Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Healthy Helping: Lentil and Sausage Soup

I know, I know. New York. I'm getting to it. There's just so much to say and so little time to organize my thoughts. So until I have an opportunity to do that, I'm giving you another healthy helping of our post-vacation diet recipes.

Given the fact that they're high in protein, full of fiber, and loaded with folate and Vitamin B1, lentils are an obvious super food. And given that, they logically shouldn't taste good. But lentils defy all sense of logic when good-for-you collides with tastes-good-too. It's not very often that those two things come together in perfect harmony.

Bill and I first discovered our love of lentils with a super yummy soup from Carraba's. The rest of their menu is of the take-it-or-leave-it variety, but their lentil and sausage soup is to die for. It's a little bit sweet from the sausage and a little bit spicy from the ... well, spices. It's hearty and warm and satisfying and everything that a perfect soup should be. Unfortunately, Carraba's doesn't provide nutritional information on their website, so I haven't been able to confirm that their lentil soup is as healthy as it has the potential to be. But I knew I could create my own healthy version at home ... I just didn't know what a close match it would be in deliciousness! What I made tonight was almost exactly what I know and love from the restuarant ... but with the added bonus of likely being much lighter :)

Lentil and Sausage Soup
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 cup lentils
1 cup celery, chopped (about 2 stalks)
1 cup carrots, chopped (about 2 large)
1/2 cup onion, chopped (about 1 medium)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 Italian sausages (I used chicken), casings removed

Combine chicken broth, water, lentils, celery, carrots, onion, garlic, thyme, and cayenne in a large pot. Add a hearty dash of both salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 15 minutes, until lentils and vegetables are mostly tender. Stir in tomato paste, cover pot, and allow to simmer another 10 to 15 minutes until lentils and vegetables are completely tender.

While soup is simmering, cook sausage in a skillet over medium-high heat until no longer pink. When sausage is brown, stir into soup. Heat through. Serve.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Whole Lotta Frittata (I Mean Quiche)

First of all, it's been far too long (nearly two weeks!) since I've posted and I've dearly missed LoV Bites and all (dozen or so) of my LoV Bitten fans! I took a week-long vacay to New York and had a deliciously awesome time. And while I was able to cook in the kitchen of our rented beach house, it just wasn't the same as stirring things up in my own kitchen.

I have so much to say about my food finds in NY, but given how anxious I was to get back in the kitchen I thought it was only appropriate to serve up a new recipe first.

Because we had such a good time last week, Bill and I are now on a post-vacation diet (which is estimated to last approximately four days, given past attempts at similar feats). To get us started off on the right foot, I busted out my Best of Cooking Light cookbook and arranged a few recipes for the week.

In Hampton Bays I had an absolutely amazing lobster quiche, so this lightened-up frittata recipe caught my eye. No, it doesn't have the delectable chunks of sweet lobster meat that dish had. And no, it doesn't have the buttery, flaky pie crust that dish had. And it's not laced with the creamy cheese that dish had. But trust me, really, it was good.

I might note, however, that frozen breadstick dough is a somewhat poor substitute for pie crust. Perhaps if my oven was calibrated correctly and it hadn't ended up slightly overcooked, it would have been better. But there's something about the yummy, crumbly texture of pie crust that makes quiche so good ... but that's why this is Cooking Light. Luckily, the filling was amazing enough to make up for what the crust lacked.

Caramelized Onion, Spinach and Feta Quiche
Note: I altered proportions because I was afraid of my crust overflowing.
1 teaspoons olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
1 tube refrigerated breadstick dough (such as Pilsbury)
1 (10 oz.) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
2 eggs
2 egg whites
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, salt, and sugar. Cook until onions are soft, deep brown, and completely caramelized, about 25 to 30 minutes. (Adjust heat accordingly during cooking so as not to burn onions. Those pictured at right are just minutes away from caramelization.) Add hash browns to skillet and cook until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle a light dusting of flour over a clean, dry surface and unroll breadstick dough, separating each strip. Coil one strip around itself, like a snake. (My apologies for the unappetizing simile, but it's the easiest way to explain it! Luckily, I also have a picture for you to follow below.) Add another strip to the end of that strip, pressing the edges together, and continue coiling. Repeat with remaining breadstick strips. Cover dough and let rest 10 minutes.

Sprinkle coiled dough with a light dusting of flour and roll into a 10-inch circle. Place dough in a greased deep-dish pie plate. Spread onion-potato mixture over bottom of dough. Spread spinach over onion-potato mixture.

In a bowl, whisk together eggs, egg whites, and milk. Stir in feta and season with salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture into crust. Carefully move quiche to oven and bake 35 to 40 minutes, until crust is brown. Protect crust with a ring of foil and continue cooking 10 to 15 minutes or until filling is set (meaning it doesn't jiggle when you tap the pan). Cool 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Almost All-Day Sauce

Coming from an Italian family (or at least a half Italian family), all-day meat sauce is a way of life. It's a Sunday tradition, a source of pride and joy, a treasured family recipe. I have fond memories of my mom's sauce simmering on the stove for hours and coming back to stir it frequently. I have even better memories of sitting down to a giant plate of spaghetti, and then mopping up the remaining sauce with Boudin bread!

My mom makes that sauce to this day, but it's not something she's passed down to me. As most Polizzi Family recipes go, it's a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and no real rhyme or reason ... which is probably why my mom wasn't very helpful when I called her on Sunday to compare my recipe to hers.

Having watched her make this sauce millions of times, I was pretty confident that I could go it alone, without much guidance. But out of curiosity, I turned to the Google to see what I could turn up about other all-day sauces. And what I found sort of stunned me ... it turns out there's no need for my mom's sauce to cook all day after all!

True all-day sauce is typically a meat sauce in which the meat is cooked inside the sauce. That meat can be anything from a shank to spare ribs, but the point of simmering it all day long is for the meat to fall off the bone, resulting in a super tender, super flavorful, almost-a-meal-on-its-own sauce. You may commonly hear it called Sunday gravy. My mom's sauce doesn't quite qualify as Sunday gravy because the meat's not cooked in the sauce. (Unless, of course, she's making meatballs. But that's a different post.)

So aside from giving the flavors a chance to meld and marry, there's really no need to simmer this sauce all day. Which is why I cut it down to half a day! You'll still end up with something authentic ... or at least authentically Polizzi ... and totally mop-worthy :)

My Meat Sauce
1 lb. ground beef
2 links mild Italian sausage, casings removed
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup red wine
1 can (mine was the size of a newborn, 6 lbs. 10 oz.) whole, peeled tomatoes
1 can (28 oz.) tomato sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, cook ground beef and sausage until no longer pink, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and Italian seasoning and season with salt and pepper. Add wine and bring to a simmer.

Begin crushing whole tomatoes with your hands prior to adding to pot. Add tomatoes and their juices to pot and continue breaking up tomatoes with a wooden spoon until almost smooth. Add tomato sauce and sugar and stir to combine. Bring to a steady simmer, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, approximately 3 hours.

Remove lid from pot, stir in tomato paste, and return to a simmer. Continue cooking, uncovered, 30 to 45 minutes. Serve with your favorite pasta ... and a big loaf of bread for mopping!

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Bread is B-A-N-A-N-A-S Part III

That's right, I said Part III. And technically, it should be Part IV or V, but I haven't been keeping very good track. I obviously make a lot of banana bread. Specifically, I make a lot of Betty Crocker's banana bread, but certainly not because I'm stuck in a rut.

I tried a Jamaican Banana Bread with a coconut-rum glaze even before I started documenting my culinary adventures here. It was good. Then I tried Banana-Oatmeal Coconut Crumb Muffins. They were also pretty good. I've even made Bananas Foster Bread, which should have been the most incredible loaf ever but it was just ok. No matter what, I keep coming back to Betty's recipe because it's hands down, no contest the best I've ever had.

When I found this Ultimate Banana Bread recipe from America's Test Kitchen on The Feed, I began to wonder if they possibly could have topped my favorite recipe. And actually, since I worship at the ATK altar, I was sure they had. But sadly, that wasn't the case. I love you, ATK, but even with the innovative approach (microwaving bananas to release their juices?!) and the promising pictures, you couldn't beat Betty.

It's not that this recipe wasn't good. It's a perfectly fine loaf of banana bread. But it doesn't rise as high, it's not as dense and moist, and the crumb isn't quite as sweet as my go-to recipe.

Ultimate Banana Bread
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ripe bananas
1 stick butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 eggs
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons sugar

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl.

Place bananas in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and cut several steam vents in plastic with paring knife. Microwave on high until bananas are soft and have released their juices, about 5 minutes. Transfer bananas to fine mesh strainer, place over medium bowl, and allow to drain, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. (You should have about 1/2 to 3/4 cup liquid.)

Transfer liquid to medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir liquid into bananas, and mash with potato masher until fairly smooth. Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.

Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle sugar evenly over loaf (I used a coarse vanilla-almond sugar I picked up on my last visit to the Mars Cheese Castle!).

Bake until toothpick (or skewer) inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, about 50 minutes (or 55 to 75 minutes if you have properly calibrated ovens like ATK). Cool bread in pan on wire rack 15 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and continue to cool on wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Not Quite Mom's Meatloaf

You might think that on nights when Bill's not home I have a bowl of cereal or something simple like spaghetti for dinner. Not so. When Bill's out, it's the perfect opportunity to make to make the foods he isn't fond of ... like meatloaf!

Bill's beef with meatloaf (pun mostly intended) is the glaze that's so often baked on top. His extreme aversion to condiments, and ketchup in particular, keeps him from thinking that's ok. And thus, he's shunned all meatloaf, glaze or no glaze. I made one pretty successful attempt at meatloaf a while back, and Bill gave it a good effort. In fact, he may have even liked it a little. But despite that, I know it's not one of his favorites. And so I frequently fight the temptation to make it.

Well not on Thursday! This was a chance for me to conjure up all of the delicious kitchen mom-eries from home. I still ask my mom to make meatloaf when I visit, and nothing's better than when she serves it with scalloped potatoes. So pairing the meatloaf from America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two and the cheesy scalloped potatoes from the most recent issue of Cook's Country seemed like the most delicious idea I'd had all week.

Now while this dinner was inspired by mom, these certainly aren't mom's recipes. My mom shares Bill's aversion to ketchup (which might be why she loves him more than me), so she's never served meatloaf with a glaze. And her potatoes come from a box (it's not that she's not a good cook, she's just very selective about what she makes from scratch!). Feeling a bit adventurous, I went for the glaze and the made-from-scratch potatoes. And boy was it worth it!

I tweaked the meatloaf by subbing French bread for the sandwich bread the recipe called for. But knowing the French bread would be much tougher, I took a cue from my mom's meatball recipe and soaked it in milk first (buttermilk, actually). Fearful that this would yield a mushy meatloaf, I had to keep my fingers crossed. But luckily there was no need to worry ... my meatloaf turned out with a crisp and delicious crust and a tender, juicy middle. Almost just like mom makes!

For Meatloaf
1 (1-inch thick) slice French bread
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
5 oz. white mushrooms, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons water
8 oz. ground beef
1 egg white
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon pepper

For Glaze
3 tablespoons ketchup
1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Set a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet and lay a 6x4-inch piece of foil in the center of the rack. Using a skewer, poke holes in the foil at 1/2-inch intervals.

Place bread and buttermilk in a small bowl to soak. Set aside.

Heat oil in a 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, and tomato paste, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in water and cook until thickened, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Squeeze buttermilk from bread and discard buttermilk. Place bread and cooled vegetable mixture in food processor and process until smooth, about 10 seconds. Add beef and pulse to combine, about 5 pulses. In a large bowl, whisk together egg white, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Add the processed beef mixture and mix until uniform.

Press the mixture into a compact mass, then turn it out onto the foil-lined rack. Using your hands, press the mixture into an evenly thick loaf, approximately the same size as the foil. Bake until center of meatloaf registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the glaze by simmering ketchup, vinegar, sugar, and hot sauce in a small saucepan over medium heat until thick and syrupy, about 3 minutes. Spread glaze over meatloaf and bake until glaze begins to bubble, about 5 minutes. Let meatloaf sit for 10 minutes before serving.

I love it when it looks just like the picture!
Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
2 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 oz. parmesan cheese, grated
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup heavy cream
12 oz. russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss cheddar with cornstarch in a small bowl. Set aside.

Heat oil in 8-inch non-stick, ovensafe skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth, cream, potatoes, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until potatoes are nearly tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Off heat, stir in cheddar mixture and press potatoes into an even layer. Sprinkle with parmesan and bake until golden brown, 12 to 145 minutes. Let potatoes cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

My Thai

I just recently discovered Thai food. Don't ask what took me so long. The important thing is that I love it now. While I've only had a couple dishes and I haven't branched out into anything too wild, I have discovered that I love Thai basil ... even in all of its spicy glory!

When I saw that America's Test Kitchen posted a Thai Chicken with Basil recipe on The Feed, I was stoked to try it. But there was one problem: it's impossible to find Thai basil in Milwaukee. Heck, some days I can't even find regular basil in Milwaukee. (No joke. For weeks I was convinced there was some sort of strange basil shortage because it was never on the shelves at Pick 'n Save OR Sendik's.)

Well it seems the Test Kitchen anticipated the elusiveness of Thai basil in most places on this planet. In their recipe, they kicked up the heat in other ways and substituted regular basil. But that doesn't mean the recipe is perfect ... because they call for a few other ingredients that -- while not as hard to find as Thai basil -- I don't necessarily have on hand. Really, Test Kitchen? You want me to buy fish sauce and oyster sauce for this dish? Not likely.

Now when I find a must-make recipe, it's typically no holds barred. I'll buy whatever it is I need, and on occasion the ingredients might be a little obscure. In a few cases, when I don't have an ingredient on hand or when I can't find it in the store, I'll just find a suitable substitute. But I rarely dive into a dish blatantly ignoring a handful of ingredients and choosing to go it alone. On this one, I had to. And luckily, it was a huge success!

Now I usually won't recommend that you take this risk, and instead tell you to get the ingredients you need. But if they're not likely to be re-used in your kitchen, as the fish sauce and oyster sauce weren't in mine, feel free to take a chance. I did and this is my ...

Thai Chicken with Basil (for cooks who don't like to buy ingredients they'll use only once)
1 cup fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
3 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 jalapeno, stemmed and seeded
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 oz. white mushrooms, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Red pepper flakes
1 cup cooked white rice

Process basil leaves, garlic, and jalapeno in food processor until finely chopped, about 10 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl with rubber spatula once during processing. Transfer 1 tablespoon basil mixture to a small bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Set aside. Transfer remaining basil mixture to 12-inch skillet. Do not clean food processor bowl.

Pulse chicken and remaining tablespoon soy sauce in food processor until meat is chopped into approximately 1/4-inch pieces, about 6 pulses.

Stir shallots, mushrooms, and oil into basil mixture in skillet. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until shallots are golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes.

Add chicken to skillet, increase heat to medium, and cook, stirring and breaking up chicken with a rubber spatula, until no pink remains, about 5 minutes. Add reserved basil-soy sauce mixture and continue to cook, about 1 minute. Season to taste with red pepper flakes. Serve over rice.

This ended up being almost as delicious as the Thai Basil Chicken I had at the last Thai restaurant we went to. In fact, since it wasn't as overwhelmingly hot, I may even like my version better! I managed to achieve just the right balance of sweet and spicy. And while Bill was concerned when he saw me pulsing chicken breasts in the food processor, I can assure you that the texture was not weird at all :)

If you're interested in the Test Kitchen's original recipe (which I'm sure is delicious), you can check it out here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Delicious Deception

My favorite cupcake memory comes from my school days, when it was customary to bring in treats for your classmates on your birthday. You remember them ... those cute little cakes with the foil wrappers. Perhaps your favorite was yellow cake with chocolate frosting, or maybe it was chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. If you were really wild, it might have been funfetti! And if you were a real cupcake connoisseur like me, you may have even liked them baked in ice cream cones.

Every year for my birthday, my mom (who rarely baked) would break out her best ... box mix. That's right. One box of cake and one tub of frosting later, and I had 24 little cupcakes to share with the kids in my class. If we were really lucky, there may have been sprinkles involved. Luckily, we weren't very picky at that age.

As I thought long and hard about this final Blogger Challenge from America's Test Kitchen, I eventually said "Why mess with a good thing?" So I decided to bring it back to the old school. One box of cake mix and one tub of frosting later, and I had ... just kidding!

Having won the last Blogger Challenge, you know I felt just a bit more pressure to make this submission good. So I took my birthday cupcake of choice from childhood to the next level. Instead of just a simple cupcake in a cone, I decided on chocolate dipped cones!

My recipe combines a number of favorites: the cake cones traditional to chocolate dipped cones, the best-ever chocolate cupcake recipe from America's Test Kitchen (which I made just a few weeks ago), Martha Stewart's "seven-minute-frosting-that-takes-twelve-minutes-to-make," and a simple chocolate coating to bring it all together. Sounds like a lot of work? It's guaranteed to be harder than the box mix mom made. But they're so cute, it's all worth it!

Chocolate Dipped Cone Cupcakes
For Cupcakes
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup boiling water
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
18 flat-bottomed (cake) ice cream cones

For Frosting
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 egg whites
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

For Coating
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Wrap a 1-inch thick band of foil around the base of each cake cone and stand cones up in muffin tins. Set aside.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk boiling water, cocoa, and chocolate chips until smooth. Add sugar, sour cream, oil, eggs, and vanilla, and mix until combined. Whisk in flour mixture until incorporated. Divide batter evenly among cones, filling each about halfway. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of cupcakes comes out clean, about 22  minutes. Cool cupcakes in tin on wire rack. When completely cool, discard foil.

To prepare frosting, combine sugar, egg whites, water, and cream of tartar in a glass bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on high speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Place bowl over a pot of barely simmering water and continue beating on high until stiff peaks form, about 12 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and stir in vanilla.

Spoon frosting into large zip-top bag. Snip a corner of the bag and pipe frosting onto cupcakes, swirling into an ice cream shape. (Martha claims your frosting should be 2 inches high. Good luck with that.) Carefully stand cupcakes back up in muffin tins and transfer to refrigerator. Chill 15 to 20 minutes, or until frosting appears set.

While cupcakes are chilling, prepare coating. Combine chips and oil in a small, deep, microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high, approximately 20 seconds at a time, whisking well between nukes, until completely smooth. Allow coating to cool for several minutes.

Remove cupcakes from fridge. Holding cupcakes by the cone, dip each one into the coating to completely cover frosting, allowing excess to drip off. Let cupcakes stand at room temperature for 15 minutes, then transfer back to fridge. Allow to set at least 2 hours. Serve cold (of course!).