch!

Maple Sausage Breakfast Bake
adapted from Cook's Country

6-8 frozen waffles (They recommend Eggo Homestyle Waffles)
12 ounces maple breakfast sausage (We used two packages of Banquet maple sausage)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
6 large eggs
1 1/4 cups whole or low-fat milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375ºF. Arrange the waffles in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake until crisp, about 10 minutes per side.

Brown the sausage in a nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Drain on paper towels and, once cool enough to handle, slice crosswise into rounds.

Butter an 8-inch square baking dish. Add half of the waffles in a single layer. Add half of the sausage and 1/2 cup of the cheese. Repeat layering the waffles, sausage, and 1/2 cup more cheese. Whisk the eggs, milk, maple syrup, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl until combined. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the casserole. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place weights on top (a couple cans of chicken broth worked for us!). Refrigerate the casserole for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325ºF. Let the casserole stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Uncover the casserole and sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup the cheese over the top. Bake until the edges and center are puffed, about 45-50 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes. Cut into pieces and serve.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

TWD: Finnish Pulla

Today, I present to you one of my favorite loaves of bread of all time.  Long before I joined the TWD group, I made this bread as a newly married and completely inexperienced baker.  It was one of the first yeast breads I ever made and I was drawn to it simply because it contained a spice with which I had recently become completely enamored: cardamom!

The first time I made this bread, I decided to majorly "up" the cardamom in the original recipe.  Instead of the teaspoon called for, I dumped in a couple heaping tablespoons.  I was not exaggerating when I said I loved the stuff...and I wanted this bread to sing the praises of everything cardamom.  When I proudly presented a thick slice to my husband that night, he nearly gagged on the amount of spice in the bread.  I dismissed his criticism as the ignorant words of a uncultured cardamom-hater.  Then I took a bite.  As much as I love cardamom, even I had to admit that it was a bit overwhelming.  I learned my lesson and have only used the recommended amount ever since.  And it is perfect.

This recipe is as easy and simple as can be.  The dough rises beautifully, braids perfectly, and fills your house with a wonderful, exotic aroma.  The finished bread has a beautiful crumb that is light, soft, and tender.  It's subtle sweetness and gentle spiciness make it delicious enough to be eaten alone.  However, a healthy dose of salted butter wouldn't be a bad addition.

This is a recipe that every lover of carbohydrates should make!  You won't be disappointed!

To find the recipe, please visit the blog belonging to Erin, our host for this week, or use my slightly adapted version is written below.  Or you can just buy the book Baking with Julia for yourself.  Every recipe has been pretty fantastic - the book will make a great addition to any cookbook library and a great last-minute Christmas gift for the baker in your life!

Finnish Pulla
adapted from Baking with Julia

1 cup milk, scalded
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon crushed cardamom (or just use powdered)
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
4 1/2 - 5 cups flour
1 stick butter, melted
Egg Wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon milk beaten together)
sliced almonds and coarse sugar (for the topping)

Put the milk in a small saucepan and scald it (heat it until a ring of small bubbles is visible around the sides of the pan). Remove the pan from the heat and cool the milk to a room temperature of between 105-115 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk the yeast into the warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes, or until the yeast has dissolved and is creamy. Whisk in the milk, sugar, cardamom, salt and eggs. Switch to a wooden spoon, add 2 cups of flour, and beat the mixture until smooth. Beat in the butter and add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough is stiff but not dry.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until it is smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes.

Shape the dough into a ball. Place it in a lightly greased bowl, turn it around in the bowl to grease the top, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature until it doubles in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Turn the dough out onto the oiled surface and knead it lightly and briefly, just to deflate it and release the air. Divide the dough into thirds and roll each third into a rope of about 36 inches long. Braid the three strands, braiding as far down to the bottom of the strands as you can. lift the long braid onto the parchment-lined pan, shaping it into a circle as you place it on the pan. Fuse the ends together.

Cover the wreath with a kitchen towel and allow it to rise at room temperature until it is puffy but not doubled, about 45 minutes.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Brush the egg glaze over the bread. Sprinkle the wreath with coarse sugar and sliced almonds (I skipped the almonds but absolutely insist that the coarse sugar be used!).

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden, taking care not to over bake the wreath. Transfer the loaf to a rack to cool at room temperature before cutting.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pumpkin Blondies

Our greatest parenting challenge as of late has been choosing the most effective way to discipline our son. Matthew is an excellent kid about 80% of the time. He is very well behaved, loves to help out, listens well, and is an extremely good sport about running multiple errands with his crazy Mama.  However, the other 20% of the time, he can be extremely stubborn, obstinate, and surly.  When in one of his foul moods, if asked to do something he is not completely inclined towards at the moment (such as "eating lunch" or "playing with his toys"), he will immediately allow his legs to buckle beneath him and collapse into a pile of limbs on the kitchen floor. And the kid is heavy...a little too heavy for me to be dragging around at the moment. I usually just go into another room and allow him to lay there until he gets up. Sometimes this takes up to 30 minutes.

Whenever I try to correct him in public, the flailing of limbs combined with some form of screaming normally ensues and I become suddenly aware of the glares from passing strangers as they "tsk tsk" at my complete lack of control over my child.  A quick pat on the bottom normally reduces my previously angry child to a puddle of pathetic tears, making me look like a cold, heartless person as I ignore his Oscar-worthy performance and continue to retreat as quickly as possible back to the safety of our car.  During these moments, I feel embarrassed, humiliated, and as if I am doing a terrible job as a parent.

Infrequent though these moments are, Matthew definitely knows when to pick the worst possible times to be disobedient and defiant...

Once a month, I am in charge of washing the linens for our Parish.  When I go collect the linens at the beginning of the week, I have to rinse each and every one individually in a special sink in the sacristy of our church.  I usually try to pick up the linens during the noon Mass so as to guarantee that the sacristy will be empty and Matthew and I can move in and out as quickly as possible.  This gives us a small window of 25 minutes to get everything cleaned, packaged up, and loaded into the car.  Matthew is normally extremely helpful, standing on a chair next to the sink and putting the soaked linens in my laundry bag after I have finished rinsing.  This past week, however, he did not want to help.  I had brought in a book for him to read and he was calmly paging through it behind me as I worked.  Suddenly and without warning, I began to hear the sound of our Pastor's voice filling the room via a speaker.  I turned around and saw that Matthew was playing with the controls to the sound system.  The controls are situated in a protective box that is normally locked.  However, today someone had left the key in the lock.  Matthew had always curiously eyed that box and had quietly managed to turn the key, open the box, and start pressing buttons...evidently turning on the speakers in the sacristy and allowing the sounds of the ongoing Mass to pour in.

"Matthew!  Get away from there!  SIT DOWN AND READ YOUR BOOK!" I hissed at him, my hands still dripping with soapy water.

Matthew sulkily went back to his chair, glaring at me as he stuck out his pouty lips and picked up his book.  He angrily began turning pages, not looking at them, but continuing to glare at me.

I ignored his hostile stares and turned back to continue rinsing, only working at a much faster pace this time.  A couple minutes later, the bells of the Church began to chime the familiar notes to the song "God Bless America."  I thought that was a bit strange.  Our pastor, whose homily I was still able to hear in the sacristy, paused and said: "That's funny. The bells seem to have a mind of their own today!"

Suddenly, I realized what had happened.  Whirling around, I saw that Matthew was back at the controls (which apparently also control the bell tower).  He was the culprit who had set off the bells (although I am not surprised by his song choice...the kid is a great patriot!)  Mortified, I tore him away from the box, forced his coat on, shoved the remaining linens in my bag, and ran out of the Church as fast as we could, the sounds of "God Bless America" still resounding spiritedly from the bell tower.  Matthew kicked and screamed the whole way to the car.  I have no idea how I managed to carry him and the laundry bag without littering the sidewalk with wet towels along the way.

I was so angry and embarrassed by this whole situation. Angry at my son for not listening and obeying me as he usually does so well at home, angry at myself for not locking the box the first time he touched it, and completely frazzled by the fact that I had no idea how to punish Matthew for the incident.  By the time we came home, Matthew had said "Sorry Mommy!" about 15 times, although each one was said with a giggle and not in a truly morose manner.  Oh well...I bought it.  We shared a peanut butter sandwich and then I put him down for a nap.  And he was an absolute angel the rest of the day.

Later that afternoon, I called my Mom and told her about what happened.  She found the whole scenario absolutely hilarious and said: "Well of course he touched it! The temptation was too great! He's just a little boy!"  And she's absolutely right.  But how do I punish him for not obeying while simultaneously preserving his curious nature?  I want him to be inquisitive, strong-willed, and bold but only if he channels this in a positive direction.  Plus, the fact that he laughs when we try to put him in time out tells me that he's really not really getting the point.

When the difficulties of parenting are flushed out so plainly, it is really lovely to have some therapeutic baking to do.  One of the sweets on my Christmas baking list this year were these pumpkin blondies. I love everything and anything pumpkin, but due to some bouts with nausea during the Fall, I really did not bake very many pumpkin related items.  I decided to make up for this by baking these babies for Christmas.  I have had this recipe bookmarked for a very long time and they were so worth the wait!  Slightly gooey, pumpkin-kissed, blondies studded with white chocolate and butterscotch.  This has been Matthew's favorite Christmas cookie so far.  He likes to call them "the pumpkin ones!"  If you are not a fan of white chocolate chips, use all butterscotch chips.  Make sure not to over-bake them or else they will turn out a bit more cakey (still tasty, but not really what we're shooting for here!).

Pumpkin Blondies
adapted from Martha Stewart

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 heaping cup white chocolate chips
1 heaping cup butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking pan with foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, pie spice, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Beat in the egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in pumpkin puree (mixture may appear curdled). Reduce speed to low, and mix in dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the white chocolate and butterscotch chips.

Spread batter evenly in prepared pan (you might have to use your fingers). Bake until edges begin to pull away from sides of pan and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 35-40 minutes. Cool completely in pan before cutting into squares

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mexican Quinoa

I love the Christmas season. I love the music, the preparations, the gift-giving, and the exciting anticipation of the birth of our Lord. However, the stress of all the preparations, the financial strain of the buying of gifts, and the near constant hustle-and-bustle leading up to Christmas Day can be overwhelming, stressful, and just plain distracting from the real joys of the season. Every year, I find myself swept up in the stress of preparation. Because I am such a dang type-A perfectionist, I obsess over every detail of every meal, every cookie recipe, and every gift simply because I want it to be perfect. However, a lot of the joy is taken out of these things because I get so anal and usually end up having some type of emotional breakdown...and that is a lot worse than having one less type of cookie on the dessert platter come Christmas Eve.

Our pastor gave a remarkable homily on the first Sunday of Advent regarding the stress and headache of Christmas preparation. He challenged each member of the congregation to really work on approaching this season with joy and to enjoy the process of preparing for the Lord's birth. This really struck a cord with me because almost every year I have ended up an emotional mess shortly before Christmas Day, bogged down and utterly exhausted from the stress of preparation. Inevitably, more poor husband has had to literally peel me off the floor and tell me that he would rather have me not stress than make the baguettes for the crab dip from scratch (the reason for last year's meltdown...the rising baguettes would not fit in our refrigerator). Plus, I have been pregnant every Christmas since we've been married and have never felt well enough or energetic enough to tackle my ginormous to-do list. So, this year, I decided to majorly downsize my preparation list. We decided to make only five varieties of cookies (as compared to 14 last year) and two different types of breads (not six).  And all baking, with the exception of the breads, is to be done together. We agreed to buy simple necessities for our gifts to one another and only spend within a very limited budget. We also have decided to incorporate a lot more prayer and reflection time into the Advent season as a way to keep the focus of Christmas on the nativity.  So far, this has been one of the most pleasant Advents I have ever had.

In the spirit of keeping things simple this Advent season, I have been preparing super easy, quick, healthful meals. We are going to be eating some pretty rich foods between Christmas and New Years so I want to be sure to serve some healthier meals before the pigging out begins! Quinoa is a favorite ingredient and this recipe I found at Annie's Eats has been made no less than four times since the middle of November. However, I have majorly streamlined this already quick-and-easy recipe to make it something even my husband (whose specialties include egg salad sandwiches and quick oats) can fix for me if I am feeling too lazy to cook (and, as always, I'll toss in the pregnancy card and blame my laziness on the exhausting task of growing a person).  Topped with a dollop of sour cream (a must) and a sprinkling of cheese, it's a quick, hearty, healthy meal.  Enjoy it warm, cold, straight out of a bowl, wrapped in a burrito, or over a bed of lettuce!

Mexican Quinoa
adapted from Annie's Eats

1 16 oz. Jar of Salsa (My favorite is Garlic and Lime)
1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup frozen corn
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Sour Cream, Cheese, Sliced Green Onions (for garnish)

Combine salsa through salt in a small stockpot over high heat.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Let simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered for 5 minutes.  Stir in the lime juice and serve with your favorite toppings!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Turkey (or Chicken) Tetrazzini

Alright, I know this is not the prettiest meal you're ever going to see on a plate. In fact, it looks downright sloppy and maybe a bit like something you would get by following the directions on the back of one of those Chicken Helper kits from the grocery store. However, trust me (please?) when I tell you that this is one of the most delicious meals you can make with leftover turkey. Every time we roast a turkey, I look forward to enjoying this meal later in the week. You can also make it with leftover chicken if turkey is not your thing!

I threw lots of extra peas into this because Matthew is obsessed with them. He normally refuses to eat anything new I put in front of him. Normally we just make him sit there and sulk until he finally decides to venture a bite. From this sampling, he will normally decide: "Hey! this stuff ain't so bad!" and happily clean his plate. However, sometimes we wait a good 10-15 minutes before he even tries a bite.  I'm all for leisurely dinners, but if I am really itching to get some things done, this routine gets a little old.  However, given Matthew's love for peas, I have recently discovered that if I sprinkle peas over anything, he is clumsy enough with a fork that in his attempt to pick out only the peas, he will inevitably end up with a chunk of whatever else I served him on his fork and decides a little more quickly that he will finish the meal. This has worked with everything from risotto and tacos to peanut butter sandwiches (just stick a few peas between the bread along with the jelly, and he will devour the whole sandwich!).  As I've said before, he really is a gourmet.

Luckily, this recipe already calls for the addition of peas.  I just scatter a few extra on top for good measure. And Matthew gobbled down this meal faster than anything he has ever eaten before.

Turkey (or Chicken) Tetrazzini
from Cook's Illustrated

For the Topping:

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
Pinch of table salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

For the Filling:  
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thin
2 medium onions, chopped fine (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 pound spaghetti or other long-strand pasta, strands snapped in half
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons dry sherry
3/4 Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
2 cups frozen peas
4 cups leftover cooked boneless turkey meat or chicken meat, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

To make the topping, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix breadcrumbs, salt, and butter in small baking dish.  Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15-20 minutes. Cool to room temperature and mix with 1/4 cup grated Parmesan in small bowl. Set aside.

To make the filling, increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium heat until foaming subsides. Add mushrooms and onions and cook, stirring frequently, until onions soften and mushroom liquid evaporates, about 12-15 minutes. Season with salt and ground black pepper to taste. Transfer to medium bowl and set aside. Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup cooking water, drain spaghetti, and return to pot with reserved liquid.

Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in cleaned skillet over medium heat. When foam subsides, whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, until flour turns golden, about 1-2 minutes. Whisking constantly, gradually add chicken stock. Adjust heat to medium-high and simmer until mixture thickens, about 3-4 minutes. Off heat, whisk in sherry, Parmesan, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, lemon juice, and thyme. Add sauce, sautéed vegetables, peas, and meat to spaghetti and mix well. Adjust seasonings to taste with salt and pepper.  It is very important that you do not under season this casserole - so be liberal with the seasonings and be sure to taste it before it goes into the oven! Turn mixture into a buttered 13- x 9-inch baking dish and sprinkle the breadcrumb topping evenly over the top. Bake  for 13-15 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs brown and the casserole is bubbly. Serve immediately.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cranberry-Lemon Bread

Happy Feast of Saint Nicholas!

For those unfamiliar, the 6th of December is a day set aside to commemorate Saint Nicholas, the historic 4th-century Bishop and Saint who is the inspiration for Santa Claus.  According to legend, Saint Nicholas  had a reputation for secret gift-giving, particularly in the form of placing coins in shoes that were left outside.  On the Feast of Saint Nicholas, children all over the world wake up to find their shoes filled with treats, traditionally chocolate gold coins.

After we were married, Paul and I filled each other's shoes with various treats in order to continue this tradition.  He normally filled my running shoes (yum!) with dark chocolate and I normally stuffed some type of cheese ball/cheese spread/cheese dip (sense a theme?) along with appropriately paired crackers in his winter boots.  Last year, we presented Matthew with his very first Saint Nicholas Day gifts and he was less than impressed. He received a small board book about the nativity and a box of animal crackers. However, he was in such a foul mood that he pretty much refused to look at it until he had woken up a little bit more.

Thankfully, this year he wakes up in a pretty good mood most of the time.

Unfortunately, that meant he was up by 4:30 AM.

Paul and I let him sit in his bedroom for about an hour before we went to free him. He was perfectly content. He had a book all about puppies that our local Humane Society had given him and he was content just sitting in his crib, barking at the dogs in the pictures.

Once we got him up, he ran downstairs and saw his shoe filled with pretzel M&Ms, a Thomas the Tank Engine sticker book, and a snack pack of Nutter Butters (I'm secretly hoping he doesn't like those so I can have a couple!). He was thrilled...especially by the idea that his magical shoe had somehow given birth to treats overnight. By 5:30, he had gobbled down all the M&Ms and was already searching the interior of all his shoes (his boots, his dress shoes, his sandals, etc.) for more treats.  He's going to be searching for an awful long time, because the Feast of Saint Nicholas comes but once a year!

For breakfast this morning, along with the normal feast of oatmeal and bananas, we enjoyed the first seasonal baked good: Cranberry Lemon Bread.  This is probably my favorite quick bread recipe because it is light, lemony, slightly tangy, and not to sweet.  I was surprised by how much Matthew appeared to love the recipe since the cranberries can be a bit tart.  However, he greedily gobbled down multiple slices in between desperate searches for more chocolate.  The little sugar addict.

This recipe is adapted from the Cranberry Nut Bread recipe found on the bags of Ocean Spray Fresh Cranberries. Their version calls for orange juice and zest, which is absolutely delicious, but I cannot resist making a lemon version.

Cranberry-Lemon Bread
adapted from Ocean Spray

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg, well beaten
1 1/2 cups Fresh or Frozen Cranberries, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in milk, lemon juice, lemon peel, oil and egg. Mix until well blended. Fold in cranberries. Spread evenly in loaf pan.

Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (be careful not to over or under-bake!). Cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife along the sides, and then carefully remove from the pan and allow to cool completely on wire rack. Wrap and store overnight before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TWD: Gingerbread Baby Cakes

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie challenge featured a recipe for a spicy, robust gingerbread cake batter that is baked into tiny baby cakes.  I did not have the specified pan, so I just used a couple 1-cup ramekins to make small, thick cakes.  The recipe was a breeze to put together and featured a lot of ingredients that I normally do not add to my gingerbread batter, including chopped fresh ginger (in addition to ground) and a hefty dose of black pepper.  I loved the fact that the batter also had a fair amount of espresso powder to amp up the cocoa notes in the final cake.

Since I used a different pan then recommended  my cakes ended up baking for around 45 minutes before the tops were spongy enough to spring back when lightly touched.  I tested a little corner of the baby cake I chose to photograph (I could not resist and totally cut into it before prepping it for the photo shoot).  The cakes are wonderfully spicy with just the perfect amount of sweetness.  I honestly love the black pepper in the recipe - it really helps amp up the kick from the ginger!  For the pictures, I chose to make a quick glaze to pour over the top of a sample cake, partially to contrast the dark color but really just to cover up the spot where I bit into the cake. However, I definitely plan on serving these tonight with some cinnamon ice cream.  I can't wait for the hubby to try these since he's a fan of all things gingerbread.

If you would like to give this cake a whirl for one of your Christmas gatherings, please head over to Karen's Blog.  She is our host for this week and has the complete recipe posted!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie

Sorry for the hiatus.  I ran into a couple of publishing issues with the blog but, thanks to my wonderful hubby, I think all the kinks have finally been worked out and I can continue to post normally. I have tons of recipes backlogged, just waiting to be shared!

Let's begin with pie.  This pie is the perfect Fall dessert.  Not too heavy (believe it or not) but perfectly decadent and unique.  It is a cross between an apple pie and a cheesecake.  Enveloped in a graham cracker crust are layers of caramel sauce (store-bought or homemade), chopped pecans, caramelized apples, and vanilla cheesecake.  Divine.

One of Paul's co-workers invited us over to have dinner with her family and taste her award-winning chili recipe.  It was absolutely amazing and I will have to post that recipe here as soon as I make a batch up myself (she was kind enough to share the recipe!).  I brought this dessert along to finish the meal and we all enjoyed generous (aka HUGE) slices.  I can't wait to make this again.

The recipe definitely takes time, but can be made in small steps.  I actually made this over a two-day period and it was extremely easy and low stress.

My only regret is that I was unable to snag a photograph of the un-molded/sliced pie.  Since it was my first time making this recipe, I was too afraid to remove the sides of the spring-form pan before heading over to the party in the even that the whole thing did not  so I just took a picture of the top (which doesn't look like much).  But really, I was not going to risk the whole thing falling apart shortly before heading over there and having to hand over an imploded dessert to our hostess.

Paul declared this one of his favorite desserts, which is no surprise given his love for all things caramel.  Combine that with apple pie (his favorite Fall dessert) and he was in heaven.

And no, Matthew did not touch it. He gorged himself on cornbread.

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie
from Mimi Hodge, seen and slightly adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures

For the Crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 12 full graham crackers)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 1/3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 - 3/4 cup caramel (I recommend Mrs. Richardson's Butterscotch Caramel Sauce)
1 cup chopped pecans

For the Apple Filling:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
5-6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

For the Cheesecake Layer:
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the Topping:
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/4-1/2 cup caramel
chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with a circle of parchment paper. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and melted butter in a medium bowl. Use a fork to stir until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer the mixture to the prepared springform pan and press into an even layer over the bottom and about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the pan. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until golden in color. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 10 minutes. Pour a layer of caramel into the bottom of the crust and sprinkle evenly with the chopped pecans. Refrigerate the crust while you make the filling. Turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees.

Next, prepare the apple filling.  Melt the butter in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, salt and cinnamon, stirring to combine, and cook until gently bubbling, about 1 minute. Add the apples and toss to coat. Cook until the slices are tender, and most of the liquid in the pan has been reduced, about 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes then add the apples to the crust on top of the caramel and pecans.

Next, make the cheesecake layer.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium speed until smooth. Add the vanilla, egg and lemon juice and beat until incorporated and smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Pour the cheesecake batter over the apples in the crust and spread into an even layer. Bake until the cheesecake is set, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool to room temperature then refrigerate for at least 4 hours before adding the topping.

To make the topping, add the heavy cream to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently spread the whipped cream over the cheesecake. Dollop spoonfuls of the caramel sauce on top of the whipped cream and swirl with a knife to create a marbled effect (this didn't work out too great for me, but I've never had a real pronounced artistic flair!). Garnish with chopped pecan, if desired. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.  Remove spring-form pan and cut into slices with a sharp, thin knife that has been run under hot water.  Enjoy!