Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Spanakopita

Before I tell you about a couple of the Christmas appetizers I made, let me just tell you I am officially going to take a break from this blog. I've been cooking a ton lately, but most of it is either recipes at work, or stuff you've already seen on here. There has still been some inspiration to try new recipes (like this spanakopita), but even when they're great recipes I'm not really feeling the urge to blog about them. So, I feel a break is in order... which is probably not a huge surprise since my last post was almost a month ago!

Brie en Croute (with homemade ginger peach jam!) and Sausage stuffed mushrooms on Christmas Eve

This blog started out as a bit of a recipe journal, and as a result I'll keep it live as long as blogger will let me. Even if I'm not adding new content, I'll go back to old favorites like this Chicken and Mushroom Ragu and the best Brussels Sprouts EVER. Also, I might put some links to successful recipes I find online, so I know where to find them. Joe and I got a total of 8 food or beer related books for Christmas, so I'm going to try to test some cookbook recipes in upcoming months, too. I might be back to posting really soon... or maybe never... I don't want to put any pressure on myself, so I'll just say to enjoy this spanakopita before the New Year's Resolutions kick in, and to keep in touch!

adapted from, originally from Gourmet magazine

1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 lb baby spinach
1 large clove of garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 lemon, juiced
3 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1/2 lb feta, crumbled (scant 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg
10 (17- by 12-inch) phyllo sheets, thawed if frozen

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, then cook spinach, stirring, until wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and cool, about 10 minutes. Squeeze handfuls of spinach in a clean towel to remove as much liquid as possible, then coarsely chop. Transfer to a bowl.
Saute garlic and red pepper flakes in the same saute pan until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add to the spinach. Stir in pine nuts, lemon juice, feta, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Check for seasoning, then add the egg and mix well.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Melt remaining 1 stick butter in a small saucepan, then cool.

Cover phyllo stack with 2 overlapping sheets of plastic wrap and then a dampened kitchen towel.

Take 1 phyllo sheet from stack and arrange on a work surface with a long side nearest you (keeping remaining sheets covered) and brush with some butter. Top with another phyllo sheet and brush with more butter. Cut buttered phyllo stack crosswise into 6 (roughly 12- by 2 3/4-inch) strips.

Put a heaping teaspoon of filling near 1 corner of a strip on end nearest you, then fold corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle. Continue folding strip (like a flag), maintaining triangle shape. Put triangle, seam side down, on a large baking sheet and brush top with butter. Make more triangles in same manner, using all of phyllo.

Bake triangles in middle of oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool slightly.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Green and White Bean Gratin

This green and white bean bake was a perfect vegetarian main course for a cold winter night. We paired it with a salad, some bread, and a movie. Exactly what you want to eat when it's cold and rainy outside, and you're snuggled up under a blanket. The pureed beans made the gratin seem so smooth and creamy, and even with cutting back on the cheese it was nice and cheesy. I liked that the cheese was balanced out with a lack of cream, to keep the dish from being too rich.

This makes a great vegetarian main dish, and would also be great served with roast chicken or pork tenderloin. The lunch leftovers were terrific as well. I'd also like to experiment with using broccoli or sauteed kale for the vegetable portion of the gratin.

Green and White Bean Gratin

From Moosewood Restaurant Farm Fresh Meals

2 cups fresh green beans, cut into 2 inch lengths and blanched (or frozen green beans-- don't bother defrosting)
2 cans white beans
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons of dried thyme, finely chopped rosemary or sage
Pinch of salt and black pepper
1 cup grated Gruyere or cheddar cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9 inch square baking dish, and spread the green beans in the bottom of the dish.

In a food processor, combine one can of white beans (undrained) with the garlic, herb(s), salt and pepper until smooth. Pour over the green beans in the baking dish, and sprinkle with the Gruyere or cheddar cheese. Drain and rinse the second can of white beans, and spread the whole beans on top.

In a small bowl, mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan and melted butter. Sprinkle lightly over the top of the gratin. Bake, covered, for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake about 10 minutes more, until golden brown and bubbling.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Herb Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables

As soon as temperatures drop, I switch my cooking style from frequent grilling to roasting. I love roasting pretty much any kind of vegetables, and a nice whole chicken is such an easy and elegant main course. I saw a recipe like this at work, and loved the idea of roasting the chicken and veggies all in one pan.

I rubbed an herb butter all over the raw chicken, making sure to get some butter under the skin. I chopped a couple carrots, parsnips, and potatoes into bite sized chunks, and tossed them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. I spread the vegetables in the bottom of my cast iron casserole pan, and placed the chicken right on top of the veggies. When the chicken was done, I let it rest on the cutting board, and placed the pan back in the oven so the vegetables could finish cooking. Served with a salad, this was a simple and comforting Sunday night dinner.

I could never write a cookbook, because I'm way too lazy when it comes to writing down recipes. This was made up on the fly, but I'll do the best I can to tell you what to do :) This is a recipe you could easily play around with, depending what you have around the kitchen.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the following ingredients to make an herb compound butter:

6-8 Tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
1 tsp fresh lemon zest
1 clove of garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and chop your root vegetables, trying to cut the pieces into a consistent size. I used 2 large carrots, 2 large parsnips, and 4 or 5 new potatoes (skin on). Toss the vegetables into your roasting pan or cast iron pot, and toss with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Rinse a whole chicken and pat dry. Season the inside of the cavity with salt and pepper, and put slices of lemon inside. Rub the herb butter all over the chicken, pushing lots of the butter under the skin. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables, and place into the preheated oven.

Cook the chicken until a thermometer reads 165 degrees. If the vegetables are not soft and getting crispy, remove the chicken and put the vegetables back in the oven until they get to the level of doneness you desire. Serve the roasted vegetables alongside slices of the roast chicken.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lamb Stew with Mashed Potato Topping

I have recently been working on expanding my horizons when it comes to tasting and cooking different kinds of meat. Up until last spring, I was a member of the "No Red Meat" Club, and had been for for almost 15 years. I was picky about meat as a kid, and chose to cut red meat out of my diet. Eventually I realized I had no idea what red meat even tasted like, and I felt like I couldn't be a very good foodie if I was so picky about what types of meat I would eat.

I started slow, with a couple hamburgers and tastes of more exotic cuts of meat that Joe would order. Being around plenty of meat at The Chopping Block has given me the chance to taste many different kinds of meat, and I've liked what I have tasted. I think meat is very trendy in Chicago right now, and most restaurants are offering exotic choices and tons of charcuterie options. I've now enjoyed things like duck liver pate, bone marrow, and good old fashioned steak. I'm not a crazy meat eater, though, and still eat vegetarian multiple days a week, to balance things out.

Joe brought home some Turkish leftovers recently, and I gobbled up the lamb dish that he left in the fridge. It was so flavorful, and immediately inspired me to try to cook some lamb. I am still pretty intimidated by large pieces of meat, so some kind of roast lamb was out. I got hooked on the idea of a lamb stew, with nice tender pieces of meat cooked up with lots of wintery vegetables. I'd seen a recipe in Jamie's Food Revolution, and kept thinking back to his suggestion to top the finished stew with mashed potatoes, like a Shepard's pie.

Jamie's stew recipe is very basic, with lots of room for interpretation. I like how flexible his recipes are, and how approachable he makes cooking. This recipe is actually four different recipes, depending which type of meat and booze you put into your stew. I did the lamb and red wine combination, and plan to experiment with others during the cold Chicago winter. The recipe was so straight forward, but you did have to plan for the long cooking time. It was mostly hands-off, though, and I loved having almost all the dishes taken care of before dinner was ready. I made this on a Sunday, so we had plenty of time to let the meat get tender. It was rich and satisfying, and the mashed potato topping was fantastic. It was a little crispy on top, and the softer potatoes closer to the stew soaked up some of the red wine stewing liquid. This was the best cold weather dinner I have made in a long time!

Basic Stew Recipe

Main Stew Ingredients:

2 stalks celery
2 medium onions
2 carrots
Olive oil
1 heaped tablespoon all-purpose flour
One 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Then choose one of the following:

Beef and Ale (3 hours)
3 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 pound diced beef stewing meat
2 cups brown ale, Guinness or stout

Pork and Cider (2 1/2 hours)
3 sprigs fresh sage
1 pound diced stewing pork, preferably free-range or organic
2 cups medium-dry hard cider
Chicken and White Wine (1 1/2 hours)
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 cups white wine

Lamb and Red Wine (2 1/2 hours)
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 pound diced stewing lamb
2 cups red wine

1. If using the oven to cook your stew, preheat to 350°F.

2. Trim the ends off your celery and roughly chop the stalks. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Peel the carrots, slice lengthwise, and roughly chop.

3. Put a Dutch oven on a medium heat. Put all of the vegetables and your chosen herb into the pan with 2 lugs of olive oil and fry for 10 minutes. Add your meat and flour. Pour in the booze and canned tomatoes. Give it a good stir, then season with a teaspoon of sea salt (less if using table salt) and a few grinds of pepper.

4. Bring to a boil, put the lid on, and either simmer slowly on your cooktop or cook in the oven for the times shown above. Remove the lid for the final half hour of simmering or cooking and add a splash of water if it looks a bit dry.

5. When done, your meat should be tender and delicious. Remove any bay leaves or herb stalks before serving, and taste it to see if it needs a bit more salt and pepper.

Jamie offers multiple suggestions of toppings for the stew recipe. While the lamb stew would have been wonderful as is, I couldn't resist his suggestion to make it like a Cottage Pie, with a mashed potato topping. He also has suggestions for dumplings or puff pastry topping.

Mashed Potato Topping

2 1/4 lbs potatoes, peeled (I used two russets and some smaller new potatoes)
splash of milk
tablespoon of butter
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
olive oil or melted butter
sprig of rosemary (I omitted because my rosemary plant is looking pitifully small these days)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Fill a large baking dish with the fully cooked stew (or keep it in your cute new orange Le Cruset buffet casserole that you cooked the stew in). Boil the potatoes in salted water, and drain when they are tender all the way through. Mash by hand or in your stand mixer, adding in the milk, butter, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mash until creamy, adding a splash of extra milk if needed. Roughly top the stew with the potatoes, not worrying about making the topping smooth and even. Top the potatoes with rosemary leaves, and brush the top with olive oil or melted butter. Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the potato topping is golden brown and the stew is bubbling on the sides.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Last weekend I made those fantastic pumpkin cupcakes, and at the end of the day I was left with every bakers worst dilemma... extra icing! I hate to just waste it, especially when the icing is of the cream cheese variety. So I started brainstorming about other good uses for this creamy, rich icing. It didn't take me long to decided cinnamon rolls would be a great way to use this icing, and going along with the change of season, the cinnamon rolls needed to be pumpkin flavor. I checked one of my favorite online baking resources, King Arthur Flour's website, and found a recipe that they had blogged about last fall.

What can I say? These were great! Rich, sweet, and intensely bad for you... a perfect fall treat. I'm actually a pretty healthy eater overall, so I almost feel guilty eating these for breakfast! But I do think these would be wonderful on a special occastion, like a holiday brunch or breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. You can make the dough the night before, and let the rolls rise in the fridge overnight. Then, let them come back to room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes the next morning before you bake them.

If you want advice on this recipe, or for other great baking inspiration, check out the King Arthur Flour blog. They give great step by step instructions, and always respond to peoples questions in the comments section. You can see the original recipe there, too. Now I'm headed to the gym, to work off a few of the calories I packed on from eating these things :)

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

1 cup canned pumpkin or squash
2 large eggs
1/4 cup (plus 2-4 Tbsp) lukewarm milk
1/4 cup soft butter
2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 3/4 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, optional
3 tablespoons brown sugar, light or dark
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
*Adjust the amount of milk by the time of year or your climate. For summer, or in a humid enivronment, use the lesser amount of water. In winter, or in a dry climate, use the greater amount. It's always best to start with the lesser amount; you can always add more liquid a lot easier than taking it away.

3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
water to brush on dough
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1) Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients together — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — until you've made a soft, fairly smooth dough.

This is a really easy dough, with all the ingredients going into one bowl. Less mess, yeah! I think a stand mixer makes a big difference for this dough, because it's a wetter dough that would be hard to knead by hand.

2) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise for 1 1/2 hours, until it's almost doubled in bulk.

3) Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased surface. Roll it into a 14" x 22" rectangle; the dough will be thin.

4) Mix the cinnamon and sugar. Brush a thin layer of water over the dough, then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture, leaving one short edge free of filling.

5) Sprinkle with dried cranberries.

The recipe also recommended sprinkling with crystalized ginger, which sounded great but for me meant another trip to the store. I might try that if I plan better next time. I also think chopped nuts would be nice tucked into the rolls.

6) Starting with the short end that's covered with filling, roll the dough into a log.

7) Cut the log into nine 1½"-thick rolls.

8) Place the rolls into a lightly greased 9" x 9" pan that's at least 2" deep. Set aside, covered, to rise for 1 hour, or until the rolls look puffy.

9) Bake the rolls in a preheated 375°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until they're lightly browned and feel set. Remove them from the oven, and set them on a rack. Turn them out of the pan, and allow them to cool for about 15 minutes. Towards the end of the cooling time, spread cream cheese icing over the rolls.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fresh Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

This Saturday was a wonderfully relaxing day at home, and as we watched football and cleaned up the house I was hit with a major baking urge. The pie pumpkin that had been sitting on my kitchen counter was my main inspiration, and I wanted to roast and puree the pumpkin, then bake it into something tasty. I searched tons of recipes online, and ended up choosing a classic pumpkin spice cake. While I'm not a huge cupcake fan, it seemed like a much easier way to share treats at the party we were going to that night. I wanted to pipe the icing, which lead me to pick a simpler, more sturdy looking icing recipe. The pumpkin cupcakes were moist and dense, and the combination of spices added more flavor to the cake. The icing was rich and just sweet enough. While these weren't the most creative cupcakes you'll find on cooking blogs, they are a great simple recipe that captures the flavors of fall. The cupcakes received rave reviews at Saturday's Halloween party, and leftovers were quickly taken care of when I brought them to work on Sunday!

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners. Whisk first 9 ingredients (through cardamom) in large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat pumpkin, sugar, and oil in another large bowl. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to incorporate between additions. Mix in orange peel. Add flour mixture; beat on low speed just to blend. Fill liners about 2/3 full with batter.

Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Move cupcakes to wire rack, and cool completely before frosting.

Makes 25-30 cupcakes

Cream Cheese Frosting

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners' sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.

Want to try to make your own pumpkin puree? It's really easy, as long as you have a little time and the right equipment. I used some tips from The Pioneer Woman, and added a little of my own insight. Basically, quarter and seed the pumpkins, then roast at 350 until they are tender when pierced with a fork. Don't rush this part-- if the pumpkin is not tender enough, it will not puree well. When it's nice and tender, scrape the cooked pumpkin into a food processor, and process until the pumpkin is completely pureed. If it seems dry, or isn't getting very smooth, add a little water. When the pumpkin is a nice puree, drain it in a mesh strainer lined with cheese cloth, to let some of the extra water out. If you're not using all the pumpkin, freeze in 1 cup portions for later use.

I hope everyone had a great Halloween! Next up is every foodies favorite holiday... Thanksgiving! I've already started thinking about what I can contribute to this year's feast. Have you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Vegetarian White Chili

I can't believe it's been a month since I last posted. Life sure got crazy for a while there! It's good to be back, though, to cooking in my kitchen and to sharing some of the results with you. I have cooked much less over the last month, thanks to long hours at work and more stress than I wanted to deal with. But eating is a necessary part of life, and I pushed really hard to not fall back into the habits of prepared, over processed food. This meant lots of weekend cooking, and planning for simple weeknight meals. I fell back on some favorites during this time, and it was a great chance to revisit some of my blog favorites from the past. Below are links to some previous recipes that I recently made again.

While it's nice to revisit some favorites, I have been eager to get back to exploring new recipes. This past weekend offered me an opportunity, when Joe and I were finally taking a day to lounge around. It was cool weather, and football was on the brain as we waited eagerly for the Mizzou game to begin. Chili sounded perfect for this type of day, but I'd recently made a wonderful Chicken Chili. Not to mention we'd been eating a lot of meat for the last few days, so I was in the mood for a vegetarian dinner.

Somehow I came up with the idea of doing a white chili, using cannellini beans and corn. I didn't find any recipes online that fit what I was looking for, so I found a White Chicken Chili to use as a model. The end result was a flavorful, hearty alternative to traditional chili. It was also a great dinner to eat before a crazy night watching the Missouri Tigers beat Oklahoma!! Go Tigers!! Now I just need to figure out another creative chili to eat before we show Nebraska what's up this weekend ;)
Vegetarian White Chili

•1 large onion, chopped
•1/2 stick (4 Tbsp) unsalted butter
•1/4 cup all-purpose flour
•2 cups vegetable stock
•2 cups 1% milk
•1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
•1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
•1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
•1/2 teaspoon white pepper, or to taste
•two 4-ounce cans whole mild green chilies, drained and chopped
•2 cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
•2 cups of frozen corn kernels, thawed
•¼ cup cilantro leaves, rough chopped

•Garnish: chopped avocado, 1 1/2 cups grated white cheddar cheese

In a skillet cook onion in 1 tablespoon butter over moderate heat until softened.

In a 6- to 8-quart heavy kettle melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter over moderately low heat and whisk in flour. Cook roux, whisking constantly, 3 minutes. Stir in onion and gradually add vegetable stock and half-and-half, whisking constantly. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes, or until thickened. Stir in chili powder, cumin, salt, and white pepper. Add beans, chilies, corn, and cilantro, and cook mixture over moderately low heat, stirring, 20 minutes.

Garnish chili with grated cheese and chopped avocado.
Original Recipe: White Chicken Chili from