Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cheese fondue

I have been craving all things cheese. I haven't mentioned on the blog yet that I am pregnant -- due in late September! -- and that is the true explanation for missing six weeks of blogging a while back. The early pregnancy nausea kept me as far from the kitchen as I could get.

Well, what's better than cheese fondue if you're craving something cheesy? Unfortunately, I won't be making this for myself today because I'm not sure the alcohol in it cooks off. That's why there's no photo. I'll post one the next time I make this, though! I just wanted to share the recipe with all you cheese lovers out there.

This is my dad's special recipe, which he's been making for as long as I can remember. It comes from a 1965 book by the editors of Holiday magazine (which I'm pretty sure no longer exists), called "Wines of the World." I'm pretty sure that's the title. It has a chapter on cooking with wine.

My dad says he adheres to the recipe strictly and doesn't let anyone rush him while he's slowly melting the cheese. He also says to splurge on the cheese; get the nice, imported kind.

My sisters- and brother-in-law made cheese and other fondues at Christmastime, and their cheese one tasted the same as this one. I would bet their ingredients were exactly the same. (It's thanks to them that Dan and I now own our own fondue pot. Thanks, Kara, John, and Kristen!)

Cheese fondue (serves 4)

1 French baguette, cut into small cubes and toasted (you can also just cut up a day-old baguette and not toast it)

2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1-3/4 cup dry white wine

3 cups, or about 3/4 pound, grated, imported Swiss cheese, such as Gruyere or Compte (sorry, I don't know how to do accents with this computer!)

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 tablespoons heavy cream, maybe even a little more if your fondue is turning out too thick

salt and fresh ground black pepper

3 tablespoons imported Kirsch (a French or German cherry liquor, also known as eau de vie)

1.) In a small saucepan, bring the white wine and garlic to a rapid boil. Let it boil until the wine reduces to 1-1/3 cup. This could take a while.

2.) Strain the garlic out of the wine, pouring the wine into your fondue pot.

3.) Mix the grated cheese with the flour. Bring the reduced wine to a boil, then immediately turn it down to a simmer, and toss the cheese/flour into it one handful at a time, allowing it to get smooth each time.

4.) When all the cheese is smooth, swirl in the butter. Swirl in the heavy cream (adding more if you think it's too thick), and seasoning with salt and pepper.

5.) Just before serving, stir in the Kirsch.

6.) Serve in a fondue pot, over a small flame, with cubes of French bread and fondue sticks. A green salad goes well with this.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Creamy onion dressing

If I had seen this family recipe written out before trying this, I never could have imagined how tasty it is. I encourage you to make this before deciding you won't like it. It's simple enough, so why not?

Someday I'm going to try pureeing the ingredients to make it a smooth dressing. I wonder how that would turn out. I'll add a comment onto this post when I do.

Creamy onion dressing (makes 4 servings)

1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup evaporated milk

2 tablespoons canola oil

generous sprinkling of salt

Whisk ingredients together and toss with salad.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chicken in morel cream sauce

I think this is one of the most delicious recipes ever. I can't believe it has taken me so long to get it posted, but now is a great time because morel season is getting into swing.

If you've never tried a morel, you're really missing out. They are such great mushrooms, and pretty easy to find in this part of Indiana, whether you're a picker or just a buyer.

I actually prefer to get them dried, as dried mushrooms -- in my opinion, and I'm sure this point could be argued -- are more flavorful. Unfortunately, morels are really expensive mushrooms, but you don't need many for a four-person meal.

Dieters, beware!

Chicken breast in morel cream sauce (serves 4)

about 20 medium dried morels (1 ounce)

4 chicken breasts

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup Port (the cheapest kind you can find, for cooking)

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon beef bouillon

1/2 pint heavy cream

juice of 1/2 large lemon

salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1.) Fry the chicken in butter in a large pan over medium heat until almost cooked through, about 4 minutes a side. Transfer the chicken to a large skillet or pot.

2.) Soak the dried mushrooms in boiling water for about 10 minutes to make them workable, then cut the larger ones in half, and rinse them to make sure there's no dirt in the stems. Put the shrooms in a small saucepan and cover with water and about 1 teaspoon butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.

2.) In the pan and butter you used to cook the chicken, put the port, water, and bouillon. Whisk it, then add half of the squeezed lemon. Sprinkle the rest of the lemon over the chicken.

3.) Whisk the heavy cream into the port/broth mixture.

4.) In a small cup, stir the cornstarch with a couple tablespoons of water. Pour that in with the mushrooms. Let it boil and thicken for a while.

5.) Add the mushroom mixture to the port/broth mixture, and let it all thicken some more together. You want this to get extra thick because it will thin out a little bit with the chicken.

6.) Return the chicken to the sauce and boil gently about 3 minutes, until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

7.) Serve with a vegetable, salad, and rice or crusty bread to soak up the sauce. You will want to!

Coming up soon: Creamy onion salad dressing, a family favorite.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spaetzle (German noodles)

This recipe sounds more complicated than it is. It's actually super simple, and it was my first experience making homemade noodles. (It's also a simple carb, but we won't dwell on that right now.)

These taste so much better than any noodles you can buy, although they are by nature very plain. Have them with meat and salad -- I recommend Schnitzel or venison Goulasch-- or try them with mushroom gravy.

You will need a noodle maker for this. Mine is one that looks a lot like a cheese grater, but the holes don't have sharp edges, and the smaller the holes on the gadget, the thinner your batter has to be (i.e. add a little more milk). Here's one just like mine for a great price. My mom paid triple that amount for mine in Germany, strangely! German engineering? For this, I don't think so...

Someday I'll try to make these noodles with whole wheat flour, and I'll add a comment to this post about how it turned out.

Spaetzle (German noodles) (serves 6)

1 pound all-purpose flour

1/8 gallon (minus a 1/4 cup or so) lowfat milk

4 small eggs

some butter for frying

1.) Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl, and whisk until it's the consistency of thick pancake batter.

2.) Bring 10-12 cups of water to a rapid boil in a large soup pot.

3.) Wet your noodle maker so the batter won't stick to it. Place it across the top of the pot in which the water is boiling. Using a large spoon, spoon batter out into the noodle maker.

4.) Push the batter through the noodle maker until the batter is gone. Bring it to a boil again. Boil uncovered for 3 minutes.

5.) Strain the noodles, and rinse them with cold water so they don't stick together.

6.) Cool briefly, then reheat just before serving in a skillet with a bit of butter, allowing some of the noodles to turn a semi-crisp golden-brown.

Need an idea for leftovers? Reheat the leftover noodles the next day in a little butter with some pressed garlic or a sprinkling of garlic salt. You can't go wrong.

Today's question: What's your favorite kind of noodle, and have you ever tried to make it at home?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mushroom gravy

You can use this gravy on meats or vegetables, or even side dishes of rice or noodles. (If you're not making this for a pretty big group, I'd cut the recipe in half.)

Mushroom gravy (makes about 4 cups)

3/4 pound mushrooms, quartered (I like cremini; they make the sauce a nice color because they're dark. Baby bella shrooms would probably work really well, too.)

1/4 cup finely diced onion

1/3 stick unsalted butter

a pinch of dried thyme

white pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules or vegetable broth powder

3/4 cup water

1/8 cup cornstarch

2 tablespoons Marsala cooking wine or cheap white wine

1.) Saute the mushrooms and onion in the butter over medium heat until semi-soft.

2.) Sprinkle with thyme and add white pepper and beef bouillon.

3.) Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add cornstarch and cook until the sauce clings to a metal spoon.

4.) Add wine, stir and cook briefly, then remove from heat.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beef in oyster sauce

I'm picking my mom up from the airport today, so I wanted to make something easy that I could just heat up in the oven for dinner. My answer came in the form of this beef dish, from the cookbook "The Essential Thai Cookbook."

I had never cooked anything with oyster sauce, and I wasn't sure if I would like it, but I figured it probably was used in dishes the same was fish sauce is, and that always just lends a subtle flavor to the meal.

Dan and I tried bites of this before cooling it and putting it away until the evening. We were both impressed and are now looking forward to a yummy dinner.

Need an idea for a side dish? Try this ultra-easy (but totally party-worthy) recipe: Kara's Asian slaw.

Beef in oyster sauce (serves 4)

4 tablespoons oyster sauce

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound prime steak, sliced into thin strips

3-1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced

12 green onions, sliced diagonally

1 cup chicken stock

1.) Whisk together the oyster sauce, cornstarch, and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the steak strips and stir, making sure they get coated in sauce. Set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.

2.) Heat oil in a wok or large skillet. Add garlic, and stir-fry until golden.

3.) Add the beef and stir-fry about 3 minutes more, until beef is medium-cooked.

4.) Add the mushrooms, green onions, and chicken stock, and cook gently for about 2 more minutes. Don't overcook, especially if you have to reheat it later!

5.) Serve with rice or noodles.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Zesty egg salad

This is yet another recipe from my mom. Please note: This is very oniony! If you don't like onions, you can replace them with the same amount of finely chopped celery.

Zesty egg salad (makes enough for 2 sandwiches)

1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1 small Roma tomato, finely chopped

2 finely chopped green onions

2 hard-boiled eggs, chilled and chopped

about 1/8 cup mayo

salt and pepper, to taste

optional: 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

Mix ingredients together gently.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pumpkin-pecan crumble

Here's another delicious dessert recipe from my sister-in-law Kristen. I tried it at her house over the holidays and have been wanting to make it since.

Kristen has a way with desserts; try her pear custard bars and famous sugar cookies! (Some day, I'll also post her sour cream apple pie.)

This recipe came from Kristen's mother-in-law, who got it from her sister. It calls for a box of yellow cake mix, but I decided to try a vanilla cake mix from Namaste Foods. It's got just a few ingredients -- including sweet brown rice flour and evaporated cane juice -- so that was more appealing to me than a box of cake that has tons of hard-to-pronounce ingredients and food coloring that clearly can't be good for you.

It tasted just as good as the recipe with yellow cake.

Pumpkin-pecan crumble (makes one 13-by-9-inch pan)

3/4 cup sugar (1/2 cup would also do; this is a very sweet treat)

1-1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (I used a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg)

2 eggs

1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin

1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk

1 bag of gluten-free vanilla cake mix (the size that makes two 9-inch cake layers) OR 1 box yellow cake mix

1/2 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup chopped pecans

1.) Combine sugar, spices, egg,s pumpkin, and evaporated milk. Stir together.

2.) Pour into ungreased 13-by-9-inch pan.

3.) Sprinkle dry cake mix over pumpkin mixture.

4.) Drizzle butter on top, and sprinkle with chopped pecans.

5.) Cook 40-50 minutes, until golden brown on top, at 350 degrees. (Mine took the whole 50 minutes.)

6.) Chill, cut, and serve with whipped cream.

Food fact: The health benefits of eating walnuts is pretty commonly known, but did you know that pecans also offer plenty of good stuff?

According to the National Pecan Shellers Association, pecans are high in anti-oxidants.

"New research, published in the August 2006 issue of Nutrition Research, shows that adding just a handful of pecans to your diet each day may help inhibit unwanted oxidation of blood lipids, thus helping prevent coronary heart disease," reads the association's Web site.

The sweet nuts also are dense with nutrients and can help lower cholesterol.

So bring on that pecan pie!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hot and sour soup

This soup is very low-calorie, low fat, high in protein, and packed with vegetables.

Another perk? The ginger and the shiitake are said to be a boost to the immune system.

Hot and sour soup (makes 4-6 servings)

1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked for 20 minutes in hot water and drained

4 ounces seitan, cut into thin strips

a 6-ounce can of bamboo shoots, drained, rinsed, and cut into thin strips

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon peeled and minced ginger

4 cups vegetable stock

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon hot chili paste

salt and pepper, to taste

2 eggs, beaten (vegans can just leave these out; they are not even in the original recipe)

1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed

2 tablespoons chopped scallions

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1.) Place all ingredients except the eggs (if using), peas, scallions, and sesame oil into a slow cooker.

2.) Cook on low for 6 hours. At the end of that, stir in the remaining ingredients.
Note: The original recipe for this comes from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Honey-tahini dressing

Eating Well magazine never fails me. Every time a new issue arrives in the mail, I look forward to having some quiet time in the evening to pore over the informative articles, beautiful photographs, and countless recipes. I always see several I can't wait to try.

Last night I made a salad dressing from the current issue: Honey-tahini dressing. It is so delicious, when Daniel and I finished our salads, we devoured more of the dressing by dipping bread into it.

For those unfamiliar with tahini, it's a thick paste made of ground sesame seeds. It's an important ingredient in hummus, and it's the basis for the sauce on falafel sandwiches.

Honey-tahini dressing (makes about 1-1/4 cups)

1/2 cup lemon juice (I used 1 large lemon)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup tahini

2 tablespoons honey

2 cloves garlic, minced (Mom, if you make this, you'll want to use an extra clove!)

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients except salt and pepper in a blender, a jar with a tight-fitting lid, or a bowl. Blend, shake, or whisk to mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper.

Food fact: Did you know honey is good for helping to heal minor cuts and burns? Really. Just smear a little bit on the affected spot.

According to Malcolm T. Sanford, a professor in the department of entomology and nematology at the University of Florida, "The sweet actively absorbs water from bacteria and fungi, retarding their growth and reproduction. Honey has been used successfully as a wound dressing because of its bactericidal properties, the result of hydrogen peroxide produced by the enzyme, glucose oxidase. It is also superior first aid for burns; the honey seals off the injured area to air currents, reducing pain and possible infection." (Read more from Sanford here.)

Honey also soothes a cough. Although children younger than 1 year old should not be given honey (infant botulism is a risk), children ages 1 and older can be given 1/2 teaspoon to soothe a cough or sore throat. Adults should double that dose.

I am a big fan of Hunter's Honey, located just about 25 miles from Bloomington, in Martinsville. This family business produces honey that is consistently good. If you ever get a chance to visit a honey farm, do it! The production process is a fascinating one.

Unfortunately, honey bees are dying off because of unknown causes; that essentially puts the growing of all fruits, vegetables, and nuts at risk. Scientists are busy trying to figure out why. Check out this "60 Minutes" segment to learn more.

Hey, you know what else honey is good for? Turning a piece of bland buttered toast into a little slice of Heaven.

Coming soon: Hot and sour soup.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pecan-crusted chicken breasts

What can I say? I'm just nuts about nuts.

I've lately been on a roasted-and-salted nuts kick, but that's really the worst way to eat them. This chicken recipe will give you that nut fix without making you feel like you've nixed all their good properties by eating too many of them.

This is the second recipe I've made from The Wine and Food Lover's Diet, by Phillip Tirman. I previously posted an adapted version of his tasty and interesting tofu pockets with tahini sauce. Unlike that recipe, this one was a snap to prepare. And all you really need, equipment-wise, is a food processor or a chef's knife capable of finely chopping the nuts.

Pecan-crusted chicken breasts (serves 4)

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, totaling about 1-1/2 pounds

1/2 cup pecans

1 tablespoon heavy cream

3 tablespoons chickpea flour, soy flour, or a nut flour

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

coarse sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1.) While the oven preheats to 375 degrees, pulse the pecans in a food processor until finely ground. (You can also chop them finely with a sharp knife.)

2.) Add the heavy cream, flour, cayenne, cumin, and cinnamon. Stir or pulse briefly to mix. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3.) Lightly salt and pepper both sides of the chicken, and place the breasts in a small baking dish. Spread the pecan mixture over the top.

4.) Bake until golden-brown, and the chicken is cooked but still juicy, about 30 minutes.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Michelle's gazpacho

Greetings, everyone! I am back and ready to cook. I hope I haven't lost any of my faithful readers over the past 6 weeks. I had a much-needed break from the kitchen and got some freelance articles done.

Well now, I realize tomatoes aren't in season, but when you have a craving for something -- especially something healthy -- I say go for it!

Enter Michelle's gazpacho, which I've been thinking about for a few days now.

As some of you know, Michelle is my sister. She lived in Madrid for several years, and I shared her awesome tortilla recipe in a previous post.

Her gazpacho is also delish. She keeps it very simple and leaves out any garlic and onions, both of which are optional. Ordinarily, I say the more garlic and onions, the better, but not here. With this recipe, simplicity is what makes it so good. It's so fresh and tasty, and I am always amazed at how flavorful a few ingredients thrown together can be. A very important ingredient is the bread, which thickens the soup ever so slightly.

Please note that these ingredient amounts are just estimates, and you can change them depending on your personal tastes.

Michelle's gazpacho (makes about 3 cups)

4 large Roma tomatoes

1 large cucumber

1 green pepper (I use a mild poblano, but just regular bell pepper will also do)

1 chunk of stale bread, soaked in water (I used a 3-inch-long piece of day-old French bread)

a couple splashes of vinegar -- balsamic or sherry vinegar

salt and pepper, to taste

Chop ingredients coarsely, and process until smooth in a food processor or blender. Strain. Serve chilled and topped with toasted croutons.

P.S. It's 72 degrees today! Hooray!