Sunday, February 28, 2010

Italian Sausage and Sweet Pepper Ragu

The sweet peppers are the main attraction in this dish. Enjoy!

1/2 lb of italian sausage removed from casing
2 large yellow, red, or orange bell peppers, chopped, medium-large size pieces
1 small-medium onion, chopped small 
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 jar prepared tomato pasta sauce- I use Ragu b/c I always get it on sale
1 15oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1tbsp sugar or honey- cuts acid in tomato and balances out flavor

Seasoning to taste:
italian seasoning
red pepper flakes
onion powder- adds a different layer of onion flavor
garlic powder- adds a different layer of garlic flavor
21 Seasoning Salute from Trader Joe's

Serve with:
12oz-16oz box whole wheat rotini or penne
Cook in stock if you'd like an extra layer of flavor

Saute meat & break up as it cooks. Let it brown and caramelize a bit. Add peppers and onions, saute until onions are softened. Season this layer of flavor. 

Add sauce, tomatoes, and sugar. Let it warm through to let the flavors meld together. Taste it for seasoning and the sweet/acidic balance. Add more sugar or salt if needed. Season again. 

Simmer while pasta is cooking. Drain pasta and place back into pot. Add sauce and combine. 

The large sweet pepper pieces make this sauce a little different than my regular tomato sauce. The spice of the sausage along with the sweetness of the peppers  is a great balance. The flavors in this dish are balanced so well that you don't need to serve it with cheese. I found that the traditional parmesan sprinkle threw the balance off. So, save some calories. Believe me, you won't miss it!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Roast Chicken & a TON of Chicken Stock: Part 2- The Stock

This pretty gal is gonna make us a ton of chicken stock, therefore making many many dishes to follow much much more flavorful. 

I use chicken or vegetable stock (I'll show you how I make that as soon as I run out of chicken stock)for all kinds of things in my kitchen. 

Most often I use it in this:
Always as a base in my homemade soups
To cook pasta and plain or spanish rice 
To make pilaf 
 To thin sauces
To make gravy

Pretty much any savory cooking that you'd add water to, I use stock instead. 

Alright, this takes a while but it's SO worth it, I promise. 

You'll need:

all the cooked bits, juices, veggies, etc. left from your roast chicken
the neck and offal
2 -3 onions- not peeled, quartered
1/2lb baby carrots
1/2 bunch of celery stalks leaves included, broken into medium pieces 
8 cloves garlic- not peeled, smashed a bit
parsley stems from one whole bunch and some of the leaves
black pepper
white pepper
onion powder- I know this is a bit redundant, but to me, it's a totally different flavor that fresh onion
Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute or Classic Mrs. Dash
generous amount of salt
35-40 cups of warm water (this is an estimate)

Mix everything but the seasonings and water in a large bowl. 

Divide into the pots you plan to use to make your stock. Or just use a BIG stock pot. I don't have a huge stock pot, so I use my 3 largest pots seen here:

This is not an exact measurement kind of thing. You want about 2-3inches of stuff in the bottom of each of your pots. Just be sure to divide the chicken bones and bits evenly between the bowls. 

Now, fill your pots with warm water, about an inch from the top of the pot. 

Season with your dry seasonings. Be very generous. For my large pot, I start with 1tbsp of onion, oregano, basil, 21 seasoning, and salt and 2tsp of the peppers and paprika. You are building flavor here and we want it to be delicious! Plus, my method involves stretching this chicken for as much flavor as I can get out of it. We need to help it out with a ton of veggies, seasoning, and to be honest, quite a bit of salt. 

Bring to a boil. Reduce to a nice simmer. 

Once the veggies are soft, give the broth a taste. Season it up a little more.

Simmer until the celery and parsley have turned that horrible, I mean MARVELOUS!, green-grey color. You want to cook this stuff to death. We are, after all, trying to suck every bit of flavor out of this stuff, right?

Turn off the burners, cover, and let it steep for about 20-30 minutes. It will stay HOT HOT HOT for a while. 

Strain the bits out and put the stock into 2 big bowls. This is what my garbage bowl of boiled stock bits looked like after I had strained everything. Yuck!

We need to cool the stock off as quickly as possible, so fill 2 large plastic freezer bags with ice, seal, and place one in each of the bowls. When the ice is melted, take the bags out and put the bowls in the fridge. 

Chill the stock until the fat has risen to the top and hardened up. Remove it from the top with a slotted spoon or your fingers. Save the fat if you'd like to make matzo ball soup or add some extra umph to your dumplings (that's what I'm going to do). By the way, the chicken fat is sometimes called schmaltz, but it's debatable if this method actually creates schmaltz.You can decide. I call it schmaltz. It sounds fancier than chicken fat.  

Divide the stock into freezer bags. I do it in 2 cup serving sizes. It's makes less waste for me that way. 

I realize that this is not as much a recipe as it's a "method."
If you're confused, or if I ever miss something in the steps, just ask me to help. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Roast Chicken & a TON of Chicken Stock: Part 1- The Chicken

We had roast chicken for dinner. I make it when I need chicken stock. It turned out well. The lemon added a touch of flavor that made it extra delicious. 

The two of us get 3-4 meals out of one roast chicken, plus 30+ cups of stock. This makes several very affordable dinners along with stock that will last me a few months in the freezer. 

For the roast chicken:
1 5lb-ish whole chicken rinsed and patted dry- save the neck and offal for the stock 
5-6 red skin potatoes- medium size- cut in half or quarters
1/2lb of baby carrots
1 large onion peeled and wedged
1 lemon
1/2 bunch celery stalks leaves included
4-6 whole cloves garlic- peeled
fresh parsley
Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute of Classic Mrs. Dash
olive oil

I use my large stoneware bowl from Pampered Chef to bake this in. They don't make it anymore. This would work the same way though-without the lid. Or a roasting pan that the chicken fits comfortably in.  

Lay the carrots, onions, celery, & garlic in the bottom of the pan. Salt & pepper them. They will act as your roasting rack. They will end up swimming in a delicious puddle of roasted chicken drippings. That makes for a GREAT chicken stock!

Place the bird on top of the veggies breast side up. Tuck the wing tips under the bird. I don't truss the bird. I give it such a comfy and moist environment to bake in that I've never had a problem of uneven cooking or a dry bird. 

Season the chicken liberally with 21 seasoning, salt & pepper. 

Arrange the potatoes around the bird. Season those too. 

Squeeze half of the lemon on the chicken and potatoes. Then, stuff that half of the lemon into the chicken. Add in a small bunch of parsley too. 

Slice the other lemon half into thin slices and arrange them around the potatoes and the chicken. You can even put them on the chicken if you'd like to decorate it a little. 

Drizzle the whole thing with a little olive oil. 

Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 1 1/2-2 hours. Whole chickens don't need to be covered when roasting. The chicken should be 170 degrees when you remove it from the oven. Test the temp in several areas. The chicken will continue cooking about 5 more degrees once it's out of the oven. You want to end up with a 175 to 180 degree chicken. 

Rest on a cookie sheet along side the potatoes and carrots. Cover for 15 minutes. Leave the rest of the stuff in the pan, you'll be using it in your stock. 

Carve chicken and serve with potatoes, and carrots. 

Once dinner is over and the leftover chicken has cooled off, remove every bit of meat from it. Save the skin, bones, and other bits in a bowl. Use the leftover meat in a salad, pot pie, or just re-heat and serve with some yummy side dishes. 

So as not to make this the longest blog post EVER, I will show you how to make the stock tomorrow. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Easy Garlicky Croutons Out of Extra Bread

We eat these in our salads. Especially delicious in caesar salad! 

Start with whatever bread you'd like- I use leftover loaves that are a little past their prime.

Cube the bread. I make mine about 1/2"-3/4" squares. You can make them as small or large as you'd like. You'll have to adjust how long you bake them. 

Put the cubes in a large bowl. Drizzle with a good amount olive oil. For 2 cups of croutons, I do 2-3 turns around the bowl with the olive oil. 

Toss them lightly to coat. You want them to be pretty shiny. The oil adds a lot of flavor. This makes them taste like actual croutons and not the seasoned stuffing mix cubes you buy around the holidays to stuff your bird with. 

Sprinkle with salt, pepper to taste- be generous. 

Grate 2 cloves garlic into the bowl with your Microplane. Toss again to distribute the garlic bits. 

Spread evenly onto cookie sheet. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Toss them around a bit. Bake for 15 more minutes until the are crunchy on the edges. The middle might be a little soft, but they will firm up when cool. Adjust bake time if you cut your cubes a different size. 

Store in an airtight container in the fridge- they'll last a long time that way.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Classic Peanut Butter Crisscross Cookies

This is my Go-To recipe for delicious PB cookies. It can also be made into a bar cookie very easily.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-natural peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 1/4 cup flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Cream butter, PB, & sugar. Add egg. Add dry ingredients. 

Shape into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Make the crisscross marks with a floured fork, pressing the cookie flat. 

Bake for 7 minutes for soft cookies, 9 minutes for crunchy ones. 

Makes a few dozen. 

You can press this dough into a bar pan for bar cookies. Bake about 15 minutes and then check for doneness. Should look a little puffy and shine should be gone from the top when it's done. Cool completely before cutting. 

*adapted from a recipe in the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Low-Fat Apple Double Cinnamon Coffee Cake

The cinnamon makes this cake a dark brown color.

2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups chopped apples
1 egg
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup applesauce

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp whole wheat flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp margarine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Grease 9inch cake pan. (I use foil pans so it's easier to freeze the cake)

Combine wet ingredients. Add dry ingredients. Combine gently. Batter will be a little lumpy. Pour into cake pan. 

Mix topping ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly on top of batter. 

Bake for 25-35 minutes until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. It takes mine about 35 minutes to bake. I think it depends on the moisture content of the apples and applesauce. 

Freeze when cool for up to 3 months. Serve warm or room temperature.

*inspired by a Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book recipe. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Raspberry Ganache Pie: Valentine Treat Part 2

I used my OREO crumbs for this special dessert!

Here's what I made my Valentine for dessert on Sunday evening. 

Oreo Cookie Crust (about 2 cups of crumbs + 1/4 cup melted butter, press into pie plate)
1 cup heavy cream
10 oz. Semi-Sweet Chocolate
Fresh Raspberries
Fresh Orange Slices (Optional)

Warm heavy cream in a sauce pan. Add chocolate. Stir constantly until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth and shiny.

Pour into chilled crust. Top with raspberries.

Chill until ganache is set (soft fudge consistency)

Slice with a wet knife.

Serve with fresh oranges.

Eat a small piece. It is intense.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Oreo Cookie (Crumbs): Valentine Treat Part 1

Here's part one of my decadent valentine treat. I think I will keep you in suspense for part two. I'll only be using these cookies for crumbs for my Valentine's dessert, but I will give you the full cookie recipe in case you want to enjoy a whole O-R-E-O. Enjoy!

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp butter (I always cook/bake with Smart Balance)
1 egg
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 oz square bakers chocolate 
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups cake flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Cream sugar and 1/2 cup butter. Add egg and cream again. Melt chocolate square with 2 tbsp. butter. Add chocolate and cocoa powder to creamed mixture. Add dry  ingredients. Mix just until combined. 

Scoop 1 tsp. mounds of dough, 2 inches apart, on parchment lined cookie sheets. Dip a flat-bottomed glass into warm water and gently flatten the cookies- just slightly. 

Bake for 11 minutes. Let cool on raised cooling rack until they crisp up.

To make them into crumbs…well, just crumble them up! 

To make them into OREOS:

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup shortening
2-2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Blend butter, shortening, and vanilla. Beat in sugar until it makes a thick frosting, adding a little at a time. 

Spread on half of cooled cookies. Top them off with another cookie.

If I were you, I'd let them sit out on a nice plate for most of the day to give them a chance to harder up (the cookies & the filling). Do this if you you want them to be crunchy (like an OREO), and if you can stand to leave them alone for most of the day. 

I will warn you though, their chocolatey aroma makes it difficult to walk past them without touching….maybe just taste one…

Makes about 20 sandwich cookies.

Hamburger or Hot Dog Buns

This is my favorite new recipe. I will never buy those spongy grocery store ones again! 

Makes 1 dozen

1 1/4 cup milk
1 egg
6 tbsp oil (melted butter would be fine too)
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
4 cups bread flour OR 2 1/2 cups bread flour + 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp vital wheat gluten
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

Place ingredients in bread machine pan and set to "Dough" cycle. 

Divide dough into 12  flat rounds or longer flat ovals (for hot dog buns) and place on parchment lined cookie sheets (6 on each sheet). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. 

Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Tap the tops lightly. If they sound "hollow," then they're done!

Perfect for burgers, sandwiches, subs, hot dogs, and they make the best quick garlic bread!

For garlic bread- Slice in half & spread with a little butter or sprinkle with olive oil. Grate fresh garlic onto the buns using a Microplane. (you can buy this $13 one or just get one from the Dollar Tree like I did and save yourself 12 bucks) Add a dash of italian seasoning and a liberal sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Broil until brown and crispy!

*Adapted from a recipe found through the MoneySavingMom. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Water Bagels

When I make a yeast dough, I always use my bread machine on "Dough" cycle. I will post more about my bread machine later, but for now, you can use your machine for the bagel dough in this recipe. If you don't have a bread machine, YOU SHOULD BUY ONE! Just kidding, you can make this in a more traditional way, in your stand mixer or by hand, by kneading until smooth and letting it rise until it's double in size- of course, that makes it a lot of work though…

Makes 16 bagels

2 cups warm water
1 tbsp. milk powder
1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. salt
5 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. active dry yeast
2 1/2 tsp vital wheat gluten (optional- recommended if you're going to freeze them)

Add ingredients in appropriate order into bread machine pan. Set to "Dough" cycle for a 2lb (or the largest) loaf. The dough will rise to the top of your machine. It's ok though! It's not going to hurt anything. Just wipe your machine lid out if if gets icky.

When dough has risen, punch it down and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface.

Start the water bath. Fill a large pot with about 4 inches of water. Add 2 tbsp. of sugar. Bring to a boil.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Shape the dough into a thick cylinder- about 16" long. Slice it into 16 pieces. Make a bagel shape by poking a hole in the middle of the dough slice and lightly pull/shape the bagel.

Once all bagels are formed, begin boiling(at a simmer) 3-4 at a time. Cook 30 seconds on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon and lay on parchment covered sheet pans sprinkled with corn meal.

Brush each bagel with a an egg white wash (one egg white & a splash of water) and top with whatever you'd like. Our favorite is an "Everything" bagel.

You can make "Everything" bagel topping by mixing equal parts sea salt, poppy seeds, sesame seed, and minced onion.

Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.

These freeze VERY well!

This makes a chewy bagel with a shiny crust. The corn meal prevents sticking and makes them seem like they're from the bakery! It takes me less than 25 minutes to make them once the dough is ready.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rice Fritters

This is adapted from a recipe in Rachael Ray's magazine. 

1 cup white rice
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
salt & pepper to taste
2-4 tbsp. olive oil 
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Cook rice in stock until all liquid is absorbed- about 20 minutes. Put rice in mixing bowl to cool for a few minutes. Add egg, cheese, salt, & pepper. Stir to combine. 

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Sprinkle 1/2 of the bread crumbs on the sheet pan. Form 12 mounds of rice mixture on the pan (on top on the bread crumbs). Gently press the mounds into patty shapes (approx. 3" around). Sprinkle the rest of the bread crumbs on top of the patties. 

Preheat a skillet with 1/2 of the olive oil on med-high heat. Cook the patties in batches for about 2 1/2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on paper towel if necessary. 

Serve with sautéed spinach. I cooked the spinach in the same pan once all the fritters were done cooking. It only takes a minute to sauté the spinach. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes to spice it up a bit.