Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lemon chicken with sourdough croutons

My New Year's resolution is not to wait long before trying out yummy-sounding recipes. Case in point: I've had this recipe for so long and am finally trying it out on this quiet New Year's Eve. It is incredibly delicious! I think it's my new favorite chicken recipe.

It came from my friend Laura Lane, an ace reporter at The Herald-Times here in Bloomington. She loves it, as was obvious by the fact that she rattled off the recipe as if she'd made it a thousand times. She said the croutons just soak up all the tasty juices. Now that I've made it, I will say also that the onion got a little crispy, and the lemons really made the chicken moist, tender, and flavorful. Yum!

Lemon chicken with sourdough croutons (serves 4)

a 3-1/2-pound chicken, rinsed and patted dry

salt and pepper, to taste

2 lemons, quartered

1 onion, sliced into rings

3-4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

6 cups of cut-up sourdough -- mine were three or four times the size of salad croutons

1.) Salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. (I did the outside, too.) Stuff the cavity with the lemon pieces.

2.) Put the onion on the bottom of a baking dish, and drizzle with about 1 tablespoon olive oil. Put the chicken on top. Roast at 425 degrees for about 1-1/2 hours, or until the thickest part of the thigh registers 180-185 degrees on a meat thermometer. I basted it a little during cooking.

3.) Cover the chicken with foil, and let it rest for 15 minutes while preparing the croutons.

4.) Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet until quite hot. Add the bread, and saute, adding more olive oil if needed, and sprinke with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

5.) Put the browned croutons on the bottom of a serving platter, and place the roast chicken on top with the onions and juices.

Fun fact: The chicken I bought today was a fresh Amish one. And, according to this 2006 Washington Post article, Elkhart and LaGrange counties in Indiana -- north of where I live and near the Michigan border -- are "home to 25,000 Old Order Amish, making it the group's third-largest U.S. settlement (after Lancaster, Pa., and Holmes County, Ohio)."

It goes on to say that the Old Order Amish was founded as a small group in Switzerland and migrated to the U.S. in the early 18th century.

All I can add is that they raise fine chickens.

Coming up soon: Warm red cabbage, chestnut puree, and white bean soup with ham.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Venison Goulasch

This is a dish my mother makes every year during the holidays, and I finally got the recipe. It's one of my all-time favorites, and I think my whole family would say we could probably drink this sauce out of a cup. It's that good.

I never see deer meat for sale anywhere in Indiana -- I think you have to know a hunter to get it -- but I know it's available elsewhere. We have a lot of deer in our neighborhood, so I was thinking I might just trap one of the little ones to make this. Just kidding.

My mom gets her venison -- Hirsch in German -- at her local Aldi, where it's already cut into stew pieces. She said if you buy it that way, cut the larger pieces in half for this. She also said it's possible to make this with wild boar and add mushrooms to the mix.

Serve this with potatoes, potato dumplings, or homemade noodles, as well as red cabbage and salad.

Venison Goulasch (serves 6)

2 pounds venison meat, cut into stew pieces

a little butter

a little sunflower oil

salt and pepper

1 onion, shredded or minced

2 carrots, shredded

1 cup of beef bouillon (enough to cover the meat in a pot)

1 tablespoon B&B Kitchen Bouquet (a favorite ingredient of hers to enhance sauces -- and in my grocery store it's found, mysteriously, by the raisins and other dried fruit)

1 jar of gelee de groseilles or about 12 ounces of red currant jelly

2 bay leaves

2 cups heavy cream

1.) Heat the butter and oil until very hot in a large pot. Put the meat into it, and brown it. Salt and pepper it.

2.) Add the onion and carrot to the mix, and cover with the cup of bouillon. Add the Kitchen Bouquet.

3.) Simmer for about a half an hour. Add about two-thirds of the jelly, then add more if you want. Add more pepper.

4.) Throw in the bay leaves, and keep tasting, adding more Kitchen Bouquet if you like.

5.) You can freeze the dish at this point, then defrost it and continue with the directions. Add the heavy cream and taste for seasoning.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pear custard bars

These bars are so good, I just had to get the recipe from my sister-in-law Kristen so I could make this for my family during the holidays. Now my mom wants the recipe, too, because she loved this so much.

The macadamia nut crust is what makes these so delicious, but you can make the crust using pecans or almonds, too. Actually, the cream cheese custard filling and pears make it delicious, too -- like a cheese cake bar. I wonder what it would be like using peaches...

Pear custard bars (makes 16)
--- for the crust ---

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2/3 cup chopped macadamia nuts

--- for the filling and topping ---

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 can (15-1/4 ounces) pear halves, drained

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1.) In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in the flour and vanilla until combined.

2.) Stir in nuts.

3.) Press into a greased 8-inch-square baking pan. (I used a pan that was rectangular.)

4.) Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

5.) Increase heat to 375. In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth.

6.) Add sugar, egg and vanilla, and mix until combined. Pour over crust.

7.) Cut pears into 1/8 inch slices, and arrange in a single layer over filling.

8.) Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over pears.

9.) Bake at 375 for 28-30 minutes. The center will be soft, but it will become firmer upon cooling.

10.) Cool on a wire rack for 45 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before cutting. Store in refrigerator.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

German potato salad

Here is a warm side dish for that Schnitzel you're thinking about making. It calls for lardons, which are tiny cubes of fatty pork often used in French cuisine, but bacon will also do fine.

German potato salad (6 servings)

6 medium potatoes (not the mealy kind), peeled

1/2 cup lardons or bacon

small amount of olive oil for frying the lardons

1 medium onion, chopped

6-7 cornichons (itty bitty dills), finely chopped

vegetable oil

white wine vinegar

salt and black pepper, to taste

1.) Boil the potatoes until done. Peel them when cool enough to handle, and cut them into little slices.

2.) Fry the lardons or bacon in a small amount of olive oil until crispy. Take out of oil, but use oil to saute the onion.

3.) Put onion and lardons in a small bowl, add the cornichons, and toss together with the vinegar, salt, and pepper.

4.) Add a little veggie oil. Add the potato slices, toss again, taste for seasoning.

5.) Serve warm. Reheat if necessary, but don't allow it to get so hot that it's sizzling.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Scnitzel is a typically German dish. It originally was made with veal, but it's more commonly made with pork today. Pork is juicier.

It's kind of the German equivalent of the breaded tenderloins loved by Hoosiers. Leftovers make great sandwiches, too.

Here is my mom's recipe. I have to keep this post short because this German keyboard is making me cräzy!

Schnitzel (serves 4)

1 pound or a little more of pre-cut boneless pork loin

flour, to cover the meat

2 egg yolks

1/4 cup milk

fine breadcrumbs

veggie oil, for frying

a little butter

salt and pepper

2 lemons, sliced

1.) Toss the meat with the flour in a plastic bag, just so the meat is covered lightly. Shake off any excess flour.

2.) Beat the egg yolks with the milk. Dip the meat into that, and immediately dredge the Schnitzels in breadcrumbs.

3.) Heat the oil and butter in a large pan. When sizzling, put the meat in, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes.

4.) When golden on bottom, flip. Sprinkle that side with salt and pepper, and cook 5 more minutes. Serve with lemon slices.

5.) Schnitzel can be made ahead of time. Just put in the oven at 350 for about 10 minutes to reheat.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays, everybody!

This is my last post until I get to Germany on Saturday to see my family, and who knows when I'll get to the computer to update you on all of my eats?

What I do know is that my first post from Germany will be a recipe for homemade Schnitzel, Heidi-style. It will be so good, and it's what my mom (Heidi... yes, it's really Heidi) is making for our first night there. I am not sure, but I'm guessing it will be Sunday when I post that one.

Until then!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Beef-mushroom-noodle casserole

Yet another casserole! I know I mentioned I'd be making a tuna casserole, but that might have to wait until after the holidays. Beef just sounded better to me today.

Beef-mushroom-noodle casserole (serves 8)
1 pound ground beef
1 can semi-condensed cream of mushroom soup (I use Amy's)
1/4 cup marsala cooking wine
2-1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
4 shallots, sliced into thin rings
1/2 pound baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 yellow pepper, diced
2 cups cooked spiral noodles (I used brown rice noodles)
1/2 cup shredded mozarella
1/3 cup lowfat yogurt
-- for the topping --
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic granules
1-1/2 to 2 cups whole-wheat breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon oregano
salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Brown beef in 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil in hot skillet; drain fat. Put aside.
2.) Heat remaining 2 tablespoons veg oil. Add shallots and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add yellow pepper and cook for 1 minute.
3.) Add mushrooms and marsala. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Liberally sprinkle on salt and pepper. Turn off heat, and do not drain.
4.) In a large bowl, combine mushroom mixture, beef, noodles, yogurt, mozarella, and cream of mushroom soup.
5.) Spread mixture into casserole dish.
6.) Combine topping ingredients, and stir well to moisten. Spread on top of the casserole filling.
7.) Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until breadcrumbs begin to brown. Put under a hot broiler for about 2 minutes to get the topping a little crispy. (Mine got a little too brown! Watch it closely.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Jean's turtles

God help us. Can it be?

Can it be that there's yet another delicious sweet in my life? And one that's easy to make, to boot?!


My dear friend Jean makes scrumptious holiday treats for her family, and because my birthday falls so close to Christmas, I've happily been the recipient of many a sweet over the years. Last year, there were chocolate truffles. Yesterday, I received homemade turtles.

For this recipe, you'll need mini pretzels, Rolos, and pecan halves. So happy together.

Jean's turtles: verbatim from an e-mail:

"The turtles are easy. Buy those little candy papers and fill a cookie tray with them. First put a pretzel in and then a rolo. Put in the oven at 325 or so for just a few minutes, until they are soft. Then squish a pecan on top.

"I've compared buying bags of Rolos versus the smaller packages by the register. When they are on sale, the smaller packages are a better deal and they are not individually wrapped in foil, so they are a much less pain in the ass."

I love my friend Jean.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

I am not posting a recipe today because it's my birthday! I did want to post one of the best birthday cards I've ever gotten, though.

You may know by now that I love Simon and Garfunkel; that was demonstrated in this post showing my special S&G herbs. I also have an S&G vinegar from the same herb shop.

Anyway, here's the card: (Pen drawings are courtesy of my niece Lily and nephew Alex.)

Coming up this week: I'll likely make a tuna casserole -- still on that casserole kick! -- and roasted Brussels sprouts with shallots.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shepherd's pie

I'm on a casserole kick because the chicken-broccoli casserole turned out so well. Today's experiment: shepherd's pie, a layered dish with ground beef, vegetables, and mashed potatoes.

There are several variations from which to choose, and I liked the idea of sweet peas with carrots, so I included those. I've seen versions of this with green beans, mashed carrots, condensed cream of celery and mushroom soups, chopped celery, and corn.

Shepherd's pie (makes 6 servings)

1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
6-8 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced
1/2 cup milk
1 cup grated cheddar, or your favorite cheese
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper, to taste
6 medium carrots, cut into small cubes
1 cup sweet peas, defrosted if frozen
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups beef broth
1-1/2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons flour

1.) Boil the potatoes in salted water until cooked but not mushy. Drain, then mash with milk, 1/4 cup grated cheese, 1-1/2 tablespoons chopped onion, and butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
2.) In a skillet, heat oil and cook the remaining onion with the ground beef, until it's browned. Drain the grease from this, but return it to the heat.
3.) Add the flour, ketchup, and beef broth to the ground beef, and stir. Simmer for about 3 minutes, then turn heat off. Set aside.
4.) Boil the carrot pieces in salted water until tender. Drain and toss with the defrosted peas.
5.) In a casserole dish -- I used a square corningware one, about 9-inches square -- spread out the ground beef. Top it with the peas and carrots, then spread the mashed potatoes on top of that. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
6.) Bake at 375 for 20 minutes -- longer if you've allowed the casserole to cool at all. I baked mine for about 30 minutes because I had prepared it earlier in the day and kept it in the fridge. You want it to be hot all the way through, with melted cheese.
7.) Put the casserole under a broiler for a couple minutes to brown the cheese a little.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Chicken-tarragon soup

Sick of chicken yet? Don't worry, this will be my last chicken post for a while. But who can roast chicken and resist making chicken soup with the leftovers?

I love the way the flavors of potato, garlic, chicken, and tarragon complement each other in this recipe, and the mushrooms add a nice, earthy flavor to the mix.

Chicken-tarragon soup (makes 8 servings)

3/4 cup chicken bits or cubes (mine were in my stock)
2 carrots, chopped
3-4 small yellow potatoes, diced
1/3 cup wild mushrooms, such as morels or porcini
4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1-1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon
salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Combine all ingredients except tarragon in a soup pot, and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes and carrots are tender, about 20 minutes or so.

2.) Sprinkle tarragon on toward the end of the cooking time.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chicken stock

I pulled the leftover meat off the roast chicken from the other night, and had 3/4 pound -- exactly two cups of cubed chicken -- for the chicken-broccoli casserole. But the leftovers didn't end there. I also made chicken stock for chicken soup, although I'm not sure yet what kind. Maybe chicken-tarragon soup; it's a favorite!

The following recipe is for after you have pulled leftover chicken meat off for sandwiches or casserole -- or soup, if you want to make one that's chock full of chicken.

Chicken stock (makes 6 cups)

leftover roast chicken carcass (there should still be bits of meat that were hard to get off, but they will fall off in this process)

leftover veggies that were roasted with the chicken, if you still have them, OR 2 carrots, broken into thirds

1/2 large onion, chopped

2 bay leaves

a handful of peeled garlic cloves

3 stalks of celery, broken into thirds

enough water to almost cover the carcass -- I used 8 cups for what was a 4-1/2-pound chicken initially

salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Put the chicken carcass, skin, fat, and any leftover vegetables in a stock pot. Add water, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and cook for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

2.) Using a slotted spoon, take out all the chunks and put in a large bowl. Pour the stock through a strainer into another soup pot, and cool completely.

3.) If you want, go through the chunks tablespoon by tablespoon, setting aside any bits you can use for a soup. I got about 3/4-cup chicken pieces by doing this, but it's a messy, time-consuming process. Refrigerate these until ready to use.

4.) When broth is completely cool -- I suggest putting it in the refrigerator overnight -- skim the fat off the top. You can do this skimming process more than once to get the most fat out that you can.

5.) Add back in the chicken bits, if using, and reheat.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Chicken-broccoli casserole

I am thrilled that this casserole turned out tasting exactly like my mother-in-law's. It's the first casserole I've made, and I realize that sounds strange. I'm not counting lasagna dishes or a delicious ground beef-sour cream casserole I made about a year ago. (That one was super-laborious, and casseroles are supposed to be pretty easy to make, right?)

Anyway, my M-I-L told me the ingredients in this dish, and I increased the amount to fill my corningware dish -- my current favorite kitchen item, this cake disaster aside!

I used brown rice because that's what I had in the house, and fat-free milk, but of course this would taste great with white rice and any other kind of milk. I also accidentally left out salt and pepper, but it was fine, and that can be always be added afterward.

Chicken-broccoli casserole (makes 8-9 servings)

2 cups cubed chicken -- I had the perfect amount left over from last night's roast chicken!

2 cups chopped, cooked broccoli

1 cup chopped onion

1 can condensed cream of chicken soup

1 can milk

2 cups cooked rice

1/4 cup butter

1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup grated cheddar or colby cheese

1.) Heat the olive oil and butter in a saucepan, and saute the onion for about 7 minutes on medium heat. In a bowl, whisk together soup and milk.

2.) Combine the onion with all other ingredients -- including the soup/milk mixture -- except the cheese.

3.) Pour into a baking dish and top with the grated cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for about a half-hour.

4.) Place under a high-heat broiler for about 2 minutes, or until cheese starts to brown.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Simple roast chicken

I used to be so intimidated by roasting big chunks of meat or whole birds. I still think it's not the easiest thing to do, physically. Think of how heavy a turkey can be, and someone has to lift it out of the oven to baste it. Imagine dropping it on the floor!

That's usually what goes through my head when I roast a chicken. Dropping it on the floor, burning my hands trying to get the pan out of the oven, etc. It hasn't happened, though, and the more I make roast chicken, the better I get at it.

A simple roast chicken is one of the most delicious meals, and the possibilities for leftovers are endless. I like to put veggies around the bird in the pan, to catch the drippings and roast alongside the poultry. I just use whatever veggies I need to use up. Some people prefer to roast the chicken alone on a roasting rack in the pan, which makes the meal less greasy. My chickens are pretty greasy on the very bottom, but that part usually doesn't get eaten straight. I use it for soups -- and with today's chicken, for a chicken-broccoli casserole.

Simple roast chicken (serves 4, with leftovers)
a roughly 4-1/2-pound chicken

about 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

salt and pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon garlic granules

4 teaspoons herbes de Provence, or your favorite mixture of dried herbs

a variety of vegetables of your choosing, such as small potatoes (leave the skins on), chopped carrots, whole garlic cloves, quartered onions, button mushrooms

1.) Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Rub about 2 tablespoons of olive oil onto it, then sprinkle garlic granules, salt, pepper,and herbs over it on both sides.

2.) Place breast-side up in a shallow roasting pan. I use a square corningware dish.

3.) Toss veggies with just enough olive oil to coat, and arrange vegetables around the chicken.

4.) Bake at 375 degrees for about 1-3/4 hours, basting every half-hour or so to keep the chicken moist.

5.) The chicken is done when the thickest part of the thigh registers 180-85 degrees on a meat thermometer, and the drumstick can be moved easily in its socket.

6.) Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before cutting. Serve with a green salad with Dijon vinaigrette and warm French bread.

Today's question: What's your favorite kind of casserole? I had a sweet potato casserole one Thanksgiving at my friend Amanda's house that was amazing. I'll have to get that recipe from her.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cake disaster!

I don't know what I was thinking when I tried to bake a 9-by-13 cake in a 9-by-9 corningware dish.

Here's how the disaster unfolded -- or bubbled over, I should say. I had just whipped up the batter for Dan's birthday carrot cake, when I realized both of my 9-by-13 pans were at friends' houses, and I had just one round cake pan. I could have made the cake with two of those.

I searched and searched for the guitar-shaped cake pan from my mother-in-law, but I couldn't find it.

The square dish seemed like a good choice at the time -- and the only one -- but if I had understood how much the cake was going to rise, I would have just used half the batter in it, and the other half in the round pan. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.

Well, about 15 minutes into the 40-minute bake time, I smelled smoke. I went into the kitchen, and smoke was streaming up out of the oven through the stovetop. Yikes!

When I looked inside, the batter was dripping down onto the oven floor, and that's what was burning. I put a baking sheet on the shelf below the cake to try to catch the drips.

I took the cake out of the oven, scraped up the burn bits, and thought -- stupidly -- that the cake could continue baking, although the whole middle part was wiggly as can be, while the outside parts that had bubbled over were crispy.

Eventually, I took out the uncooked batter and poured it into the round cake pan. That's how I ended up with a half a cake. I used a LOT of frosting to make it look nice because the layers I divided it into were not so pretty.

On a positive note, Dan said it was the best carrot cake he'd ever had. Ever. Really. I couldn't believe it but must admit that it was indeed a pretty damn tasty cake. (Click here for the final edible version and recipe.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

Dan's birthday is today, and he requested a carrot cake. That's fun for me because it's been more than 10 years since I've made one!

I think I've mentioned before that I was a baker at the now-defunct Encore Cafe in Bloomington in the mid-1990s. Carrot cake was one of the staples there. (Of course, when it comes to baking, I think it's all about the oven. The ovens at Encore were fantastic, cooking things evenly and steadily. I think they were from France.)

I should have snatched a couple Encore recipes while I had the chance; I would love to make the cilantro pesto and chocolate mousse. Alas, this recipe is from, a site that's hit or miss for me. I chose this one because the reviews were consistently positive, and it really only differs from the recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book -- a very trusted source -- because it includes pecans.

Carrot cake (makes one 9-by-13-inch cake, or two round cake pans)*

4 eggs

1-1/4 cups vegetable oil

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3 cups grated carrots

1 cup chopped pecans

1.) Grease and flour cake pan(s).

2.) Beat eggs, oil, sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract in a bowl. Mix in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

3.) Stir in the carrots, then gently fold in the pecans.

4.) Pour batter into pan(s).

5.) Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

6.) Cool cake in pan(s) for 10 minutes, then remove and cool on a wire rack completely.

Cream cheese frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

4 cups confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

optional: 1 cup chopped pecans

1.) While the cake is cooling, combine butter, cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in a bowl. Beat until smooth and creamy.

2.) Frost cake, and if using two round cakes, stack them after frosting on top of the bottom cake. Frost completely around.

3.) If you want, use your hand to stick handfuls of chopped pecans around the side of the cake.

* And take it from me: Don't try to bake it in a smaller pan... I had a disastrous first attempt at this, and I will share photos to prove it. That's why this is a half a cake! Look for that tomorrow...

Leftovers: Meaty marinara sauce

To use up the leftover grilled steak -- frozen since dinner several days ago -- I did a simple Google search on it, and I came up with this tempting link. People love their steaks!

Because ours was frozen, I opted for something in which the meat was sliced.

I love the idea of making a long-simmered tomato sauce with it, to put on top of pasta -- especially because that requires no additional ingredients to what I have in the house. I figured I could just use a basic marinara recipe.

Meaty marinara sauce (makes 4 servings)

leftover steak, about 1/2 pound or so

2 cups diced tomatoes, pureed tomatoes, or marinara sauce

2 teaspoons dried oregano

two tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 large yellow onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

splash of red wine

salt and pepper, to taste

1.) Because my steak was frozen, I put it in a large pot, covered it with a little water, and brought the water to a boil. Then I turned down the heat and let the steak simmer fgently for about 30 minutes, leaving it covered the whole time.

2.) Remove the steak from the water, and reserve about 1/2 cup of the water, which will now be quite greasy.

3.) Chop the steak into small bits, removing all gristle and fat.

4.) In a saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, then 2 minutes later (stirring frequently), add the garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes.

5.) Add the meat and oregano, and cook gently for about 10 minutes, allowing some of the liquid to reduce.

6.) Stir in diced tomatoes or marinara, red wine, and salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, gently simmering for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh parsley just before serving with your favorite pasta or gnocchi.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Southwestern black bean chili

I mentioned back in an August post about chili that I would post my favorite black bean chili recipe. What better time than just after Thanksgiving, when we could all use a healthy crock pot dish requiring very little time in the kitchen?

This recipe can be altered to suit your tastes; you can use one chopped zucchini or yellow squash instead of (or in addition to) carrots, 1-1/2 cups of diced pumpkin instead of the sweet potato, and a mixture of legumes instead of just black beans.

Southwestern black bean chili (makes 8 servings)

1-1/2 cans of black beans (15-ouncers), drained and rinsed

1 large can of crushed or diced tomatoes (28 ounces)

2 cups water

2 smoked, dried chile peppers, ground -- I use a coffee grinder I've designated just for spices -- OR 2 chipotles in adobo sauce, minced

3/4 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 yellow onion, diced

2 carrots, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

2-1/2 cups frozen corn

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1 sweet potato, diced

salt and pepper, to taste

chopped fresh cilantro, to garnish servings

yogurt or soy yogurt, for toppings in bowls

optional: chopped avocado, also for a topping

Combine all ingredients except cilantro and yogurt in a crock pot, stir, and cook on low 7-8 hours. You can also combine those ingredients in a soup pot, bring to a boil, then simmer for about two hours, or until carrots are soft. Serve with a dollop of yogurt and some chopped cilantro. Pass the corny cornbread on the side.

Today's question: Where did you have Thanksgiving dinner, and what was your favorite part of the meal?

Coming up this week: Using leftover Memphis pork supper that I've had in the freezer, I am going to try to make tamales for the first time. I think the sweet potato and apple in the pork dish will lend themselves well to that. I'm not sure about the sauce yet, but I'm sure I'll find something fun to whip up.

I also plan to copy my mother-in-law Jeanie's chicken-broccoli casserole soon. It's yummy, but I never have had much luck with casseroles, so we'll see!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dan's fabulous chipotle sauce

This sauce is great on breaded faux chicken patty sandwiches. It is spicy and sweet, and you can minimize the spiciness by adding more mayo, if you need to. Try it on some leftover turkey!

Dan's fabulous chipotle sauce

2-3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely chopped (leave the seeds in to make it extra spicy)

1-1/2 cups mayonnaise or veganniase

splash of maple syrup

splash of liquid smoke

1 tablespoon mild ajvar (I love this stuff, and it's great on crackers or as a low-cal dip)

tabasco, to taste

1/4 cup yogurt or soy yogurt

Whisk ingredients together well.

A note about this week's posts: I will not be posting a recipe for pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin. I just ran out of time to make it that way. If you want to try it, though, I was planning to use this recipe. It's very detailed and sounds fantastic.

Jean's no-fuss creamed spinach

Looking for a no-fuss side dish for Thanksgiving? Try my friend Jean's creamed spinach.

This is a staple at her house every year, and when she brought it to my house last Thanksgiving, I got the recipe from her. It was a hit, and I'll be making it for large groups on special occasions in the future.

Jean's creamed spinach (serves 4-6)

8 ounces cream cheese

30 ounces frozen spinach, with 80 percent of water drained out

1 can cream of mushroom soup

Mix ingredients well and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Told you it was easy!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wild rice & hickory nut salad

I didn't know quite what to do with the hickory nuts that fell in our yard, but our friendly neighbor had mentioned they were very tasty.

I found this Web site devoted to the little nuggets -- which taste like a cross between walnuts and pecans, with a strong hint of maple, I think -- and decided on the following recipe. (I adapted it to my needs.)

Shelling the hickory nuts was the most difficult part of this; they are small and really tucked into their shells, so you'll have to use a nutcracker and pick to get them out. I started with about one-third more nuts than I needed, which was a good thing because about that many were old and shriveled inside! My photos show the nuts I started out with, unshelled, and then the good nuts that remained after shelling.

At first bite, this salad tasted a little strange to me. By the third bite, I thought it was delicious. I know that might sound weird, but some dishes are just like that, aren't they? I happen to love the nutty flavor of brown and wild rice, so that helps. Hopefully, you are a fan of those, too, and will try this interesting side dish out for yourself.

I'm now a big hickory-nut nut! I will be trying out some more dishes with them next year, for sure.

Wild rice & hickory nut salad (makes about 8 servings)

1/2 cup uncooked short-grain brown rice

1/2 cup uncooked wild rice

enough water to cook rice

3/4 cup shelled and chopped hickory nuts

4 green onions, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more if necessary (that's really up to you)

1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 apple, diced (just use your favorite kind)

optional: a handful of golden raisins and/or a pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon (I will try one of these next time)

1.) Cook rice with water in pot or rice cooker, and let cool completely.

2.) Combine rice with other ingredients in large bowl and toss well to coat evenly with dressing.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dan's Indian pilaf

Sometimes it's so great to have a few days off from cooking -- especially when you're lucky enough to have a husband who knows his way around a kitchen!

As I said in my last post, I had to take a few days off from cooking and doing dishes because of a finger injury. It's just a small cut, but in a place that makes it really painful and impossible to keep away from water while working in the kitchen. So for the past few days, I've been enjoying some down time -- as much as I can get with a 1-year-old -- and Dan has taken over kitchen duties.

Last night, he threw together a delicious rice pilaf for our quick Indian meal (I sang the praises of that fast Indian food in this post about my favorite things). Sorry the photo is so dark!

Dan's Indian pilaf (makes 4 servings)

1/2 cup uncooked brown rice (we had short grain; basmati would be ideal)

1/2 cup uncooked wild rice blend

enough water to cook rice in pot or rice cooker

5 cardamom pods

pinch of saffron

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons sliced almonds, toasted and crushed
1 bay leaf

Combine all ingredients in rice cooker or large pot, stir to mix, and add water. Cook until done, and remove cardamom pods before serving.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A few days off...

I will be taking a few days off from blogging because of a finger injury that makes it hard for me to cook, do dishes, etc. So no blogging for me!

When I return, though, I promise a recipe that uses the tasty hickory nuts in our yard -- a wild rice-hickory nut salad -- and a pumpkin pie using fresh pumpkin, as well as a special creamed spinach recipe (an easy one!) just in time for Thanksgiving.

By the way, in case you've never tried hickory nuts, they taste like a cross between walnuts and pecans, and are a little sweet. I'd never heard of them before this year, and I can't wait to try the recipe out.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crunchy peanut butter balls

These are a delicious sweet treat, and they also are a good snack during a hike (think trail mix). The cereal used should be whole grain, and the peanut butter should be all natural, with no added sugar.

Crunchy peanut butter balls (makes about 4 dozen)

1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar

1 cup peanut butter

6 cups toasted corn & oat cereal (I highly recommend using Annie's Bunny Love)

6 tablespoons powdered sugar

1.) Combine the corn syrup and sugar in a pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil rapidly for about 2 minutes. Don't stop stirring!

2.) Take off the heat. Whisk in the peanut butter.

3.) Put the cereal in a wide bowl and pour the peanut butter mix over it. Sprinkle the powdered sugar on top. Stir with a wooden spoon. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes. You want it to be warm enough to form into balls, but cool enough to handle.

4.) Form into balls and let them cool completely on wax paper before storing in tupperware.

Optional: Try adding a couple handfuls of raisins with the powdered sugar, or drizzling with melted chocolate before cooling.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Memphis pork supper

I've never made a meal in the crock pot that was almost too big to fit inside, but that was the case with this interesting dish I decide to make. "Too much pork for just one fork," Dan says.

I found this little cookbook in the mall -- at one of those vintage poster shops that pop up around the holidays -- and it's a Family Circle slow cooker cook book, called "Family Circle's Carefree Crockery Cookbook." It's very '70s, not just in how it looks, but in recipes, too, which makes sense because it was published in 1976.

Now, while this recipe is called "Memphis pork supper," there's no fried peanut butter-bacon-banana concoction, or whatever it was that Elvis devoured! It's really an apple-onion-sweet potato-pork mixture, and it's quite good. There was quite a bit of liquid in the crock pot, so I served the pork with a slotted spoon and bread on the side.

Memphis pork supper (serves 8)

3 pounds boneless pork loin, trimmed of fat, cubed

3 pounds of medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered

3 medium onions, sliced

4 medium-sized tart red apples, cored and sliced into rings

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 cups apple juice

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon leaf marjoram, crushed

1/4 teaspoon pepper

chopped fresh parsley (I used the Italian parsley left over from the Sicilian-style grouper)

1.) Trim the fat from the pork and brown it, in a little of that fat a few pieces at a time, in a skillet very quickly. Remove with a slotted spoon and put aside.

2.) Arrange the potatoes around the slow cooker; place the meat in the middle. Top with half of the onion slices and half the apple rings. Sprinkle with sugar. Repeat with a second layer.

3.) Combine apple juice, salt, marjoram, and pepper in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Pour over apple rings.

4.) Cook on low for 8 hours, or on high for 4 hours. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Need an idea for leftovers? Try this pork casserole with cornbread crust & mole sauce.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Citrus-roasted snapper

Well, here it is, the final fish dish in the week's worth of dinners. The photo's not much to look at, but this is a good dish if you're in the mood for something mild and low fat that could accompany a wide variety of sides.

I had no idea initially how this would taste because I'd never made it before. Actually, I'd never made any of the fish recipes I've posted here since last Monday. My top pick is the oven-steamed tilapia, but the others all ran a close second.
This one takes the cake for simplicity -- and it's so low-cal (151 calories per serving)! I recommend serving this with a veggie side and some brown rice to soak up the juices. Some recommended sides are listed after the recipe (which, by the way, is from The Wellness Kitchen).

Citrus-roasted snapper (serves 4)

4 red snapper fillets, about 5 ounces each

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

optional: 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1.) Spray a small baking dish with oil and preheat oven to 425.

2.) Sprinkle the snapper with the lime and orange juices, then with the sugar and salt. Top with mint, if using.

3.) Roast for about 10 minutes. (I cooked a single fillet that was 0.83 pounds for Dan and me, and it took twice that amount of time.) Fish should flake when tested with a fork.

Possible sides:

corny corn bread (instead of rice)

Today's food fact: Shrimp is the number-one seafood consumed in the United States.

Today's question: What's your favorite fish/seafood? I don't think I can pick a fave.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Roasted cabbage soup

Dan was in the mood for cabbage soup today; I wanted roasted cabbage. So we compromised. The resulting soup warmed us on this chilly day, and it made the house pretty toasty, too.

Roasted cabbage soup (makes 8-9 servings)

2 shallots, peeled

3 potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes

1/2 head cabbage (about 1-1/2 pounds), cut into about 6 wedges

3 parsley roots, peeled and chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

6 cups vegetable broth

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1.) Put the potatoes, garlic cloves, and veggie broth in a large soup pot and boil until potatoes are tender.

2.) Meanwhile, put cabbage, shallots, carrots, and parsley roots on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle oil over, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, then stir/flip veggies, turn heat up to 400, and continue cooking 13-15 minutes more.

3.) Take potatoes off heat when done; cool cabbage and veggies slightly.

4.) Chop cabbage and veggies into smaller pieces, and add them to the potatoes. Reheat before serving if necessary. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. (I had to use quite a lot!)

Mahi mahi parmesan

Do you ever find yourself sitting in a doctor's waiting room, flipping through a magazine, when you realize the only thing you wanted to read has been ripped out by some selfish person?

I'm coming clean. I'm the guilty party. You can direct your anger to me now.

Truthfully, I've only done this a couple times, and only for recipes. The following recipe was acquired that way recently, from the September 2008 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Let's hope it was worth it!* In the future, I will bring along a pen and paper...

Note: This recipe originally was for tuna steaks.

Mahi mahi parmesan (serves 4)

2 lemons

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 ounces asparagus, trimmed

16 ounces mahi mahi, in four equal pieces

5 ounces salad greens (the recipe called for mixed baby greens)

1/3 cup freshly shaved parmesan

1.) Preheat oven to 450. Finely shred 2 teaspoons of peel from a lemon, and squeeze the juice.

2.) In a small bowl, whisk the oil, peel, juice, pepper, and salt. Set aside. Cut second lemon into wedges.

3.) Put asparagus in baking pan in a single layer, and drizzle 2 tablespoons of dressing over it. Bake for 8 minutes.

4.) Heat 1 tablespoon dressing in a large skillet. Add fish, and cook 4-6 minutes per side, until browned. (If cooking tuna, the inside should be slightly pink.)

5.) Put greens onto plates. Top with fish and put asparagus on the side. Drizzle the rest of the dressing over the salads, and sprinkle with parmesan. Serve with lemon wedges.

* Definitely worth it!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bonus weekend recipe: Croutons

Who doesn't love a zesty, crunchy crouton on a salad or some soup?

I think homemade croutons taste much better than any you can buy. And, when you see how easy they are to make, you will never want to buy them again.

It's hard to say exactly how much of each ingredient to use here. I generally use up whole-grain bread that is starting to get dry, so I've made batches with as little as a few slices of bread and as much as would fill a baking sheet. You can even use bread that is starting to mold; just cut that part off before cutting it into cubes. As for the rest of it, be liberal.

Zesty whole grain croutons

whole grain bread (I particularly like multi-grain bread for this)

extra-virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

granulated garlic

herbes de Provence, or any combination of those dried herbs, such as rosemary, sage, and thyme

pinch of cayenne pepper (it will give the croutons a nice little zing -- I recommend one pinch for every four or five slices of bread)

1.) Cut your bread slices into small cubes -- about 1-inch squares -- and put into a bowl.

2.) Drizzle oil over bread, sprinkle with the other seasonings, and toss well to coat.

3.) Spread out on a baking sheet, and bake for about 7 minutes at 350 degrees. Stir/flip the croutons, then continue baking another 7 or so minutes, or until dark golden.

4.) Cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Note: When these are done, don't start snacking on them. They are so good, you won't be able to stop!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sicilian-style grouper

"Scrape up any brown bits." A recipe that says that is a recipe after my own heart.

This grouper recipe says that, and it's incredibly healthy and yummy, to boot!

This is the most labor-intensive fish dish during this fish-heavy week. (Still coming up we have mahi mahi and red snapper recipes.)

The recipe comes from Lidia's Italy, a cookbook whose dishes make my mouth water! The recipes are so very specific -- calling for, say, "hand-crushed" tomatoes -- but I trust whatever Lidia says because of the success I've had with her recipes -- especially my all-time favorite beef goulash recipe. (I will post that someday, I promise.)

Well, this is called "grouper matalotta style," and Lidia explains that "alla matalotta" can be done with halibut or striped bass or black bass. It's a dish rich with garlic, capers, and green olives. A true kitchen adventure for me! While I love green olives and capers in meals, I don't think I've ever cooked with them myself. And, I know I've never cooked with grouper.

Note: This recipe requires a heavy-bottomed sauce- or saute pan, about 13 inches wide with a cover. (Dan said that sounds like a Monty Python skit: "I've got a bit of heavy bottom sauce...")

I cut the recipe below in half for just Dan and me, though, so we didn't need a pan quite that large, but I used one anyway.

Grouper matalotta style (serves 6)
2 pounds skinless grouper fillet (halibut, striped bass, or black bass will also do)
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, or to taste
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
all-purpose flour, for dredging (about 1/2 cup)
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (let them sit for 10 or so minutes before using; their most healthful properties will be activated)
1/2 cup finely chopped celery hearts and leaves
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste (I couldn't find these anywhere, so I left them out, unfortunately. I'm sure they gave a little zest to the dish.)
1 cup Sicilian or other large green, brine-cured olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons small capers, drained
2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, crushed by hand (Lidia recommends San Marzano, a brand I found at Bloomingfoods, but I used chopped tomatoes)

3 cups hot water, or as needed
6 large fresh basil leaves, shredded
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley (I wasn't sure what Italian parsley was, but here it is:)

1.) Slice the grouper into six chunks, roughly equal in size. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt.
2.) Pour the olive oil into the saucepan and put it over medium-high heat.
3.) Dredge the fish chunks in flour, shaking off the excess, and set them in the hot oil. Cook for about 1-1/2 minutes.

Turn them and lightly color the other side. Remove with a spatula and place on a plate.
4.) Scatter the onion slices in the pan, and stir, scraping up bits. Toss in the garlic and celery, stir, and season with the peperoncino -- if you have it -- and another 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Stir for about two minutes as they sizzle, then toss in the olives and caper, stirring until they sizzle.
5.) Pour in the crushed -- or chopped -- tomatoes and hot water. Turn up the heat, and stir until the liquid boils. Adjust the heat to keep it bubbling, and stir in the basil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Partially cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
6.) Lay the grouper into the sauce in one layer, pouring any juices that have accumulated on the fish plate. Make sure the chunks are nearly covered with sauce; add more water if necessary.
7.) Heat rapidly back to a boil, then simmer gently, partially covered. Shake the pan to distribute that sauce.
8.) When grouper is tender and sauce is slightly thickened -- 20-25 minutes later -- turn the heat off.
9.) Just before serving, drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil on top and sprinkle with parsley.
We had this meal with roasted lemon broccoli, a staple in our house, and I highly recommend warm Italian (or French) bread alongside to soak up the sauce!