Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Somehow, word got out that John and I like to cook. It looks like there will be much to blog about in 2010. Keep an eye out for John's adventures with his new pasta maker. I will be keeping myself busy with the newest additions to my cookbook library (America's Test Kitchen! Ina Garten!! Julia Child!!!).

All this, and we haven't even opened the gifts from my family yet. I hope next year Santa gets us a bigger kitchen...

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cranberry Orange Mini-Loaves

Still looking for some last-minute holiday gifts? Make your friends and family some of this cranberry bread. Everyone knows that carbs make the best gifts. Unless your friends are on the Atkins diet, in which case, they shouldn't be your friends anyways.

In a Sandra Lee-esque moment, I bought a bunch of Christmas-themed mini loaf pans for $1 each (no, I did not create a matching tablescape). If you live near a Christmas Tree Shop, you might be able to find some yourself. I had made a regular sized loaf of cranberry bread a few weeks ago just to test drive the recipe. I made it extra festive and tasty this time around by adding more cranberries and sprinkling the tops of the loaves with turbinado sugar before baking. This recipe makes one regular sized loaf, or four mini loaves.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Slow-Cooker Indian Butter Chicken

I was supposed to go to my company's holiday party on Saturday night but it was canceled due to a huge snow storm. When I found out the party was off, I was actually pretty excited because all I really wanted to do this weekend was stay in, cook lots of delicious things, and re-watch Season 5 of Lost. Check out all the snow we got here at the Italian restaurant:

In the past, I haven't had much luck with Indian food or with cooking anything in the slow-cooker. However, my luck changed for the better with this curry. This was easy to do, and so warm and comforting on a blustery, snowy weekend. I know that curry is not really the most photogenic food, but I promise if you like Indian food, you'll love this recipe. John, while scarfing this down, said, "I think Indian food has now replaced Mexican food as my second-favorite type of cusine" (Italian is first, if you hadn't figured that out). Despite all of the spices in this dish, it wasn't hot at all, but you could turn up the heat by using a hot curry paste (I used mild) or adding the optional cayenne pepper.

The ingredient list might seem a little intimidating if you've never cooked Indian food before. However, I was able to find everything at Wegman's (they have a well-stocked International Foods section). One thing to note is that cardamom is really expensive (Wikipedia says it's the third most expensive spice in the world, after saffron and vanilla). I found a giant bag of cardamom pods at a local Indian grocery store for a much better price than what Wegman's was selling it for. Um, if anyone knows what to do with a surplus of cardamom pods, please let me know.

We served this over white basmati rice, with some naan bread and samosas on the side (both found frozen at the Indian grocery... bonus!).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Best Chicken Parmesan in the World

Yep, I'll say it, it's the best. I challenge anyone to make a better chicken parm.  I've been perfecting this recipe for several years now and I think I've got it down pretty good.  The key to the recipe, besides my homemade tomato sauce, is the breading to chicken ratio.  I believe Bec has mentioned that before on the blog, well this is the recipe that started it all. Isn't all cooking about ratios anyway?  A lot of Italian restaurants pound the crap out of the chicken breast so it's so thin that it's impossible to NOT over cook.  I'd rather have a nice tender piece of meat that tastes delicious, than a burnt piece of crusty chicken.  If you're like me, then this recipe is for you.

So once again, I'm including two recipes in one, the chicken parm of course, and my tomato sauce recipe.  Now, let me start by saying I rarely measure anything in the kitchen, unless on the off chance I'm baking or following some new recipe.  Like I said, its all about the ratios.  Also, use good ingredients, I can't stress this enough.  Use the good fresh mozzarella, not that pre shedded in a bag crap.  Also, you should use imported DOP certified San Marzano tomatoes.  The difference between these and anything else is night and day. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Vegetarian Bolognese with Whole Wheat Penne

Lately I've been having a difficult time zipping up pants that fit just fine last winter. I have no idea what might have caused this unfortunate predicament, but it seemed like a good time to order a subscription to Cooking Light. I found this recipe in my first issue, under the heading "Savoring Umami." After cooking this dish, I still don't really know or care what umami is. The important thing is that I had delicious (and healthy!) leftovers for lunch this week.

I liked this recipe, and more importantly, John liked this recipe. While John might never voluntarily cook anything without meat in it (except maybe apple pie), he's been quite receptive to most of the vegetarian recipes I've thrown his way. This has lots of finely chopped mushrooms in it, which give the sauce a meaty texture. The sauce gains plenty of flavor from all of the vegetables and a splash of red wine. I didn't make too many adjustments to the recipe, but I did add some garlic... it just seemed like an obvious addition to the list of ingredients. I used a dried wild mushroom blend in place of the porcinis, and ground them up in a mini food processor since I don't own the spice grinder that they suggest using.

If you like this recipe, stay tuned... come January 1, I'll be blogging a whole week's worth of Cooking Light recipes in honor of America's favorite New Year's resolution.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

As mentioned in my previous post, I have a fridge full of cranberries right now. Being from Cape Cod,  I have a special love for the cranberry. When I was little, my parents sometimes took my sister and I to "Cranberry World." It was basically just a museum with dioramas of cranberry bogs and free juice samples. I know it sounds kind of lame, but it was clearly successful in its attempt to turn small children into ravenous consumers of the cranberry (it was owned by Ocean Spray, after all).

Anyways, I felt like making some muffins with my excess cranberries. I'd seen recipes for pumpkin cranberry muffins, but none were quite what I wanted, so I adapted this one to suit the muffin-vision dancing in my head. I swapped vanilla yogurt for half of the oil, and used my lovely fresh cranberries instead of the dried ones. I didn't have any of the ground ginger that it called for, so I left it out. I didn't feel like putting the pecans in either, but I might use them next time. And finally, for a sweet crunch, I sprinkled the tops of the muffins with some turbinado sugar before baking. These came out exactly like I wanted them to: soft and moist with tons of tangy cranberries.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sauteed Pork Loin Chops with Cranberry Orange Sauce

I got really excited when I saw fresh cranberries at Trader Joe's, so I bought three bags (you can freeze cranberries if you don't want to use them right away). I love making baked goods with cranberries, but thought I should try some savory dishes as well. This dish turned out really nicely... I loved the sweet-tart sauce with the mild pork.  I'm glad I bought so many cranberries... we'll make this one again! We served this with our delicious potato latkes and some roasted asparagus.

John brined the pork chops first. This is an optional step, but it's easy to do and will ensure juicy pork. To brine, dissolve 3 tablespoons of table salt and 3 tablespoons of sugar in 2 quarts of water. Submerge the meat completely in the brine, then cover and refrigerate for a half hour. Remove the meat from the brine, pat it dry with paper towels, and proceed with the recipe.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Potato Latkes

Happy Chanukkah! Or however you spell it... I don't really know since I'm only half Jewish. And it's my dad that's Jewish, so it doesn't really even count (the Jewish religion tends to be passed down by the mother). My family did celebrate Chanukkah, so the rituals aren't completely foreign to me. The food, however, was never a part of my childhood since I didn't have a living Jewish grandma to cook these sorts of things. But it's never too late to learn to be a good half-Jew, so when I spotted these latkes over at Smitten Kitchen, I thought I'd cook some up for dinner tonight (check out the Smitten Kitchen post; the photos are lovely).

If you have a food processor, these are a snap to throw together. If you don't, now you know what to ask for for Christmas. Or Chanukkah. You just grate your onion and potato, mix that with some egg and flour, and then fry 'em up. We thought they benefited from a sprinkling of salt just after frying. John, being Italian and all, thought he'd sprinkle a few with grated Parmesan cheese (delicious, by the way). We just ate ours plain, but you can serve them with sour cream or applesauce.

Cookie Dough Truffles

Who even needs to bake cookies when you can just take chocolate chip cookie dough and dip it in chocolate?  And there are no eggs in the dough, so you can eat as much as you want without worry (I say this as if the presence of raw eggs has ever stopped me from stuffing my face with gobs of cookie dough). I made these for my friends' holiday cookie swap later today, so I think they'll be a nice variation from the peanut butter blossoms that I usually make.

These are easy to do, if a little time-consuming. I refrigerated my dough overnight, which made it much easier to work with the next day (it was too sticky right after making it). I used my fondue pot to melt the chocolate, which worked out nicely since I don't own the double-boiler that the recipe calls for. Trader Joe's was out of their mega-bars of milk chocolate, so I coated these in dark chocolate. I also toasted my pecans to give them a little bit of extra flavor.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Smoky Turkey Shepherd's Pie

Yes, I'm still on a comfort food kick. Don't expect it to stop anytime soon, especially since we got our first snow on Saturday!

When I was visiting my parents last weekend, we went to an Irish pub for dinner one night. I had a shepherd's pie, and wondered why I had never made one before (I mean, it has a mashed potato crust!). I remembered seeing a recipe for a turkey shepherd's pie in my Rachel Ray 365: No Repeats cookbook and decided I'd give it a try this weekend. I should say, I am not a huge fan of Rachel's (the cookbook was a gift!). It's not just because I find her personality kind of annoying, but also because the "30 minute meals" thing is a big fat lie. Her recipes have a ton of ingredients (that need to be chopped), and I usually end up using a lot of pots, pans, bowls, and utensils to get one of her meals together so it takes forever to clean up. Her recipes are not as simple and fast as something that claims to be a "30 minute meal" should be. That said, I've enjoyed the end result of each one of her recipes that I've tried. We do have a "30 minutes or less" tag on this blog, and I really don't think I can put that tag on this particular entry since it took me almost an hour to make this dish.

This is not a traditional shepherd's pie by any means. It has a lot more veggies than any other shepherd's pie I've eaten, and it gets its smokiness from bacon, paprika, and cumin. I mostly followed the recipe, except I ignored the part that told me to cook the bacon in 2 Tbs. of olive oil. I don't know what Rachel is smoking over there in the Food Network kitchens, but I'm pretty sure bacon does not require additional cooking fat, so I left it out.  If I make this again, I would use a little less chicken broth or else let the sauce thicken a little more on the stove top because it was more liquid-y than I would have liked. On the whole, we really enjoyed it, and it tasted great the next day too.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Turkey Meatloaf

It's December (sigh). Even if it's not officially winter yet, the cold mornings make me crave comfort food, so I decided to whip up this meatloaf for dinner. I have a lot of bad memories of meatloaf from my childhood (thanks, Dad!), but have grown to really love it as an adult. In college, my friends and I used to get together for "loaf night" (complete with biscuits and mashed potatoes) when we wanted some home-cooked food. This recipe isn't too different from what we used to make. The key is pouring tomato soup over the meatloaf before baking it, which keeps it really moist and flavorful. It might look a little weird, but just go with it.

Meatloaf is one of those things that you generally throw together with a pinch of this and a handful of that. I've never measured out my meatloaf ingredients before (until today, of course), so feel free to play with the recipe. I've made this with beef many times with similarly good results. One technique I do recommend following is grating, rather than chopping, your onions. This way you get the onion-y flavor without ever biting into a big chunk.