Friday, October 29, 2010

‘Tis the season…

This time of year makes me think slow cooker; hearty, comforting meals that you eat on the couch wearing your sweats and slippers.

I love the idea of the slow cooker. Throw everything in, turn it on, and forget about it until the smell of pot roast is wafting through the kitchen and it’s time to eat. I understand that the very point of the slow cooker is to be able to turn it on and leave it. But sometimes (maybe always) I get nervous about our house burning down. I am that person that checks the knobs on the stove before I leave the house for fear that I will come home to either the pets being gassed to death or to a pile of ashes. Is this rational? Probably not. Okay…not at all. Does that stop me from thinking it? Nope.

So as much as I love the slow cooker, I cannot get away from that image of it bursting into flames on the counter. Needless to say, I am incapable of leaving the house with it on. That means shorter slow cooker recipes are my friend. This way I’m not chained to the house for 10 hours while dinner cooks.

Slow Cooker Turkey Meatballs

Makes 20 meatballs

2 15 ounce cans tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups red wine
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
a few dashes of hot sauce (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 1/4 pounds ground turkey
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated yellow onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Combine all sauce ingredients in the slow cooker.

Combine all meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Form into golf ball sized meatballs. Put the meatballs into the sauce in the slow cooker. (They should be almost completely covered with the sauce.) Turn slow cooker on high. Meatballs will be done in about 2 hours 30 minutes.

(This makes a fairly thin sauce. If you like a thicker sauce, you could reduce it in a pot on the stove after the meatballs are removed.)

Serve over pasta or rice.

These meatballs are fluffy and light; not at all heavy. The flavors of the sauce combine perfectly with the meatballs for a very tasty bite. Thyme, parmesan, Worcestershire sauce, tomato and red wine all come through.

We ate the meatballs over pasta tossed with a little heavy cream, gruyere and parmesan cheeses. The next night for leftovers we ate them over white rice. The verdict was a split decision: I preferred the meatballs with the pasta and Andy favored the rice. Both are delicious.

With this recipe, you get all the convenience of the slow cooker, but in only two and a half hours you’re sitting on the couch, cozily eating a plate of comfort food. 

Maybe I'd better go check the stove one more time…

(I want to thank Gina @ What’s For Dinner Across State Lines and Kristy @ My Little Space for the recent awards passed on to me. Also, a big thanks to Christiane @ The Mom Chef for the award and an even bigger apology for forgetting to mention it day after day!)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Trick or Treat?

Last year I was thrilled to finally pick up a bottle of Pumpkin Spice liqueur. I knew it was out there, but I hadn’t been able to find it. So when I saw it at the store, I grabbed a bottle and started thinking about all the yummy pumpkin martinis I would make. I got home and found several different recipes online to try out. Much to my surprise, they were all disappointing. I tried to doctor them to no avail, and eventually gave up. I hadn’t thought much more about it until I started seeing pumpkin recipes pop up everywhere and I was reminded of that lonely bottle of Pumpkin Spice liqueur sitting in the cabinet. It was time to take matters into my own hands and perfect the pumpkin martini.

Since I’ve been seeing a lot of chocolate-pumpkin desserts and have never combined the two flavors myself, I thought it seemed like a good place to start for a cocktail. Can you really go wrong when adding chocolate liqueur to something? No.

And I'm sure this goes without saying, but martini taste testing is definitely at the top of my list of fun tasks in the kitchen (and might lead to silly props peeking out from behind your cocktail)...

Chocolate-Pumpkin Spice Martini

2 parts Hiram Walker Pumpkin Spice liqueur
1 part Crème de Cacao White liqueur
1 part Vanilla Vodka
1 part heavy cream

Put all ingredients into a shaker full of ice. Shake and strain into a glass.

This is a festive drink with its bright orange color. It also tastes great. You first taste the pumpkin spice, with the chocolate coming in at the finish. It goes down very smoothly. To me, this martini could double as dessert.

So which would I choose: “trick or treat?” I will always take the treat, especially when in martini form.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Houston, we do not have a problem…

Houston’s moment: noun; a term used to convey extreme appreciation of food that has disappeared from your plate in a ridiculously quick manner.

A couple years ago, Andy and I went to lunch at Houston’s in San Francisco. It took only one glance at the menu to know what I was ordering: the seared ahi salad with mango vinaigrette. I am a huge fan of any and all things ahi. Chances are, if ahi is on the menu, that’s what I’m having.

My salad came and all my attention focused on it. The conversation came to a screeching halt (at least from my side). At one point, Andy asked me a question, but said I just looked blankly up at him, like I was in a daze and didn’t know where I was. Needless to say, I REALLY liked that salad. For the next several minutes, I concentrated only on powering it down, while savoring each wonderful bite. When I looked up again with an empty platte, Andy was staring at me with a mix of amazement, disbelief and maybe even a little pride (she says optimistically).

And the term “Houston’s moment” was born.

I figured this ahi dish with honey-wasabi glaze would have a fair shot at a Houston’s moment and I was right.

Seared Ahi with Honey Wasabi Glaze and Green Onion-Ginger Rice

1 ahi steak, about 5 ounces
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
canola oil

Lightly oil ahi, then press sesame seeds into all sides of the fish. Heat canola oil in a small nonstick pan (enough to cover the bottom) over very high heat. When pan is very hot, sear ahi on all sides, no more than 20 seconds per side. (Beware of popping sesame seeds.) Remove from heat and slice against the grain.

1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
splash of rice vinegar

Stir all ingredients together. Set aside.

1 cup cooked jasmine rice
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 – 1 teaspoon rice vinegar (to taste)

Combine all ingredients together just before serving.

To assemble: Plate rice and a few slices of ahi, then drizzle ahi with glaze.

With this glaze, you can very clearly taste the sweetness of honey and the punch of wasabi. But when mixed with the honey, the wasabi is not overpowering. It gives the ahi a big boost of flavor. The rice pairs nicely with the rest of the dish with complementing background flavors.

I did have a bit of a Houston’s moment with this dish. My plate was clean in a matter of seconds. And as I sheepishly looked at Andy out of the corner of my eye, I saw that he was indeed looking at me, then my plate in disbelief.

What can I say? I liked it…a lot. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Never-Ending Garden

I had been enjoying the fruit of my parent’s labor all summer in the form of homegrown tomatoes. Since my last tomato had been eaten a few weeks ago and I was craving them, I finally broke down and bought a huge container of cherry tomatoes at Costco, only to get a phone call that yet another crop of juicy red tomatoes was ready to be picked. So even with 3 pounds of cherry tomatoes sitting on my counter at home, I happily accepted another pound. You can’t pass up homegrown tomatoes, especially in late October!

With that many tomatoes, I wanted to make a dish that used a considerable amount of fruit. I made a lot of tomato dishes this summer, but skipped over the obvious: tomato soup.

We are soup people…it doesn’t matter what kind of soup; it doesn’t matter if it’s 90 degrees out; it doesn’t matter if we had soup the night before…we usually won’t pass up a bowl. But last night I had two perfect excuses…Andy was feeling a little under the weather, and it has finally gotten down to the low 50’s at night. Soup time!

Creamy Roasted Tomato Soup

Makes 2 large bowls           

Roasted Tomatoes:
1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon thyme

olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon thyme
14 ounce can vegetable broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
salt and pepper
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

To roast tomatoes: Toss tomatoes with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme on a baking sheet. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes.

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a pot and sweat onions for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add garlic and thyme and cook for another minute. Stir in vegetable broth and let simmer for a few minutes. Add in roasted tomatoes, tomato paste, cayenne pepper (if using), and season with salt and pepper. Mash the tomatoes a bit to release their juices and stir together. Let soup simmer for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Put soup through a food mill, and return to pot. Stir in cream and parmesan cheese. Check seasonings and add salt and pepper as needed. Heat over low heat until hot. 

While this may not be the quickest tomato soup, it is very easy and the result is well worth the time. Roasting the tomatoes gives them such a deep flavor, and means you really don’t need a lot of other ingredients. The cayenne adds a touch of heat, and the cream and parmesan cheese add richness. 

I only wish I’d made more…

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Twice is nice...

It was a meat and potatoes kind of night, with not a vegetable in sight.

We scored some ridiculously huge steaks in the clearance meat section and they were calling our names from the fridge. And what pairs better with enormous steaks than overly indulgent potatoes?

Now I am well aware of the fact that these potatoes are not in the least bit “lite” or “low-cal,” which is precisely why they are so good. Don’t scrimp on the butter, and don’t substitute low-fat milk for the cream. And especially don’t leave out the bacon fat. Bacon fat is our friend here, creating the yummiest browned, crusty bottom on the potatoes.

Gruyere and Bacon Twice Baked Potatoes

Makes 2 large individual servings

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 slices bacon
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese, plus extra for topping
1/4 cup cream
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
salt and pepper

Fry bacon until crisp. Crumble and set aside. Reserve bacon fat.

Boil potatoes in salted water until fork tender. Remove from water and place in a mixing bowl with butter, cheese and cream. Mash. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in bacon crumbles. When satisfied with seasonings, stir in egg yolk.

Grease individual dishes with bacon fat. Fill with mashed potatoes. Top with extra Gruyere. Potatoes can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated.

When ready to serve, put uncovered potatoes on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

The end result here is little pots of creamy and cheesy goodness. The egg yolk makes them light and fluffy, but they are a very rich and decadent side dish. Every time I’ve served this dish at dinner parties, they are the clear winner of the night.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mini Thanksgiving

I remember eating Cornish game hens when I was little, which means that either my mom or dad had to have made them since I certainly wasn’t stuffing and roasting game hens at such an early age.  Wanting to know how they had prepared them, I called my mom and asked her which one of them had done the cooking.  She said that she had made them.  Then my dad piped up in the background and said he had made them.  Okay, fine…well, were they stuffed?  My mom said no, my dad said yes.  Sigh.  This wasn’t going well.  So either my mom made them or my dad did, and they were either stuffed or not stuffed.  Very informative phone call.

Since nobody can remember or agree on anything about the dish other than the fact that we did in fact eat Cornish game hens many years ago, I won’t be remaking a childhood favorite so much as just trying a dish I haven’t had in twenty years.

With Thanksgiving coming up, I figured this was a good opportunity to try out an idea for stuffing that’s been rolling around in my head for a while.  A combination of sweet and savory with a little heat thrown in for fun.  (I know that it’s technically not stuffing when you’re not actually stuffing a bird, but I can’t get on board with the term “dressing.”  It makes me think of salad.)

Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Spicy Gingered Stuffing

Cornish Hens:

Cornish game hens, rinsed and dried
onion slices
apple slices
melted butter
salt and pepper

Loosely stuff a few apple and onion slices into the cavity of each bird.  Tuck wings under body and tie legs together*. Brush the hens with melted butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, basting with more melted butter every 20 minutes.  After an hour, turn the oven up to 400 degrees and roast another 10-15 minutes to let the skin crisp.


4 cups small diced French bread
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup sliced leek
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 serrano pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 apple, peeled and sliced
1 pear, peeled and sliced
salt and pepper
heavy cream
white wine
2 tablespoons parsley

Spread bread on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  Remove and reserve in a large mixing bowl.

In a large pan, melt butter and add onion, leek, garlic, celery and serrano pepper.  Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until onions and celery are softened.  Stir in ginger, then add apples and pears.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until apples and pears are softened.  Check seasonings.  Remove from heat.

Stir hot apple mixture into bread cubes.  Add cream and wine so bread is moistened to your liking (I used several tablespoons of each).  Stir in parsley and check seasonings once more. 

Butter individual ramekins (or one large dish) and fill with stuffing.  Put in the oven with the hens for the last ten minutes of cooking time.

*I use Stretch Cooking Bands instead of string to truss poultry/meats.  They are oven safe up to 600 degrees and are washable and reusable…so much easier than dealing with tying string!

The house smelled amazing while this meal was cooking…just like Thanksgiving.  And when these little babies came out of the oven all browned and crisp, our mouths were watering.  The meat was incredibly moist and tender and the stuffing was just what I’d hoped for.  Apple and pear flavors gave a touch of sweetness, and the ginger and serrano came in at the end with a punch. 

This spicy stuffing is definitely making the Thanksgiving roster. 

As for the hens, maybe they weren’t exactly like the ones I had as a child, but they sure were good…and now I can be “the one who made the Cornish game hens.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Can’t Beat Fresh Beets

I have a confession to make: I like canned beets. When it came to roasting my own, I always envisioned stained hands and cutting boards, plus hours spent roasting and peeling them. None of that appealed to me. 

But then we went to the farmer’s market. (I know…another I-love-the-farmer’s-market story…) I was perusing some produce when the vendor stuck a cut beet in front of my face and touted its wonderful color and pattern. It did have a very unique look to it, and as I’ve said before, I can’t pass up beautiful produce. So of course, a lovely bunch of beets came home with me. (And so did another bunch the next week.) 

Turns out that roasting beets is much easier than I thought. All you have to do is stick the whole bunch in the oven and 45 minutes later you pull out some fairly gnarly looking specimen. Maybe it was the kind of beets that I had, but much to my surprise, my hands did not absorb even a hint of red. 

Here they are, in all their roasted glory: 

(They spruce up considerably after peeling and trimming.) 

Once you’ve roasted them, the possibilities are endless. Here are two dishes that I came up with to show off their bright, wonderful color, and also their yummy, dirty taste. (And yes, I do think that in this case, tasting like dirt is a good thing.) 

For both recipes, roast the beets first. 

Roasted Beets

1 bunch beets, scrubbed clean and greens trimmed
olive oil
salt and pepper

In a glass dish, oil beets and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover tightly with foil. Roast in a 425 degree oven for 45 minutes (until beets are fork tender). Let cool, then trim and peel.

Roasted Beet and Yukon Gold Potato Stacks with Goat Cheese Filling

1 bunch roasted beets, thinly sliced into rounds
4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
2 shallots, sliced
2 ounces goat cheese
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided use
1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary
pinch pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Thinly slice potatoes and shallots into rounds. Toss each with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 425 degrees in separate pans. Potatoes will take about 20 minutes, shallots about 10 minutes. (Be careful not to let the potatoes crisp.)

For cheese mixture, mix together goat cheese, 2 teaspoons olive oil, rosemary and a pinch of pepper. Set aside.

For dressing, whisk together 1 tablespoon olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon mustard. Set aside.

To assemble, using a ring mold, layer potatoes, then beets, and spread cheese mixture on top. Sprinkle with shallots, then spoon dressing over. Add another layer of potatoes, and end with a layer of beets, pressing down firmly to compact.

This dish served as a very unique first course. The differing textures of the root vegetables and the cheese create a delectable bite with both an earthiness and tanginess.

Roasted Beet Salad with Fried Capers and Creamy Citrus Vinaigrette 

1 bunch roasted beets, cut lengthwise into quarters
fried capers (see below)
butter lettuce

1/4 cup fresh orange juice (I used Clementines)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cream
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

To make fried capers, rinse and drain capers, then fry in a small amount of hot olive oil. Remove when they are “bloomed” and slightly crisp. Drain on a paper towel.

Whisk all dressing ingredients together.

For two big salads, I used one whole bunch of beets and the above measurements for the dressing. Add as much or little of the other ingredients to suit you.

The salad is light and fresh. The creamy citrus dressing is not heavy, and offers just a hint of orange. The beets shine, but surprisingly, the capers were my favorite part of the dish. Frying them takes away their bitter, harsh taste, and replaces it with a salty, zingy flavor.

Home-roasted beets are worlds apart from their canned counterparts. It will be hard for me to open another can knowing that this option is available.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sparkly Sunday

I decided to glam up football day with sparkly pink drinks.

As we lounged around on the couch watching the game, I was thinking about the raspberries that I needed to use, and soon. I wasn’t in the mood to bake and never need much of an excuse to open a bottle of champagne, so I asked Andy what he thought about raspberry and orange together. Fine, he said. What about raspberry, orange and basil??? The look on his face said it all, but then he elaborated that the addition of the herbs made him uneasy.

I pureed the ingredients together, leaving the basil out, and gave him a taste. It was good. I added the basil, pureed again, and gave him another sample. Even better. The basil seemed to open up all the other flavors. Winner! 

Raspberry Sparklers

6 ounces raspberries
5 tablespoons fresh orange juice (I used Clementines)
1-2 tablespoons sugar (depending on tartness of raspberries)
2-3 large basil leaves, roughly chopped
Champagne or sparkling wine

Put raspberries, orange juice, sugar and basil in a blender and puree until smooth and sugar is dissolved. Pour mixture through a strainer to remove raspberry seeds and excessive basil.

Spoon raspberry mixture into champagne flutes (I used 3 spoonfuls per glass), then add champagne slowly (raspberry mixture causes major foaming).

Garnish with raspberry, basil leaf, and slice of orange, if desired.

This recipe made about 3/4 cup of mixture; enough for 1 bottle of champagne.

I know this sounds like an odd combination, but the flavors really work well together. These drinks go down like punch, and even though it’s pink and has a girly name, it’s sure to please even the brawniest football fan.


Click here for a couple of my other fun Sunday afternoon cocktail ideas: