Friday, February 25, 2011

Meatball Soup with Spinach

Okay. So this doesn't sound the most appetizing, but I promise it's very tasty. If you've ever wanted to recreate an Asian soup this is a good place to start. It's from Quick and Easy Chinese by Nancie McDermott.

1 small bundle bean thread noodles (about 2 ounces)
(I've used vermicelli noodles, which are actually rice noodles, in the past because I happened to have them in the pantry. I thought it worked just as well. And you prepare them the same way.)
1/4 lb. ground pork
2 t. soy sauce
1 t. finely chopped garlic
1/2 t. salt
4 c. chicken stock (remember to use reduced can always add more salt if you think it needs it :)...)
2 c. fresh baby spinach leaves, or large leaves torn into 2-inch pieces
3 T. thinly sliced green onion
Asian sesame oil (optional) (but a nice addition in my opinion)

Soften the bean thread noodles by placing them in a medium bowl with warm water to cover for 15 minutes. When they are flexible and white, cut them into 3-inch lengths and set aside.

Combine the pork with the soy sauce, garlic, and salt and mix together to season the meat evenly. Roll the mixture into small meatballs, about 1-inch in diameter, or use a spoon to scoop it into small, free-form meatballs.

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a rolling boil over high heat. Drop the meatballs into the boiling soup, a few at a time, and stir to keep them from sticking together. When all the meatballs are in the soup, adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil and cook for 3 minutes. Skim off and discard any foam that forms on the soup, and stir now and then.

Add the noodle and stir well, cooking until they become clear and soft, about 1 minute more. Add the spinach and green onion and remove from the heat. Serve hot, adding a few drops of sesame oil, if using, to the soup just before serving.

Serves 4

It's a simple as it sounds! Nancie suggests putting in carrot shreds, tofu chunks, or sliced mushrooms right after the meat if you want a more complex dish without much more effort. I really like putting in tofu and sliced cremini mushrooms (they have a little more flavor than button mushrooms) but I'd probably try shiitake if they were easier to find. The more complex you make it the better it can stand alone as a main dish. I think it's intended to be more of a side dish but with everything I add to it I think it works as a main.

This dish has a rather delicate flavor. It's simple but very satisfying. Try putting a few drops of Sriracha in if you want to take it up a notch or two, but don't overdo it or you'll ruin the simplicity of my opinion.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Butternut Squash Lasagna by Giada DeLaurentiis

This lasagna is unlike anything I've ever had. It's creamy and delicious and tastes like Fall. Mmm. It does take a bit of work but I think it's worth it.

1 T. olive oil
1 (1 1/2 to 2 lb) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. water
3 amaretti cookies, crumbled (I've never used these)
1/4 c. butter
1/4 c. all purpose flour
3 1/2 c. whole milk (I use whatever milk I happen to have and I think it still tastes great)
Pinch nutmeg
3/4 c. (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves
12 no-boil lasagna noodles (definitely use these. It helps cut down on the assembly time and I really like the texture of the no-boil noodles)
2 1/2 c. shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
1/3 c. grated Parmesan

Serves 8-10
Full Recipe

This recipe has a ton of really great reviews, which is why I tried it in the first place. A number of people made some adjustments that I decided follow. Here is what I do differently.

As far as peeling and cutting fresh butternut's next to impossible and takes WAY too much time. I followed the advice from a reviewer and pre-heated the oven to 400 F, split the squash in half, seeded it, put it on a roasting pan cut side down, and topped it with a cup of water. Then I baked it for about 40 minutes until it was soft and the peel came right off. All you have to do is mix it with a spoon to get the consistency you want, which means no food processor. Plus, you can roast more than one squash at a time and just cube and freeze the extra for next time (which cuts down your prep time dramatically) or use it to make butternut squash soup!

I think I remember reading some reviews that complained about the lack of texture in the dish so I always sauté some onion and brown some mild Italian sausage (around 1/2 lb.) to mix in with the squash. I've also tried basil-chicken sausage, which was quite delicious (you can get it at the Sunflower Farmers Market). If you want to keep this vegetarian just use the onion.

Some people had issues with getting the sauce to thicken enough so they suggested using up to 1/2 c. of all purpose flour instead of 1/4 c. I generally use around 1/3 c. Also, definitely use fresh basil here. This dish would be significantly different and less delicious if you use something else.

Admittedly, the directions for assembling the lasagna are a little confusing.  The first time I made this I couldn't figure out how many layers there should be. But I think what confused me the most was what the top was supposed to be. I think the top (last) layer is supposed to just be noodles, sauce, and cheese. This would make sense because the directions say to use 1/3 of the squash in each layer, but you have 12 noodles to work with. Anyway, I hope that's not too confusing. Just layer the noodles, then the squash mixture, then the cheese, then the sauce until you've used everything up. And don't worry about measuring out each thing exactly like the directions say. It doesn't have to look perfect. It is lasagna and lasagna isn't supposed to be perfect. It's supposed to look rustic and hearty.

If you like butternut squash then you will love this. It's a perfect Fall/Winter lasagna. Buon appetito!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kung Pao Chicken

This recipe is from Quick and Easy Chinese by Nancie McDermott. My mom gave me this cookbook for Christmas a few years ago and I absolutely LOVE it. Every recipe I have tried is easy to make and very tasty.

There may be a lot of ingredients, but this is largely a matter of measuring out the two seasoning mixtures.

3/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast (I use 1 lb. because I always freeze my chicken in 1 lb. portions)
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. dry sherry or Shaoxing rice wine
1 T. cornstarch
1 t. vegetable oil

1 T. soy sauce
1 T. dry sherry or Shaoxing rice wine
1 T. red wine vinegar or Chenkiang vinegar
1 T. sugar
1 t. corn starch
1 t. salt

2 T. vegetable oil
5-10 small dried hot red chilies or 2 t. red pepper flakes (I used 2 t. red pepper once and it was hot. Now I generally only use 1 t.)
1 t. Szechuan peppercorns, toasted and crushed (optional)
1 T. coarsely chopped garlic
1 T. finely chopped fresh ginger
1/4 c. coarsely chopped green onion
3/4 c. roasted, salted peanuts
1 t. Asian sesame oil (sesame oil has a strong flavor so I don't usually use this much. I just drizzle a little over the dish, then toss)

To prepare the chicken: Chop it into bite-sized chunks, about 1inch in diameter. In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, sherry, cornstarch, and vegetable oil. Stir to mix everything well, and then add the chicken, tossing to coat it evenly. Set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

To make the sauce: In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sherry, vinegar, sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir to dissolve the dry ingredients, and mix everything together well.

Prepare the remaining ingredients, and place everything by the stove (I find this to be very helpful because the cooking process is rather quick), along with a serving platter for the finished dish.

To cook the chicken, heat a wok or large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, and then add the vegetable oil. Swirl to coat the pan, and when it is hot but not smoking, add the chiles. Toss well for about 30 seconds, and then add the Szechuan peppercorns, if using. Cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant and shiny, tossing once or twice.

Scatter in the chicken and let it cook on one side for about 1 minute. Toss well, and then add the garlic, ginger, and green onion. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, tossing now and then, until the chicken has changed color and is cooked through.

Stir the sauce, and add it to the pan. Cook another minute, tossing often, and then add the peanuts and sesame oil. Toss once more, transfer to a serving platter, and serve hot or warm.

Serves 4

Don't be intimidated by this recipe just because of the lengthy list of ingredients and directions. It's really not a difficult recipe; the key here is to prep everything before starting. Once you have everything ready to drop in the pan the cooking process really only takes about 5 minutes. Also, I like to include some zuchinni and/or yellow squash to add a little more flavor and texture. I usually add it when I add the garlic, ginger, and green onion. You want to cook it through but you don't want to loose that bite that fresh vegetables should have. Something to consider as well: I gengerally 1.5x the sauce because I don't want the dish to be dry due to adding zuchinni and more chicken than is called for.

Pair this with some Jasmine rice and you've got yourself an easy, authentc tasting Asian dish. This recipe is SO worth trying.  请享用。

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! What is better on Valentine's Day than chocolate dipped strawberries? They're super easy to make, cheaper than buying already dipped, and oh so romantic looking ;)

There is no recipe but here are some great ideas for what to dip those strawberries in!

*dip in white chocolate then roll in brown sugar -it may sound weird but it's SO good
*dip in dark/milk/white chocolate then sprinkle with decorating sugar
*dip in milk chocolate then drizzle with dark and/or white chocolate
*dip in dark chocolate then sprinkle with coconut (toasted or not)
*dip in plain old dark or milk chocolate -sometimes the simpler the better
*dip in dark chocolate, wait for it to harden, then dip in milk/white chocolate for a pretty layered look

Definitely melt your chocolate gently or it'll burn. You can use a double boiler, a glass pan in the oven (on the lowest temp), or the microwave. Take it SLOW if you use the the microwave; stop to mix it every 10-30 seconds depending on how melted it is (don't use plastic). If you don't have a pastry bag and tips, just snip off a very tiny bit of the corner on a plastic bag and pipe away.

Use whatever chocolate you like best or use them all! Most importantly, have fun!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Slow Cooked Chili Soup

I really am not a huge Crock Pot user. I've probably used my Crock Pot less than a dozen times in the 2 1/2 years I've owned it, but I just happened to make two Crock Pot recipes since starting this blog. I got this recipe from my sister who got it at an Enrichment activity. I think it's actual name is Taco Soup because it has taco seasoning in it, but it's so similar to chili that I call it Chili Soup.

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can chili beans in sauce
1 small can tomato sauce (I used tomato soup)
1 can diced tomato (use the plain or seasoned kind, whatever you want)
1 can corn (or use frozen corn)
1 can green chili peppers
1 onion, sautéd
1 lb. ground beef, browned
1 package of taco seasoning (I used the 30% reduced sodium kind)

Brown meat and onions, then combine everything in Crock Pot for 6 hours on low. Serve with cheese, sour cream, and Frito's.

Serves 6

How simple is THAT? And it's pretty darn good. I really like how flavorful it is.

I used the same pan for sautéing the onion and browning the meat and ended up cooking mine on high for 4 1/2 hours because I didn't get it started on time. It turned out just fine.

I also baked up some cornbread (I totally went with Jiffy) to go with it because what goes better with chili than cornbread?? Probably nothing. :)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sweet Apple Quick Bread

This is from Retro Baking by Maureen Fischer. I like to think of it as the apple version of banana bread.
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. (2 medium) apples, peeled and shredded
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. milk
2 T. orange peel, grated
1 T. corn syrup
2 eggs
1/2 nuts, chopped

In large bowl blend all ingredients except nuts. Beat 3 minutes at medium speed. Stir in nuts. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees 50 to 60 minutes.

Makes 1 loaf

Ever since making the Whole-Wheat Cinnamon-Raisin bread I've been on a baking kick. This stuff is pretty good; I especially liked the addition of orange zest. If you like banana bread you will probably like this. I used pecans and liked the outcome. Walnuts might be good too, but the bread has a mild taste so I think I'd prefer pecans. Oh, and I definitely had to cook it an hour or more. I got distracted with the little one so I'm not exactly sure how long I let it go. I just used the handy, dandy toothpick to check it and it was cooked to perfection.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chipotle Black Bean Soup

I try to have a "meatless Monday" (where I prepare vegetarian or fish dishes) about once a week, though it's not always on Mondays. I got this recipe from an advertisement in the Food Network Magazine and was very pleased with how it turned out the first time I made it.

3 cans (15.5 oz. each) GOYA Black Beans, divided
1 chipotle, plus 2 t. sauce from 1 can GOYA Chipotle Chilies in Adobo Sauce
1 GOYA Chicken Bouillon mixed with 2 c. water, or 2 c. chicken stock (use vegetable stock if you want to make it vegetarian)
2 T. GOYA Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 t. GOYA Mined Garlic, or 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 t. GOYA Ground Cumin
1/2 c. sour cream
1 small tomato, finely chopped
2 T. roughly chopped fresh cilantro

Full Recipe

Serves 6

Okay. So you don't really have to use GOYA brand everything, but because it's a GOYA recipe I wanted to put it up exactly as is appears in the ad. (minus the vegetable stock comment...that's all me).

Some things to consider:
-I used reduced sodium chicken stock and black beans because I like to control the sodium content of my food.
-I also doubled the amount of chipotle chilies because I wanted my soup a little spicier. Don't worry, I'm not a heat fiend like my mom...if that means anything to you.
-I don't like green pepper so I used one whole red pepper. Bonus: I didn't have half a green and red pepper left over to worry about using.
-I incorporated the chopped tomatoes into the soup before serving and it turned out just fine. I did this solely because I knew my husband wouldn't touch them if they were a garnish and I wanted to force more nutrition on him. :)
-The sour cream is totally optional but I do like the creaminess it adds to the soup, especially if you opt to make a spicier version. Use the low-fat kind if you want to keep it a bit healthier.

This is SUPER easy to make and is a great main dish because it's nice and hearty. I hope you like it!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fall Salad by Tyler Florence, 2007

I know this says it's a Fall salad, but I think it's good any time of year. It's sweet, it's salty, it's delicious!

Candied pecans:
2 T. unsalted butter
2 T. packed light brown sugar (I used dark because that's what I had)
1/2 c. raw pecans

Maple-balsamic dressing:
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 t. Dijon mustard
2 t. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 t. maple syrup (use the real stuff)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 head endive, separated leaves
2 hearts frisee, hand torn
1 large radicchio, torn leaves
1 red pear, sliced (use whatever pear you want/can find in your grocery store)
1/4 c. shaved Parmesan

Full recipe

I encourage everyone to try out this salad. It's actually easier than it looks. The candied pecans only take a few minutes (and are such a nice addition) and if you buy pre-washed and pre-torn lettuce it cuts down your prep time quite a bit. I usually use a mix of greens that include frisee and radicchio but, honestly, use whatever you want.

Definitely use some good Parmesan for this one. Buy a block of cheese and use a peeler to make beautiful little curls like this
and everyone will be so impressed. I receive compliments on this salad every time I bring it to a dinner party and I'm sure you will too.

Also, don't be afraid to mix up the kind of nuts or cheese you use. Be creative. That is what makes cooking fun!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Whole-Wheat Cinnamon-Raisin Bread by Ellie Krieger for FN Mag

I have been obsessed with this recipe since I saw it in the Food Network Magazine. I made it twice in less than a's that good.
Picture of Whole-Wheat Cinnamon-Raisin Bread Recipe
This isn't my picture. It's from but this is exactly how my loafs turned out.
2 c. bread flour, plus more for dusting
2 c. whole-wheat flour
1/4 c. nonfat dry milk
1 large egg
2 T. canola oil, plus more for brushing
3 T. honey
2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. instant dry yeast
Cooking spray
2/3 c. raisins
1 T. plus 1 t. ground cinnamon (I didn't measure the cinnamon out, just sprinkle on however much you want)
1/3 c. packed dark brown sugar

Makes two loafs

In the future, if the recipe is on the Internet I will provide a link that will take you to it. That way I don't have to type out all the instructions and it makes it easier for you to print. Of course, if it's from a cookbook I will make the entire recipe available on the blog. Either way, I will always provide a list of ingredients. I don't know about you, but I always look at the ingredient list before deciding whether or not to make something.

For the full recipe go here

The instructions are pretty clear. The only thing I think might be confusing for anyone who doesn't make bread very often is the part where it says, "Let it rise." and then continues on. I think it should say, "Let it rise:" (note the colon). You don't want to let the dough rise and then transfer it to the greased bowl to rise another hour and a half...that's a little too much rising. I could be overly concerned and no one who reads that will make that mistake, but just in case :)

Also, if you don't have dry milk or don't want to have to buy it especially for this recipe just substitute the warm water with warm skim milk. You can use whatever milk you want, but sticking with skim means that each slice has only around 99 calories (according to Food Network Magazine)! Of course, if you eat half a loaf in one sitting it's a moot point. And this bread is so moist, soft, and perfectly sweet that you might not be able to stop yourself!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Slow Cooked Curried Chicken with Cauliflower-From Food Network Kitchens

You'll want to read through the entire recipe (including my suggestions) before you start because there are multiple steps. Don't worry, it's not that difficult, but it's important to have a clear understanding of the recipe before you start. Really, I recommend you read through any recipe before you start.

It might not be the prettiest dinner, but it sure is delicious!

3T canola oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
2-in. piece fresh ginger, minced
1/3-1/2 c. prepared South Asian curry paste (FNK recommends Patak)
3 c. chicken broth, low-sodium, canned, or homemade
2 c. whole milk plain yogurt
6 bone-in skinless chicken thighs, about 2 1/4 lb.
1 1/2 T kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1 lb. red lentils, picked over
1 head cauliflower, broken into large florets
2 (16 oz.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 bunch fresh mint or cilantro leaves, chopped
1 lemon, cut in wedges

Go here to print the recipe and directions. I'm not going to write out all the directions because of all the changes I made to the ones that go with this recipe. If you read all the reviews for this there are quite a few that are rather negative. I followed some of the suggestions people had and it turned out great. Here are my suggestions:

First off, I set the Crock Pot on LOW and cooked it for about 7 hours.

Second, I used masman curry paste. I have red curry paste, but I was concerned it would turn out way too spicy because of how much you use. Looking back, it probably would've been fine but I did enjoy the taste of the masman curry. You can find really good curry paste in Asian food stores. Most grocery stores probably carry red curry paste in the Asian section, but I prefer the Asian market curry paste.

Third, I used a little more chicken stock than called for because some people complained that the finished product was too dry. And I'm glad I did. Just make sure to watch it and add some chicken stock if it looks dry.

Fourth, I used non-fat plain yogurt instead of whole milk. Maybe the finished product would've been creamier, but I'd rather pass on the extra fat. Also, I put it in at the END rather than the beginning. Milk can curdle if you heat it too much. I'm not sure it actually would, but I waited just in case.

Fifth, I used the bone-in skinless chicken thighs it calls for. The bone helps keep the meat super moist and I like the tenderness of the dark meat. If you want to use boneless, skinless chicken breasts I'm sure it would be fine. It is sitting in broth all day so it shouldn't be dry, right?

Sixth, I did use the red lentils. If you can't find them just use what you've got. You will have to adjust when you put them in the Crock Pot depending on what you use. By comparison, red lentils are much thinner than brown. Therefore, they don't take as long to cook. I put them in after about 4 hours of cooking and they still were a little mushy. If you use brown put them in earlier on in the cooking process.

Seventh, I put the cauliflower in about an hour before serving, NOT half way through, and they were perfectly cooked. If you aren't going to be home then just steam the cauliflower right before putting it in.

Eighth, I put the chickpeas in about 20 min before serving. The point is to warm them through.

Ninth, use the fresh mint if you can. It adds a wonderfully unique flavor.

Tenth (and lastly), I served this over Jasmine rice (definitely go with Jasmine rice. It makes a huge difference in my opinion) and had naan on the side. Delicious!

Warning: The recipe says it serves 4-6. Um, I don't think so. I cut the recipe in half this is what was left after we (two adults) were finished eating. Maybe it's because we had it over rice or maybe it's because this is quite filling. It does have lots of protein and fiber in it. 
Sorry for the gross picture, but I wanted to get my point across.
I hope you try this because it really is rather tasty and I promise it's much easier than it initially looks! Happy cooking!