Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Night Dinners: Blueberry Cobbler

I'm not a huge fan of blueberries.  This is because...okay, I'm just going to go there.  They remind me of peas.  Stick with me now.  They both have that tight little skin housing an incredibly squishy center, and when you bite down, all this goo explodes in your mouth.  It's a texture thing, okay?  But I'm okay with cooked blueberries, because then they're just mush.  And somehow that's not a texture issue.  I also get around my paranoia by getting wild blueberries, which are pretty tiny.  So the exploding goo factor is much smaller.

When I first saw the recipe for blueberry cobbler, I of course immediate recoiled.  Then I realized that the blueberries would cook down and form this luscious syrup under a buttermilk biscuit topping.  Which is very okay with me.  So I found a giant bag of frozen wild blueberries (Wyman's at Sprouts...who knew?) and went to town.  And it was everything I hoped it would be.  Sweet gooey blueberries with a tender cobbler topping and a slight crunchy top from the sugar.  Fabulous.

Blueberry Cobbler
From Friday Night Dinners by Bonnie Stern

8 cups fresh blueberries or 1 (3-pound) bag frozen wild blueberries (such as Wyman’s)
⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons coarse sugar, such as demarara

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine the blueberries, sugar, and cinnamon.  Spoon into an oiled 13x9-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the buttermilk in three additions, ending with flour.

Spoon the batter on top of the blueberries (drop the batter from the spoon instead of spreading), leaving space around the edge so the fruit juices can bubble up.  Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the topping is cooked through and browned, and the fruit is juicy and bubbling on the sides.

Makes 8 servings

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Martha Stewart: Roasted Cabbage Wedges

So many people hate cabbage.  And Brussels sprouts.  It's like a conspiracy, where I'm the only one outside of my immediate family who thinks it's delicious.  Wait, maybe it IS a conspiracy.  Well, it's one I'm not going to argue with, because that means more cabbage for ME.  Especially cabbage that is roasted until caramelized in the oven.  Which is only slightly less amazing than when cabbage is sauteed with bacon.  Because, repeat after me, everything is better with bacon.  But you should give this one a try, too.

Roasted Cabbage Wedges
From Martha Stewart

1 tablespoons plus 2 more tablespoons olive oil
1 medium head green cabbage, cut into 1-inch thick rounds
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Brush a rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Place the rounds of cabbage in a single layer on the baking sheet and brush with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the caraway seeds.  Roast until the cabbage is tender and the edges are golden, 40 to 45 minutes.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sweet Pea's Kitchen: Pumpkin-Bourbon Cheesecake with Graham-Pecan Crust

Every Thanksgiving we have the same pumpkin pie.  And, don't get me wrong, it's good.  It's just...tired.  I have a notoriously short attention span, and pumpkin pie lost me a couple of years ago.  So did most of the rest of the dinner, but that's a bit easier to change up.  You take away pumpkin pie, and people get angry.  It's stepping on tradition.  It's spitting on the recipe passed down from your mother's mother's mother.  Okay, maybe not that far, but you see what I mean.  So this year I didn't stray far.  I stayed in the pumpkin pasture.  But I goosed it a little.  Okay, a lot.  But it's still pumpkin.

Cheesecakes are difficult to get right.  I'm talking about the cracks on top.  Yes, I mean the ones on the last cheesecake you made.  Okay, and the last cheesecake I made.  Caught me.  Anyway, any recipe that doesn't include instructions for a water bath should be looked upon with great suspicion.  So I did my darnedest to set one up.  Except I don't own a roasting pan.  Or anything close to being big enough to hold a 9-inch springform pan with lots of clearance.  So I improvised with my glass lasagne pan.  And hey, no cracks.  I did have a bit of a scare when water somehow sneakily leaked in between the foil and my springform pan, but luckily the $20 I spent on the pan was worth it.  And after waiting forever for it to cool down in the fridge, I had a piece of creamy pumpkiny goodness all to myself.  I thank my short attention span.

Pumpkin-Bourbon Cheesecake with Graham-Pecan Crust
Adapted from Sweet Pea's Kitchen blog

For the crust
3 ounces graham crackers (about 5 whole crackers), broken into large pieces
2 ounces pecans, chopped (about ½ cup)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling
1 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1½ pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup bourbon

For the crust
Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan evenly with nonstick spray.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the graham crackers, pecans, sugar, and spices until evenly and finely ground, about fifteen 2-second pulses.  Transfer to a medium bowl, drizzle melted butter over, and mix until evenly moistened.  Transfer the crumbs to the springform pan and press the crumbs evenly into the bottom and a ½ inch up the sides of the pan.  Bake until fragrant and browned about the edges, about 15 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack while making the filling.

For the filling
Bring about 4 quarts of water to a simmer in a stockpot for the water bath.  Whisk together the sugar, spices, and salt in a small bowl; set aside.

Line a baking sheet with a triple layer of paper towels.  Spread the pumpkin puree on the paper towels in an even layer.  Cover the pumpkin with a second triple layer of paper towels and press firmly until the paper towels are saturated.  Peel back the top layer of the paper towels and discard.  Grasp the bottom paper towels and fold the pumpkin in half; peel back the paper towels.  Repeat and flip the pumpkin onto the baking sheet; discard the paper towels.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed to break up and soften, about 1 minute.  Scrape the beater, bottom, and sides of bowl with a spatula.  Add about  of the sugar mixture and beat at medium-low speed until combined, about 1 minute; scrape the bowl and add the remaining sugar in two additions, scraping the bowl after each addition.  Add the pumpkin and vanilla and beat at medium speed until combined, about 45 seconds; scrape down bowl.  Add 3 eggs and beat at medium-low speed until incorporated, about 1 minute; scrape the bowl.  Add the remaining 2 eggs and beat at medium-low speed until incorporated, about 45 seconds; scrape the bowl.  Add the heavy cream and bourbon and beat at low speed until combined, about 45 seconds.  Using a rubber spatula, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and give a final stir by hand.

Set the springform pan with the cooled crust on an 18-inch square of double layer heavy-duty foil and wrap the bottom and sides; set the wrapped pan in a roasting pan.  Pour the filling into the springform pan and smooth the surface; set the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan so that it comes halfway up the side of the springform pan.  Bake the cheesecake until the center of the cake is slightly wobbly when the pan is shaken, about 1½ hours.  Set the roasting pan on a wire rack and use a paring knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan.  Cool until the water is just warm, about 45 minutes.  Remove the springform pan from the water bath, discard the foil, and set the springform pan on the wire rack; continue to cool until barely warm, about 3 hours.  Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours.

Makes one 9-inch cheesecake, about 12 to 16 servings

Friday, November 23, 2012

Williams-Sonoma: Sausage, Corn Bread, and Chestnut Dressing

I didn't realize this, but apparently there are two warring factions when it comes to what is served next to the turkey at Thanksgiving: stuffing versus dressing.  Aren't they the same thing?  Oh, no, my friend they are not, as I was very quickly informed.  Apparently stuffing is made with crappy white bread and is only served by Yankees who don't know any better.  That would be me, since I was raised on Stove Top, which is...stuffing.  Then there's dressing, which is made with cornbread and is superior to any other form of side dish since it is lovingly made by someone's granny from a recipe passed down from before the Civil War.  Oh boy, was I in trouble.  I wisely kept my mouth shut during this altercation, but I nearly tripped myself in my rush to get to the computer and Google an appropriate dressing recipe so as not to offend the generations of Southern women who had come before me.

I had never made a stuffing or a dressing that I had liked because they all seem to turn out tasting like cardboard.  Those little bags of Pepperidge Farm stuffing cubes?  Yeah, tasteless, even with chicken broth poured over them and tossed with sauteed onions and celery.  Then I realized I was going about everything the wrong way.  I needed to follow my own advice.  The one that says everything tastes better with bacon (or sausage or ham).  If a pork product couldn't make dressing delicious, then it wasn't possible.  Well, it did make the dressing fabulous.  It also helped that at every turn I dumped as much seasoning into the darn thing as I could.  And I finally turned out a side dish I wouldn't be ashamed to set on the table next to the turkey.

Sausage, Corn Bread, and Chestnut Dressing
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

8 cups cubed day-old corn bread (1-inch cubes)
2 cups cubed day-old country-style white bread, crusts removed (1-inch cubes)
1¼ pounds mild Italian pork sausage, casings removed
¼ pound hot Italian pork sausage, casings removed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup roasted and peeled chestnuts, chopped
¼ cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as sage, rosemary, and thyme
¼ cup chopped parsley
3 cups turkey stock

Preheat an oven to 375°F.  Butter a 13x9-inch glass dish.

Spread the corn bread and white bread out on a baking sheet.  Toast in the oven until light golden brown and dry to the touch, about 20 minutes.  Set aside.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, brown the sausage, stirring and crumbling, until cooked through, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Drain the grease from the pan.

Return the pan to medium heat.  Add the butter to the pan to melt.  Add the onion, celery, and mushrooms and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Transfer to the bowl with the sausage.  Add the corn bread and white bread cubes, the chestnuts, herbs, and turkey stock.  Season with salt and pepper and stir gently to combine.

Transfer the dressing to the prepared dish, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 40 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue baking until browned and crispy, about 35 minutes more.

Makes 10 to 12 servings

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Alton Brown: Butterflied, Dry Brined Roasted Turkey

For years and years, I thought that turkey was supposed to be dry.  Dry and yucky.  It was the only part of Thanksgiving that I disliked.  I would load up on casseroles and vegetables and mashed potatoes, and then I would hide my turkey under something as I ate.  I have a feeling I am not the only person with this kind of story.  I mean, if roasting a chicken eludes most people, a turkey is three times as bad.  And we tried literally everything to get the thing to brown.  Until we finally gave up and sprinkled it with paprika one year.

So I finally turned to Alton Brown, a.k.a. the Holder of All Cooking Knowledge.  Okay, so maybe he doesn't deserve all those capital letters, but the man has saved me on more than one occasion.  A couple of years ago I made his wet-brined turkey, and it was good.  But THIS turkey is fantastic.  I know it seems weird leaving the thing in your fridge for four days as it slowly changes color and starts to look...weird.  But trust me.  It's normal.  Everything will be fine.  And yes, I had the same panic attack when I watched my overpriced organic turkey start to look, well, rotten, that first year.  Once it's cooked, the skin is crispy and brown and the meat is tender and perfect.

Butterflied, Dry Brined Roasted Turkey
Adapted from Alton Brown

3½ tablespoon kosher salt
1½ teaspoon rubbed sage
1½ teaspoons dried thyme
1¼ teaspoons whole black peppercorns
½ teaspoon whole allspice berries
1 (13- to 14-pound) turkey, neck and giblets removed

Four days before serving, place the salt, sage, thyme, black peppercorns, and allspice into a spice grinder and pulse until the peppercorns and allspice are coarsely ground, 5 to 6 pulses.  Set aside.

Set the turkey, breast side down, on a large cutting board with the tail closest to you.  Use an electric knife or heavy-duty kitchen shears to cut up one side of the backbone.  Turn the bird around and cut back down the other side of the spine.  Discard backbone and any fat pockets or excess skin found inside the turkey.  Turn the turkey breast side up and use the heel of your hands to press down on both breasts until you hear a cracking sound and the bird has flattened slightly.

Rub the seasoned salt on both sides of the turkey.  Place the turkey on a parchment paper lined half sheet pan, breast side up with legs running with the long side of the pan.  Store, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 4 days.

Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and leave at room temperature for 1 hour.

Place one rack in the middle of the oven and a second one far enough below so that the half sheet pan will fit.  Heat the oven to 425°F.

Place the turkey directly on the middle rack of the oven with the legs perpendicular to the metal bars of the rack.  Place the half sheet pan on the rack below the turkey to catch any drips, and roast for 30 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 350°F.  Continue to roast the turkey until a probe thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155°F., an additional 40 to 50 minutes.  Remove the turkey and sheet pan from the oven onto a cooling rack and set inside the half sheet pan and rest for 30 minutes.  Carve the turkey with an electric knife.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What Katie Ate: Thyme Roasted Baby Carrots

So it's Thanksgiving panic time again!  What a wonderful season.  I give thanks for having to spend three days in my kitchen, hoping new recipes don't turn out to be stinkers.  Luckily my new friend (at least in my head), the What Katie Ate blog, had a recipe for the tiny carrots I just couldn't resist buying in a last-minute fit of we-won't-have-enough-to-eat.  Hey, I fought people off for those carrots.  I wanted something good that would make me feel better about elbowing a granny.  Okay, so I didn't exactly elbow her.  I just used my superior strength and speed to snatch the last carrots.  Yes, I am that person.  I know I should be ashamed.

These carrots are so easy it's almost ridiculous, and they turn out roasty toasty good.  They kind of caramelize and sweeten and become all kinds of yummy.  And they were certainly my backup in case the stuffing failed.

Thyme Roasted Baby Carrots
From What Katie Ate blog

2 pounds baby carrots with tops, trimmed and washed
1½ tablespoons olive oil
1½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Toss the carrots, oil, and thyme leaves together in a large bowl.  Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Spread the carrots in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet; dot with butter.  Roast until tender and brown, stirring occasionally, about 40 minutes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lemons and Anchovies: Grapefruit Cranberry Bars with a Chocolate Shortbread Crust

I'm going to commit sacrilege.  Ready?  I get tired of pumpkin pie.  Yes, I admit it.  After about the fifth slice, I'm wishing there was something else sweet to eat.  ANYTHING.  I can only take so much pumpkin before I go on strike.  So this year I strategically planned a different dessert to bring.  And I kept it secret from the pumpkin pie-loving hordes.  I didn't stray too far from the theme though.  It has cranberries.

After all of that buildup, and the beauty of the finished product, I have to admit I'm not overly fond of this recipe.  Which was kind of a let-down.  I mean, it's not a flop by any means.  It turns out and tastes good.  But it's missing something.  Maybe too much sugar in the cranberries kills the tartness.  And the crust needs...something.  I've got ten other things to make, or I'd try to figure it out.  But if you want something different and don't want to shock anyone's sensibilities, it's certainly a good choice.  And it got me away from pumpkin pie for a brief moment, which is always appreciated.

Grapefruit Cranberry Bars with a Chocolate Shortbread Crust
Adapted from Lemons and Anchovies blog and Bon Appetit magazine, November 2012

1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
2½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup chopped almonds
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream or whole milk

½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon grapefruit zest
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (or other alcohol...cognac? brandy?)
1 tablespoon butter

2 ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter an 8-inch square pan, line it with parchment paper, and butter the top of the paper.  Set aside

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, almonds, and salt.  Pulse until the mixture is well combined and the almonds are ground.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles pea-size pebbles.  Add the cream and pulse until the dough just starts to come together.

Press the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Bake for 15 minutes.  The dough may puff slightly, but it can be pressed back down with a spoon when it is removed from the oven.  Alternately, pie weights can be used to keep the dough smooth during blind baking.

Combine the sugar, grapefruit juice, grapefruit zest, Grand Marnier, and cranberries in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-high and cook until the cranberries have popped, about 6 minutes.  Add the butter and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture thickens.

Pour the cranberry mixture into the prepared baked crust and smooth the top.  Raise the oven temperature to 400°F and bake the bars for 15 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Melt the bittersweet chocolate and fill a ziploc baggie with the chocolate.  Snip a small corner off the bag and, sweeping back and forth, pipe lines of chocolate over the cranberries.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fine Cooking: Buttermilk Pound Cake Soaked with Grand Marnier Syrup

My boss at work is kind enough to buy birthday cakes for each of us in our turn, so when it was hers, we were a little stumped.  We knew she liked angel food cake, but honestly, I don't know anyone else who does.  And before I get angel food cake hate mail, we're talking PLAIN.  As in no berries, no cream, no ice cream, no chocolate sauce, no nothing.  So I wanted to hear other options.

Her favorite cake of all time was something her mother made for her as a child.  I got the recipe from her daughter through about five other people and over text message. I just kind of stared at it, trying to decide what I thought.  The instructions amounted to "dump everything together and bake."  And once again, it sounded plain, plain, plain.  So I Googled.  Apparently it was originally a buttermilk pound cake, but at some point someone thought it would be fun to replace the butter with...shortening.  And the flavor with...nothing.  A bunch of research later, I found something similar from Fine Cooking and got a cake that was somewhat tasty.

Buttermilk Pound Cake Soaked with Grand Marnier Syrup
Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine, April/May 2001

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest from 2 oranges
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
Grand Marnier Syrup

Preheat the oven to 325F.  Butter and flour a large Bundt or tube pan.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light in color.  Add the vanilla extract and orange zest and mix well.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add the dry ingredients in three portions, alternating with the buttermilk.  Pour into the Bundt pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack, then invert the cake and remove the pan.  Brush the cake with Grand Marnier Syrup, allowing it to soak in slowly.

Makes 16 servings

Grand Marnier Syrup
Juice of 2 oranges (about 1 cup)
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (or other orange liquor)

Combine juice, sugar, and liquor in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and reduce until it reaches the consistency of a syrup.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One Pot French: Tarte au Citron (Lemon Tart)

My family has a bunch of mini citrus trees.  I think it started when I brought home a Calamondin orange specimen from the hydroponic garden at Epcot Center.  The thing had two tiny leaves and came in a plastic container.  That orange plant is now about a foot tall and two feet wide and grows about 10 baby oranges a year.  Not that you can really eat them or do anything with them.  They're just pretty.  And a pain to take care of.  Well, pretty soon we had added a navel orange, a key lime, and a Meyer lemon.  The Meyer lemon actually has usable lemons.  Small, but usable.  And by small I mean we don't dump a bunch of chemical fertilizer on it until it births mutant lemons the size of your hand.

So of course my mother wants me to make something with our massive harvest of...six lemons.  The first, and pretty much only, thing that came to mind was a tart.  I've made this recipe before, and I like the results, so out the trusty recipe came.  It's tart (tastewise) and sweet and amazing with some fresh whipped and sweetened cream.

Tarte au Citron (Lemon Tart)
Adapted from One Pot French by Jean-Pierre Challet

½ recipe Pâte Sablée
4 large eggs
1¼ cups powdered sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
Zest of 3-4 Meyer lemons
Juice of 4 Meyer lemons

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out one ball of the dough, working quickly so that it doesn’t get too soft to handle.  Gently place the dough over a tart pan, pressing it into the bottom and sides.  With your fingers, overlap the dough a little bit inside the rim.  Trim off the excess.  Gently pinch the dough up the sides of the pan to just slightly increase the height of the shell.  If the pastry is too soft to do this, chill it for a few minutes in the refrigerator.

Prick the bottom of the tart shell in several places with a fork, to prevent the dough from bubbling.  Line the tart shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or dried beans or rice.  Bake for 5 minutes.  Lower the heat to 350°F; remove the weights.  Bake for another 5 minutes or until the pastry is a pale, very light brown.  Set to one side on a rack to cool slightly.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar.  Add the melted butter, lemon zest, and lemon juice, stirring well.  Pour the batter into the still slightly warm tart shell; bake for about 30 minutes or until the filling has set.  Remove from the heat and let cool.

Makes 12 servings

Pâte Sablée

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla sugar
Pinch of salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, chilled, cubed
1 large egg

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugars, and salt.  Add the butter and pulse until just incorporated and the mixture has a coarse texture.

Add the egg and then 1 tablespoon cold water; pulse until the dough gathers itself into a ball.  Be careful not to overprocess.  Add a few drops of cold water if the mixture is too dry.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead it for 1-2 minutes, until the dough is smooth and comes away easily from the work surface.  The dough should be slightly crumbly.  Form it into 2 balls, flattening slightly.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Cooking with Sugar: Chicken a la Gloria

Even with all of those new and interesting recipes out on the internet, I keep coming back to incarnations of the dish I have always considered to be my ultimate comfort food: chicken baked in cream of mushroom soup.  We've all had it.  All our moms made it.  Admit it!  It's ubiquitous.  But it's so darn good when it's cold outside, or you're tired after work, or after someone cut you off on the highway on the way home and almost forced you off the road and into a ditch.  Not that that happened recently.  Okay, it did.

This version of chicken in mushroom soup adds a couple new ingredients to fancy it up, namely cream sherry and Muenster cheese.  I think I can do without the cheese, but the cream sherry definitely gives it a nice flavor.  I may have to keep that idea.  And of course creamy chicken on top of rice is perfection.

Chicken a la Gloria
From Cooking with Sugar blog

3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise to make thin fillets
 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces fresh mushrooms (such as crimini), sliced
½ cup cream sherry
1 (10¾-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
½ cup whole milk
6 thin slices Muenster cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper and dredge lightly in flour to coat both sides.  Shake off any excess.  Add the oil to the frying pan and heat to medium-high.  Brown the chicken on both sides.  The chicken does not need to cook all the way through, as it will finish in the oven.  Transfer the chicken to a 9x13-inch baking dish.

Add the butter to the frying pan and let it melt.  Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper.  Allow mushrooms to cook until golden.  Then add the cream sherry and allow most of it to cook off, a minute or two.  Add the cream of mushroom soup and milk and mix well.

Pour the sauce over the chicken breasts in the dish, cover with foil, and bake for about 30 minutes.  Remove the dish from the oven and top with the slices of cheese.  Turn the oven to broil.  Place the chicken back in the oven, uncovered, and cook just until cheese begins to brown, about 2 minutes.  Keep a close eye on the dish and do not allow the cheese to burn.  Top with fresh parsley and serve.

Makes 6 servings

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Oui, Chef: Creamed Kale

Sometimes you need to eat healthy.  Lots of fruit and vegetables and green tea and organic free-range eggs and the like.  And sometimes you need a big bowl of something horribly bad for you, preferably including cream and butter.  And sometimes you luck out and get both in the same bowl.

I'm a big fan of creamed spinach, but I wasn't so sure about using kale instead.  I mean, it's nothing against kale.  I pretty much haven't met a vegetable I didn't like.  Except lima beans.  But I digress.  I love all vegetables, so I would totally eat a bowl of kale.  But it just didn't sound right upstaging spinach.  Except it WAS right.  Kale makes a fabulous bowl of creaminess, especially since it keeps a little bit of its crunch.  So it's not all goo.  You can actually identify that you are eating a vegetable.  And that definitely relieves the conscience.  At least slightly.

Creamed Kale
From Oui, Chef blog

2 bunches Lacinato kale, washed, dried, stemmed, and cut into ribbons
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium yellow onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Fill a large bowl with ice water (an ice bath) and set it aside.

Set a large stock pot full of salted water to boil over high heat.  Add the kale ribbons to the boiling water and blanch until slightly tender, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Scoop the kale from the water and toss it into the ice bath to stop the cooking and set the color.  Let cool, then drain the kale in a large colander.  Squeeze any excess water out of the kale and set it aside.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the minced onion.  Cook until translucent, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook another 2 minutes.  Add the kale and the cream and turn the heat to medium-high.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cream thickens to a sauce-like consistency, about 5 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Makes 4 servings

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Ready for Dessert: Fresh Ginger Cake

It's already November, and I feel like I'm behind.  I haven't made one single thing with pumpkin yet.  Nothing.  Does that make me a bad seasonal cook?  Probably.  And I like pumpkin, so I'm not sure what my deal is.  So I decided to get with the program and make something seasonal.  And I chose...something that isn't pumpkin.  But hey, it's still spicy and delicious!  Just like pumpkin pie!  Without the pumpkin!

I really enjoy gingerbread, but so often it's bland and rubbery.  And that's just not fun.  So I thought I would give the master of desserts a try, and whip up his famous gingerbread.  Sorry, ginger cake.  The darn thing has a whole piece of ginger in it, so I knew I wasn't going to get some sad little gingerbread reject.  This would be GINGER cake.  And it lived up to every promise, getting better as time went on, like a good wine.  Seriously, just make it.  And don't forget the whipped cream.

Fresh Ginger Cake
From Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

1 (4-ounce) piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup mild-flavored molasses
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup water
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform or round cake pan with 2-inch sides and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade or with a chef's knife, chop the ginger until very fine.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the molasses, sugar, and oil.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper.

In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil, then stir in the baking soda.  Whisk the hot water into the molasses mixture, then add the chopped ginger.

Gradually sift the flour mixture over the molasses mixture, whisking to combine.  Add the eggs and whisk until thoroughly blended.

Scrape the batter into the prepare springform or cake pan and bake until the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed with a finger or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.  Let cool completely.

Run a knife around the sides of the cake to help loosen it from the pan.  Invert the cake onto a plate, peel off the parchment paper, then reinvert it onto a serving platter.

Serving:  Serve wedges of this cake with whipped cream, a favorite ice cream, or a fruit compote.

Storage:  Because this cake is so moist, it keeps well for up to 5 days at room temperature.  It can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Giada de Laurentiis: Pollo alla Cacciatora (Hunter-Style Chicken)

I've been trying to cook for myself more often, and for some reason I keep ending up with Italian food.  Which is incredibly weird.  Since I hate Italian food.  Okay, maybe hate is a strong word.  I think bad Italian food is about as bad as it gets.  It sits like a doughy brick in your stomach until you wish you could either die or purge yourself of it.  Good Italian food, however, is welcome anytime.  And I've had some good Italian food parading through my kitchen lately.

For some reason I've been obsessing about chicken cacciatore lately.  I remember my mother making a simple version when we were kids, but it's been years and years since I've actually had any.  Not sure where the idea came from.  But who am I to question delicious fate?  I'm one of those who likes her hunter-style dishes to have lots of goodies in them, so I added mushrooms and green peppers to Giada's recipe.  And since I couldn't bring myself to pick every last pathetic leaf off my struggling basil plant, I threw in some dried basil.  Delicious, satisfying, perfect for a cold night.  I'm liking fate.

Pollo alla Cacciatora (Hunter-Style Chicken)
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, sliced into 2-inch long strips
1 large green bell pepper, sliced into 2-inch long strips
1 onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
¾ cup dry white wine
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
¾ cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons capers, drained
1½ teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
Chopped flat leaf parsley, for garnish

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with 1 teaspoon of each salt and pepper.  Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour to coat lightly.

In a large heavy sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high flame.  Add the chicken pieces to the pan and sauté just until brown, about 5 minutes per side.  If all the chicken does not fit in the pan, sauté it in 2 batches.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add the bell peppers, onion, garlic, and mushrooms to the same pan and sauté over medium heat until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes.  Add the tomatoes with their juice, broth, capers, oregano, and basil.  Return the chicken pieces to the pan and turn them to coat in the sauce.  Bring the sauce to a simmer.  Continue simmering over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through, about 30 minutes longer.

Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a platter.  If necessary, boil the sauce until it thickens slightly, about 3 minutes.  Spoon off any excess fat from atop the sauce.  Spoon the sauce over the chicken, then sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Makes 4 servings